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The Lamplighter Weekly

Volume 20 Issue 22
June 17-23, 2018 -4-10 Tammuz, 5778 
Torah Reading: Chukas
 Candle Lighting: 8:14 PM
Shabbos ends: 9:13 PM
Pirkei Avos, Chapter 5
 

Parsha Synopsis · A Word From the Rabbi
Essay ·
Thoughts That Count
Once Upon A Chassid · Tid Bits · Happenings · Notes From Israel

 

Parsha Synopsis

Chukas
Numbers: 19:1-22:1

Moses is taught the laws of the  red heifer, whose ashes purify a person who has been contaminated by contact with a dead body.

After  forty years of journeying through the desert, the people of Israel arrive in the wilderness of Zin.  Miriam dies, and the people thirst for  water. G‑d tells Moses to speak to a  rock and command it to give water. Moses gets angry at the rebellious Israelites and  strikes the stone. Water issues forth, but Moses is told by G‑d that neither he nor Aaron will enter the Promised Land.

Aaron dies at Hor Hahar and is succeeded in the high priesthood by his son  Elazar. Venomous snakes attack the Israelite camp after yet another eruption of discontent in which the people “speak against G‑d and Moses”; G‑d tells Moses to place a  brass serpent upon a high pole, and all who will gaze heavenward will be healed. The people sing a  song in honor of the miraculous well that provided them water in the desert.

Moses leads the people in battles against the Emorite kings  Sichon and Og (who seek to prevent Israel’s passage through their territory) and conquers their lands, which lie  east of the Jordan.

A Word From the Rabbi

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KABALLAH OF GUILT
The Cure Within the Malady

A mother once gave her son two sweaters as a Chanukah gift. The next time he visited his mother he made sure to wear one of the new sweaters. As he entered the house, instead of the usual smile and warm embrace, his mother looks at him sullenly and says: “What's the matter? You didn't like the other one?”

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In the long run, Americans tend to regret resisting guilty pleasures, a new study finds. Guilt, it seems, is just a passing fancy. (Lisa Anderson, Chicago Tribune July 30, 2006)

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Near Lubavitch there lived a Chassid who had married off his daughter to an extremely talented Torah scholar. The proud father-in-law promised to provide for the newlyweds so that the young man could devote himself entirely to his studies.

But after a while, the promising prodigy fell into bad company, neglected his studies and began to veer off to decidedly unsavory pursuits. After much effort, the distraught father-in-law managed to persuade the young man to come with him to his Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch.

“Tell me,” said the Rebbe to the young genius, whose new-found interests included horse racing, “What's so great about a swift horse? Let's say that it can gallop twenty verst in the time it takes the average horse to go four, but should it take a wrong turn, it will carry its rider further and further from his destination — at five times the speed!”

“You have a point,” agreed the young man. “In such a case the swiftness of the horse has become a disadvantage.”

The Rebbe's next words penetrated the young man's heart: “But remember, as soon as the horse realizes that it has gone astray, it can regain the right path that much faster than his weaker brother...” – Once Upon A Chassid.

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A friend of mine is fond of saying, “My tribe (he is Jewish) invented guilt.” Still, be that as it may, along with shame and humility, the feeling of guilt is among the character traits that have become taboo and outmoded in our age and culture of self-centeredness and gratification.

Our culture and the general psychology profession typically views guilt as all bad. We have been told that we should not feel guilty about much of anything and that we should just let go of guilt... all guilt! The message seems to be that guilt is toxic and that you should get rid of it at all costs. Guilt, we are advised, is baggage not worth carrying around, it’s like dead weight that can hold us back and cause unwarranted stress in our lives; something that we all have too much of already.

“Regrets, I've had a few,” Frank Sinatra crooned in his signature, taking-stock-of-life ballad “My Way.” He didn't give details, but new research indicates that over time one is more likely to have regrets about choosing virtue, than guilt over indulging in vice. Yes, you read that correctly.

In the short term, vice is regretted more than virtue. But in the long run, people tend less to regret selfish pleasures taken than those virtuously forsaken, according to a study of Americans by Ran Kivetz, an associate professor of business and doctoral candidate Anat Keinan, both at Columbia University's Graduate School of Business.

Another study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, explored the regret felt by college students over their conduct on recent winter breaks and by alumni remembering winter breaks of 40 years ago. Regret about not having spent or traveled more during breaks increased with time, whereas regret about not having worked, studied, or saved money during breaks decreased with time.

But how does Judaism view guilt? Is it a vice or a virtue? You guessed it of course. Judaism obviously perceives it as a virtue, at least from the perspective of Chassidus.

While there may be forms of guilt that are unwholesome or excessive – such as blaming oneself for things for which one is not responsible or in control and the like – generally speaking, guilt, according to Chassidic thought, despised as it may be, is the vice that contains the virtue within. It is the painful and nagging emotion that serves as a powerful impetus to seek to correct the matters that are the cause of our guilt and remorse, as well as the driving force for over-all self betterment and improvement. 

A Rabbi once related how in his early years of rabbinic practice, he was in the habit of offering misguided advice to people struggling with guilt. “When they would say: ‘Rabbi, my mother died and I didn't visit, care, or tend to her enough in her final weeks, now she is gone… the guilt is unbearable.’ I would provide soothing counsel, i.e. ‘Don't feel guilty, you surely did your best… besides, of what good is guilt, it only tends to weigh you down in life.’

As time went on” says the Rabbi, “I realized that this advice was not helpful and fundamentally flawed. I had in essence answered a rational emotion with an irrational response. It was essentially trying to will them out of their legitimate and intrinsic concerns of culpability and remorse.”

Instead, the Rabbi started to give related procedural assignments in response to these types of quandaries. Rather than urging people to just dismiss their guilt, he would prescribe a corresponding activity. For example, in one case he advised a congregant to visit patients who were terminal, as his mother had been; with the aim of offering them some of the care that he had failed to provide for his own mother. Sure enough, upon fulfilling the assignment the subject reported back that his guilt had begun to subside.

What all this suggests, ironic as it may seem, is that couched within the so called “Vice” of guilt, lies the “Virtue” of repentance, improvement and most of all redemption. This in fact is a cardinal principle of Kabbalah, depicted by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad Chassidic movement, in his magnum opus, Tanya.

In Tanya Rabbi Schneur Zalman describes how the two ventricles of the human heart serve as the seat of the two diametrical human systems of expression. The right side being the station of the holy Divine soul and its gamut of righteous emotive expressions. The left side by contrast, is where the animal soul and its gamut of unholy animalistic manifestations are situated. The Rebbe goes on to establish that the function of man is not just to engage the virtuous attributes of the right side, i.e. positivity and joy, while suppressing the negative traits of the left ventricle, but rather to harness the power which is endowed in the left unholy side as well.

One example of this process is the utilization of “Merirus” – remorse or guilt, which originates in the left side – for the sake of deeper motivation towards holiness. While Torah and Mitzvos are meant to be performed with joy and gladness of heart, we are also enjoined to spend time in self-reflection; to contemplate the nature of our distant spiritual state and lot and to regret how far we are from where we could be. While in doing so it's possible to (temporarily) feel the opposite of joy, not only is that okay, it is in fact a necessary component in our achievement of higher levels in Divine aspiration and unification.

For while great levels can be reached though the attribute of joy and contentment, some heights can only be acquired through the attribute of “Bitterness;” a disquieting from of remorse and inadequacy. Remorse, aka feeling of guilt over our lowliness and distance from our Father in heaven compared to where we could be, drives us to strive harder; to push farther and reach where we otherwise couldn't. This catapulting prowess however, is only realized by borrowing an attribute from the unholy left side; the emotion of bitterness/guilt.

What this means, counter intuitive as it might be, is that the highest potential of man’s Divine service requires the utilization and medium of the vices belonging to the left side or the unholy dimension. This is accomplished by means of harnessing and elevating its particular energy for the use of Divine purpose. But why? Why should man’s greatest spiritual heights be achieved specifically and exclusively by means of the depraved and profane properties of human character?

The answer lies in the essential nature of irreverent or evil character traits. It so happens that in reality there is no such thing as true evil or profane characteristics. What is referred to as the evil side, is Divinity in disguise. In fact the lower and more cloaked a quality is in materialistic worldly garments, the higher is its Divine source. Accordingly, Divinity and its opposite – what appears as mundane and evil; vice and virtue – are actually two sides of the same coin. The above helps explain some of the elusive concepts of this week's Parsha, Chukas.

Among the various topics discussed in Chukas, are two major themes. One is the strange ritual of the “Red cow” with which the Parsha commences, Numbers 19:1-20. Much has been written about the red cow, the ashes of which are meant to remove ritual impurity from those who have come in contact with a corpse, human bone, or grave.

The other major theme of our Parsha, is the peculiar episode that occurred in the fortieth year of the Israelites desert sojourn, when the people complained about the “Rotten bread” – referring to the manna; the staple of their diet. G‑d regarded this as an unwarranted insult; a demonstration of their lack of appreciation. As a result G‑d dispatched a plague of venomous serpents to attack the Israelite encampment.  

After many people died from the snake bites, the Israelites turned to Moshe and begged him to pray to G‑d that the plague be removed. Upon Moshe’s prayer to G‑d on behalf of the Jewish people, G‑d instructed him to make a serpent and place it on a pole, “Whoever will look up at the serpent would be healed.”

Moshe made a copper snake and put it on a pole. Whenever a snake bit a man, he would gaze upon the copper snake and live, Numbers 21:1-15. Like with the red heifer, much has been written about the copper serpent, which when looked upon was meant to remove the effects of the poison of the serpents sent to punish the people. Regarding both these biblical ritual phenomena, we encounter a similarly odd characteristic; an intrinsic conflicting quality. In both cases the cure lies enmeshed within the malady.

The obvious puzzle regarding the red cow is the elusive law that while the applicant of the formula becomes purified from his spiritual defilement, the applicator of the potion becomes impure by virtue of the very same formula; a mystery for which this particular commandment has earned its distinction as the Chok of all Chukim – statute of all statutes. This of course is in addition to all the other mysteries regarding this Mitzvah, such as how a lowly cow’s ashes comes to bring about spiritual purification in the first place.

There is a very similar puzzle regarding the narrative of the biting snakes: How is it that the very same object; the snake, can be a source of death and poison, as well as of life and healing? Equally perplexing is why Moshe needed to make a snake in the first place. Wouldn't it be simpler if G‑d just made the snakes disappear as before the onset of the plague? 

It also needs to be understood why Moshe made a COPPER snake. G‑d only instructed him to make a snake and put it on a pole. Where did the idea of copper come from? Finally, if a snake has positive healing powers, why is it that it was a snake that enticed Adam and Eve to turn away from G‑d’s commandment?

This question is addressed in Likutei Torah on our Parsha. The answer provided is that the Almighty doesn’t create anything that is inherently evil. Even the most negative objects, traits and emotions have a positive source and dimension. Atheism can be used as an example of this axiom, for even in that gravely sinful condition, a positive element can be extracted.

What positive side is there to Atheism you ask? The answer is that when a fellow human-being solicits one’s assistance or charity, he should not resort to holy, high-minded faith in response, such as assuring the deprived individual of G‑d’s goodness and benevolence. It is rather a time to act as a skeptic (atheist), not to rely on the Almighty, but rather to take matters into one’s own hands, i.e. reach into one’s pocket and help the unfortunate fellow with his physical needs or badly needed funds.

The idea that there is a good and spiritual source in all things is illustrated in the two aforementioned injunctions in our Parsha, the red heifer and the copper snake... Similar to the ashes of the red cow which contained both extremes; the ability to purify and defile at the same time, Moshe was teaching the people of Israel, with the upraised copper snake, to look inwards and upwards at its positive spiritual source.

With this in mind, we can understand why the snake was chosen. A venomous snake is a source of harm and destruction. Spiritually too, the snake brought incredible harm to this world when it enticed Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Yet it represents and underscores the important idea and cosmic truism of the virtue within the vice; of the harmer that actually heals! The very same idea behind the purifying potion of the red cow.

This concept is further bolstered by the interconnection between the word snake – נחשׁ and the word for cooper – נְחשֶׁת. The word Nachash – נחשׁ – snake is also used to refer to the evil inclination, Bava Basra 16a and many other places. In sync with our line of thought, Copper/Nechoshes-נְחשֶׁת was used as the antidote for the evil inclination because of its ability to tame and overcome the evil inclination. Hence the similarity in name.

Where do we see the positive power of Nechoshes-נְחשֶׁת? The answer goes back to the mirrors of the women who had set up the legions in Egypt: The Israelite women, we are taught, owned mirrors, which they would look into when they adorned themselves for their husbands.

When their husbands were weary from back-breaking labor, these women would each take the mirrors and see themselves with their husband and would seduce him with words, saying, “I am more beautiful than you.” In this way they aroused their husbands’ desire. They would then copulate, conceive and give birth.

The women did not hesitate to bring these mirrors as a contribution toward the Mishkan. While Moshe rejected them, due to their use for lustful temptation, the Almighty instructed him to accept them, saying: “These are more precious to Me than anything, because through them the women setup many legions in Egypt.” I.e., they gave birth to many children.

Following the example of the copper used by the women to channel the evil inclination for positive, Moshe too used copper to channel the evil inclination represented by snakes into goodness and healing.

Furthermore, from these mirrors the washstand was made that served to bring peace between a man and his wife. For the water from the washstand was used in the test of the woman whose husband had warned her not to seclude herself with a certain man. The potion made with this water would either destroy her, or prove her innocence and bring peace into the marriage. Num. 5:11-31. Here again the connection between נחשׁ and נְחשֶׁת comes into play. The נחשׁ (evil inclination) can be used to create something very good נְחשֶׁת when channeled in the correct way.

If we look carefully, we discover that this same method of healing is used elsewhere. Moshe used a bitter stick to sweeten bitter waters (Exodus 15:25 and Targum Yonatan there). And it was salt that Elisha used to purify the harmful water, Kings II Cha 2.

Incidentally, Moshe’s copper snake was eventually defiled by certain Jews, as they mistakenly believed that it possessed divine healing powers. This led the righteous King Hezekiah of Judah (6th century BCE) to destroy this snake, Kings II 18:4. This once again emphasizes its dual characteristic; its potential for good and for evil.

May we take the lessons of this Parsha to heart and learn to identify and utilize the good in everything, even in what seems like evil, including the character traits of shame and guilt. By our doing so we will help elevate the highest levels of spirituality, which are incased in the lowest levels of mundanity and vice, and hasten thereby the coming of the righteous Moshiach BBA.
Gut Shabbos!

 

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Rabbi Kahanov is the founder/director of Chabad in Northeast FL, consisting of 6 Chabad Centers
He is also the author of "What Chabad Really Believes"
If you like this, you might be interested in purchasing his book click here for more information 

 

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Waters of Strife

One of the most puzzling passages in the Torah is the story of the Waters of Strife, in the wake of which G‑d decreed that Moses would die in the desert and would not enter the Land of Israel.

A hundred generations of Torah scholars, beginning with Moses himself and continuing with the sages of the Midrash, the biblical commentaries and the chassidic masters, struggle with this enigmatic chapter. As we speak, someone is writing a “Parshah piece” that searches for some explanation of the event, or at least a lesson to be derived from it.

But first the facts (as related in Numbers 20:1–13):

After traveling for forty years in the wilderness, the people of Israel arrive in Kadesh in the Zin Desert, on the border of the Holy Land. There is no water, the people are thirsty, and as they are wont to do in similar circumstances, they complain to Moses. It is not a pretty sight. “If only we had died,” they rage, “when our brethren died before G‑d! Why have you brought the congregation of G‑d to this desert, to die there, we and our cattle? Why have you taken us out of Egypt—to bring us to this evil place . . . ?”

Moses calls on G‑d, who instructs him to “take the staff, and gather the people, you and Aaron your brother. You shall speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will give its water.” When all are assembled before the rock, Moses addresses the people: “Listen, rebellious ones! Shall we bring forth water for you from this rock?” Moses raises his hand and strikes the rock twice with his staff. Water gushes forth, and the people and their cattle drink.

Whereupon G‑d says to Moses and Aaron: “Because you did not believe in Me, to sanctify Me before the eyes of the Children of Israel, therefore you will not bring this congregation into the land I have given them.”

What did Moses do wrong? What was the sin that warranted such a devastating punishment?

The commentaries search the text for clues. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040–1105) points out that G‑d instructed Moses to speak to the rock, while Moses struck it. Thus, he failed to “sanctify Me before the eyes of the Children of Israel” (extracting water by speaking would have been a greater miracle).

Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, 1135–1204) has a different explanation: Moses’ failing was that he got angry and spoke harshly to the people (his “Listen, you troublemakers!” speech).

(The chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740–1810) has an interesting insight here: Rashi’s and Maimonides’ explanations, says the Berditchever, are two sides of the same coin. A tzaddik is not only a leader of his people, but also the master of his environment. These two roles are intertwined, the latter deriving from the former. If a leader’s relationship with his people is loving and harmonious, then the physical world, too, willingly yields its resources to the furtherance of their goals. But if his influence is achieved through harsh words of rebuke, then he will find it necessary to do battle with nature at every turn, and forcefully impose his will on the physical world.)

Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1194–1270) finds difficulty with both explanations. If Moses wasn’t supposed to strike the rock, he argues, why did G‑d tell him to take along his staff? The Torah repeats this fact, further emphasizing that “Moses took along the staff from the presence of G‑d, as He had commanded him.” In light of G‑d’s instructions to Moses on a previous occasion to extract water from a rock by striking it (see Exodus 17:6), was it not reasonable for Moses to assume that the staff was to serve a similar function in this case? (Unless G‑d was setting him up for this—but more on that later.) As for Maimonides’ explanation, there were other instances in which the Torah tells us (more explicitly than in this case) that Moses got angry, and for apparently less justification. If no punishment was decreed in those cases, why now?

Nachmanides offers his explanation: Moses erred in saying to the people, “Shall we then bring forth water for you from this rock?”—words that can be seen as implying that extracting water from a rock is something that Moses, rather than G‑d, does. The moment a leader assumes an identity of his own, and his accomplishments are attributed to him personally—the moment he comes to embody anything other than his people’s collective identity and their relationship with G‑d—he has failed in his role. (Nachmanides finds support for his explanation in G‑d’s opening words to Moses, “Because you did not believe in Me . . .”—implying that this was a failure of faith rather than a lapse of obedience or a surrender to anger.)

But there is one common denominator in these and the numerous other explanations offered by the commentaries: the implication that whatever the problem was, it wasn’t really the problem. Basically, G‑d is getting Moses on a technicality. In his arguments with G‑d, Moses senses this, in effect saying to G‑d: “You set me up!”

The text supports his complaint. Forty years earlier there occurred the incident of the spies, in which the generation that came out of Egypt and received the Torah at Sinai revealed themselves to be unwilling and unable to progress to the next stage of G‑d’s plan—to enter and take possession of the Holy Land. At that time, the Torah recounts, G‑d decreed that the entire generation (all males above the age of 20) would die out in the desert. With the sole exception of two men. “Except for Caleb the son of Yefuneh and Joshua the son of Nun,” the two spies who resisted the plot of their ten colleagues (Numbers 14:30).

Moses, who craved to enter the Holy Land with every fiber of his being, was not guilty of the sin of the spies, so some other pretext had to be found. Since “with the righteous, G‑d is exacting to a hairsbreadth,” it wasn’t impossible to find a pretext. But G‑d had already determined 40 years earlier that the entire generation—Moses and Aaron included—would not enter the Land. “This is a plot that you contrived against me,” the Midrash quotes Moses saying to the Almighty.

Indeed, why? If Moses was innocent of his generation’s sin, why was it decreed that he share their fate? There is a poignant Midrash that offers the following parable:

A shepherd was given the king’s flock to feed and care for, but the flock was lost. When the shepherd sought to enter the royal palace, the king refused him entry. “When the flock that was entrusted to you is recovered, you, too, will be admitted.”

The original plan was that the 600,000 whom Moses took out of Egypt should enter the Land. But that generation remained in the desert. You are their leader, said G‑d to Moses. Their fate is your fate.

This message is implicit in G‑d’s words to Moses immediately following his striking of the rock: “. . . therefore, you will not bring this congregation into the land I have given them.” From this the Midrash deduces: “This congregation” you will not bring in; that congregation you will. “This congregation”—the generation whom Moses confronted at the rock—was not Moses’ generation. His generation were buried in the desert.

When they will enter the Land, G‑d is saying to Moses—and they will, when the final redemption will redeem all generations of history—you will lead them in.
By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.

Thoughts That Count
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This is the statute of the Torah which the Lord commanded, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for you a perfectly red unblemished cow, upon which no yoke was laid." (Num. 19:2)

Comments Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator: "Such is My decree: you do not have permission to second-guess [the Torah]." The same word for permission appears in Ethics of the Fathers (3:15): "Everything is foreseen, yet permission [freedom of choice] is granted." Permission implies that something is possible; "you do not have permission" implies that second-guessing G‑d is outside the realm of possibility. In truth, it is against the Jew's nature to question a Divine decree. If doubts do exist, they are only the product of the Evil Inclination. (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

If a person sees himself as "without blemish," confident that he has already reached perfection, it is a sure sign that he "has never borne a yoke" - he has never accepted the yoke of heaven. Otherwise he would understand that he is still full of flaws and imperfections... (The Seer of Lublin)

Aaron shall be gathered unto his people (Num. 20:24)

Why does the Torah use this unusual phrase to mean that Aaron was about to pass away? Because despite the fact that Aaron would no longer be alive in the physical sense, his positive character traits and exemplary behavior would be "gathered up" and perpetuated by the Jewish people forever. (Peninei Torah)

And [Moses] said to them, "Hear now, you rebels, must we bring you forth water out of this rock?" (Num. 20:10)

Calling the Jewish people "rebels" was considered a very grave sin for a person on Moses' spiritual level. For when Jews are in trouble, the proper thing to do is help rather than chastise them. (Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)

Once Upon A Chassid

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The Path of Fire

This is the Torah (law): A man who dies in a tent… (19:14)

The Torah is only acquired by those who kill themselves for it in the tents of study. (The Zohar)

It happened in the winter of 1798 or 1799, when Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitchwas a child of eight or nine. Every Friday night Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi would deliver a discourse of chassidic teaching to a select group of disciples. Little Mendel begged to be allowed in, but his grandfather refused.

The dwelling of Rabbi Schneur Zalman consisted of two two-room buildings, joined by a connecting passageway. In one of the wings, a large wood-burning stove, used for heating and occasionally to bake bread, was set in the wall between the two rooms. The stove opened into the outer room, and also protruded into the inner room which served as Rabbi Schneur Zalman's study.

One Friday night, the Rebbe was delivering his weekly discourse in his study. It was an exceptionally cold night, so a gentile was summoned to heat the oven. For some reason, he found it difficult to push the logs all the way in to the oven, so he built the fire near the opening of the stove. As a result, the outer room soon began to fill with smoke. Once again, he tried to push the burning logs further in, but they wouldn't budge. The poor man had to start all over again. He put out the fire, pulled out the logs, and peered into the stove to see what was preventing the logs from going in.

His shouts and shrieks summoned the entire household. The session in Rabbi Schneur Zalman's room was disrupted; those in the second building also came running. Inside the stove lay a young boy. A small lamp was the only source of light in the smoke-filled room, so it took some time until the child was identified as the Rebbe's grandson, little Menachem Mendel.

For some weeks now, the child had discovered that he could hear his grandfather's words through the thin wall of the stove. Every Friday night he would clamber deep into the large stove, and listen to the profound and lofty words of the Rebbe's teachings. And now, because of the bitter cold, his listening post had been discovered.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman's daughter-in-law, Rebbetzin Sheina, who was present at the time, related:

"When they pulled the child out of the stove, he was paralyzed with fright. My mother-in-law, Rebbetzin Sterna, cried to my father-in-law, the Rebbe: 'See what could have happened! A tragedy! Strangers you allow to enter, but when your own child begged you, you wouldn't let him in!' Father-in-law replied: 'Sha, sha. Moses reached Mount Sinai only by beholding fire - only then did he merit that the Torah be given through him. Torah is acquired only through self-sacrifice.' "

Tid Bits
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Can Wine Be Holy?
tid bit
Question:

I am a Muslim, but I have many Jewish friends. I was recently invited to a Jewish home for a Friday night meal, and was surprised by the "Kiddush" ceremony, which involved saying prayers over a glass of wine. In my religion, wine is forbidden. Does Judaism honestly believe that such a sensual indulgence can be considered holy?

Answer:

Each of us has a body and a soul. Our body is usually only interested in the material pleasures that this world has to offer - a good meal, an entertaining T.V. show, comfort and gratification. The soul has higher aspirations - it seeks true love, meaning, inspiration and a connection to what's holy.

All religions attempt to give us access to our souls. But as long as the body continues to chase the mundane, the soul is trapped. There are two methods to free the soul offered by different religions:

1) Suppression. By suppressing our bodily desires we can allow the soul to shine through. This means a life of ascetism and abstinence, avoiding the pleasures of this world.

2) Refinement. Alternatively, we can find spirituality within the mundane itself, by being involved with the physical world in a holy and refined way. Then the body no longer opposes the soul; on the contrary, it serves as a vehicle to express the soul's needs.

Judaism insists on the second approach. Rather than suppress the body, refine it. Don't be celibate - but save sexuality for marriage. Don't fast all day - but only eat foods that are spiritually pure. Work with the body, not against it.

The path of refinement is a challenging one, but it is possible.

Just look at wine.

Wine has a unique property that demonstrates the fact that we need not afflict our bodies in order to tap in to our souls.

Wine improves with age.

Most foods decompose as time goes on. In fact, all physical things do - buildings crumble, clothes wear out, our bodies age. This is because anything physical is ephemeral - it doesn't last; while the world of the spirit is eternal, and gets stronger with time. The one exception is wine. Wine, although it is also physical, has the spiritual property of improving with age. It is wine that testifies that even the physical can be refined.

Wine represents what Judaism is all about: the fusing of the holy and the mundane, the spiritual and physical, the body and soul.

What could be more holy than that?

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.

 

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