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Let's try a stream of consciousness. Think of different kinds of materials that can be strung together to make necklaces: Wooden beads... pearls... pumpkin seeds... tiny glass beads a bit bigger than a pin-head... onyx... noodles... gold balls... cherrios... plastic baubles... The list is endless. All a person needs is some patience, creativity or money and the funkiest or most elegant necklace imaginable can be fashioned.
What do all of these "beads" of diverse medium have in common? Not much! They do have, however, one shared trait: they are crafted with a hole or they are pierced, making possible their stringing.
Chasidic philosophy uses the analogy of beads, pearls in particular, to teach an interesting lesson for life.
Pearls (South Sea, cultured, baroque, you choose) are precious. An essential part of making a pearl necklace is the drilling of a hole in the center of the pearl. Once there is a hole, the pearl can be strung together with additional pearls (or mixed with various other stones or beads) until the desired length necklace and effect is attained.
Every Jew is a pearl, truly a gem, precious beyond belief. Each Jew is important as an individual and his/her life should embody the conviction that, as Jewish teachings explain, "The whole world was created for me."
Simultaneously, in his center, in his heart of hearts, there must be a "hole." His core must be void of self-centeredness and egotism.
For, in addition to being a person of worth and value, he is part of the Jewish people. Our success at joining together with others and connecting with them, to becoming a pearl on the illustrious necklace of Klal Yisrael - the Jewish people, requires that we practice selflessness and compassion for others.
When stringing a pearl necklace, a knot is placed on either side of the pearl. In this way, even if the thread was to tear, at most one pearl would be lost. In addition, this allows each pearl to retain its uniqueness and be appreciated as an individual pearl.
So too with every Jew. Piercing our core with the realization that we must care for and reach out to others does not negate our individuality. Rather, it allows us to become part of something that is infinitely grander and more precious than any one of us alone.
This is similar to what the Prophet Isaiah said concerning the Messianic Era. At that time (may it commence immediately) the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean. This comprehension of the G-dliness within everything will not turn us into automated robots. Just as the waters of the ocean cover and unite everything within, but all creatures of the ocean retain their identity, so too will we retain our individuality as we unite in these last moments before the coming of Moshiach, and afterwards, as well.
This Shabbat, the first after the conclusion of the Festivals, we begin the new cycle of reading the Torah with the very first section of the book of Genesis - Bereishit. This week's portion, Bereishit tells of the six days of creation, culminating with G-d's creation of the first people, Adam and Eve. One of the first episodes that we read is the story is of the cunning deceit of the snake, who attempts to convince both Adam and Chava to go against G-d's will.
It seems that this is the beginning of all of humanity's troubles. It is also replayed over and over again in every generation. The cunning deceive the world to go against truth and decency, to go against G-d.
Why is this the first story of humanity? What lesson can we take from this for ourselves and for our time?
This story is our personal daily struggle with the snake, the evil inclination. Every day, he cunningly plays on our weaknesses, wanting only to create distance between us and G-d. This story is first in the Torah because this is our essential struggle.
Every time we overcome the snake's cunning, we are drawn closer to G-d and He is filled with pride. His truth wins at the moment false deception is trumped.
In the same way that we must overcome the enemy within, we as a people are constantly threatened by external enemies, many that seek to annihilate the Jewish Nation. The nature of man is to follow his perceived best interest, regardless of what is right and true. So even civilized nations that claim to be our friends can end up treating us with deceit, enabling and supporting the snakes that seek to annihilate us.
This too is a test. Our brothers and sisters in Israel are living under threat, and much of the world is supporting the murderers. They have often been tempted to play by the world's dishonest rules in the hope of proving that we are a civilized nation. G-d wants us to stand strong and do what is right in His eyes.
Righteousness and decency are on our side. We have nothing to prove. All that is necessary is the courage to do what is right. May the leadership in Israel have the courage to do what G-d wants, despite the pressure of the world.
May G-d protect us and our brothers and sisters the world-over. And may we have the ultimate protection with the coming of Moshiach now!
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
The Funeral that I Wanted to Attend
by Rabbi Mendel Schwartz
It was 11:00 pm on Sunday night, April 28, 2013. I had just finished reading the story about "Hirshel Goat." I told myself that if I ever got a call to assist with a minyan to bury somebody, I will not ignore the opportunity to perform this great mitzva. For who knows what decree I can avert by having an additional Jew bury somebody, and who knows the quality of the soul that will be buried. Perhaps it may be a holy Tzadik.
But let me backtrack.
The story of Hirshel Goat was published by the Previous Rebbe in 1949. The Previous Rebbe had heard the story from his father, the Rebbe Rashab. When he transcribed the story as a teen, his father corrected it three times to make sure the story was complete and accurate. The story goes as follows:
It was a typical day in the marketplace of Brody. Merchants haggled with prospective customers; people dashed about in search of a bargain.
The Baal Shem Tov, who was taking a stroll in the market, suddenly glanced up in wonderment. A simple Jew walked slowly by, a sack of flour on his shoulder. His face was pale and drawn, his clothes were frayed, and rivulets of sweat ran down his cheeks. Simple straw slippers covered his feet. Yet, rising above his head was a pillar of dazzling bright light, radiating with such intensity that the Baal Shem Tov could not help but stare in astonishment. In fact, the shining light appeared similar to the radiance that shone from the face of Moses and the greatest of Sages! "He must belong to the circle of hidden tzadikim," thought the Baal Shem Tov. "And yet, I know nothing about him."
The porter continued walking and the Baal Shem Tov heard the merchants call to him. "Hirshel, carry your packages in peace!" "Hirshel Goat, bear your burden peacefully!" "Be well, be well," responded the simple Jew, nodding in thanks.
Puzzled, the Baal Shem Tov tried to glean information from the merchants about the porter. "Oh, him?" said the merchants mockingly. "He's a goat keeper. He has four goats at home, because he claims to have a particular affinity for goat's milk. We call him "Hirshel Goat." His wife died ten years ago, so Hirshel lives alone with his goats in one of the ramshackle huts near the end of the village."
The Baal Shem Tov's astonishment increased. He resolved to follow Hirshel around on his errands to try to discover his meritorious deeds. Yet, even after a few days of careful surveillance, the Baal Shem Tov remained genuinely puzzled: How could a simple goat keeper merit such sublime spiritual radiance?
After three days of praying and fasting, the Baal Shem Tov approached the goat keeper and said "I am very hungry and weak, and I would particularly enjoy a cup of goat's milk. I heard you sell this particular sort of milk; perhaps I can buy some?"
"Certainly!" answered Hirshel joyously. "Come with me and I will give you milk, but not for money. I am also a Jew, and I am enjoined to share my bread and belongings with fellow Jews." (Read the continuation of this story on the back before continuing.)
Monday morning April 29th at 9:00 am I saw a facebook post from my former classmate Simcha Kagan who lives in Los Angeles. He posted that he has a friend Allen from Seattle who had just lost his mother. "Allen is on the way from Seattle and asked me to find a minyan to bury his mother at 1:00 pm today. His 83-yr-old mom lived for many years in an old age home in LA. She will be buried at Eden Memorial. Allen's friends live in Seattle, the moms' friends are no longer alive, and Allen is panicking that he may not have a minyan."
I couldn't have been more excited when I saw this facebook post. I called Simcha and told him that I was looking forward to being part of this very special minyan. Simcha questioned my excitement. He said, "Mendel, I know you're a nice guy, but such excitement to clear your schedule to make a minyan?" So I told him the story I had read the night before. Simcha was amazed. We pulled into Eden Memorial for the 1:00 pm burial. Simcha told Allen, "Since there is no rabbi officiating, I would like Mendel to share with everybody during the burial a story he read last night which was perhaps about your mother as well."
As two guys from our minyan were covering the coffin with earth, before Allen said the Kaddish, I shared with the few people there the story about "Hirshel Goat." Allen and his daughter were sobbing as I retold the story with every detail. I talked about the power of Hirshel and his wife Rachel Leah. And I said perhaps the woman we are burying right now is a reincarnation of this Rachel Leah who acted modestly, and who shared with hundreds of people acts of kindness that nobody - including her own family - may have known about.
I continued that perhaps there are thousands of souls, and tzadikim, and angels who were created from BasSheva bat Abraham's deeds of love and kindness who are now smiling that this great woman who may be a reincarnation of the original Rachel Leah are finally getting to have her soul back with the rest of her extended family. I continued that everybody in the heavens are smiling that in Los Angeles there was more than a minyan. We had 12 people present there. May BasSheva the daughter of Abraham have an elevation on high.
Allen approached me and thanked me for helping make the minyan to bury his mother. He hugged me and cried on my shoulder for sharing such a powerful story. He then asked me my name. I responded, "Mendel Schwartz."
He asked, "Would your father be Rabbi Schwartz - Schwartzie?"
I said, "That's him."
Allen told me that the first Chasidic rabbi he ever met was Schwartzie. That was 30 years ago before he had became religious. And he told Schwartzie then, "I think you're a great man, but I will never look like you." Today, Allen wears a beard and is a religious man.
I asked Allen, "Where was this encounter 30 years ago with my father?"
"On a Shabbaton at Brandeis Bardin Campus."
I asked, "When exactly did your mother pass away"? Allen answered, "This past Saturday night right after the Havdala service."
I asked him, "Do you know where I was this past Saturday night? Performing a Havdala service for 50 high school kids on a Shabbaton. I was at Brandeis Bardin campus for my first time."
Chabad of Oro Valley, Arizona, founded and directed by Rabbi Ephraim and Mushkie Zimmerman, recently purchased anew 3,388-square-foot center. The new facility will feature an expansive multi-purpose room with an office and a kitchen. Space is allocated for a welcome center as well as space for adult education classes. Seating capacity will be 150.
Chabad of Pensacola, Florida, founded and directed by Rabbi Mendel and Nechama Danow recently purchases a 4,500 square foot vintage building in the heart of Pensacola. The new building will have ample space for Chabad holiday programs, children's programs, classes and events.
Chabad Jewish Center of Bethesda, Maryland, directed by Rabbi Sender and Nechamie Geisinsky opened the doors to its beautiful new building. The building was dedicated to the late beloved Rebbetzin of the Chabad Bethesda community Mrs. Chaya Zlata Geisinsky ob"m, who together with her husband Rabbi Bentzion Geisinsky, founded Chabad in Bethesda as well as earlier communities in Rockville and Potomac.
From a letter of the Rebbe 15 Kislev, 5734 (1974)
Pursuant to the letter of the beginning of last month, the content of which was based on the general instruction and culminating point of the month of Tishrei, namely, the message contained in the phrase, "And Yaakov went on his way:"
Bearing in mind that each letter and word of the Torah is a world full of meaning and instruction, there is a need to elaborate on the concepts contained in the said three Hebrew words:
And Yaakov: It is well known that the two names of our patriarch, Yaakov (Jacob) and Yisroel (Israel), are quite different. The name Yaakov was given at birth, whereas Yisroel was bestowed later, after our patriarch had fought "with angels and with men, and prevailed."
The name Yaakov is associated with ekev - heel - which is the lowest and last part of the body, and wherein there is hardly any distinction between one person and another. The name Yisroel, on the other hand, has to do with leadership and mastery. In fact, when the Hebrew letters are rearranged, they spell li rosh - I am the head. The head, of course, is the highest part of the body, wherein the essential differences (physical and spiritual) between individuals are located, viz. facial features, voice, looks, and intellect.
Now, the significance of Yaakov, in the above "instruction" is that it refers to the Divine mission given to every Jew, without exception, from birth, while still in the state of "Yaakov," and at the beginning of his Divine service. From this starting point, the mission is to be fulfilled in a manner containing the following elements:
Went on - implying true locomotion, i.e. leaving one place (and spiritual state) completely behind to go to another, more desirable place.
Parenthetically, this is the reason why angels are called omdim - stationary - for although "they fulfill the Will of their Maker with awe and fear, and praise G-d in song and melody" which is their form of advancement to higher states, there is no complete departure and change involved in their nature, hence this cannot be termed perfect "going."
Only man is called mehalech, a "walker," for his task is to go ever higher, even if his previous spiritual station is satisfactory. Yet, to remain in the same state will not do at all. His progression must involve a change, to the extent that his new spiritual state is incomparably higher than his previous one, however good it was, and he must thus continue on the road that leads to G-dliness, the En Sof, the Infinite, as indicated further.
Only man is called mehalech, a "walker," for his task is to go ever higher, even if his previous spiritual station is satisfactory.
His way - the King's Way, the way of the Supreme King of the universe. The preeminence of a perfect way, as has been pointed out, is that it links the remotest corner with the royal palace in the capital city. It is a two-way road, leading from the palace to the remote corner and from the remote corner to the palace.
This is how the service of every Jew, man and woman, should be. One must not be satisfied with one's influence at home, in the community, or country, but one must open the way, the King's way, as above, that leads even to the remotest corner of the earth, in order to illuminate that corner with the light of Torah and mitzvos (commandments) and to uplift all that is in that corner.
May G-d grant that each and every one of us will carry out the mission included in, "And Yaakov went on his way," and carry it out with joy, for "joy breaks through barriers," and thus help to light up the darkness of the Exile, for the ultimate fulfillment of the promise: "All the earth will be filled with G-d's glory."
DALYA is Hebrew, and means "branch" or "bough." Dalia means "shoot" in Hebrew and appears in the book of Ezekiel (17:6, 31:7). In Modern Hebrew, as in other languages, it is the name of a flowering bush native to Mexico (spelled "Dahlia" in English). (variations: Dahlia, Dalya)
DORON is Hebrew, and means "gift."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is known as "Shabbat Bereishit," the Shabbat on which we read the first portion of the first book of the Torah - Bereishit.
The Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, used to say that "the position which we adopt on Shabbat Bereishit determines the nature of our conduct in the entire year to come."
Shabbat Bereishit represents the transition from the holidays of the month of Tishrei to our regular, day-to-day life of the coming months.
Shabbat, in general, is known to elevate the spiritual service of the previous week. As Shabbat Bereishit follows the holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah - holidays that collect and internalize all the influences of the holiday-filled month of Tishrei - Shabbat Bereishit perfects and elevates the holidays of Tishrei.
In addition, Shabbat Bereishit is the Shabbat on which the month of Marcheshvan is blessed. One of the reasons that the prefix "mar" is added to the name of the month Cheshvan is that "mar" means bitter. Cheshvan has no holidays and is therefore a "bitter" month, especially in comparison to holiday-packed Tishrei.
Because Shabbat Bereishit has both of these aspects - the culmination of the previous month and the blessing of the upcoming month - it can potentially influence the entire year.
Thus, the position we adopt on Shabbat Bereishit has the potential to influence the entire year; it can bring the spiritual inspiration of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah into our regular, day-to-day living.
May we all have a very "successful" Shabbat Bereishit.
G-d blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28)
The first commandment in the Torah is "Be fruitful and multiply." Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism declared: "The first basic principle in the Torah, the first fundamental in our lives, is that each and every Jew is obligated to 'create' another." Every member of our people must invest great effort to "produce another Jew, specifically, to foster Torah education.
The birth of a Jewish child brings joy not only to his parents and extended family but to the entire Jewish people, for it signifies a step closer to the coming of Moshiach. The Talmud states that Moshiach will not arrive until "all the souls in guf" (the storehouse in which they await their descent into the physical world) have been born. The birth of a Jewish baby therefore hastens the Redemption and brings closer the blessings of the Messianic Era.
(Sichat 25 Iyar, 5743)
G-d rested from all the work which He had created to be done. (Gen. 2:3)
Rashi explains that the words "to be done" teach that the world was created incomplete, as it were, requiring the active participation of mankind to attain perfection. But how can we, insignificant as we are, complete the act of creation? The Torah's own words, "created to be done" assures us that this perfection is within our grasp, and is part of G-d's plan. Each of us has the strengths and talents to improve the world and elevate it into something holy and Divine.
Continued from the Slice of Life on page 2
The pair walked silently through the streets of Brody, finally reaching a row of old, decrepit homes at the outskirts of the village. Hirshel pushed open the door of his home and the air was suddenly filled with the sound of loud bleating. The goats raced quickly toward Hirshel, licking him fondly as they frolicked around their beloved owner. Hirshel greeted his goats warmly, stroking them and calming them with soothing words. Soon, the goats stood ready for their milking. Hirshel sat down to milk the goats, offered his guest a cup of warm milk, and soon the pair were engaged in conversation. To the Baal Shem Tov's surprise, Hirshel revealed his daily schedule and, in doing so, removed the shroud of secrecy surrounding his sacred work.
"All her life, my righteous wife Rachel Leah cared for poor, sickly people," said Hirshel. "Whenever a destitute family had a child, my wife was there to help the mother and the newborn, washing, cleaning, feeding, doing everything she could. She started this mitzva when she was very young, even before our marriage, and continued uninterrupted until the day of her death.
"Ten years ago, Rachel Leah passed away. A few days later, she appeared to me in a dream and related everything she experienced after leaving our physical earth. 'I felt myself being escorted before the Heavenly Court,' she told me. 'They were busy reviewing every aspect of my life when suddenly a large group of souls appeared - the same women and children I had helped throughout the years. They told the Heavenly Court how I assisted them and, in merit of these good deeds, I was immediately escorted into Paradise. I have come to reveal a secret. In Heaven, special regard is shown to those who spend their lives helping other Jews. Since you are a simple Jew, unable to gain merit through the study of Torah, I have a suggestion for you how you can attain great spiritual reward: Help the sickly and suffering, and offer assistance to birthing mothers. However, keep your deeds secret. Do the deed for its merit alone, without fanfare or publicity.' Saying this, my wife disappeared and I awoke.
"Upon pondering her words, I decided to purchase four goats. Whatever money I earn from peddling, I use to buy superior grain for feeding the goats. Thus, they produce healthy, nutritious milk, of inestimable value for invalids or birthing mothers who have no means of acquiring medication. I distribute the milk secretly, leaving full containers on doorsteps of needy households. Thank G-d, my milk has healed many of the sick and needy.
"Last night, my wife appeared to me as I slept," continued Hirshel. "She said: 'If you meet a poor man tomorrow who asks you for something, bring him home with you. Offer him some milk and tell him our secret. Through him, you can attain everlasting salvation."'
Deeply moved by the porter's sincerity, the Baal Shem Tov resolved to stay in Brody for an entire month. As the Baal Shem Tov observed Hershel's dally schedule, he could not help but marvel at the porter's righteous deeds. Pure faith illuminated his every deed. Seeing this, the Baal Shem Tov readily understood Hirshel's great spiritual reward and found him deserving of the dazzling pillar of light that shone above his head.
The Baal Shem Tov instructed the leader of the "Hidden Tzadikim" to let Hirshel in their group, and to teach Hirshel the entire Torah. After five years, Heaven instructed Rabbi Hirshel to relocate to the city of Anipoli. There, too, he continued curing the sick, and his prayers and amulets helped heal literally thousands of people. After some time, Rabbi Hirshel took the wandering staff in hand and began to travel from town to town, helping others with his work. Shortly before his passing, Rabbi Hirshel arrived in the city of Ostropol. On a cold day in the month of Elul, 1761, merely a year after the passing of the Baal Shem Tov, the righteous goat keeper passed away quietly at a ripe old age. Heavy, soaking rains fell on Ostropol that day; icy winds cut through the city. Hearing about the demise of a relatively unknown recluse, very few people ventured outside to accompany Rabbi Hirshel to his final resting place. Barely a minyan gathered to bury Rabbi Hirshel in the drenching deluge.
Rabbi Hirshel's soul ascended heavenward, where a large procession of souls gathered to meet him. They were the souls of all the hidden tzaddikim including the Baal Shem Tov, along with all the sickly and needy souls who had benefited from Rabbi Hirshel's charitable acts. Throngs of angels created by Rabbi Hirshel's deeds kept arriving, clamoring to see the great tzaddik. As Rabbi Hirshel's soul arrived, pandemonium erupted. The prosecuting angels accused the Jewish residents of Ostropol for their grievous sin of practically ignoring the demise of the saintly Rabbi Hirshel. "They disgraced the Tzadik!" roared the accusers angrily. "Hardly ten people turned up to accord Rabbi Hirshel his final honor. In fact, the circle of hidden tzaddikim and their leader also deserve due punishment for allowing such an abomination to occur." The souls of the tzadikim, headed by the Talmudic Sage of Rabbi Chaninah ben Dosa, began exerting their utmost effort to avert the Heavenly decree facing the Jew of Ostropol, but their desperate attempts bore no fruit.
Suddenly, an announcement was heard "Make way, make way for the soul of the righteous women Rachel Leah, the wife of Rabbi Hirshel." Rachel Leah's soul suddenly appeared, accompanied by thousands of shining souls and equally dazzling angels. "Can the Jews of Ostropol really be blamed for their apathy!" she beseeched the Heavenly Court. "Could they have known that this elderly wanderer was in fact, a righteous saint? Furthermore, punishing the Jews of Ostropol means, in essence, punishing my saintly husband. After all, he is the sole cause for your prosecution!"
Hearing her truthful words, the accusing angels slunk way in shame and the evil decree was abolished.
One hundred and fifteen years passed. In 1875, Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, merited to envision the Baal Shem Tov in his Heavenly chamber of light and hear various stories from his saintly soul. Among them was this story of "Hirshel Goat," the simple goat keeper who merited to become one of the foremost tzaddkim of his day.
In the beginning (bereishit) G-d created the heaven and the earth (Gen. 1:1) Our Sages tell us that the entire world was created solely for the sake of the two things that are called "reishit" ("first") - Israel (the Jewish people) and the Torah. Speaking about the Messianic Era, the Prophet Isaiah said, "The nation and the kingdom that does not serve you will be destroyed." When Moshiach comes the nations of the world will lend aid and support to the Jewish people, recognizing that their very existence depends on their service; those who refuse to accept their subservient position will disappear from the face of the earth.
(Likutei Sichot Vol. XXIV)