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The Weekly Share – 24 Cheshvan

Food For the Soul

Don’t (Only) Rely on G-d

The Parshah Chayei Sarah tells of Isaac taking Rebecca as his wife. “And Isaac brought her to the tent of Sarah his mother.” Rashi, quoting the Midrash, explains this to mean more than the obvious. When she entered the tent, it was as if she was Sarah, Isaac’s mother. Because Sarah was of such saintly character, she was granted three special miracles. 

Her Shabbat candles burned the entire week, her dough was particularly blessed, and a heavenly cloud attached itself to her tent. When Sarah died, these blessings disappeared. When Rebecca arrived on the scene, they resumed immediately. In fact, this was a clear sign to Isaac that Rebecca was indeed his soul mate and that the shidduch was made in Heaven.

Each of those three miracles, however, required some form of human input first. A candle and fire had to be found, the dough had to be prepared and a tent had to be pitched before G-d would intervene and make those miracles happen. In other words, He does help us but we must help ourselves first.

It’s a little like the fellow who would make a fervent prayer to G-d every week that he win the lottery. After many months and no jackpot in sight, he lost his faith and patience. In anguished disappointment, he vented his frustration with the Almighty. “Oh, G-d! For months I’ve been praying to you. Why haven’t you helped me win the lottery all this time?” Whereupon a heavenly voice was heard saying, “Because you haven’t bought a ticket, dummy!”

I wish it were that simple to win lotteries. But the fact is that it is the same in all our endeavors. G-d helps those who help themselves. May we all do our part. Please G-d, He will do His.

From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman

Shabbat Shalom

Bless New Month

This Shabbat is Shabbat Mevarchim (“the Shabbat that blesses” the new month): a special prayer is recited blessing the Rosh Chodesh (“Head of the Month”) of the upcoming month of Kislev, which falls on Thursday and Friday of next week.

Prior to the blessing, we announce the precise time of the molad, the “birth” of the new moon. See molad times on 

It is a Chabad custom to recite the entire book of Psalms before morning prayers, and to conduct farbrengens (chassidic gatherings) in the course of the Shabbat.

Mind Over Matter

Enter Your Day

No moment of life is too small to deserve all of you.

Abraham, we are told, was not just elderly, but “come into days.” Meaning, he had entered into his days, every one of them.

Whatever it was he needed to do, whether to teach wisdom or to graze sheep, to throw himself into fire or to feed hungry strangers, to command or to obey, to love or to fight—in every act of life he invested his entire being.

And so he owned every day of his life. His life was his.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Moshiach Thoughts

The Cave of Machpelah

Abraham’s purchase of the field which contained the Cave of Machpelah [where his wife Sarah is buried] represents the beginning of the general redemption of all Jews. The commentary Pa’ane’ach Raza explains that with the 400 silver shekels that Abraham paid (Chayei Sarah 23:16), he purchased one square cubit of the Land of Israel for every one of the 600,000 root-souls of Israel. For by the estimation of “the seed of a chomer of barley at fifty silver shekels” (Vayikra 27:16), 400 silver shekels redeem exactly 600,000 square cubits.

Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet

Have I Got A Story

Woman Power

After high school, I went to New York to study at Beth Rivka Seminary in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. I arrived on a perfectly ordinary day in September. One thing that sticks out in my mind is that there was also a funeral that day.

I happened to be nearby and, as it is a mitzvah to accompany the dead on their final journey, even if you didn’t know them personally, I joined the funeral procession. I heard that the woman was a mother of eight children, and she had passed away after a long illness. I later learned that the name of the woman was Mrs. Lifsha Shuchat.

Five years later, I married her son.

This story has special poignancy for the two of us, especially during the week when we read Parshat Chayei Sarah, the Torah portion which describes Isaac’s marriage to Rebecca after the passing of his mother. The verse states: “And Isaac brought her to the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rebecca, and she became his wife, and he loved her. And Isaac was comforted for [the loss of] his mother.” On this verse, Rashi comments: “It is the way of the world that, as long as a person’s mother is alive, he is attached to her, but as soon as she dies, he finds comfort in his wife.” On the day my future husband lost his mother, G-d had already set events into motion that would lead to our marriage five years later.

When Isaac brought Rebecca into his tent, though, it was more than just finding comfort for the loss of his mother. Rashi states, “He brought her to the tent, and behold, she was Sarah his mother; i.e., she became the likeness of Sarah his mother, for as long as Sarah was alive, a candle burned from one Sabbath eve to the next, a blessing was found in the dough, and a cloud was attached to the tent. When she died, these things ceased, and when Rebecca arrived, they resumed.” 

As soon as Rebecca entered the tent, Isaac observed that she emulated his mother. Sarah excelled in fulfilling the three mitzvahs of a woman: lighting candles on Friday night, baking challah and separating a portion for G-d, and family purity (the laws governing a couple’s intimate relationship). For this, she merited the three aforementioned miracles—her candles burned from week to week, her dough never spoiled, and a Heavenly cloud hovered over her tent.

Why was it not sufficient for Rashi to merely point out that Rebecca’s deeds were like Sarah’s? Why did he stress that she also merited the same miracles as her mother-in-law? Furthermore, after Sarah’s passing, surely her husband, Abraham, continued to light the Shabbat candles in her absence. Why did he not merit to have his candles miraculously burn throughout the week?

According to our sages, when a man and woman marry, they enter into a partnership. The role of the man is to “bring home the wheat” while the woman prepares it for eating. His job is to “conquer,” to scour the world for the necessary raw materials, and her job is to take the materiality and transform it, to use it to create a noble, G-dly home. This task is reflected in the three mitzvot of a Jewish woman. By lighting Shabbat candles, she brings the holiness of Shabbat into her home. By separating challah before baking bread, she brings holiness into the food. And by keeping the laws of taharat hamishpachah, family purity, she brings holiness into the body itself.

The miracles that both Sarah Rebecca experienced represent the power they had to draw holiness into this world and to extend that holiness beyond the boundaries of their own homes. Abraham, great as he was, did not have that function. His candles shone with an ordinary light. When Sarah and Rebecca lit candles, the holiness in those lights illuminated the world “from Shabbat to Shabbat”—and continue to shine for eternity. This is the power they bequeathed to their daughters, all Jewish women for all time. Even if we do not literally see our flames miraculously burning for an entire week, their spiritual power, their warmth and illumination remains.

According to tradition, Rebecca married Isaac at an early age, yet her candles already had this miraculous power. As Jewish women, it is our privilege to continue this chain and transmit to our daughters their mission—to light up the world with the “candle of mitzvah and the light of Torah.” Ultimately, the Midrash teaches: “If you will keep the lights of Shabbat, I will show you the lights of Zion,” with the true and complete redemption.

Chaya Schuchat

Food For the Soul

Bein HaMetzarim – Between the Straits

The three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz (July 9) and the 9th of Av (July 27) are called Bein HaMetzarim (“Between the Straits”), and during this period Jewish people the world over enter into a period of constriction, minimizing outward expressions of joy and observing different customs associated with mourning. As their name so clearly implies, these three weeks are hard. We reflect on the spiritually and physically destructive events that occurred between the breaching of Jerusalem’s walls on the 17th of Tammuz and the fall of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) on the 9th of Av in the year 70 CE. Even today it’s considered to be an inauspicious time, when negative forces manifest more freely in the world.

But despite their connection with energies of destruction, these three weeks are, on a deeper level, permeated with powerfully positive spiritual influences as well. In our timebound world, Bein HaMetzarim occurs during the summer, when the sun is at its strongest. Kabbalah teaches that every detail of our world here below is a reflection of what’s going on behind the scenes in the spiritual worlds above. Every physical object and circumstance is the manifestation of its corresponding spiritual force, and of the interactions between individual spiritual forces. The sun is associated spiritually with the Divine Name Havayah,2 a Name of G_d that expresses His attributes of compassion and revelation. So the strength of the sun during Bein HaMetzarim tells us that during the darkest period on the Hebrew calendar, G_d’s love and compassion are in truth shining the brightest.

From an article by Ani Lipitz

Shabbat Shalom

The Three Weeks

During the Three Weeks, we commemorate the conquest of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Holy Temple and the dispersion of the Jewish people. Weddings and other joyful events are not held during this period; like mourners, we do not cut our hair, and various pleasurable activities are limited or proscribed. (The particular mourning customs vary from community to community, so consult a competent halachic authority for details.)

Citing the verse (Isaiah 1:27) “Zion shall be redeemed with mishpat [Torah] and its returnees with tzedakah,” the Rebbe urged that we increase in Torah study (particularly the study of the laws of the Holy Temple) and charity during this period.

Mind Over Matter

Think good and it will be good

Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov said, “There are two things it is forbidden to worry about: that which it is possible to fix, and that which it is impossible to fix. What is possible to fix –fix it, and why worry? What is impossible to fix –how will worrying help?”

The power of positive thinking is an oft-referenced Chassidic teaching, evidenced by the Tzemach Tzedek’s famous epigram, “Think good and it will be good.”

From an article by Rabbi Levi Welton

Moshiach Thoughts

You have a purpose

If the world did not need you and you did not need this world, you would never have come here. God does not cast His precious child into the pain of this journey without purpose. You say you cannot see a reason. Why should it surprise you that a creature cannot fathom the plan of its Creator? Now is the time to dig your hands into the earth, to tend to the garden, to care for life. Soon will come a time to understand, when the fruits of your labor blossom for all to see.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

Have I got a Story

One who is static may not fall, but will definitely not rise

I was making my rabbinical rounds; visiting various businessmen, chatting with them and offering them the opportunity to put on tefillin with maybe a short Torah thought. One of my regular stops has always impressed with the cheerful attitude of the owner and the atmosphere of industry that is always buzzing around the joint. Here was a place, I used to think, with a well thought-out business model, led by an entrepreneur with vision, working to his plan, and rightly enjoying his much-deserved success.

But that day was a shock: Instead of the usual sight of workers cheerfully gossiping as they packed the products, the place was like a ghost town. A couple of desultory menials listlessly sealing a half-empty container, lights dimmed all over the place, a skeleton crew of secretarial staff filing their nails; light years from what I have come to expect.

In all this inaction, one exception stood out like the beacon of light which shone from his office: the owner; shirt sleeves way up his biceps, piles of papers sliding around the desk and a phone welded to his ear. His face lit up in the usual manner at my tentative tap on his door. He eagerly stood to wrap the straps, all the while chitchatting with me as if nothing at all was amiss. I was almost afraid to ask, but couldn’t contain my curiosity. Turns out a major customer had gone bankrupt overnight; left him with a huge unpaid back-order and warehouses of overstock.

Though I tried to summon some platitudes of comfort, he was having nothing of it. “I started off with nothing,” he declared, “God blessed me till now, and this is just a temporary setback. Gives me the opportunity to try some other products, take the company in a whole new direction.”

I am in awe of his determination and focus. It reminds me of the explanation brought in the classic book of Tanya to the verse “For a righteous man may fall seven times, and yet he rises”: Man is obliged to constantly reach for new heights. One who is static may not fall, but will definitely not rise. Even someone content to take finite, baby steps wouldn’t abandon his former level before establishing a foothold on the next. Only someone who has the energy and imagination to attempt to fly needs to “fall,” if only in comparison with his previous level.

In spirituality, your finite previous self actually hinders your progress, and if you aspire to mature you must first purge yourself of your previous level. The same is true of life. My friend has faith that this setback is just the opportunity he needed to clear his mind from the small-stakes he was bidding for till now and a chance to focus on taking his rightful seat at a new table. And with that determination and attitude, how could he not succeed?

At this time of year our focus is on commemorating the national calamity that has been our lot over the two thousand odd years since the destruction of the Temple. We fast and pray in an effort to persuade God to redeem us and build us a third, permanent, Temple. The setbacks we as a nation have suffered are not just some cosmic joke played out on us by an unfeeling, malicious Divinity; rather they have been the longest and greatest training run in history, forcing us to build up our stamina for the blastoff that lies ahead. Only a people who have suffered as we have, can anticipate a payoff of the magnitude that we deserve. The vicissitudes of fate have toughened and tempered us, awakened us to look for new opportunities, and guaranteed us a future of redemption and happiness, beyond even our expectations.

Condensed from an article by Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum

In this week’s Parsha, Chukat-Balak, we learn that shortly after the passing of Miriam, the preeminent Yiddishe mama (Jewish mother), the water that had flowed miraculously from a stone for 40 years, as our ancestor traveled through the desert, ceased its flow. The nation then realized that the water had been provided in the merit of Miriam, and although Moses and Aaron were able to restore the water, the water source would forever be known as the well of Miriam.

Everything in the biblical narrative, including its stories, is instructive. To reveal the lesson behind this particular story, one need only think about the symbolic role of water. The Talmud refers to Torah as food, because the Torah is ingested by the mind like food is ingested by the stomach. The role of water is to lubricate the body and to facilitate the distribution of the food’s nourishment throughout the body.

When viewed this way, the lesson of Miriam’s well is clear. The Yiddishe mama has a particular role to play in Jewish life. The Torah tells us that the obligation to teach Torah to the child falls primarily on the father. The father provides food for Torah thought directly to the child’s mind. The Yiddishe mama nurtures a home environment and a culture that extends the Torah to the child’s heart and facilitates the child’s ability to internalize it, allowing it to flow within the child like water. Thus, Miriam, the preeminent Yiddishe mama, provided the water.
From an article by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow