Food For the Soul
One of the most traumatic events in early Jewish history was the ambush by Amalek on the newly liberated people, fresh out of Egypt. Amalak was the first nation that dared attack the Jews after G-d miraculously redeemed them, and in their vulnerable state, this attack was particularly devastating. In the Parsha Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19) we find a curious mitzvah: Remember to forget Amalek. You shall remember what Amalek did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt . . . You shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. Do not forget! How do we keep such opposite thoughts in mind at the same time?
When the Jews asked this of Moses, he answered, “The glass of spiced wine is not to be compared to the glass of vinegar! One ‘Remember’ is in order to observe and to sanctify the Sabbath day, and the other ‘Remember’ is in order to destroy.” Vinegar on its own is excessively sour and not fit to drink. Mixed with other foods, however, it adds flavoring, and even has health benefits. What this means in spiritual terms is that even an experience as sour as our encounter with Amalek has a source in holiness. In fact, the very existence of an entity that “knows its Creator and intentionally rebels against Him” is a testimony to G-d’s omnipotence. G-d created a world with dueling, conflicting powers to give us the opportunity to vanquish the evil and channel its energy to good.
Adapted from an article by Chaya Shuchat
As the last month of the Jewish year, Elul is traditionally a time of introspection and stocktaking — a time to review one’s deeds and spiritual progress over the past year and prepare for the upcoming “Days of Awe” of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.
As the month of Divine Mercy and Forgiveness it is a most opportune time for teshuvah (“return” to G-d), charity (before and after Shabbat), prayer and increased Ahavat Yisrael (love for a fellow Jew) in the quest for self-improvement and coming closer to G-d. Chassidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalmanof Liadi likens the month of Elul to a time when “the king is in the field” and, in contrast to when he is in the royal palace, “everyone who so desires is permitted to meet him, and he receives them all with a cheerful countenance and shows a smiling face to them all.”
For specific Elul customs visit Chabad.org.
Mind Over Matter
Destiny or DIY?
One may ask, is it not an expression of faith to leave it all to G-d? To put our trust implicitly in Him that He will provide? The answer is that it is a Jewish belief that “G-d helps those who help themselves.” That’s why it is a commandment of the Torah to safeguard our health. Likewise, we are not to live dangerously by leaving roofs unenclosed, swimming pools unfenced or our doors unlocked. A few chapters before the command to erect fences on roofs, the Torah states that “The L-rd, your G-d, shall bless you in all that you do.” Meaning that to succeed in any endeavor, we need G-d’s blessing, but He blesses us in all that we do. In order to merit His blessing, we must first lay the groundwork and create the opportunity for G-d’s blessings to be realized.
From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
At the end of the Messianic battle, the people of Israel will find restored all the precious spoils that fell into the hands of the nations of the world during the time of the galut, and which the latter have kept all these years. This means essentially the Beit Hamikdash (the Holy Temple of Jerusalem). The nations pursued the Jewish people throughout the times, and their primary objective has always been the dwelling-place of our spiritual center, the Beit Hamikdash. They did indeed achieve their goal, in fact twice, by the destruction of both the first Beit Hamikdash and the second Beit Hamikdash. For as long as the third Beit Hamikdash (to be restored by Moshiach) is not yet rebuilt, the Beit Hamikdash remains in their hands! When Moshiach will succeed with his battles, we shall regain the enemy’s capture by the restoration of the Beit Hamikdash.
Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Towards a Torah-observant life
The road to a Torah-observant life is long and the path uncertain for someone brought up without Jewish observance. Everywhere I looked, there was more than one direction in which to go, and I could not start the journey on my own. In the beginning, as my neshama, my Jewish soul, awakened, I most longed just to belong—to be a Jew among Jews, not the person raised by a Jewish mother who converted to Christianity. I had always felt like a fraud in a church, quite torn, but didn’t know how to begin to live life as a Jew. So I slogged along, well into middle age, not knowing where to begin. In fact, I didn’t really understand what my own dissatisfaction meant until I was “given permission” to be the Jew who dwelled inside me.
My road became clearer with a signpost in the form of a visit from Rabbi Yosef Goldwasser, the Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to the city of Mobile in Alabama. He helped me understand that my birthright as a Jew was legitimate, that my Jewishness was valued, and he encouraged me to move forward in whatever direction my heart and soul yearned.
Rabbi Goldwasser, and his incredible wife, Bina, were and are patient and always willing to explain further what G-d wants of his children. I began to feel a need to incorporate Jewish practices into my life. One of my first decisions was to try keeping kosher. Although my nearby family—none of whom practice Judaism—tried to discourage me, I began in fits and starts to eat mostly kosher foods, scouring the grocery store for them.
At one point, I became overwhelmed and discouraged, and was even crying with worry that I could not actually do the things necessary to keep a kosher home with no family support. But the rabbi and Bina continued gently encouraging me to go slowly and do what I felt comfortable with. I am working on it.
On a recent Shabbat, I decided to turn off my cell phone, to which, like so many others, I am absolutely tethered, constantly checking messages, Facebook and emails. I can’t say it wasn’t difficult, but it turned out to be another signpost, pointing the way to a Shabbat of peace, restfulness and reflection. I also made the decision to turn off my television and computer for the duration of that Shabbat. Instead, I read chapters of Mendel Kalmenson’s Positivity Bias, drinking in the thoughts and perceptions of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.
The power of the Rebbe’s worldview has become another signpost to teach me to move straight down the road of Jewish observance, veering neither to the right nor left. I am learning that I must consider what I say and what I do because my thoughts, words and actions have a ripple effect, and the consequences can be exceedingly far-reaching. This is a hard lesson to learn and one in which I am sure to stumble. But the signpost is clear and points in only one direction.
I also began reading Tanya, which Bina has generously offered to help me with. I am reading it in English, and it is difficult reading for a Jew so newly brought back to the fold. But it’s satisfying, too, to take this extra step in the learning process—something I can feel proud of struggling with.
I “chanced” upon an article on Chabad.org that pointed out to me this insight: “It is our duty, the Rebbe says, to stand at life’s crossroads with a large arrow sign and loudly proclaim to all, ‘This is the way to refuge. Here’s the Torah. Here’s how you live it. Here’s how you find peace and tranquility.’ ”
“We need to be signs,” the article continues. “For our chance acquaintances, for our friends, for our children.” I am so fortunate to be directed by the signposts provided through the mentoring of the Goldwassers and the power of the Rebbe’s guidance.
And so, I move forward in my journey—preparing my kitchen to be completely kosher, ordering kosher meats through the rabbi, learning to cook and serve kosher foods, and remembering not to mix meat and dairy. I am still taking deep breaths and worrying a little about getting everything right, but I know I am moving in the direction my soul is telling me to move.
Feeling gratitude for the joy of my blossoming Jewishness is a daily affirmation that G-d has chosen to touch my life in continually unfolding and personal ways. And my small gift to him is teaching myself to say the “Modeh Ani” prayer in Hebrew via transliteration. It is my way of praising and thanking the G-d who gently but firmly has set me on the right path and provided signposts to keep me there.
By Rachel Leah Fry in Chabad.org