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Mindfulness


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Mindfulness is a skill taught in varying ways in many different kinds of therapy. Learning to connect with the present moment requires overcoming our mind’s natural habits of doing, judging and fear based biases, however when we do focus on the moment we can begin to feel more whole and calm.

When we do a mitzvah we bring G-dliness into this world, but when we do that mitzvah with a focus on the what and why, rather than by rote, we reveal that G-dliness and make it felt in the world. Otherwise known as Mindful Mitzvahs.

One mitzvah that is particularly important to do mindfully is Mitzvah Matzah, which if you say enough times quickly becomes a fun tongue twister.

Not only does our eating matzah at the seder need to be given thought, but the matzah also needs to have been made with the intention that it was baked specifically for a mitzvah. Anything created for a mitvah needs to be done intentionally, which is why eating handmade matzahs at the seder is ideal.

When we take the time to focus on the mitzvahs that we are doing, our impact is far greater and our intention takes our mitzvah to a higher level of connectedness with G-d.

When we think for a moment about the mitzvahs we do, not only are our actions psychologically more whole, but also spiritually more whole and fusing all dimensions of our being, physical, psychological and spiritual, can only bring a calm and serenity to us.

As always, we will be distributing handmade shmura matzahs on campus, in the dorms or available for pickup at the Chabad House. 

Make sure to grace your seder table with the Bentley of matzahs.

 

See you soon,

~Nechama~

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Road trip fun!

 

Jewish Dermatology

 

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When discussing the “magical” skin disorder known as tzoraat (leprosy), an affliction that appeared on people who transgressed the prohibition against gossip in the times of the Temple, we are taught that it was only someone of Kohen lineage who could declare the person ritually impure.

What’s unusual is that the criteria for who was allowed to determine if a spot found was actuallytzoraat, had nothing to do with who was most well versed in the laws, or who was the greatest scholar in order to ensure an accurate verdict. Rather, all that was required was a Kohen. And if the only Kohen available was a child who knew nothing about what did or did not constitute tzoraat, a person who was well versed would tell the Kohen child and that Kohen child would make the declaration.

This might seem needlessly ceremonial, however, the reason this task was given to the Kohen is because it was the Kohanim who were given the job to bless the Jewish people, with the words ‘to bless the people of Israel, with love’. A Kohen is endowed with an additional measure of the attribute of kindness in order to do his job with love, and it is that love that is required in order to declare a fellow Jew ritually impure with all the ramifications that came along.

His innate love will ensure that he does not misjudge a fellow Jew, he will leave no stone unturned and will do all he can to try to find a way for the verdict to be positive. And when the outcome was negative, you could be sure that it was so in the truest sense.

Often we encounter people or situations that we find unjust or wanting of improvementbefore we reach out to rebuke another or try to rectify a situation we need to look inside ourselves and ensure that that rebuke is coming from a place of love. Our job is not to highlight another’s wrongdoings, but if the situation arises we are only permitted to do so if our intentions are coming with the love of a Kohen.

Have a fabulous week,

~Nechama~

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Shabbat, me or you?

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Have you ever wondered about Shabbat candle lighting? Particularly in the winter?

A woman once wanted to begin incorporating Shabbat into her life; she began with the quick and easy component of lighting Shabbat candles figuring that it didn’t require much investment of time, but still felt meaningful as it is a mitzvah specifically for women.

The problem arose as winter’s short Fridays hit and candle lighting time (18 mins before sundown) found her still in the office. At first she stuck with it and as the time approached she would pull out her tea-light candles, light them and recite the blessing, she got some strange looks but she smiled confidently in return and no one seemed to mind.

Later in the evening as she would return home and sit down to dinner she began to feel that it wasn’t quite right to be lighting candles while continuing to work, followed by driving home. She decided that lighting candles once she returned home, even if it was technically later than should be, in the calm of her dining room would be a better option so she could relax and really enjoy the glow of the candles, it felt much more spiritual and really that’s what Shabbat candles were all about, right? Or is it?

The story of the death of Aron’s two sons, as related in this week’s Torah portion, sheds some light on this quandary.

We are told that they died because they sinned, but the medrash tells us that they were holier than Moses and Aron. If they were in fact such holy men, how could they sin so terribly that resulted in their deaths?

The problem with Nadav and Avihu (the sons) was that they served G-d so fervently that they got lost in the ecstasy of it, they worked so hard to get closer to G-d that they forgot about what their purpose in this world really was. Their souls reached higher and higher until they actually left their bodies, and they died.

They were lofty men but in this area they were off course. They were reprimanded for not marrying and not having children because living a physical life and making that physical life more spiritual, is really the purpose of our creation.

If we look at our relationship with G-d from the vantage point of what makes us feel good, what makes us feel more spiritual or more connected, then perhaps we are really just serving ourselves. But if we do what G-d wants us to do and we want to truly serve G-d, then we need to follow his commands as He commanded them.

If the woman above asked me which scenario is best for lighting her Shabbat candles, I would obviously tell her to leave work early and be home in time for Shabbos:), but in fact lighting candles once Shabbat has begun is counterproductive as they are no longer Shabbat candles but actually desecrate Shabbat. Because it’s not about what makes us feel good, but about what G-d wants us to do.

Have a wonderful week,

~Nechama~

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We had a very happy Purim, hope you did too!

Jewish Self Esteem

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If you do a search on Amazon under books with the key words ‘self esteem’, you’ll find some 110,000 results, pretty much telling the readers how to increase their self esteem or that of those around them.

For decades now the importance of a healthy self esteem in achieving successhas been believed to be a most integral component. For parents of little ones phrases such as ‘good girl’ were replaced by ‘good job’. Parents of teenagers are taught to criticize an action, never a person. College students are told that they can be at the top of anything they choose, and job hunters are taught that they will succeed when they project high levels of self confidence. All of these messages are intended to help us succeed.

Recently however, this theory is being questioned as to its possible correlation with the alarming rates of nearly 50% in the US suffering from anxiety and depression. How real is that sense of self that we are creating? Are we really all capable of tremendous success bordering on, dare I say, perfection? Or is our preoccupation with self esteem actually undermining our success in the long run?

When the Alter Rebbe (author of the Tanya and Code of Jewish Law) sent his grandson to school for the first time, he instructed the boy’s teacher to begin his lessons with the Torah portion of Vayikra (this week’s portion), instead of the obvious first choice of Bereishit, Genesis. When the little boy came home, he presented his grandfather with a question. “Why is the letter alef in the word vayikra smaller than all the other letters?”

Apparently, this was what his grandfather had been hoping he would ask and after moments of meditation he explained to him that there are three sizes of letters in the Torah, medium, large and small. Most of the Torah is written in the medium font to teach us that the Torah is written to instruct us to strive to become the ‘intermediate’ person referred to in Tanya. The large font, which is used in the alef of Adam’s name, represents an inflated ego that led to downfall. And the small font, used in the word vayikra, refers to Moses’ incredible sense of humility that led to his greatness.

It might seem a little strange to think that Moses thought of himself with humility as he was, after all, chosen by G-d to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt. G-d appeared to Moses face to face, so it wouldn’t take much for him to think that he must have done something right in his life. Was his humility simply an attempt to appear pious? Was it false?

True character, as it says in the Hayom Yom, is to make an honest assessment of one’s strengths as well as one’s weaknesses.

Moses knew what he was doing right, but he also knew that he had been granted a very lofty soul, that he was the son of a righteous man and that he was the seventh generation from Abraham. He believed that if someone else had been granted all the gifts he had, surely they would have done better and been better than he, Moses.

Feeling confident about our abilities helps propel us to accomplish more, but the key to our success is knowing that those strengths are a gift from above and if given to someone else, they might have done better than us. Honest self-awareness and humility is what will lead to true greatness.

Have a wonderful and rejuvenating break,

~Nechama~

Zeidy

 

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‘Small man in stature, large man in spirit’ was how Zeidy was described this week. 4ft something at this point in his life and of small build, but still managing to fight off three nurses as they try to adjust something for him.

But that’s not surprising as Zeidy has spent most of his life fighting.

Studying Torah as a child in Russia under the noses of the communists, Zeidy was sent to a Cheder that consisted of a few children and a teacher, moving from place to place so as not to be caught for their illegal activities. At some points they studied quietly in the shule attic under a scorching tin roof, not moving during services so the men below wouldn’t know they were there and word wouldn’t reach the KGB.

Eventually he was caught, and was sent to a Siberian gulag for seven years. The frigid temperatures, lack of basic provisions, starvation were all reasons not to survive. But Zeidy fought. He fought not to work on Shabbos and he fought to stay alive. When asked what kept him going each day digging for gold in -40F degree temperatures, he told us how the other prisoners would sing their folk songs but he sang the niggun Poltava, a haunting song of yearning and connectedness.

When he returned home to Kiev after his imprisonment, he found his whole family had been wiped out in Babi Yar, and he went right back to teaching Torah. He studied to become a shochet and mohel, both highly illegal trades, and provided the Jews of Moscow and surrounding areas with kosher meat and circumcisions. Always moving to another town when he got wind that the authorities were on to him.

Yuli Edelstein, an Israeli politician who currently serves as Speaker of the Knesset, describes a bris he once attended in Moscow in the early 1980’s. Family and friends were gathered in a basement with windows blackened by sheets, a few minutes before the bris began the KGB arrived banging on the door and dispersed a terrified crowd. Zeidy, the mohel, had seen the commotion as he was about to arrive and waited across the street. Minutes after the KGB left, Zeidy strode in, performed the bris and went home. Another Jewish child was brought into the covenant of Abraham our forefather because Zeidy knew that there was no alternative, and fear was simply not an obstacle.

In 1973 a relative asked the Rebbe if Zeidy could leave Russia to visit New York. The Rebbe asked, ‘then who will serve as shochet and mohel for the Jews in Moscow?’. Zeidy stayed. Until finally in 1993, when more shochets and mohels emerged in Russia, he joined his family in America.

From the early years of my joining Zeidy’s family, I was always moved by hisIMG_0001.jpg exclamations at family get-togethers. “All I prayed for in Siberia was a Jewish burial and not to be left to be eaten by the dogs; never in my wildest dreams would I have thought of children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren”.

Last year I was in New York for a conference and decided to visit Zeidy for havdallah after Shabbos, I stood there holding the candle as he shuffled around his apartment gathering all he needed, annoyed when I offered to help. He adjusted his two pairs of glasses, the lamp and siddur beneath his nose to overcome his challenges and read the prayer. After havdallah he had more prayers to read, and I was utterly amazed by his unwavering determination to do what he needed to without giving in.

Zeidy had a health set back this week, but his doctors know he’s a fighter and now so do his nurses. Our love and prayers are with him and we hope with all our might that he comes home soon to continue his schedule of davening, learning Torah and showering his descendants with Torino chocolate bars.

L’chaim for Boruch Mordechai ben Fruma Sarah who has shown us that Yiddishkeit is not something to compromise, not under any circumstances.

~Nechama~

For a glimpse into his life under communism click here.

Article in Hamodia magazine.

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Crunchy brownie baking - finger licking good! 

In need of some Shabbat

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Studies in neuroscience have found that the human brain cannot possibly process all the information it is exposed to and with the rate at which technology is advancing and speeding up our lives, I start to wonder if the invention of Shabbat was specifically created for our generation.

When more than now have we needed some time out, some powering down from everything that is constantly grabbing at our attention? Some time to choose what we focus on rather than allowing everyone else to decide for us.

But how easy is it to do just that? Just the thought of it brings a dread of all that we’ll miss out on. Which is probably why when G-d told us to observe the Shabbat, (in this week’s Torah portion) He wrote “for six days the work shall be done, and on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the L-rd”.

Rather than writing ‘you shall do work’, He wrote ‘the work shall be done’ (in hebrew te’oseh connotes the work being done as if automatically). The reason for this is to teach us that if we approach our week load of work with an attitude that the job will get done; i.e. we will put in the effort and with G-d’s blessing it will succeed, then our Shabbat will be a truly blissful day of rest.

If we believe that our personal input is all that matters in our work, then our Shabbat will be spent worrying about what we could have and should have done differently, and what we need to do that just can’t wait until Saturday night.

If we understand that the break for Shabbat is mandated by the same source as that which completes and blesses our work then we won’t feel any pressure to finish our job on Shabbat, so as not to miss out on that blessing.

Going back only a few generations, we can see how the tide has shifted.

In the 1930s in America if a person did not show up to work on Saturday they were out of a job by Monday. In the early 1900s for a Jewish family living on the prairie in North Dakota, when all it took was one flash flood to destroy an entire year’s worth of work potentially sending your family to starvation, the pull to run out and save what you could was tremendously strong, even as in some cases if it needed to be done on Shabbat.

In those times the forces pulling our people from observing Shabbat were more external. Nowadays, they seem far more internal. No longer are we required to be in the office on a Saturday if we opt to come in on a Sunday, and no longer are we as dependant on the elements as we once were.

The pull, however, is no less powerful but if we recognize that it’s more our perception than the reality perhaps it will be a little less challenging to resist.

So join me for a therapeutically relaxing Shabbat, you deserve it:)

~Nechama~

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Hot chocolate on the Walk, mmmm:)

People who need people...

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In a stressful and fast paced environment, there’s nothing like a good friend to set things back on track. Living in an age where we are connected to more people than ever before, we are still left feeling disconnected from those around us. We might know when 150 people last sneezed but do we know when two people last felt overwhelmed? Or needed our support?

Reaching out to another person and connecting with them in a genuine and concerned way doesn’t just make the other person happy and isn’t just an act of altruistic kindness, rather it is a significant key to our own happiness as well.

“Close friends not only prolong people’s lives; but on a day-to-day basis they contribute more to most adults’ happiness than even their children do” says Dennis Prager author of Happiness is a Serious Problem. Friends are able to give perspective in difficult situations and their care just makes troubles feel lighter. As it says in Ethics of our Fathers ‘you should ‘buy’ for yourself a friend’.

When it came to counting the Jewish people (in this week’s Torah portion), G-d wanted to give us just that message. Everything that was used for the building of the tabernacle was of the finest quality and was required to be a complete and perfect object. Animals for sacrifices could not be missing a limb, Priests serving in the temple could not be maimed, materials could not have a scratch or hole etc, but the donation given to the Tabernacle as part of the census had to be specifically a ‘half a shekel’.

G-d told Moses to count the Jewish people by having them donate a half shekel coin to the Tabernacle. The Torah continues by telling us that half a shekel is the equivalent of ten geirah. With ten being a more whole and complete number, when the emphasis had thus far been on complete items, the need to specify thehalf shekel is intriguing.

The reason for the half shekel and not a whole was to teach us that essentially we are all incomplete beings, and that only when we connect with another person do we attain completeness for ourselves.

By doing a kindness for another we achieve a feeling of wholeness that envelopes us with a sense of joy, and what better way to acquire a friend than to be a good one.

Stay safe and warm,

~Nechama~

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Law School lunch and learn got off to a great start!  

Commitment

 
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After the awesome display at Mount Sinai and the giving of the Torah, no time is wasted at all as we move straight along to the purpose of the giving of the Torah.

G-d gave us the great gift of His Torah, His wisdom. But what G-d also gave us was a blueprint for our lives, outlined as the Mitzvahs, commandments, listed therein. The nitty-gritty of it all. Great detailed descriptions of how to live our lives on a daily basis.

But how do we relate to it all?

The Torah divides the commandments into three categories, they are:

1) Testimonials; laws commemorating an occurrence. G-d worked for six days, then rested on the seventh, we celebrate Shabbat. G-d took us out of Egypt, we celebrate Passover etc.

2) Civil Laws; those governing a civil society. Do not kill, do not steal etc.

3) Statutes; laws that make no logical sense to our human minds or whose reasons were not given to us.

Testimonial mitzvahs make sense to us as they are commemorative. They are link in our chain of history, connecting us to our past and something to pass along to future generations.

We pride ourselves on being uber-cultured, so reckon we would have figured out the Civil Laws on our own.

But then there are the Statutes. Society has trained us to think and understand before committing to doing something, but these laws are not that way inclined. What would prompt us to keep a commandment of not mixing wool and linen in any garment that we wear? Or even the more popular commandment of keeping kosher, not mixing meat and milk and all the numerous volumes of laws there included?

Perhaps we can say that it is these laws that in fact reveal a different level of our relationship with G-d. In any given relationship, when we do something for someone else that we don’t think is necessary and doesn’t make any sense to us, it is an obvious act of strong commitment on our behalf.

Our bond is deepened because the action is no longer about us, but purely about the person we are acting for.

So perhaps this helps us find meaning even in the laws that we do not comprehend, enabling us to keep them just as we keep the laws that do make sense to us.

However, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that, ‘while the world might tell you to uphold the incomprehensible commandments with the same fervor as the logical mitzvahs, Chassidus teaches that we should aim to perform the logical mitzvahs with the same sense of obedience as we keep the incomprehensible ones.

Join us Friday night for dinner and we can elaborate on this nuanced alternative approach!

Have a wonderful week,

~Nechama~

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How are you staying warm? 

What was the giving of the Torah all about?

 
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The giving of the Torah was a most significant and transformative occurrence in history, as detailed in this week’s Torah portion Yitro.

The giving of the Torah was not just a magnificentlight and sound show, but rather it was G-d’s descent onto Mt. Sinai that transformed the physical and spiritual plains forever.

Prior to the giving of the Torah, the spiritual and physical worlds were mutually exclusive realms without a foreseeable bridge. “The heavens are the heavens of G-d, and the earth He gave to man.” (Tehillim)

When our Patriachs kept the mitzvot of the Torah, without actually having received it, it was about increasing spirituality in the spiritual realm but had no impact on the physical world around them.

However, G-d decided to change that reality and began the process of fusion with His descent onto the Mountain. G-d then commanded us to keep His mitzvot, and thereby enabled the physical and spiritual to mesh.

When doing G-d’s Will with something physical we are given the power toelevate that physical object and impact the physical world around us like never before.

When Jacob put out sticks before Lavan’s sheep, he was bringing down the same spiritual energy into this world as we do when putting on tefillin (Zohar), but the actual object that he used was inconsequential and completely unaffected by his spiritual service, they remained sticks. However, since the giving of the Torah, the commandment to put on tefillin requires black boxes, leather straps and parchment scrolls and by putting them on and reciting a blessing they become holy objects not to be defaced even after their ability to be used.

From this transformation our purpose in this world becomes apparent. G-d put us here to do His will, and by doing so to elevate the physical world and make it a spiritual place. G-d’s purpose for creation was that “the Holy One Blessed be He, desires a dwelling place in the lowest world” (Midrash).

He wanted a place to feel at home.

So next time you do a mitzvah, know that your mitzvah is not just about self-improvement or feeling connected, but it actually realizes the entire purpose of the creation of this world!

Have a wonderful half-week, hope to see you soon,

~Nechama~

Overcoming hatred

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In a generation where personal comfort is often at the forefront of our minds, and ensuring our physical luxurydetermines some of our choices and decisions, fasting seems somewhat out of place.

And according to the Alter Rebbe in Iggeres Hateshuva (chpt 3), voluntary fasting is in fact somewhat out of place.

When the Alter Rebbe explains different forms of repentance, which include fasting and other ascetic behaviors that were practiced at the time (end of 1700s), he explains that while such behaviors were appropriate in previous generations, when people were physically stronger and able to tolerate the physical toll, in contemporary generations people are simply no longer capable of baring such physical burdens. Fasting was then substituted in many situations, with the giving of charity.

Nevertheless, certain fast days remained on our calendar.

According to the Rambam (Laws of Fasts 4:1 and Code of Jewish Law Orach-Chaim 549-550) there are six fast days that are obligatory for healthy men and women. Most of them commemorating some form of destruction or calamityfor our people.

The purpose of fasting, according to the Rambam is “to arouse [their] hearts and initiate [them in] the paths of repentance”. Rambam believes that when we ponder the actions of our ancestors that led to the destruction that they endured,we will recognize our own short-comings, rectify them and thereby avert possible suffering.

The Talmud (Yoma 9B) states that the destructions that took place were a direct result of unwarranted and baseless hatred among the Jewish people. The Rebbe teaches us that if we do the converse, spread unwarranted and baseless love and peace; we will actually nullify the decree against us and end our current exile.

As the old saying goes, ‘I can love every person on earth, except the few people I actually know’. Spreading love and peace, by acting more kindly to the people we come in contact with, sounds easy enough but can be challenging at times.

What about those people who have wronged us? What about those people who treat us poorly? What about those people who make deficient decisions that impact our lives?

It might take more effort, but it is possible.

If we view anything that happens to us as part of a Divine plan, and all that is Divine is good (whether our limited understanding can comprehend it or not) our anger can subside. This is because the negative occurrence was not the choice of an individual person, rather part of a larger picture.

Sometimes trying to step out of a situation and re-evaluate it can help us overcome our negative responses. Perhaps the person who ill-treated you is lacking self esteem, contracted a painful disease, or is simply emotionally undeveloped. It doesn’t right his/her wrong, but it does give you a framework for viewing it. So you can see it with a clearer mind.

Ultimately, we all want to bring the best version of ourselves forward. You know; the kinder, compassionate, full of integrity, and goodwill person. And the way to do this is by choosing to do so. We determine who we want to be, because what we think, what we say, and what we do is independent of how others treat us.

So let’s take this step together, in honor of the 10th of Tevet and our collective desire to make the world a more loving and peaceful place.

Good luck with finals and have a wonderful, rejuvenating and safe break.

~Nechama~

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R' Menachem Schmidt leads students on a tour of the timeless pages of the Talmud 

The lights of Chanukah

 
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The last night of Chanukah is always bittersweet for me.

The magnificence and warmth of a fully lit menorah, coupled with the knowledge that tomorrow we will be packing it away for another year leaves me wistful.

I love Chanukah and I love how we get to celebrate it here on campus. Jewish pride and celebration are at their peak, you would be hard pressed to find a person who does not enjoy this holiday. No fasting, long days of praying, branch waving or ram’s horn blowing. Just candle lighting, delicious food and childhood memories to keep us celebrating.

Each year I marvel at how excited people are to celebrate Chanukah, and finally this year proved once and for all that it really has NOTHING to do with the other December holiday, because the excitement was no less when we got bumped up to November:)

But the story of Chanukah itself actually explains this phenomenon.

The Chanukah miracle was about oil. Oil is a substance that, when mixed with other liquids, always rises to the top and does not mix easily with other substances. It remains intact. So too the Jewish soul, which is a part of G-d Himself. It rises up and remains intact. It is the Jewish soul that surfaces over Chanukah and reminds us that, just like the Chanukah oil, it is there and still intact. Ready to celebrate with joy and pride.

But it doesn’t have to end here.

At the end of the month of Tishrei, when the stream of high holidays comes to an end, we pack our ‘spiritual bags’ and take them into the year with us. Each holiday has its unique light and message to us and our job is to celebrate that light, study the many layers of the message and ensure that they shine onto the coming year for us.

Chanukah is no different, we celebrate and linger for eight days, but we musttake the joy and lessons we’ve learned and hold on to them as we get back into our regular routines.

Let’s continue celebrating our Jewishness with joy and pride. Let’s keep bringing light into our worlds. And let’s keep doing a mitzvah every day!

L’chaim to a beautiful year to come.

~Nechama~

Ps Join us for one of the last Shabbats of the semester!

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Prof. Paul Rozin joined student leaders in lighting the Ice Menorah with Penn Band accompanying at Van Pelt.

 

Giving thanks for religious freedom

 
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Two holidays that celebrate our freedom coincide for a once in a lifetime celebration *.

The Thanksgiving holiday was founded by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 as a day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens". A day to give thanks for the good in our lives; freedom from oppression, prosperity etc.

Chanukah is the Jewish holiday celebrating a miraculous victory over tyrannical oppressors some 21 centuries ago. For the duration of the eight days of Chanukah we add two prayers that express our praise and thanksgiving to G-d, for sparing our people and allowing our faith to continue to freely be practiced.

The mitzvah of Chanukah is to light candles in order to publicize the miracle.The menorah lighting was instituted as a publicity strategy: advertising to the entire world that G‑d makes miracles for those who stand up for truth and justice. We light the menorah in a doorway or in front of a window that is visible to the outside for all passersby to see.

The Rebbe introduced the idea of Public Menorah Lightings to the world by calling for large menorahs to be lit in public spaces, in order to publicize the miracle. The first public menorah was lit in 1974 by Rabbi Abraham Shemtov of Philadelphia, in front of the Liberty Bell.

Over the years, American Presidents publicly recognized the Chanukah menorah which serves as a great reminder of the meaning behind lighting the Menorah publicly. The religious freedom we cherish keeps the true spirit of this country alive: to create a haven of liberty for the practice of faith.

We don’t have to scroll back too far into our history to remember that living a life free to practice our faith is nothing short of a miracle.

We have so much to be grateful for, so let’s celebrate with joy and pride and share the light with anyone and everyone around us.

Have a Happy Chanukah and let us all give thanks!

~Nechama~

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Mayor Nutter helped us light the Menorah at 30th St. Station yesterday 

What is Chassidus?

 
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An old friend of mine once came home from a farbrengen at her Chabad House and her mother- who was slightly wary of her growing interest in Judaism- asked what she had been doing. She told her mother that it was a ‘celebration of the anniversary of one of the leaders being released from prison’. Aghast, her mother cried “what kind of a criminal group are you involved with?!’

Yes, our leaders were imprisoned, but for doing good, not bad. Their alleged crimes were either entirely fabricated or they involved some form of spreading Jewish knowledge and practice, under regimes that did not allow that freedom.

Those releases were cause for celebration because of the life threatening risks involved at the time. But the reason those liberations are still cause for celebration, here and now, is because of what they represent.

The Alter Rebbe, first Rebbe of Chabad, spread the teachings of Chassidus wider and more broadly than had ever been done before him. He took the deepest parts of Torah and taught them in a way that was accessible to the average person. No longer were these teachings exclusively for an elite few.

The Alter Rebbe faced much opposition to his work. It was new and many scholars and communities were afraid, they didn’t understand what he was doing.

Some of those people turned to the Czarist government and claimed that the Alter Rebbe was ‘starting a new religion’ (which was illegal), ‘supporting the enemy Turkish government’ by sending charitable funds to the Jews in Israel then under Turkish rule (also illegal) and other such claims. He was imprisoned under terrible conditions.

Naturally, his followers were overjoyed and relieved to hear of his release. But what his release represented is what makes it relevant to us some 200 years later.

Upon his release, the Alter Rebbe explained that his imprisonment had been a mirror of what was taking place up on high, in the Supernal Court. There was a great debate going on about whether the hidden parts of Torah should be released and shared with the masses. Was it necessary? And was the world ready?

After 52 days in prison, (corresponding to the 52 chapters of his book ‘Tanya’, a foundational work of Chassidus) the Alter Rebbe got the go ahead from Above. His teachings were correct, and a necessity. And so he was released on the 19th day of the month of Kislev.

The teachings of Chassidus dig to the core of the diverse disciplines of Torah study and they synthesize and harmonize them by connecting them with their essence.

When studying Chassidus, we gain an understanding of G-d, ourselves and the world around us in a way that we couldn’t otherwise. An understanding of Torah’s great depth and richness.

So anyone who has been touched by the profound teachings of Chassidus, and who hasn’t? (…Chassidic ideas and attitudes have penetrated every facet of Jewish life to an even greater extent than many realize…), has great cause to celebrate this monumental and pivotal day in Jewish history.

The 19th of Kislev falls out this Friday, please join us for a celebratory dinner/farbrengen as mentioned above on Thursday night!

L’chaim,

~Nechama~

Picture of the week: 
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350 year old Torah scroll, on a fascinating tour of Crown Heights, NY 

Duality of our Existence

 

download (1).jpgThe duality of our existence becomes apparent in this week’s Torah portion. 

When Jacob undertook the journey to return home to the Land of Israel, he had one major hurdle he needed to overcome on the way. Namely, after 20 years, he had to face his brother Esau, who was the entire reason Jacob had fled his homeland in the first place.

Jacob did not know whether his brother had forgiven him for (as Esau perceived) taking his father’s blessings from him, and Jacob knew only too well the danger of Esau’s wrath.

From the way Jacob deals with this unpleasant and frightening encounter, he is in fact sharing with us the secret to our success in overcoming challenges of any kind.

The nature of Jewish existence has always been a simultaneously two sided one. We live in a physical world, where unexpected or unpleasant situations can crop up at any given moment. A world where natural consequences to our actions are taken as a given.

Yet at the same time, our lives are completely Divinely directed and do not always follow that ‘natural’ path.

Jacob prepared himself to greet his brother in two ways. First, he prayed to G-d to help him and to keep him safe. Then he followed the natural means of sending gifts to appease his brother and dividing up his camp in the event of an attack by Esau.

Jacob dealt with his challenge by tapping in to both parts of the Jewish existence. Jacob utilized the spiritual and the physical, because he knew that one without the other would simply not suffice.

We are told not to rely on miracles and await G-d’s direction. However, relying solely on our own maneuvering and smarts, denies the True source of our successes, which is off the mark.

By realizing that our successes are a result of Divine blessing and going through the motions of the natural world order at the same time, we make the appropriate vessel for His blessing to dwell in our midst.

By operating in and utilizing both components of our existence, the spiritual and the physical, we can attack challenges, of any magnitude, in the best way possible.

Because ultimately, we are a People that transcend nature, who are connected on high as we live inside the natural order to transform and elevate it.

Hope you're having an awesome week!

~Nechama~

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Discussion on Relationships with Sara E. Crispe, Writer and Lecturer 

A Vision

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I watched the live feed of the Kinus banquet on Sunday, and to be honest, it would be difficult not to be blown away.

It was a room filled with over 5,000 people, 4,500 of them are Shluchim of the Rebbe, emissaries that the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent across the globe to establish and support Jewish communities in every corner. Literally every corner, names of some of the towns and cities I can’t pronounce and certainly can’t spell.

The banquet was a celebratory dinner, ending an annual four day conference for these Shluchim in New York. The first Kinus took place back in 1983, there were 45 Shluchim. Thirty years later and there are over 4,500 Shluchim.

Ponder for a moment that growth. Ponder for a moment the amount of Jewish people who have in some way connected with a Chabad Shliach and benefitted from the services provided by a Chabad House, and you may begin to understand the unparalled reach of the Rebbe.

Books have been written and studies have been conducted in an attempt to understand this phenomenon, but a touching story opens a window into the Rebbe’s vision.

In a letter, Nechama Cohen, who grew up in Crown Heights and had gotten to know the Rebbe through a chance meeting on the street, writes of an early childhood encounter with the Rebbe, who was known to her at the time as Mr. Menachem:

Mr. Menachem always asked me what books I was reading. When I was seven—spring of ’48, I think—I discovered Science Fiction in the library on Schenectady Avenue. I loved it. I gave him rave reviews of two authors, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. (He was intrigued by the idea of teaching children science through fun-to-read novels. I always told him he should read them, that he would love them. He would respond that he only read Jewish books.) Then one day, a year or so later, I told him about Asimov’s book “Foundation.”

If you haven’t read Asimov’s Foundation Series, then I should tell you it’s about a secret foundation set up by a “psychohistorian” named Hari Seldon. The purpose of psychohistory and the Foundation was to perfect the Universe [by sending beacons of light to many locations], which is basically what I told him.

Anyway, Mr. Menachem later told me he read the book—which floored me. He then went on to tell me he’d written to Asimov and had gotten a reply. I was thrilled that Asimov thought enough of him to write back. (At that point I had no concept of who he truly was, much less who he would become.) He was corresponding with Asimov, and as far as I was concerned that was even better than writing to Jackie Robinson, which I think I told him.

Then he asked me what I thought of the idea of setting up a foundation [to perfect the world]. I thought it was better than Asimov and Robinson combined, and told him so. He then told me he was setting up [such] a foundation. I was so excited I started jumping up and down, telling him I wanted to join. He said I could.

Well, he did set it up, and I did join . . .

He was talking about Chabad and his worldwide network of devoted emissaries.

The Rebbe’s vision was fueled by his unending love for every individual Jew and so he sent Shluchim to every corner to find those individuals. To provide them with Jewish education, to increase Jewish observance, and to let the Jewish world know that Judaism is inspiring, enriching and a joy to behold.

Come celebrate with us!

~Nechama~ 

Picture of the week: 
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Penn representation at this year's Kinus Hashluchim.

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