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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~

Picture of the week: 

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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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