ETZ CHAIM HEE LAMACHAZIKIM BA-IT IS A TREE OF LIFE FOR THOSE WHO HOLD FAST TO IT
A word from the desk of Goldie Slavin, Caracas, Venezuela
Immediately following the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, when the Jews reached “Mara”, the Torah states: ”they could not drink the waters of Mara because they were bitter”. In the plain sense it means the waters were bitter, but homiletically it refers to the people. They were so embittered, that the water tasted bitter to them.
Much of what happens to us is shaped by how we perceive it. It’s not always about what’s on the table, but rather what we bring to the table.
Subsequently once Moshe threw the tree into the water, the waters became sweet.
Every moment of our lives, whether bitter or sweet, we have the tree of life to hold on to. The tree refers to the Torah, which gives us guidance, strength and purpose. Unlike other creations, the tree is always connected to its source, weathers all climates and continuously grows.
Let’s stay connected to our source, and we will feel the sweetness and purpose of life – with resilience, pride and faith. And with that bond, perhaps then we can face whatever challenge comes our way more sweetly!
Living Each Week by Rabbi Twersky (quoting the Baal Shemtov)
Creating a Shabbos
By Mimi Liberow, Porto Alegre, Brazil.
The goal and purpose of the Jewish home is that on the seventh day it becomes a Shabbos home…a sanctified home.
Yet, the transition from one extreme to the other, from the mundane of the weekday to the sanctity of Shabbos is beyond us. It's like taking a huge leap to get from the sidewalk to the seventh floor. Good intentions and a strong desire just aren't enough.
But, if one climbs up a ladder, one rung at a time, one can get there. And the same goes for welcoming in the intense beaming of G-dliness on Shabbos. And, that experience is amplified to an infinitely greater extent if one dedicates "Shabbos time" every weekday, preparing a little every day. How so?
Create an island in which you isolate yourself from your surroundings, just like we do on Shabbos. It's our davening time. No smart phones. No worries. No distractions. Just you and Hashem. All the way at the top.
Then, a reflection of Shabbos shines deep within us and awakens our innate love of Hashem.
And when we're elevated, we bring along all of the mitzvos we fulfilled that day. And the light of those mitzvos shines on High at their Source. Since the purpose of the mitzvos is to bring Hashem's light down here – within us and our own homes and the entire world – we do our part by focusing our minds and our hearts on what really matters, on drawing close to Hashem and giving Him nachos in all our endeavors. And so, Hashem packages that light into all kinds of blessings and when Shabbos comes, He sends them our way.
Hashem gifts to us Shabbos and we take it and live it and share it with every single Jew, wherever and whenever we can reach them. We invite them to sample a taste of "Yom shekulo Shabbos umenucha" – a time when it will be Shabbos forever. A time already in the making…the revelation of Moshiach… when all our efforts will shine in a world where Hashem is at home.
תהא אשה צנועה – Protecting What is Most Important
By Chaya Gourarie, Sydney, Australia.
When Hashem created Chava, He deliberated over which of Adam’s limbs should she be created from. He didn’t wish to create her from the eyes – so she wouldn’t be prying. He didn’t create her from the hands – so she wouldn’t be a thief; nor from the mouth – so she wouldn’t chatter excessively…and so too with the other limbs from which to choose. (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeshev 39:6)
Ultimately, Hashem resolved to create Chava from Adam’s rib, which is hidden inside the body, so that she would be צנועה – modest, private, unassuming.
But of all the internal organs and body parts, why specifically did Hashem select the rib? The ribs are special in that they encase and protect the vital organs- the heart, lungs, spleen. The ribs protect the life and essence of a person.
A woman is a protector of humanity – insofar as having the ability to create and sustain life. Coming from the rib, a woman is all about tznius – modesty, hiddenness, privacy, which protects the vitality of Creation. As Hashem created each part of her body, He declared: “תהא אשה צנועה” – “be a modest woman” (Bereishis Rabba 18:2), giving all womankind the message that her essence is strongly aligned with tznius.
Notes the Lubavitcher Rebbe in a powerful insight: “All that is sacred to the nation of [Hashem] and is fundamental to the house of Israel – in establishing and rearing an upright generation, kashrus of food, the sublime pure holiness of Shabbos, was entrusted by Hashem, for preservation and development, to the woman of Israel…” (Hayom Yom, 26 Adar II).
It is us women who cling to our values of modesty, privacy and focusing inward who protect and uphold the foundations of our nation.
Our role as women is to nurture, protect and hold onto what is sacred. We were created in this way to give us the strength and courage to persevere and fulfil our mission.
As we knead our challah dough, we can remember who we are nurturing. As we kindle Shabbos candles we have in mind those whom we seek to protect. And as we proudly hold onto the values of tznius, we reflect on the nation that we are upholding.
It is up to us – as the attribute of tznius is bound up in our DNA – to hold on to and protect that which is most important…Hashem’s children, the Nation of Israel.
Tisha B’Av Inspiration
By Zelda Vogel, West London/Ealing, U.K.
How could Hashem have allowed the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh? The Rebbe asks this question, noting that Halacha forbids anyone from destroying even one stone from it.
Since Hashem follows the Torah’s Mitzvos, permitting the destruction would be a violation of Hashem’s own Laws.
There is one scenario wherein it is permitted to destroy the Beis Hamikdosh (or a shul), namely, for the purpose of building something better in its place.
Thus, the destruction was conditional on Hashem rebuilding a better one, which means that Tisha B’av is inherently connected with Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Third Beis Hamikdosh. In the Amidah we pray for its completion, therefore, by implication, the Geulah (Redemption) is not something in the future, rather we yearn for the conclusion of a process that has already commenced.
How can we internalise this message? People struggle with challenges. In dealing with them, we should be aware of and focused on the possibilities inherent within those challenges. By recognising that everything is part of a process that leads to an outcome, we can strengthen our mind-set and our bitochon – our trust – that Hashem is leading us to a positive outcome.
As we are in the month of Menachem Av, may Hashem comfort us by completing the process, revealing the goodness in everything that we see and experience.
May we merit the Third Beis Hamikdosh with Moshiach now!
Likutei Sichos 29,11
Rambam Hilchos Beis Hebechira 1:17 & R’ey Chapters 12,3 & 4 & Rambam Neg 65
Shemos Rabboh 30:9
Yalkut Shimoni Yirmiyahu #259
For this child I have Prayed (Shmuel I 1,27)
By Dina Brawer, Crown Heights, USA.
With these words, Chana is referring to her many years of prayer, asking to be blessed with a child and also beseeching Hashem for his life and continued well-being. The Gemara tells us that Chana was devastated that her young son Shmuel was condemned to death for ruling on a halacha in the presence of his teacher, Eli, Ha’Kohen Gadol. Eli tried to comfort Chana, promising her that she would be blessed with another son who would be even greater than Shmuel.
Chana responded and pleaded, “For this child have I prayed.” The Maharsha explains that Chana was saying this child carries within him hundreds of my tefillos, and those prayers cannot be replaced. Chana understood the impact of her tefillos and she wanted her prayer-filled son to thrive and be cherished. She wanted to continue investing her prayers in her existing son.
Chana is teaching us that tefillah is the primary ingredient in seeing nachas from our children. Hashem wants our prayers, He needs our prayers. We pray for the blessings we already have, not just for those blessings not yet granted.
ארבעים יום קודם יצירת הולד בת קול יוצאת ואומרת "בת פלוני לפלוני" Forty years before conception a Heavenly voice calls out: “the daughter of so-and-so is intended for so-and-so”.
Every soul is really half a being, created with a second half with which it is not yet united. When we set out to find our mate, we are searching for something that exists. And yet we daven – we pray. We ask Hashem for the search to be fruitful, for the process to be smooth. We daven because that is the foundation upon which a Jewish home is built.
When Eliezer, Avraham’s trusted servant, was sent to find a wife for Yitzchok, he stopped to pray on the way. Surely, the matchmakers were eager to suggest matches for Yitzchok, whose father was a prominent leader in the community, an icon of kindness, and a man of means. Why the need for prayer?
Eliezer knew that only with tefillah, through prayer, that he would successfully complete his mission and merit finding an appropriate wife for Yitzchok Davening was a fundamental part of the process.
Likewise, we pray for nachas from our children, and for shidduchim. We invest much time, intention and energy – yet nachas is harvested through a mother's tears and tefillos. The more we daven, the better the outcome… and the greater the nachas.
When a parent searches for a shidduch for her son or daughter, when a young adult looks for a partner with whom to build a home, this must be our guiding principle. The brachos already exist and we must daven to ensure that they bloom. Our prayers are not just hope for the future; they are how we shape the future.
And through those heartfelt prayers, may all our beautiful sons and daughters find each other and build everlasting Jewish homes together.
By Chana Perman, Toronto, Canada
Imagine if you will
A bird's-eye view from above
The heartfelt prayers of a mother
Offered with tears and love
Now magnify the prayers
And multiply the tears
Think of a single boy or girl
The search goes on and on
For that special he or she
Worry begins to set in
What is going to be?
Feelings of despair and fear
Many more tears are shed
A distant dream, the blessing
Of being newly wed
Which key can open wide
That mighty heaven's door
Please G-d hear our prayers
We beg, we plead,
Now zoom in to a kitchen
And then another and another
Thousands of women baking challah
With fervent prayers for each other
Together with one goal
Steadfast in their unity
Davening for all the singles
In our global community
May we merit to see many new joyous pairs
May they merit the blessing of long happy years
May Hashem guide every couple
May laughter replace the tears
All prayers have been heard
The blessings are fulfilled
Mazal tov, mazal tov!
The new couples are thrilled
Imagine if you will
A bird's-eye view from above
All heartfelt prayers for shiduchim
Answered with joy and love.
Waiting for Moshiach on Volcanic Land
By Mushky Feldman, Reykjavik, Iceland
For several months, we had been experiencing intense earthquakes. The first time I really felt the tremors, I was shopping at the supermarket. Suddenly, the whole building wobbled and then finally a huge bang was felt as much as heard. Like an explosion…and it was quite frightening! After running out of the supermarket with my baby, I confirmed it was just an earthquake and returned to find my abandoned shopping cart. I couldn’t find it, and as a result, I lost the last few jars of kosher pickles I had taken from the grocery shelf. It turns out that in Iceland, earthquakes are a common occurrence. Since the island sits on the tectonic plates of the European and American continents, they happen every few minutes. But to feel them all the way in the city is not common. Following the incident at the supermarket, we started feeling earthquakes on a daily basis, and then, before long, every few hours. Some were intense, while we only found out about others after the fact. As the earthquakes became stronger and more frequent, geologists in Iceland got to work to determine what was behind this strange development.
Finally, we received clarity: a volcano would be erupting very soon. The earthquakes were a result of the magma (lava) boiling and moving under the ground. Wow! All the residents of the affected area had already undertaken measures in their homes to prepare for the strongest shake yet to come. We removed anything loose from high shelves, secured furniture to the walls, and tucked our kids tightly into bed every night to prevent them from waking up in shock. The unending earthquakes and a potential volcanic eruption were almost constantly on our minds. When Moshiach comes, won’t it be just like that? We are already getting ready in real and tangible ways. The Lubavitcher Rebbe has given us clear direction so many years ago – to keep moving, to keep doing…because Moshiach is almost here. We’ve had the earthquakes, the “ikvesa d’Meshiacha - birth pangs of Moshiach” - like the Rebbe says, for so many years. What more can we do? Here, here comes the big eruption. Moshiach will arrive and it’ll be just like that. Just like a volcano. Bringing forth the depths of Torah, Toraso shel Moshiach.Revealing secrets, giving us strength, illuminating the dark.
A week before Pesach, the very depths of the earth burst out through a beautiful volcano. The lava erupted upwards for days, reaching 300 meters high. We were able to see it hundreds of kilometers away. This active volcano is changing the face of Iceland forever and geologists claim the eruption will continue for many years to come. People are flying from all over the world (with Covid measures in place) to see this incredible phenomena.
May this 15th Av (and Tisha B’av) be celebrated with Moshiach as all the wellsprings of Chassidus burst forth for all the world to see - ומלאה הארץ דעה את ה׳ (and the world will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem), together in Yerushalayim!
The Promise of Chamisha Asar B’Av
By Batsheva Segal, Berlin, Germany.
This week presents an interesting juxtaposition between the tragedy of Tisha B’Av and the celebratory 15th of Av. While these two events are seemingly at odds with one another, we know that everything happens b’hashgocha protis (Divine Intervention) and there are always deeper connections for us explore.
Historically, the 15th of Av has provided a ray of hope following some of the most devastating events in Jewish history. After 40 years of wandering the Midbar (Desert) to atone for the sin of the Miraglim (Spies), it was on the 15th of Av that Bnei Yisroel understood they were ready to enter Eretz Yisroel. We read the haftorah of Nachamu on the Shabbos following Tisha B’Av and we recall the midrash heralding the birth of Moshiach during this time.
However, perhaps the most powerful allegory for us to consider is the link between the full moon – which is in full effect on the 15th – and the Jewish people. As we know, the Yidden are often compared to the moon and its rotational cycle. At times we glow like the moon at its zenith, while at others we experience darker periods that conceal our true potential. The full moon of the 15th of Av reminds us that even during our moments of shadow and doubt (a la Tisha B’Av), we can always push back the darkness and shine anew.
May we channel the hope of Chamisha Asar B’Av and discover only simchos and joy in the year to come.
מאמר לא היו ימים טובים לישראל תשמ״ז
Women of Today, Separating Challah of Tomorrow
By Hindel Swerdlov, Yerushalyim, Israel.
The Jewish Woman comes to the Tomb of Rachel on a Friday morning to pray and perform the mitzvah of “challah” at the site of the oldest Jewish tombstone in history. With this blessing, she, along with fifty other women, will answer “Amen” to hopes, desires and dreams that represent our Jewish nation’s wellbeing.
The inspiration for this female collaboration is to hasten Moshiach, when we will once again be preparing the challot in the Third Temple.
The Mainstay of her Home comes to Momma Rochel on her only day off in the week. She approaches the table where large mixing bowls are set in a row. Into the bowl she pours in her water and flour alongside other women whom she has never met before but with whom she feels a vital connection.
This Superwoman mixes the dough with her bare hands. She sings holy words as she begs for the welfare of her loved ones – and those she does not know, but knows she loves. They are all at Mother Rachel’s grave to pray for an enlightened future, where peace and truth prevail.
This Bedrock of her Home tells her Advocate-on-High, that her People need safety, and her family requires financial stability. She asks for peace of mind and spiritual clarity in her quest for a purposeful life.
She sprinkles salt and sugar into her bowl as she gives thanks to G-d for babies that have been born, for women who have found their Bashert, for those who healed mentally and physically, and for marriages that found more beauty.
This Noblewoman then recites the blessing and separates the challah. She raises it up to G-d in front of “Der Mammeh”, while all those around her cry out “Amen!”
The powerful Collective Feminine within feels the energy of this eclectic group and knows that G-d hears her prayers and the world has already changed for the better.
During this International Challah Bake, may all Women of Israel meditate together on being united as one through the ultimate redemption, and may we hear Rachel Imeinu answer “Amen”.
BELIEVING IN GOOD
By Tzivia Grauman, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Suffering seems built into the human condition and no-one is exempt. Pain visits everyone – whether due to a health challenge, a struggle to find one’s bashert (intended spouse), a lack of parnosa (livelihood), or the loss of a loved one. Too often, life appears challenging and bewildering, and Hashem’s ways feel indecipherable and impossible to fathom.
And yet, we are told that we must be b’simcha, that we are obliged to serve Hashem with joy and have absolute faith that everything that we experience is intrinsically good.
In Parshas Vayigash we learn that from the moment Yosef’s brothers arrive in Egypt they are beset by strange, confusing events. The Viceroy behaves in an incomprehensible manner and subjects them to several bizarre experiences. But the instant he says, “Ani Yosef - I am Joseph” everything falls into place. No further explanation is required. In the same way, teaches the Chofetz Chaim, G-d will one day reveal Himself to us and say, “Ani Hashem - I am G-d” and suddenly everything will make sense.
In his book, Bringing Heaven Down to Earth, Tzvi Freeman shares hundreds of meditations from the wisdom of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. On believing in good, the Rebbe says there are two paths. One is that everything is ultimately for the good. The other declares that everything truly is good, because there is nothing else but “He Who Is Good”. May we merit the strength and insight to recognize the overarching truth of this second path, and live in perfect faith that all is not only for good, but is inherently good.
The Moon and Our Mission in Life: The Message of the 15th Day
A word from the desk of Zissel Goldman, Kauai, Hawaii
The 15th of Av is indeed a most auspicious day.
The Jewish nation is compared to the moon and thus ‘carry’ the traits of the moon within; wherein the phases of the moon reflect our mission in life.
From the 1st through the 15th days of the month, the appearance of the moon seemingly increases in size and light. We too are asked to increase in light a bit more each day – continuously striving to be better, to do more…to transform.
On the 15th day of the month the moon is at its fullest and visible in its entirety.
However, on that very same day, the moon is also on the brink of becoming less full, for it now starts to diminish in size and light. This incremental process continues until the end of the month, when the moon is no longer visible and the cycle begins again.
We are meant to always be increasing in life. Ma’alin Ba’kodesh – growing and ascending in spirituality and holiness. Clearly we are not meant to decrease. What then is the lesson for us regarding the second half of each month?
When bringing light into this world, we must recognize that we don’t technically bring our own light into this world, rather, G-d’s light. G-d’s light already exists. Our task is to channel it and facilitate its revelation in this world through our actions.
While the moon appears to be diminishing in size, it is actually drawing closer to its source, the sun; until when fully aligned with its source, we can no longer see any part of it. However, it is at this time that it is renewed to once again continue to reflect its light into the world.
So too, the more we surrender our ego and focus on self-improvement and refinement – recognizing G-d’s hand, our source, in our actions – the more we are able to channel our Divine light.
The 15th day of the month is a bridge between these two distinct lunar phases, embodying the message that we are not meant to simply increase in the quantity of our light, but also and more importantly, in its quality.
The message of the 15th day of Av is thus to continue to increase in our light as we did the day before, but to be a bit less self-absorbed. So that as the light increases, it also becomes brighter and clearer.
Likkutei Sichos, Chelek Lamed Daled,Parshas Va’eschanan p41-50
Letting G-d In
A word from the desk of Fruma Schapiro, Sydney, Australia
The Kotzker Rebbe posed the famous question:
"Where is G-d to be found?”
"G-d is to be found wherever we let Him in".
Why then does He seem to make it so hard for us to do so?
The first verse in the Torah is “Berieshis boro Elokim…” In the beginning, Gd created…” it is significant that the name Elokim is used even though Hashem has many names.
The gematria, numerical value of the name Elokim, is the same as “hateva”, nature, indicating that Hashem created a world that would conceal His presence in the guise of “nature”. This is known as the state of golus.
The difference between the Hebrew words, golus and geulah (redemption), is the letter alef, representing the one Hashem, Master of the World, "alufo shel olam".
It is our task, our purpose, to transform golus into geulah; to seek Hashem and reveal His presence from within the depths of concealment even if it is sometimes a difficult journey.
Our mandate and challenge is to “let Him in” and believe with absolute faith that He is the hand behind everything natural. He alone directs every step of man and orchestrates every moment of our lives.
So, when confronting your golus challenges today,know, that embedded within these very circumstances lies the potential for geulah, for redemption, for the solution, for a deeper awareness.
In our darkest moments, we pray, we feel compelled to search and find strength and complete trust in the “alef,” the one G-d.
In doing so, we achieve personal geulah (redemption), cultivating a renewed perspective.
May we all be worthy of "Letting G-d into our lives"
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn
The Prophetess Miriam
A word from the desk of Esther Piekarski, Tel Aviv, Israel
We meet her at age 3, when she first encourages her father Amram to remarry her mother, Yocheved. Miriam prophesizes that their son will lead the Jews out of Egypt.
She, along with her mother is then tasked by Pharaoh, as one of the Jewish midwives, to kill the Jewish male newborns.
Miriam defies his decree, and stands up to him, putting herself in grave danger. Her mother saves her, claiming “she’s just a child”!
We encounter Miriam again, watching over her baby brother, cast into the Nile, waiting to see him to safety. Once the infant Moshe is discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter, Basya, Miriam deftly arranges for his own mother, Yocheved, to be his wet-nurse, ensuring that his primary years are nurtured by family.
We meet Miriam a third time, leading the women in song and dance, with tambourines in their hands, as they celebrate the Exodus from Egypt.
As the Jews enter the desert our Sages tell us that a well providing vital sustenance travelled with them until they entered Israel. This miracle was performed in the merit of Miriam
Finally, we meet her as Miriam speaks about Moshes separating from his wife – an act for which she is punished We mention this event in our daily morning prayers. The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks, “why?”.
The Rebbe explains: Miriam’s intent was to bring Moshe and his wife back together to have another child. She risked punishment willingly, for another child to be born.
This was her focus in life and this is what we are to meant to remember daily: every life is precious. We must do all we can to bring life and there can be no greater goal than to forge and bring together a young couple so that life can continue to grow and the Jewish people to flourish.
Source: שיחת י' שבט תשח"י
Challah – In Hashem’s Hands
A word from the desk of Temmi Hadar, Johannesburg, South Africa
Let’s start at the very beginning: Bereishis Barah Elokim (Berashis 1:1), “In the beginning, G‑d created…”
The Midrash (Berashis Rabbah 1:4) explains that G‑d created the world in the merit of the mitzvot that are referred to as reishis, first. Separating challah is one of these mitzvos. The dough separated is described as reishis arisoseichem (Bamidbar 15:21), the first of your dough.
What could possibly be so important about separating a piece of dough that the Midrash states that it is one of the purposes of Creation?
Another Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 15:6) notes that the mitzvah of separating challah is followed by the prohibition of Idolatry. This teaches us that “one who fulfills the mitzvah of separating challah, it is as if he has nullified the worship of idols.” How is this possible? Challah seems to be such a small mitzvah, while idol worship goes against the fundamental beliefs of Judaism?
There are many preliminary steps to making challah. A farmer plows, plants, waters and harvests the wheat, which then must be sifted, milled, packaged and shipped. Thus, while one might mistakenly conclude that the flour is solely the result of one individual’s hard work and effort, it really reflects the collaboration of many.
Bread is also a metaphor for all physicality. Indeed, we even call money “dough”. Just like a farmer can mistakenly think that flour is purely the result of his own talent, it is very easy for people to attribute financial and material success in life exclusively to our own talents and skills.
This is where the mitzvah of challah comes in. By taking a small piece of dough and separating it, one is acknowledging that the dough and all our material successes are not just a result of our own hard work, but rather are blessings from Hashem.
Therefore, the mitzvah of challah negates the idea of idol worship. We often think of idol worship as bowing to crude graven images. But there are other, more subtle forms of idolatry. When we think we are in control, and it’s all about our own hard work, we are worshiping ourselves and placing ourselves above G-d.
Taking challah shatters the illusion that life is all in our own control, and our successes are only due to our own efforts. As we travel our individual paths in life, we all encounter our own personal challenges, finding shidduchim is but one of these struggles. The mitzvah of Challah teaches us to invest all our effort into solving difficulties, but at the same time to separate a piece for Hashem. To understand and believe that ultimately this challenge as well as the solution to all our struggles resides in Hashem’s hands.
Source: Adapted from Likutei Sichos, Vol. 18 pp. 183-185
A Moon Full of Hope
A word from the desk of Rachel Jacobs, Birmingham, England
”There was never a day as festive and joyous for the Jewish nation as the 15 of Av and Yom Kippur.” (Taanit 26b)
”What goes up must come down” is a saying with which we are all familiar. But what about the opposite: What goes down must come up? Judaism strongly believes “a descent is experienced for the purpose of an ascent.” This is clearly evident as we approach the greatest holiday of the year – the 15th of Av, lovingly known as Chamisha Asar b’Av—the Jewish holiday when the moon, which mirrors the Jewish people, having descended into darkness at the end of the previous month, returns in full and shines its brightest.
Like the moon we each have our highs and lows; sometimes we feel almost invisible, and other times we experience growth, completion, and wholeness.
Many of the Jewish festivals commence on the fifteenth day of the month. But Chamisha Asar B’Av is perhaps the most special. Av is the month that has all the spiritual energy of renewal and rebirth. After we fall to our lowest on the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av, when we commemorate the destruction of the Temples, we are, by the 15th, ready to soar. Life depends on change and renewal. The joy of the 15th of Av is that we remember that life is full of ups and downs, but without the downs, we wouldn’t be able to achieve the full potential of the ups. Chamisha Asar b’Av is numerically equivalent to the letters of Ketiva Ve’chatima Tova, the classic Jewish new year greeting. On this day, we begin to look forward to the year ahead, as we reflect on our upside-down moments and use them to give us strength to live the right-side up.
Based on the Rebbe’s Public Address 15 Av 5743(1983)
Challah - Bread of Heaven or Earth?
A word from the desk of, Chanie Krasnianski, Manhattan, New York
”A soul may descend into this world for 70 or 80 years just to do a favor for another....a physical favor, and how much more so a spiritual favor!”
-The Baal Shem Tov
About 20 years ago at one of our Chabad House events, a young couple, Emily and Josh (not their real names) won a raffle, a weekly delivery of Challah for an entire year.
Sure enough that Friday their doorbell rang and their first weekly challah had arrived. They peered into the shopping bag and were amazed to find a bag overflowing with Challahs. They had never observed Shabbat before and were confused as to what they should do with all this bread.
Emily called me and I explained the concept of Lechem Mishneh, double loaves at each Shabbat meal. She was intrigued and after a short crash course in lighting candles, making Kiddush and Hamotzi, she decided with “all this bread” she would invite several friends and neighbors to join her Shabbat meal.The next week we spoke again and I explained to her the best way to keep food hot on Shabbat, which led to a lengthy discussion on how to serve a kosher meal. This went on week after week, each time I added a few more details to Shabbat observance and each week her Shabbat dinners became more and more elaborate.
Remarkably, as the year unfolded, they kashered their kitchen and began keeping Shabbat! Soon they were hosting Torah classes in their home. They started keeping Taharat Hamishpacha and she began covering her hair.
Emily and Josh continued to learn, which brought them to the realization that perhaps their marriage ceremony and Ketubah may not have been done in accordance with Jewish law. They brought their Ketubah to the Rabbi for review – a beautiful piece of artwork with magnificent calligraphy. There, clear as day, were the two beautiful words intertwined with ornate design, Chatan v’Kallah. ( Groom and Bride). However, the word Kallah (bride) was misspelled Challah (with a Chet instead of a chof) changing its meaning from bride to Challah bread. Clearly Challah played an oversized role in their life trajectory and served as the catalyst for tremendous transformation and blessing!
On the surface we know that one mitzvah leads to another, and another and another, revealing our essence and giving voice to our soul. However on a deeper level, Challah, with its unique status as one of the three special mitzvot of a woman, represents a fundamental truth. The physical and the spiritual are two sides of the same coin. Challah bridges the gap from the seemingly physical to the absolutely spiritual.
Sarah, our matriarch, had this special blessing in her dough. To quote Weight Watchers, “It’s not what you are eating but what’s eating you!” Or as the Baal Shem Tov taught, “We think we are hungry for food, we are actually hungry for G-dliness.”
Herein can be found the true meaning of Challah; our ability to recognize the holiness and the wholesomeness within each and every thing and the revelation that the physical is the spiritual!
May we all be blessed physically and spiritually and find truly wonderful shidduchim for our children; and may we see them build beautiful homes based on the foundations of Torah and Mitzvot!
Shemos 16:2 Rashi
Ethics from our Father 4:2
No Two Challahs Are Alike
A word from the desk of Rochel Holzkenner, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
“Your Challah is delicious this week, Mommy”! I’ll take those awkward and backhanded compliments. Tasty challah is always a reason to celebrate.
Have you ever wondered about challah discrepancies? We all use the same seven simple ingredients: water, yeast, sugar, flour, eggs, oil and salt – yet each batch is different. How vast are variations and permutations of seven ingredients? I envy those holy ladies whose challah always pops out of the oven in the perfect soft and smooth texture, and, of course, with a crispy crust.
Kabbalah tells us that each soul is composed of seven middos - emotions. These middos form our persona and are the drivers that steer the course of our lives. Like challah, we all possess the same seven middos, but we are all profoundly different. A little more chesed - attraction in me, a stronger sense of gevurah - boundaries in you, are the subtle differences that make the distinction in our unique weltanschauung (worldview) and our unique soul print.
Just like my fingerprint can’t unlock your phone, my soul print can’t unlock your potential. But yours can! Life calls upon us to utilize our middos and develop them; taking them from self-oriented emotions to mission-oriented emotions. Deciding to keep Shabbos when none of your friends keep it, grows your middah of netzach - tenacity. Pushing back on a feeling of inadequacy that threatened to erode your joy in life develops gevurah - mental discipline. Having the faith that Hashem will open a path of success even when you’ve been disappointed - requires flexing every emotional muscle you’ve got.
Hashem created the world in a way that each and every human being would have their own unique look; it is impossible for any two people in the entire universe to be identical even if they look similar! This teaches us that every person has a unique personal mission, but no one has that same mission. This unique mission is absolutely essential in the fulfilment of the ultimate purpose of creation." The Rebbe (Sichos Kodesh 5741 pg 752)
So you do you - because you’ve got the resources to walk your path best!
The Wondrous Blessing of Flour Mixed with Water
A word from the desk of Shterna Ginsburg, Brooklyn, New York
”Give the first of your dough to the Kohain, to bring blessing into your home.”
Of the twenty-four gifts that are offered to Kohanim, this gift, the first of our bread dough, is singled out as a source of blessing. Why is that?
The primary ingredient of bread dough is flour. When we look at a cup of flour, we see many separate, individual granules of wheat.
By contrast, water represents oneness - unity. Water retains its true characteristics even as it flows from a high place to a lower reservoir. (Taanis 7:1)
As soon as we add water to flour, the discrete granules of flour transform into one unified form – a piece of dough that will be Challah.
Flour and water represent two opposite ways of viewing ourselves.
Flour says, “I am my own entity, separate from Hashem; powered by my Self.”
By contrast, Water says, “I am never on my own. I am empowered by Hashem, and as I strive to fulfill my life’s purpose, He is always with me.”
When we are like “flour,” we look at our challenges and we feel alone, disempowered and helpless. But that is not a dead end; it’s our cue to roll up our sleeves and make Challah! We start with pouring “water” into our mix – soaking up the reassurance and encouragement of Hashem’s loving Presence in our lives.
Challah represents our journey from “powered by Self” to “powered by Hashem.” Striving for this transformation is how we invite an abundant flow of blessings into our homes, our lives, and the world.
As we prepare to bake challah together, may we all experience Hashem’s loving Presence in our lives with revealed blessings rising in all for which we pray, and with goodness beyond our best dreams!
Based on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s ma’amar “Reishis Arisoseichem” 5729
Yearning for Moshiach A Tisha B’Av Reflection
A word from the desk of Chaya Schildkraut, S.Paulo, Brazil
Tisha B’Av represents the saddest of days in the annual Jewish cycle, when we contemplate the bitter Golus (Exile) and our souls yearn for hopeful signs of the ultimate Redemption.
The Tzaddik, Reb Yisroel of Ruzhin was wont to recount a story of the revered Shpoler Zeide.
The beloved Defender of the Jewish people would plead before the Al-Mighty: “Ribono shel Olam! For the sake of winning an argument, must your Children suffer this endless Golus? B’nai Yisroel cry out ‘hashiveynu Aylecho (bring us back to You)…ve’nashuvoh (and we will return)’; while Hashem says: ‘Shuvu Aylai (Repent and return to Me) ve’Ashuva aleychem (and I will return to you and end the Exile)’. Does it really matter if the Father comes to the children or the children come to the Father? Can being “right” justify this terrible ordeal?” And then, the Shpoler Zeide would conclude by warning that the B’nai Yisroel, Hashem’s precious children would never do teshuva before Hashem delivered them into Redemption.
The Ruhziner would then add:
This I promise: “when Melech Ha’Moshiach – the Redeemer of the People of Israel – arrives, every Jewish neshomo will immediately do Teshuvah”. This, explained Reb Yisroel, would reflect the true chronology…For Hashem decreed the four periods of Exile to Avrohom Avinu even before the Jewish people transgressed any of the mitztvos. It therefore follows, concluded the Ruhziner, that the Geula – the ultimate Redemption – should precede and in effect, serve as the guarantor of the Teshuva of the Jewish people.
May we merit the Geulah Shleima speedily in our time, when every day will be as holy and joyous as the 15th of Av in whose honour we unite around the world and partake in the mitzvah of Hafroshos Challah.
Source: Sipurei Chassidim
Has This Ever Happened to You?
A word from the desk of Leah Namdar, Gothenburg, Sweden
Has This Ever Happened to You? You read a story of a Tzaddik – perhaps a tale of the Arizal or the Baal Shem Tov, where it is revealed to someone who they were in a past lifetime and what task they must accomplish in this world. And then you wonder…wouldn’t it be incredible if a great Tzaddik could share with me what my neshama came into this world to accomplish? Who was I in my past life? What remains unfinished that we may have been sent back to do? If only we knew... The incredible news is, we do know! The Rebbe teaches us in the name of the Arizal: “the generation of the future redemption is a Gilgul (reincarnation) of the souls who went out of Egypt”. The Rebbe continues: According to this, the righteous women of our generation – in whose merit we will be redeemed – are the very same righteous women in whose merit we left Mitzrayim. What was it about those women? What did they do? The special merit of those righteous women was that even before leaving Egypt, their faith in the redemption was so strong and they were so confident that Hashem would perform miracles for them, they left Egypt fully equipped with musical instruments – tambourines – ready to thank Hashem! These women succeeded in a partial Geula - leaving Mitzrayim. But their generation didn’t all merit to enter Eretz Yisroel. And the Geula, therefore, was not permanent. We have to finish the job - to bring Moshiach here and now. As we gather together in unity at this special time, let’s remember the power of the women of this generation. Let’s make history! Through this demonstration of achdus (unity) and expression of simcha (joy), we can and will make it happen this time around!
Sources: 1. כתבי האריז״ל שער הגלגולים, הקדמה כ׳ לקו״ת וספר הליקוטים שמות ג׳ ד׳ 2. קונטרס כ״ב שבט Page 32