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The Chabad.org Blog

Dear Friend,

You know that stubborn, pugnacious, rebellious little grunt-like feeling that wells up in your gut when you hear the word “Don’t … ” at the beginning of a sentence addressed to you?

Have you ever felt it when you read the Ten Commandments—that is to say, the seven of them that begin with “Don’t … ”? If yes, then count me as a friend.

In the Mechilta, Rabbi Ishmael teaches that when the Ten Commandments were heard at Sinai, whenever G‑d said “Do … ,” the Israelites responded “OK, yes!” and whenever G‑d said “Don’t … ,” they responded “OK, no!”

Rabbi Akiva, however, teaches that they replied in the affirmative to every commandment. Even their no’s were expressed as yes’s.

Why was Rabbi Akiva able to see the “yes” hidden in each “no”? As the Rebbe once explained, it’s because he was a baal teshuvah.

A baal teshuvah has been nurtured, during the first part of his or her life, on the habit of resisting, rejecting and rebelling against anything like a “Don’t!” that seems to plop down “from the sky,” as if just to make life difficult and cramp one’s style. But a baal teshuvah has managed, during the second part of his or her life, to turn an ear to the inner positivity of even a “Don’t.”

A baal teshuvah experiences a Divine “Don’t” not as a door shutting one in from the wide world outside, but as a door protecting one from external distractions, and opening up the infinite wealth and countless blessings of being at home.

Michael Chighel,
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

A work on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s insights into human suffering

''A Time to Heal'' explores numerous instances throughout the Rebbe’s decades of leadership, where he offered insight and consolation to individuals and communities in their greatest moments of need.
"A Time to Heal" explores numerous instances throughout the Rebbe’s decades of leadership, where he offered insight and consolation to individuals and communities in their greatest moments of need.

A Time to Heal, Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson’s rendering of the responses of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory) to tragedy and suffering, has received the “Best Book Award” under the general category of religion in the “Best Book Awards” international competition.

A beautiful meditation and compilation, this book explores numerous instances throughout the Rebbe’s four decades of leadership, where he offers insight and consolation to individuals and communities in their greatest moments of need, highlighting his unique approach that incorporated both staunch devotion to G‑d and deep compassion for humankind.

To a young widow who was struggling with how to explain her husband’s death to her children, the Rebbe replied: “Explain to [your children] the way it is in truth: That there are souls that are so pure and holy that G‑d wants them to be in the heavens, after they have completed their mission in this world, and guard [over their loved ones].”

To the rabbi whose community had recently lost two young members to untimely deaths, the Rebbe quoted the Chassidic adage: “Think good, and it will be good.”

Whether dealing with the tragic, accidental death of Ariel Sharon’s 11-year-old son Gur or the unspeakable 1956 massacre in Kfar Chabad, Israel—or even when discussing with former Israeli Prime Minister Moshe Sharett a religious response to the Holocaust—the Rebbe had the ability to console and validate the anguished feelings and sufferings of those in great pain.

“A hallmark of the Rebbe’s approach to the world was an almost stubborn optimism in the face of tragedy—a refusal to live in fear or to see our world as anything but inherently good,” writes Kalmenson in the book, which was produced by Chabad.org and published by Ezra Press, an imprint of Kehot Publication Society.

A resident of London, Kalmenson is a columnist for Chabad.org, and rabbi and executive director of Chabad Belgravia, where the book was launched in the fall of 2015.

Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson, author of "A Time to Heal: The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Response to Loss and Tragedy"
Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson, author of "A Time to Heal: The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Response to Loss and Tragedy"

Dr. Mark Glaser—emeritus chief of cancer services at Imperial College and honorary consultant in clinical oncology at Imperial College hospitals, who taught at Harvard and Yale universities, and was a research fellow at Stanford University—spoke at the launch. He praised the book, saying that he feels as if he has gotten to know the Rebbe, whom he referred to as “undoubtedly one of the greatest rabbis of the 20th century,” through Kalmenson and his teachings.

“This book has been written with diligence, authority and exemplary literary style. It will be an enabler for those who need to change their lives and get through their tribulations to be granted a perfect healing for mind, body and soul,” said Glaser.

A Time to Heal quickly gained popularity and was out of print within months of its release.

A second edition has been printed and can be purchased on Kehot.com.

The Midrash tells the story of an elderly man who was observed planting fig trees at the age of 100.

“Surely you don't expect to live to see the fruits of your labor?” questioned passersby.

“Have not my ancestors worked for me? Why then should I not work for the future generation in the same spirit of selflessness?” the man replied.

With so much going on in the world, we often feel powerless to make any real lasting change. How can our small actions make any significant difference? How can my good deeds help bring about the Redemption when our ancestors who were unarguably on a higher spiritual level and did many more mitzvahs did not see the Redemption happen during their lives?

But if we keep at it, even if we don't see immediate results, we are paving the way for the future, just as our ancestors did before us. Goodness lasts forever, and our deeds are accumulative. They all go into the same pile, building upon one another, higher and higher, until, together, we reach the ultimate crescendo.

Miriam Szokovski
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

More than 750,000 questions were fielded by Chabad.org’s “Ask the Rabbi” team in the last decade. The questions spanned the gamut—from the practical application of Jewish law to profound questions of faith and identity.

“Ask the Rabbi” is rooted in the earliest days of Chabad in cyberspace, when Rabbi YY Kazen, also known as the father of the Jewish Internet, began answering Jewish questions via online bulletin boards (the precursor to today’s message boards) in the late 1980s.

Nearly 30 years later, the service now has its own app. “Ask the Rabbi,” the latest in a series of apps from Chabad.org, brings answers to burning questions—and the chance to ask your own—on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets.

“The app is part of a project to bring the manifold features and sections of Chabad.org to smartphone users,” says Dov Dukes, who manages the mobile-app division at Chabad.org. “It aggregates recent popular questions published by the ‘Ask the Rabbi’ team, presenting them with a slick, modern interface. It also offers one-click access for users to submit their own questions, which are kept confidential.”

Answers, he adds, are sent privately via email.

Like the family of Chabad.org sites that are available in eight languages, this app takes advantage of localization, offering versions with questions and answers in English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish.

Install the “Ask the Rabbi” app from the iTunes and Google Play, and see if you can stump these rabbis! Ask the Rabbi is made available free of charge by the generous partnership of Dovid and Malkie Smetana, Alan and Lori Zekelman, the Meromim Fund, and Moris and Lillian Tabacinic.

Four-part series tackles questions that have perplexed humanity from the beginning of time

Online learning has been a rapidly expanding and ever-changing dynamic that began almost as soon as the Internet was born. Video streaming, online discussion rooms and responsive quiz forms have helped educators bring university-level learning to students of all backgrounds and socioeconomic levels.

Chabad.org Courses, which has been offering comprehensive courses on a variety of Jewish subjects, is now poised to release its next offering, tackling questions that have plagued humanity from the beginning of time: free will vs. Divine omniscience.

Are human beings the masters of their own fate? Does G‑d control human lives? Can belief in an all-powerful and all-knowing G‑d be reconciled with the notion of free will? To what degree can a person be held responsible for his actions? What empowering message can a person take out of the discussion?

In a four-part series called “The Choice Is Yours,” Rabbi Mendy Herson will examine these issues in light of Biblical, Talmudic, philosophical and Chassidic texts.

“Like our other offerings, this course is high-quality, comprehensive and text-based,” says Rabbi Yaakov Kaplan, who produced the course. “At the same time, the delivery is personable and accessible to everyone, including beginner students.”

To accommodate visual learners, the video classes are accompanied by PDF source sheets that also offer summaries of key elements of the class.

Between classes, students can review the lesson through online quizzes, and join a robust analysis of the subject with fellow students and the presenter on a private discussion platform.

Upcoming courses will cover topics such as self-growth (March), the Jewish view of the primordial sin (May) and the belief in Moshiach (June).

Rabbi Mendy Herson will examine a range of substantive issues as part of a four-part online series called “The Choice Is Yours.”
Rabbi Mendy Herson will examine a range of substantive issues as part of a four-part online series called “The Choice Is Yours.”

“The response we’ve received so far has been tremendous,” says Kaplan, “and we expect even more students to join our upcoming courses. We are seeing repeat students and newcomers of different ages and backgrounds from literally the world over. This is the place to go for online Jewish learning, and that’s a very exciting development for all kinds of students of Judaism.”

The class will run on four consecutive Thursdays, beginning on Feb. 9. It is free and open to the general public; however, registration is required.

Click here to enroll.

For questions or comments, click here.

Jewish communities around the world are preparing for 10 Shevat, the anniversary of the passing of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory), and the day his son-in-law, the Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory), assumed leadership.

In his inaugural address, the Rebbe outlined his vision for the Jewish people and the world. Basing his ideas on the works of his predecessor, the Rebbe expounded on the Divine purpose for which we were all created. In its inception, this world is a garden, a place of Divine revelation. Our mission is to reveal that.

Yes, the world today seems full of falsities that can cloud our vision. The darkness can be so intense that the worst of humanity—hate and evil—can rear its ugly head. We can live in a world of falsehood, where agents of terror and fear seem to set an unnerving tone.

None of that, however, is the truth. Our mission is not just to subdue the darkness, not to fight it or to be dragged down by it, but to subvert it. To turn the source of untruth on its head, revealing its Divine vision and elevating the world.

May we be blessed to make this world a “dwelling place for G‑d” with the revelation of Moshiach!

Mordechai Lightstone
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

Dear Friend,

Bundled into his coat and hat, backpack at his side, my son would sit beside me each morning, waiting for the school bus to arrive. During those precious snatched moments, I would read to him a page or two from our current book choice. One of our favorites was a biography of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad, whose anniversary of passing we marked this Sunday.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman is known as the author of the Tanya, the fundamental text of Chabad Chassidic philosophy, and the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, an acclaimed codification of Jewish law. These works and the approaches that they represent are also hinted to in his first name: Schneur is a composite of the Hebrew words shnei ohr, meaning “two lights.” Mystic philosopher and brilliant legal scholar, Rabbi Schneur Zalman illuminated the world with both the esoteric and the exoteric lights of Torah, uniting the two into a cohesive whole. He taught us that the lofty ideas that we contemplate and the down-to-earth details of our everyday lives must seamlessly complement each other, both expressions of the same Torah.

Read about the life of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi and study his teachings here.

Rochel Chein,
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

A new calendar year offers the chance to look at your daily schedule, prepare for upcoming dates and get your schedule in order.

Chabad.org’s online Jewish calendar makes essential Jewish dates and personal events readily accessible on any device, so that milestones can be noted well in advance.

You can customize your calendar with Jewish birthdays, yahrtzeits, weddings and anniversaries by logging on with your free Chabad.org account.

Your personal calendar can be synced with your iCal, Google or Outlook calendars, giving you access to your important dates wherever you are. Reminders of these dates are sent to you via text message or email, which can then be shared with others, allowing the entire family to stay informed of upcoming events, such as grandma’s yahrtzeit or a sibling’s Jewish birthday.

Chabad.org calendar also integrates with “Hayom,” Chabad.org’s daily Jewish planner app, allowing you to get push reminders directly to your phone about upcoming dates and events from your personal Chabad.org calendar.

To start using Chabad.org calendar, go to: Chabad.org/MyCalendar.

Hi,

People invest money. G‑d invests people.

People invest money into whatever they think could give them back more money.

G‑d invests people into those situations He knows could give Him back better people.

So, this week, we read the story of G‑d investing His people into slavery in Egypt.

Definitely a high-risk investment. But, without it, there would be no Torah, no eternal Jewish Nation, no concept of freedom or human dignity in our world.

Good investors study good, successful investments. That’s another good reason to read this week’s parshah and all the wisdom our sages have taught on it. And then to apply that wisdom to our lives.

Let me know what you gained this week from the situation G‑d has invested you in. Is He turning a profit?

Tzvi Freeman
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

Dear Friend,

In my wonderfully multi-cultural Jerusalem neighborhood, there are more than 100 synagogues, each founded by Jewish immigrants from different parts of the world, each with their own unique customs. In the century-old Iraqi shul downstairs from my home, shouts of Chazak ubaruch (“Be strong and blessed!”) can be heard every Monday, Thursday and Shabbat at the conclusion of each person’s aliyah to the Torah.

In Ashkenazic synagogues, the custom is for the congregation to say chazak only five times a year, at the conclusion of each of the Five Books of Moses. These congregations will stand this Shabbat at the conclusion of Parshat Vayechi and the completion of the Book of Genesis, and call out Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek (“Be strong, be strong, we will be strong!”).

This week, Yehudah Shurpin shows in The Great “Shabbos” vs. “Shabbat” Debate how the differences in custom and pronunciation between different communities has proven throughout the centuries to be a source of strength and mutual respect among the Jewish people. And strength it is we need.

We need the strength to confront anti-Semitism and assimilation around the world. We need the strength to overcome our own personal struggles. This week, Tzvi Freeman asks the question: Who Will Fix the World? The answer is: All of us, standing together as one.

And for that we need the strength and guidance of Torah. Chazak!

Yaakov Ort
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

Dear Friend,

This week we’re excited about a new (and already very popular) listicle featuring 7 classic Jewish books that were originally written in Arabic.

While there is not (yet) an Arabic-language edition of Chabad.org, we are so very proud that Chabad.org has dynamic sister sites in Hebrew, Spanish, Russian, French, German, Portuguese, and Italian.

Much of what you’ll find on these sites is the same as what you can read in English, but there’s also lots of original material (and video) on each platform, unique to the interests and needs of the diverse populations they serve.

Are you comfortable in one of those 7 languages? How about a friend? Please browse around, sign up for the magazine, and enjoy the pleasure of Judaism in the language of your choice.

The Chabad.org Editorial Team