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The Chabad.org Blog

Let’s Celebrate Our Treefulness

February 1, 2015

Dear Friend,

There are so many special days on the Jewish calendar, and it’s often the case that the ones we know the least about are those that can make biggest difference in our spiritual lives.

Take 15 Shevat, the “New Year for Trees,” which we celebrate this week from Tuesday evening to Wednesday evening. It’s a fascinating holiday, with a wealth of Torah material related to the planting and harvesting of trees, and filled with beautiful, traditional, mystical customs. We enjoy a feast of fruits, and who can turn away from a new opportunity to eat great food with family and friends in a special spiritual setting?

But there is so much more to the day than that. The Torah refers to the human being as a tree. The Torah itself is called “The Tree of Life.” We’re told that when Moshiach comes—may it be soon—the trees themselves will join in the celebrating: “For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12)

There is so much to discover about 15 Shevat on Chabad.org. Come celebrate with us.

Yaakov Ort,
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

P.S. What do you love most about 15 Shevat? Share with us!

Come Huddle with Us!

January 26, 2015 8:00 PM

Dear Friend,

I sported a light backpack and a classical guitar that summer night I first trudged up the hill to the yeshiva in Morristown. Once I decided I was staying, it didn’t take long to find other musicians and start up the first chassidic hard rock band, the Baal Shem Tov Band.

Recently, a friend reminded me of the time he caught us in a huddle just before a concert. He figured we were just reviewing our program. Coming closer, he realized it wasn’t that at all. We were studying Basi Legani, the classic final legacy work of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, of righteous memory, sixth rebbe of Chabad and father-in-law of the Rebbe, of righteous memory.

We were on chapter five, which discusses channeling the wildest and craziest energy of this world into the divine. Which is just what we understood we were doing.

This Friday is the 65th anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, and the day the Rebbe ascended to Rebbeship. So on Thursday night, I’m inviting you for an online huddle over that same chapter again. I won’t have my guitar, but It will be an interactive huddle—everyone will be able to type in a question or comment.

Partnering with JNet—the one-on-one, your-time-your-place Torah study program—we’ve produced a fresh, very readable translation, available both as a pdf booklet and on its own page. Michael Kigel, the newest member of our editorial team, discusses the theme of the chapter in his essay, “In Praise of Chassidic Folly.”

It’s a packed week. That’s the great thing about working for Chabad.org. It’s like I never left that yeshiva.

Tzvi Freeman
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

Can We Make You a Cup of Hot Cocoa?

January 26, 2015 1:56 PM

Dear Friend,

Can Chabad.org serve you a cup of steaming hot cocoa? While we wish we can, and technology is making remarkable progress, that app has yet to be developed.

We do, however, want to reach out to our readers across the United States, and particularly in the Northeast. The storm is coming fast and furiously, and many of us will find ourselves with extra time at home during the next couple of days. Extra time to relax, time to enjoy the beautiful powdery white stuff, time to connect with our families and loved ones—and time to study Torah!

So here are some suggested videos and reads—both for adults and for children—which we hope you will enjoy.

Here is a story to enjoy and discuss with children, a perspective to spark parshah conversation and thoughtful Chassidic insight fresh from the Chabad.org press.

For those of you with kids home from school, here is a great video to watch together, an easy and entertaining recipe and a craft you can make with just duct tape.

On the topic of videos, here is a motivational talk of the Rebbe, a parenting workshop from a widely acclaimed educator and a parshah lecture from one of our favorite presenters.

Providentially, we’re gearing up to an historic date on the modern Jewish calendar at the end of this week. Read more about it here. And, if you haven’t acquired them yet, these two books can definitely illuminate the date’s significance some more: amzn.com/1592643817 and amzn.com/0062318985

Stay warm and safe, and please reach out to your neighbors—especially the elderly. We pray that the storm harms no one. Oh, and don't forget to make a nice kosher cup of hot cocoa with marshmallows—and serve it to yourself on our behalf.

Your friends at Chabad.org

P.S.: We want to hear from you. Share your winter stories (or frustrations) with us, and if you are not in the Northeast, please enjoy (or kvetch about) whatever weather G‑d has sent your way. Click here to share. And for all of you in the Southern Hemisphere, enjoy these summer days.

P.P.S.: There’s so much more to read and watch. Subscribe to our weekly magazine to be the first to find out what’s new every week. Or “Like” us on Facebook for a steady stream of inspiration and entertainment.

Q&A: Chabad.Org Editor Earns Second Place in International Bible Contest

Alex Heppenheimer travels from Brooklyn to Jerusalem, returning with great results

January 20, 2015 4:35 PM
Rabbi Alexander Heppenheimer at the International Bible (Tanach) Contest for Adults in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Alexander Heppenheimer at the International Bible (Tanach) Contest for Adults in Jerusalem.

The Chabad.org team is blessed with incredibly talented writers, programmers, “Ask the Rabbi” responders, reporters and editors. We were thrilled to learn that Rabbi Alexander Heppenheimer, a copy editor on our editorial team, earned second place in the International Bible (Tanach) Contest for Adults on Dec. 22, the last night of Chanukah.

After he returned home to Brooklyn, N.Y., from the finals at the International Convention center in Jerusalemattended by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a host of dignitaries from Israel and the Jewish world, and thousands of others—Heppenheimer took some time to talk about his attention to detail and passion for learning, and, of course, about the contest itself.

Q: Can you first share a bit of background about yourself and your family?

A: I grew up in Southern California and then Israel before moving to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn when I was 9. My wife and I have six children, the last of whom was born just a few weeks ago. Aside from Chabad.org, my main employment is tech support for a software company, which is great because it allows me to work at home. At Chabad.org, my job is to comb through the content we generate, carefully looking for grammatical errors, typos and anything else that may seem off, including incorrect citations to Torah sources and adding additional citations whenever possible. I also enjoy volunteering to edit publications for my children’s school.

Studying Torah with his children.
Studying Torah with his children.

Q: Clearly, you have a passion for getting information right. How did you develop an interest in Bible specifically?

A: The Rebbe writes in Hayom Yom (entry for 19 Adar I) that “even ordinary Chassidim were lucid in their knowledge of Tanach. They had a customary procedure: After davening Shacharit they studied Mishna; then while folding tallit and tefillin they would recite a certain set portion of Tanach, so apportioned that they concluded Tanach every three months.” When I was 14, I decided to try to learn the whole Tanach in three months one summer. At that point, I didn’t understand a lot of it, but it was my first time completing the entire work. All throughout my childhood, I enjoyed reading translations of Tanach with commentaries, such asTorah Anthology and others. Among my friends, I’ve developed a reputation as someone who’s somewhat familiar with Tanach, so this competition was just something that I naturally gravitated towards.

Q: How did the contest work?

A: First, there was an online exam with 50 questions. Anyone who scored well went on to the semifinals in their region. Here in New York, there were 13 semifinalists, and the competition was already pretty stiff. Yair Shahak, who teaches Hebrew at Yeshiva University in New York, came in first place, and I and another fellow tied for second; the three of us went on to Israel for the international competition. Once I was slated to go to Israel, my wife encouraged me, even though it meant leaving her behind for Chanukah with an infant and a houseful of older children.

Dr. Avshalom Kor, standing, hosted the event at the International Conference Center in Jerusalem. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Dr. Avshalom Kor, standing, hosted the event at the International Conference Center in Jerusalem. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Q: How much studying did you do?

A: The contest doesn’t cover all of Tanach, but it does include a fair amount of it. There were some parts that I was less familiar with, so I put some serious effort into brushing up my knowledge of the latter prophets, and the books of Iyov (Job) and Mishlei (Proverbs).

Q: How would you describe your experience in Israel?

A: It was wonderful. All in all, it was a wonderful experience of ahavat Yisrael [love for one’s fellow Jews];everyone was helping each other, sharing study material and tips, and just drilling each other. Everyone knew that one contestant’s gain was another’s loss, but no one looked at it that way, which was beautiful. We spent Chanukah going on trips, studying, testing and studying some more. On the final night of the holiday, 16 of us participated in the final round, which was held onstage. I have to admit that I was nervous. Perhaps the most intimidating part was when each of us was presented with a rapid sequence of questions, which we had to answer as fast as we can. Thank G‑d, I did well on that.

The contest was attended by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a host of dignitaries from Israel and the Jewish world, and thousands of others. Here, the prime minister lights the menorah on the last night of Chanukah. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
The contest was attended by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a host of dignitaries from Israel and the Jewish world, and thousands of others. Here, the prime minister lights the menorah on the last night of Chanukah. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Q: Now that you’ve won, what’s next?

A: Well, actually, on the way back from Israel, I was thinking about the Hayom Yom I told you about earlier, and how most people don’t follow it. I had the idea of perhaps creating a regular cycle that people can join that will allow them to complete Tanach (except for Chumash and Tehillim, which we complete already as part of Chitas) on a trimonthly basis. At this point, I’m fine-tuning the basic details of the cycle, to make sure that the portions will work out evenly, but I think this can be something that many people will embrace. And for those who feel that an average of 170 verses is too much per day, I propose a yearly cycle, with an average of 42 verses per day.

Q: Thank you so much, Alex, for sharing that with us. Mazal tov on your accomplishment, and good luck with your project. We look forward to hearing more about it.

The 16 scholars in the final round came from countries around the world.
The 16 scholars in the final round came from countries around the world.

Is It Passover Already?

January 9, 2015 12:59 PM

Dear Friend,

Passover is still three months away, but the story of the Exodus is being read, discussed, and dramatized in classrooms and at Shabbat tables across the world, as we read the Torah portion of Bo which covers the last three plagues. (The story began two weeks ago and continues through the next few Torah portions.)

These highly dramatic Torah passages are read during a rather holiday-bereft month—Tevet. The way I see it, this is a perfect chance to get a head start on Passover. The Passover story is so rich, complex and poignant, but it seems there’s never enough time to delve into every aspect of the story and its relevance.

The story of the Exodus is the story of our formation as a nation—a nation which has since withstood the tests of time and persecution. It is our story, and we should know it intimately. I encourage you to take the opportunity over these weeks, to follow along with the weekly Torah readings and delve into our communal past. Familiarize yourself with the details of our beginning—and you’ll arrive at Passover with a deeper understanding of the holiday and our nation.

Miriam Szokovski
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

Two Jews Meet on a Plane...

January 4, 2015

Dear Friend,

They tell the joke of two Jews on an airplane. One was a hunchbacked fellow sporting a kipppah on his head and a scraggly beard on his chin. The other man, wishing to hide his Jewishness, made sure not to be seen near the first man. At one point, the two met.

“I have a secret to tell you,” whispered the second man, “but you must promise not to tell a soul. I’m a Jew.”

“I also have a secret to tell you,” replied the first man smilingly, “I’m a hunchback.”

This week’s Torah portion is called Shemot, which literally means “names.” The Midrash tells us that one of the reasons our ancestors merited to leave Egypt was because they clung to their Hebrew names in spite of the overwhelming Egyptian culture that surrounded them.

So be proud of your Jewish identity. Use your Jewish name with pride. And even if you sometimes find yourself in an environment that doesn’t lend itself to expressing your faith, take a lesson from this week’s Torah portion and never be ashamed of whom you are.

Mendy Kaminker
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

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