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The Chabad.org Blog

Did You Notice?

October 30, 2015 2:44 PM

Hi there,

If you’re reading this on your computer, all you need to do is glance up a bit and you’ll notice that we’ve redesigned the header of Chabad.org to grow and shrink to fit your screen.

Now this may seem like a technical change, and you’re right: It is technical, but it has some very practical implications. Most of them are the kind of changes that many folks like us hardly notice, but make a real difference “under the hood” of your favorite Judaism website.

There are, however, some really cool features that you can see at glance:

  • All through the website, you have lots of clean white space on both sides of the text you are reading. Good for your eyes, and prettier besides.
  • Even as you scroll down on any given page, the menu will remain on top of the page, so you can easily navigate to your next Chabad.org destination without scrolling back up. You can look out for more easy-to-access features there in the months ahead.
  • You may also notice that along the very top there’s some new personalized information, including candle-lighting time in your area (if you’ve set your location), the Torah portion, the Jewish date and other timely goodies.
  • Did you see the bottom part of the home page? Each item is now neatly situated in a clean, white card. Again, easier on the eyes and much slicker.

The Chabad.org Development Team

P.S.: Can you spot any other upgrades? Please share them (along with any other feedback or suggestions) below.

The Giant Gardening Convention Is This Week

November 1, 2015

It is well into autumn outside my window. The trees and bushes are already bare, but one solitary flower still blooms amongst the brambles.

In the Torah portion of Chayei Sarah we learn about our matriarch Rivkah, who despite all odds—growing up surrounded by swindlers and thieves—remained righteous and pure. Our sages applied to her the verse (Song of Songs 2:2), “Like a rose among the thorns, so is my beloved among the daughters.” From her we inherited our ability not only to survive our negative surroundings, but to thrive and attain the greatest heights despite negative environments, to bloom amidst the brambles.

The lone wildflower has a poetic beauty. But if you want a beautiful garden, you cannot afford to just sit around and wait for the flowers to bloom. There is work to be done. Appropriately, this week, thousands of Chabad emissaries—who, together with their wives, do so much to water, feed and nurture our nation’s garden—gather for the International Shluchim Conference. But it’s not just the rabbis. Each and every one of us has been tasked and empowered to tend to G‑d’s garden, helping each flower blossom, toiling until the day when G‑d will finally proclaim (Song of Songs 5:2), “I have come into My garden, My sister, My bride.”

Yehuda Shurpin,
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

P.S.: Experience the energy of 5,600 Chabad emissaries and their guests on Sunday evening as we livestream the banquet from Brooklyn, New York.

Q&A: Rabbi’s Classes on Prayer Attended 100,000 Times on Jewish.TV

In less than a year, an online video series by Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan has found an active audience

October 27, 2015 4:47 PM
Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, chief Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Maryland, has been airing a weekly program on Jewish.tv titled “Discussions on Prayer.” It reached a significant milestone with his class having surpassed 100,000 views.
Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, chief Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Maryland, has been airing a weekly program on Jewish.tv titled “Discussions on Prayer.” It reached a significant milestone with his class having surpassed 100,000 views.

Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, chief Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Maryland, has been airing a weekly program on Jewish.tv—titled “Discussions on Prayer” —since last December. His loyal and growing audience recently celebrated a significant milestone in such a relatively short time: The 100,000th class has now been attended online.

The rabbi, who is based in Baltimore, shares his personal reflections on prayer and what he aims to accomplish through the series.

Q: How did you first become interested in the art of prayer?

A: As a child learning at Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn—which we call 770—I remember observing Rabbi Uziel the Shochet [Chazanov]. He would pray with the yeshivah students. Standing in the center of the shul and speaking aloud, he would pronounce every word clearly and carefully. Every word was a word, deliberate and meaningful.

Another powerful memory was Rabbi Mordechai Groner, an elder Chassid who was raised in the Holy Land. One Rosh Hashanah, I sat next to him and observed him. He sat down to pray and began to cry. He didn’t stop crying until the very end. This touched me. It told me that there is more to prayer than just the mechanical repetition of words.

Throughout the years, I have merited to see many other Chassidim of the previous generation praying at length—baavodah in the Chabad parlance—and I realized that this is not something that just happens by itself. It’s clearly an art that is developed and perfected.

“When we pray, we need to focus on what we are saying and appreciate what it is saying to us,” instructs Kaplan. Above, Chassidic artist Hendel Liberman depicts Rabbi Yisroel Neveler (Levine) deep in prayer.
“When we pray, we need to focus on what we are saying and appreciate what it is saying to us,” instructs Kaplan. Above, Chassidic artist Hendel Liberman depicts Rabbi Yisroel Neveler (Levine) deep in prayer.

In the Torah, prayer is called avodah she’b’lev, (“service of the heart”); therefore, it should not be just lip service. It’s about putting your heart into it, but in order to feel, you need to know what you are feeling about.

When I was sent by the Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory] to Australia in 1969, I myself began to put more effort into my prayers, slowing down my pace, thinking about what I was saying, and praying with a bit more feeling and mindfulness.

The Rebbe would quote the Talmudic statement that during prayer, one stands as a servant before a king. Accordingly, the Rebbe said, it’s crucial to clear the mind of all other thoughts, even thoughts about helping others and spreading Jewish awareness and observance. It’s a time of intense inward focus.

The Rebbe also stressed that praying baavodah is not just something for an elite few, but something that is attainable and necessary for each and every Jewish person.

Q: What do you expect the video series to accomplish?

A: We live in a time when most people have lost the art of prayer. People know you come to shul and get out as quick as you can. Where I live in Maryland, we have a horse race—part of the Triple Crown—called the Preakness. I once mentioned that we need to learn from the Preakness how not to pray.

The horse is running through the race thinking how soon he can get to the finish line. When we pray, we need to focus on what we are saying and appreciate what it is saying to us.

Hebrew is not like English. English is rich with words, and there is a word to express every thought or nuance. Hebrew has far fewer words. Thus, each one is laden with much more meaning, and has multiple shades and layers of significance that can be unpacked and appreciated.

On the surface, it may be inscrutable. So when people read words and do not have the foggiest idea what they’re reading, they just think about getting to the end.

So the first step is actually to learn what we are saying at any given time of the services. Then, there is a need to understand the structure, how the service is built and how it progresses, and what each piece adds to the whole. Once you have some of that, it is possible to pray seriously since you are able to be engaged.

I have used the analogy of a walk through an elaborate botanical garden. You walk along and take in the delightful sights and aromas. However, every once in a while you also stop to inspect a particular flower or garden bed, and then just stand there and bask in its beauty. And so it should also be with davening.

“Siddur Illuminated by Chassidus”
Siddur Illuminated by Chassidus

Q: You’ve released the Siddur Illuminated by Chassidus. In what way is the class different from the siddur?

A: As the name suggests, the siddur specifically adds the Chassidic approach and interpretation of the prayers—and there is nary a Chassidic discourse that does not contain a commentary on prayer.

The video series, on the other hand, is one step more basic. It goes through each of the prayers, explaining the meaning and significance of every piece in a more classical sense. Of course, there is Chassidic teaching there as well, but it’s one facet among many. I like to say that the class is a potpourri culled from several dozen commentaries on prayer that I’ve collected.

Q: Is there a specific commentary that has influenced you more than others?

A: There are really so many. From the classic Abudraham from the 14th century to the Maharal in the 16th century to Rabbi Yaakov Emden from the 18th century—and really so many others—every commentary adds something and has left a unique mark on my approach.

Q: Do you have a message for readers?

A: Sure! Reading about prayer is nice, but you need to actually start praying, so buy the book, join the video classes and see how you can make your prayer into a meaningful experience.

Q: Who is all of this geared to—seasoned worshippers or those just starting out?

A: Beginners who have a familiarity with prayer can gain from them, though no prior knowledge is really necessary. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a fellow in my shul—he has his semichah and told me that has listened to every video.

It’s for anyone who wants to learn how to pray.

The online video classes aim to make prayer more meaningful for worshippers. (Photo: JEM)
The online video classes aim to make prayer more meaningful for worshippers. (Photo: JEM)

How to Live Like Abraham

October 15, 2015 11:04 AM

Dear Friend,

A lot of pop-therapy junkies aren’t going to be happy with the message of Lech Lecha. Abraham is told—and so is every one of us—“Go away to yourself.”

Go away from your past, your upbringing, all those happenings that formed your personality. Pick yourself up, look straight ahead, and go to the land G‑d will show you—where He will show you yourself, your true self.

But what about the rearview mirror? What about revisiting the trauma of your childhood and reframing it? What about detoxifying the river upstream before you travel further with its current?

Abraham didn’t do that, and we’re not told to either. We fix the past by going to the place where G‑d will lead us, where our mission in life lies, where we make a difference, where the world is better off because we were born into it.

As for the rearview mirror, yes, we need that as well. We don’t deny the past. We acknowledge it. We need to glance back once in a while and see how that past is moving forward along with us. Because the past is defined by the future to which we lead it.

And what about you? In which direction is your focus in life?

Tzvi Freeman,
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

P.S.: Hey, I really can’t leave this out: We have to do something for our brothers and sisters in Israel. Check out a few words I have to say about that in Gather for the Peace of Jerusalem.​

A 4,000-Year-Old Lesson for Our Times

October 9, 2015 4:19 PM

Dear Friend,

At a time when painful reports of fresh murderous terror attacks in Israel seem to be coming almost hourly, an ancient teaching in our Torah portion is as relevant as ever.

This week we read of a world that became corrupt and chaotic, and the resulting flood of Noah that reset it. The moral of this story is spelled out immediately: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, through man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of G‑d He made man” (Genesis 9:6). As our sages teach, humanity was given seven commandments which encompass the various aspects of morality and social order, providing us with a moral compass.

Terrorist belief systems glorify murder, while many onlookers around the world justify acts of terror on account of grievances and circumstances. Let us hope that the world at large adopts the Torah’s message: that every human life is precious, that every person has the responsibility to protect life, and that we can never allow murder to be justified or rationalized.

Together, let us pray and do good deeds for the safety of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. May G‑d protect them.

Shmary Brownstein,
Responder for Ask the Rabbi @ Chabad.org

New Beginnings

October 4, 2015 12:40 PM

Dear Friend,

There seem to be many new beginnings on the Jewish calendar. First there’s Rosh Hashanah, the day when G‑d determines our fate for the rest of the year. Then there’s Yom Kippur, the day when our sins are forgiven, giving us a fresh start. And then there’s Shabbat Bereishit, when we read the first portion of Genesis. It is said that the way we conduct ourselves on Shabbat Bereishit will impact the entire year.

Shouldn’t all these new beginnings be rolled into one? Doesn’t it make sense to start the year, get a clean slate, and begin the Torah anew all on the same day?

Perhaps it takes time to really internalize the changes we are making during this time of year. It’s a process of soul-searching, resolving to align ourselves with our higher selves, and then actually translating that resolve into action. And Shabbat Bereishit is the culmination of that process. Shabbat Bereishit demands of us, “Have the High Holidays really changed you? Now that you’re returning to your daily life, will you carry that inspiration and allow it to permeate the mundanity?”

How have the High Holidays impacted you? Let us know in the comments section below!

Sasha Friedman,
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

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