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The Chabad.org Blog

How to Get Inspired

November 30, 2015 2:06 PM

Dear Friend,

Not all actions were created equal.

I have a friend who recently began putting on tefillin. Every morning, with great concentration, he would strap the tefillin on his hand and his head. Then he would soar like an angel as he made his way through the prayer service.

Then it happened. A week became a month, and a month became a year, and it was no longer exciting. The tefillin lost their sparkle, and the prayers lost some of their luster.

What is he to do?

The first thing to remember is that a mitzvah is still a mitzvah, even if we are not super-inspired by it. Still, the tendency to become accustomed to our daily routine is something we can and must overcome. How?

Study chassidic teachings.

Try it and you will see that you will be more in tune with your soul, more open to seeing the inner beauty of the mitzvahs, and more sensitive to the G‑dly rhythm behind our universe.

We are now celebrating 19 Kislev, when the first Chabad rebbe was released from a czarist prison and then began publicizing chassidic teachings more widely than ever before. It is considered the chassidic Rosh Hashanah, the “New Year” of Chassidism. If you can use a good dose of inspiration, I think I know what your New Year’s resolution is going to be!

Rabbi Mendy Kaminker,
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

P.S.: Looking for some texts to start with? You can find a wealth of texts here, and lots of classes for every level here.

Classic Chabad Manuscript Now Online in English

November 24, 2015 3:40 PM
A painting of the Tzemach Tzedek (Library Of Agudas Chassidei Chabad)
A painting of the Tzemach Tzedek (Library Of Agudas Chassidei Chabad)

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch passed away in the Jewish year 5626 (1866). Now, 150 years later, large portions of one of his most widely learned works, Derech Mitzvotecha, have been made available online in English for the very first time.

Known as the Tzemach Tzedek—the title of his monumental collection of response on Jewish law—he served as the third Chabad rebbe. He is credited for presiding over an era in which the Chassidic movement gained countless adherents, as well as acceptance and respect from a wide range of Jewish leaders.

Derech Mitzvotecha (“The Way of Your Commandments”) was one of his earliest works, penned between the years 1814 and 1828, when he was still a young man. It is a treatment of the Chassidic and Kabbalistic underpinnings of many of the Torah’s mitzvahs, such as belief in G‑d, tzitzit, tefillin, prayer, loving a fellow Jew, starting a family and others.

The work has a long and storied history.

It was first printed in Poltava, now in Ukraine, in the year 1911. Kehot Publication Society, the publishing arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, reprinted it again in 1943, in Shanghai, China. It was done by a group of Chabad yeshivah students from Poland who had fled there via Japan to escape the Nazi onslaught.

Selections of Derech Mitzvotecha were rendered by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger into English and published by Sichos in English in 2004.
Selections of Derech Mitzvotecha were rendered by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger into English and published by Sichos in English in 2004.

It has since been reprinted many times in the United States and Israel by Kehot Publication Society.

Five generations after it was first written, the author’s great-great-grandson and successor, the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—often advised those seeking to begin study of Chassidic philosophy to study this fundamental work.

Rabbi Eliyahu Touger rendered selections of the work into English, and they were published by Sichos in English in 2004 with the permission of Kehot Publication Society. The new offering, titled Selections From Derech Mitzvosecha: A Mystical Perspective on the Commandments, Vol. 1, was quickly snapped up by English-speaking scholars everywhere, leaving the book currently out of print.

Touger’s translation is available online through a unique partnership between Sichos in English and Chabad.org.

View the online Derech Mitzvosecha here.

Derech Mitzvotecha was first printed in Poltava in 1911 (Library of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research/HebrewBooks.org)
Derech Mitzvotecha was first printed in Poltava in 1911 (Library of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research/HebrewBooks.org)
The original manuscript of Derech Mitzvotecha by the Tzemach Tzedek (Library Of Agudas Chassidei Chabad)
The original manuscript of Derech Mitzvotecha by the Tzemach Tzedek (Library Of Agudas Chassidei Chabad)

Icing on Rabbi Kaplan’s Cake

November 20, 2015 1:09 PM

As Jewish communities around the globe marked the completion of the annual study of MaimonidesMishneh Torah, the folks at Chabad of Flamingo in Toronto had other reasons to celebrate.

For one thing, they have a great rabbi: Rabbi Mendel Kaplan, who seems to have an endless storehouse of wisdom and learning to share.

Also, many of them were completing the entire compendium of Jewish law known as the Mishneh Torah, or for others, the corresponding book called Sefer Hamitzvot (“Book of Commandments”).

But there was an added element of excitement.

For some time, Rabbi Kaplan had been filming daily classes in Sefer Hamitzvot and streaming them over Jewish.tv, enabling thousands of individuals around the globe to learn alongside him and his merry band of students.

A unique aspect of these classes—aside from the rabbi’s signature crisp delivery and humor—is the fact that he often ties the study in with insight and facts from the corresponding chapters in Mishneh Torah, giving the students a feel of what others are learning at the same time.

They finished the first cycle two years ago. Then it took an additional two years to fill in the gaps caused by Shabbat, holidays and travel, but there is now a complete set of classes on the entire Sefer Hamitzvot available online on Jewish.tv.

The group couldn’t hold back their excitement. The international crowd of e‑learners was also excited, as were our guys at Jewish.tv.

So excited that they surprised the rabbi with this exquisite cake.

Mazal tov!

Your Friendly Reminder

November 22, 2015

Dear Friend,

Samuel Johnson famously said, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” If you’re like me, you can probably relate to that quote. There are lots of things I know I need/want to do, but I just never remember to get around to them.

Well, to that end, we are reminding you that this year is a Hakhel year, when Jewish people gather together to study Torah and inspire each other. It’s a big deal. A. Very. Big. Deal.

Did you see our Hakhel page? It’s a place where you can sign up to host Hakhel gatherings, get ideas and tips, and learn more about the significance of this year.

So please consider this your reminder. Now is the time to sign up to be a Hakhel leader. To quote a famous home-improvement retailer: You can do it. We can help.

Happy Hakheling! #Unitethenation

Menachem Posner,
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

Turning the Page to Another Chapter: The 34th Completion of Mishneh Torah Study

Broadcast live at 8 p.m. EST tonight on Jewish.tv.

November 18, 2015 12:34 PM
Hundreds of thousands of Jews will celebrate the completion of learning the Mishneh Torah—Maimonides’ magnum opus, a compendium of all the laws of the Torah.
Hundreds of thousands of Jews will celebrate the completion of learning the Mishneh Torah—Maimonides’ magnum opus, a compendium of all the laws of the Torah.

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world will finish learning the Mishneh Torah today—Maimonides’ magnum opus, a compendium of all the laws of the Torah. Learning three chapters a day, it took these dedicated learners the better part of the past year to study the 1,000-chapter monograph.

To celebrate their efforts and to honor the wisdom of the 13th-century scholar and philosopher Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (also known as “the Rambam” or “Maimonides”), Jewish communities worldwide will hold large Siyum HaRambam (the completion of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah) events during the coming weeks.

Significantly, many will participate in the “Global Online Siyum HaRambam,” which will be broadcast live by Jewish.tv—the multimedia portal of Chabad.org, the largest repository of Jewish content online—beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Emphasizing the worldwide nature of the study cycle, the online gathering will feature speakers from all over the world.

Participants will be welcomed by Rabbi Moshe Steiner, director of Uptown Chabad-Lubavitch in Toronto, Canada, who’ll introduce Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Wyoming; and Rabbi Yosef Chaim Kantor, chief rabbi and director of Chabad-Lubavitch in Thailand.

A special feature of the evening will be a tribute of gratitude to Rabbi Joshua B. Gordon, whose online classes have enabled countless students to access the sometimes opaque teachings of the Rambam.

The actual study completion will be led by Rabbi Itchel Krasnjansky, executive director of Chabad of Hawaii. Living in the Hawaii-Aleutian Time Zone, he will be among the last to finish the cycle after the day long turned into night in most of the world. Then one of the earliest to begin the new cycle, Rabbi Yacov Barber, the spiritual leader of South Caulfield Hebrew Congregation in Melbourne, Australia, will teach the opening lines, starting the cycle anew.

Unity Achieved by Entire Jewish People

For many, it will be the 34th time that they have completed the series since the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—first instituted the study cycle in 1984.

Maimonides’ 14-volume work is the only collection of Jewish law that spans the entirety of Jewish life, including those laws that only apply when the Temple in Jerusalem is standing and many others that are not included in prior or subsequent codes.

Rabbi Yehoshua B. Gordon's California study group two years ago, when the class completed the three-year track of Mishneh Torah. His teaching continues to draw tens of thousands of online students to classes on Jewish.tv.
Rabbi Yehoshua B. Gordon's California study group two years ago, when the class completed the three-year track of Mishneh Torah. His teaching continues to draw tens of thousands of online students to classes on Jewish.tv.

For those unable to study three chapters every day, the Rebbe suggested a parallel track at a more modest pace of one chapter daily. (Those studying one chapter a day are currently one-third of the way through the 12th cycle).

For those who find that, too, difficult, the Rebbe instituted yet a third track. Paralleling the three-chapter-per-day regimen by learning daily about the same commandments being studied there in detail, this one explores Maimonides’ significantly shorter Sefer Hamitzvot (“Book of Commandments”), concluding all 613 mitzvahs each year.

When the Rebbe first called for the near-annual study of the Mishneh Torah, he underscored the unity achieved by the entire Jewish people studying the same subject in Torah at the same time (and the unique achievement of studying every aspect of Torah). The Rebbe’s emphasis on daily study echoed Maimonides’ own suggestion of how his work should be learned, but until the Rebbe’s innovation, most people studied the Mishneh Torah piecemeal.

Rabbi Mendel Kaplan has just completed a landmark online class of the daily Sefer HaMitzvot on Jewish.tv.
Rabbi Mendel Kaplan has just completed a landmark online class of the daily Sefer HaMitzvot on Jewish.tv.

In light of the emphasis on unity, the completion celebration is particularly poignant during this Hakhel year, highlighting a global Hakhel union of people learning the same topics worldwide, and using the only book that actually achieves a “Hakhel” of all of Torah’s laws.

Digital and Online Resources

Over the years, digital and print resources have sprung up to make the Hebrew-language text readily accessible. Moznaim Publisher’s landmark translation of the entire Mishneh Torah by Rabbi Eli Touger was put online in 2009 by Chabad.org, complementing the existing Hebrew texts and audio classes. Chayenu—a weekly Torah-content magazine—carries the one-chapter-a-day Moznaim text of the week in both Hebrew and English. For many years, thousands of people have been receiving their daily Rambam via Chabad.org’s email subscription.

Rabbi Mordechai Farkash, co-director of the East Side Torah Center-Chabad in Bellevue, Wash., speaks at a prior Siyum HaRambam celebration.
Rabbi Mordechai Farkash, co-director of the East Side Torah Center-Chabad in Bellevue, Wash., speaks at a prior Siyum HaRambam celebration.

In 2012, Rabbi Yehoshua B. Gordon began streaming live classes following the one-chapter-a-day track on Jewish.tv. Thousands of students worldwide join him daily in that online study.

Rabbi Mendel Kaplan has just completed a landmark online class of the daily Sefer HaMitzvot on Jewish.tv, and various translations of Sefer HaMitzvot, for both kids and adults, are easily accessible on Chabad.org.

A major step forward was the production of the “Hayom” app, where the daily Rambam, along with other components of the daily study regimen and handy information, can be easily accessed on smartphones.

In addition to recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of those who have studied over the past year, siyum organizers say the celebrations also serve to attract more people to join the cycle.

Learning three chapters a day, it took dedicated learners the better part of a year to study the 1,000-chapter monograph.
Learning three chapters a day, it took dedicated learners the better part of a year to study the 1,000-chapter monograph.
To honor the wisdom of the 13th-century scholar and philosopher Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (also known as “the Rambam” or “Maimonides”), Jewish communities worldwide will hold large Siyum HaRambam (the completion of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah) events during the coming weeks.
To honor the wisdom of the 13th-century scholar and philosopher Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (also known as “the Rambam” or “Maimonides”), Jewish communities worldwide will hold large Siyum HaRambam (the completion of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah) events during the coming weeks.

If You’d Cut His Finger . . .

November 13, 2015 10:44 AM

This Shabbat we commemorate the birthday and yahrtzeit of the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Dovber, known as the “Mitteler Rebbe.”

One of his distinguishing traits was his ability to elaborate at great lengths on topics of chassidic philosophy. He penned many voluminous manuscripts, and would deliver long talks, with listeners spellbound by his every word.

It was said about him that were his finger to be cut, instead of blood would come a gush of Chassidism. It was the very essence of his being.

At the recent International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchim), keynote speaker Rabbi Shlomie Chein applied this metaphor in personal terms.

He said that a shliach—an emissary of the Rebbe sent out to rejuvenate and establish Jewish communities around the world—should be the same way. When his finger is cut, his commitment to his mission is what should run forth. His devotion must take over his entire being.

So be sure to take advantage of these dedicated men and women, whose primary goal is to serve the communities they have been sent to in nearly every part of the world.

And if you live somewhere that does not (yet) have a shliach, then we at Chabad.org will gladly serve as your virtual emissary.

Please stay in touch!

Eliezer Zalmanov,
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

Announcing the Launch of “A Taste of Talmud”

November 13, 2015 9:53 AM

Did you ever want to learn Talmud? Not just the pithy quotes found on Jewish calendars and chain e‑mails, but the hardcore, back-and-forth discussion on the details of Jewish law.

Well, now is your chance to jump right into the thick of the Talmudic debate. Starting on Nov. 23, Rabbi Baruch Epstein of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois will be presenting a weekly course on a classic sugya (insider speak for a section of the Talmud that covers a specific topic). The course will last for five weeks and will explore the topic using the original Aramaic texts, as well as the classic commentaries of Rashi and Tosafot.

“There are so many people who would love to experience authentic Talmud study, but do not have the skills to do it on their own,” says Yaakov Kaplan, who produced the course. “Rabbi Epstein—whose classes have been treasured by Chicago residents for decades—presents them with a thoughtful, in-depth Torah study, on par with the yeshivah experience, all from the comfort of home.”

No prior experience or language skills are necessary. The course is free (like all the best things in life), but you do need to sign up in advance.

“I’m excited to welcome people to the complexity and depth of the Talmud,” says Rabbi Epstein. “This course will empower you to apply talmudic analysis in all areas of study and life.”

So what are you waiting for? Sign up today!

Sign up for the new course.

Check out some of Rabbi Epstein’s many classes archived on Chabad.org.

Rabbi Discusses His New Book On Suffering and Loss: 'A Time to Heal'

The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Response to Loss and Tragedy

November 12, 2015 5:24 PM
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"

“A hallmark of the Rebbe’s [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory] 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 Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson in his new book, “A Time to Heal: The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Response to Loss and Tragedy.”

In this important and timely work, Kalmenson explores numerous instances throughout the Rebbe’s decades of leadership where the Rebbe offered insight and consolation to individuals and communities in their greatest moments of need.

Kalmenson, rabbi and executive director of Chabad of Belgravia in London, England, took time to discuss “A Time to Heal and the reasons for writing it.

Q: Coping with death and tragedy are subjects that people deal with and rabbis counsel about every day, yet they are not generally part of the yeshivah curriculum, and are not topics that people usually delve into willingly before tragedy strikes. What sparked your interest to research and write about the topic in such depth?

A: I actually never set out to write a book about loss and tragedy. I was working as an editor at Chabad.org during a particularly painful time for the Jewish community, when a number of tragedies transpired one after another, including the horrific murder of the Fogel family in Itamar, Israel, and the kidnapping and dismembering in Brooklyn of a young boy named Leiby Kletzky on the first day that his parents allowed him to walk home alone from day camp, among others. These touched me very deeply. It’s interesting how different tragedies touch people in different ways, and while as Jews we are taught to empathize and take the pain of others personally, it’s emotionally draining to always be open to other people’s pain.

For whatever reason, I took these incidents personally, and found myself trying to formulate a reflection and response that could somehow address or at least alleviate the pain that often results from encountering suffering and tragedy. One article turned into two, and then three, and before long, they expanded over the years and formed the basis for A Time to Heal.

"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.

Q: How is the Rebbe’s approach to loss and mourning different than that presented in other works on the subject? What does this book add to the conversation?

A: While researching some of the classical Jewish literature on the subject, I realized that, to generalize a bit, there were two categories: the more theoretical approach, which dealt with the topic detachedly, employing intellectual language and tools to plumb the philosophical and theological issues, but are arguably somewhat inaccessible to someone experiencing the profound emotional turmoil and trauma of grief; and then there was material that went to the other extreme, creating space for the expression of pain, but sometimes at the expense of some of the fundamental principles of faith.

What made the Rebbe’s approach so unique to me was that in his correspondence and interactions with people seeking his comfort and counsel, he always managed to fuse his staunch faith in the ways of G‑d Almighty with his profound love and empathy for humanity. He is unapologetic when it comes to communicating the principles of Jewish faith that are sometimes hard to digest, and yet does so in a manner and tone that convey his profound compassion and understanding of the very raw and real pain that those with whom he was communicating were undergoing.

To quote, if I may, from my introduction: “In the Rebbe’s correspondence with the bereaved, there is both an insistence that all events are part of a Divine plan and that everything happens for the best, as well as a very real acceptance of human suffering and its expression. In the Rebbe’s worldview, expressions of faith and expressions of human vulnerabilities are not contradictory. Gratitude for the life that was can find expression alongside grief, and unwavering faith can coexist even with a challenge to G‑d’s ways.”

In order to capture the unique balance the Rebbe wove between the philosophical and the emotional, between the principles of Jewish mourning and their practice, I chose in the book to frame the Rebbe’s actual words—whether excerpted from letters, private interactions or public talks—within as much of a storyline as possible. Instead of simply providing the reader with a collection of the Rebbe’s texts on the topic of loss, I thought that it’s also important to present the human context that the Rebbe was addressing. So the format comprises personal stories of those who have suffered loss and the Rebbe’s compassionate responses to them.

In this way, I hoped to bring alive the manner in which the Rebbe applied the teachings of Torah and chassidus to bring healing and hope to so many.

Q: There are many causes and types of loss and mourning, and the Rebbe’s responses to the individuals involved were unique to each situation. Can you identify some specific themes that guided the Rebbe’s approach overall?

A: Definitely. I would summarize those themes into: faith, spiritualism and action.

“Faith” is the belief that everything comes from G‑d, whether we understand His reasoning or not, and consequently, the faith that a person only leaves this physical life and existence when G‑d chooses to call him or her back.

By “Spiritualism” I mean that the “realness” of reality is the spiritual content inside everything that exists, including the human being. Put differently, we are not physical beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. In other words, the real “me” or “you”—i.e., the meaningful aspect of our existence—and the part in each other that we really connect to and love is not the physical shell or “vessel” of our bodies, but the spirit, personality, character or soul within us all. And that part of us is eternal.

“Action”: In the Rebbe’s counsel, there was a constant emphasis on constructive action. The Rebbe’s message was that while Judaism does not rationalize or justify tragedy, it does have a response (hence, the subtitle for the book, The Rebbe’s Response to Loss and Tragedy). Instead of asking “Why Me?” we are redirected to ask “What Now?” We’ve all seen how the painful energy created by tragedy can remain inside a person and fester, sucking the joy out of life and perhaps even boiling over in unhealthy release. The Rebbe would instead gently and lovingly channel their experience to animate and fuel a positive initiative or cause.

Kalmenson, rabbi and executive director of Chabad of Belgravia in London, says the book will appeal to a wide range of people dealing with loss and tragedy, as well as those who want to help the suffering.
Kalmenson, rabbi and executive director of Chabad of Belgravia in London, says the book will appeal to a wide range of people dealing with loss and tragedy, as well as those who want to help the suffering.

Q: Your book appears to focus a lot on the balance between having faith and questioning G‑d. Can you provide an example from the book of how the Rebbe struck that delicate balance?

A: In my mind, without a doubt, the Rebbe’s response to the murder of Mrs. Pesha Leah Lapine (see Chapter 28: The Believer’s Outcry) is a most powerful example of the very delicate and sensitive balance the Rebbe negotiated between unflinching faith and a heartrending “challenge” to G‑d Almighty to bring an end to all pain and suffering through the coming of Moshiach.

Q: When it comes down to it, who is the book really written for?

A: Thank you for asking. Of course, the book contains a great deal for those who’ve actually experienced loss, G‑d forbid, and are grieving. It also provides much food for thought and discussion to those who want to help a friend or loved one who is suffering. But it also has relevance and urgency for people living in Israel who are undergoing a terrifying new wave of violence and terror, as well as the many of us in deep pain about what our brothers and sisters in Israel are enduring.

Based on some of the early feedback I’ve gotten, it appears that many in the mental-health community can find new insight from the Rebbe’s words as well. Now, more than ever, the Rebbe’s message of hope and optimism (Chapter 20), of faith in the supremacy of good over evil (Chapter 21), of the tangible effect of positive thinking (Chapter 13) and the protective power of mitzvot (Chapter 24) are especially pertinent.

It is my fervent hope and prayer that in the very near future, when pain and suffering will be eradicated, and the intrinsic goodness within the world be revealed with the coming of Moshiach (May it be speedily in our day!), this book will be relegated to more theoretical and academic realms.

Until then however, I believe the audience for this book is very, very broad. It is a truism that nowadays, we all know someone within only a degree or two away from ourselves undergoing great pain and hardship. I think we can all benefit greatly from the Rebbe’s sage counsel, to guide and heal us, and to help spread healing to others.

May true healing arrive to this world speedily in our days!

“A Time to Heal: The Lubavitcher Rebbes Response to Loss and Tragedy”a collaboration between Chabad.org and Ezra Press, an imprint of the Kehot Publication Societyis available for purchase here.

Yes We Can Change!

November 11, 2015 10:22 AM

Dear Friend,

Can we change ourselves?

The Torah offers a fascinating insight into human nature and the power G‑d gives us to make something out of ourselves.

This week, in Toldot, we read about the birth of Esau and Jacob. The twin brothers are both born with incredible potential. One turns out good; the other, not so well.

Chassidic teachings expound on the fact that Esau was endowed with a soul that was potentially loftier than Jacob’s. Thus, he had the possibility to be spiritually greater than his brother. Together with this lofty soul, he was given an equally high drive to reject doing good. (Free will, anyone?) Granted, he did not have it easy. Yet he did have the power to overcome the negative forces within him (and even managed to do just that in his youth).

We cannot control the events that occur in our lives, but how we react to them is up to us. We can throw up our hands in defeat and give up, or take what we were given and make it shine.

The day will yet come when the Esaus of the world will shine. May it be now.

Chani Benjaminson,
responder for Ask the Rabbi @ Chabad.org

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