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Essays

Comprehensive, in-depth treatments of an array of subjects and issues by Chassidic scholars and professionals

Kabbalah is the ancient Jewish mystical tradition that provides insight into the essence of G‑d, His relationship with the world, and how the Torah and its mitzvahs deepen that connection.
The Development
Two cows, they were, sharing a paddock on the same farm . . .
Cold Soup
Do you have to believe in G-d, are you still Jewish?
Imagine, a couple gets married, and the man says to his new wife, “Would you make me something to eat, please? I’ll be right back.” She begins preparing. The guy comes back 3300 years later, walks into the house, up to the table, straight to his favorite chair, sits down and tastes the soup that is on the table. The soup is cold.
Tevye’s Query
Fiddler on the Roof’s enormous popularity has nothing to do with metaphysical content. Nonetheless, we find one of the most enigmatic issues in religious thought expressed by Tevye the milkman . . .
The Practical Implications of Infinity
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and the essence of Jewish mysticism
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and the essence of Jewish mysticism
Jews, Time and Freedom
How Torah liberated humankind from the bondage of fate
Once upon a time, time was round. Then somehow we straightened it out, put an arrow on the end and took it for a ride. Now let me tell you how it happened . . .
“My Name is . . . and I am a Human Being”
The Jewish idea of perfection
Imagine asking a Jew, “Did you ever eat on Yom Kippur?” and he answers, “I felt hungry in my stomach.”
Man and Woman
When G-d created Adam, at the moment Adam opened his eyes, what was his psychological profile? He had no Oedipus complex because he had no mother. He didn't have a birth trauma, because he wasn't born. He had no sibling rivalry... What was this man like?
Mind or Heart?
Actually there are two hearts: the outer heart, forever chasing whatever looks good to it and barking at whatever looks like a threat; and an inner heart, where the fire of the soul burns in serene simplicity
Kabbalah of Love
We all yearn for the intimate touch of another soul. So why are we forever repelling love with our anger and criticism?
Chassid in Wonderland
Parallel universes, supernatural phenomena, and a world where good always prevails. Is this Grimm's fairy tales, or a chassidic text?
Let Them Eat Cake
Some things are so very astounding that the casually passing mind refuses to notice the wonder.
Is Happiness a Realistic Goal?
Are you really happy, or just resigned to your lot? I'd love to meet the person who'd honestly say, "My fantasy life? I'm living it! I can't imagine a thing I'd want to change!"
A Daughter of Tzelafchad Speaks
The Torah’s account of the petition presented to Moses by the daughters of Tzelafchad is relevant both to women seeking halachic support for change, and to the rabbis who are ruling on their questions.
The Cosmology of the Mitzvot
The physical realm as the "shadow" of the spiritual; the mitzvot as physical "symbols" that manipulate spiritual realities; matter as thye most compact form of energy; prayer as the language of the soul and the minyan as the "critical mass" that unleashes its power
The Monkey and the Elephant
Insights into the month of laughter
First the elephant's trunk is threaded through the eyelet, then his head, followed by his entire huge body. Imagine dreaming such a dream!
The Meaning of Making Money
If life is full of meaning, why am I spending it hustling other people for their money?
Can People Change?
Creating something from nothing
G-d creates from "Nothing" because nothingness, ayin, actually means absolute, infinite possibility. And as a beings created in the image of G-d, we, too, can create "something from nothing"
The Birth of Moral Selfhood
"Leave your land, your birthplace and your father's house, and go to the land I will show you." These words are among the most consequential in the history of mankind
Invisible Fences
The Tiger, the Elephant, and the Kabbalah of Transformation
Are you you smart, stupid, graceful, clumsy, bold, wimpy, articulate, shy? Whatever your answers, they will limit and define you as certainly as if they were a cage made out of concrete and steel
A Psychology of Motivation
Doing good without believing in reward is the flip side of doing good only for reward. In the one case, good is constrained to the metaphysical; in the other, it is limited to a crass physical expression . . .
What Makes Your Soul Tick?
Ever wondered where that instant inspiration comes from? Where does that spontaneous urge of faith stem from? What truly is the essence of our soul?
Be a Star in His-Story
To serve or not to serve is not the question, and it is not the choice. Every character serves the author. The choice is only about how you serve--directly, playing the good guy, or indirectly, playing the villain
What is Kabbalah?
A basic introduction to the Kabbalah
It is important to realize that the Kabbalah is more about losing ourselves than about finding, becoming more other-centered and less ego-centered. The literal translation of the word Kabbalah is 'that which is received.'
Unity vs. Diversity - the Struggle
I often speak of the Torah as a unifying document with an all-encompassing and harmonizing perspective on reality. There seems much that contradicts this in the Torah. So does the Torah indeed advocate separateness as a value?
The Unity and Purposefulness of Creation
Everything has its place in the plan of creation, and it is “good.” It becomes “very good” when all the parts are working in unison.
Three Mistranslations
Teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah commonly translate as "repentance," "prayer" and "charity." But these English words fail to express the full significance of these concepts, and even convey the very opposite of their true import
Compassion
This is what compassion does: it simply comes to say hello, with kindness and grace; to be a companion in whatever circumstance presents itself; to banish loneliness, and if not, to accompany the lonely in their solitude
Reflections on Leave-Taking
We really should not have to die at all, despite Adam's sin. And G-d, so to speak, is sensitive to this. It "embarrasses" Him...
The Silent Cup
What is Elijah's Cup All About?
When opening the door for Elijah, the children gather round to watch the quivering liquid ripple, hoping to detect some sign of its sampling by the visiting prophet. But surely there's more meaning to this cup than a child's imagination
The Ultimate Test of Abraham
What was so great about the binding of Isaac?
Why does an all-knowing G-d need to test anybody? Shouldn't He know what is in our hearts? And why is Abraham's test of faith "the entire glory of Israel and their merit before their Father in Heaven"?
On Humility
He was a world-famous figure, I was an anonymous student from 3000 miles away. Quickly it became clear to me that he believed in me more than I believed in myself
Bindings
That common but feeble excuse, "I couldn't help myself," is not acceptable to anyone sensitive to the message of the tefillin
The Fiftieth Miracle
Miracles are a concession to the human need to see things from a different perspective in order to apprehend what they've already seen. Shavuot is when G-d believes in us enough not to indulge it
Sustained Paradox
It is irrational to believe that an elephant can fit itself through the eye of a needle. But what about the One who brought elephant, needle, size, space and logic itself into existence?
A World of Love
"It is not good," said G-d of the first and only human being, "for man to be alone." As long as man was alone, he could not really be good
Judges and Kindergartens
Government and the idea of education in the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
These two protocols are now at war, with western civilization (human rights) on one side, and the world of Islam (subjugation of the individual to the supreme will of Allah) on the other. Where does Judaism stand?
Shades of Light
The single wicks of the Shabbat candles, exuding calmness, repose and homeliness; the braided torch accompanying the departing queen, lighting the darkness that becomes more marked in her absence...
Why Do Mitzvot?
Ultimately, every answer is, in a sense, a correct answer
What is Prayer?
Coming Home
If Jews are neither a nation nor a religion, and do not share a common language, culture or ethnicity, what are we?
Anorexia of the Soul
"It hurts." He bunches his fist over his heart. "Here. A long time. A year, maybe ten. Forever." "Can you put a name to it?" "You know the way a crow does when it's picking at a squirrel that's been run over? Like that. Stabbing."
Fortysomething
The pattern is followed in every aspect of existence: there has to be an “emptiness in the middle” in order to move from one state of being to the next...
Planet of the Apes
She scrutinized me for a few moments and suddenly her face lit up with the wonder of discovery. Her eyes grew wide and she exclaimed, "Oh my gosh! there are two of you!"
Swallowed Up Forever
From every incident in a person's life, one can acquire profound insight into the service of the Creator. So says the holy Baal Shem Tov. Fortified by this idea, I began my descent in the morgue elevator of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at McGill University
Moses vs. Freud
In the 70's, people challenged the concepts of monogamy and fidelity, naively believing that they could be truly caring and faithful to multiple contemporaneous partners. That simplistic innocence has been replaced in the 90's by a hard cynicism...
Are You Happily Ever After?
In the Western mindset, popular cinema, and classic literary masterpieces, everyone either dies or “lives happily ever after.” Life after the goal is reached -- the happily ever after part -- is rarely dealt with. The curtain simply comes down...
Bread of Faith
Matzah hurriedly chewed on an empty stomach is virtually tasteless; but at the meal's end, especially after a glass or two of wine, it is a feast for the senses...
The Pilfering of Infinity
The phrase "crushing labor" appears repeatedly in the Torah's account of the Egyptian exile and enslavement, in the text of the Haggadah, and in the symbolism of the seder observances. What is crushing labor?
The Cosmology of Giving
Do not be deceived by the apparent simplicity. This diagram depicts the conceptual framework underlying all of existence
The Wildest Story Ever Told
The fact is, if it's philosophy someone else has also thought it; if it's a legend or myth, some other people have a story with a lot of strong parallels. After all, we're all talking about the same world from within the same bodies... Except for one, very enigmatic story
Winter
The calendar is more than a measure of time; it is a cycle that charts our inner life and our relationship with our Creator.
Recipe for Successful Behavior Modification
How do we identify the internal switches that operate the source of all actions, and do we have the mechanism to manipulate and control them?
The Loving Friends
What does it mean to be a man? a woman? Neither Freud nor Friedan has made the slightest difference. They have simply unleashed new misconceptions, novel frustrations and social woes as men and women persist in misunderstanding themselves and each other...
The Colors of Blood
The Last Jew
Where is the world’s most ordinary place? A fifteen days’ journey from Jerusalem, in a field on the banks of the Euphrates.
New Year Dissonance
A Story of Three Sisters
They cherished these dresses dearly until, one day, they heard that in America the style was to wear short skirts. Now their dresses no longer seemed so beautiful...
Alienation and Faith
We detect two tendencies of thought on the place of alienation and loneliness in the Jewish analysis of the emotions. To state this contrast is not to formulate an opposition; simply to open another gate...
The Abnormality of Jewish Life
People intuitively equate "normal" with good. In fact, normal is very bad. A person achieves normalcy when the molecules that comprised his being are in thermodynamic equilibrium with the environment, which is to say he is dust
Oil, Wick, Vessel, Flame
The wick would flare and die. The oil is difficult to ignite at all. But when brought together in the lamp, they produce a steady flame. And so it is in the of the "a lamp of G-d" that is our soul
The Evolution of Evil
“All affairs of this world are severe, and evil and wicked men prevail.” No one who is even minimally acquainted with world history, and marginally aware of current events, is likely to take issue with this statement from Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi’s Tanya. Its stark accuracy underlies one of the most disturbing questions in the annals of religious thought. Why should, and how could, the world be this way?
What If You Mess Up?
What divorce teaches about marriage
Why does G‑d tell you how to get divorced, if He believes in marriage?
The Spark of All Truths
“And [Moses] was there [on Mount Sinai] with G‑d forty days and forty nights; bread he did not eat and water he did not drink” (Exodus 34:28). Very interesting. Have you ever tried it?
Farbrengen
The Times of our Lives
on the significance of Shabbat Mevarchim
Finding G-d in the Details
If you’ve ever had this experience, you have unwittingly stumbled upon one of the core spiritual secrets of Creation: a three-fold pattern of vision-breakdown-transformation, or light-darkness-light.
America: The Final Frontier
The challenge presented by the Soviet gulags and the KGB pale in comparison to the challenge we face in today's Western society.
The Kabbalah of Smell
Prior to the birth of my oldest child, I actually found myself looking forward to this rite of parenthood, waiting to be introduced to diaper changing. At first it was not bad, not much of a challenge. More recently, however, as my son approaches his second birthday, the stench emanating from his diaper is unreal.
The Art of Galut
To strain the bounds of galut, but not overstep them; to accept and conform to the will of G-d, while appreciating that it is G-d's desire that we contest His will whenever limits our connection with Him --that is the ultimate art
Tribes
If the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel each brought the same gift in honor of the Tabernacle’s inauguration, why does the Torah repeat the 35-item list twelve times, making Naso the longest Parshah in the Torah? There is a lesson here, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, on the meaning of harmony, unity and tribalism.
Oh, My Gad
Gad's battle victims were readily identifiable. With one fell swoop of the sword they would cut off the head together with the arm. The ability to strike such a blow is an indication of tremendous lion-like strength.
Chassidim Got Talent
The ABC’s of Chassidism
Napoleon rushed over to him, put his hand on his heart and said, “You are a spy!”
The Beinoni’s Resolve
A melodious meditation on the constant struggle to be our better selves
Why was this melody singled out as the musical expression of the beinoni’s character, and as the personal anthem of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch?
Healers of the Soul
Purpose as the foundation of Chabad’s psychological approach
How Hayom Yom Became a Jewish Classic
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