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Why Jews Love Construction

The Secret to Oneness

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

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  • October 13, 2019
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  • 14 Tishrei 5780
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Class Summary:

The Talmud states (Sukkah 51b): The Sages taught: One who did not see the joy of the Drawing of the Water, never saw joy in his life. One who did not see Jerusalem in its glory, never saw a beautiful city. One who did not see the Holy Temple in its full stature, never saw a magnificent structure.

The questions are numerous, and we addressed them the previous sermon. But today we will present the explanation of the Rebbe on the two final stanzas in this Talmudic statement that to see a beautiful edifice, you must see the Holy Temple.

How were the sages so sure of this? Did they not think it possible for someone to erect a most exquisite structure one day outside of the Holy Temple?

What has made the American nation great? What is the secret behind the 240-year-old unparalleled success of the USA? We don’t need to look far and wide for the answer. All we need to do is retrace our steps to the deep and enduring roots of this county as they were laid down by our Founding Fathers.

The mission statement of this country was defined by the Founding Fathers in 1776 when they established this great nation. And they fought the Revolutionary War to defend this mission stated in the Declaration of Independence.

One of the Rebbe’s final English letters was written on the 15th of Cheshvan, 5752

[October 23, 1991] to Mr. Arkadiusz Rybicki, President of the Council for Polish-Jewish

Relations, working at Office of the President of the Republic of Poland, in Warsaw, and it

addressed this very issue.

When we observe what humans have learnt to construct over the millennia of

civilization, it is astounding. Assembling the bricks, the concrete, the metals, the wood,

and hundreds or thousands of materials to fashion the structure, the exterior and the

interior, from the roof to the last pipe, from the foundation to the last peg, is

extraordinary. When you come to observe it, you do not see millions of details; you see

is one beautiful home. The many diverse and individual details have converged into a

single, unified entity.

Now if you take away even one detail, you have compromised all of them. But why?

What is the connection between a mahogany desk and a metal pipe, between a golden

door handle and a boiler room? Because they have ceased to be “independent” entities;

they have been redefined to become parts of a singular edifice. They are considered to

be one entity, like pieces in a jig saw puzzle when they are combined.

In that sense, we are all construction workers.

The story of the Jewish fellow selling iPods on Amazon, when he discovered a terrible mistake he made. The story of Chazan Helfgot visiting an ill Jew on the night of Yom Kippur. The story of the simple Esrog of Reb Aryeh Levin, because he was searching for a different type of beauty. The story of the esrog of Reb Uri which somehow gave off the aroma of paradise. The story of Reb Mendel in Siberia—all illustrating the recipe to experience oneness and harmony in a chaotic world.

The Chicken

"Doctor, you have to help me. My brother thinks he's a chicken," whines Nancy.

"That's very simple", says the Doctor. "Just tell your brother that he's not a chicken."

“I can’t,” says Nancy. “We need the eggs.”

Trying to Impress

A young lawyer, starting up his private practice, was very anxious to impress potential clients.

When he saw the first visitor to his office come through the door, he immediately picked up his phone and spoke into it, making belief he was actually talking to someone. "I'm sorry, but my caseload is so tremendous that I'm not going to be able to look into your problem for at least a month. I'll have to get back to you then."

He then turned to the man who had just walked in, and said, "Now, what can I do for you?

Make sure to do this fast, as I am in a mad rush, as you can see from the endless telephone calls of clients."

"Nothing," replied the man. "I'm here to hook up your phone.”

Knowing Your Job

After six months of working for the company, it’s time for David’s evaluation. David walks into the boardroom, where three designer-suit-clad personnel managers are sitting behind a mahogany desk. The one on the left scans David’s file, looks up at him accusingly, and says, “I see here that you did not report for work at 9 am, not even one time during this entire period.”

The woman in the middle shakes her head and remarks, “This is a Fortune 500 Company. Instead of a jacket and tie, you report for work wearing jeans.”

The man on the right stares at the papers in his hand and says grimly, “Our surveillance cameras show that you spend less than 10% of your working hours at your desk. The rest of the time you’re walking around the building.”

The first evaluator shoots the question: “David! Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

“Yes," he replies with confidence, "I was hired as the night watchman.”

סוכה נא, ב: תנו רבנן, מי שלא ראה שמחת בית השואבה לא ראה שמחה מימיו, מי שלא ראה ירושלים בתפארתה לא ראה כרך נחמד מעולם, מי שלא ראה בהמ"ק בבנינו לא ראה בנין מפואר מעולם...

The Talmud states (Sukkah 51b):

The Sages taught: One who did not see the joy of the Drawing of the Water [on Sukkos they would draw water each morning from a spring and pour it on the altar, this was preceded by all night dancing], never saw joy in his life. One who did not see Jerusalem in its glory, never saw a beautiful city. One who did not see the Holy Temple in its full stature, never saw a magnificent structure.

The questions are numerous.

(Note: If you addressed them in the previous sermon, you can go through them fast, or you can skip most of the questions. Of course, you can choose one of the two ideas discussed in this essay.)

First, what is the meaning of these three statements? Can’t one see joy even if they never saw the celebration around the drawing of the water on Sukkos? Can’t someone see a beautiful city, or a magnificent structure, without seeing Jerusalem and the Beis Hamikdash in their full glory?

Second, how were the sages so sure of this? Did they not think it possible for someone to erect a most exquisite structure one day outside of the Holy Temple? Or experience a profound joy not relevant to the drawing of the water?

Third, the sages are obviously trying to convey the awesomeness of these three experiences. So why not say it in the positive: The greatest joy in the world was the joy of drawing the water; the most beautiful city and structure in the world were Jerusalem and the Temple. Why convey the message in the negative?

Fourth, why make people who were not present to see these three things feel bad? The Talmud recorded this saying of the sages a few hundred years after the Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed, and the drawing and pouring of the water on the Temple altar ceased. What’s the point of telling all those learning the Talmud that they would never be able to see joy or experience beauty in their lives?

[One may say, it was just a quip by the sages to describe the intense joy and profound beauty. Like someone might say, “If you weren’t at the weeding, you never saw a wedding.” Yet. The observations of the sages are extremely profound and nuanced. Especially if they were record in the Talmud—it is part of the Torah’s roadmap for life.]

Fifth, the order is also problematic. He begins with the joy of the drawing of the water, which was poured on the altar in the Holy Temple. Then he moves on to the beauty of Jerusalem, then back to the splendor of the Holy Temple. The order should have been either 1) Jerusalem, 2) the Temple, 3) and the drawing of the water which was one of the services inside the Temple. Or conversely: 1) The drawing of the water inside the Temple, 2) then the beauty of the entire structure of the Temple, and then 3) the entire city of Jerusalem?

All these questions were addressed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe during his historic Sukkos farbrengens (gatherings), in the years 5716, 1717, and 5719—1955, 1956, and 1958.[1] In 1956, the Rebbe addressed the first stanza; the following year—in 1957, the Rebbe addressed the second stanza; and two years later, in 1958—the third and last stanza.

In the previous sermon, we addressed the first stanza. Today, we will address the second and third stanza: One who did not see Jerusalem in its glory, never saw a beautiful city. One who did not see the Holy Temple in its full stature, never saw a magnificent structure.

A United City

“A beautiful city” is one in which many diverse people learn to co-operate and live in harmony and unity.

But how can such a thing happen? History has demonstrated the difficulty in uniting peoples. Each person is on his or her own. I am to myself. You are to yourself. We are divided by territory, tribes, races, cultures, religions, faiths, families. Every person has his or her own ego, interests, fears, insecurities, and driving forces. I protect myself. You protect yourself.

And even if there is a leader, a king, a governor, who maintains the order—what guarantees that he is not corrupt and self-serving?

You remember “Animal Farm” by George Orwell? “We are all equal. But some of us are more equal than others.”

Putin’s Eulogy

Vladimir Putin was practicing a eulogy speech for an assassinated Russian politician in front of a mirror...

"He was a dear patriot and credit to the Motherland, whom I personally adored as a friend and colleague. I vow, as leader of Russia, to find the culprits responsible for this vicious murder..."

Putin then stopped and turned to his aide. "Are you sure this strikes the right tone, Yuri? I mean, in terms of timing; I've been a bit preoccupied, so remind me, when was he killed?"

After a few moments consulting his iPad, the aide replies, "Next week, sir."

This is what the Talmud means: One who did not see Jerusalem in its glory, never saw a beautiful city.  

Jerusalem, Yerushalayim, is a combination of two words: “Yirah,” and “Shalem,” which means wholesome awe and reverence.

בראשית רבה נו, י :אברהם קרא אותו יראה שנאמר ויקרא אברהם שם המקום ההוא ה' יראה ,שם קרא אותו שלם שנאמר (בראשית יד) ומלכי צדק מלך שלם. אמר הקב"ה ... הריני קורא אותו ירושלים כמו שקראו שניהם יראה שלם, ירושלים.

Bereishis Rabbah 56:10: Abraham called [the city of Jerusalem] “Yeiraeh” as it is written, “And Abraham called the place “G-d will see” (for it will be said that on this mountain G-d will be seen” (Yeiraeh)). Shem called it “Shalem”, as it is written, “Malkitzedek, the king of Shalem.” G-d said: If I call it Yirah as Abraham called it, Shem who is a holy man will object, and if I call it Shalem, Abraham, a holy man, will object. Rather I will name it Yerushalayim, combining their names together, Yirah-Shalem= Yerushalayim.

Only when someone internalized the energy of Yerushalayim, wholesome and complete awe of G-d, can he or she learn how to create a beautiful city, where diverse people, with different personalities, backgrounds, dispositions, goals and interests can live in peace and mutual respect.

Letter to Poland

One of the Rebbe’s final English letters was written on the 15th of Cheshvan, 5752 [October 23, 1991] to Mr. Arkadiusz Rybicki, President of the Council for Polish-Jewish Relations, working at Office of the President of the Republic of Poland, in Warsaw.

Here were the Rebbe’s words:

Dear Mr. Rybicki,

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter in which you express deep sorrow about the terrible anti-semitic incident that took place last month in front of the synagogue in Warsaw: that the perpetrators were captured and will be prosecuted, and that the behavior was condemned by President Walesa, etc. You also express the hope that in the future intolerance and prejudice will disappear from the Polish people, and that you are working towards this end.

We appreciate the sentiment expressed in your letter, and we pray that your hope and efforts will materialize very soon indeed.

Apropos of the above I would like to add that last month, in the beginning of Tishrei, we ushered in the current Jewish New Year, 5752, with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the anniversary of the Creation of the first man, Adam. Our Sages of the Talmud explain why the creation of man differed from the creation of other living species and why, among other things, man was created as a single individual, unlike other living creatures created in pairs. One of the reasons – our Sages declare – is that it was Gd's design that the human race, all humans everywhere and at all times, should know that each and all descend from the one and the same single progenitor, a fully developed human being created in the image of Gd, so that no human being could claim superior ancestral origin; hence would also find it easier to cultivate a real feeling of kinship in all inter-human relationships.

Indeed, although Rosh Hashanah is a Jewish festival, our prayers for a Happy New Year include also all the nations and dwellers on earth. And true happiness includes everyone's peace and prosperity both materially and spiritually.

With prayerful wishes,

M. Schneerson

Optional:

The Story of America

What has made the American nation great? What is the secret behind the 240-year-old unparalleled success of the USA?[2]

We don’t need to look far and wide for the answer. All we need to do is retrace our steps to the deep and enduring roots of this county as they were laid down by our Founding Fathers.

The mission statement of this country was defined by the Founding Fathers in 1776 when they established this great nation. And they fought the Revolutionary War to defend this mission stated in the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

By studying different systems and their failures, by personally experiencing the consequences of being denied basic human freedoms, by building this country’s pillars not on their own subjective whims but on eternal values rooted in the Hebrew Bible – in the Vision “Yirah Shalem,” awe of G-d, the Founding Fathers understood that the grand American experiment is only possible with a firm foundation that absolutely guarantees individual rights.

A nation built on the principle that “All men are created equal” as “One nation under God” and E Pluribus Unum, created the best business climate to allow this nation to flourish. With its promise of freedom and equal opportunity, the United States has welcomed people from all over the world and encouraged them to contribute to the growth of this country.

And flourish it did.  The investment of the Founding Fathers paid off. The synergy of people from all backgrounds coming together as equals under G-d created the highest developed country of all time.

For 240 years our mission statement – the principles of the revolution – has never been challenged.

But there is a danger lurking. Will we be able to continue living in such a beautiful country? And in such beautiful cities? The unprecedented prosperity of this nation has spoiled us. We have built the greatest empire in history, with the highest standard of living, and the most powerful technology. Everything seemed to be going so well. But no business can function without it being aligned with its mission. How much more a great nation like ours: Our country can live up to its enormous potential only if it is aligned with its mission.

An iPad for $40

This story happened just a few months ago. This guy was selling iPads on Amazon. He posted it for what he thought was $400 a piece, which is the retail price.

The next morning, he wakes up and he notices that all the iPads—dozens and dozens of iPads—were sold out overnight. He has never had so much success overnight. In one night, he made thousands and thousands of dollars.

But when he thought about it, he realized, it just doesn't make any sense; it went way too fast.

He took a closer look at the price that he posted, and he discovered, to his dismay, that instead of $400, he forgot a zero and he posted each iPad for $40.

Immediately, he made a calculation, and realized that not only did he not make a profit; he actually lost a huge sum of money.

Amazon does not allow you to cancel the order, because it ruins your metrics, it reflects very negatively on you. This poor guy is stuck with this major loss.

As he checks his emails, he notices he received an email from a guy in Lakewood, a Torah observant Jew. The fellow writes that he himself is a seller on Amazon; he too sells iPads, and he always looks for the prices that other sellers post, so he can stay competitive. He noticed that this guy was selling it to $40 a piece, and he knew that it cannot be real; it must have been a mistake.

Now this seller who made this mistake, his username on Amazon is Levi Yitzchak of Berdichav, who was one of the great Chassidic masters of the 18th century. So this fellow from Lakewood writes in the email, I understood you must be a Jewish fellow and you must have made a mistake. I didn't want you to lose any money, so I bought all of the iPads from you. All the sales are mine.

So I can either cancel the order (as the buyer the buyer is allowed to cancel the order), but you have to take off the merchandise right away, or I can complete the sale and then I can send all the iPasds back to you, and  you'll reimburse me with a check for the  $40 I paid for an iPad.

As it turned out, these two fellows lived a few blacks away from each other in Lakewood, NJ.

The Secret of Peace and Unity

How do people learn to live this way? Why would my competitor buy off all my iPods, to save me thousands of dollars?

The Talmud is teaching us one of the most vital ideas in the science of politics. A beautiful city and a beautiful country, one that harmonizes its citizens without making them uniform, can only be based on profound awe of G-d, who transcends each of us, and in whose image each person is carved.

It is when we learn to recognize our inter-dependence and unity, that we can be here for each other. But what makes us one? And without feeling that we need to make everyone alike? There is only one answer: the awareness of the divine source which unites us all, even as we are different.

From Many, One

We now come to the third stanza: One who did not see the Holy Temple in its full stature, never saw a magnificent structure.

Building a structure is one is one of the labors forbidden on Shabbos. Rambam, in the Laws of Shabbos, defines what constituted the building a structure:[3]

רמב"ם הלכות שבת פרק ז הלכה ו: שכל המקבץ חלק אל חלק ודבק הכל עד שיעשו גוף אחד הרי זה דומה לבנין.

Whenever one collects separate entities and bonds them together so that they form a single mass, this resembles building.

Constructing an edifice is the miracle of E pluribus unum (the motto of the USA)—out of many, one. The builder takes thousands, or millions, of items, small and large, and united them in the most extraordinary fashion to become a single entity called a “building,” or “edifice.” They are not only living in one city, but they become one single entity.

It is fascinating to watch even a bird assemble twigs and branches to construct its modest nest on a tree (or another elevated surface). Why are we fascinated by it? Because naturally, every item in the world contains its own space; and when the bird comes and collects a twig from here, a branch from there, and through hard toil manages to link them together to create a single unified entity called a nest, we marvel at it.

Yet when we observe what humans have learnt to do over the millennia of civilization, it is astounding. Even the skill that goes in to form one brick is impressive, one that all the lions, chimpanzees, and elephants in the world could never manage to pull off. And then assembling the bricks, the concrete, the metals, the wood, and hundreds or thousands of materials to fashion the structure, the exterior and the interior, from the roof to the last pipe, from the foundation to the last peg, is extraordinary. When you come to observe it, you do not see millions of details; you see is one beautiful home. The many diverse and individual details have converged into a single, unified entity.

Now if you take away even one detail, you have compromised all of them. But why? What is the connection between a mahogany desk and a metal pipe, between a golden door handle and a boiler room? Because they have ceased to be “independent” entities; they have been redefined to become parts of a singular edifice. They are considered to be one entity, like pieces in a jig saw puzzle when they are combined.

We Are All Builders

In that sense, we are all construction workers. Which is perhaps why we have an affinity to real-estate… From a Jewish perspective, this is the purpose of creation—to make out of many, one. Our planet is naturally divided and fragmented. Creation is vast and almost infinitely diverse. Consider, for example, that earth contains 40,000 types of beetles! And that’s just beetles. Even within ourselves we are conflicted. We have so many moving parts and we often don’t know if we are coming or going.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once had a dialogue with the late and great Israeli novelist Amos Oz who began by saying, “I’m not sure I’m going to agree with Rabbi Sacks on everything, but then, on most things, I don’t agree with myself.”

Each day, we feel torn between so many duties and callings. It is hard not to drown in the chaos inside and outside.

What is the role of a Jew in this world? To become a builder!

ברכות סד, א: וכל בניך למודי ה' ורב שלום בניך אל תקרי בניך אלא בוניך.

שבת קיד, א: מאי בנאין אמר רבי יוחנן אלו תלמידי חכמים שעוסקין בבנינו של עולם כל ימיהן.

To assemble all the pieces of our lives into a cohesive whole. To be able to recognize the innate unity between your body and your soul, between everything in the world, between all peoples, nations, regions—and all of nature. Our role is to reveal that even though we are different, we are really one—we are all part of a single structure. Not only are we living in one city, but we are really all one, and everything in life is part of that oneness. It’s like in a symphony: each person, each creature, and each force of nature contributes its unique music to the symphony, but there is a grand single symphony, that we are all part of.

The more superficially we look at the world, the more fragmentation we see. The deeper we peer into the universe, the more oneness we see. When we trace back creation to its core components, we see more unity. And when we trace it back to its truest core, we discover complete oneness, since we come from one womb, the One     G-d.

Kol Nidrei in Cornell

New York Cantor Benny Rogosnitzky, shared this personal story just a few days ago:[4]

Yom Kippur evening, by all accounts, is the most auspicious night of the year, filled with trepidation, spirituality, and meaningful niggunim. Last year was no different. An overflow crowd of more than a thousand people gathered at Park East Synagogue on the Upper East Side to daven, to participate, and to be inspired. The shul, celebrating its 129th anniversary, was filled to capacity — every seat occupied and standing room only.

Seated in the front pews were leaders of the Jewish community, including dignitaries such as former Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger, sitting side-by-side with philanthropists such as Mort Zuckerman and Ronald Lauder and, beside them, the United Nations ambassador of the State of Israel. It was a gathering of the “who’s who” of the New York Jewish community, united in one solemn purpose on this most holy of nights.

The davening was inspiring in ways that are hard to commit to paper. The mellifluous sound of the chazzan and choir filled the room, inspiring and uplifting the community. After davening the crowd slowly dispersed; by about 9:30 p.m., the shul was completely empty.

I walked to the front door and then out to 68th Street with my dear friend and Chief Chazzan, Yitzchak Meir Helfgot. I was about to head home when I was startled by the Chazzan’s question: “What are your plans right now?”

I looked at him quizzically, not completely understanding his question. It’s not like a frum Jew after davening on Yom Kippur night has that many options. Before I had a chance to respond, he interrupted my thoughts: “There’s a very special Jew who is in the ICU at Cornell. Let’s go and visit him.” Knowing that the hospital is less than a 10-minute walk from the shul we had just left, I quickly agreed to join him on this special mitzvah.

Picture this scene: A Gerrer Chassid in full regalia and I, entering Cornell Medical Center, him wearing a Spodik and the traditional garb, and us walking through the nearly-empty halls of the hospital. We were a sight to behold.

It turned out that the patient was on an upper floor, and using the Shabbos elevator was out of the question. We finally reached the Intensive Care Unit, which was on the ninth floor, and there we came upon a gut-wrenching scene. There in the ICU, a young man in his early 40s, a devout Lubavitcher Chassid, Mendel Brickman, lay in bed connected to many different life-saving devices. Between all the machines, it was hard to clearly make out the face of this wonderful Jew. We stood there, struggling to find the right words to inspire, and then we just started to sing, one melody after the other, celebrating and recalling the songs of Yom Kippur, so many of which we had just sung a couple of hours earlier in shul.

After well over an hour of singing, it was close to midnight and it was time to leave. After all, we both had a huge day ahead of us. We spoke for a few more moments, and through gasps and labored breathing, he expressed his deep appreciation to us, and we proceeded to exit the room.

Just as we reached the stairs, his wife came hurrying after us and asked if we could return to the room at the request of her husband. We were puzzled, but we obliged. We walked back in only to find this young man’s face beaming as he turned to us and asked: “You sang so many beautiful niggunim. Would you please sing just one more?”

Before we could ask him what selection he had in mind, he opened the Machzor and, with his hand shaking, he pointed to Kol Nidrei. This wasn’t exactly a melody that we were prepared to sing, but how could we refuse? So we began singing, in hushed tones, the beautiful, haunting melody of Kol Nidrei as he read along and struggled to participate. Tears were streaming down the face of this young Chassid, and we too struggled to control our emotions.

I have never in my life said this tefillah with such intensity and emotion. I looked over at Chazzan Helfgot, and then to the patient’s wife, standing there in the room with us, and the nurses who had come in to listen and stood mesmerized. It was as if the entire world had paused for a precious moment to connect with the powerful tefillah emanating from Room 908 at the ICU of Cornell Medical Center. As we turned to depart, the Chassid fought to pull the mask from his face and, in a barely audible voice, said to us: “Thank you. I thought I would never hear this tefillah this year. You made my dream come true. I will never forget your kindness.”

We walked back from the hospital in complete silence, both of us deep in our own thoughts. But just before we parted ways for the night, I turned to Chazzan Helfgot and opined, “We had well over 1,000 people in shul tonight and each one of them, I’m sure, was touched by your stunning voice and the melodies you offered, but consider for a moment what a deep impact we made on just one Jewish neshamah fighting for his life, and whose family is praying that he merit the gift of life to see many more Yom Kippurs in good health.”

Sadly, Hashem had other plans for Mendel. On Hoshanah Rabbah, he returned his soul to his Creator. At the shivah, his wife and children expressed to us their deep gratitude for that visit on Yom Kippur night.

I have no doubt that Mendel z”l is saying Kol Nidrei this year in Heaven and looking down at his beautiful family and friends who so love him and miss him, and that he is praying for each one of them. Because that’s just the kind of man he was.

As for Chazzan Helfgot and me, the words of Kol Nidrei have taken on new meaning and profundity. We will always remember those precious moments, singing for one holy Jew on the night of Yom Kippur.

Why would one of the most renowned cantors in the world go and sing for a sick Jew in a hospital while he is fasting and will need to sing an entire following day with a drop of water? It is because of the feeling of complete oneness. We are all one.

 

Optional:

One Dictionary

It’s fascinating that as science is progressing, and we learn more about the world, we are uncovering that the extraordinary diversity of our world shares a common source. Every organism shares the same genetic code. We are all part of one dictionary. This is an incredible discovery.

As science writer Matt Ridley put it, “Wherever you go in the world, whatever animal, plant, bug or blob you look at, if it is alive, it will use the same dictionary and know the same code. All life is one… There was only one creation, one single event when life was born.”

DNA—strings of letters array in different orders—are the building blocks of life. The arrangement of the letters creates life and all its diversity. Our world, then, is a result of different permutations of letters. Is it coincidental that G-d’s creation of the world begins with the words, “G-d said…”

End of optional section

The Interface

You sometimes look at your life and you see so many separate moving pieces. We are often torn between so many duties, pulled in so many directions, overwhelmed by so much going on. How can you face life and see a “magnificent structure”—see oneness wherever you are and wherever you go?

Ah, now we will appreciate the deeper meaning of the Talmudic observation. If you wish to see in your life a magnificent structure you must first “see” the Beis Hamikdash—that structure which united heaven and earth (“v’zeh Shaar Hashamayim,” this is the portal to heaven), the home where the Divine presence was manifest, the edifice which constituted the “interface” between oneness and diversity, between a one G-d and a fragmented world.[5] The Holy Temple was a physical structure, like any other physical structure in the world, yet its physicality was transparent—the Divine truth vibrated through it.

Once you have seen this space, wherever you go, wherever you end up, and whatever you are dealing with, you will see a “magnificent structure,” you will be able to find how all disparate parts are really one.

Prayer’s Power

Today, we have no physical Temple, but in lieu we have tefilla, our prayers, which are a substitute for the service in the holy Temple.[6] What is prayer? It is the first thing we do in the morning and it serves as the “interface” in our lives between our own inner heaven and earth. Prayer is the time when you align yourself with the ultimate truth of your own soul and the ultimate truth of all reality, with “Hashem Echad,” with the oneness of G-d.

[Just as the Temple had three general sections—the outer section, the inner sanctuary and the holy of holies, the same is with prayer: We begin with “pesukei d’zimrah,” continue to the Shma and then the Amidah.[7] During each of these three sections of prayer, we “construct” another section of the Bais Hamikdash in our hearts.]

Only after prayer, I can go eat, drink, engage in commerce, and confront a big world around me, without becoming torn and conflicted. Once I have constructed the Holy Temple in my soul, once I can look at myself and in see a reflection of the Holy Temple in my own heart, I discover the Divine presence in my life, now the world will be a kind place to me. I will see oneness everywhere, and in everything.

“One who did not see the Holy Temple in its full stature, never saw a magnificent structure.” Sometimes I may slack off and say to myself: Do I really need to focus during my davening? Do I really need to pray every day? Do I really need to construct each morning an authentic relationship with G-d? I’ll be fine without it. Says the Talmud: No! “One who did not see the Holy Temple in its full stature, never saw a magnificent structure.” If you did not take the time and energy to see and discover the Holy Temple, the Divine presence, inside of you, you will not be able to navigate the turbulence of life with a sense of calmness, oneness, and centeredness. Life will get to you. There is too much chaos out there, and inside here (point to your heart). There is only one way I can see the oneness everywhere—and that is if I am deeply anchored in the Divine reality; if my own Beis Hamikdash is intact!

Optional Stories:

The Dirty Pale

The two saintly brothers, Reb Zusha and Reb Elimelech, who lived in 18th century Poland, wandered for years disguised as beggars, seeking to refine their characters and encourage their deprived brethren.

In one city, the two brothers, who later became mentors to many thousands of Jews, earned the wrath of a "real" beggar who informed the local police and had them cast into prison for the night. As they awoke in their prison cell, Reb Zusha noticed his brother weeping silently.

"Why do you cry?" asked Reb Zusha.

Reb Elimelech pointed to the pail situated in the corner of the room that inmates used for a toilet. "Jewish law forbids one to pray in a room inundated with such a repulsive odor," he told his brother. "This will be the first day in my life in which I will not have the opportunity to pray."

"And why are you upset about this?" asked Reb Zusha.

"What do you mean?" responded his brother. "How can I begin my day without connecting to G-d?"

"But you are connecting to G-d," insisted Reb Zusha. "The same G-d who commanded you to pray each morning, also commanded you to abstain from prayer under such circumstances, and with such an odor. In a location such as this, you connect to G-d by the absence of prayer.

“Your absence of prayer today is the will of G-d. today you connect to G-d through not praying…”

His brother's viewpoint elated Reb Elimelech's heart. The awareness that the waste-filled pail in the corner of the room allowed him the opportunity to enjoy an intimate—though different—type of relationship with G-d inspired him so deeply that he began to dance. The two brothers were now holding hands and dancing in celebration of their newly discovered relationship with their Father in heaven.

The non-Jewish inmates imprisoned in the same cell were so moved by the sight, that they soon joined the dance. It did not take long before the entire room was swept away by an electrifying energy of joy, as dozens of prisoners were dancing and jumping around ecstatically.

When the prison warden heard the commotion coming from the cell, he burst open the gate, only to be stunned by the inmates enjoying such a liberating dance. In his fury, the warden pulled aside one of the inmates, demanding from him an explanation for what was going on.

The frightened prisoner related that the outburst was not his fault, nor was it the fault of the other inmates. It was rather the two Jews dancing in the center of the circle who triggered the trouble.

"And what inspired the two Jews to go into such a dance?" thundered the warden.

The prisoner pointed to the pail in the corner of the room. "It is the pail, they claim, that brought about the joy in their heart."

“How can this smelly pail make them happy?”

“Well… they explained, that the pail allowed them to experience a new type of relationship with G-d. There was the pre-pail relationship… and the post-pail relationship… Somehow the pail transformed their spiritual perception.”

"If that's the case, I will teach them a lesson," shouted the angry warden. He took the pail and threw it out of the cell.

Reb Zusha turned to his brother and said: "And now, my brother, you can begin your prayers!"

This is the essence of Judaism. We are always in a relationship. At every moment, I must see the Holy Temple in my heart—see the Divine presence with me and inside of me. And then, I will see “beautiful structures” everywhere. Even when I am in a psychological dungeon, and there is a bucket of dirt around me, I will be empowered smell the roses, to live fully and to love fully. Each moment has an opportunity for growth, for discovery, for integrity. To be alive means that G-d reaches out to us at each moment offering us to build a relationship with Him, with our soul, with history, with the people around us, and with the universe.

Sometimes we build the relationship through prayer, sometimes through the absence of prayer. Sometimes we create the relationship by having lots of money and giving lots of charity; and sometimes by having less and giving according to our capabilities. But the relationship is always intact.

In Siberia

Reb Mendel Futerfas was a Chabad Chassid, who spent 14 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps, due to his involvement in spreading Judaism in Stalin’s Soviet Union.

One night, in a barrack in ice-cold Siberia, the prisoners began talking about their lives BCE—Before the Communist Era, before Stalin turned daily life into a hellish nightmare in the Soviet Communist experiment, where bullets became substitutes for bread, and the gulag a replacement for having a job. Before he was arrested and exiled, one of the inmates was an actor, the other one—a writer, this one was a government official, the other one—a doctor, a clergy man, a novelist, a journalist, a successful business man, etc. Stalin sent to the Gulag the finest of Russian intelligentsia and kultur. If you thought for yourself, you were a threat to the Communist Party and could be either shot or exiled. Between 30 and 50 million people perished during Stalin’s 30 years of reign (from 1924 till 1953).

As the men were sitting in the barrack, recalling their wonderful, even glorious pasts, they broke down sobbing. “Once upon a time, we had everything; today we have nothing. Once upon a time, we had a sense of self, identity, worth; today everything has been taken from us.”

Only one man in the barrack was not crying. This was the Chabad Chassid, Reb Mendel. He was listening intently to the tales of woe delivered by the inmates but was not weeping with them.

“I guess you were a loser then, so you lost nothing now!” exclaimed one inmate. “If you got nothing, you got nothing to lose…”

“Actually,” Reb Mendel said, “I had a very successful business, which I lost. I also was married with children and I miss my family so deeply.”

“So why don’t you weep with us? Don’t you feel that your very sense of self-worth has been snatched from you be these animals?”

“I do feel tremendous sadness and pain,” responded the Chassid. “I miss my wife, I miss my children, I miss my freedom. I miss having a home and a bed to sleep in, and some extra bread in my pantry. I am concerned for my future. But I must tell you that my primary occupation I did not lose, not even here in Siberia.

“You see, before I was arrested and exiled, I ran a large business, I earned lots of money, but that did not constitute the essence of my identity, it did not define the mission of my life, it did not capture the ultimate meaning of my existence. My primary occupation was that I was a servant of G-d. I awoke each morning remembering that my life was given to me as a gift in order to serve G-d one more day.

“And this primary occupation of mine they could not take away from me in Siberia. Here too I serve G-d each and every day. The only difference is in the software, not in the hardware. Previously I served G-d as a successful businessman; today I serve G-d here as a Siberian prisoner!”

Reb Mendel articulated the secret of the Jew and the secret of inner dignity. He defined himself not by what he had, but by what he was. He was a Jew. He was a servant of G-d; he was an agent of the Divine on earth. In a way, even in Siberia he was a free man. Even in Siberia, he was still one, wholesome, confident, anchored, and centered.

Anchored in the Epicenter

The Jewish people always understood that you need to have an epicenter, an inner unshakable core that cannot go down with the fluctuations and vicissitudes of the market and of life in general. That core is made up not of possessions or money, but of our moral integrity, our connectedness to G-d; it is comprised of our love, our loyalty, our faith, and the intimacy we share with our soul and our Creator.

Once you can see the Beis Hamikdash in your heart and life, you will be able to see every aspect of your life as part of a most beautiful unified structure. Oneness will beacon at you everywhere. Oneness between you and all of your experiences and encounters; oneness between people; and oneness in the entire world.

And this explains the order of the three stanzas in the Talmud: One who did not see the joy of the Drawing of the Water, never saw joy in his life. One who did not see Jerusalem in its glory, never saw a beautiful city. One who did not see the Holy Temple in its full stature, never saw a magnificent structure.

We begin with finding unity within ourselves—between our higher and lower self, our “higher” and “lower” waters. We realize that we can’t run away from G-d, and that unity can only be achieved if we establish the supremacy of our spiritual identities.

With that we can come to the second step and create unity within cities, communities and countries, allowing diverse people living together in peace and harmony, despite their differences.

From there we can grow to step three, where we can experience full unity of the entire world, and all of its elements, discovering how all is part of a cohesive, united and singular edifice.

A Tale of Two Beauties

Rabbi Aryeh Levin was one of Jerusalem’s most revered and ‎respected tzaddikim in the first half of the twentieth century (he passed in 1969). A few days before Sukkos one year, he came to the store of a busy esrog dealer. The store was full of people examining esrogim, trying to find an excellent, beautiful, spotless specimen. Several had magnifying glasses and were scrutinizing one after another with the care one would expect from a doctor examining a patient. After all, they wanted not only a fine esrog with which to perform the mitzvah, but one that would dazzle their friends and neighbors. The dealer told Reb Aryeh, “I put away a few very nice ones for you,” and he took out three esrogim, still in their wrappings. Reb Aryeh thanked him, and — without even looking at them — he took one, paid for it, and rushed out of the store.

The other customers were surprised, to say the least. The distinguished rabbi, one of the most respected sages of Jerusalem, hadn’t even looked at the esrog, much less subject it to a careful examination, with or without a magnifying glass!

One young man could not contain his curiosity and he ran after Reb Aryeh. Walking briskly with him, he asked for an explanation. As he continued hurrying to the bus stop, Reb Aryeh shared something marvelous.

Two times does the Torah use the term “Hadar,” beauty and splendor. There are two mitzvos which the Torah requires us to do with beauty. The first is taking an Esrog—“pri eitz hadar,”[8] a ”beautiful fruit.” But even before that, the Torah enjoins us to something else with beauty: “v’hadarta penei zakan,”[9] you should treat an elderly person with beauty, splendor, and respect.

You are focusing on the second “hadar,” but I must first attend to the first “hadar.” You see, there was an elderly gentleman in a nursing home whose false teeth needed to be repaired. This was the third day he had not been able to chew solid food, and could only drink liquids all day. The repair was finally finished. Reb Aryeh had picked up the repaired plates and was rushing to bring the man his teeth in time for supper. Otherwise he would be forced to endure another meal of only liquids.

Rabbi Aryeh Levin was one of the greatest men in the Holy City, but the comfort, dignity and needs of an old Jew without teeth in a nursing home, was more important to him than choosing the most beautiful specimen for the once-a-year mitzvah of esrog. For he understood that the real beautiful esrog is the one which brings you to bring beauty to the elderly and needy.

Reb Uri’s Esrog

Optional Story:

A story:

It was the first day of Sukkot, and all the congregants in the shul (synagogue) of the great Chassidic master, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk, were in a festive mood. One could feel the "Yom-Tov" spirit in the atmosphere.

As Rabbi Elimelech stood at the lectern and began reciting Hallel, all eyes turned upon him. There was something unusual in his manner this Sukkot. Why did he stop so suddenly in the middle of his swaying as he held the etrog and lulav in his hands to sniff the air?

The minute the davening (praying) was over, Rabbi Elimelech hurried to where his brother the saintly master Rabbi Zusha (who had come to spend the festival with him) was standing, and said to him eagerly: "Come and help me find the etrog which is permeating the whole shul with the fragrance of the Garden of Eden!"

And so together they went from person to person until they reached the far corner of the shul where a quiet looking individual was standing, obviously engrossed in his prayers.

"This is the one," called out Rabbi Elimelech delightedly. "Please, dear friend, tell me who are you and where you obtained this wonderful etrog?"

The man, looking somewhat startled at this unexpected question, replied:

"My name," began the quiet-looking man, "is Uri, and I come from Strelisk. I have always regarded taking a beautiful esrog on Sukkot as one of my favorite mitzvot. I am employed as melamed (teacher) in the village of Yanev, which is not far from my native town. One half of my earnings I use for our needs and with the other half I buy an etrog in Lemberg. But in order not to spend any money on the journey I usually go on foot.

"This year, during the Ten Days of Repentance, I was making my way on foot as usual, with fifty gulden in my purse with which to buy an etrog, when on the road to Lemberg I passed through a forest and stopped at a wayside inn to have a rest. It was time for 'minchah' so I stood in a corner and davened minchah.

"I was in the middle of my prayers when I heard a terrible sound of moaning and groaning, as of one in great anguish. I hurriedly finished my davening so that I could find out what was the trouble, and if I could help in any way.

"As I turned towards the man who was in obvious distress, I beheld a most unusual and rough looking person, dressed in peasant garb with a whip in his hands, pouring out his troubles to the inn-keeper at the bar.

"Between his sobs, I managed to gather that the man with the whip was a poor Jew who earned his living as a baal agallah (owner of a horse and cart for carting purposes). He had a wife and several children and he barely managed to earn enough to make ends meet. And now, a terrible calamity had befallen him. His horse, without which he could do nothing, had suddenly collapsed in the forest not far from the inn, and just lay there unable to get up.

"I could not bear to see the man's despair and tried to encourage him, by telling him that he must not forget that there is a Gd above us who could help him in his trouble, however serious it seemed to him.

"'I'll sell you another horse for fifty gulden, although I assure you he is worth at least eighty, but just to help you out in your difficulty!' " The inn-keeper was saying to the wagon driver whose horse collapsed.

"'I haven't even fifty kopkes (cents), and he tells me I can buy a horse for fifty gulden!' the man said bitterly.

"I felt I could not keep the money I had with me for an etrog when here was a man in such desperate plight that his very life and that of his family depended upon his getting a horse. So I said to the inn-keeper:

"'Tell me what is the lowest price you would take for your horse?'

"The inn-keeper turned to me in surprise. If you pay me on the spot, I will take forty-five gulden, but not a cent less. I am selling my horse at a loss as it is!'

Reb Uri continues the story:

"I immediately took out my purse and banded him forty-five gulden, the wagon driver looking on, his eyes nearly bulging out of their sockets in astonishment. He was just speechless with relief, and his joy was absolutely indescribable.

"'Now you see that the Almighty can help you, even when the situation appears to you to be entirely hopeless!' I said to him as he hurried off with the innkeeper to harness the newly-bought horse to his forsaken cart tied to the stricken horse in the forest.

"I reached Lemberg with the remaining five gulden in my pocket, and naturally had to content myself with buying a very ordinary looking but kosher etrog. Usually my etrog is the best in Yanev, and everyone used to come and make a blessing over it , but this year I was ashamed to return home with such a poor-looking specimen, so my wife agreed that I could come here to Lizensk, where nobody knew me."

"But my dear Rabbi Uri," cried out Rabbi Elimelech, now that the former had finished his story, "Yours is indeed an exceptional etrog. Now I realize why your etrog has the fragrance of the Garden of Eden in its perfume!

Reb Uri of Strelisk became one of the famed Chassidic spiritual masters in Poland.

 

[1] Published in Yiddish in Sichos Kodesh; in Hebrew—in Toras Menachem.

[3] The Rambam is explaining there why curdling milk into cheese on Shabbos is an outgrowth of the labor of “boneh,” building. Because you took a liquid and congealed it into one cohesive and singular entity, a piece of cheese.

[5] That’s why, “ten miracles occurred in the holy Temple” (Avos ch. 5). What is more, in the holy of Holies, space and that which is beyond space converged in the place of the Holy Ark (Yuma 21b). The deeper we peer into the universe, we more we encounter that logic and sense cease to control reality. Paradoxes abound. (We know it today in Quantum Mechanics and other fields of modern physics.) In that place of the universe, where the physical was a conduit for the Divine, the rules changed.

[6] Berachos 26b

[7] See the address of the Rebbe Sukkos 5719, for the detailed connection. In Pesukei D’zimrah the focus is on G-d as the author of the wonders of creation, meaning the external manifestation of G-d in the cosmos. in the next section, the focus is on our intimate relationship with G-d, transcending the universe. Then comes the Amidah, the silent prayer, where man forfeits all separateness and there is complete fusion.

[8] Leviticus 23:40 (portion of Emor)

[9] Leviticus 19:32 (portion of Kedoshim)

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    Sukkos 5780

    Rabbi YY Jacobson
    • October 13, 2019
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    • 14 Tishrei 5780
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    Class Summary:

    The Talmud states (Sukkah 51b): The Sages taught: One who did not see the joy of the Drawing of the Water, never saw joy in his life. One who did not see Jerusalem in its glory, never saw a beautiful city. One who did not see the Holy Temple in its full stature, never saw a magnificent structure.

    The questions are numerous, and we addressed them the previous sermon. But today we will present the explanation of the Rebbe on the two final stanzas in this Talmudic statement that to see a beautiful edifice, you must see the Holy Temple.

    How were the sages so sure of this? Did they not think it possible for someone to erect a most exquisite structure one day outside of the Holy Temple?

    What has made the American nation great? What is the secret behind the 240-year-old unparalleled success of the USA? We don’t need to look far and wide for the answer. All we need to do is retrace our steps to the deep and enduring roots of this county as they were laid down by our Founding Fathers.

    The mission statement of this country was defined by the Founding Fathers in 1776 when they established this great nation. And they fought the Revolutionary War to defend this mission stated in the Declaration of Independence.

    One of the Rebbe’s final English letters was written on the 15th of Cheshvan, 5752

    [October 23, 1991] to Mr. Arkadiusz Rybicki, President of the Council for Polish-Jewish

    Relations, working at Office of the President of the Republic of Poland, in Warsaw, and it

    addressed this very issue.

    When we observe what humans have learnt to construct over the millennia of

    civilization, it is astounding. Assembling the bricks, the concrete, the metals, the wood,

    and hundreds or thousands of materials to fashion the structure, the exterior and the

    interior, from the roof to the last pipe, from the foundation to the last peg, is

    extraordinary. When you come to observe it, you do not see millions of details; you see

    is one beautiful home. The many diverse and individual details have converged into a

    single, unified entity.

    Now if you take away even one detail, you have compromised all of them. But why?

    What is the connection between a mahogany desk and a metal pipe, between a golden

    door handle and a boiler room? Because they have ceased to be “independent” entities;

    they have been redefined to become parts of a singular edifice. They are considered to

    be one entity, like pieces in a jig saw puzzle when they are combined.

    In that sense, we are all construction workers.

    The story of the Jewish fellow selling iPods on Amazon, when he discovered a terrible mistake he made. The story of Chazan Helfgot visiting an ill Jew on the night of Yom Kippur. The story of the simple Esrog of Reb Aryeh Levin, because he was searching for a different type of beauty. The story of the esrog of Reb Uri which somehow gave off the aroma of paradise. The story of Reb Mendel in Siberia—all illustrating the recipe to experience oneness and harmony in a chaotic world.

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