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In case you missed the bottom, right-hand corner of page one in the New York Times recently there was an article headlined "Defining the New Plowshares those Old Swords Will Make."
The article, fourth in a series of six, was in response to the Disarmament Talks of January 31. It detailed how talent and know-how culled from military research would be used now that the Cold War is over.
Since 1955, the U.S. Government has spent $1 trillion on nuclear arms and other weaponry. Today, groups of researchers who were previously employed in the military industry are forming their own companies in the private sector. They're using their expertise for such peaceful and positive breakthroughs as laser "tweezers" which can aid in infertility and battle cancer.
The title of the article was in reference to the famous prophecy of Isaiah concerning the Messianic Era: "And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
The headline was certainly appropriate. The countries involved in the Disarmament Talks, with the United States and Russia in the lead, publicly announced that they will use money previously spent on weapons--"swords" and "spears"--to promote farming and produce food--"plowshares" and "pruning hooks." Is this not a foretaste and prelude to the Messianic Era?
In an address on the Shabbat immediately following the Talks, the Lubavitcher Rebbe commented on the Talks and made the above-mentioned comparison to Isaiah's prophecy and the current world-situation. He also pointed out an inexplicable phenomenon: Turning money once used for military pursuits into food for the masses reflects the Era of the Redemption. And yet, we are still in exile.
Jewish tradition teaches that charity hastens the redemption. We see from the recent decision that came out of the Disarmament Talks that the governments of the world are, in fact, behaving in a charitable manner. The thrust in this direction can and should be encouraged. But, in addition to actually giving money to the needy, genuinely acting in a kind manner toward others, and doing things that bring about unity and cohesiveness, will truly hasten the Redemption.
This type of behavior modification can and should begin in what can often be the most difficult place--our own little world, our circle of family and friends. From there, we can reach out to others and encourage others to do the same.
For the past few weeks we have been reading those Torah portions dealing with the commandments and preparations necessary for the building of the Tabernacle. This week, in Vayakhel, we read about its actual erection.
Before the Tabernacle was built, Moses called together all of the Children of Israel and commanded them to keep the Sabbath. "Six days shall work be done, and on the seventh you shall have a holy day. A Sabbath of rest to G-d."
The Talmud explains that the juxtaposition of Shabbat and the building of the Tabernacle teaches us which types of work we must avoid in order to keep the Sabbath. These are the 39 categories of labor which are prohibited on Shabbat, and from which are derived all other activities which may not be pursued on the holy day.
Nothing in the Torah occurs coincidentally. The fact that the Torah chooses the building of the Tabernacle to teach us which labors are prohibited on Shabbat shows that there is a connection between these two subjects. Furthermore, the relationship between Shabbat and the building of the Tabernacle has another, deeper dimension. Every one of the 39 types of labor involved in building the Sanctuary is the prototype of the labors we perform during the six days of the week. And, because everything in the physical world reflects its spiritual source, all our physical labor is the building of the Tabernacle. All the work which we perform has the potential to be elevated and turned into holiness.
But not only is the Tabernacle the source for the work in our lives, it also serves as our lives' goals as well. Every task we perform during our daily routine should be utilized to bring holiness into the world, the same function which the original Tabernacle served.
The Torah states: "Six days shall you work." Our Sages explain that this is a positive commandment, not merely the granting of permission. Man is compelled to toil to earn his daily bread. We see that the prayers and Torah readings prescribed for weekdays are shorter than those read on Shabbat and holidays, to enable a person to go out into the world to perform his daily tasks. It is through one's physical labor that he molds and shapes the world into a "sanctuary" for G-d.
How do we elevate our daily, mundane tasks? "In all your ways shall you know Him," explains the Torah. All of our activities, no matter how seemingly trivial, must be performed with the proper thoughts in mind. When we eat, drink, sleep and go about our business according to Torah law, we are cognizant of our Creator and transform our lives into sanctuaries to G-d.
The basic difference between the Tabernacle and our own physical world is that the Tabernacle was an actual manifestation of G-dliness, whereas the physical world is still in a state of potential. Man's task is to transform that potential into actual realization, by living according to the dictum, "In all your ways shall you know Him."
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Jail House Rock
by Mordechai Staiman
This story begins very slowly.
The Riker's Island jail room had been silent for a long time. Suddenly, a key turned in a lock. The door opened. In filed several men with guns in their holsters. Already seated in the room was a man in black hat and black coat, who smiled at the guards. They smiled back and unobtrusively took their seats. Nobody knew what to expect.
Soon, other sounds filled the room. Thirty men entered. Coughing. Scuffling sneakers. Sneezing. Moving chairs. Then silence fell again. All eyes were upon the man in the black hat.
The man in black introduced himself. He introduced why he was there. He introduced the subject of niggunim (wordless Chasidic songs), which was another way to introduce the inmates to their Jewish souls, although, in truth, some of them needed no introduction.
Still it came to most of them as a culture shock that this man in black, who had come there as part of an ongoing prison outreach program by Lubavitch Youth Organization, was telling them what, of all things, a niggun was.
He told them the story behind the Shpoler Zeide's Niggun. As the story goes, the Shpoler Zeide wanted to save a Jew who was thrown into a deep pit in prison for not paying his taxes. In those days--the 18th century--it didn't take much to jail Jews. The way to determine the Jew's guilt or innocence, decided the lords of the land, was to bring him to a big tavern where lords and Cossacks sat in judgment. There, dressed in a bear costume, the Jew was forced to out-dance his opponent, generally the best dancer in the tavern. If the Jew fell first, he was guilty and was whipped to death. If the Cossack fell first, the Jew went free.
"You can believe it when I tell you," said the man in black, "no Jew had a chance against such accomplished and energetic dancers."
One night the Shpoler Zeide was visited by the prophet Elijah. Elijah instructed him in the fine art of dancing and taught him what was to become forever known as the Shpoler Zeide's Niggun. "The same niggun that I'll sing for you shortly," the man in the black coat said to the prisoners.
The Shpoler Zeide went to the prison, drank mashke with the guard until he fell asleep, then lowered himself into the pit. There he exchanged clothes with the other Jew, telling him to leave the prison unnoticed, which the Jew promptly did.
A messenger arrived with the costume and threw it into the pit. The Shpoler Zeide donned the costume and pulled himself up by the rope. The messenger led him to the tavern, where he was greeted with jeers and hoots.
At once the musicians started playing song after song, the Cossack and the Jew danced, and as the hours went on everyone could see how evenly matched the dancers were. Never had a Jew danced so hard and so well. Never had a Cossack met his match. By now the audience had stopped laughing and sat there stunned.
Finally the musicians tired, and even the Cossack was willing to stop. Not so the old Shpoler Zeide, who started singing the niggun and danced as he had never danced before. The Cossack felt obliged to pick up the dance, too.
Without realizing it, the dancers, caught up with the rapidly accelerating tune, moved faster and faster and faster--the Shpoler Zeide dancing with astonishing ease--until they reached a pace that was so fast they couldn't make out their own singing and dancing of the niggun.
That's when it happened: the cossack dancer's heart gave out and he fell dead. So the Shpoler Zeide won and his fellow Jew went free.
The story was not quite over, there were other details to be told, yet the excited inmates had heard enough. All they wanted was to hear the Shpoler Zeide's Niggun.
So the man in black started slowly to teach them the niggun. Within moments, as the guards nervously fingered their guns, the Jewish inmates began to sing, formed a large circle, and danced with all their hearts and souls. Never had the guards witnessed such a sight.
Thirty men, some with their tzitzis dangling, others holding onto their yarmulkes, singing, "Deyamammamayayayayayayayayayayyadedeyi.
"Part of the song means 'Hop, Cossack, Jump, Cossack!'" explained the man in black, quickly losing breath, as he danced with the inmates.
And the tune got faster and faster, and the Jews were singing and dancing until they reached a pace that was so fast they, too, couldn't make out the niggun.
Later, the man in black [an audiologist named Levi Reiter] was to tell his fellow Lubavitchers who also visit prisons through the L.Y.O., "What energy these prisoners had! Some of these Jews hardly had spent more than five minutes with another Jew outside. Nevertheless, in this long-silent room with a heart, their Jewish spark was kindled, and they all were thoroughly involved in this dance with me. Hardened criminals some, others I never would have taken to be Jewish, these people were dancing around and around, and somebody shouted, 'Hey, I think I see the Shpoler Zeide in the circle opposite me,' and another one said, 'I think I see him too,' and others amiably agreed to join in on the fun: 'Yeah, he's right here.' 'No, he's over there.' 'Hey, he's holding my hand.' There was no doubt," added the man in black, "these inmates were being touched by the hand of G-d."
Finally the prisoners and the man in the black coat fell back exhausted onto their chairs, perhaps leaving the Shpoler Zeide to continue the dance till the end of time.
Reprinted with permission from Country Yossi Magazine
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JEWISH SONGS AND MUSIC
Cantor Berelle Zaltzman recently entertained in Alberta, Canada, treating the audience to a repetoire of songs in Russian, Hebrew, English, Yiddish and Italian. Hosted by Chabad Lubavitch of Alberta, the evening of Jewish Songs and Music, was an evening of inspiration. Cantor Zaltzman had just returned from a concert tour in Russia.
The Women's Torah Study Center in Jerusalem is now in its fourth year. With classes three mornings and one evening each week, the Center's goal is to encourage all women to set aside time each week for personal growth through Jewish education. For more information call (02) 384928.
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
It is significant that the "Evening with Lubavitch" is taking place on Rosh Chodesh Adar. In olden days, when the Beit Hamikdash [Holy Temple] was in existence, the first day of Adar was noted for the "Shekalim Call" which went out on that day, whereupon every Jew contributed a half-shekel to the Sanctuary chest which provided the public sacrifices on behalf of all the Jewish people.
The saintly Rebbe, the "Tzemach Tzedek" (so named after his monumental Jewish legal work), in discussing the mitzva of Machtzit HaShekel (the half-shekel in one of his renowned Chasidic-philosophical works, offers some insights into this mitzva which requires no more and no less than half a shekel. It indicates, he explains, that when a Jew makes a contribution toward a sacred cause, it is immediately matched by a similar benevolence from G-d to him, in accordance with the principle that human initiative acts like an impulse which calls forth a corresponding impulse from on High. The two together, constitute the complete Shekel haKodesh ("holy shekel").
Moreover, though human endeavor must be voluntary and spontaneous, the assurance has been given that where there is a resolute intention, the person receives aid from On High to carry it to fruition in the fullest measure.
To be sure, the physical Sanctuary in Jerusalem was destroyed and the sacrificial service interrupted. Nevertheless, in a spiritual sense, the Sanctuary and all that was connected with it have never ceased; they exist in our daily experience and practice of Torah teachings and mitzvot. This is one of the aspects of our infinite Torah which is in no way subject to the limitations of time and place.
The mitzva of the Half Shekel teaches us, among other things, that human effort, provided it is sincere and resolute, is "met half way" by divine Grace. Thus, though the goal may, at first glance, seem too ambitious or even beyond reach, we are not limited to our own human resources, since our initial effort evokes a reciprocal "impulse" from On High which assures the attainment of even the "unattainable."
The mitzva of the Half-Shekel was originally related to the Beit Hamikdosh, where simple material objects were transformed into things of holiness, through dedication and sacrifice. Such is the unlimited power which the Creator vested in the Jew by means of the Torah and mitzvot originating in the En Sof (Infinite). Every Jew has the power to transform small and ordinary things of nature into values and categories which transcend Nature--through living his daily life in accordance with the will and command of G-d. In this way the Jew fulfills his purpose in life and the ultimate destiny of Creation, namely, to make an abode for the Holy One here on earth, in fulfillment of the Divine command, "let them make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them" (Exod. 25:8).
It is to the realization of this destiny of the individual Jew and of the Jewish people as a whole, that Lubavitch activities all over the world are dedicated.
I take this opportunity to extend prayerful wishes to each and every participant in the "Evening With Lubavitch." May it be a source of lasting inspiration to you all, and an abiding influence towards the experience of a fuller, nobler, and, indeed, holier daily life, where the material "half-shekel" is balanced by its heavenly counterpart "in the scale of holiness" (b'shekel hakodesh), ensuring a harmonious and truly happy life, materially and spiritually.
Are there prayers to be said or customs to be observed during pregnancy?
There are numerous prayers for various stages of pregnancy and labor/delivery, some of which are said by the husband and others by the wife. (The book, A Joyful Mother of Children, Feldheim Publishers, has many of them in Hebrew and English.) Some customs to ensure an easy delivery are: to pray for an easy delivery; to bite off the tip of an etrog after Sukkot; to eat the special meal Saturday night in honor of the departure of Shabbat (Melave Malka); and to bake challa for Shabbat.
In this weeks Torah portion, Vayakhel, we read, "The seventh day will be holy for you as a Sabbath of Sabbaths to G-d."
These words follow immediately after the discussion about all the different types of work--39 categories in all--necessary for the construction of the Tabernacle. And it is these 39 categories of work which we are prohibited from performing on Shabbat.
The question is asked, why is there a connection between the work of the Tabernacle and the forbidden work on Shabbat?
The 39 catergories of work are connected to the general needs of a person--food, clothing and shelter. The "job" during the week is to separate and refine the divine essence found within everything we come in contact with. However, one of the types of work that we are forbidden to perform on Shabbat is that of "separating." So, on Shabbat, we bring to an even higher spiritual level that which we already elevated during the six weekdays.
But, if this is so, why are we allowed to eat on Shabbat? This same question was asked by the third Chabad Rebbe of his grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman--the first Chabad Rebbe. Rabbi Shneur Zalman answered as follows: Food that we are permitted to eat--kosher food--is, at its source, a mixture of good and bad. During the six weekdays the good and bad are mixed and our job is to separate the two of them. But, on Shabbat, this is not necessary. For, on the eve of Shabbat the good is automatically separated from the bad so that the food that we eat on Shabbat is only good. Therefore, no separation is necessary. The intention of eating on Shabbat, then, is to elevate the good to an even higher level.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
Long ago in the small village of Sassov there lived a Jewish wood-chopper, a man of deep and pure faith. No one knew his name, and so, he was known simply as "the villager."
All week he made his way into the forest and chopped wood which he sold in the town. During the week, he and his family lived frugally, eating just enough to sustain themselves. But for the Holy Shabbat, he joyfully bought challahs, candles, and other delicacies. Not only did the family enjoy the Shabbat treats, but despite their poverty, they always invited others to join them. At times they even went without food themselves so that their guests had enough to eat.
One Friday morning the villager stood with his bundles in the village square waiting for customers to buy his wood when a woman came and bought the whole lot for six silver coins. He was about to begin his customary Shabbat purchases when the tzadik Reb Moshe Leib of Sassov approached him with a request. There was woman in the town who had recently been widowed. She was so overcome with grief that she lay in bed all day weeping, and so was completely unable to take care of her two young children. Her health was failing and the poor orphans were going hungry. Could he help? Now the villager was a good-hearted man. He immediately took two silver coins and handed them over to the tzadik. "Thank you so much, but could you perhaps give a bit more?" The wood-cutter reached into his pocket and handed over another two coins. Again, the tzadik, thanked him and asked for maybe a bit more for the family. "I'm sorry Rebbe, but I can't give any more. I have only two coins left. As it is I won't have enough money to buy wine and challa, but I must leave enough to buy candles to brighten our Shabbat."
Reb Moshe Leib was moved by the man's kindness and his love for the mitzva of Shabbat candles. He turned to the man and asked, "Do you have any valuable object in your house?"
"No, Rebbe, I have nothing except an old cow."
"When you return home," said the Rebbe, "sell the cow, and with the money you make, buy the first thing that comes your way. I give you my blessing that G-d will grant you success."
The wood-cutter ran home happily, brimming with anticipation. But when he told his wife of the plan to sell the cow, she absolutely refused. "How can we sell the cow? Its milk is our main source of food. How do you imagine we'll live?" And with that the discussion ended.
When Shabbat was over the couple went to the barn to feed their cow. No sooner had they entered the barn when a carriage with two men pulled up. "Do you have a cow for sale?" they asked. The astonished Jew saw the words of the tzadik materializing before his eyes. His wife blurted out: "We'll sell only for a hundred rubles!" The men agreed to pay the absurd price. Now, it was clear that the blessing was having its effect.
The next morning the villager went to town with the hundred rubles intending to carry out the Rebbe's instructions. He noticed a group of landowners gathered for the auction of a choice estate. The man's simple faith was so great that he pushed himself into the crowd intent upon buying the estate regardless of the fact that he couldn't afford it.
The wealthy landowners looked at the poor Jew. What a nerve he had to try to bid against them! They would punish him for his chutzpa and at the same time help themselves. They agreed not to bid on the property at all. When the Jew's offer would be accepted, he would lose everything because there was no way that he could afford the complete payment. Their plan succeeded. The villager bought the estate, giving the one hundred rubles as a deposit, and returned home feeling very satisfied.
That night as the Jewish family slept, there was a loud knock at the door. They were shocked to see the village priest standing in the doorway. "I understand that you bought an estate today, and I would like to be your partner," the priest said. Having heard about the low price, he figured he could take advantage of the simple wood-cutter.
"I agree to the partnership if you will pay the total outstanding amount," answered the Jew. The priest eagerly accepted, handed him the money, and agreed to formalize the deal in a few days. When the day came to complete payment on the estate, the furious landowners couldn't believe their eyes as the Jew paid up the entire balance.
The villager set out to visit his newly acquired estate. Travelling down the road he saw a group of people crowded around an accident. "What happened?" he inquired.
"This priest was killed when his horses panicked and overturned the wagon," was the reply.
The Jew approached the accident site. It was his "partner" the priest. Now, the property belonged to him alone. The blessing of Reb Moshe Leib had been fulfilled, and in gratitude the villager distributed large amounts of charity to the poor throughout his long and prosperous life.
And Moses gathered together all the Congregation of the Children of Israel and said to them: "These are the things which G-d has commanded that you should do" (Ex. 35:1)
Every Jew approaches a mitzva with his own personal thoughts and intentions, according to his intellect and level of understanding. Yet the physical performance of the mitzva is carried out in the same manner by all. Moses was able to assemble all the Jews together in true unity because the performance of mitzvot is common to all Jews, no matter what their other differences may be.
(Rebbe of Tshortkov)
On the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day (Ex. 35:2)
Rabbi Bunim once said: There is no other mitzva as all-encompassing as that of sukka. A person actually enters the mitzva with his whole body, his clothes, and even his shoes.
Rabbi Shlomo Leib of Lentashna responded: The mitzva of Shabbat is even greater. One need not lift a finger to bring it on; Shabbat arrives by itself. And, the holiness of Shabbat totally encompasses everyone and everything for more than 24 hours.
All the wise-hearted among you shall come, and make all that G-d has commanded. (35:10)
When a person decides to do a mitzva, it is preferable to do it immediately, as the opportunity presents itself, and not procrastinate. Doing a mitzva with diligence and alacrity prevents all kinds of obstacles from arising to prevent the performance of the mitzva at a later time. That is why the verse says, "All the wise-hearted among you shall come"--one who is truly wise--"shall come"--without delay.
The mass exodus of our Russian brethren to the Holy Land should make us ever more conscious of the imminence of the ultimate Ingathering of the Exiles which will take place with the Final Redemption. Although the Redemption is not yet manifest, the awareness of its imminence should inspire joy.
(Adapted by Sichos in English from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)