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Did you ever hear the phrase, "All dressed up with no place to go"? If not, it's not surprising. Most of us don't have that problem. And certainly not when we're standing in front of the closet trying to decide what to wear as we get ready for a night out.
None of the outfits in the wardrobe seem just right, or the tie that you usually wear with that special suit is nowhere to be found, or your favorite suit is at the cleaner.
Finding clothes that fit well, feel good, look great and don't put us in debt is not an easy task. That is, of course, when you're talking about garments made of cotton, rayon, silk, wool, polyester, etc.
But what about those garments known as "garments of the soul"?
Your Divine soul is, to be quite frank, sort of naked. Just as a person has to put on clothing before he goes out and interacts with people and the world around him, the purely spiritual Divine soul must also clothe itself in thought, speech and action before it can interact and relate to this physical world.
When involved in Jewish studies your soul is enclothed in the "garment" of thought. When praying or talking about Jewish subjects you are dressing your soul with the garment of speech. And every time you do a mitzva--eat a kosher hot dog, put a coin in a tzedaka box, help a little old lady across the street--your Divine soul is able to relate to this world because it is enclothed in action.
Let's consider another phrase relating to standard garments which also relates to your Divine soul's garments: "Clothes make the man."
First, it's important to remember that clothes are not the person, but simply "make" the person. The same is true with the garments of thought, speech and action. Your soul is a G-dly spark regardless of whether or not it enclothes itself in garments in order to do mitzvot. However--and this is a big however--take a look around you and think about with whom you'd rather interact. Would you rather do business with the guy whose three-piece suit is immaculate with a tie that matches and whose shoes are polished--someone who obviously takes pride in himself and his appearance--or with the person who looks like a shlump?
Note, please, that we're not advocating a shopping binge, we're not using as an example a person who spends huge sums of money to look good. We're talking here about someone who is caring and conscientious about his appearance.
It's rather obvious that the same can be said about our Divine souls. Do we want them to look "put-together" or shlumpy? Does our souls' appearance and do our souls' garments not deserve to have as much pride and thought put into them as we do into our thread, button and material variety?
One last thought about clothing.
When Moshiach comes, the clothes that we'll wear will--so to speak--be the mitzvot, good deeds and Torah we've studied throughout our lives. Start adding on to your wardrobe of mitzvot today, so you'll have what to wear when we all get together for the Ultimate Night Out of Exile.
This week's Torah portion, Emor, contains the command pertaining to the Sabbath: "Six days shall work be done; but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest... you shall do no manner of work."
Take a look at your average calendar and you'll notice that the first day is Sunday, a day of rest in many countries. The week, therefore, begins with a day of rest.
Sunday, in the Jewish calendar, is a work-day; Saturday, Shabbat, was appointed the day of rest. The week actually begins with work. Only after six days of work will the seventh day be the Sabbath. The precedence of labor before rest indicates that our purpose is not to while away time idly, but rather to work for the betterment of ourselves and our community, in both material and spiritual matters.
It might seem strange that the phrase "shall work be done" is in a passive form. But, actually, it indicates that Judaism advocates a "passive" or slightly aloof attitude toward work. A person's entire interest and enthusiasm shouldn't only be centered around business activities.
Today, many of us have become so totally submerged in our business lives that we have no time for anything or anyone, least of all ourselves. We're "on the job" not only at work but also at home, at leisure. We think, sleep, even pray business.
To caution against this complete preoccupation we have the Divine order, "Six days shall work be done." It is a positive commandment, stating the essential nature of labor, yet transmitting an important clause: Don't become totally preoccupied with work. Keep slightly detached so that during leisure hours one will be able to give attention to personal and family needs, both material and spiritual.
From Thought for the Week--Detroit. Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
LAG B'OMER WON'T BE THE SAME
I remember when I found out that Rabbi Yaakov Yehuda Hecht (fondly referred to by many as "Rabbi J.J.") had passed away. I wrote a letter to a friend in the Hecht family, and I recall two sentences of it. "I always thought everyone is replaceable, but that doesn't seem true about Rabbi Hecht. Lag B'Omer will never be the same without him."
I cringe now when I think that I used the Lag B'Omer Parade to illustrate Rabbi Hecht's preciousness. For, Rabbi Hecht's position as Parade Master was just one of the literally hundreds of positions he held--many of them simultaneously. And yet, my example surely demonstrates how Rabbi Hecht was so many things to so many different people.
When presented with the opportunity to give a brief glimpse to our readers of this giant's life, we wanted to do so in the words of a few of the people whose lives he touched. The following are excerpts from reminiscences that came to Rabbi Hecht's office after his passing nearly two years ago. (Yehudis Cohen)
Even the toughest amongst us has occasion in life to need assistance. I was one of those lucky people who found more than help, but found a lifelong friend, the best friend I ever made--Rabbi Hecht.
I had served for 4 years as a foreign counterintelligence investigator for the F.B.I. and was continually relocated. I wanted to come back to New York and settle down. I got a job with a U. S. Congressman, but it wouldn't be available for 4 months.
Someone suggested I see Rabbi Hecht. After talking to me for a short while, he simply said, "You will work for me and you will put my Radiothon together." That is what I did. I learned so much about this man, and his capacity to help so many people, great and small, over the next 4 months. I left knowing that he would always be there when I needed him. I returned each year to work as a volunteer on the Radiothon and for other special events whenever he requested.
Rabbi Hecht was tremendously concerned for the dignity and self-respect of others. Surely he aspired to have others reach his level of observance. But it was his policy to include as many as possible, rather than to exclude those not "observant enough." Even when he knew there were people who didn't live up to all the commandments of Jewish law, he diplomatically cajoled, but never forced the issue. He was a man who understood how to motivate people to perform mitzvot of their own volition. (Jeff Wiesenfeld)
Having worked for the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education (NCFJE) on and off for thirteen years, I saw Rabbi Hecht under all conditions. Some things he told me made such an impression that they remain foremost in my mind.
One time Rabbi Hecht was working indefatigably on a particular project and people were extremely unappreciative and were expressing it. I asked him why he worked so hard for so many things when all he ever got was criticism. He told me the following story:
"There was once a man named Mendel who was the gabbai in a shul. A friend came to visit and stopped at the edge of town to get directions. He asked someone where he could find Mendel the Gabbai. 'Oh, Mendel the liar, he's down the road,' said the passerby. Each person the friend asked gave a similarly disparaging reply. When the friend finally found Mendel he asked, 'Why did you take this job?' Mendel replied, 'For the honor, of course.' "
Rabbi Hecht taught me that when something has to be done nothing should stand in one's way. Not other people's opinions, not lack of money, not lack of enthusiasm, not lack of energy, time or space. He was never one to pass the buck, he accepted responsibility, embraced it and thrived on it. (Devorah Kroll)
I close my eyes and recall Rabbi Hecht. There was a magnetic quality about him. He was filled with life and vitality. Constant motion, constant action, in the center of a hubbub of activity--that's where one could find him.
If there were problems or difficulties in dealing with governmental agencies, everyone knew to contact Rabbi Hecht. In the days after WWII, when many immigrants were stranded on Ellis Island, Rabbi Hecht was asked to come to the rescue and his name became a household word. Children need to get special schooling, financial difficulties in sending children to camp, official letters signed by a rabbi needed?--call Rabbi Hecht. It wasn't just a matter of calling. He was always willing to help, and always attempted to find a solution. That's the kind of person he was--attentive, interested and caring. (Chana Scharfstein)
From his humble beginnings as a child of the Depression in Brownsville, Brooklyn, Rabbi Hecht, a third generation American, rose to become an outspoken leader of American Jewry. His had a selfless devotion to every individual and a hands-on approach to every problem. These exceptional qualities were interwoven with his powerful leadership ability, his charismatic personality and his mesmerizing power of fiery oratory. He was a great leader, a towering scholar, a magnificent communicator. But over and above all, he was an even greater "mentch."
He was always ready to tackle the most controversial subjects, championing a seemingly unpopular cause, when he knew it was vital for Jewish survival. He joined the leading proponents of decency of all faiths in his war against pornography. The poor, the underpriviledged, the lost souls of the world found a champion in Rabbi Hecht, and he fought and won their battles. Child custody cases, Jewish discrimination cases, women fighting for Jewish divorces, Jewish prisoners, hospitalized children and needy children in Israel, all of these causes were close to his heart.
And he found the time to do all this while actively engaged as Exec. V.P. of the NCFJE, director of Camp Emunah, Rabbi of Yeshiva Meir Simcha Hacohen of East Flatbush, Dean of Hadar Hatorah Rabbinical Seminary, Dean of Machon Chana Women's College, two weekly radio programs, translated the public gatherings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita, and made time to see any poor soul needing help. (From the forward to Focus, compiled from Rabbi Hecht's newpaper columns)
90 TANK PARADE
In celebration of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's 90th birthday, a massive parade of 90 "Mitzva Tanks" toured the New York metro area. The parade commenced in front of Lubavitch World Headquarters at "770" Eastern Parkway, traveled over the Manhattan Bridge, down Fifth Ave. and all 90 tanks in the motorcade dispersed to all five boroughs where the young people manning the tanks distributed L'Chaims, Passover brochures, Shabbat candlesticks and encouraged the donning of tefilin. "Celebration Ninety" events, in honor of the Rebbe's birthday, took place throughout the world and will be mentioned in this column as reports continue to come in.
YeshiVacation is a ten-day program for college students to give them the opportunity to participate in a yeshiva-like course which combines lectures, discussions and recreation. The spring YeshiVacation--sponsored by Machon Chana and Hadar HaTorah--will be from May 28th through June 9th and will include the holiday of Shavuot. For more information call (718) 735-0200.
JEWISH WOMEN HAVE DECISIVE ROLE
Freely translated letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
One of the greatest sages of his day, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is especially distinguished by the fact that he taught and revealed the hidden and inner light of the Torah through the mystical works, the Zohar, Tikunei Zohar, etc.
The inner, concealed mysteries, which constitute the very soul or core of the Torah--p'nimiyut haTorah--is bound up with the innermost quality of every Jew, with his Jewish soul. As such, it creates the inner link which unites the Jew with G-dliness, as taught by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and explained at length in Chabad Chasidut.
The innermost core of every Jew--the "pintele Yid"--remains intact in every Jew, regardless of his outward status and external circumstances. It is absolutely imperative, however, to bring forth the pintele Yid from its potential state, both in one's self and in one's fellow-Jew, so that this inner quality becomes manifest and able to affect and dominate the external aspects of daily life in every detail. This is one of the main purposes of Chasidut in general and Chabad Chasidut in particular.
In the realization of this purpose, Jewish women have a very special role, since Divine Providence has bestowed upon them special capacities and opportunities which can and must be utilized to this end.
The woman is the foundation of the Jewish home. As such, she is responsible for the inner light and Jewish warmth of the home, sheltering the home from alien and hostile winds which blow from outside.
Moreover, women are endowed with a greater and more expressive measure of feeling and sincerity, making them especially suited to arouse and stimulate the inborn, Jewish feelings of love of G-d, love of the Torah, and love of the Jewish people.
Bringing to the surface one's pintele Yid until it dominates all external aspects of daily life, calls down the Divine reward in kind, namely that the inner and hidden goodness of the Divine becomes manifest in all the necessities of the daily life--health, sustenance, and nachas.
On this auspicious day of Lag B'Omer, I send you greetings and prayerful wishes for success in the fullest measure.
It has often been pointed out that in every important event in our history, which is commemorated by special days in our calendar, Jewish women have had a decisive role. This is true also of Lag B'Omer.
On the day of Lag B'Omer we commemorate the survival of Rabbi Akiva's disciples, after a plague which had decimated their numbers. These great scholars, together with their teacher, revived and perpetuated the continuity of the Oral Torah. Among these disciples was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (known as the Rashbi, an acronym of his name), author of the Zohar, and the vital link in the transmission of the inner light of the Torah, the Kabbala.
Our Sages of blessed memory declared that these very disciples of Rabbi Akiva saved the Torah at that time. (Yevamot 62b)
Wherein lies the woman's role in this critical period in Jewish history?
Our Sages of the Talmud clearly elucidated it by telling us the story of Rabbi Akiva. Behind his rise from a poor ignorant shepherd to the rank of the greatest Sage in his generation was a woman, his faithful and courageous wife, Rachel. And Rabbi Akiva publicly acknowledged this when he said to his disciples: "All that I have learned, and all that you have learned, we owe to her." (Ketubot 63a)
This means that the entire edifice of the Oral Torah, the very basis of the existence of our Jewish people and its way of life, is ultimately to be credited to a Jewish woman.
That this story, in all its details, has been told and recorded for perpetuity, is a clear indication that it is meant to serve as a source of instruction and inspiration to all Jewish women, everywhere and at all times. Its practical message is that every Jewish woman has been given tremendous potential, with far-reaching consequences, not only for herself, her husband and children, but also for our entire Jewish people.
Specifically in the sphere of bridging the generation gap in the true spirit of Torah--it is plain and self-evident that women have a very special role. For, in matters of the heart, that is, in the sphere of feeling and emotion, the woman has been endowed with an extra measure of sensitivity and understanding, not to mention the fact that Jewish education and character development of children are, from their infancy on, largely in the domain of the wife and mother, the akeret haBayit--foundation of the home.
What is Lag B'Omer?
Lag B'Omer is the 33rd day of the Omer period between Passover and Shavuot. According to tradition, it is the day on which a terrible plague killing 20,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students stopped. It is also the anniversary of the passing--yartzeit--of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the Zohar. Before his death he instructed his students to rejoice on the day of his yartzeit. The Holy Ari--Rabbi Yitzchak Luria--one of the greatest scholars in the mystical aspects of the Torah--taught the great virtue of rejoicing on that day, and later the Baal Shem Tov and his followers strengthened the custom of rejoicing on the yartzeit.
Next Sunday is "Pesach Sheni." Pesach Sheni, the Second Passover, was instituted the year after the Jews left Egypt while they were still in the desert. On Passover of that year, G-d commanded our ancestors to bring the special Passover offering. However, since some of the Jews were ritually impure at that time, they were not permitted to bring the offering. They protested and G-d told Moses that all those who were unable to bring the offering on Passover could bring it one month later. This date became known as the Second Passover.
The Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn wrote: "The theme of Pesach Sheni is that it is never too late. It is always possible to put things right. Even if one was ritually impure, or far away, and even in a case when this impurity or distance was deliberate--nonetheless it can be corrected."
It's never too late. What an inspiring and optimistic thought! There's always a chance to improve, to become better, to learn and do.
This is truly a motto worth memorizing (and hanging on the refrigerator). Rather than muttering about yourself or another person, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks," realize that it's never too late.
You didn't put on tefilin yesterday? Today's a new day and it's never too late.
You didn't light candles for Shabbat last Friday night? Do it this week, it's never too late.
You never went to Hebrew school, so you can't read Hebrew? Enroll in an adult education course; it's never too late.
You never knew that Judaism had so much to offer? Now that you know, do something about it, because it's never too late.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
The prayers had been said and the festive meal celebrating the auspicious day of Rosh Hashana had been eaten in great happiness and anticipation of the blessings of a good new year.
The evening after Rosh Hashana, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai had retired for the night, but his sleep was disturbed by a frightening dream concerning his two nephews. In the dream his nephews stood, pale and frightened, faced with a deputation of Roman officials. The Romans demanded from them the enormous sum of six hundred dinarim.
Bright and early the next day Rabbi Shimon headed for the home of his nephews. When he arrived they were busily involved in their business affairs. They were surprised by the arrival of their uncle; as a leader of his people he had little time for social calls. Rising from their seats they were anxious to make Rabbi Shimon comfortable, but their uncle had come with a purpose. Looking at his two nephews Rabbi Shimon said: "I think it is strongly advisable that the two of you become involved with the needs of the community. For example, you could perhaps undertake supporting the needy and the infirm. The two young men asked no questions. After all, their uncle was a great tzadik, recognized among all the Jewish people for his wisdom. They were happy to implement his idea, but they asked their uncle: "Where will we get the money to distribute? Our business is not earning much of a surplus yet."
His replied, "Take the money from your earnings and keep a strict record of all your disbursements. At the end of the year I will reimburse you for your expenditures."
They readily agreed, and Rabbi Shimon left feeling relieved that the arrangements had been settled.
Several months later, enemies of the young men informed upon them to the Roman government, reporting that they were operating a silk business without having first obtained a state permit. A group of armed Roman soldiers entered their home and announced to the shocked young men that they were under arrest. As they were being led away to prison in chains, they were given a choice. Either they could make a costly silk garment for the emperor, or pay a fine of six hundred dinarim.
When Rabbi Shimon heard the terrible news he rushed to the prison and managed to speak to his nephews. He urgently inquired of them: "How much money did you distribute to tzedaka this year?"
They replied that they were not certain of the exact amount, but they had kept a careful record of every disbursement, just as he had instructed them. They told him where to find their notebook, and he located it easily. When he returned to them he said: "Give me six dinarim at once!" The Rabbi offered no further explanation, and the nephews immediately gave him the money without question. Rabbi Shimon took the money and approached the guard with it, offering the six dinarim as a bribe. The guard accepted it happily and to their surprise, the young men were immediately released and allowed to return home.
One of his nephews turned to Rabbi Shimon and questioned him, "If the fine was six hundred dinarim, how were you able to bribe them with only six? There must be more to this than you have revealed to us."
Only then did Rabbi Shimon tell them his dream and the explanation for his request that they give charity. "On the evening after Rosh Hashana I dreamed that you would be required to pay the Romans six hundred dinarim. I asked you to give the same sum to tzedaka, a far preferable way to spend money than giving it to the evil Roman government."
The nephews were astounded by their uncle's story. "However, when I checked your accounts I saw that you were short six dinarim; therefore I asked you for the remaining sum. After you had completed payment you had the merit to be freed."
"But Uncle," they protested, "if you had only told us about the dream, we would have gladly given the entire sum to tzedaka at once, and been spared from suffering the entire incident!"
"That is so," replied Rabbi Shimon, "but had I told you in advance, you would not have given the money from a pure heart only for the mitzvah, but only to spare yourselves from pain. It is only because you gave the money with pure intentions and without any thought of yourselves that you were worthy to be saved from punishment."
These are the feasts of G-d. the holy convocations, which you shall proclaim in their seasons (Lev. 23:2)
In the days of the Holy Temple, the calendar was fixed and the determination of when the festivals would fall was done by the Sanhedrin, according to the testimony of witnesses who said they had seen the new moon. Even if after the fact, it was discovered that a mistake had been made, the court's decision was final and the holiday celebrated according to their calculations. G-d gave man the absolute power to determine when a festival fell and to imbue the day with holiness.
And you shall take...willows of the brook (Lev. 23:40)
The willow, one of the four kinds we take on the holiday of Sukkot, has neither fragrance nor taste. It symbolizes those Jews who have in their possession neither Torah learning nor good deeds. Their only merit is the fact that they are descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Maimonides teaches that even a willow that did not grow on the banks of a brook, say, one that was found growing in a desert or on a mountain-top, is kosher and may be used to perform the mitzva. Likewise, a Jew who did not grow up close to his roots in Judaism and was raised in a foreign culture, through no fault of his own, is also kosher, just by virtue of his being a Jew.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
Seven complete weeks shall there be (Lev. 23:15)
The Jewish People is likened to a seven-branched menora, each branch of which symbolizes a different approach to the worship of G-d. There are Jews whose main emphasis in worship is fear of G-d, and others whose love of G-d is the main driving force behind their relationship with the Creator. In all, there are seven different paths to G-dliness.
On each day of the omer, a different attribute is stressed and a different path to G-d is purified. These seven attributes can be combined with each other for a total of 49 possible combinations. Just as each day is necessary for the completion of the omer, so too is every individual Jew an integral component of the Jewish People.
Wrote the Chafetz Chaim (Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan): "We must prepare ourselves with all our might for the coming of the righteous Moshiach, each person according to his ability...so that we merit the complete and true redemption and so that we are able to greet Moshiach joyfully. And whoever doesn't listen to these words, it's his responsibility, and in the future he will be judged, G-d forbid, for then it will be made clear, known and publicized concerning each person, who prepared himself for his [Moshiach's] coming and how he prepared himself, with Torah learning and good deeds, and who did not prepare himself.
(Kol Kitvei HaChafetz Chaim HaShalem 3:50)