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"You're smart." "You're cute." "You've got a great sense of humor."
These might be some of the appellations that were drilled into you as a child and young adult.
Even if you weren't born SO smart or SO funny, you became smarter and funnier just because you believed you were and had that self-confidence.
With this in mind, try this moniker on for size. "You are a tzadik--righteous!" Now, say it over and over again to yourself a couple of times. "I am righteous, I am righteous, I am righteous." Doesn't that feel good? Doesn't it make you want to do a good turn for someone, to put a few coins in a tzedaka box, to let the car cut in front of you?
"Every Jew has a portion in the World to Come as it says, 'Your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever; they are the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, in which to take pride.'"
This verse from the Talmud is how we begin the weekly study of Pirkei Avot each Shabbat afternoon. The study of Pirkei Avot (roughly translated as "Ethics of the Fathers"), is meant to enhance and reinforce the ethical and moral fiber of all who read it through the sound and wholesome advice of our Sages.
Week after week, when we begin Pirkei Avot, we are reminded that each and every Jew, including you and I, are ultimately righteous. What enables us to claim this noble title is the actual spark of G-dliness that every Jew has within him.
"But, wait a minute," you're thinking. "I know my neighbor never does xyz even though he's supposed to. And he always does abc even though the Torah says not to. How can you say that he's righteous?"
Rabbi Moshe Maimonides, in his laws of repentance, writes: "The reckoning of sins and merits is not calculated on the basis of the mere number of merits and sins, but on the basis of their magnitude as well. Some solitary merits can outweigh many sins. The weighing of sins and merits can be carried out only according to the wisdom of the All-Knowing G-d: He alone knows how to measure merits against sins." So don't judge your neighbor so harshly. In fact, it is actually a mitzva to judge others favorably. Better yet, don't judge him at all!
The Talmud teaches that before a soul--the spark of G-dliness within every Jew--comes down into a body, it is administered an oath. "Be righteous and don't be wicked; and even if the whole world tells you that you are righteous, consider yourself as wicked."
Why are we told to consider ourselves as wicked? Is the Talmud encouraging us to think depressing thoughts! No, far from it. It is just that we should constantly be striving to grow in our observance, to do more mitzvot, to learn more. If we think that we're on a level where we are already righteous, then we might decide that we can sit back and relax; we won't push ourselves. We should perceive ourselves as wicked when we start becoming satisfied with our spiritual achievements, when we become complacent and lazy about our need to constantly do more, to attain new heights.
"Your people are all righteous!"
Keep this thought in mind the next time you have the opportunity to do a mitzva, or the next time you might be tempted to do something the Torah prohibits.
To illustrate this last point, imagine you're getting ready to bite into a mouth-watering eclair when your friend on the other end of the phone says, "I've been meaning to tell you how great you look since you lost weight." Of course, you quickly put down the calorie-laden pastry.
By reminding yourself that you are righteous--like the friend who told you how great you look--you'll have the confidence to do what needs to be done.
This Shabbat we read the Torah portion of Bechukotai which is the final portion in the book of Vayikra (Leviticus). Bechukotai begins with the Divine promise: "If you will walk in My statutes, and keep My mitzvot and do them"--then G-d will bestow many blessings, including rain at the right time, ample produce, security and peace.
One might wonder: Should we be fulfilling the mitzvot for the sake of material rewards or for their own sake--because G-d commanded them?
Among the many answers to this question, Maimonides gives the following answer: The mitzvot must, indeed, be fulfilled unconditionally and without regard for reward. However, there are inevitably various distractions and difficulties connected with daily life that makes it harder to fulfill the mitzvot. When these distractions are minimized, it is much easier to carry out the mitzvot fully and completely. But when material circumstances are not quite so satisfactory, though the same performance of the mitzvot is expected, it requires a greater effort. For it is obviously harder to concentrate on Torah and mitzvot when one has to overcome outside pressures.
G-d's promise of material rewards is not meant to provide reason for keeping the Torah and mitzvot. But it is a promise that where there is a firm resolve to walk in G-d's ways and keep His mitzvot, He will make it easier by providing all material needs and reducing outside pressures to a minimum.
The book of Leviticus, which we complete this Shabbat, is also known as Torat Kohanim (the Laws of the Priests) and the Book of Sacrifices.
Jews, as a people, and individually, are expected to behave like kohanim (priests), as G-d has declared: "And you should be unto Me a Kingdom of Kohanim." Just as the kohen has been selected to dedicate himself to the Divine Service--and not only for his own sake, but also for the whole Jewish people--so has every Jew been chosen to serve G-d, with a responsibility also for his entire environment.
To serve G-d does not mean to withdraw from the world; it rather means to serve G-d within this world and together with this world. The beginning of this G-dly service is in one's own home-life, by conducting it in such a way that G-d's Presence should dwell in it, as it is written: "They shall make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them."
This is accomplished by a way of life exemplified by the sacrifices of old. The service of the sacrifices consisted in taking things from one's possession--a lamb, flour, oil, wine, salt, etc.--and consecrating them.
This is the way a Jewish home should be conducted; every detail of one's life should be consecrated to G-d. How is this accomplished? By bringing spirituality into our daily lives and our homes through charity and good deeds, communicating with G-d, and Jewish education. And then the Divine Presence dwells there, and it is a home blessed by G-d, materially and spiritually.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
WOMAN TO WOMAN
by Tananarive Due
Ruthi Navon Zmora is a far different person today from the teenager who slung an Uzi over her shoulder, patrolling an army base as an Israeli soldier.
She is different, too, from the young woman who lived frantic and footloose in Greenwich Village, hitting her stride as a singer in the make-or-break metropolis after a successful career in her homeland.
Once celebrated on Israeli stage and TV, and a one-time opener for acts like David Brenner and Alan King in the United States, today's Ruthi Navon Zmora would shun The Tonight Show even if invited.
Her voice is for women only. She must not perform for men, according to the tenets of Judaism, to which she has adhered for five years. Best known by her stage name, Ruthi Navon, she has an all-female band and a female conductor.
The audiences are more intimate now, far removed from the bright lights of Broadway. But her music, Navon says, swells with a deeper meaning. Before, she tailored her life-style to suit the outside world, and now, she tailors the outside world to suit her life-style, she says. And, in her lyrical speaking voice, she says she's never felt better, as a performer and as a Jew.
"Performing for women only, not an easy thing to put together, was like a new product to everyone. No one believed it was possible," says Navon, 40, who was born in Israel.
Playing to a women-only crowd is an entirely different experience, Navon says. Stage shows transform into dance halls with an emphasis on music and emotion, not the singer herself.
"Internationally, she has lifted women to feeling that there's no need to imitate men," explains her spiritual adviser, Rabbi Casriel Brusowankin, director of the Aventura-Turnberry Chabad.
Navon liked to perform, but she disliked show business from her first taste, performing for two years in the Israeli entertainment corps. After the service she won the lead in an Israeli musical about race relations, "Don't Call Me Black." She also appeared on Israeli television and released an album, singing rock-tempo songs and rhythm and blues in Hebrew.
The inevitable happened, since Israel was a small country with one television station, she says: "I became a star. Nobody knew me, and then the next day I couldn't cross the street."
In 1973, she went to New York to study voice and diction. She performed in cabarets and drew praise from The New York Times, The Daily News and The Hollywood Reporter.
But she wasn't happy. She didn't like the competition and her lack of control of her life. "I loved singing, but there was a big emptiness in the success," she says.
So in 1979, when a close friend began studying with some Chabad rabbis, Navon went along. She liked what she heard. Her spiritual mentor became Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Navon's father, a former Israeli ambassador to Thailand, and her mother, a painter, raised her to believe in G-d and followed some Jewish laws, but Navon was not keeping a kosher diet or observing the Sabbath. That began to change.
The first step was telling her manager that she would no longer perform on Friday nights, when the Jewish Sabbath begins. She also refused to travel during the Sabbath. They thought she was crazy. "I got a big thing, 'You're ruining your life.' I said, 'G-d, you're testing me.'" Instead of catastrophe, she found that people were willing to work around her schedule. "They respect that. People said, 'You know, we like a girl with principles.'"
Her self-discovery overtook her life. She met a fellow Israeli musician in Florida, Yossi Zmora, and they married in 1980. He also began to skip Friday night performances, so his band fired him, and now he is in the insurance business.
Eight years ago, Navon sang at her first all-woman-audience concert at Jerusalem's multi-tiered Binyanei Ha'Uma. It drew 3,000.
Navon soon left show business to give her husband and new family--which had moved to the United States--her full attention. The Zmoras have two sons: Leor Yitzchak, now 7, and Shai Shabtai, 9.
But the need to sing and perform beckoned. Navon decided she would be completely true to her beliefs and perform only for women. Her come-back concert five years ago at Brooklyn College drew 2,000
Since then, she has performed around the world. A recent concert in Australia drew 1,200, though Navon says she draws smaller audiences in the United States than elsewhere. She sings a mixture of traditional and modern songs in Hebrew and some popular music with a spiritual or positive message.
Navon sees her voice as a potent power she wants to put to good use. "Everything I feel today is because of the switch I've made. The art I'm doing is a different kind of art; I'm still expressing myself, but my message is different," she says. "Music is the pen of the soul. Music shows you a bit of what is going on inside."
Reprinted from The Miami Herald.
As part of an international Moshiach Awareness Month, the Chabad House of Cleveland is offering speakers on the topic of Moshiach. There are many misconceptions about Moshiach and the Messianic Age and the Chabad House is offering a chance to hear the authentic Jewish view. Speakers will answer questions about Moshiach, resurrection, reincarnation, miracles, prophecies, etc. For more info call Chabad of Cleveland at (216) 382-5050. For similar projects in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch.
The internationally renowned Bais Chana Women's Institute has diversified its program to accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of women and girls interested in attending this unique live-and-learn Jewish institute. This summer, a special 10-day session--from June 28 - July 7--will be reserved for married women. Child care is available. Regular sessions at Bais Chana run from July 8 - August 9. A special teen program has been scheduled for August 10 - 23. For more information call (718) 756-2591.
Machon Chana Women's College is expanding its Sunday program by offering transportation from the Flatbush and Brighton areas of Brooklyn for their special Sunday program. If you live in one of these areas then call Machon Chana at (718) 735-0217.
JEWISH WOMEN WERE FIRST
From letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to participants at the annual Lubavitch Women's Organization conventions:
It is appropriate to reflect on the significance of Rosh Chodesh--the new month--in general, and Rosh Chodesh Sivan in particular, insofar as Jewish women are concerned. For, in some respects, Rosh Chodesh is even more significant for Jewish women than men, and that is why there are certain customs on Rosh Chodesh which apply to women only.
Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the day when the children of Israel arrived at Sinai to receive the Torah, recalls with special emphasis the particular spiritual quality of Jewish women, and their particular merit and privilege in connection with the receiving of the Torah and the first great trial soon after.
As our Sages have emphasized, the Jewish women were approached first to accept the Torah. Their consciousness of the responsibility for the preservation of the Torah boldly expressed itself during the first test of loyalty to G-d, soon after the Giving of the Torah. This took place when the women categorically refused to have anything to do with the construction of the Golden Calf, even through contributing any of their gold jewelry. For this reason, the day of Rosh Chodesh is a day of forgiveness for the Jewish women. On the other hand, when it came to the building of the Tabernacle in the desert, the Jewish women were once again first in contributing generously from their personal possessions toward the building of the Tabernacle.
Thus, both in the area of "Sur Meira--Turn away from evil," as well as in /the area of "Aseh Tov--Do good," the Jewish women have excelled themselves, and they are the ones who are expected at all times to be first and show an example to the men. This also means that Jewish women have been endowed with special Divine gifts to be able to live up to these expectations.
The Torah tells us that on Rosh Chodesh Sivan the Jewish people finally reached Mount Sinai, where they attained a state of complete unity, as indicated in the words, "and Israel encamped there" (in the singular)--all of them as one, united and unified by the singular thought of receiving the Torah and mitzvot.
The significance of that moment is pointed out by our Sages of blessed memory, declaring that the unity of the Jewish people, was the condition for receiving the Torah.
It has been often emphasized that there are crucial moments in the life of our people, especially in the area of Torah and Judaism, where the Jewish woman plays a most important role. One of such areas is the unity of the family. Here the woman holds the main keys of harmony between the parents and the children, the parents vis-a-vis each other, and the children in relation to one another. In this area the wife and mother clearly has a decisive role, and in most cases an even more decisive role than that of the husband and father. This is one of the reasons why the Jewish woman holds the title of Akeret HaBayit--Foundation of the Home.
It is likewise clear that Jewish unity in a broader sense--unity between one family and another, and unity on a national level--is dependent upon harmony within the family unit. Where harmony is lacking, G-d forbid, within the family, surely no harmony can prevail between such a family and another.
However, even where there is complete harmony within the family, there still remains the problem of achieving unity on the national level. Let us remember that the basis for true Jewish unity is the Torah and mitzvot.
If throughout the ages it hasn't been easy to achieve unity, the problem has become much more complicated in this age of "freedom" in the "free" countries of the world, where people are not restricted in their choice of domicile, occupation, educational facilities, free expression of opinions, ideas, etc.
All these diversities and dispersions--geographic, social, cultural, etc.-- are by-products of the contemporary "free" society in which we live. The newly created conditions have produced new problems and difficulties, which, however, must be viewed as challenges. With the proper approach and a determined will, they can be resolved.
What is the significance of wearing tzitzit?
According to the Torah (Num. 37:39) tzitzit are to serve as a visual reminder of the obligation to keep the Divine Commandments. Tzitzit are the special threads attached to the four corners of the talit (prayer shawl) and talit katan (a four cornered garment). There are eight threads on each corner which are tied into five knots and wound 39 times. The word tzitzit has the numerical value of 600. By adding to that the 8 threads and 5 knots one comes up with 613--the number of commandments in the Torah. In addition, the winding 39 times is significant in that 39 is the numerical value of the Hebrew words, "G-d is One."
Organization will be hosting its 36th Annual International Convention. The over 1,000 women who will attend the convention will come from nearly every country in the world, from all walks of life and all degrees of Jewish observance.
Each year, the Lubavitcher Rebbe sends a letter to the participants of the convention--may they be privileged to receive one again this year. I would like to quote from the introduction of a book containing the letters from the first 25 conventions.
Expressed in these letters, more than anything else, is the Rebbe's confidence in the Jewish woman's ability to exercise unlimited influence over her home and environment. In our own generation, as the Rebbe is utilizing all resources to uplift us all in the preparation for Moshiach, this expression of confidence in the Jewish woman as one of our greatest assets is not merely a compliment, but a challenge. As the Rebbe emphasizes several times in these letters, the existence of the challenge is itself an assurance that the potential exists within the Jewish woman to tackle it, and thereby make her irreplaceable contribution to the strengthening of Judaism and the coming of Moshiach.
Our Sages teach us that in the merit of the righteous women of the generation of Egyptian Exile we were redeemed, and in the merit of the righteous women we will see the future Redemption. May this year's convention be the last one--here in Exile, and may next year's convention take place in the Holy Land with all Jewish women in attendance, from all four corners of the world in fulfillment of G-d's promise that at the time of the Ultimate Redemption all of the dispersed of our people will return to the Holy Land.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
In Europe it was the custom to fatten up geese in the months preceding Passover, since many families refrained from using any oil other than goose fat. For six to eight weeks the geese would be fed a full bucket of corn twice a day, so that by the time the holiday arrived they would be so huge they could barely waddle.
Two religious giants of the day, the Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer) and the Yismach Moshe (Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum) differed in their rulings as to whether the practice of force-feeding rendered the geese treife. The question revolved around whether or not the sharp corn grains which were forced down the throats of the birds would damage the esophagus, thus making the birds treife (i.e., unable to live another year). The Chasam Sofer held that the esophagus would not necessarily be damaged, and so he ruled the practice permissible. (Of course, the geese had to be carefully checked before being consumed to prove that they were kosher by the process described later.) His contemporary, the Yismach Moshe felt that since the corn kernels were sharp, the likelihood was that the birds would be rendered treife by the force feedings. He ruled that geese fed in this manner would not be permissible.
The two corresponded back and forth, each presenting learned arguments to prove his point, their dispute purely "for the sake of heaven." Finally, the Chasam Sofer suggested that instead of theorizing, they should put their rulings to a practical test. Each was to take ten geese and fattened them up. Then, they would slaughter them, fill the esophagi with air and float them in a full tub of water. If the esophagus was damaged air bubbles would escape into the water, thus proving that the bird was treife. If no bubbles were seen, the bird would be kosher.
When the birds were duly fattened and slaughtered, an amazing thing took place. All the birds from the household of the Chasam Sofer proved to be kosher, whereas all the birds of the Yismach Moshe tested treife.
So it was seen that the legal rulings of these two great giants dominated the physical reality, proving the axiom that the rulings of true halachic authorities determine the actual reality of a physical situation.
Another story is told which illustrates the same point. There lived in Europe in the last century a well-known Chasidic rabbi who was rebbe to tens of thousands of chasidim. He was known as the Zidochover Maggid. One Friday as he sat and learned Torah with a group of his disciples, a woman entered his study carrying a chicken which she wished to prepare for the Shabbat meal. However, there was a question on the kashrut of the bird, so she had brought it to the Rabbi to ask if it was permissible. Now, on the face of it, the chicken had lesions on its lung which would normally indicate that it was treife, but to the astonishment of his students, the Rebbe spent hours studying many texts in an attempt to find an opinion which would permit the chicken. It was incomprehensible to them just why the Rebbe would go to such lengths when he could just as easily give the woman a ruble to buy another chicken. After hours of study the Rebbe stood up and pronounced the chicken kosher! The Rebbe's disciples couldn't believe their ears, but he had labored and succeeded in finding a way to rule the chicken permissible. The happy woman went home to prepare her Shabbat meal, and the scholars resumed their study.
Soon after she left another woman entered the hall in a state of hysteria. "Rebbe, Rebbe!" she screamed, as she fainted to the floor. When she was revived she resumed her wailing, crying, "Rebbe, you must help me, my husband, the doctors have given up hope!" Again the poor woman fainted and had to be revived. The Rebbe stood by her side and said, "Tell me please, what is the exact nature of your husband's ailment?"
She replied that he had serious lesions on his lungs. When he heard that, the Rebbe comforted her saying, "I just ruled that this type of malady is kosher. Go home and don't worry; your husband will live for many years." And this, in fact, is what happened. Only then did the students understand that through his ruach hakodesh (spiritual insight) the Rebbe had known that he would need that halachic ruling to help a fellow Jew. Through his pronouncement which allowed the chicken to be used he also, so to speak, negated the fatal effects of the same illness on a fellow Jew.
If you will walk in My statutes (Lev. 26:3)
How do we walk in G-d's statutes? asks Rashi. By studying His Torah, he concludes. Rabbi David of Kotsk once commented on the verse, "You should believe when one tells you, 'I have toiled and I have succeeded.'" He explained: Something a person achieves by dint of his own labor will endure, but something acquired too easily will not last. Just as effortlessly as it was won will it disappear. That is why our Sages urge us to toil night and day in our Torah study--so our learning and knowledge will be retained.
A yeshiva student once came to the saintly Chafetz Chaim and poured out his heart. "Year after year I sit and learn, but I just don't get anywhere in my studies! After all this time I have yet to understand even one page of the Talmud properly!"
The Chafetz Chaim replied: "G-d did not command us to be geniuses. He only commanded us to toil in the study of His holy Torah, whether or not we ever become great scholars..."
And they shall stumble one over the other, as before the sword, without one pursuing (Lev. 26:37)
"One will stumble over the sin of another," comments Rashi, "as all Jews are guarantors (arevim) for each other." The Hebrew word for guarantor has the same root as the word for sweetness and pleasantness. Every Jew must look upon his brother and fellow guarantor with a kindly eye and seek what is good and worthy in his neighbor. The same Hebrew root also implies intermingling one with the other. Every Jew is part of the greater whole of the Jewish nation.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
And you shall eat your bread to the full, and you shall dwell in safety in your land (Lev. 26:5)
Economic hardship causes strife among brothers. Unethical competition in business leads one to snatch a crust of bread from another's mouth. G-d therefore promised that all Jews will have enough to eat, they will "dwell in safety in the land," and peace will reign.
(Arono Shel Yosef)
The Mishna forewarns us: "On the eve of the coming of Moshiach, ...each day's curse will be heavier than that of the preceding day." What possible good could come from giving us this somber prophecy? Had the Torah not foretold this situation, it would have been so perplexing that the Jewish people would have become dispirited. But now that the Torah has told us what to expect as the era of exile finally draws to a close, Jews can take heart, and can tackle their divinely-appointed tasks with zest.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)