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When it comes to quality time, most of us think about specific blocks of time--however limited they might be--that we set aside to be with our immediate family.
If someone started speaking to you about "Jewish quality time," you'd probably think they were going to launch into a lecture about setting aside specific time for such Jewish pursuits as doing mitzvot, praying, and studying Torah.
Yes and no.
Even over a thousand years ago, in Talmudic times, there lived people known as chasidim. Their performance of mitzvot was typified by going above and beyond the letter of the law. They used to spend tremendous amounts of time in prayer and only a few hours a day in Torah study. But, the amount of Torah knowledge they gained in those few hours of study was inordinately greater than what the average person would have gained. The reward for their intensive prayer schedule was that the time spent studying Torah became "quality time" and their studies were blessed.
The mitzva of Torah study is incumbent upon us at all times. In fact, according to the Talmud, if a person wastes even one minute that he could have spent studying, it's as if he belittled the entire Torah. Yet, the Talmud also states that someone who is involved in helping the community has fulfilled the commandment to study Torah by simply saying one verse from the Shema in the morning and in the evening. Quality time!
In Pirkei Avot (the Ethics of the Fathers), which it is customary to study throughout the summer months, we read that Rabbi Yaakov said that one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is greater than the entire time one will live in the World to Come. What does this mean?
On the simplest level, Rabbi Yaakov is telling us that quality time counts. Through spending even just one hour in teshuva--turning away from one's transgressions--and good deeds, we will merit the various levels of revelations of G-dliness in the Messianic Era. In fact, all the G-dliness we will experience during the World to Come can be acquired just through a one-hour spiritual workout here and now.
But how do we accomplish this? The Hebrew word for hour, "sha-ah," also means bending or lowering. By bending ourselves in this world, and setting aside specific times--an hour a month, or a week, or even a day, for teshuva and good deeds, we are assuring ourselves a portion in the World to Come.
Jewish quality time, it's amazing, isn't it?
In this week's Torah portion, Shelach, we read about the report of the spies whom Moses sent to explore the Land of Israel. The reaction of the Jewish people to the spies' negative report was immediate: "Our wives and children will surely be taken captive by the strong people living there. Let us appoint a new leader and go back to Egypt." G-d, therefore, decreed that they would not be allowed to enter the Land. "But your children, of whom you said 'they will become prey,' them I will bring in, and they will know the land you have despised." The children, the younger generation, will be the ones to enter Israel, G-d promises.
Why is there such an emphasis on children, in both the complaint of the Jewish people and in G-d's response? Because children played a role of great significance, both in the inheritance of the Land and the mission with which the Jewish people are entrusted.
Concerning young children our Sages comment: "A baby breaks into crumbs more than he manages to eat." This means that a young child utilizes only a small portion of the food he is given, while most of it ends up on the floor.
This saying can also be understood in the spiritual sense. A baby symbolizes a person who possesses little wisdom and understanding. The food stands for the Torah and its commandments which sustain the G-dly soul. A person who is an "adult," who utilizes his time on earth wisely, devotes the major portion of his life to doing mitzvot and fulfilling his mission in life. A child, in the spiritual sense, wastes most of his time by becoming involved with foolish and extraneous matters, losing sight of the Divine purpose for his soul. Most of his spiritual sustenance, the Torah, ends up unassimilated and undigested, "crumbs on the floor."
This, in fact, was the claim made by the spies: "Why must we enter the Land of Israel and waste our precious time involving ourselves with physical matters? Here in the desert where all our physical needs are miraculously met, we can devote ourselves totally to learning Torah. For even if we will have time to learn once we enter the Land, most of our day will be wasted! It is far better to stay in the desert than to lower ourselves to that level!" they claimed.
To which G-d responded: "Your children...will be the ones to inherit." Even though the generation of Jews which left Egypt was on a very high spiritual level, devoting their lives to studying the Torah, it was precisely the children, those possessing little Torah knowledge, who would be allowed to enter the Land of Israel. The new generation would be required to pursue a different path, working hard to provide the physical necessities of life, while at the same time imbuing their surroundings with G-dliness and holiness. For this is what G-d really wants Jews to do. Our mission in life is to lead a normal, physical existence, while at the same time following the precepts of the Torah.
The Torah learning of young children is also especially dear to G-d. "The learning of little children may not be disturbed, even to build the Holy Temple!" we are told. Their pure faith and belief in G-d has the power to arouse G-d's mercy and foil the evil plans of the enemies of the Jewish people.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
IN THE FIREPLACE
by Feigy Miller
Her name is Sara Edelman, and she is a patient in the Rehabilitation Center of Kingsbrook Hospital in Brooklyn. She is in room 534 and she's one of my favorite patients.
She is an old lady with a friendly face, beautiful eyes and skin, and the most gorgeous and grateful smile, which lights up her whole face. But Sara does not have much to be grateful for. She lies in bed most of the time, and then, most of time she is sleeping. Very often she has to be awakened to be fed. Only occasionally is she wheeled into the day room, and fed there.
When I come in the afternoons as a volunteer, she calls out to me, "Ma, Ma!" This is the longest and probably the only word she can utter, aside from just a few vowels. And, although I know that she is older than I am, I do not mind her calling me that. Maybe she is reliving the past, when she could call out to her mother for her needs, and I go over to her and feed her.
Sara can not speak, but she can hear and understand me, and she, in turn, communicates with her eyes and smile.
What first prompted me to start singing to her while standing at her bed feeding her? And what made me choose the song "Oifen Pripichek--In the Fireplace"? I don't know, but as soon as I started to sing it, I saw that I had hit gold. Her eyes lit up in recognition, her mouth opened with anticipation and interest, and she was following every word, with appreciation and understanding. And, what's more, she was eating!
Usually Sara is very hard to feed. She is a very small eater, and before every spoonful she shakes her head "No." But here she was forgetting about her dislike for food, from sheer enjoyment of the song.
When had she last heard it? In fact, when had she first heard it? It must have been many, very many years ago, that she had heard it from her mother, just as it was many years ago that I heard it from my dear mother, of blessed memory.
This song, in Yiddish, has been handed down for generations, and sung by thousands and thousands of mothers to their little children. Those children were too young to understand the beauty of it, until much later, when remembering, they grasped meaning of this song in its depth. The song tells the story of a rebbe teaching small children the Hebrew alphabet and imploring them to remember. The last three verses translate:
You will understand, dear children
as you grow in years
how much crying went into these letters
how many sobs and tears
You will have to bear the heavy exile
become tired and weak
In these letters renewed strength you'll find
look into them, and seek
So learn, dear children, have no fear
The beginning is hard indeed
But happy is the one who's learning Torah
What more does he need?
So I sang this song to Sara, and whenever I stopped she urged me on, with "Ah, Ah" in an imploring voice, and I continued. I especially repeated the verse "kametz alef, ah," each time waiting for her to form the vowel "ah." She derived great pleasure, shaping her mouth to utter the sound, and we both laughed happily.
What went through Sara's mind when we sang this duet? Was she remembering way, way back when her mother had sung it to her? Could her mother ever have imagined that this little investment would bear such a dividend after such a long period of time? That at a time when Sara lay seemingly indifferent to her surroundings, this memory would penetrate her mind and make her think of something joyous?
These questions made me think, too, how important it is to instill in our children these thoughts and traditions, to give them something to enhance their lives even into old age.
How true this song is. "How happy is the one who is learning Torah." I have seen many old people. And I have seen that those who learned Torah in their youth or started to learn at any later age are never bored or alone. They derive the greatest pleasure from testing a young grandchild on what he learned that day, or that week, or for this or that holiday.
My dear husband, of blessed memory, Avrohom Abba, even when already old and ill, would get up early in the morning not to miss his minyan. And, at home, he was always surrounded by his beloved holy books. As long as he could keep his eyes open he would delve into them, and often share a thought with me.
And when my husband was taken from me, almost 5 years ago, I myself started to go to school, attending the adult education classes in Beth Rivkah. The learning of Torah has opened up new worlds for me. As one teacher taught, when Adam was created, he possessed a great light with which he could see from one end of the world to the other, both in time and space. But, when he sinned, this light was taken from him and hidden. Where was it hidden? Between the pages of our holy books. And each time a new thought is expressed, a new concept or explanation is found or understood, some of that light is revealed.
From that very first time I sang her the song, Sara always finished her food. When I finally did have to leave that first time after singing to her, I turned around at the door for a last glance, and I saw that she was straining to raise herself a little, to follow me with her eyes. So I raised my hand in a farewell gesture and she in turn raised hers just a little and nodded.
Good night, dear Sara, and pleasant dreams.
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From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
I wish to dwell here on a matter that concerns every Jew as an individual, and applies also, and even more strongly, to the Jewish people as a whole, the Chosen People, whom G-d has given a special task as a nation among the nations of the world.
And just as the Jew, as an individual, must not forget his task, but must rather be permeated at all times with the responsibility of it, and not underestimate his powers, so also must the Jewish people, as a nation, always be mindful of its special purpose and not underestimate its powers. Jews must certainly not slavishly follow or imitate other nations.
The same applies, on a more limited scale, but in more concrete instances, to every Jewish community or organization, whatever the official purpose of its inception may be, and even to a single Jew whose status is such that people regard him as exemplary or representative of the entire Jewish nation.
This affirmation is not necessary in the area wherein the uniqueness of the Jewish people is plainly evident to all, namely, in the sphere of the purely spiritual life, of true Judaism, Torah and mitzvot. But rather in the sphere of things wherein all nations are more or less comparable externally, i.e., in the sphere of the so-called general and mundane affairs. For example, in the relations of communities and organizations with the outside world, or with each other, as to what should be the aims and aspirations of the particular Jewish body, who should be the leaders, what priorities to establish, how the resources should be allocated, and so forth.
There is a tendency sometimes to determine such endeavors on the basis of quantitative rather than qualitative criteria. Wherefore also in the area of these endeavors the Jewish people have been given the directive: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, says G-d." To the Jewish people and Jewish community (even to the Jew as an individual) special Divine capacities ("My spirit") have been given to carry out their task in the fullest measure. For, where Jews are concerned, their physical powers are linked with, and subordinated to, spiritual powers, which are infinite.
A historic example of this is found in the time of King Solomon, when the Jewish people stood out among the nations of the world by virtue of having attained the highest degree of its perfection.
This perfection in the time of King Solomon (though even then, the Jews constituted numerically and physically "the fewest of all the nations") expressed itself, in quite a distinctive form, in the relations between the Jewish people and the other nations of the world. The reputation of King Solomon's wisdom aroused a strong desire among kings and leaders to see his conduct and learn from his wisdom--the wisdom he had prayed for and received from G-d.
And when they came, they also saw how under his leadership there lived a people, which even in its material life, dwelt "with security, every man under his vine and under his fig tree," in a land where "the eyes of G-d are constantly on it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year." This is what brought peace between the Jews and the nations which surrounded them.
Thus it was clearly demonstrated that when Jews live according to Torah, true peace is attained. They serve as a guiding light for the nations; "the nations will go by your light"--the light of Torah and mitzvot.
The task of the Jew and of the Jewish community is not limited to the time when they are in a state of "perfection," but also when in exile, "spread and dispersed among the nations." For even then they are one people, "whose laws are different from those of all other nations," a fact known and acknowledged by all nations of the world.
Even when Jews are in exile, it is only the Jewish body that is in exile; the Jewish soul, however, is never exiled and is free from any external subjugation. Consequently, also while in exile, Jews must not ignore their task, nor underestimate their capacities, however limited their material powers may be. For as already noted, they are bound up with the spiritual, and in the spiritual realm there are no limitations, even in the time of exile.
In plain words: Wherever Jews find themselves, in the diaspora or in the Land of Israel, even a single Jew in a remote corner of the earth--it behooves every Jew and Jewish community to remember that they are part of the whole Jewish people and representatives of the entire Jewish people, one people ever since the Torah was given at Mount Sinai and even until the end of times.
Why is it customary to give charity before praying on weekdays?
To dispel whatever may hamper the acceptability of one's prayers, charity should be given before praying. Thus we find that before praying Rabbi Eliezer would give a pauper a coin, in the spirit of the verse, "With tzedek--righteousness--(like tzedaka--charity) shall I behold Your countenance." For accusatory voices On High adjudge whether a worshipper is indeed worthy of entering the heavenly palace of the King of Kings in prayer. Yet "charity rescues..." and "charity elevates a nation..." Also, by giving a poor man charity before prayer and thereby giving him life, one's prayers come alive.
The third chapter of Pirkei Avot. In this chapter we read, "Rabbi Elazar of Bartota said, 'Give Him what is His, for you and all that is yours is His.'
Rabbi Elazar is telling us here that we should remember that everything we have comes from G-d. This thought should be uppermost in our minds, especially in the realm of giving charity.
The Rebbe offers a beautiful commentary on Rabbi Elazar's teaching and explains that reflecting the true owner of the money should come only after the charity is given. Of course, when one gives charity, it has to be done in accordance with Jewish law; it must be one's own money, not money acquired in a dishonest manner. But the fact that it is ultimately G-d's money should not be considered until charity has already been disbursed. Why is this?
When a poor person stands in front of you, you must give him the charity immediately. For, it is possible that the person is in dire straits, and if you wait until you have considered and contemplated the mitzva--in all its implications, ramifications, laws and stipulations--the poor person could, G-d forbid, starve to death! Therefore, the consideration that everything truly belongs to Him, to G-d, should come only after you have given the poor individual what he requires.
"For you and what is yours is His"--a person should not object, "It's true that everything is His, but I should also get a pat on the back, since I am giving this charity of my own free will." Rabbi Elazar reminds us that not only does everything that we have belong to Him, but we, too, belong to Him.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
When the tailor died at a ripe old age, his passing didn't attract any special attention. Yet his funeral was most unusual for an ordinary tailor, for the Chief Rabbi of Lemberg himself led the funeral procession all the way to the cemetery. And of course, as the Chief Rabbi led the procession all the Jews of the town joined in giving the final honors to the deceased. The result was a funeral the likes of which is normally reserved for great rabbis or tzadikim.
The Jews of Lemberg had no doubt that the tailor had been a person of extraordinary merit, and they waited anxiously to hear what a wonderful eulogy the Chief Rabbi would give at the funeral.They were not disappointed when the rabbi told them the following tale:
Many years before, the rabbi had spent Shabbat at a village inn. The innkeeper related a story about a Jewish jester who lived in the mansion of the local poretz, the landowner of all the surrounding area. This jester had once been a simple, but G-d-fearing Jew, who by profession was a tailor. On a number of occasions he had done work for the poretz, and as he was an entertaining man with a beautiful singing voice, and very funny, the poretz and his family became very fond of his company. They finally asked him to join their household in the capacity of a jester, which was common in those days. He accepted, and slowly began to neglect his Jewish observance, until he no longer conducted himself as a Jew at all. The innkeeper felt very sorry for this Jew, and both he and the rabbi expressed their deep wishes for his return to the fold.
That Friday afternoon, just before Shabbat a man came galloping up to the inn and requested to spend the Shabbat there. To their surprise the horseman was none other than the Jewish jester, who explained that he had come in order to gather material for his jokes and spoofs.
The innkeeper was afraid to refuse, and so agreed to have the jester as a guest. At the Shabbat table the rabbi spoke about the Torah portion and described how both Terach, Abraham's idol-worshipping father, and Ishmael, Abraham's unruly son, repented and were forgiven by G-d.
"Words that come from the heart penetrate the heart," is the saying, and the words of the rabbi affected the Jewish jester, who became more and more thoughtful as Shabbat progressed. By Saturday night the jester so deeply regretted his life, that he approached the rabbi, and asked how he could do penance. The rabbi told him to leave his position with the poretz and withdraw for a time into a life of prayer, meditation and fasting. He should maintain this regime until such time when he would receive a sign from heaven that his repentance was accepted.
The jester accepted this advice wholeheartedly. He went to Lemberg where he entered a large synagogue and made an arrangement with the caretaker. According to their deal he would be locked in a small room where he would spend the entire day in prayer. At night before locking up, the caretaker would release him so that he might eat a little and stretch out for the night on a bench. Only on Friday night in honor of the Shabbat would he leave the synagogue to spend the day more comfortably.
This routine continued for many weeks until one Friday night the caretaker forgot to release him. The heartbroken tailor was now sure that G-d had forsaken him, and he wept bitterly. Hungry and tired, he fell into a deep sleep and dreamt. In the dream an old man appeared to him, and told him, "I am Elijah the Prophet, and I came to tell you that your teshuva has been accepted. Fast no longer. Every night I will come and teach you Torah, Torah such as only the righteous merit to learn."
The tailor opened a small shop and made a modest living. Late one night the Chief Rabbi passed his home and saw a bright light coming from the window. But when he entered, he saw only the tailor working by the light of a small candle. This happened two more times, and each time the rabbi found only a small candle illuminating the tailor's room.
The third time the rabbi pressed the tailor for an explanation, and was told all that had transpired since they had met at the village inn. The tailor also related that the prophet had told him that no inhabitant of the village would die as long as he lived.
The following day the rabbi instructed the local burial society to inform him every time there was a death in the city. True to the prophesy, each time there was a death, the deceased was not a resident, but someone who happened to be passing through. The rabbi concluded his strange tale, admonishing the townspeople that the power of teshuva is unlimited, and no matter what, G-d is always waiting for His children to return.
Adapted from the Storyteller.
And what the land is...where there are trees or not (Num. 13:20)
When the Canaanites living in the Land of Israel heard that the Jews had left Egypt and were on their way, they uprooted and destroyed all the fruit trees in the land so that the Jews would not benefit from them. This was one of the things the spies were sent to investigate.
And G-d spoke to Moses saying: Send out some men to spy out the land of Canaan (Num. 13:1, 2)
According to Rashi, "send out" means "send according to how you see fit." The Hebrew word for send--shelach--implies a sense of mission and purpose. Every Jew is entrusted with a Divine mission to transform his surroundings into a "Land of Israel," by bringing the light of Torah and mitzvot to even the most remote and isolated locations. This mission, moreover, must be accomplished "according to how we see fit." G-d has given man intelligence to be utilized to that end.
That you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of G-d (Num. 15:39)
Why do we need a large tallit to pray if we can remember the commandments by looking at the tzitzit, the fringes which are already attached to our tallit katan, the four-cornered undergarment worn under the clothes? A tallit totally envelopes the individual and symbolizes that which cannot be understood or encompassed by the human mind. It reminds us that the 613 mitzvot of the Torah stem from a source far greater than mere human understanding.
That you shall not seek after your heart and after your eyes (Num. 15:39)
Why does heart come before eyes? Do not the eyes first see and then the heart desires that which is forbidden? Sometimes the process works in the other direction as well: an individual first gets an urge to sin and then looks around where he shouldn't to fulfill that urge.
As we come closer to the beginning of the true Redemption, every valuable moment becomes increasingly more valuable, because we have to make haste and prepare ourselves for the coming of Moshiach. Every moment must be used to the utmost.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)