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"A woman pulls up to a toll booth. 'I'm paying for myself and the six cars behind me,' she says with a smile, handing over seven commuter tickets.
"One after another, the next six drivers are told by the collector, 'Some lady up ahead already paid your fare. Have a nice day.'
"The lady, it turned out, had read a note taped to a friend's refrigerator: Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty. The words leaped out at her, and she wrote them down...
"The message is spreading, and as it spreads, so does a vision of 'guerrilla goodness.'" (Excerpted from an article by Adair Lara in the Reader's Digest)
We find ourselves in the midst of a historically traumatic time for the Jewish people, known as Bein HaMeitzarim or colloquially, the Three Weeks.
You didn't know? Well, read on and you'll see how much we all can learn from this special time.
The Three Weeks commemorates the destruction of the Holy Temple, beginning on the 17th of Tammuz when the wall surrounding Jerusalem was breached by the enemy in 70 c.e. and culminating on Tisha B'Av--the ninth of Av--when both the first and second Holy Temples in Jerusalem were actually destroyed.
Why did these calamities befall the Jewish people? According to our Sages, the destruction of the Second Holy Temple was punishment for unwarranted, baseless hatred. They further tell us that the way to rectify the transgression of our ancestors is for us to behave with unconditional love, kindness and goodness.
"If you think there should be more of something, do it--randomly. Kindness can build on itself as much as violence can," says Anne Herbert, composer of the above-mentioned message.
Judaism firmly believes that our individual and collective actions can change the world, can transform darkness into light, mundane into holy, and can hasten the coming of Moshiach.
As it says in one of the first ads of the Moshiach campaign, inspired by the Lubavitcher Rebbe's words: "The final redemption, culminating in unity among people, domestic harmony, and cessation of hostilities between the races, neighbors and nations, can be accelerated through the small but important acts of goodness and charity that are within the reach of every man, woman and child. It is our job to lift ourselves, our communities and our societies toward the great dawn we are all witnessing. And it doesn't take much to move forward--a kind word, a gift to the needy, treating others with respect, strengthening our commitment to the Torah and its directives."
Smile at someone right now. Respect someone just because he/she is a human being. Give a poor person a few coins, or better yet buy him a sandwich. Honestly compliment a colleague for a job well done. You'll be amazed at how much you can accomplish by your one, small act of kindness and goodness.
This week we read two Torah portions, Matot and Masei. Masei means "journeys." The journeys enumerated in this week's Torah portion from the time of leaving Egypt until reaching the valley of Jericho, signify all the stages that the Israelites must pass through until the coming of Moshiach.
Thus it is said in the works of the Kabbala, and in a teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, that he who understands the meaning of the journeys will know the particular "journey" of his present state as well as all that still lies before him, i.e., how many and which journeys he still needs to travel until the coming of Moshiach.
Generally speaking, all these journeys are in order of ascents. "These are the journeys of the children of Israel leaving the land of Egypt--Mitzrayim" refers to journeys in the plural from, notwithstanding the fact that there was but a single journey that took them out of Egypt; but every journey signifies a going out from the "mitzrayim" (which comes from the same root as restriction and limitation) of that moment and stage to the expanse relative to that moment and stage.
There are numerous levels and stages. Something may be a "good and expansive land" relative to a lower level, but it would still be "mitzrayim" relative to higher levels. The "journeys" thus teach us that one must incessantly move on and progress, regardless of past achievements. There must be a continual movement from Mitzrayim to a "good and expansive land," at the very least in terms of one's current status. This implies a non-gradual progression. With a single journey we can instantaneously leave Mitzrayim--restrictions and limitations--and come into a "good and expansive land."
Even so, one is not to content oneself with that singular departure from Mitzrayim. One must forever progress further in awareness of the fact that whatever stage has been attained remains a form of "mitzrayim," i.e. restrictive limitation, relative to higher levels. Thus, one must continue onward until reaching the "Valley of Jericho," the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our very own days.
From a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, translated by Rabbi J. I. Schochet
HEART TO HEART
Dr. Eliezer Goldstock
Many new parents are surprised when Dr. Eliezer Goldstock arrives at their door, toting a bouquet of flowers and saying "mazal tov."
The confusion comes not only because nobody in the house knows Dr. Goldstock, but also because the parents he visits have just given birth to a disabled child, and few have celebrating on their minds.
Chairman of Heart to Heart: The Jewish Academy for Distinguished Children, Dr. Goldstock believes children with special needs have something vital to offer their families: the chance to "come out of ourselves," he said.
Dr. Goldstock is helping to establish a network to support new parents of disabled children all over North America. His goal is to rid parents of their fear in dealing with such children and to convince them that their Jewish children belong in Jewish homes. "Three thousand Jewish babies with special needs are given away each year to non-Jewish parents," he said. "I'm not going to judge anyone. But let me come to you and at least try to help you out."
Dr. Goldstock established the Jewish Academy last year after his fifth child, Sara Mushka, was born with Down's Syndrome. "Don't become attached to her," the pediatrician warned. "Down's Syndrome children always die young."
A psychologist in private practice, Dr. Goldstock refused to accept the pediatrician's advice. Instead, he began searching for a relationship with his child to parallel man's bond with G-d. "What do we ask from G-d?" he said. "We ask understanding, mercy and compassion. This is what a child seeks from its parent--all the more so with distinguished children."
Dr. Goldstock began to contemplate, "What is the neshama (soul) of a special child?" His answer came when he was attending a fund-raising event. A man pointed to a certain guest and asked Dr. Goldstock, "Do you know what he's worth?"
"Yes," Dr. Goldstock responded. "He's worth exactly what my daughter is worth."
Many mothers say they don't think their other children will accept the new baby," says Dr. Goldstock's wife Chana. "Many worry what the neighbors will think. One mother did not go out with her baby for a whole year. She just couldn't stand it if people would stare at her."
"It hasn't been easy," he said of raising his own Down's Syndrome daughter. But Sara Mushka, now 20 months old, is the family's treasure, nonetheless. "She has something to contribute," he says. "And she's drawn us all closer together."
Dr. Goldstock hopes to teach this approach to new parents of children with special needs. He begins by bringing them flowers after their baby is born. "Sometimes they're interested," he said. "Other times, they throw me out. So I leave my card behind. Often, they'll call me later."
His first concern is to discuss causes of the ailment and what expectations parents can have of the child. "When you're armed with information, it dispels all the myths," Dr. Goldstock said. "Without fear, you can do anything."
Information can also mean counselling the parent who insists that his special-needs child is a punishment from G-d or some kind of genetic misfit. "Man was created in the image of G-d," he said. "G-d doesn't make mistakes."
Chana advises other mothers not to make major decisions when they are emotional. Some mothers do in fact decide to keep their children after speaking with Chana. In some cases, a mother may decide to give her infant to a foster home rather than to adoption so she can eventually take her child back if she changes her mind. One mother said that she would never have accepted Chana's recommendations if she had not gone through similar problems.
If parents are not interested in keeping their child, Dr. Goldstock will help direct them to an agency that can place the child in a Jewish home. "We have five families waiting to adopt each child," said Dr. Goldstock.
"We are the tribe of Israel; we should at least take care of our own," he said. "I've seen children in wards. They know they've been abandoned. They feel totally lost in the world.
Based in Monsey, N.Y. Heart to Heart also has branches in Los Angeles and Toronto. Its name, says Dr. Goldstock a Lubavitcher chasid, came to him from the Lubavitcher Rebbe's interpretation of the Torah passage which states that just as one's face is mirrored in the water, so a person's heart is reflected in another person's heart.
"In the mirror, you can see yourself even at a distance," Dr. Goldstock explained. "But to see yourself in the water, you have to come very close. That is the essence of our organization."
The Jewish Academy has two new projects. The first is raising funds to purchase equipment, such as walkers, wheelchairs and pediatric toys, which will be lent at no charge to children with special needs.
The second is to be able to inform any Jew in North America with a disabled child about services available in his area.
For more information about Heart to Heart write to 22 Rita Ave., Monsey, NY 10952 or call (914) 356-6204 or 356-6206
NEW CENTER IN SOMERSET
Rabbi Mendel and Malka Herson and son Eliezer
A new Chabad Center opened this month in Basking Ridge, New Jersey under the auspices of the Rabbincal College of America. Though Rabbi Mendel and Malka Herson just moved to Basking Ridge to head the Chabad Center they have been conducting programs in Somerset County for the past year. They can be reached at (908) 412-8483.
Small Jewish communities, or Jews in small communities, are taking advantage of an exciting new program organized specially for them--the Shabbat Discovery Program. Young couples from the Lubavitcher community in Crown Heights literally bring Shabbat to groups within a 100-mile radius of New York city. Armed with traditional kosher Shabbat food, prayerbooks, Shabbat candles, yarmulkas, candies and prizes (for the kids) and lots of spirit, the volunteers lead the Shabbat meal, conduct services, classes, and special programs for children and teen-agers. The end of Shabbat brings with it a special meal replete with stories, songs and more food. For more info call Rabbi E. Halon at (718) 735-5873.
GENERATION TO GENERATION
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Having heard of you through mutual friends, to the effect that you are seeking the true path which each and every Jew and Jewess should follow in life, and though second-hand information is always difficult to evaluate, I trust the following lines may be helpful to you.
The importance of heredity in transmitting physical, mental, and spiritual characteristics is well known and obvious, even in the case of transmitting to several generations. How much more so where a trait is transmitted and intensified over the course of many generations uninterruptedly, when such a trait becomes part and parcel of the very essence and being of the individual, his very nature.
It is also clear that when a person--as in the case of all living things--wishes to change an inborn trait which is deeply rooted in him, not to mention something that touches his essential nature, it would demand tremendous efforts and the outcome is bound to be destructive rather than constructive, creating a terrible upheaval in him, with most unfortunate results.
I have in mind particularly the Jewish man or woman, belonging to one of the oldest nations in the world with a recorded history of over thirty-five hundred years, who is naturally and innately bound up with the Jewish people with every fibre of his life and soul. Hence, such sects or groups which tried to depart from the true Jewish way of life of the Torah and mitzvot, could not survive, as history has amply demonstrated. Such dissident groups uprooted themselves from their natural soil, and far from being constructive, became the worst enemies of the Jewish people and their worst persecutors.
Only Jews who have faithfully adhered to the Torah and mitzvot, as they were revealed on Mount Sinai, have survived all their persecutors, for only through the Torah and mitzvot can the Jewish people attach themselves to the Superior and Supreme Power, G-d, who has given us the Torah and our way of life.
Since the Torah and mitzvot and the Jewish way of life comes from G-d and His infinite wisdom, they are not subject to man's approval and selection. Human reason is necessarily limited and imperfect. Its deficiencies are obvious, since with time and study the human intellect improves and gains knowledge, and a person's opinions change. To confine G-d to human judgement would violate even common sense.
In our long history we have had the great-est human minds possible, who nevertheless realized their limitations when it came to the knowledge of G-d and His laws and precepts. We have had great thinkers and philosophers, who not only fully accepted the Torah and mitzvot, but have been our guiding lights to this day, while the dissident groups and individuals (who number very few) were cut off from our people and either disappeared completely, or, worse still, continued as painful thorns in the flesh of our people and humanity at large. One who is familiar with our history requires no illustrations or proofs of the aforesaid.
I trust you will reflect on the above and you will cherish the great and sacred knowledge which has been handed down to each and every one of us, in the midst of our people, generation after generation, from the revelation at Mount Sinai to the present day. Accepting this sacred tradition unconditionally and without questions does not mean that there is no room for any intellectual understanding which we can further provide, only that the approach must be right. For G-d in His infinite grace has given us insight into various aspects of His commandments, an insight which grows deeper with our practicing them in our daily life and making them our daily experience. In this way the Jews attained peace of mind and a harmonious and happy life, not only spiritually but also physically and came to the full appreciation of the happiness one attains being a son or daughter of this great and holy nation, our Jewish people.
How does the mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple intensify when the month of Av begins?
During the Nine Days between the beginning of the Jewish month of Av and the 9th of Av mourning intensifies. We abstain from eating meat and drinking wine except on Shabbat and for a Seudat Mitzva (meal associated with a mitzva such as a brit, or upon completing the study of a section of the Torah or Talmud). Lawsuits should be postponed, pleasure trips should be avoided.
In the Pirkei Avos that we study this Shabbat, we read the words of Rabbi Tarfon: "The day is short, the work is much, the workmen are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master is pressing...It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, yet you are not free to desist from it..."
The Rebbe notes that something in the above quote doesn't really seem to make sense. Two of the statements seem to contradict each other. If "The day is short... and the Master is pressing" a person would be prompted to push himself to finish the job. Whereas the statement "it is not incumbent upon you to complete the work" negates the feeling that one ought to work with alacrity.
The first statement reminds us that we do have to spend time refining and developing ourselves and our relationship with our Creator. But, since there is so much work to be done, we might become disheartened and feel hopeless. We try, we do as much as we can, even more than we can, and yet, the work never seems to end.
This is where Rabbi Tarfon's second statement comes in: It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work--don't become depressed or overwhelmed. Yet you are not free to desist from it--but if you do let yourself become overwhelmed, G-d forbid, disheartened you won't be able to work on yourself with joy and enthusiasm. But don't think that just because you're depressed that gives you license to stop. You must continue working on yourself, even if you can only rouse yourself to do so in a habitual or mechanized manner.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
During the time of Rebbe Shmuel of Lubavitch there lived a kind nobleman in the area of Vitebsk who owned the entire village of Chekhov. Many Jews lived on his vast estates and he was so well disposed toward them that he lifted the burden of taxes from those who were poor. In addition he permitted the religious functionaries, the rabbi, the shochet, and the teachers to pasture their livestock free of charge.
This count was not in good health and the older he grew, the weaker and sicker he became, having to visit Doctor Bertenson in Vitebsk more and more frequently. The count's illness forced him to give the administration of his properties over into the hands of his manager who was a violent Jew-hater. This manager together with the local priest conspired to change the count's administrative practices and thus deprive the Jews of the favor they had enjoyed. They even went so far as to deprive many families of their livelihood and to require taxes from even the poorest families. This collusion between the two anti-Semites continued for two years.
During all that time the local Jews, who were mainly chasidim of Rebbe Shmuel of Lubavitch, visited their Rebbe on all the festivals and many Sabbaths. The Chasidic discourses he gave enlivened their existence and they went often to Lubavitch to receive the Rebbe's blessings for their health, their children or their livelihood. Not one of the Jews thought it proper to bring up the topic of the priest and the manager and how they were changing the benevolent policies of the count.
There was one local Jew who did business for many years with the count. He was called Reb Shmuel Isaacs and was respected throughout the region as a reliable, honest merchant. He spent his all his free time studying Torah, and was learned in its revealed and mystical aspects. Once he was visiting Lubavitch for the holiday of Shavuot in the year 1880. In the course of their conversation, the Rebbe asked Reb Shmuel about the state of affairs vis-a-vis the livelihoods of the Jews in the town.
Reb Shmuel answered truthfully and in great detail describing the illness of the count and the ensuing problems of his Jewish tenants caused by the troublesome manager and priest. The Rebbe replied that he was aware of the condition of the count, since Dr. Bertenson had described the nobleman's fragile health. "But why," continued the Rebbe, "didn't you tell me about the change in policy towards the Jews on the count's estates?"
The Rebbe sat quietly in meditation for a few minutes and then said: "Return home now, and when you have the opportunity, tell the count in my name, that I know that his condition is dangerous and that his doctors have all but given up. Nevertheless, I promise him that if he helps the Jews of Chekhov and the neighboring villages, the Alm-ghty will grant him one month's health for each family that he aids."
Reb Shmuel returned home at once and began frequenting the environs of the count's home in the hope of meeting him, but the nobleman stayed inside most of the time now, due to his ill health. One lovely day his physicians advised him to ride out into the countryside to get some air, and it was then that Reb Shmuel encountered him, weak and pale, being escorted into his carriage.
The count recognized the merchant and invited him along for the ride. Reb Shmuel related his conversation with the Rebbe, and the count lost no time in commissioning the merchant to assemble extensive and exact lists of all the Jews living on his properties. He was to visit each of them and assess their needs, while not allowing the purpose of his visit to be discovered.
In due time the count received a list of more than one hundred and sixty families from the township and others from the surrounding villages. The Jews were again aided in making a living, and the count was helped by the Alm-ghty to regain his health.
Reb Shmuel enjoyed a close relationship with the count from that time on, and each year the count was sure to sent a lulav from his own palm trees and some myrtle sprigs from his gardens as a gift to the Rebbe with which to honor the festival of Sukkot.
The count's good health continued for another fourteen years after which he began to feel very weak. He sent at once for Reb Shmuel and asked him to go to Lubavitch and visit the grave of the Rebbe, who had passed away some years before. He was to tell the Rebbe that the count was feeling weak. According to his calculations he was owed another year and seven months of life, and he requested that the Rebbe fulfill his promise.
He shall not profane his words; everything that leaves his mouth he shall do (Num. 30:3)
Whoever is careful never to profane his words, and is particular to fulfill his commitments has applied to him the verse, "Everything which leaves his mouth he shall do," i.e., "He"--G-d will fulfill the person's every blessing and utterance. As it says, "the righteous decree and the Alm-ghty fulfills.
Aaron the Priest went up onto Mount Hor at the command of G-d and died there... in the fifth month on the first of the month. (Num. 33:38)
Our Sages said that "the death of the righteous is equal to the burning of G-d's house [the Holy Temple]." The fifth month is the month of Av, the month in which the Holy Temple was burned and destroyed. Another connection between Aaron's death and the burning of the Temple is as follows: The Second Temple, in particular, was destroyed because of causeless hatred. The remedy for causeless hatred is unwarranted love, which was exemplified by Aaron. Aaron "loved peace, pursued peace, loved all creatures and brought them closer to the Torah."
To execute the vengeance of G-d on Midian (Num. 31:3)
The name "Midian" comes from the root "madon," meaning quarrel and strife. Midian symbolizes contention and unwarranted hatred. The war against Midian is truly "the vengeance of G-d." For, there is nothing so opposed to G-d as dissention and needless hatred.
In the future, the miracles of the Exodus will be secondary in comparison to those of Moshiach. Our Sages note that the Exodus will not lose its place in our history but it will be secondary in significance to the Final Redemption, due to the profound, overwhelming miracles which will be performed in the Messianic Era.
(Highlights of Moshiach by Rabbi A. Stone)