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Do you have any money? No, this isn't a shake-down. But, if you have a U.S. one dollar bill, pull it out before continuing to read this article.
Being such an integral aspect of our lives, there must be something valuable money can teach us!
Turn to the side of the dollar bill that doesn't have the picture of George Washington. The most conspicuous item, you will notice, is the word, "ONE."
"One" is a very prominent concept in Judaism. A basic tenet of our faith is that G-d is one and there is nothing but G-d in the world--the belief that nothing exists but G-d, or that everything exists only because of G-d is ultimate oneness.
Interestingly enough, the word "one" is directly below another major Jewish concept, "In G-d We Trust." The Jewish people's trust and faith in G-d has kept us going throughout the ages. This trust, however, is not limited to the Jewish people as a group, but encompasses our individual lives as well. Kabbala teaches--and the Baal Shem Tov expounds on this teaching--that we are never alone, G-d is always with us. Even in a person's darkest moments, G-d is with him and we can put our trust in Him, because each person is truly one with G-d.
The concept of the oneness of the entire universe is further reflected in the Latin phrase in the eagle's beak, "E Pluribus Unum," meaning, "From many you make one."
The eagle is holding arrows in one claw and what many horticulturists consider to be an olive branch in the other claw. This suggests the time of peace spoken about by our great prophet Isaiah when we will "beat our swords into plowshares..."
The number of arrowheads, the number of leaves on the olive branch, the number of stars above the eagle's head, are all 13. Thirteen, certainly, was the number of the original Colonies. But in addition, and perhaps not so coincidentally, it is the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letters in the word "echad," which means "one."
Also, the stars above the eagle's head, in the shape that has become known as a "Jewish star" and has become a symbol of Judaism, have light emanating from around them. The Jewish people were commanded by G-d to be "a light to the nations."
Let's look for a moment at the other sphere across from the eagle--the one containing the pyramid. Two Latin phrases are in this circle. "Annuit Coeptis," according to the Webster dictionary, means, "He [G-d] has favored our undertaking." The second phrase, "Novus ordo seclorum," means "a new order of the ages," which in yesterday's lingo would be "a new world order" and in today's lingo "the Era of the Redemption."
The pyramid itself--work of human beings--is incomplete. It becomes complete only when joined with the eye, symbolizing most probably G-d's all-seeing Eye. It is only when we connect the work of our own hands with G-d and when we acknowledge G-d's assistance in our own work that we can complete our job. As G-d tells us, "Not through your courage nor through your strength but with My spirit."
Just as the eagle symbolizes the United States, the pyramid is symbolic of a country--though much more ancient than the USA. The pyramid is Egypt--the location of the Jewish people's first exile. It is from Egypt that the first Redeemer, Moses, took us out and brought us to freedom and the Giving of the Torah. And it is from our last place of exile--symbolized by the eagle--that the call has come forth, "The time of our Redemption has arrived. Get ready for the coming of Moshiach."
"What exactly is morality?" asks this week's Torah portion, Mishpatim. What are we Jews supposed to do with the Torah we received at Mount Sinai with so much fanfare in last week's Torah reading? What are the Torah's commandments really about?
First of all, let's look at the name of the portion itself--Mishpatim--which means "statutes." The 613 commandments in the Torah are generally divided up into three categories: "chukim," laws which are entirely beyond our comprehension; "eydut," laws which human intellect alone would never have reached, yet once the Torah legislated them, we can understand their necessity; and "mishpatim," simple and uncomplicated laws which are logical and easily understood. In other words, mishpatim are those laws which mankind would have instituted to govern the world (such as the prohibition against stealing, murder, etc.), even without the Torah having been given. In fact, most of this week's Torah portion deals with those types of laws that govern man's relationship to his fellow man.
At first glance, the fact that an entire portion is dedicated to these simple laws is surprising. One would think that the Torah would be distinguished by those special and unique laws which differentiate it from all other systems of law established by the nations. Why did G-d have to personally give His Torah on Mount Sinai, only to inform us that we should not kill? Would we not have reached the same conclusion without Divine revelation?
The fact of the matter, however, is that by giving preeminence to these rational statutes, the Torah means to teach us how we should relate to all of Torah law in its entirety. A Jew does not obey even laws which are readily understood by the human intellect simply because our reasoning compels us to; rather, all mitzvot must be performed with the same measure of faith in G-d and desire to do His will. In other words, a Jew refrains from stealing only because G-d has commanded him not to, and not because his intellect has decided that stealing is immoral and unethical.
A Jew does not base his morality on what his limited wisdom can understand. Human logic is intrinsically flawed as it is subject to the whims of the individual's will. History proves how just about any action can be justified and rationalized, and even turned into a "mitzva!" As people also differ from one another in their intellectual capacity, logic alone would dictate a different code of behavior for each person if it were the only criterion. The foundation of a Torah way of life, however, is the belief that all the Torah's commandments were given to us by G-d at Mount Sinai and thus are equally binding as the will of G-d.
Furthermore, G-d is not limited by our understanding of Him, as even the simplest mitzvot have deeper significance than we can ever hope to understand. Performing a mitzva only because it makes sense to us misses the whole point.
Morality, then, is based on our acceptance of the Torah's commandments as G-d's will, which is the Jewish definition of true ethics.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita.
DIAGNOSE BEFORE FIRST AID
by David Mulligan
The book "Diagnose Before First Aid" is not one that you would find in many a bookshop. This I discovered one morning travelling from bookshop to bookshop in South London with my son keeping me company in the back of the car. You'd be surprised how many bookshops there are in London. Two and a half hours later I decided to try one more shop. Fortunately the shop was open. As I got out of the car I heard a sickening thud as tons of bus hit an elderly gentleman who had the misfortune to look the wrong way.
On instinct I yelled to my son to get the "kit" and I rushed through the crowd that had gathered. In my experience as a first-aid instructor I had no doubt that he had fractured his spine and that had I not been there, many well-meaning bystanders would have tried to raise him to his feet and made him a cripple for life.
Little did I know that all factors, the bus, the book and the casualty, were going to be the turning point in my life. I must tell you by the way, that I'm not Jewish, but this incident made me believe, not just in G-d, but also in His Divine Providence.
How did I ever get into this situation? Way back in the sixties when I was a paratrooper in the RAF, the "higher-ups" needed a medic. Looking through their files, the nearest they found to a first-aider was me, because I had been a butcher in civilian life. Before long I had become an instructor, training thousands of British troops in the finer points of first aid.
Back in civilian life I became a chauffeur. On one memorable occasion I was talking with a client about my life in the RAF, when before I knew what was happening I was hauled up in the presence of a senior instructor of St. John's Ambulance Brigade and cajoled into taking a position with them. Considering that I was the only instructor in South London, I knew that I was set up for a busy and productive future. The bonus was that I enjoyed the work immensely.
The next eventful occasion in my life was when two fellow instructors, Stan and Jean, introduced me to an organization called Hatzolah (Hebrew for "rescue"--a Jewish First Aid organization founded in New York, but now operating autonomously in many places around the globe). Through them I became involved in teaching first aid to Jewish youth in the Greater London area.
It was a diffcult but rewarding task--difficult in teaching the subject, because they want all the answers in one two-hour session, with "what if" situations--but rewarding, because more than I have taught them, they have taught me. They honed me to a level that previously I would not have dreamed to be necessary. Nothing was ever taken at face value, everything was questioned. "That's what the book says" was never considered a good enough reason. It slowed down the teaching process, but by the end of the course they had the knowledge and confidence to handle any situation that might occur.
Now to the bus, book and casualty. Add my army experience, Stan and Jean and Jewish youth, and it all comes together as a lesson in Divine Providence.
By the time my son arrived with the "kit" I had made a body check and taken the pulse, rate of breathing and level of response of my casualty. Suspecting a broken spine, I tapped his toes to see if he had any feeling in them. The elderly man was on his back in a state of shock.
There was nothing I could do except keep talking to him. If he went unconscious I would have to turn him on his side into the recovery position. This, in turn, would create other risks. The casualty was now babbling. "G-d," I prayed, "please don't let him go unconscious."
Thankfully, the ambulance arrived shortly and took the man.
As the crowd dispersed, I went into the shop which did have "Diagnose Before First Aid."
"You need this book?" asked the shopkeeper. "I've been involved in hundreds of first-aid cases, but this one made me think."
"Why didn't any shop have this book so that I had to end up on the other side of London?
Why didn't I give up thirty minutes earlier?
To be very open, I had always believed in a Higher Force--but never in religion. I couldn't believe that G-d would allow killing for religion. It was natural that I should take my questions and thoughts to Rabbi Chaiton, organizer of First Aid at Lubavitch Youth Club.
Instead of an answer he presented me with a book as an appreciation of my three years of teaching first aid to the boys. It was entitled, The Path of the Righteous Gentile and is a book which explains how one can lead a normal life and still do exactly as G-d wishes by following The Seven Noahide Laws. These laws had been given to Noah after the flood, but were given again on Mount Sinai as the code of conduct for all of humankind.
When someone asks me now if I have a religion I say, "Yes."
When asked which one, I reply with confidence, "I am a Noahide."
I feel that I have gained more from the Jewish community than I have given them.
Reprinted from Concord Magazine, London, England.
Rabbi Joseph and Chana Jacobson, and Leibel, recently moved to Des Moines, Iowa, to strengthen the outreach activities of Chabad-Lubavitch there. They can be contacted at (515) 274-3029.
Bound copies of the fifth year of L'Chaim are available. You can purchase your copy by sending $25 plus $3 shipping to L'Chaim book, 1408 President Street, Brooklyn, NY 11213. A limited quantity of bound copies of the fourth year only are available at the above prices. Make checks payable to LYO.
JUDAISM AND THE MILITARY
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Thank you very much for your letter in which you write in detail about the visit of our Lubavitch emissaries to the Jewish community of Wiesbaden, Germany. I was most gratified to read about the highly inspiring and lasting impression which they made on both the American Jewish military personnel and the civilian Jewish community, not least their impact on the children.
Since "the essential thing is the deed," I am confident that the impressions you describe will be translated into actual deeds, in terms of Torah and mitzvot in the daily life of each and all who shared in this experience.
I had occasion to share some thoughts with Jewish chaplains, and these may not be new to you, but they are always timely and worth repeating. For the mitzva of v'ahavta l-re'acha kamocha makes it the constant duty and privilege of every Jew to promote Torah and mitzvot to the fullest extent of one's ability. This includes, moreover, the duty also to promote the observance of the so-called Seven Precepts [the Noahide Laws] (with all their ramifications) which are incumbent upon all mankind, in accordance with the Torah, which is called the Torah of Life.
A military chaplain is in an especially favorable position to achieve a great deal in the above areas, because of the conducive conditions prevailing in military life.
What makes servicemen particularly receptive to the basic approach of Torah-true Judaism is, first of all, the very basic principle on which the military depends, namely obedience and discipline in the execution of an order by the commanding officer. Even though in civilian life a private may be superior to his commanding officer the order must be executed promptly, whether or not the soldier understands its significance. This, of course, corresponds to the principle of na'aseh v'nishma [we will hear and then we will understand], the condition on which Jews accepted the Torah and mitzvot from the Supreme Commander and Giver of the Torah and mitzvot.
A further basic point in military life is the fact that a soldier cannot argue that his personal conduct and whether or not he obeys an order is his private affair, and he is prepared to suffer the consequences, etc. Whether he realizes it or not, his conduct has implications for his entire unit and all the military. In case of an emergency of war, the personal conduct of a single soldier could very seriously affect his platoon and brigade and division and the entire military operation, the whole army and country. Thus, it is not just a question of one soldier's personal moral attitude; his attitude and behavior are of vital importance to the whole army, and that even in times of peace.
Applying the analogy to Jewish life, it becomes quite evident how vitally important is every Jew's commitment to Torah and mitzvot in his personal life and in spreading Judaism to the fullest extent of his influence. It may be added that the Jewish people live in a state of emergency, what with the general atmosphere of trends and ideas which are inimical to the Torah way. A Jew has to fight to overcome all and sundry alien forces which tend to undermine his spiritual, hence also physical existence.
In other words, every Jew must consider himself a "soldier" in G-d's Army (Tzivot HaShem) and be on a constant alert to spread the Light of the Torah and mitzvot, until the time when "G-d's Glory will be revealed, and all flesh shall see," and "all the earth will be full of the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea"--which will come to pass with the appearance of Moshiach-tzidkeinu--our righteous Moshiach, may he come speedily in our time.
Who was Rabbi Akiva?
Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph, who lived from about 40 c.e. to 125 c.e., was a descendant of righteous converts. Unlearned until the age of 40, he was encouraged by his wife Rachel, to study Torah in the Academy at Yavneh. Eventually considered one of our greatest rabbis, he 22,000 students, mainly at his academy in Bnei Brak. He was an outstanding interpreter of Written Torah, and arranged the entire Oral Torah according to subjects, forming a basis for the Mishna. He was martyred by the Romans for teaching Torah in disregard of their ban.
This Shabbat we bless the new month of Adar. Our Sages have taught that when the month of Adar begins we should increase in happiness.
Happiness is related to Moshiach in numerous ways. For starters, we are taught that "Happiness breaks through boundaries." Moshiach, too, is referred to as one who "breaks through boundaries."
Additionally, the word Moshiach, is sometimes spelled without the Hebrew letter yud. At these times it is the same letters as the Hebrew word for happiness--samayach. When we are samayach--happy, we bring Moshiach.
The story is told about one of the great sages of Poland that when he was a little boy he asked his father for an apple but was refused.
The enterprising youngster recited the blessing for fruit. His father could not possibly allow the blessing to be recited in vain and promptly handed his son an apple.
The Rebbe, shlita, used this story to describe the relationship between happiness and the imminent Redemption. The Rebbe explained that, "If the Jewish people begin now to rejoice already in the Redemption, out of absolute trust that G-d will speedily send us Moshiach, this joy in itself will (as it were) compel our Father in heaven to fulfill His children's wish to redeem them from exile."
Why is happiness such an effective means of hastening the Redemption and preparing ourselves for Moshiach's imminent arrival? Again, let us look at the Rebbe's words, these spoken just weeks before the Rebbe's present illness.
"The nature of happiness is that it permeates through the entire scope of the person's existence. When a person is happy, he lives joyfully. This happiness affects the way he conducts his life and all the people with whom he comes in contact. The person shares happiness with those around him and his happiness brings him success in all matters."
Live Moshiach! Make someone happy today. It doesn't take much--a smile, a kind word, a phone call to say, "I was thinking of you."
The great scholar Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshutz was known far and wide for his enormous erudition and remarkably sharp wit. The governor of the city of Metz took great pleasure in testing the rabbi's intellect. He would make a decree against the Jewish residents, knowing full well that Rabbi Eibeshutz would dash to his palace to intercede for his brethren. Then, the governor would pose some difficult puzzle or riddle to attempt to stump the great scholar. As history records it, fortunately, Rabbi Eibeshutz always succeeded in besting his foe and having the evil decree nullified.
Once the governor issued a decree proclaiming that the Jews of Metz would be given a deadline by which they would all be required to submit to baptism. If they refused, which he knew they would, they would be forced from their homes into exile. The governor also knew from his past experience that Rabbi Eibeshutz would present himself at the governor's palace in order to plead for his people. Then, he would snare the rabbi in his plot, for this time, the rabbi would surely fail.
The Jews of Metz were thrown into turmoil. None would consider con-version, but what were they to do, where could they turn? Rabbi Eibeshutz immediately went to the governor. "Your excellency," he began, "how can you punish an entire community of innocent souls. I beg of you not to inflict this terrible suffering upon innocent women and babes."
A cold smile passed across the governor's face. "On the contrary, my dear rabbi, I am merely helping to fulfill a prophecy which is stated in scripture: 'A great trouble will ensue, so terrible as never before experienced and never to be repeated again.' This passage is interpreted to refer to the Jews. I consider it my great privilege to help bring it about."
Now came the moment the governor had waited for with such delight. With suppressed glee he turned to Rabbi Eibeshutz and continued: "But, my dear friend, I will give you the opportunity of nullifying my decree."
"And how may I do that," the rabbi asked.
"All you have to do is to answer a few questions which I will pose to you. Are you agreeable to this arrangement?" asked the governor.
"Yes, what are the questions?"
"First, tell me immediately and without hesitation how many letters there are in the [Hebrew] sentence I just quoted to you?"
With not even a pause, Rabbi Eibeshutz replied, "There are the same number as the years of your life, sixty."
The governor was astounded, but not deterred. He continued with his next question: "Now, how many words did the same sentence contain?"
The rabbi answered with the same swiftness, "There are seventeen words--the same as in our famous saying, `Israel lives forever'--Am Yisroel Chai L'Olmai Ad.
The governor couldn't contain his admiration. "Wonderful! Now, tell me how many Jews live in Metz and its surrounding areas?"
Again Rabbi Eibeshutz didn't hesitate: "There are 45,760 Jews in the city of Metz and all of its suburbs, Your Excellency."
The governor was momentarily thrown off guard by the rabbi's brilliant answers. But he soon regained his bearings and threw out the last, and impossible demand. "I want you to write 'Israel lives forever' 45,760 times, on a parchment no larger than the ones you use for your mezuza scrolls." This time he knew he had won and he smirked with satisfaction.
Rabbi Eibeshutz paled when he heard this absurd and impossible order. "How long do I have to fulfill your command," he asked.
"I give you one hour," was the triumphant reply. "And remember that the fate of your unfortunate brethren is in your hands."
Rabbi Eibeshutz disappeared, but when one hour had elapsed he presented himself at the governor's palace.
"Your Honor, I have in my hand a parchment with the dimensions of 2" by 4". On it is written an anagram with the solution to your puzzle. My drawing contains 15 Hebrew letters across and 19 letters down."
The governor couldn't believe his ears. He reached out his hand to take the parchment from Rabbi Eibeshutz. As he stared at it, uncomprehending, the rabbi continued to explain:
"When you read this you will see the words, 'Am Yisroel Chai L'Olmai Ad,' written in every direction. It is spelled out 45,760 different ways."
The governor was too shocked to reply, and the rabbi continued. "I request of Your Honor to cancel the decree pending your deciphering this code, since it may take you some time to work it out."
The governor agreed. It is said that the governor worked at Rabbi Eibeshutz's anagram a full year before he was able to decipher all the combinations of words. When he completed his study of it, the governor summoned the rabbi to his palace. He embraced the scholar and said, "I can truly see that your G-d has imparted His wisdom to his followers." The governor no longer tormented the Jews of his city and until the end of his life held Rabbi Eibeshutz in the highest esteem.
If you lend money--kesef. (Ex. 22:24)
The Tzemach Tzedek, the third Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, explained that the Hebrew word for "money,"--kesef--comes from the root word meaning "longing and yearning." The soul, he explained, always yearns to go upward, attaining higher and higher levels of spirituality.
"If you lend money"--G-d "lends" the eternal soul to each of us for a certain period of time, to dwell in a physical body in this world. It is up to the individual to utilize that loan to the fullest, taking advantage of every day that is granted on earth.
The appearance of the glory of G-d was like a devouring fire (Ex. 24:17)
The litmus test to determine if our service is indeed acceptable before G-d is whether or not we feel a fiery enthusiasm and zeal in our worship. The excitement and ardor we experience is proof that G-d approves of the path we are embarked upon.
Conversely, a cold and indifferent attitude in our service signals that we still have far to go...
One of the reasons the Jews were commanded to donate a half-shekel to the Sanctuary was to atone for the sin of the golden calf.
The fact that the sum was a half coin teaches that no matter how sinful a Jew may be, only half of his being can become tainted by his misdeeds. The other half, his G-dly soul, exists on a higher plane and is a veritable part of G-d Himself, and can never become impure. All a Jew has to do is seek atonement for the half that went astray, and then all of him is whole!
(Book of Our Heritage)
If one asks, "Who am I that I should pray for Jerusalem, etc...Will the exiles be gathered and the Redemption come because of my prayer?" His answer is in the Talmud: "Man was created individually so that each person should say, 'The world was created for my sake.'" It is G-d's pleasure that His children desire and pray for the Redemption. We see, then, that we are duty-bound in this respect. We cannot exempt ourselves because of our inadequate strength, for we are taught, "The work is not yours to complete, but you are not free to abstain from it."
(Mesilat Yesharim by Rabbi Chaim Luzzato)