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July 4th seems like the right time to meditate on barbecuing.
Does anyone use old-fashioned grills anymore? You know, the kind they used in the "olden days" before gas grills became the standard mode of barbecuing. To barbecue you took out the grill, charcoal briquets, lighter fluid, matches, long-handled tongs and spatula, and Dad cooked supper for a change rather than Mom.
Did Dad ever teach you how to set up the charcoal so that it would heat up efficiently and quickly? "First, you pour the coals into the grill," he advised.
"Then, you move around the coals until you've made them into a mountain--now don't wipe the black dust on your clean clothes. Douse it with enough lighter fluid to get a good fire going, but not so much that the food will taste like lighter fluid.
"Make sure to stand with your back to the wind so that when you light it the smoke and flames won't go toward you. Check it in a little while, and when you see the edges of the coals getting white you take a long stick and spread out the coals evenly on the bottom of the grill. If you do it too soon, though, the coals won't have the fire burning inside and they'll go out."
If you followed Dad's advice you made a pretty good barbecue. To get things moving even more quickly. you also know to carefully add a little more lighter fluid once the coals "looked" like they were out and all the coals were aflame once again.
When the Jewish people were given the Torah on Mount Sinai, all of the souls of all the Jews who would ever live were there. Cold and lifeless like charcoal until then, as one united mountain of souls we were doused with a revelation of G-d and an intrinsic understanding of our mission in this world that has lasted through the millennia.
The fire that was set alight within each and every coal/soul never goes out. At times, the flame is hidden. Occasionally, the heat itself is also not felt, covered as it is by so much dust and ash.
Like the coals in the barbecue that aren't spread out until they aren't spread out until they have a fire burning within, G-d did not scatter us to every continent in the world until the flames in our souls were ignited. Our small acts--mitzvot--are what enable the smoldering flame to glow and radiate warmth to others. They keep us connected, despite distance, to all other Jews and to our Source. Each time we do a mitzva we connect with the Jewish People.
As we now enter the Three Week Period of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple and the numerous disasters that have befallen the Jewish People, poke and prod the fire within your soul by uniting with other Jews. Unite by attending a class, by lighting Shabbat candles or encouraging another to light them, by giving extra charity, by praying for the end of exile and the beginning of the Redemption, all of which are mitzvot that we are told actually hasten the Redemption.
This week's Torah portion, Balak, opens with the Children of Israel encamped near the borders of Moab. Balak, the king of Moab, hired the famous gentile prophet, Bilaam, to curse the Jews and cause their defeat, but G-d frustrated his evil intentions. Instead of delivering curses, Bilaam was overcome with a Divinely inspired mood of prophecy and perception of goodness. Against his will, Bilaam heaped praise and blessings upon those he had intended to curse.
Our Sages taught that Bilaam's prophecy alludes to the end of days and the Final Redemption that will take place when Moshiach comes. "There shall step forth a star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel," Bilaam begins. Maimonides explained that Bilaam's prophecy refers to two anointed kings--King David, who saved Israel from her enemies, and the last anointed Jewish king, Moshiach, who will arise and save Israel in the end of days.
By specifying that the Torah mentions Moshiach "in the portion of Bilaam," Maimonides alludes to the underlying concept of transformation which will see its culmination in the Messianic Era. "And G-d, your L-rd, did not desire to listen to Bilaam. And G-d, your L-rd, transformed the curse into a blessing." Just as Bilaam's evil intentions were transformed into benedictions, so too shall the inner positive nature of human suffering be revealed when Moshiach comes.
The Torah portion of Balak generally coincides with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz which commemorates the breaching of the walls around Jerusalem, the beginning of the destruction of the Holy Temple, and inaugurates a three-week period of mourning. Yet, according to Maimonides, in the Era of Redemption, "all fasts will be nullified...and will be transformed into festivals and days of joy and rejoicing." When Moshiach comes, the entire experience of exile will be seen from a different perspective. The inner good of the exile will be revealed and appreciated as a positive phenomenon.
The coming of Moshiach will theretofore restore to the Jewish people a sense of completeness which cannot be experienced while in exile. Just as his ancestor King David did before him, Moshiach will remove our spiritual blinders and enable us to live a fully integrated Jewish life.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
BEYOND THE DOOR
The following story appeared in the newspaper, *Dos Yiddishe Vort*, in the 1960s and took place sometime during the mid '30s.
Dorothy Schiff, the publisher of the Washington Post and later the New York Post, was a very wealthy and influential Jewish woman. Amongst Mrs. Schiff's friends was Dr. Jacob Smithline, a heart and lung specialist, who was in close contact with the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn. In fact, there are numerous letters from the Previous Rebbe to Dr. Smithline in the volumes of published letters of the Previous Rebbe.
In one of these letters to Dr. Smithline, the Previous Rebbe had asked the doctor to do his utmost to spread the message of *taharat hamishpacha*--the laws of family purity.
Dr. Smithline undertook this mission from the Previous Rebbe and at every opportunity wrote about and spoke publicly about the subject. He also published booklets in English detailing the laws of this mitzva and sent many copies to the Previous Rebbe in Riga, at the Rebbe's request. Whenever Dr. Smithline spoke to groups of women about women's medical issues he always "smuggled" in the subject of *taharat hamishpacha*.
At one point, Dr. Smithline asked Dorothy Schiff if she would be willing to host a group of her friends in her home--all of whom were wealthy and influential women, mostly Jewish--so that he could speak to them about "women's issues." Mrs. Schiff agreed and Dr. Smithline was the guest speaker.
Dr. Smithline began the evening with a discussion on the medical advances that had taken place relating to women's issues and then spoke about *taharat hamishpacha*. The doctor opened the floor to questions and a lively discussion ensued. A few minutes passed and Mrs. Schiff asked the doctor and guests if they wouldn't mind following her into a different part of the house, for she had something to show everyone.
Mrs. Schiff took the guests through her house to a lower level. She stopped in front of a beautiful wooden door. When Mrs. Schiff opened the door, Dr. Smithline gasped. To everyone's great amazement, beyond that door was a kosher *mikva* (a mikva is a specially constructed pool of water integral to keeping the laws of *taharat hamishpacha*).
Mrs. Schiff began to tell everyone the following story about how she came to have her own private mikva in her home. Her father, Jacob Schiff, was a pillar of the American Jewish community. Mr. Schiff tirelessly helped the Jews in Russia, especially during World War I. Throughout his life, Mr. Schiff did everything he could to uphold Judaism in America though not a "strictly Orthodox" Jew himself. The climate being what it was during his lifetime, Mr. Schiff never envisioned that the observance of Torah and mitzvot would actually flourish. He saw only the decline, G-d forbid, of Judaism here.
Mr. Schiff wanted very much that his children would remain involved with and committed to Judaism. Thus, he encouraged his three daughters to keep the mitzva of *taharat hamishpacha*. To this end, he helped each one of them build her own, private mikva in her home.
This, Dorothy Schiff concluded, was how she had this beautiful mikva in her home and observed the laws of *taharat hamishpacha*.
Chabad-Lubavitch of Northern New England, which includes Chabad Houses in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, publishes "The Jewish Journal," serving Jews throughout the northern New England area. The paper is comprised of a Torah thought from the Rebbe, shlita, local news, holiday and seasonal information, essays on relevant topics, and insights about Moshiach.
A new coloring book for children about what the world will be like in the Messianic Era has been published by Sichos In English (SIE). Conceived and written by educator Rabbi Moshe Schwartz, the coloring book text is based on sources from the Talmud and Midrash. Available at your local Jewish bookstore or directly through SIE by sending $5 (including shipping and handling) to SIE, 788 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213.
MOSHIACH AWARENESS CARAVAN
A motorcade of three especially prepared Mitzvah tanks toured Britain, providing information about the concept of Moshiach and its significance for Jewish life and belief. The tour was launched by the mayor of the London borough of Hackney as well as other local dignitaries who spoke of the significance of spreading the message of peace and harmony throughout the world.
BETTER THAN SHOPPING
"Better than shopping, better than golf, better than sleeping in..." reads the ad describing the "Beginners Service" at Chabad of Rochester, NY. The Beginners Service is an anxiety-free, "no Hebrew necessary," prayer experience that will keep you looking forward to Shabbat. It's filled with open, honest discussions that will raise and answer your questions about being Jewish. It's the best thing that ever happened to Saturday morning! For more info about a Chabad Beginners Service near you call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
LEARN MORE ABOUT MOSHIACH
Call weekly 1-800-4-MOSHIACH in the U.S. (718-2-MOSHIACH in NY), 1-800-2-MASHIACH in Canada. Or for more extensive options, call (718) 953-6168.
Ed. note: This letter was written by the Rebbe to "all campers in summer camps, everywhere," three months before the Yom Kippur War.
I hope and pray that you are making the fullest use of the present summer days to gain new strength and strengthen your health--both the health of the body and the health of the soul, which are closely linked together. And since the health of the soul is bound up with the Torah, which is "our very life and the length of our days," and with its mitzvot, "by which the Jew lives," you are surely doing your utmost in regard to Torah study and the observance of the mitzvot; in which case you may be certain for the fulfillment of the promise--"Try hard, and you will succeed."
I wish to emphasize one point in particular, in connection with the forthcoming "Three Weeks." You are, no doubt, familiar with the events and significance of these days. The point is this:
I want you to consider carefully the special merit which Jewish children have, a privilege which affects our entire Jewish people, to which King David refers in the following words: "Out of the mouths of babes and infants You have ordained strength--oz...to still the enemy and avenger"--including also the enemy that has caused the "Three Weeks" and still seeks vengeance to this day. In other words, the way to vanquish and silence the enemy is through the study of the Torah, called "strength" (oz), by the mouths of young children. Indeed, so great is their power, that our Sages of blessed memory declare: "The whole world exists only by virtue of the breath of little Jewish children, whose breath is pure and free of sin," referring to children who have not yet reached the age of responsibility for wrongdoing, that is, boys and girls of pre-Bar/Bat Mitzva age.
In this connection it is necessary to bear in mind the words of our Prophet Isaiah (in the first chapter): "Zion will be redeemed through justice (mishpat) and her returnees through righteousness (tzedaka)." "Mishpat," here, means that through the study of the Torah and the observance of its mitzvot, especially the mitzva of tzedaka, the Redemption is brought closer. And tzedaka--in the light of what has been said in the beginning of this letter--includes both tzedaka for the body and tzedaka for the soul. Tzedaka for the body is, simply, giving tzedaka to a poor man, or putting money in a tzedaka box. Tzedaka for the soul is done by helping one's classmates and friends spiritually--that is, to encourage them in matters of Torah and mitzvot, through showing them a living example of how Jewish boys and girls should conduct themselves, and also by talking to them about these things.
Since it is my strong wish, and also great pleasure, to be your partner in this tzedaka activity, I have sent out instructions to give each and every one of you a token amount of money in the currency of your country, which is to be my participation in the said tzedaka campaign.
May G-d bless each and every one of you and grant you success in all the above, especially in your Torah learning and practice of tzedaka, in a steadily growing measure, so that even when you return home from camp and throughout the next school-year (may it be a good one for all of us) you will--with renewed vigor and in good health, in body as well as in soul--go from strength to strength in your study of Torah with diligence and devotion, and that your studies be translated into deeds--in the practice of mitzvot with beauty; and all this should be carried out with joy and gladness of heart.
And may we all very soon, together with all our Jewish brethren, merit the fulfillment of the prophecy that these days of the Three Weeks be transformed from sadness into gladness and joy.
With the true and complete Redemption through our righteous Moshiach, "who will reign from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth...and all the earth will be filled with G-d's Glory."
Bilaam was the preeminent magician in an era when witchcraft and divination were common practice. He was privileged to receive Divine prophecy so the gentile nations wouldn't be able to complain that they had no prophet of great stature. When King Balak enlisted him to curse the Jews he replied: "How shall I curse whom G-d hath not cursed?" The blessing he inadvertently uttered entered out liturgy: "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwellings, O Israel!"
This coming Tuesday, the 17th of Tammuz, is a fast day. It commemorates, among other things, the beginning of the destruction of the Second Holy Temple. It is also the beginning of the three-week period of mourning for the destruction of both Holy Temples which culminates on the fast day of Tisha B'Av.
Our prophets declared that in the future, the fast days will be transformed into festival days of rejoicing and happiness. The nature of that happiness will surpass even that of the traditional holidays, for it will be rejoicing that was preceded by sorrow. Just as light that was preceded by darkness is more appreciated, so, too, is rejoicing which was preceded by sorrow.
When will all of this take place, this transformation of sorrow into rejoicing and darkness into light? This will happen in the Messianic Era.
The concept of turning darkness into light or sorrow into joy is intimately related to the state of exile in which we now find ourselves. Our Sages taught that "Every descent is for the purpose of an ascent." We are presently in an exile which has lasted over 2,000 years. This is because the ascent, the revelation of G-dliness which will occur in the Messianic Era, will be infinitely greater than any other G-dly revelations experienced by our ancestors in the past.
One might wonder, though, couldn't All Powerful G-d have arranged things in such a way that we could have had a tremendous "ascent" without having had to endure the descent of the sufferings of this prolonged exile?
The purpose of a descent is to allow us to reach a much higher level than we could possibly have reached had we just climbed in a natural manner.
When faced with adversity or challenge, a person draws on inner strengths he didn't even know existed, in order to successfully accomplish his goal. Stories about a parent lifting a car off of a small child trapped under it, G-d forbid, are not uncommon. In a normal situation does the parent have the ability to lift thousands of pounds? No. But, because of the unnatural disaster, the parent is able to muster uncharacteristic strength to achieve his goal.
The same holds true with the challenges and obstacles of exile. They were given to allow us to reach even higher than we could have under normal circumstances, thereby refining and elevating ourselves and our characters. By overcoming our challenges, we become more receptive and better able to receive the G-dly revelations of the Messianic Era.
Around the time Herod was rebuilding the Second Temple, a man named Nikanor lived in the Land of Israel. When he heard about the magnificent restoration of the Holy Temple he wanted with all his heart to join in the great work and make his own contribution to G-d's House.
He decided that he would have two huge, copper gates constructed to lead from the *azara* courtyard to the Beit HaMikdash itself. At that time the city of Alexandria in Egypt was known as the center for copperwork, and so Nikanor traveled to Egypt to commission and oversee the job. He was a man of means, and so after locating the best craftsmen, he rented a studio and hired expert coppersmiths to design and execute the project.
The gates were of gigantic dimensions and the work was slow and painstaking. Finally the doors were completed, and Nikanor couldn't wait to see his beautiful gates become a part of the Holy Temple. He hired skilled porters to transport the gates to the port where a ship lay anchored and ready to sail back to the Holy Land.
At long last the gates were loaded aboard the ship and on their way to the Land of Israel. For the first few days everything went according to schedule, but suddenly the weather shifted and a terrible storm blew up. Enormous, angry waves crashed against the sides of the ship until it was filled with water and about to sink.
The sailors rushed to lighten the ship's load. The panicked captain ran to Nikanor, pleading, "You must agree to throw at least one of your gates overboard. They are the heaviest part of our cargo, and if we are to have a chance to survive, they must go.
Nikanor wouldn't hear of it. He clung to the doors with all of his strength, but soon even he could see that his protests were futile. A few hefty seamen gathered on deck and together cast one of the enormous doors overboard as Nikanor watched in horror. At once the ship was about to right itself, but the pitching of the waves continued unabated and the ship began to take water once again.
There was no choice. The sailors were about to throw the second gate overboard when Nikanor cried out in anguish, "If you throw this over, you will have to throw me, too! I will not be parted from it!" But the sailors seized the one remaining door and with all their might they cast it into the sea. At the very moment that the door hit the waves, the sea quieted.
Nikanor scanned the glassy sea as far as his eyes could see. There, floating out on the smooth waters was the gate sparkling like gold in the sunlight. By some miracle it had not sunk into the deep, but was floating its way to Eretz Israel. Nikanor couldn't contain his great happiness. The gate landed at the quay the same time the ship docked. A few days later the other door also made its way to the shore of Akko and joined its mate.
The two doors were transported with great celebration, to Jerusalem where they were installed in a place of honor, in the eastern wall opposite the *Heichal* and the Holy of Holies. The gateway which they occupied was given the name "The Gate of Nikanor."
Many years later when all of the gates of the Holy Temple were covered in gold, or exchanged for doors of solid gold, the Gates of Nikanor were left unchanged in memory of the great miracle which accompanied their installation.
Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was a great sage and tzadik who lived during the time of the Beit HaMikdash. Rabbi Chanina lived a life of poverty, but even though he was poor, he had a great desire to donate a gift to the Holy Temple. What could he give, when he could barely feed his own family? One day Rabbi Chanina was standing by the roadside, watching the other Jews bringing their sacrifices to the Temple. He began walking down the road, meditating on his dilemma. When he stopped walking, he noticed a huge boulder standing by the road. What attracted his attention was its unusually beautiful shape and color, and that gave him an idea. "Why, I could work this stone and polish it until it is a truly beautiful object. Then it will be a fitting gift for the Holy Temple."
He worked the stone and when his job was completed he looked around for porters to carry it to Jerusalem. But no one would carry it for only five small coins, all he possessed. Suddenly five men appeared from nowhere and agreed to bring his stone to Jerusalem for the tiny sum of five coins.
In moments he stood in Jerusalem with his stone--the porters had disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. A miracle had occurred to enable the tzadik to make his gift to the Holy Temple. Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa donated his five coins to the fund for poor scholars and returned home a happy and fulfilled man.
"Each and every day a heavenly voice goes forth from Mount Horeb" (Ethics Of The Fathers, 6:2).
Mount Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai, where the Jews were given the Torah and became God's chosen people. The Baal Shem Tov taught that whenever a Jew feels an inner awakening to strengthen his observance of Torah and mitzvot, it is because his soul is responding to the call which it heard emanating from G-d at Sinai.
"This is the way to Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure" (Ethics Of The Fathers 6:4).
Someone once came to Rabbi Akiva Eiger to inform him that one of his students was living in abject poverty. "It's a pity, Rabbi," the man said. "Every night he eats dry bread, recites the Shema, and goes to sleep."
Said the Rabbi: "It's a much greater pity when a person eats the finest roast chicken for dinner, but goes to sleep without reciting the Shema!"
"The Sages taught in the language of the Mishna: "'Blessed be He who chose you and your teachings'" (6:1).
The word "Sages" refers to each and every Jew, since all Jews are members of "a wise and understanding people"
(the Lubavitcher Rebbe).
"The Tablets were the work of G-d and the writing was the writing of G-d, *charut* ('engraved') on the tablets. Do not read *charut*, but *cherut* ('freedom'). There is no free person except one who occupies himself with the study of Torah" (6:2).
Chasidut explains that engraved letters are unique in that they are an integral part of (and not a separated entity from) the object on which they are written. When a Jew studies Torah in a manner of "engraving," he becomes unified entirely with the Torah he studies. His entire existence becomes Torah. This leads to true freedom; he is lifted above all worries and distraction.
"Each Jew, within the context of his life in the physical world, receives a crown of kingship from G-d. This gives him the potential to live in a manner of redemption, without being hindered by any of the obstacles of the exile. On the contrary, he rules over his environment and reveals G-d's sovereignty in the world. When each Jew lives in "a manner of redemption," the world will be prepared for the ultimate redemption. Then, this, the last generation of exile, will become the first generation of redemption"
(the Lubavitcher Rebbe).