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Nearly a decade ago, for the starring role as the boxer in "Raging Bull," Robert DeNiro had to gain about 50 pounds in order to look the part.
More recently, Steven Spielberg has related in interviews, that to prepare himself for directing and producing "Schindler's List," he read everything he could get his hands on about the Holocaust.
It's common in the world of Hollywood for actors to dye their hair, shave their hair, grow their hair, gain weight, lose weight, lift weights, learn a language or a skill, in order to look and play a part better.
Like producers, script-writers, directors, costume and scenery designers, actors also spend time researching the people, the era, and the place. By gaining a better perspective, they can give a more convincing performance.
In the theater of life, each and every one of us has a starring role. Certainly, we all want to play our parts convincingly.
To play our parts effectively as Jews, we have to attune ourselves to our roles, physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.
Language, dress, scenery, props -- these are not simply superficial components of Jewish living, but are integral aspects of Judaism which enable us to practically fulfill mitzvot.
As Jewish teachings have always emphasized: "The action is the essential thing."
But, as any actor, producer, director, or even prop person worth his salt will admit, study and research are mandatory.
Increasing our Jewish knowledge by attending classes, reading Torah-oriented books, and/or studying with a friend, are the only ways we can "get into" the role.
By learning Judaism we can begin living Judaism on a much more meaningful and substantial level.
Reb Zushe of Anipoli, the self-effacing tzadik, once said:
"After 120 years, when I am called to the Heavenly court to account for what I've done with my life, I'm not going to be asked if I achieved the greatness of Abraham, or Moses, or King David. I am going to be asked if I achieved the greatness of which Zushe was capable."
After 120 years (we should all be healthy and live long lives), we will not be asked to show an Emmy or an Oscar for anybody else's starring role except our own. Whether or not we asked for it, we landed the part, now it's our job to be as convincing as possible.
Following last week's Torah reading, Vayakhel, in which Moses gathered the Jews together and relayed G-d's command to build the Sanctuary, this week's Torah portion, Pekudei, lists Moses' accounts of the precious metals used to make the Sanctuary's vessels and details how the offerings were made.
Finally, it relates how these actions brought G-d's Divine Presence to rest in the Sanctuary.
Usually, when a person builds a new house, he waits until it has been completed to fill it with furniture and implements. The dedication of the Sanctuary, however, was done in the exact opposite manner.
"And he placed the golden altar in the Sanctuary before the veil, and he burnt upon it the incense of spices...and he set up the court around the Sanctuary and the altar."
The Sanctuary was not yet fully erected when Moses offered the incense on the golden altar.
The Sanctuary, G-d's dwelling place on earth, contained a holiness so great that it existed above and beyond the laws of nature.
Its sanctity (and that of the Holy Temples that followed) is eternal, not subject to the concept of time, and continues today though we no longer have a physical edifice in which to bring offerings. The unusual manner in which the Sanctuary was erected, therefore, reflected this.
The Torah's command, "And you shall make Me a dwelling place," applied not only to the Sanctuary, but includes the obligation to erect the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Moses' offering of incense on the golden altar dedicated not only the Sanctuary that traveled with the Jews in the desert, but the Temples that were yet to be built, including the Third Holy Temple when Moshiach comes.
According to Jewish law, offerings may be brought even in the absence of the Temple's physical structure if one knows the exact location of the altar.
When Moses burnt the incense, before the Sanctuary was completely built, he caused a measure of holiness to be brought down into the world that is not dependent on physical limitations. This holiness is eternal and exists forever.
This holds particular relevance for our generation, the last generation of exile before the Messianic Era.
No longer may we be satisfied with the measured norms of behavior that sufficed for previous generations; our times demand an extra measure of self-sacrifice on our part.
Our service of G-d must therefore also breach all limitations, so that we may merit the ultimate and Final Redemption with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our day.
From a talk of the Rebbe, shlita 5749 (1989)
by Susan Kornhaber
Friends who have known me for a long time know I have always been searching for more spiritual content in my daily life.
Three years ago, through my daughter, I became friendly with a young woman named Robin.
She had three children and, though she was very observant, she never told me what to do; instead she let me learn by watching.
And while there was so much I didn't know or understand, I saw that there was always a wonderful, warm feeling of peace and serenity in her home.
After each visit I felt that her family had a very special gift.
To watch Robin set the Shabbat table or watch her small children say their prayers or read Hebrew was something that I had never witnessed as an adult.
Robin and her husband were devoted regulars at the Chabad Center in New City.
I had always known that Chabad was right in my neighborhood, and I had actually attended High Holy Days services there one year, but Chabad seemed very foreign -- too religious and somehow, very different from secular people like myself. I didn't know then, that Chabad attracts all sorts of people and makes everyone feel welcome and comfortable.
The Chabad rabbi, Rabbi Avremel Kotlarsky, and his wife, Chani, invited us to participate in classes, and even invited us to their Seder, but somehow, we never took them up on their offers.
Then, two years ago when Robin and her husband were honored at the opening of the Chabad Jewish Community Center in New City, I came to the dedication ceremony.
At the last moment I decided to stay for the entire evening, and it was on that night that something happened to me.
I was so moved by what I heard and the spiritual feeling that emanated from the Chabad people, I experienced a feeling of genuine Judaism -- something I had never felt before.
After that I slowly began to make changes in my life.
I started lighting Shabbat candles and going to the Chabad Center every Saturday. Little by little I became a Shabbat observer, although kashrut took longer.
Two summers ago Robin took me on a tour of various stores in Monsey and once again a whole new world opened up for me.
I remember the delight I had the first time I bought a kosher chicken and served it on Shabbat. Even after I was buying only kosher meat, I still didn't keep a kosher home.
I was afraid to take that step -- the process of kashering a kitchen seemed so formidable. So, I stayed in that space -- just buying kosher meat -- for a long time.
Right before Passover the rabbi called me.
Gently explaining that one of the themes of Passover was that of the Jews breaking out of the bondage of slavery he suggested that perhaps I was being bound by the chains of fear of becoming kosher; it was time to break those chains and go forward.
The truth of his words hit me.
Last Passover I kashered my home, and I must say, I'm glad to have done it, for keeping kosher gives me a strong spiritual connection with G-d.
Despite my own changes, most of my friends and all of my family live, for the most part, as they had always done.
I don't push anyone, for I honestly believe that religion and spirituality are personal things that you cannot dictate to someone else.
However, just because I don't demand change, I have witnessed some wonderful changes in my own little family.
My husband has grown to love going to shul on Friday nights to hear the beautiful songs that welcome the Shabbat bride.
My husband and daughters love their Friday night Shabbat meal.
In the past, after a long week of work, Friday nights meant going out or buying take-in, and my teenage girls always ate with friends.
Now, each week a beautiful table is set with fresh flowers and shining candles. Friends, and family often join us in saying the blessings and singing Shabbat songs -- it's a different world!
Saturday-Shabbat is another gift.
No phones, no errands, no rushing in and out of the car.
My Saturdays are spent in shul with people who are now my friends.
After the rabbi discusses the parsha of the week, there's always a lovely kiddush, and after shul, we go home to the marvelous hospitality of sumptuous Shabbat meals shared by fellow congregants. Other times I bask in the luxury of a good book or a Shabbat nap.
Yes, I am still in transition; I am still learning so much about my Judaism, but it's a lifelong process that I plan to be involved in always.
Reprinted with permission from The Chabad Magazine, Rockland County, New York.
A new institute for Torah study especially for women opened this past month in Toronto.
The pre-inaugural winter semester began with two introductory courses, the first by Chana Weisberg, dean of the institute, whose course explores the lives of some of the most amazing Jewish women ever to live.
The second course, taught by Dr. Leo Steiner, is on the Talmudic tractate Bava Metzia.
A full offering of courses will begin the following semester.
For more information call (905) 889-6066.
"Live it. Learn it. Love it."
That's how Israel Express is advertising its summer 1994 program for university students.
The month-long program includes hiking, sports, extensive tours, meetings with leading Jewish personalities in politics, literature and art, Hebrew skills, introduction to Jewish mysticism and philosophy.
Students will reside in the Old City of Jerusalem and in the Old City of Tzfat.
Subsidies are available.
For more info call (718) 467-1947 in the U.S. and (02) 283-955 in Israel.
Nine hundred eighty-six children have arrived in Israel and are currently receiving the finest medical care thanks to Chabad's Children of Chernobyl program.
The children, from Belarus, are suffering from the Chernobyl disaster.
A special medical team and facilities were established in Kfar Chabad, Israel, soon after the disaster and periodic airlifts of children have now brought the total number of children being cared for by the humanitarian relief program to 986.
An additional 64 children are expected to be airlifted to Israel soon.
From a Letter by the Rebbe Shlita
NO REALITY BUT G-D
28 Adar, 5721 (1961)
The principle of unity is the essence of Judaism, since Abraham first proclaimed monotheism in a world of idolatry, which came to full fruition at the revelation at Mount Sinai.
For true monotheism, as professed by us, and as explained in the Jewish religion, is not only the truth that there is only one G-d and none with Him, but that there is "nothing besides" Him (ein od milvado), that is the denial of the existence of any reality but G-d's, the denial of pluralism and dualism even the separation between the material and spiritual.
It is interesting to note that the more the physical sciences advance, the closer one approaches the principle of unity even in the world of matter.
For, whereas formerly it was the accepted opinion that the plurality and compositeness in the material world can be reduced to some 100 odd basic elements and entities, and physical forces and laws were regarded as being separate and independent, not to mention the dichotomy between matter and energy.
But in recent years, with the advancement of science, the basic elements themselves were reduced to several more elementary components of the atom, viz. electrons, protons and neutrons, and even these were immediately qualified as not the ultimate "blocks" of matter, until the discovery was made that matter and energy are reducible and convertible one into the other.
It is well known that the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of general Chasidut, taught, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidut, explained and amplified, that every detail in human experience is an instruction in a person's service to his Maker.
Thus, what has been said above about the advancement of science, exemplified also the progress of human advancement in the service of G-d.
Man possesses two apparently contradictory elements, no less incompatible than the incompatibility of matter and spirit, the counterpart of which in the physical world is matter and energy.
I refer to the Divine soul and animal soul, or, on a lower level, the yetzer tov and the yetzer hara (the inclination toward good and the inclination toward evil). But this incompatibility is evident only in the infantile stage of progress in Divine service, comparable to the plurality of elements and forces which were presumed to exist in physical nature.
But, just as the appreciation of the underlying unity of nature grew with the advancement of science, so does perfection in the Divine service lead to the realization of the essential unity in human nature, to the point where the yetzer tov and the yetzer hara become one, through the transformation of the yetzer hara by and into the yetzer tov, for otherwise, of course, there can be no unity and harmony, since all that is holy and positive and creative could never make peace and be subservient to the unholy, negative and destructive.
And in this attained unity the Jew proclaims, [Shema Yisrael] "Hear O Israel, G-d our G-d, G-d is one."
This is also what our Sages meant, when they succinctly said -- as they often compress far-reaching ideas into a few concise words -- that the words, "And you shall love G-d, your G-d, with all your heart (levovecho)," which immediately follow Shema Yisrael, mean: with both your yetzers, with the yetzer hara, as with the yetzer tov.
Rabbi Gershom ben Yehudah Hakohen (960-1040), who became known as "Meor Hagola," the Light of the Exile, lived in France.
He was one of the greatest scholars of his time, and was famous for his Talmudic commentaries, legal responsa, and Selichot [penitential prayers], but especially for the social legislation dealing with family life which he enacted.
Among others, he forbade the practice of having more than one wife, and of opening another person's mail.
This legislation was accepted by all the Jews of Europe and is binding on us to this very day.
He established the first yeshiva on the Rhine, which attracted the greatest scholars.
This Shabbat we bless the new month of Nissan.
Our Sages declared, "In Nissan, our people were redeemed, and in Nissan, they will be redeemed in the future."
Further, Nissan is referred to in the Midrash as the Chodesh HaGeula, the month of redemption.
The traveling Sanctuary which the Jews built and carried with them throughout their forty years of wandering in the desert was dedicated in the month of Nissan.
This Sanctuary was the predecessor of the Holy Temple.
Our Sages explain that, just as the Sanctuary was dedicated in Nissan, similarly, in the Messianic age, the third Holy Temple will be dedicated on the first day of the month of Nissan.
As we all know, the Jews were taken out of Egypt amidst a multitude of miracles and wonders: They witnessed the Egyptians experiencing the Ten Plagues; they crossed the Red Sea; they were provided with food, water and protection in the barren, dangerous desert.
G-d has promised us that the miracles of the Ultimate Redemption will echo those of the Redemption from Egypt, as is written in prophecies of Micha, "As in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders."
The Hebrew word for miracle is "nes."
The Talmud explains that a word which has the Hebrew letter "nun" twice, as does our upcoming month -- Nissan -- is an allusion to wonders of a truly miraculous nature.
In a talk at which time the Rebbe shlita mentioned all of these above points, he emphasized the importance of charity.
He explained that we are now in the thirty-day period before the holiday of Passover, when we are already supposed to have begun Passover preparations.
This surely includes making sure that those less fortunate than ourselves have their Passover needs provided for them.
The Rebbe went on to say that through giving charity, especially before we are approached, we can hasten the miraculous Redemption, which we hope and pray will commence even before the beginning of the month of Nissan, and certainly by the first of Nissan.
These are the accounts of the Tabernacle (mishkan); the Tabernacle of the testimony (Exodus 38:21)
Our Sages said that although the First and Second Holy Temples were destroyed, they were never totally taken from the Jewish people but are only being held for a future date as a "mashkon" (pawn); hence, the repetition of the word "Tabernacle."
According to Jewish law, the guardian of a pledge is obligated to return it to its owner in perfect condition when the proper time comes.
The Third Holy Temple will therefore possess all of the same qualities and characteristics as the First and Second Temples that were held as a pledge until Moshiach's coming.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
Another reason the word "Tabernacle" is repeated is to allude to the two Holy Temples -- the spiritual one that exists in the celestial spheres above and the physical one that was built by the Jews below to reflect spiritual reality.
These are the accounts of the Tabernacle (Exodus 38:21)
The numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word for "these" is 36, alluding to the 36 righteous people who exist in every generation. These holy tzadikim are likened to a sanctuary, and are also "taken" by G-d as a pledge, for they suffer on account of the sins of the generation.
And all the work of the Tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished, and the Children of Israel made it in accordance with all that G-d had commanded Moses (Exodus 39:32)
The entire time during which the Jews were involved in erecting the Tabernacle they refrained from doing other mitzvot, as it states, "He who is involved in a mitzva is not obligated in another mitzva."
It was only when the Tabernacle was complete that they were able to resume doing "all that G-d had commanded Moses."
Gershom ben Judah, who was known as Rabbenu Gershom, "the Light of the Exile," lived in France many years ago.
After he had devoted himself to Torah study for some years, he became a goldsmith, and settled down in Constantinople, which was, then, one of the greatest cities in the world.
One day, a devastating fire broke out, destroying much of the city.
To add to the calamity, a terrible plague followed and decimated the survivors.
Like many Jewish scholars of his time, Rabbenu Gershom had studied medicine.
He now used his knowledge to alleviate the suffering of the people of Constantinople.
The king's daughter also fell ill, and Rabbenu Gershom was summoned. Although the princess was hopelessly ill, G-d gave Rabbenu Gershom the skill to save her.
After that, Rabbenu Gershom became a close confidant of the king.
One day, Rabbenu Gershom told King Basil the tale of Solomon's wondrous throne of gold. The king became obsessed with the desire to have just such a throne and asked Rabbenu Gershom to undertake the project.
His protests made no impression on the king, and he had no choice but to begin the project. Since the king's treasury didn't contain so much gold, the throne was to be fashioned from silver.
The project took several years, and when it was finally completed a huge celebration was arranged. Notables from near and far were assembled to watch the king ascend the throne. But Basil became so confused by the mechanical movements, that he asked Rabbenu Gershom to precede him.
The awed assembly had never seen such a spectacle.
Six silver steps led to the throne.
On each step were two different animals cast of silver.
As Rabbenu Gershom ascended each step, a huge eagle of silver brought the crown and held it over his head.
When he was thus seated, with the crown over his head, the courtiers and guests, who had been too overcome with awe to utter a sound, broke into wild cheers and applause.
John, the king's evil, Jew-hating minister, was green with envy.
Day and night he schemed for a way to ruin the rabbi, until one day he got an idea.
He asked the king, "Sire, how do you know that Rabbenu Gershom has not stolen any silver from the state treasury? Let us weigh the throne and ascertain the truth." Basil agreed, but there was one great obstacle. The throne was so heavy that no scale could weigh it without dismantling it, and that the king wouldn't do.
Rabbenu Gershom had two wives (this was permissible in his time).
His second wife knew that only he knew how to weigh the throne.
She tormented him until she coaxed the secret from him:
"One must take a boat, and mark the water-line on the hull. Then place the throne in the boat, and mark the new water-line.
"When the throne is removed, fill the boat with as many stones as are required to reach the second water-line. Then, when you weigh the stones, you will know the weight of the throne."
She hurried to the palace with the information.
When the throne was weighed, silver was found missing, and Rabbenu Gershom was charged with theft and condemned to death unless he agreed to convert to Christianity.
When he refused he was imprisoned on an isolated island and left to starve to death.
The next day, from high in the tower where he was imprisoned, he heard the voice of this first wife crying out to him, "I have come to die with you."
"Thank G-d you have come -- but not to die. We will yet live happily, for you will help me escape.
"Find a woodworm and a beetle.
"Then get some silk thread, cord, and rope.
"Tie the silk thread around the beetle; then tie the cord to the silk thread; and tie the rope to the cord. Let the worm crawl up the side of the tower and the beetle will pursue it, bringing the rope up to me."
About a week later, John awoke from a restless sleep, thinking of Rabbenu Gershom.
"I will travel to the desert and make sure he's dead."
Armed with the keys, John climbed the stairs and opened the cell.
To his amazement, it was empty!
In his excitement, John allowed the door to slam, forgetting the key outside. He pushed and banged the door, but to no avail.
There, in the prison he had prepared for Rabbenu Gershom, John was now fated to perish of starvation.
Rabbenu Gershom was sailing closer and closer to his native land.
In Mainz he opened the first yeshiva in the Rhine area.
Rabbenu Gershom, with his wisdom and love of Torah, G-d and man, was a beacon of light in those dark years of the diaspora and for all generations thereafter.
Adapted from Talks and Tales.
Nothing brings a father greater joy than seeing his children join together in harmony.
Similarly, when Jews join together in unity, love, and joy, G-d derives great happiness, as it were, and grants them abundant blessings, including the ultimate blessing, which is of such fundamental importance at present, the coming of the Future Redemption.
The Rebbe, shlita, 23 Adar, 5751