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In an article which appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer entitled "The Leap from the Top," journalist Michael Heaton discusses the death of rock star Kurt Cobain and the alcoholism of baseball great Mickey Mantle.
Writes Heaton, "Once you've attained all the world has to offer, you might find that it's still not enough.... That it doesn't solve the problem of being human. And being human means doing the hard work involved in finding out who you are, why you're here and where you're going. Those are three large questions we all have to answer eventually if we're ever to have any peace."
Well over a thousand years ago, one of our Sages, Akavya Ben Mehalalal, made a similar comment.
He said, "Reflect upon three things and you will not come close to sin. Know from where you came, to where you are going, and before Whom you will have to give a future accounting."
Let's combine these two sets of questions and see how in synch they really are.
You are a miracle.
You came from a few cells which grew in a premeditated manner until they became a human being, a human being created -- like the first human being -- in G-d's image. And it is your life-long goal to become more G-dly by following in G-d's footsteps, so to speak.
Why are you here? "I was only created to serve my Maker," our Sages tell us.
But, lest this teaching seems to make light of our importance in this world, our Sages also state that, "the whole world was created for me," and that every person is a world.
The onus is on every single individual to live his life in a manner that demonstrates the belief that the entire world was created for him. And since the ultimate purpose for the creation of the world was the Messianic Era and the Redemption, this is why Maimonides explains that each person should view the entire world as if it were perfectly balanced and that by doing one good deed the scale can be "tipped to the side of personal and global salvation."
Is it a tremendous responsibility to know that the whole world was created for you and is dependant on you to reach its state of perfection? Yes! But is it a burden or is it exhilarating?
That all depends on how you look at it.
It's like the story of the man who is carrying a heavy sack.
Were it to be filled with rocks he would consider it a burden. Were it to be filled with a treasure of precious gems the load would not be any lighter but the man would look upon it quite differently.
Every kind word, compassionate act, charitable deed, word of prayer and mitzva is what you are here for.
And when you consider where you are going -- as Akavya Ben Mehalalal reminds us -- that our body is going to dust but our soul will have to make an accounting before G-d, it becomes just a little easier to strive to make your every thought, word and action the appropriate.
How will all of this bring you peace, and bring the ultimate peace in the Messianic Era?
Because your vitality comes from your soul, an actual part of G-d. And your soul finds peace when, and only when, it is doing the right thing -- what G-d wants from her.
The reflection on three things, or even on the journalist's three questions, should be even more focused today than in the past.
For, as the Rebbe explained three years ago when discussing Akavya Ben Mehalalal's comments: "We are told to "reflect upon three things," alluding to the idea that our concern with the Third Holy Temple and the Redemption associated with it should not be casual, but rather involve sustained concentration. And this should awaken a yearning and a desire to await Moshiach's coming. How much more so it this true at present, when we are 'at the threshold of the redemption.'"
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. IV
In this week's Torah portion, Va'etchanan, Moses recounts the great revelation of G-dliness that occurred at Mount Sinai.
Recalling the momentous event, Moses describes G-d's voice, heard by the entire Jewish people, as "a great voice which did not cease."
The Midrash explains these words: G-d's voice was "divided into seven voices, which were then divided into the seventy languages of the world."
Furthermore, this Divine voice did not cease -- it continues to be heard in every generation through our Sages and prophets.
What are we to learn from the Torah's choice of the words "a great voice which did not cease"?
The Talmud explains that the revelation at Mount Sinai was unique because of its sublime degree of G-dly manifestation.
The Talmud points out that the Hebrew letters of the very first word of the Ten Commandments, "Anochi" -- "I" -- stands for "Ana nafshi katvit yahavit" -- "I have written down My essence and given it." G-d's very essence, as it were, was revealed when He gave the Torah at Sinai.
Yet one must not mistakenly conclude that this intense revelation was a one-time event, and that all subsequent revelations through our prophets are only second-best. For every word uttered by our leaders is Divinely-inspired -- "the spirit of G-d speaks through them, and His word is on their lips" -- and expresses the same manifestation of G-d's essence as did His utterances at Sinai.
"A great voice which did not cease" -- G-d's message to mankind is continually revealed in every generation, in all parts of the Torah, not just the Ten Commandments.
Every ritual law, every Jewish custom established by our sages, is a continuation of the revelation of G-dliness that was begun at Mount Sinai, and is equivalent to G-d's having expressed His will to us directly.
In His Divine wisdom, G-d decreed that certain aspects of Torah be revealed only in later generations, but the "great voice" that issues forth is always the same.
Additionally, the "seventy languages" is also an allusion to our exile, when Jews will be dispersed all over the world and speak every known tongue.
The inner purpose behind this is the sanctification of the world through our usage of those languages, and the elevation of the hidden sparks of holiness that are scattered throughout creation.
For no matter which language a Jew speaks, when his speech is in keeping with Torah and for the sake of heaven, he too is imbued with the power of the "great voice," and he helps make this world into a "dwelling place for G-d" -- the ultimate completion of which will take place in the Messianic Era.
Rabbi "J.J." Hecht
By Ahuva, Chaya Sara and Toby Goldstein
From a speech by Nechama Dina Engel
on 15 Menachem Av, the Yartzeit of
Rabbi Yaakov Yehuda Hecht, upon whose passing
the Rebbe said, "I've lost my best general."
When I was asked to speak today about my years in camp, I didn't at all know where to start.
There is so much that has made, and continues to make, Camp Emunah mean so much to me, and so much to all the hundreds, and probably thousands of others that Rabbi Hecht, of blessed memory, has touched in so many ways here in camp.
Forty years ago Rabbi Hecht had a dream, to establish this girls' camp. He ate, slept and breathed it. And when his dream became reality, he was bound with it forever.
His dream, Camp Emunah, was my home for the past seven summers.
The first summer I came to camp I had just finished the third grade. My counselors were so caring, although the job of keeping us happy and not homesick must have been tremendous. But they did the job so well. The entire staff of the camp worked to ensure us the greatest time and they certainly succeeded.
The caring I felt in camp lasted a whole year, and the next summer found me back in Emunah, as did the next, and so it followed. If I ever came back expecting camp to be good, I got great. And if I expected the best, I got better than that, if at all possible. The friends I've made here in camp, the memories we share, will be with me forever, as will the lessons I've learned.
What camp has taught me in eight short weeks, I may not learn in my ten months of school. I have learned to give, the same way camp has given to me. I've learned to care, the way my counselors have cared about me. And I've learned to share, the way my friends have shared with me. But most of all, I have learned to stand up tall and proud, as all the staff have shown me by example.
I've grown in camp more than anywhere else. I have loved and given and received much more in return.
Each year, as I board the bus to come and spend yet another amazing summer in camp, I feel a thrill, an excitement; my heart starts racing as we near the camp grounds. The activities and trips, the spirit and fun, and of course, the great staff, all combine to give me an experience I don't forget.
An experience I can't forget, one that will certainly last forever.
As much as I can give you, Camp Emunah, it will never be enough to show the appreciation I feel for your open arms. And most of all, thank you Rabbi Hecht.
It is impossible for me to think of camp without Rabbi Hecht's image completing the picture. It was he who kept my home away from home going, the place of some of my happiest memories.
The camp was not founded on a lot of money, nor on rich, exclusive grounds on a vacation island. Rather, Camp Emunah was founded on the love and dedication that Rabbi Hecht had for everyone, young and old alike. He was such a giant, his presence humbled so many, yet he never felt that he was better than anyone else.
I remember as a young camper, when he would come up to camp for Shabbos. We all got so excited. I looked up to him so much, his sparkling eyes and broad smile made me feel warm inside.
I was 12 years old the summer Rabbi Hecht passed away. In my bunk was a girl named Desiree, who had never celebrated Shabbos before.
I remember the first time she heard him sing on Friday night. She sat with her mouth and eyes wide open, as if entranced. She couldn't get over it.
The next night, my bunk was walking back to our cabin after Havdala. As we passed Rabbi Hecht's porch, we saw him outside. Desiree was so excited. She ran over and said, "Rabbi, I love you!"
We were all so embarrassed and didn't know what to do. But Rabbi Hecht, with his eyes shining, gave her his warmest smile.
That smile was his trademark.
Whenever I think of him now, I picture him in his white cap, standing in front of the office, beaming at his girls as we ran around camp having the time of our lives. He basked in the glow of our excitement and fun. Our happiness was his.
When Rabbi Hecht passed away, Desiree cried so hard. In the one Shabbos that she knew him, he affected her so much.
Desiree, you weren't alone. The entire camp, the entire world, was crying with you.
Rabbi Hecht, your dream was a girls camp with the sounds of happy children ringing. A camp to make the girls proud. And most importantly, a camp to make the Rebbe proud.
You have certainly succeeded.
Rabbi Hecht was the third Zaide that every child dreamed of. As kids in Camp Emunah, we eagerly looked forward to Shabbos. Shabbos in camp is probably engraved in every Emunah girl's heart. It's just one of those things that will never go away! The songs he sang! Not a week went by without him singing. Even when he had a cold, he would still sing for us. As youngsters, visiting day was always fun for us.
There was Rabbi Hecht, in his white sailor cap, talking and joking with our parents. As our captain, he stood tall and proud for any mission and we, as his "sailors," were ready for whatever he said needed to be done.
Camp Emunah is in Greenfield Park, NY and is run by Rebitzen Hecht, and her devoted staff.
People all over the world are reflecting on the great inspiration the Rebbe has given everyone of us.
It is important that these feelings be translated into action.
The Rebbe's slogan is "The main thing is the deed."
In this column we present suggest ions from the Rebbe's Mitzvot Campaigns we can do to complete the Rebbe's work of bringing about the coming of Moshiach.
Mezuza: Put mezuzot on all doorposts of your home (except bathrooms and storage closets). Make sure the mezuza parchments are hand-written by a reliable scribe.
Beautiful mezuza covers can be purchased at most Judaica stores.
As you pass a mezuza, make a habit of touching your fingers to the mezuza and then kissing your fingers; this reminds us of G-d's presence and our Jewish heritage.
PEACE IN THE HOME
Translated from letters of the Rebbe
21 Marcheshvan, 5711 (1951)
It gave me pleasure to hear that you have begun to involve yourself in the subject of Family Purity, which as a result of our many transgressions has been so neglected and abandoned; moreover as a result of misplaced embarrassment there are pious, G-d fearing Jews who are ashamed to talk about this.
How true are the words of my father-in-law that the evil inclination is called "the smart one," because it clothes itself in garments that suit each individual respectively, to make him lose his sensibilities.
As he said in the name of his father, the Rebbe Rashab: "The evil inclination is called the animal soul, not because it is necessarily a senseless animal, but because oft times it is a fox, the most shrewd of animals, and one needs great wisdom to understand its tricks. And sometimes it clothes itself in the guise of a righteous, upright, humble person of sterling character. In each individual the animal soul is in accordance with his specific essence."
Thus we see clearly in the case at hand, being that the characteristic of shame is one of the three characteristics of the Jewish people who are compassionate, bashful and kind.
The evil inclination makes use of this trait to hold back vital talk that affects the happiness of husband and wife and their children thereafter until the end of time....
7 Marcheshvan, 5721 (1961)
In answer to your letter in which you write of the relationship between husband and wife, etc., and fitting with the ruling of our Sages about making peace between husband and wife which is from those things that a person reaps the fruits in this world, and the principle remains for the world to come, it is understood that all effort is worthwhile.
It is also understood that in matters such as this it is not possible to set rules because it depends on the personality traits of the husband and the wife, as well as the condition of the environment in which they find themselves.
However, it is certain that every person has the possibility to exert influence in this matter, with proper thought and consideration for the appropriate method that suits this particular person....
It should not be at all difficult to discuss this with heartfelt feelings, since the subject applies to them directly and to the future generations of their children.
The common factor that is beneficial to all cases such as this is along the lines of what is brought down in Avot d'Reb Natan, chapter 12, about the conduct of Aaron, lover of peace...
If the occupation of the above mentioned couple permits, it is sensible to say that a trip for several weeks of vacation, spent together in a manner of a second "honeymoon" would rectify the entire situation.
28 Menachem Av, 5711 (1951)
.... As I have told you several times, and I repeat again, that you must put the greatest possible efforts into the matter of peace in your home -- between you and your wife -- as my saintly father-in-law has agreed to your marriage...
The saying of our Sages that "A woman's tears are readily found" is well known. Therefore, it is incumbent upon you to be the forebearer, particularly in worldly matters.
If our Sages have expounded on the great virtue of peace in the home at all times, how much more so is it on the eve of Shabbat - - and we, including all of Israel, are now past midday on Shabbat ever -- the end of the Diaspora is close at hand as is the coming of our righteous Moshiach.
It is understood that the greatest concealment (of G-dliness) prevails in relationship to (lack of) peace in the home.
It is known how great peace is, and the ways of the entire Torah are ways and pathways of tranquility and peace; particularly during this last exile which came about as a result of lack of peace.
With the approach of the end of the Exile, the resistance of the forces opposed to holiness increase so as to hold back peace in the world at large and specifically between husband and wife here below who reflect their spiritual counterparts Above.
However, "the load is according to the camel," and certainly the ability to withstand the challenge is given to you.
Rabbi Pinny Andrusier, Chabad emissary of Southwest Broward, has arranged for two kosher concession stands at the Joe Robbie Stadium, right behind home plate. Kosher food will be available for all Marlins baseball games, all Miami Dolphins football games, concerts, and the 1995 Super Bowl. (The Kosher Stand is naturally closed on Shabbos)
MARINA ROSCHA SYNAGOGUE
The cornerstone of the Marina Roscha Synagogue will be laid August 2. The shul, which has been the center of Jewish activities in Moscow for over 50 years, was destroyed by fire on December 29. The new structure will include a large shul, social hall, mikva, classrooms, two industrial sized kitchens and more.
CHABAD OF VILNA
Rabbi Sholom Ber and Nechama Dina Krinsky recently arrived in Vilna, Lithuania, to open Chabad-Lubavitch of Lithuania. Among their first activities are two overnight camps on the outskirts of Vilna, one for girls and one for boys.
Before moving to Vilna, the Krinskys visited there for Purim and Passover. On Purim 600 people attended the Megilla reading and on Passover 800 people attended the two sedarim.
This Shabbat is the Fifteenth of Av, a day on which many positive things happened in Jewish history.
It is also the Shabbat after Tisha B'Av, known as Shabbat Nachamu for the Haftorah portion we read which begins, "Nachamu, Nachamu Ami" -- Comfort, I will comfort My People.
Our Sages have pointed out that the word "Nachamu" is stated twice, as with the building of the Third Holy Temple, G-d will comfort us doubly for the destruction of the first and second Temples.
Jewish teachings further explain that the repetition of words in the Torah points to the unlimited quality of the matter being discussed.
Thus, the comfort that G-d offers us through his prophet in this week's Haftorah does not point to just a limited consolation for the destruction of the First and Second Temples; G-d is telling us that with the building of the Third Holy Temple in the Messianic Era, we will be comforted in a totally unlimited manner, when the revelation of G-dliness and Divine Knowledge will likewise be totally unlimited.
The Fifteenth of Av is also the day on which we are encouraged to begin increasing in our Torah study, since, on the 15th of Av the nights become longer -- nights which can be used for Torah study.
In a talk on this Shabbat three years ago, the Rebbe emphasized what form this Torah study should take:
"In general, the study of Chasidut is associated with the Redemption... in particular the function of this study as a catalyst for the Redemption is more powerful when the subject studied concerns that matter itself," i.e., matters concerning Moshiach and the Redemption.
May G-d comfort us not only doubly but in an infinite and unlimited manner with the revelation of Moshiach and the building of the Third Holy Temple, immediately.
And I besought G-d at that time, saying...let me go over, I pray You, that I may see the good land (Deut. 3:23-25)
The Midrash relates that Moses beseeched G-d with 515 prayers (the numerical equivalent of the word "va'etchanan" -- "and I besought") to be allowed to enter the Land of Israel.
Even after G-d explicitly told him, "Do not continue to speak to Me any more of this matter," Moses persisted.
We learn from this that we must never give up begging and imploring G-d to allow us back into the land of Israel, with the coming of Moshiach, for we have been promised that we are the last generation of exile and the first generation of Redemption.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe Shabbat Parshat Devarim, 5751)
At that time, saying (Deut. 3:23)
Moses beseeched G-d that in later generations -- "at that time"- - when the Jews will find themselves in the depths of exile, unable to even muster up the proper intentions before praying and only capable of uttering the words, their prayers should be acceptable before G-d.
(The Amshinover Rebbe)
Take good care of your souls (Deut. 4:15)
One must not abuse or neglect the physical body, for "a small defect in the body creates a large defect in the soul."
(The Mezeritcher Magid)
"Who is this young man studying with such concentration?" wondered Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel. "He seems to be unusually dedicated to his studies."
Yehoshua Heshel was a son of the renowned Rabbi Baruch Frankel Teomim.
He had come to Tarnogrod on business. Having completed his business affairs, he went to the synagogue to spend his spare time studying. Seeing the young man sparked an idea in his mind. "I must find out who he is," he resolved. "Perhaps he will make a good husband for my sister!"
Yehoshua Heshel struck up a conversation with the young student.
"What are you learning?" the rabbi inquired of him. The young man told him. Soon the two of them were in a deep Talmudic discussion.
"This young man has a wonderful mind and a deep comprehension of the Torah," concluded Yehoshua Heshel, growing more and more amazed. "And what is your name, young man?" Yehoshua Heshel asked.
"My name is Chaim Halberstam," he replied. "I am the son of Reb Aryeh Leibush, Rabbi of Premishlan."
Yehoshua Heshel noticed that Chaim was lame in one foot. "Well, no matter," he said. "He is still an exceptional young man."
He felt he had to let his father know about him immediately, and wrote his father a letter about Chaim. The letter left out one important fact, though; the young man's limp.
It was Divine providence that when the letter arrived, Reb Aryeh Leibush, Chaim's father, was just then sitting and talking with Rabbi Baruch Frankel Teomin, Yehoshua Heshel's father. He had come to transact some business and had stopped to pay his respects to the great sage.
"Well, well," chuckled Rabbi Baruch Frankel. "Look what we have here! A letter from my son suggesting that your son meet my daughter."
His visitor was astonished by the coincidence. "Really? May I see the letter?" he requested.
"Would you agree to the shiduch?" Rav Baruch Frankel asked.
"It is obviously a shiduch made in heaven!" was the enthusiastic response.
And so the match between the Halberstam and the Frankel Teomim families was struck.
Soon word got out. What a simcha! But in the yeshiva of Rabbi Teomim, his students greeted the news skeptically.
"How does our rabbi make a match for his daughter with a perfect stranger? We must see him first to make sure he's fit to marry our rabbi's daughter."
Two students were chosen to go secretly to Tarnogrod to sneak a look at the young Chaim. They returned with appalling news. The groom was lame.
Somehow the news reached Rochel Feigel. She was horrified. She came running to her father. "Father, Father, how could you do this to me?" she cried, tears of shame and anger running down her face.
"What is it, my daughter?" asked her father, alarmed.
"How could you make me a shiduch with a cripple?" she sobbed.
"Two of your students saw the groom. He's lame! He walks with a limp!"
"How could it be?" He was incredulous. "I want you to know one thing. I will not force you to marry him. If after meeting him, you don't like him, we will call off the shiduch!"
Yehoshua Heshel appeared before his father. He could see his father was livid with anger and he guessed why.
"I trusted you and you deceived me!" Rabbi Baruch Frankel accused his son. "Why didn't you tell me the young man is handicapped?"
"I was afraid you wouldn't consider him. Please, father, see him for yourself. Once you meet and talk to him you'll forget about his limp right away."
His father agreed and Chaim was sent for.
Chaim agreed to come for he sensed that something was amiss.
Upon his arrival, he asked questions, and the people admitted that the bride was unhappy. "Let me speak to her privately," Chaim requested. Chaim and Rochel Feigel met for the first time.
He was not a bad-looking young man, Rochel Feigel confessed to herself, but he definitely had a limp. "Please, would you mind looking in the mirror?" Chaim asked her.
She thought, "What a strange request!" but she walked over to the mirror. What she saw in it made her gasp in fright. There in the mirror was her exact likeness, except for one thing...she was lame in one foot.
"You were supposed to be born lame," Chaim explained to her gently, "but knowing that I would be your partner in life, I asked heaven that I should be the lame one, instead of you."
After a moment Chaim added, "Now, do you still refuse to marry me?"
His words touched Rochel Feigel's heart. After he had revealed this fact, how could she object to the shiduch anymore? In fact, she thought, she rather liked the young man. She walked out of the room with a smile on her lips.
Everyone respected and liked the new young groom, but none more than the Rabbi of Leipnik. "My son-in-law's foot might be crooked, but his brain is very straight," he declared.
In later years, Reb Chaim Halberstam became none other than the holy Sanzer Rebbe, of blessed memory, to whom thousands turned for spiritual guidance.
Excerpted from: Why The Baal Shem Tov Laughed, by Sterna Citron, published by Jason Aronson.
When Moshiach comes, what will be the role of all the revived spiritual leaders of the preceding ages who, beginning with Moses, had successively headed their respective generations as the leader?
Moshiach will not cause them to slip from their respective spiritual rungs; on the contrary, his coming will upgrade the spiritual status of all things and all people, including these leaders.
Thus, Moses will come to the Land of Israel at the head of the generation of the wilderness.
(The Rebbe, 1985)