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The latest fad for kids, Power Rangers, is the typical good guys versus the bad guys scenario that we've all grown up with: not much different from Superman, Batman, or any number of do-gooders intent on saving people from the ever-present evil that lurks just around the corner.
But there is a trifle difference between Power Rangers and their predecessors: as it says on every Power Ranger action figure box: "Ordinary teenagers have been chosen to save the world..."
We can't make sweeping statements of a change in the American psyche toward a more universal approach based on the latest fad, but we can illustrate some powerful Jewish lessons via trendy Power Rangers, especially concerning the great principle of Judaism -- ahavat Yisrael -- love of one's fellow Jew.
Power Rangers are ordinary teenagers who help anyone in danger, even people they have never met.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut taught, "One must have total self-sacrifice and dedication for love of one's fellow, even toward a Jew whom one has never seen."
He explained that when one does a favor for another Jew, one does a favor to all of that person's descendants throughout all the generations. Nothing should stand in one's way when presented with an opportunity to save the world -- or do a favor for another Jew:
"Ahavat Yisrael must possess one to the very core of life itself -- up to and including, readiness to give up one's life," taught Rabbi Shneur Zalman.
Although one should do a favor for another Jew without desire for reward, one reaps great benefit from helping another.
As the elder disciples of Rabbi Shneur Zalman used to say: "Have affection for a fellow-Jew and G-d will have affection for you; do a kindness for a fellow-Jew and G-d will do a kindness for you; befriend a fellow-Jew and G-d will befriend you."
The way in which one "saves the world" -- and as the Talmud teaches, every single person is an entire world -- is also important.
Reb Shmuel, the great-grandson of Rabbi Shneur Zalman explained: "The main thing is to help another wholeheartedly, with sensitivity, to take pleasure in doing a kindness to another."
Why is all this so important?
Being "ordinary teenagers," middle-agers, senior citizens, thirty-somethings or just plain kids, is there some vast plan in all of this altruistic kindness and goodness? A simple, yet profound teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, is: "A soul may descend to this world and live seventy or eighty years, in order to do a Jew a material favor, and certainly a spiritual one."
Maybe the entire reason we are here is to do a favor, material or spiritual, for another individual, somewhere in the world, someone we might not even know!
Ultimately, good does prevail. Good is cumulative and eternal, while evil, according to Jewish teachings, dissipates into nothingness. So all of the good of all previous generations is with us today. The world is being supersaturated with the good, though we don't usually perceive this true state of the universe.
When the Power Rangers work together, they are practically invincible. They can overcome just about anything. When they connect with more ancient forces, they are truly indomitable.
We Jews, united as one, can accomplish so much more than we can as individuals. We can save so many more worlds. And when we draw strength from the power of our past, as we stand "like midgets on the shoulders of the giants of previous generations" we work toward permanently and completely eradicating evil from the world with the revelation of Moshiach and the Redemption.
Ultimately, good will triumph over evil. Let's join together, in true ahavat Yisrael, and make it happen now.
This week's portion, Behar, deals with shemita -- the commandment to allow the land of Israel to lie fallow every seventh year.
It also discusses the laws of the yovel -- jubilee--year -- when all inheritances return to their rightful owners. If you keep these mitzvot properly, G-d promises, "The land shall yield its fruit, and you shall eat your fill, and dwell in safety in it."
Interestingly, it is only after a detailed list of these laws that the Torah mentions a concern that might arise.
"And if you should say, 'What will we eat in the seventh year? Behold, we are not permitted to sow, and we cannot gather in our harvest!'" G-d promises that the sixth year's harvest will be so plentiful that it will be sufficient for three years -- the sixth, seventh, and even eighth year of the cycle.
Why isn't this question included in its logical place, with the rest of the laws of shemita?
Furthermore, the verse "What will we eat?" appears immediately after G-d has already promised that the land will yield its fruit. If so, why is the question even asked?
We must therefore conclude that the question "What will we eat?" contains a deeper significance than merely inquiring about the agricultural yield of Israel.
The question is asked by one who wishes to uncover the inner, spiritual meaning of the mitzva; it therefore appears separately, after the details of the commandment have been delineated.
In truth, the question is how G-d's blessing will be manifested, not if His promise will be fulfilled.
Will G-d cause manna to fall like in the desert, or will He perform a different miracle to sustain the Jewish people?
For in essence, the blessing of the shemita year not only transcends natural law, but utterly contradicts it! According to the laws of nature, every successive year the earth is sown serves to deplete it of its nutrients and goodness; during the sixth year of the cycle, the land would naturally be at its lowest ebb.
This, then, is precisely G-d's special blessing: Despite the fact that according to nature the earth is at its weakest point, the land of Israel will nonetheless yield bountifully.
In the spiritual sense, the six years of working the land are symbolic of the six millennia before Moshiach; the seventh year is symbolic of the Messianic era.
As we are now at the end of the sixth millennium, just prior to Moshiach's arrival, we ask the same question as that of the shemita year: How is it possible that our own spiritually- inferior generation will be able to bring the Redemption?
Once again, the answer lies in G-d's promise to the Jewish people: When we serve Him in a manner that totally transcends logic and understanding, He will surely send us the bounty of Redemption, speedily in our day.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe Vol. 27
Raquel E. HaSofer
Reprinted from the Machon Chana Reunion Journal
My story starts many years before my own birth. My father grew up in Alexandria, Egypt, an avowed Communist and atheist.
In 1949, when he was expelled from Egypt for illegal political activities, he moved to Israel, became an officer in the army and met my mother. Together they became members of a non-religious kibbutz.
In 1954 they moved to Tasmania, Australia.
The small Jewish community in Tasmania was totally assimilated. The president of the community approached my father and requested of him that since he was the only Jew in the community who knew Hebrew, would he please lead the services in the synagogue?
Needless to say, my father was taken totally by surprise.
"Are you absolutely crazy?" he asked. "I am an atheist. I know nothing about religion or G-d, nor do I believe in any of it!" Nevertheless, to his own amazement, the community won him over, and my father took on the job of leading the services.
My father's belief in Communism had already been severely shaken years before when it became clear to him that the Communist "show" trials in Czechoslovakia were a sham.
As a result, he and my mother started looking into Judaism and their feelings towards G-dliness gradually grew. They began to be attracted to the Torah and mitzvot and wished to abide by at least some of them.
My mother remembered some of the laws of Shabbat and kashrut from her parents' home, so they kept whatever they could and thirsted for more. Yet this was not enough. Each day they prayed their own private prayers to G-d, that He should somehow send them some kind of information about Judaism.
My mother, in particular, became convinced that since every generation in Jewish history always had a leader, anointed by G-d, to lead the Jewish people, there must be a leader assigned to lead and help the Jews of this generation, too.
At that point she felt an urgency, and from the depth of her being cried out: "G-d! If there is a leader of this generation who has the absolute responsibility to help every Jew, then I demand of him, from this remote corner of the world, to reach out to us and help us, too!"
Soon after this, Rabbi Chaim Gutnick, a Lubavitcher rabbi from Melbourne, Australia, unexpectedly received a letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, telling him to go to Tasmania. Although he had no idea why he was going, Rabbi Gutnick organized a visit to Tasmania.
The moment he arrived in Tasmania, he was accosted by my parents who triumphantly announced to him: "Rabbi! You are the answer to our prayers! We have begged G-d to send us some information about how to be Jewish, and finally you are here. You must come to our house immediately and show us the ways of a Jew."
So Rabbi Gutnick helped them and came back the following year as well. The Rebbe had literally stretched out his hand to a small island in distant Australia to answer the call of two lone Jews. This was the beginning of my parents' way up the eternal ladder of Judaism and their eternal attachment to the Rebbe.
Later, it was my parents' turn to be the envoys of the Rebbe to save a Jewish soul.
One day, out of the blue, my father received an invitation to go for nine months to Malaysia, a Muslim country with no Jewish community.
He wrote to the Rebbe, who advised him to accept.
During a private audience with the Rebbe, the Rebbe told my parents that they were going to Malaysia on a mission to save Jewish souls.
For the entire time that they were in Malaysia, however, they did not meet any Jews! They did befriend a Buddhist monk called Mahinda, to whom my father taught some elements of Chasidut. Mahinda greatly admired these teachings.
One day, after they returned home to Sydney, Australia, they were contacted by a young Jewish woman from England. She told them that she had gone to Malaysia to search for spiritual truth and had wanted to study Buddhism with Mahinda.
Mahinda asked her, "Why are you seeking truth in Buddhism? You can find all the truth you need in your own faith," and he sent her to my parents.
The Rebbe's mission was successful: a Jewish soul was saved through their trip to Malaysia. The young woman is now married, and an active member of the Lubavitch community in Sydney.
Some time later, my mother had a stillborn child. When the doctors told her that she could not have any more children, she became depressed and frustrated.
In a private audience she asked the Rebbe for a blessing for another child. She also explained that she was very upset because she felt an overwhelming connection to the Rebbe and all the preceding Rebbes, but she did not feel a connection to the Previous Rebbe. For a moment the Rebbe looked very concerned, but then a wide smile swept across his holy face and he said, "You will, you will!"
Soon, contrary to all the doctors' opinions, my mother became pregnant, and I was born from the Rebbe's blessing on the 10th of Shevat, the yahrtzeit of the Previous Rebbe.
My connection to the Rebbe has deepened greatly through my study of his teachings at Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The intensity of the atmosphere, the caring, and quality of the teaching has strengthened my eternal bond to the tzadik of the generation, the Rebbe.
Enroll your child in a Torah Summer Camp
The Rebbe spoke many times about the unique learning opportunity for Jewish children afforded by the months of summer vacation.
Without the pressures of tests, homework, etc., children enrolled in camps permeated with a Torah atmosphere eagerly learn about their heritage and are instilled with pride in being Jewish.
Creative methods are used to make Judaism came alive.
The soul is nourished as the body and mind are strengthened through sports, crafts, etc.
If you don't have camp-age children help sponsor a child in a Torah camp. Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center for more information.
Pesach Sheini, 5723 (1963)
Lag B'Omer is a particularly fitting day for celebration by Jewish children in the manner and spirit sponsored by the Lubavitch House...
The history of Lag B'Omer is well known.
Our Sages of the Talmud explain that the days of the counting of the Omer (Sefira) were saddened by the tragic consequence of the failure of the thousands of disciples of Rabbi Akiva to respect and love each other, which brought emptiness and desolation into Jewish life.
The 33rd day of the Sefira ("Lag" B'Omer) stood out as a bright exception.
Later, Jewish life was revived again by the surviving disciples, especially Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who unlocked the secrets of the Torah and gave us the holy book, the Zohar. Lag B'Omer is the day of his yahrzeit.
Lag B'Omer reminds us that disunity and separateness among our Jewish people is caused by the neglect of Torah and mitzvot in our daily life.
It also reminds us that ahavat Yisrael -- love of our fellow Jews -- is the "Great Principle" of the Torah, as taught by Rabbi Akiva, and further explained by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and (in more recent generations) by Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Shneur Zalman [founder of Chabad Chasidut] and their successors.
Lag B'Omer calls upon each and every one of us, young and old, to strengthen the oneness of our people, through the study and practice of the one Torah, given to us all by the One G-d.
May G-d grant that the forthcoming Lag B'Omer celebration will inspire each and every one of you to a greater measure of love of G-d, the Torah and the Jewish people, to be expressed in your personal daily life and conduct, and in growing efforts to spread the Torah and mitzvot among our people everywhere.
This will surely bring you, and your near and dear ones, a greater measure of Divine blessings, and the fulfillment of your hearts' desires for good, materially and spiritually.
22 Iyar, 5721
I received your letter of April 24th, in which you write about the apparent contradiction between the latest scientific attempt to penetrate outer space, especially reaching the moon, which seems to you to contradict the statement in the Torah, "The Heavens belong to G-d and the earth He gave to the children of man."
Actually it is no contradiction at all, if you consider the term "earth" not in the narrow sense as referring only to our globe, but in its proper sense as meant in this verse, which includes also the atmosphere and the entire physical universe with which mankind is concerned and directly affected by.
We must not confuse the terms "heaven" and "planets."
The stars, planets, moon, etc. are not called "heaven," since "Heaven" is something spiritual, whereas the planets are physical and belong in the physical universe.
The fact that G-d created the so-called heavenly bodies to serve our world, to give light, warmth, and energy to it, and placed them in the firmament of the sky at a certain distance from our earth, does not preclude man's attempt to learn all about them.
Similarly, when the Torah states that G-d placed the moon in the sky to give light to the earth, it does not exclude the possibility of man's landing on it at some future time.
The meaning of the verse, "The Heavens belong to G-d," etc. is in the sense that while G-d is everywhere, including the heavens; man was placed in the physical universe, and is part of it, and, therefore must make the most of it, as long as there is life on this earth.
There is nothing in actual scientific experiments and accomplishments that contradict the Torah, nor is there such a possibility since the Torah is Truth.
Judging by your writing and background, I firmly hope that you are conducting your daily life in strict accordance with the Torah, which is called Torat Chaim, the Law of Life, and the mitzvot whereby Jews live, and that you attempt to make steady advancement along this road, in compliance with the principle that "All things of Holiness should be on the upgrade."
The Lubavitch Women's Organization will be holding their 40th Annual International Convention over the weekend of May 26th - 29th , 1995.
The convention, whose main session will be held in World Lubavitch Headquarters in Crown Heights, New York, will be a unique blend of in-depth Torah study, inspiring addresses and personal stories of the Rebbe.
The organizers say that this year's convention is not to be missed.
For more information call the LWO at (718) 493-1773 or your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
The weekend of June 16 - 18 will be the final part of a four-part series entitled, "The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Legacy."
The topic for this special Shabbaton is The Dimension of Interpersonal Relationships and it will be devoted to exploring and improving our interpersonal relationships.
The featured speaker is Rabbi Manis Friedman.
The weekend, taking place in Crown Heights, is open to all Jewish singles and families.
For more info call 718/953-1000 or 718/493-8581.
Lag B'Omer (the 33rd day of the Omer), which takes place (this year) on Thursday, May 18, 1995 is a day of rejoicing and festivity.
It is the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, author of the Zohar, who proclaimed the day of his passing as a day of celebration.
The celebration of Lag B'Omer has an effect on the entire world, even non-Jews, as Rabbi Shimon stated: "I can free the entire world from judgment..." -- "the entire world" including non-Jews as well. He was able to do this because, as Chasidut teaches, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was one of those unique individuals who was actually above the exile, who was not touched by it; G-dliness was not hidden from him, but rather, was fully revealed.
Thus, Rabbi Shimon was able to see the G-dliness and intrinsic worth of every Jew and for that matter every created thing, and was therefore able to find merit for its existence.
This is part of the task of each and every one of us in these last moments of exile and the first stage in the G-dly revelation necessary to completely transform exile into Redemption.
The first stage is to reveal within the world that G-d is its Master. Since the world itself conceals the G-dliness within it (the word 'olam' -- world -- relates to `helam,' concealment), a Jew must serve G-d in a way that reveals that everything within the world has G-dliness within it.
We must use everything in our world for its ultimate G-dly purpose, whether that be receiving Torah thoughts over the fax machine or enhancing our Jewish education via e-mail or jogging with a walkman that is playing a Torah tape.
The unique quality of our generation is that we have not only been given the wherewithal to make giant leaps forward in the area of technology, but that almost concurrently, we have devised Jewish applications for those technological breakthroughs.
May we begin revealing the G-dliness inherent in our lives, thus preparing ourselves for and hastening the total revelation of G-dliness with the revelation of Moshiach, NOW!
Do not take of him any usury or increase ("ribit") (Leviticus 25:36)
The numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word "ribit" is 612 -- one short of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah -- teaching us that the mitzva of not charging interest is considered as great as all the other mitzvot combined.
If he is not redeemed by one of these means, he shall go out in the jubilee year (Leviticus 25:54)
The jubilee year is mentioned 14 times in this section of the Torah, alluding to the fourteen jubilee cycles the Jewish people celebrated until they were exiled from the land of Israel.
When you come into the land which I am giving you, then shall the land keep a Sabbath unto G-d (Leviticus 25:2)
Not only do Jewish people observe Shabbat, so does the Jewish land!
Just as a Hebrew slave serves his master for six years and goes free in the seventh, so too does the land of Israel serve the Jew for six years and then revert to its Master.
For the value of Israel is not limited to the benefits we may derive from it; the land of Israel has its own independent, intrinsic worth which we are obligated to honor during the shemita year.
(Rabbi Yitzchak Breuer)
For the children of Israel are servants to Me (Leviticus 25:55)
The Jewish people are sometimes referred to as G-d's servants and sometimes as His children.
As far as the Jewish body is concerned we are His servants, unconditionally accepting the yoke of heaven to carry out His will.
As concerns the soul, however, every Jew is a child of G-d, for the soul serves G-d with love as a child serves his father.
(Sefer HaMaamarim Kuntresim)
Reprinted from From My Father's Shabbos Table
by Rabbi Yehudah Chitrick
Rabbi Shneur Zalman Chaiken was a wealthy man for whom charity and hospitality were a way of life. In shul, he chose to sit at the rear wall among the poor people rather than in an honored place up front. Wandering paupers would take him for a fellow begger.
His ears were always perked to the poor folks' conversation. More often than not, the discussion would reflect their hunger and lack. "Why, I haven't had a decent meal in three days," was a common complaint.
Reb Zalman would respond immediately, "You know, there's a man in town by the name of Zalman Chaiken. His house is open to any needy person. I myself had a delicious meal there the other day."
He would escort the poor people to his home, set the table, and serve the surprised guests. "The owner doesn't mind," he would say with a shrug. "He's happy that his guests feel at home in his house."
Once, while Reb Michal the elder, one of the advisers in the yeshiva in Lubavitch, was about to recite the Shema during the morning prayers, he noticed that one of the students had torn shoes. He interrupted his prayers and pointed out the torn shoes to the person who was charged with taking care of the students' material needs.
Later, Reb Michal was asked: "Couldn't the torn shoes have waited until after you completed your prayers?"
"The Shema proclaims the oneness of G-d," replied Reb Michal.
"A student wearing torn shoes can, G-d forbid, catch cold and be held back from study and prayer. Being conscious of this is an expression of the oneness of G-d."
The shul in Nevel was humming with conversation.
The prayers had not yet begun and the local townspeople were exchanging their daily experiences of small shtetl life.
Observations were made on the fine milk that Yankel's cows produce, the amount of hay Shmerel's horses consumed, and the damage Yossel's goat had caused to the vegetable patch.
Once the prayers began, however, all conversation ceased. The people blocked out all distracting thoughts and worries and immersed themselves in prayer.
Once at a gathering, Reb Michal the elder elaborated on the sanctity of a shul. "It hardly seems appropriate to speak about cows and horses in this holy place," he said.
The people agreed and decided that from then on they would not speak about mundane matters before or after their prayers. They adhered to his resolution with utmost respect.
About a month later, Reb Michal ascended the bima one morning and requested the congregation's attention. "I suggest we no longer pay attention to the resolution we made. From now on, we may talk about mundane matters in shul before the prayers begin as we used to. Needless to say, this should not be done during the service itself."
In response to the many questioning looks, Reb Michal continued, "Although we had proper intention, it seems that this resolution caused more harm than good. Before the resolution, we shared our daily difficulties with each other. We knew when a person needed a loan to replace his cow which had stopped producing milk, or when another person's horse had come of age and he needed funds to purchase a new one. When we stopped talking before the prayers, we lost touch with each other and were unable to show our care."
"Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said, "Everywhere the Jews were exiled, the Divine Presence was with them: they were exiled to Bavel and the Divine Presence was with them...'"
This shows that even within the lowest level of existence -- that of exile -- the Divine Presence is nevertheless manifest.
(The Rebbe, 5751-1991)