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Do you remember life before electric bar-b-ques, designer grills, and hickory chips? All you needed for a great cook-out was a bag of charcoal, a can of lighter fluid, some matches and a grill whose top could be raised or lowered -- manually -- to two levels; the kind of grill that if you forgot to bring it in after the coals cooled off and it rained that night, everything got all soggy and maybe a little rusty. And nobody worried that the burnt part of the hotdog might be carcinogenic.
Bar-b-ques were the only time Dad ever cooked. He sweated at the grill manfully. Even on Father's Day, if the weather was right, he was willing to do the cooking if it was on the grill.
In honor of Father's Day, let's take a look at a saying of one of our great Jewish teachers as recorded in Pirkei Avot -- Ethics of the Fathers (sometimes known simply as "Avot" -- Fathers) that involves, at least, the coals in our bar-b-que.
"Rabbi Eliezer taught: Warm yourself by the fire of the Sages, but beware of their glowing coals lest you be burnt... all their words are like coals of fire."
Warm yourself, make yourself warm -- bring out the affection, compassion, responsiveness, gentleness, kindness within you -- through your attachment to the tzadik and his teachings.
The Midrash teaches that "just as the nature of fire is such that if a person draws too close to it he is burnt, and if he moves too far away he is cold, so can a person do naught else but warm himself against the fire of the Sages."
To warm yourself by fire, you must stand somewhat away from it and let the heat encompass you. Thus, Rabbi Eliezer is telling us that we must maintain proper respect in our attitude toward our Sages.
Rabbi Eliezer's first suggestion does not include any type of warning. One needn't be warned about coming too close to a fire. We all learn, sooner or later, the inherent danger in fire. Similarly, when the tzadik is like a fire, one needn't be warned to be respectful of him and to heed his advice and teachings.
But when the tzadik's "fire" is not blazing, when he is like a glowing coal -- his fire hidden -- beware. For it is precisely when the "fire" of the tzadik appears to be extinguished that there is the danger that one might, G-d forbid, belittle him.
Like the coal which is covered with dust and ashes -- seemingly lifeless, but in truth alive and afire, ready at any moment to burst into a blazing flame -- so too is the tzadik, his teachings and his directives.
All his words are like coals of fire, for every word of a tzadik is a word of Torah, and about the Torah G-d stated, "My words are like fire."
As we watch the coals of the prophecy of the imminent Redemption ignite, one by one, into a burning flame, let us warm ourselves by those coals and encourage others to do the same.
This week's portion, Beha'alotcha, opens with the commandment to kindle the lights of the menora in the Sanctuary. The seven- branched, golden menora is symbolic of the entire Jewish people, each of whom embodies a different character trait.
The mitzva to kindle the menora is thus an allusion to every Jew's obligation to "kindle" the light of the G-dly soul that exists within him and within every other Jew.
Inside the Sanctuary, the only place where the menora was allowed to be lit was the "heichal" -- the most sanctified location after the Holy of Holies. The act of kindling the menora was so important that it could only be done in this atmosphere of profound holiness.
The same holds true when it comes to arousing the spark of Jewishness within the Jewish soul. A Jew must always strive for the highest level of sanctity he is capable of attaining, without comparing himself to other people, for the particular obligations G-d places upon each individual is specifically tailored to one's talents and capabilities.
Conversely, because only the "heichal" will do when it comes to kindling our Divine spark, it is a sure sign that we are able to achieve this highest level of holiness. While it is true that G-d never asks more of us than we are able, He also never asks less than we are capable of producing.
Furthermore, just as G-d makes different demands of us as individuals, He also makes different demands of different generations. This principle refutes those who maintain that learning Chasidut is not a necessary part of Torah study.
Each generation possesses its own unique responsibilities.
True, before Chasidut was revealed it was possible to live a full and complete Jewish existence without its knowledge, but the very fact that we now live in an era in which the inner dimension of Torah has been revealed, is proof that it is an integral part of our service. The study of the revealed aspect of Torah is no longer enough to enable us to attain that very highest level of sanctity that is required.
This concept is also alluded to in the menora's lights themselves.
A candle's flame is made up of two parts: a lower, darker-colored part closest to the wick, and an upper, lighter-colored part that is always striving upward.
In the symbolic sense, the bottom component of the flame alludes to the revealed Torah, for it deals with the realm of physical reality, while the upper section of the flame is symbolic of Chasidut, which deals with the inner, esoteric workings of reality.
Both parts are necessary in order to have a perfect light, a complete flame. Similarly, both realms of Torah study are necessary in order to be able to perform mitzvot with the proper enthusiasm and vitality.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 2
Rabbi Berel Lazar at work
by Lawrence Schiffman
To a New Yorker, the sight looked familiar: crowds lining up to see Steven Spielberg's award winning film "Schindler's List." But it wasn't New York; it was Moscow. And it wasn't just any showing of "Schindler's List," but a special showing sponsored by Chabad of California, under the direction of its youthful and energetic Moscow representative, Rabbi Yosef Cunin.
Almost 2,000 of Moscow's Jews sat in the theater, filling all the seats and crowding the aisles. They had gathered in a public show of Jewish identity and remembrance that many of us never dreamed we would see in Moscow. These were the Jews that we speak about in context of the revival of the Russian Jewish community.
Chabad, or Lubavitch as it was called in Russia, is certainly the oldest of the Jewish organizations active in the CIS. The refusenik era familiarized most of us with the underground work of Chabad in Russia.
Lubavitch still had an indigenous group of Chasidim in the Soviet Union who continued to practice and propagate traditional Judaism, and the Rebbe regularly sent emissaries to support them.
It helped spur the return to traditional observance among many refuseniks, the baale teshuva ["returnees to Jewish observance"], quite a few of whom reached Israel in the late 70's and 80's.
It was natural, therefore, that when the barriers were dropped, Chabad would return to the CIS with unequaled and redoubled efforts. This is especially so in view of Chabad's mission of rebuilding Jewish commitment and observance throughout the world.
Today Chabad has staff and programs in five cities in Russia, six in Ukraine, two in Uzbekistan, and one each in Moldavia, Kazhakstan, Lithuania, and Latvia. These centers typically reopen synagogues, provide for kosher food and circumcision, and most important, establish Jewish day schools.
Rabbi Cunin brings to Moscow Chabad the American experience. He sponsored "Schindler's List" just to find the 2,000 people who attended. Wearing his large kippa, he also finds Jews by randomly playing basketball with children in public parks. Cunin serves as rabbi of the Poliakov synagogue, which was returned by the Russian government to Chabad since it had been theirs originally.
Imagine my joy, while spending my first Shabbat in Moscow at the Poliakov shul, to learn that there was soon to be a wedding.
A young Russian Chabadnik, who also serves as a shochet in Moscow, was to marry a Russian girl who studied at the Chabad seminary for girls. I got to know the young man and soon found that my wife and I were invited to his wedding.
About 150 people assembled at the Poliakov shul to attend "the wedding." When it came time for the ceremony, we streamed outside, bundled up against the cold, to the front lawn of the synagogue. There the ceremony began, in full view of the Russian neighbors who walked by.
As the bride stepped through the doors of the shul, a young Lubavitcher from Israel could not help but begin to cry, explaining that he never thought he would see a wedding like this in the streets of Moscow.
This same feeling -- that we were privileged to be part of such a wedding in what once was a forbidden city -- created an atmosphere of great joy, and the spirited dancing that followed was only a small reflection of what we all felt.
Throughout the dark years of Communist oppression, Western Jews were always hearing news of the Great Synagogue on Archipova Street. The real action in those days was not at the Great Synagogue but at a smaller wooden structure further uptown -- the Marina Roscha shul.
Here the Moscow baale teshuva were to be found, and the shul was unofficially affiliated with Chabad.
While this beautiful building recently burned down, its program continues under the able leadership of Rabbi Berel Lazar.
Lazar is not new to the "business," as his father is a Chabad representative in Milan, Italy. The young Lazar made several trips to Russia in the days of the Communist regime, and he returned four years ago with his wife, Chani, to take up the post of rabbi of Marina Roscha. Now he plans to rebuild a community center and synagogue on the site.
Under Lazar, Chabad has a full network of schools in Moscow, beginning with a new kindergarten program for 25 children and continuing with an elementary day school of some 230 students.
A yeshiva for college-age students has about 25 pupils. A small seminary for girls also functions, but it will have to await the new building before it can be expanded. Chabad's summer camp for boys and girls attracted about 500 children this past year, many of whom later enrolled in Jewish schools.
A young rabbi, David Mondshine, soon to take up residence in Moscow to assist Lazar, told me a most moving story.
He had come with a colleague to Kherson in Ukraine to reestablish the Jewish community. They were told that the cantor of the synagogue was still alive, but that the was 95 years old. When they visited him in an old decrepit apartment several flights up, he was overjoyed that there would be High Holiday services in the shul again. He showed them a talit, machzor (high-holiday prayer book) and shofar, all piled together, which has lain ready for some 50 years for the day when he would once again be able to lead services in his beloved synagogue.
He was able to recite the prayers by heart in a still beautiful cantorial voice. As he sounded the shofar that had lain ready for so long, he truly fulfilled the words of the daily prayer: "Sound the great shofar to herald our freedom." He and his community were finally free.
Reprinted with permission from the Long Island Jewish World
Women should study more Torah
Torah law requires a woman to study all the laws and concepts necessary to observe the mitzvot which she is obligated to fulfill. This encompasses a vast scope of knowledge... indeed, many men would be happy if their Torah knowledge would be as complete.... Though the Talmud (Sota 20a) relates that women should not study the Talmud, the change in a woman's place in society necessitates a change in this perspective as well.
(The Rebbe, 25 Iyar, 5750)
4 Kislev, 5741 (1981)
...P.S. The following comes in English, in response to your English letter, and particularly as it comes in reference to your remark that, "nearly everyone who was in New York during Sukkot returned with a Cold."
I was, of course, taken aback by this development. While 770, especially in the crush of Zman Simchateinu [the Season of Our Rejoicing], could cause some discomfort, I had not expected that it could be the cause of a widespread Cold (with a capital 'C').
I am used to receiving reports about returning from 770 filled with warmth and bursting with enthusiasm and energy which -- if it had any physical effects -- no doubt raised the body temperature (and as it is to be called even in English, "mit hitz") several degrees. But to return from here with a "Cold"?!
Granted that England's climate is on the cold side all year round, and that Englishmen are basically conservative, reserved and cool-headed, not given to a display of exuberance and over- reacting, I had thought that things had changed a bit in England in recent years.
Of course, your statement implied no fault, certainly not intentionally. However, the association of a Cold with 770 seems quite incongruous, especially as Lubavitch here, as well as in Manchester, Great Britain and elsewhere, has, with G-d's help, succeeded in breaking the ice-age.
Be that as it may, there are certainly no kepeida klal but rather in the spirit of some pidyonot [requests] that I have seen, expressing the prayerful wish that "it should have an impact on me and on others."
I pray that what has been said above should have an impact on myself, that my conduct should leave no room for any possibility of a Cold in others.
18th of Sivan, 5723 (1963)
I received your letter in which you describe the highlights of your life.
As requested, I will remember you in prayer for the fulfillment of your heart's desires, in the matters about which you write.
With regard to the question of a shidduch [marriage partner], I trust that you are doing everything possible in the natural order of things to find a suitable shidduch. For, while a Jew must always put his trust in G-d, he is supposed to try and help himself, as it is written, "G-d will bless you in all that you do." It is necessary to enlist the cooperation of friends, etc., and generally go about this with determination, though with tzniut (modesty), as required by the Torah.
If you have not had your tefilin checked in the course of the past twelve months, I suggest that you should have them checked, and that every weekday morning, before putting them on, you should put aside a small coin for tzedaka (charity)....
Toward the conclusion of your letter, you write that you desire to teach a boy Torah and Yiddishkeit but that this may interfere with your own studies. You ask, therefore, if you should give time to that boy.
The learning of Torah is balanced against all the mitzvot. At the same time, the mitzva of loving one's fellow Jew is called the great principle of the Torah. There can therefore be no conflict between these two great mitzvot, and no doubt you can find the way whereby to keep up your own studies, and at the same time, find time to teach the boy.
Moreover, the founder of Chabad, stated in his book, Torah Or, that the practice of tzedaka and kindness has a special quality of purifying the mind and the heart of the giver, to be able to understand the Torah and mitzvot more deeply and to gain insights which are otherwise not reached.
The Aleph Institute, based in Surfside, Florida, has established a program to help Jews in uniform. Aleph's Military Director, Major Michael Cohen, a recently retired lay leader, says the program will have goals similar to Aleph's existing agenda: "We want to help Jews feel proud of their Judaism and act on that pride through Torah study and mitzvot.
For more info call (305) 864-5553 x 24.
A gathering in honor of the Rebbe will take place at the Brooklyn Bar Association in Brooklyn Heights on June 21 at 5:15 pm. It includes personal encounters with the Rebbe by members of the community.
For more info call (718) 596-0069
The 16th of the Hebrew month of Sivan is the yarzeit of Rebbetzin Freida, one of the daughters of the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman.
Rebbetzin Freida was a great woman and important in Chabad circles and was beloved by her father.
In fact, her younger brother (who succeeded Rabbi Shneur Zalman upon his passing) regularly asked her to approach Rabbi Shneur Zalman for clarification on things he didn't understand and she would then teach him what her father had taught her.
Rebbetzin Freida's nephew, Reb Nachum, wrote the following about her amazing passing and burial:
Rebbetzin Freida was an ailing woman, and after her father passed away she became even weaker. When she felt that her strength was ebbing and her final day on this earth was approaching, she called a few Chasidim together and asked that after her passing they bring her to Haditch and bury her to the right of her father.
The Chasidim did not know what to do as Jewish custom dictates that men and women are not buried next to each other.
A few days later Rebbetzin Freida called the Chasidim once again. They found her lying on her bed fully dressed. She asked that they encircle her bed. She then began to say the prayer, "My G-d, the soul which You have given within me is pure. You have created it, You have formed it, You have breathed it into me, and You preserve it within me." When she came to the words "And you will eventually take it from me..." she raised her hands into the air and cried out, "Father, wait! I am coming!" And she passed on.
The Chasidim understood that the request of a person who passed away in this manner must be upheld. But still, they were uncomfortable.
On their way to the cemetery, they reached a fork in the road, one way leading to Krementzug and the other way to Haditch. They decided to let go of the horses' reins and bury her where they would lead. The horses went to Haditch.
Rebbetzin Freida was buried, as she had requested, immediately next to her father, Rabbi Shneur Zalman.
I am in the midst of the people, six hundred thousand men on foot (Numbers 11:21)
This verse intimates the mystical principle that there is a spark or part of Moses in every Jew. Because Moses was connected with every Jew, he was therefore able to be the "faithful shepherd" of Israel and redeem them from Egypt.
Similarly, the Baal Shem Tov taught that every Jew has a spark of the soul of Moshiach within him --- the very core of which he is to unveil and release to govern his life.
Each Jew will thus redeem himself, which in turn will bring about the national redemption for all of Israel.
Because Moshiach is intimately connected with every Jew, he therefore has the power to be able to redeem the entire Jewish nation.
Over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings (Numbers 10:10)
The foundation of the Jew's service of G-d must be the absolute nullification of self, much like the burnt offering that was entirely consumed on the altar.
Only then can one progress to the next stage of "peace offerings," symbolic of the service of the intellect, like the peace offering that was enjoyed by the person who brought it.
And if you go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresses you, then you shall blow an alarm with the trumpets (Numbers 10:9)
Unlike the sound of the shofar which arouses fear, the sound of the trumpet elicits a feeling of joy.
The Torah teaches that when one approaches "the enemy that oppresses you" with joy (including the acceptance of suffering with love), "hatzar" ("the enemy") will be transformed from "tzara" ("woe") to "tzohar" (a window for illumination").
[Each of these words is composed of the same three letters: tzadik, hei and reish.]
(Baal Shem Tov)
Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua was a great Sage in the times of the Talmud.
The Midrash relates that on one stormy day he was walking along the beach. As he gazed out on the wild sea he saw a ship sinking beneath the waves. It seemed to him that a s mall speck was floating on a plank, traveling parallel to the shore.
He strained his eyes on that point and realized that the speck which clung to the wooden board was a person.
Finally the plank with its dripping passenger landed ashore. The man, having been stripped of his clothing by the waves, hid himself among the seaside plants which clustered on the beach. But when he saw the Jews passing along the shore he called out to them, "Please, take pity on me and give me some clothing. I was tossed up on this beach by the vicious storm which carried away all that I had. I am one of the sons of Esau, your brother. Please help me."
But to his horror, no one showed the least inclination to help him. On the contrary, several men laughed at his predicament, answering, "May all of your brethren be similarly tossed about," and continued on their way. The Edomite was cold and exhausted from his ordeal. Finally, Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua approached, and the man called out again in despair, "Sir, I can see that you are a respected person amongst your people. Surely you appreciate that some respect must be given to G-d's creatures. Please give me some garment to put on to cover my nakedness. All of my clothing was torn from me by the storm which I barely survived."
Rabbi Elazar was a very wealthy man. He was wearing seven beautiful and costly garments, one of which he took off and gave to the man. Then he took the Edomite to his home where he revived him with food and drink. He presented the man with two hundred dinars, set him in his carriage and drove him towards his home, all with the greatest kindness and respect.
After some time, the king of that land died and the people chose the Edomite as their new king. Hatred for the Jews burned in him, and one of his first decrees upon assuming the throne was to issue a terrible decree against them -- that all the men be killed and the women be taken as wives by whomever wished. A long time he had waited to take revenge for the carelessly cruel remark: "May all your people be tossed around so."
The Jews were panic-stricken. How could they convince the new king to annul his deadly decree? They went to the Torah Sage and leader, Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua who was known for his great wisdom and begged him to intercede on their behalf with the king.
"I will go to the palace and try to speak with him," Rabbi Elazar agreed, "but you know that no authorities do anything without payment." The people collected the tremendous sum of 4000 dinars and gave the money to Rabbi Elazar; perhaps he would succeed in buying their lives. Rabbi Elazar set off on the long journey to the royal palace, ransom money in hand.
When he arrived in the capital, he went to the palace where he asked to be announced to the king. Permission was granted and he was led into the throne room. When the king recognized Rabbi Elazar, he threw himself at the Sage's feet crying, "Why have you troubled yourself to travel this great distance to see me, my benefactor?"
"I have come to intercede for the Jews, to beg you to cancel your decree against them."
"You are a great rabbi. Tell me, are there any falsehoods in your Torah?"
"No," replied Rabbi Elazar. "Everything in the Torah is true and just."
"I will ask further: Is it not written 'An Ammonite and a Moabite shall not enter the congregation of G-d because they met you not with bread and water on the way'? And also does it not say that 'An Edomite thou shalt not abhor, for he is your brother'? I am an Edomite, and yet the Jews showed me no pity in my darkest hour of need. Therefore they deserve the death penalty."
Rabbi Elazar listened to all the king said and then replied simply, "You are correct that they sinned against you, but still, show them compassion."
The king agreed to obey Rabbi Elazar, but he said, "No king annuls a decree for nothing."
"The people have given me 4,000 dinars for your majesty. Please, take them and redeem my people."
"I will take those 4,000 dinars and I hereby present them to you in payment for the 200 dinars you so kindly gave me. Furthermore, to reward you for giving me your cloak, I present you with seventy robes from my royal storehouse. In gratitude for the food and drink with which you restored my soul, I will redeem your people. Now, return to them in peace, for if it were not for your kindness, they would have no reprieve from my justice."
The nations will think, "What tribute shall we give this king [Moshiach]? Money, fine fabrics, and trinkets mean nothing to him. Therefore, let us give him his people!"
As it says, "They shall bring all your brethren out of all the nations as an offering to the L-rd" (Isaiah 66:20).
Every nation will proceed according to its wealth: some will bring the Jews on horses, in chariots, on mules, in carriages, or on fleet camels. Others shall bring your sons in their arms (ibid. 49:22). Others will put them on ships...
(Rav Hai Gaon)