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These days you can't read a newspaper or turn on the radio without hearing about a jury coming to a verdict on a "newsworthy" courtcase. Thank G-d, when most of us have jury duty, the cases aren't usually the type that make news.
But every day of our lives, as we come in contact with people, human nature and habit have us judging our fellow workers, friends and family.
Jewish teachings have a lot to say about passing judgement on others.
"Judge every person to the side of merit," Ethics of the Fathers teaches.
"Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place," warns another of the Ethics' sayings, and his place is one place where you will never be.
You have no way of truly appreciating the manner in which his inborn nature, his background and/or the circumstances that held sway over his life have influenced his character and behavior.
However, this only explains why you should not judge your fellow guilty. Yet the teaching goes further than this, enjoining us to "judge every person to the side of merit." This implies that we should see our fellow's deficiencies in a positive light. But what positive element is implied by a person's shortcoming and misdeeds?
An explanation may be found in another Talmudic saying: "Whoever is greater than his fellow, his inclination (for evil) is also greater." This rule is crucial to understand a fundamental principle of Torah, that man possesses "free choice" regarding his actions.
Indeed, how can we consider a person's choices to be free and uncoerced, when there is so much inequality in life? Can we compare the moral performance of an individual whose character was shaped by a loving family, a stable environment and a top-notch education with that of one who has experienced only rootlessness, violence and despair? Can we compare a person who has naturally and effortlessly been blessed with a superior mind and a compassionate heart to one who has not been so privileged? Are their choices equally "free?" Are they equally accountable for their actions?
The answer to the last two questions is "Yes."
Certainly, no two human beings are alike. Each has been give a life that is unique to him alone, with his own individual array of challenges and tests on the one hand, and potential and opportunities on the other.
Free choice means that the Creator, who has created each individual and the circumstances of his life, has also fortified him with whatever resources are required for him to face his every moral challenge.
"Whoever is greater than his fellow, his inclination is also greater." One who has been advantaged with superior talents and qualities must struggle against an inclination towards corruption and evil far more powerful than that which faces the more "average" individual.
Conversely, one who has been subjected to a greater measure of setbacks and trials in his life, has been granted an equally greater measure of fortitude and achievement potential.
So if your fellow has committed a crime so despicable that you are incapable of even contemplating such a deed; if he is plagued by demons so horrendous that you can hardly envision such evil -- know that he is undoubtedly in possession of a potential for good that far exceeds your own.
Understand that while he has succumbed to forces far more powerful than anything which you will ever face, he is an invaluable human being, one whose inner resources, if cultivated, could translate into attainments unimaginable by one less inclined to evil.
In other words, look not to what he is but to what he can be. Dwell not on the way in which he has negatively expressed his potential, but on what this potential truly consists of.
From Beyond the Letter of the Law by Yanki Tauber, published by VHH, Inc.
"And it came to pass on the eighth day...and Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting, and then went out and blessed the people. And the glory of G-d appeared before all the people," we read in this week's Torah portion, Shemini.
The seven days of consecration had passed; it was already the eighth day, and the Divine Presence had not yet come down to rest upon the Sanctuary.
The Jewish people were getting nervous. Had all their hard work been in vain? G-d's Presence in the Sanctuary would indicate that the sin of the Golden Calf had been forgiven. What was wrong? Maybe they hadn't followed G-d's instructions properly...
As they were to find out, the only thing missing was Aaron's participation. For there is an essential difference between the service of Moshe and the service of Aaron the priest, and both were necessary in order for G-d's Presence to descend.
Moses' Divine service flowed from above to below; his function was to draw G-d's holiness down into this world. This is reflected in the fact that the Torah was given precisely through Moses, who brought it down from heaven and presented it to the Jewish people.
The direction of Aaron's Divine service, on the other hand, flowed "upward," as reflected in his kindling of the Sanctuary's menora.
His function was to elevate and raise the Jewish people towards G-d, by offering the sacrifices and performing the other services in the Sanctuary. Both thrusts -- upward and downward -- are required in order to effect G-d's plan of establishing a "dwelling place down in this world."
G-d imbues the world with holiness so that we, His creations, may be refined and elevated. Once the Torah was brought down by Moses, the second step was necessary, that of actually performing the service in the Sanctuary and meeting Him half way, as it were. For it is only when both thrusts are present that the dynamic process is complete, and the maximum level of holiness is attained.
The practical lesson to be derived from this is that a Jew must emulate Aaron if he sincerely wants the Divine Presence to permeate his being.
Aaron, we are told, "loved peace and pursued peace, loved [G-d's] creatures and brought them closer to Torah." Dealing in such a manner with our fellow man not only brings benefit to others but to ourselves as well, for, as noted before, it is the "upward" thrust that causes G-d's Presence to descend and rest on the works of our hands.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 7 of the Rebbe
Reprinted from The Jerusalem Report
by Frank Brown
Before the Russian revolution, Kherson, a city of 440,000 in southern Ukraine, was predominantly Jewish. It had 23 synagogues and a special area where gentiles lived. But seven decades of Soviet communism and the ravages of Nazi occupation to ok their toll, and by the time the Soviet Union broke up, the Jewish community was tiny and religion was a clandestine affair.
Until 1991, a handful of Jews prayed for humanitarian aid and for a rabbi to spiritually reclaim a generation lost to enforced secularism, says 96-year-old Ilya Irzansky, who worshipped in the city's Chabad synagogue before the revolution.
Their prayers were answered: aid arrived from a variety of Jewish relief groups, based in Israel, Italy and the United Stated; the rabbis came from only one place: Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the headquarters of the Chabad (Lubavitch) movement. For the 8,000 Jews in Kherson, Rabbi Avrom Wolf and his ultra-Orthodox brand of Chasidism is now the face of religious Judaism.
A Chabad rabbi is today the only Jewish religious presence in 20 cities throughout the former U.S.S.R. And the movement plans to double and perhaps triple that number in the next five years. And all this at a time when the non-Chasidic Orthodox are reducing funding, Moscow's Orthodox Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt told The Jerusalem Report.
Chabad has grown into a powerful force in places like Kherson because of its populist appeal, its aggressive outreach and, above all, because it stepped into a spiritual vacuum. "The other groups came here, stayed for a few days, saw that we were here already and left," says Wolf, a 26-year-old former Israeli.
Lubavitch and the mainstream Orthodox each say they have 40 rabbis working and living in the former Soviet Union. But while almost half of the non-Chabad Orthodox rabbis are concentrated in Moscow, where about 200,000 of the former Soviet Union's 1.2 million Jews live, their Chabad counterparts are widely spread.
And none of the non-Orthodox denominations -- Reform, Reconstructionist or Conservative -- has a long-term resident rabbi anywhere in the region. "When you are talking with a Chabad rabbi and tell him to go to Perm, in the Ural Mountains, for a year, he picks up his hat and his family and goes there," acknowledges Sergei Gustev, head of the Moscow office of the World Union of Progressive Judaism, the international arm of the Reform movement. "When you tell a Reform rabbi to go to Moscow for a month he says, `Forget it.' "
Staying power is the crucial difference, agrees Rabbi Berel Lazar, 31, a Moscow-based US citizen in charge of Lubavitch operations in the former Soviet Union. "A lot of the Jewish groups came here thinking they could do easy work in little time." Now, most of them have gone.
The Lubavitch spend "millions of dollars" each year in the former Soviet Union.
The opposite is true with other denominations. Funding "is on the decrease because Soviet Jewry is not an issue anymore," says Goldschmidt. Before perestroika, much of world Jewry was galvanized around helping refuseniks emigrate to Israel or America. Switching this focus and raising money to help rebuild Jewish life here has been difficult, he says.
But while Chabad seems to be powerful in places like Kherson, secular and religious leaders agree they're a long way from transforming ex- Soviet Jewry. Most Russian Jews are not prepared to follow the lifestyle the movement demands. Chabad Rabbi David Karpov, who runs a Moscow soup kitchen serving 250 people a day, confirms that there are only a few hundred observant Lubavitch followers in Moscow.
Still, Lubavitch is undeterred. Where it is active, it maintains a very public presence. Last year, for instance, it conducted menora- lighting ceremonies in front of Moscow's Bolshoi Theater, distributed 220,000 kilograms of matza, published the monthly Lekhaim with a free circulation of 25,000, and taught some 5,000 students in Lubavitch schools.
In Kherson, Wolf runs a 250-student school for anyone with a Jewish mother -- one student's father is a Russian Orthodox priest. The institution has a kosher cafeteria and Hebrew teachers and is funded by the city, Chabad and Jewish groups.
After an initial misunderstanding where the management of Bread Factory No. 1 thought Wolf was from the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas rather than Chabad, the bakery now produces kosher bread. And, in a crowning touch, the street on which the synagogue stands is due to be renamed this month from Ulitsa Gorkogo to Ulitsa Schneersona -- in honor of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
Study Ethics of the Fathers:
Jewish custom dictates that on Shabbat afternoon from Passover until Shavuot (and in some communities until Rosh Hashana) we study weekly a chapter from Ethics of the Fathers.
The Rebbe often stressed the importance not only of saying the words but actually studying the teachings therein. Many interesting and inspiring books in English are available on Ethics of the Fathers including: In the Paths of Our Fathers adapted from the works of the Rebbe; Ethics from Sinai by Irving M. Bunim; Beyond the Letter of the Law by Yanki Tauber.
[You can subscribe to receive a weekly dose of Pirkei Avoth via e-mail too! - write to: email@example.com and request Pirkei Avos]
26th of Nissan, 5721 
...I was particularly pleased to read that you have distributed matzot-mitzva [special, hand-baked matza] to the boys of the minyan and to others, and also about the farbrengen [Chasidic gathering].
I trust that, as in the case of all farbrengens, it will have a lasting influence, especially since, as you write, it brought real spiritual enjoyment to the participants.
With regard to your question whether you should always reply to the queries of the boys, who, it seems to you, are not as much interested in the replies as in stating their views, etc., it is particularly advisable to avoid leaving the impression with them that their questions are unanswerable. For inasmuch as their questions are connected with matters of Torah and mitzvot, the fact that they would remain unanswered might in some way weaken their observance. On the other hand, experience shows that it is not good to engage in long and empty discussions, which are likely to be more wasteful than useful.
Therefore, you should try to find the middle road between these two extremes, and, inasmuch as you know the boys for a relatively considerable length of time, you will surely find the proper balance as to how far to engage in discussions. In any case, the zechut harabim [merit of the multitude] will surely stand you in good stead.
I firmly hope that you are making increased efforts in regard to your own learning... in accordance with the principle that all matters of holiness should be on the upgrade, all the more so since every obligation carries with it also the ability to fulfill it.
DOVID THE LITTLE SHEPHERD
In time for the Jerusalem 3000 celebrations, Dovid the Little Shepherd is a beautifully written and illustrated book about the Jewish king who made Jerusalem his capital.
Like many other great Jewish leaders, Dovid spent his early years as a shepherd . While tending the sheep young Dovid displayed boundless care and concern for them. This essential trait is one of the characteristics that qualified him for the position of king of the entire Jewish nation. This book will inspire children to take care of others with love and sensitivity just like little Dovid. Written by Dina Rosenfeld, illustrated by Ilene Winn-Lederer and published by HaChai Publishing.
FOURTY-NINE STEPS TO PERSONAL REFINEMENT
This book is a guide to personal refinement, designed to take the reader on a forty-nine step journey through the human personality, refining and perfecting areas of the emotions as the journey progresses. Written by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, author of Toward a Meaningful Life, the book corresponds to the forty-nine days of the Sefira period from Passover through Shavuot.
Spiral-bound paperback, the book is available through the publisher, VHH, Inc. by sending $7.95 (plus $1 shipping) to: VHH, 788 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213 or calling (718) 774-6448.
This Shabbat we bless the new month of Iyar. We will consider just two of the numerous points about the unique quality of this month.
Iyar, as spelled in Hebrew is an acronym for the verse, "I, G-d, am your Healer." Thus, this month is an auspicious time for personal and communal healing.
In addition, the Rebbe stressed many times the special quality of every single day of the month of Iyar as each day has its own special mitzva of Sefira, or "Counting."
The first time the Jewish people counted during this period between Passover and Shavuot was when they left Egypt and were preparing themselves to receive the great gift of G-d's Torah at Mount Sinai.
At the time they were on a journey not only toward Mount Sinai and ultimately the Holy Land, but they were also on their own personal journeys of self-refinement and purification.
In future years Sefira was connected to the counting of the omer, a measure of barley that the Jews brought as an offering in the Holy Temple on the second day of Passover. Even as we await the rebuilding of the Third and eternal Holy Temple, we recite the blessing and fulfill the mitzva of counting the omer each evening from the second night of Passover until the eve of Shavuot. And as we do so, we, too, travel on our own personal journeys of self-refinement and purification.
This, then, is the essence of part of the uniqueness of the month of Iyar. Each day in this month has the mitzva of counting (as compared to the previous month and the next month which only have a few days with this mitzva). And each day is filled with the longing and preparation for the giving of the Torah. Similarly, each day brings with it renewed introspection and the desire for character refinement and purification.
May we complete our personal and national counting in the Holy Temple with Moshiach, immediately.
"Moses received the Torah at Sinai, and passed it on to Joshua, Joshua to the Elders..." (Ethics of the Fathers 1:1)
When Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi compiled all the Mishnaic teachings, he placed the Mishna describing the transmission of Torah from one generation to the other as the opening Mishna of the Ethics.
The wise men of the nations of the world also wrote works providing their disciples with moral instruction. However, they formulated their teachings based on their own human understanding. Therefore, Rabbi Yehuda began the Ethics specifically with the words, "Moses received the Torah at Sinai" to inform us that the moral instruction and the qualities of character mentioned here are not a product of human invention. They were given to us by G-d via Moses at Sinai.
"Shimon HaTzadik... used to say: The world stands upon three things -- upon Torah, upon Divine service and upon acts of kindness." (1:2)
This Mishna refers to the author of its message as Shimon HaTzadik -- the Righteous. A truly saintly, righteous person is not satisfied with working upon himself only, but makes an effort to influence the world as well, as the verse states, "G-d is righteous and loves righteousness."
(Biurim l'Pirkei Avot)
"Yose ben Yoezer of Tzreida said: Make your house a meeting place of the Sages; sit in the dust at their feet; and thirstily drink their words." (1:4)
Whereas Yose ben Yoezer's teacher aimed at perfecting the person himself, Yose ben Yoezer instructed his disciples to aspire to an even higher level -- he taught how a person is to permeate even his house with love and awe of G-d.
(The Maharal of Prague)
"Yose ben Yochanan of Jerusalem said: Let your house be wide open; treat the poor as members of your own family..." (1:5)
Rabbi Yose ben Yochanan continues the theme of perfecting one's house. In order for holiness to permeate one's home, it is insufficient to merely love Torah. The love of Torah must be combined with the love of one's fellow Jew, expressed in acts of kindness. However, this must be done in such a way that one's hospitality will not result in undesirable negative consequences.
(The Maharal of Prague)
Rabbi Yehuda Lowe of Prague, known as the Maharal, was born in 1512 and was the descendant of famous scholars. He could trace his lineage back to King David. Recognized as a genius from early childhood, he was engaged at the age of 10 to an equally remarkable woman named Pearl. A scholar in her own right, she was a loyal partner of her husband and epitomized the Jewish ideal of a "woman of valor."
It was customary in those times for matches to be arranged while the couple was still very young, the marriage itself taking place sometimes only years later.
And so, the Maharal, at the age of ten, was engaged to Pearl, the daughter of the wealthy and influential Shmuel Reich. She was only six at the time. According to the marriage agreement, the Maharal continued his studies, illuminating one of the outstanding yeshivot of his day. After the agreed upon years of study expired, he requested permission to continue, since his fiancee was still only fourteen.
Pearl was a girl of exceptional intellectual capacity. At the age of six she was sufficiently mature enough to appreciate the great genius of the Maharal, and she, desirous of being a worthy partner, embarked on an intensive program of study. She learned secretly all the years of their engagement, until, when he returned, the Maharal was delighted and amazed to discover the extent of her accomplishment. He returned with her permission, to his yeshiva studies, but before leaving, he prepared a syllabus for her to follow in his absence.
During the period of the Maharal's absence, financial disaster struck Shmuel Reich, leaving him impoverished. The Maharal received a letter from his future father-in-law explaining the situation and releasing him from his promise to marry Pearl. In his immediate reply, the Maharal, while expressing his sympathy, reiterated his intention to marry Pearl regardless of financial considerations, unless, she was unwilling to wait for him.
More time passed, until the year 1543 arrived, bringing with it a war in Bohemia. The Maharal returned home to his fiancee who was now supporting herself and her parents by running a food store. Pearl, who had been studying Torah during the twenty-two years of their separation, had become an extraordinarily accomplished scholar. She was now twenty-eight years old, and the Maharal thirty-two. Finally, they began their married life. To enable her husband to pursue his studies, Pearl continued to work in her store, learning Torah after her work was done.
The Bohemian war continued unabated until it reached Prague. One day, an armed soldier entered Pearl's store and demanded that she furnish him with a large amount of food which he loaded into his carriage. However, when she asked for payment, he refused, saying he had no money.
Pearl, whose very livelihood was at stake, explained to him that this store was the only source of support for her family, and he was moved by her words.
He gave her a beautiful embroidered garment as a pledge, promising to return in a few days to redeem it. If unable to come, he said, the garment would be hers to keep.
Days passed and the soldier failed to appear. Knowing that in dire times people sometimes hid jewels in their garments, Pearl opened the lining of the soldier's coat and discovered a large number of precious stones. The couple waited longer for the soldier's return, but when he failed to come, the garment and gems were theirs.
No longer in a precarious financial state, Pearl was now freed from the burden of supporting her family. Pearl used to say that she had since the age of eight studied Torah each day for no less than five hours. Now, she could continue, unhampered, studying with her illustrious husband topics ranging from Talmud to ethics and metaphysics.
It was Pearl who dealt with the Maharal's voluminous Jewish legal correspondence, reading the letters and sending his replies to the many communities which turned to her husband for his decisions. It was also she who arranged and edited her husband's huge opus of Torah literature. It is said that in at least eight places she discovered errors in the Maharal's writings.
Pearl was the mother of a son and three daughters. Her husband applied to her the quotation: "Many daughters have done well, but you surpass them all."
"The world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed." The verse specifies "the world," and not merely the Jewish people. Hence, "The occupation of the entire world (including the gentile nations) will be solely to know G-d."
(Likutei Sichot, vol. 23)