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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
For fighting tooth decay, fluoride has been pushed out of the limelight by newer products and improved dental methods. Today, in addition to brushing regularly, dentists and announcements in the media encourage us to floss, to use an anti-plaque mouthwash, and to treat teeth with a sealant. All of this is to insure that our teeth and gums remain healthy, void of cavities and other common tooth ailments.
There are many similarities between tooth care and the attention we must pay to our Jewish commitment. What kind of "treatment" do we need to give to our Judaism to guarantee that it remains "healthy?"
When it comes to our teeth, our commitment starts off with basic tooth-brushing, especially after meals and before bedtime. Our brushing needs to become a habit. Sometimes, parents must even nag their children to establish this routine, but it's worthwhile in the end.
Similarly, Jewish children and adults must be well-educated about Jewish life and the Torah until, yes, it also becomes a habit -- until we don't think twice about saying the Shema prayer before going to bed (after brushing our teeth), or saying a blessing before we eat. Parents might have to remind and nudge their children, but in the end, it's all for the best.
Fluoride is another component of preventive dental care. It's found in toothpaste, vitamins, even drinking water. Judaism, too, must be incorporated into every dimension of our lives. Judaism is not and cannot be relegated to certain times and specific places. Judaism isn't just for the synagogue or Chanuka. It's for everything in our lives, even something as commonplace as the water we drink.
Next comes flossing. Many people approach flossing with great trepidation. It's a hassle, and in the beginning it's uncomfortable. Flossing, however, is one of the most beneficial aspects of dental care. In Judaism, some people approach the observance of mitzvot with trepidation. And, in the beginning, some mitzvot seem to be a bit uncomfortable. Whether it's a little boy wearing a yarmulka for the first time or an adult contemplating keeping kosher, it can feel restrictive. But the benefits of actual mitzva observance, not just feeling, learning and talking about it, but actually doing, is one of the most beneficial components of Jewish care.
Anti-plaque mouthwash is easy. It's the mitzvot that only take a minute -- like putting on tefilin or lighting Shabbat candles -- but have tremendous spiritual and emotional value.
Lastly, we have sealant. It is recommended to have permanent teeth, especially molars, sealed with a special compound that prevents tooth decay. But even sealant isn't foolproof. It only seals one out of five of the tooth's surfaces. And the teeth have to be re-sealed every six months to three years because the sealant wears off. There will always be something new that comes along, a new "product" or "treatment" or panacea for keeping our Jewishness healthy and alive. But they all wear off in the end. None of them are foolproof. There is nothing foolproof or absolute in our lives, except G-d and the Torah.
What happens if you don't take care of your Jewishness? You can end up with Jewish cavities, gum disease, root canal, even dentures. The bottom line is to take care of what rightfully belongs to you. Then you'll be able to smile with ease.
This week's Torah portion, Va'etchanan, speaks about the mitzva of learning Torah, and contains the verse, "And You shall teach them to your children, and speak of them..."
In general, the mitzva of learning Torah consists of two separate commandments: The obligation each person has to learn Torah, and the obligation to teach Torah to others, especially one's children.
Although a person might naturally think that the mitzva of learning Torah oneself takes precedence over that of teaching others, we find that the opposite is true. Both Maimonides' writings and the Code of Jewish Law begin the section on the laws covering the learning of Torah with the duty each parent has to teach his children. Why is this the case? And furthermore, how can a person teach others before he himself is well-versed enough in the subject matter?
We learn from the emphasis on teaching children the proper approach we must have when we begin to learn Torah. To understand this, let us examine the difference between Torah learning and the performance of mitzvot.
When a Jew does a mitzva he effects a change in the physical world, elevating and making holy the physical objects he uses in the mitzva's performance. The practical performance of the mitzva is therefore more important than the intentions of the person doing the deed, for the action itself serves to bring spiritual illumination into the world.
Torah learning, on the other hand, serves to refine and elevate the individual. When a Jew studies Torah his intellect becomes united with the G-dly wisdom contained in the Torah and causes him to be a G-dly person whose thoughts are those of holiness. The essence of learning Torah is therefore the humility and self-nullification one must feel before even approaching it to learn. In order to learn Torah properly one must have the sincere desire to understand G-d's wisdom without ulterior motives.
Before a Jew learns Torah he must subjugate his own ego and ask, what does the Torah itself want from me? Without this prerequisite, say our Sages, Torah learning can even be detrimental and becomes a "poisonous drug."
Emphasizing the duty to teach our children before we ourselves learn the Torah stresses that our goal is not merely the acquisition of knowledge, for the mind of a young child cannot possibly grasp the greatness of what he is learning. Our goal is to emulate the child's purity and innocence with regard to how he learns the Divinely written words. We must approach the Torah in the same way, and not try to "fit" what we learn into our view of the world. All of us, no matter how old we are, are like children to our Father in Heaven.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
by H. Kramer
Reb Mordechai Shelter is undoubtedly a one-of-a-kind guy. For almost 30 years Reb Mordechai has suffered from Gaucher's disease, a genetic disorder which leads to the degeneration of the joints, limiting mobility and causing great pain. Yet, despite the constant pain, Reb Mordechai Shelter is an open and unabashed optimist, a man filled with hope and faith, who hasn't lost his sense of humor.
Mordechai is the founder and Director of the popular Chabad House in Karnei-Shomron, Israel. The unusual story of how he began his Chabad House is a lesson in the power of faith, human will and the limitless blessings of the Rebbe.
Reb Mordechai was born in England, in his own words, "into a family very far from practical observance of Torah and mitzvot. But I always knew there was a Creator, and there were other dimensions beyond the limitations of the physical world.
I was always a 'believing Jew,' even before I started keeping Torah and mitzvot." At the age of 20 he moved to Israel. A watch-maker by trade, Mordechai wanted a job which was less confining, and so he parlayed his hobby -- building airplanes -- and his technical know-how and fine motor skills, into a job in the Israeli aircraft industry.
It was at work that he took his first steps toward becoming a fully Torah-observant Jew. "My fellow workers fell into two camps: religious and not yet religious. It was funny, but whenever we argued amongst ourselves, I always sided with the religious camp and defended their way of life.
One day, one of my non-observant friends made a good point. 'Mordechai, why do you always defend them if you, yourself aren't even Orthodox?' His words made me think. He was right! If I really thought their life-style was right, why wasn't I acting like them?
"The decision was made. The next day I came to work with a yarmulke. I was bombarded with questions and a lot of people laughed, but they all stopped once they realized I was serious."
After his marriage, Mordechai and his wife lived in Kfar Saba where he first heard about Lubavitch and the Rebbe. "I was very impressed with the dedication and self-sacrifice of the Lubavitchers, but the whole thing was still purely theoretical." After living in Kfar Saba and Beit Shemesh, the couple decided they preferred to live in a small community -- Karnei-Shomrom in Samaria.
Mordechai became more and more attracted to Chabad-Lubavitch. "When I found out that there were Lubavitchers in Emanuel, a nearby settlement, I sought them out. I was very happy with their approach, and I started to go to their gatherings. That was it. I was hooked. A while later I sponsored a printing of the Tanya [the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy] in Karnei-Shomron with some money I had saved up for tzedaka. The following year I decided that the time had come for me to go to the Rebbe. I took the Tanya I had printed and set out for New York."
Mordechai's visit to the Rebbe was so remarkable that it actually gave him a new direction in life. "There I was in 770, surrounded by thousands of Chasidim listening to the Rebbe. I didn't understand one word of Yiddish, but it didn't matter. Words cannot describe what an emotional high it was to be there.
"Nonetheless, as important as it was to actually hear the Rebbe's voice, I also wanted to understand what he was saying. Every now and then I put on the earphones so I could hear a simultaneous English translation. Then I heard words that seemed to be directed toward me alone: 'There is a Jew here among us,' the Rebbe said, 'who is physically very limited, but nonetheless, does much in the spiritual sense.' I thought my heart would stop beating. The Rebbe knew I was there and was even speaking about me! The Rebbe continued and again his words went straight to my heart. This time the Rebbe spoke about the strategic importance of Judea and Samaria and said that it was forbidden to hand these territories over to the gentiles. Then came a sentence that hit me like an arrow: The Rebbe said that he couldn't understand why there was no Chabad House in an area in which the Tanya had already been printed... A full year had already passed since the Tanya was printed in Karnei-Shomron!"
Mordechai resolved at that moment to act on the Rebbe's words as soon as he returned to Israel. "Just then," Mordechai recalled, "the Rebbe turned his head in my direction, smiled a broad smile and motioned for me to make a 'l'chaim.' Instinctively I turned my head to look for the fortunate fellow who was drawing the Rebbe's attention, but I couldn't find him! I returned my gaze to the Rebbe and this time there was no doubt: the Rebbe was studying me intently, motioning with his hand and saying, 'Nu, nu...'. I was stunned, totally shocked. Everyone was waiting for me to make a 'l'chaim' but I didn't have any wine. Someone ran over and poured me a cup, and I drank a 'l'chaim' to the new Chabad House of Karnei-Shomron."
That Shabbat, his host asked Mordechai if this was his first visit to the Rebbe. "When I told him 'yes,' he said that there is a custom among Chasidim to celebrate that day as a sort of spiritual birthday. 'Great!' I replied. 'From now on I'll have two birthdays.' A quick calculation, however, proved me wrong. The night I came was my birthday! And that year the secular date corresponded to the Hebrew, and so, it was my birthday according to the secular calendar, as well!"
Reprinted and excerpted from Beis Moshiach Magazine.
As "action is the essential thing" it is proper to study practical applications of Jewish law on a daily basis, particularly those having to do with blessings recited on food, prayer, laws of Shabbat, and, before a holiday, the specific laws pertaining to the holiday. (Based on a letter of the Rebbe)
Numerous books, written in clear, concise English, are available today on these areas of Jewish law. Visit your local Jewish bookstore and avail yourself of them!
WITH WHAT SHALL I BLESS YOU?
16th of Menachem Av, 5732 
Mr. Chaim Zelig Wouk
I have just received a telephone report about the success of yesterday's event, at which you were not only the main speaker, but also the moving spirit. I was most gratified to be informed that the affair was a great success.
Although there is no need to express thanks for doing a mitzva, for, as our Sages of the Mishna declare, "the reward of a mitzva is the mitzva itself," I nevertheless want to express my gratification at receiving the above mentioned good report about the impact of your address on an audience which included Jews of considerable potential.
It is good for people of their position and standing in the community to hear a presentation of Yiddishkeit in its true form, undiluted and uncompromised, especially, as I am told, that this was the first breakthrough into this circle. Furthermore, I am told that your address was received not only with an open mind and without prejudice, but also had an inspiring response.
There is the well known Talmudic parable about the person who enjoyed the full benefits of a fruitful tree and said to it: "Tree, oh tree, with what should I bless you?"
Similarly, the blessing that I wish to give you in connection with the above is that in your endeavors and accomplishments you should see the fulfillment of the saying of our Sages, "He who has 100, desires 200; and having attained 200, desires 400." This is to say that your hatzlacha [success] in inspiring Jewish souls and lighting them up with the light of "Torah-Or" [the Light of the Torah] should not only go from strength to strength, but should advance in geometrical progression, as indicated in the above saying.
I also trust that the contacts you make in this way will be maintained and followed up, so that they may continue to enjoy your good influence. The Zechut HaRabim [merit of the multitude] will surely stand you in good stead to receive
G-d's blessings in similar growing proportions, both materially and spiritually.
The present days, especially now that we have passed the 15th of Av, are particularly auspicious for the study of the Torah and for all efforts to spread and strengthen Yiddishkeit in a growing measure. I trust this will be so with you, and that the concerted efforts by all who are aware of the significance of these days, will help to reverse the causes of the Churban [destruction of the Holy Temples] and Golus [Exile] ("Because of our sins we were exiled from our land"), and hasten the arrival of our righteous Moshiach, may he come speedily in our time.
I recently read the article "Saying Good-Bye" (L'Chaim issue 420). While I agree that saying good-bye is commonly translated as a parting greeting, one which Jews are innately reluctant to do, the original meaning of this English phrase is perhaps exactly opposite from its common usage.
According to The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, "good-bye" is really a contraction of the phrase "G-d be with you," meaning "May G-d redeem you."...
I first encountered this holy form of good-bye when I visited the Mayflower, (the first ship carrying the pilgrims to America) which is now a museum located in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Aboard the ship, a daily reenactment takes place of what life might have been like on the Mayflower in the 1400s. As I left, the shipmates bid me: "G-d be with ye." When slurred together, it does indeed sound like "G-d-bye." Since these early Pilgrims were deeply religious people, they probably really mean that as you go on your way, you should be blessed with G-d's presence.
So while we may all be saying "good-bye" with our mouths, perhaps in our ancestral-English-speaking-heart, we really mean "G-d Be With You." As we learn from our forefather Abraham, when a Jew offers another Jew a blessing it is more than a catchy greeting. When G-d gave Abraham the power to bless, generations of Jews to follow were also endowed with the power to bless. According to Torah commentaries, a blessing is a plea to G-d to fulfill one's wishes. So in closing I bid you all: "G-d be with you."
Pessy Leah Lester - Morristown, NJ
Our sages tell us "There were no greater festivals in Israel than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur," the Mishna tells us. What is so special abut the fifteenth of Av that it is singled out together with Yom Kippur from all the other festivals?
A number of special events throughout Jewish history took place on the fifteenth of Av.
- The tribe of Benjamin was permitted once again to marry the remainder of the Jewish people;
- The Generation of the Desert ceased to die; they had previously been condemned to perish in the desert because of the sin of the spies;
- Hoshea Ben Elah removed the blockades that the rebel Jeraboam had set up to prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem for the festivals;
- The cutting of the wood for the Holy Altar was completed;
- Permission was granted from the Romans to bury the slain of Betar.
These five events in themselves do not seem adequate enough reason to make the fifteenth of Av a festival greater than any other. There is another, all-encompassing reason.
Tisha B'Av is the day when the two Holy Temples were destroyed, signaling the start of the long and terrible exile we are still enduring -- tragedies which were the result of the Jews' transgressions.
But these tragedies are not without purpose. "Descent is for the purpose of ascent," and the deeper the descent, correspondingly greater will be the ascent which follows. It is specifically after the awesome decline of Tisha B'Av that we can reach the loftiest heights, heights that would otherwise be inaccessible.
The five festive events on the fifteenth of Av, then, are the counterpart of the five tragic events of Tisha B'Av. The fifteenth of Av transforms the evil of Tisha B'Av to the greatest good -- "there were no greater festivals in Israel than the fifteenth of Av." The ultimate goal of the tragedies of the month of Av is that they should be transformed into a greater good -- the supreme festival of the fifteenth of Av.
May we merit to celebrate the fifteenth of Av this year in a truly befitting manner, with all Jews together in the Third and Eternal Holy Temple.
Hillel used to say: "He who exploits the crown [of Torah for his own ends] shall perish." Indeed, you have learned from this that whoever derives personal gain from the words of Torah removes his life from the world." (Ethics 4:5)
In the Laws of Torah Study, Rabbi Shneur Zalman writes, that even a person who seeks to study Torah for his own aggrandizement should do so, because, as the Jerusalem Talmud teaches: "A person should always involve himself with the Torah, [even] for a selfish motive. For out of involvement for a selfish motive will come involvement for the sake of the Torah itself."
Rabbi Yishmael his son said: "A judge who refrains from handing down legal judgements [but instead seeks compromise between the litigants] removes from himself enmity, theft, and [the responsibility for] an unnecessary oath...." (Ethics 4:7)
In a business dispute the ability to accept compromise is important, for it demonstrates that an individual is able to see beyond his own position and make concessions for the sake of another. There are, however, certain matters, such as Jewish education and Torah law, where compromise must be avoided. For the Torah is eternal, G-d's truth --containing absolute values that must not be mitigated by human notions of right and wrong.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. 20)
Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov said: "He who fulfills one mitzva acquires for himself one advocate..." (Ethics 4:11)
The simple meaning of this Mishna is that the performance of a mitzva creates an angel that will act as an advocate for the person in his final judgment. Nevertheless, the fact that the Mishna uses the expression "acquires" rather than "creates" implies something deeper. In addition to the angel created by each mitzva he performs, a person acquires One advocate; the One becomes an advocate for him. For every mitzva a person performs, regardless of his intent, connects him to G-d.
(The Rebbe, Motzei Shabbat Eikev, 5738)
Rabbi Yannai said: "We are unable to understand either the well-being of the wicked or the tribulations of the righteous." (Ethics 4:15)
One of the Maggid of Mezeritch's students asked him how it was possible to accept tribulation with joy. The Maggid sent him to his student, Reb Zushya of Anapoli. Reb Zushya was poor, suffered from physical difficulties, and endured many different types of privation. Nevertheless, he radiated happiness. When the student told him the purpose of his journey, he replied: "I don't know why the Maggid sent you to me. I have never suffered any adversity in my life." Not knowing, in the positive sense, is the key. When a person makes a commitment to G-dliness that is not bound by the limitations of understanding, he is able to appreciate that everything which G-d grants him is good.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. 4)
Many of the Baal Shem Tov's (the Besht's) ways might have seemed strange to an outsider. Reb Zev Wolf Kitzes, the Besht's constant companion, however, had enough confidence in his Rebbe never to doubt his actions. He knew that in the end -- even if it took years -- all would be for the best.
Reb Zev Wolf once accompanied the Besht on a visit to a certain simple Jew. The impoverished villager welcomed the Besht into his home.
"I must have a donation of eighteen rubles," the Besht requested. The poor man did not have this large sum. But, considering that it was the Besht making the request, he took his cow and some of his furniture and sold them, and gave the Besht the money. Reb Zev Wolf looked on silently while the Besht took the money and then departed.
Several days later, the villager's rent was due on his inn. He could not produce the sum and, as a result, was evicted by the landlord. The villager, seeing no future for himself in this small village, decided to try his luck elsewhere. He finally found himself a tiny hut in a different village with a different landlord. By selling some of his remaining possessions, the villager managed to buy a cow. The cow provided him with his sole source of income: he sold her milk and eked out a meager living.
Some time later, the landlord's cow became sick and her milk was unusable. One of the landlord's servants who knew of the new tenant quickly went to him to buy milk for the landlord.
When the landlord was served the milk, he commented, "This milk is of a superior quality. Tell the owner that I will pay handsomely for the privilege of being his only customer."
This incident turned the tide of fortune for the villager. Each day he delivered milk to the manor and each day the landlord commented on the quality of the milk and milk products derived from it. He grew fond of the Jew and began to consult with him about his business, slowly turning over to him many responsibilities. The landlord trusted him implicitly and appreciated the Jew's honesty, reliability, and faithful service.
The landlord's relationship and bond with the villager became so deep that, being childless, he transferred ownership of that village and the nearby city to the Jew. Feeling that everything was now in good hands, the landlord took leave and went abroad, after having given the Jew legal title to that area.
A few years later, Reb Zev Wolf came to the village of the new landlord collecting money on behalf of Jewish prisoners and captives. Reb Zev Wolf had already collected all but three hundred rubles of the sum which the Besht had designated.
Upon meeting with the village rabbi, Reb Zev Wolf questioned him as to why he was so festively attired.
"I am going, together with a group of the town dignitaries, to greet the landlord of this city who will be paying us a visit today. Why don't you come along with us? He is a Jew and will most probably be willing to contribute to your cause."
Reb Zev Wolf accompanied the rabbi and his companions. The landlord greeted the delegation warmly, paying special attention to Reb Zev Wolf. After a little while, the landlord took Reb Zev Wolf aside.
"You don't remember me, do you?" he began. Reb Zev Wolf could not place the wealthy man. The landlord went on to retell the story of his change of fortune. Then, he took out three hundred rubles and gave it to Reb Zev Wolf.
It was only upon returning to the Besht that Reb Zev Wolf understood the entire story. "The last three hundred rubles were donated by the village Jew whom you once asked for a donation of eighteen rubles. Today he is wealthy.
"Now let me tell you why I extracted that large sum from him when his circumstances were so difficult," began the Besht. "A change of fortune was awaiting him in the future but not in that place. It was necessary to bring him to the end of his rope so that he would be forced to leave and settle elsewhere. That is exactly what happened. The rest you already know."
When Moshiach comes everyone will see how the life-force that animates the organs of the body stems from G-d. It will then be seen that every individual organ lives from the Divine life-force that is drawn into it by the fulfillment of the particular mitzva which relates to that organ. For, as is well known, the 248 positive commandments correspond to the 248 bodily organs.
(From a discourse of Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch)