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From a bumper sticker asking "Have you read to your child today?" to numerous local versions of bumper stickers boasting that one's child made the honor roll, our children's education is something in which parents are proud to be involved.
Seeing as there is a dearth of bumper stickers touting Jewish education, one might wonder where to get advice as to how involved a parents should be in his child's Jewish education.
A good rule of thumb as to how much time one should spend me rely thinking about a child's Jewish education and upbringing, according to Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch, is one half-hour daily.
In fact, Rabbi Sholom Ber directed his followers that it is an absolute duty for every person to spend half an hour every day thinking about the Jewish education and raising of his children, and to do everything in his power -- and beyond his power -- to inspire his children to follow the Jewish path along which they are being guided.
Rabbi Sholom Ber explained that this mitzva is incumbent upon every individual.
How do we raise our children, educate them Jewishly, and keep them Jewishly active? As evidenced by articles appearing in local Jewish newspapers, new magazines about Jewish parenting, books galore on the topic and "even" a website for Jewish parents, it seems that many parents have these same questions and many more.
The Book of Proverbs tells us, "Educate the child according to his way; even when he is old he will not depart from it."
When we educate a child, we have to take into account that he is still a child, and recognize all of the emotional, intellectual, psychological, physical and, last but certainly not least, spiritual, ramifications entailed. With these thoughts in mind we can begin fulfilling the responsibility of giving him/her a Jewish education.
So, the first step in a Jewish education, is to understand whom you are educating. However, to assure that "even when he/she is old s/he will not depart from it," we have to be totally honest, up-front, and truthful in whatever we tell our children.
We shouldn't teach a child to believe something that is correct only for his childhood and has to be changed for more correct beliefs later on-- "He'll understand when he grows up." Thus, tooth-fairies and boogey-men are not part of a Jewish child's education. Everything we teach a Jewish child is always true -- when he's two or ten or twenty or seventy.
A child has to be helped to understand in accordance with his/her capacities, and what the child learns has to be correct, so that even when he grows up he won't find any discrepancies -- it will still be correct.
By the way, the half-hour Rabbi Sholom Ber advises us to spend thinking about children's Jewish education is just that-- "thinking time." Parent-teacher conferences, reading time, hugging time and other educational quality-time are in addition to the thinking time we devote to our children's Jewish education.
In this week's Torah portion, Yitro, we read: "And Yitro heard...everything that G-d had done for Moses and His people Israel...and Yitro came...to Moses into the wilderness."
What did Yitro hear that caused him to leave his land and join the Jewish people? As Rashi explains, he heard about the splitting of the Sea and the war against Amalek.
At first glance, this is surprising. The exodus from Egypt, with all its miracles, took place before the splitting of the Sea of Reeds; surely Yitro was aware of what happened. Why then was it not until the Sea was split and the battle fought against Amalek that he decided to go to Moses?
There is another difficulty as well. According to the principle that "one must always ascend in matters of holiness," one would expect the Jewish people to have reached a more elevated spiritual state by the time the Torah was given. The war against Amalek seems to represent a spiritual decline. However, as will be explained, the battle against Amalek was actually a significant ascent in the Jews' progression toward Mount Sinai.
When the Sea split, G-d's Divine light illuminated all planes of existence, effecting a bond between the higher spheres and the mundane physical world. All the nations heard of the great miracle; the revelation of G-dliness at the Sea struck fear in their hearts. Nevertheless, even after the splitting of the Sea, Amalek was not afraid to confront the Jews. Why? Because the revelation of holiness that occurred had still not purified the very lowest levels of the physical. These lowest levels became purified only after the battle with Amalek, when the Jews were victorious.
Thus the war against Amalek was the final step in the Jewish people's preparation for receiving the Torah. For it was by means of this war that the entire world was transformed into an appropriate vessel to contain the Torah.
This also explains why these two events convinced Yitro to join the Jewish people: it was only after both had occurred that the world was completely ready to accept the Torah.
Each day we say: "Blessed are You... Who gives the Torah" -- in the present tense. Every day we receive the Torah anew. Just as our ancestors prepared themselves to accept the Torah at Sinai, so too must we prepare ourselves.
We do this by living with the adage "Know Him in all your ways." A Jew's connection to G-d must be constant, not just during prayer or Torah study. First comes the "splitting of the Sea" -- our involvement in spiritual matters, only after which can we wage "war against Amalek" and see to mundane affairs.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 11
Reprinted from the Jewish Post and Opinion
by Susan Rubin Weintrob
In a New York airport's television monitor, I saw a woman dressed in a mid-calf khaki skirt, long-sleeved top and vest, and beret that covered most of her hair. It took a moment for me to realize it was me, dressed for my visit to the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
From the taxicab, I watched the small, closely placed houses of Queens give way to the more citified Brooklyn. Soon, as we entered Crown Heights, brownstone houses appeared, and with them, the feel of a neighborhood. As we turned onto beautiful President Street, with its large, stately houses, I saw my home for the next few days.
Dinner was waiting for me. Mrs. G. chatted about a recent trip to Paris and about the bi-monthly Lubavitch women's magazine she was working on. She gave me several copies to read. She had turned her basement into a mini-publishing center, with computer, printer, copy machine and layout table. The back half was filled with workout equipment. Like most of us over 40, she worked on staying in shape. This was not what I had expected.
After a tour of the house, Mrs. G. and I went up to the roof. The darkened sky outlined the light of Manhattan's skyline. "It's a different world up here," my hostess told me. I nodded, thinking more about Crown Heights than the roof top.
I had read somewhere that Chasidic men would not talk to me, that these "right-wing Orthodox" communities never accepted Jews not like themselves. Some liberal rabbis warned that the Chasidim were shut-ins, keeping to themselves, away from the rest of the world. Some described them as zealots, right-wing fanatics, fighting for control of the Jewish world. I braced myself, waiting to be confronted with narrow-mindedness. I never was.
Friday morning I accompanied Mrs. G. on errands, walking everywhere. The sidewalks and streets were filled, as all prepared for Shabbos.
It was a paradox, I admitted to myself, listening to conversations in Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish, French, Russian, and a variety of English language accents. Crown Heights has its physical boundaries, yet it seemed quite international. Its community adheres to a strict and defined way of life, yet there was more diversity here than I had imagined.
To a certain extent, the people I met were curious about my life in Muncie, Indiana. While I was encouraged to include more observance, people did not demean my observance. The members of the Lubavitch community that I spoke with had definite ideas about life, but, during my short stay, I heard language that was non-judgmental.
The Lubavitch community is well-known for reaching out. Visitors from around the world come to these few square blocks -- they are welcomed, fed and housed. Questions were answered; room was made for those who decided to stay. Community members were also cared for.
I was told of the custom at weddings of setting up a table for the poor to share the meal. One of my hostesses was part of a committee which visited new mothers and brought meals for the first week after the baby's birth.
I arrived at a home on Carroll Street after services Saturday morning; I saw the front door open and my hostess praying, so I assumed the door was left open so as not to disturb her. I was mistaken. I noticed when we sat down to eat that there were a few extra places set. I assumed some people had not shown up. I was again mistaken. The door was open and the extra places set for unannounced guests. In fact, one man showed up, and was immediately invited to lunch. The host and hostess were parents of several small and active children, but the appearance of yet another guest was greeted with pleasure. This attitude had been shown also the evening before.
Six of us had been invited to a home with three small children -- the other four were at summer camp. During dinner, I learned that the wife was expecting their next child within two weeks, and was planning an older son's bar mitzva that week, but our dinner with them was viewed as normal Shabbos hospitality.
There was an inner quality of strength and spirituality among so many whom I encountered. In an odd way, the Lubavitch-style mezuza became a physical symbol of the community's values. I must have been staring at the mezuza on the kitchen entry in my host's home. Like mezuzas in the other houses I had visited in Crown Heights, the case was a large, plain white case. As I looked at it, my hostess answered my unasked question.
"You are wondering why we have such plain cases for the mezuzas. It is a custom among Lubavitchers. It is what is inside that counts, not the case." This was symbolic of the best in the Lubavitchers' way of life. Unlike the elaborate and often artistic cases I had seen on many people's doors, here the mezuzas, simple and unadorned, were on every door, inside and out, holding the carefully handwritten verses from the Torah.
The shuls as well, including the main one at 770 Eastern Parkway, were plain by comparison to many synagogues, which have fancy sanctuaries, elaborate social halls, and multiple administrative offices. However, many have poor attendance at daily and weekly services. Here in Crown Heights, the shuls, simple to the point of being rustic inside, were filled every day.
Mr. G. discussed this deliberate simplicity. "It's like fancy clothes that you save up to wear only on special occasions as compared to your everyday clothes. Our synagogues are for every day."
As I was ready to leave, I was introduced to yet another person among the many entering the home I stayed in. When she learned that I would be writing about the Lubavitch community, she sighed. "Don't be too hard on us."
I didn't tell her that I had worried that, not being Chasidic, it might be hard for me to come to Crown Heights. I also didn't tell her that I had never realized how hard it would be to leave.
Make Renewal Gatherings
The Jewish calendar is based on the moon's cycle. The beginning of each Jewish month is a mini-holiday and affords a perfect opportunity to make gatherings. Serve some special foods, study about the holidays in the upcoming month, celebrate the imminent Redemption when the Jewish people will be totally renewed.
"The renewal of the moon after its concealment is used as an analogy for the Redemption and the complete renewal of the Jewish people 'who will in the future be renewed as [the moon] is renewed.' "
16 Shevat, 5724 
...Now that we are in the weekly portion of Mattan Torah [the Giving of the Torah], we can all draw inspiration from it, as indeed we ought to, in accordance with the teaching of the Alter Rebbe [the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman], author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch, that the weekly portion of the Torah should be a source of timely inspiration and instruction to every Jew, in all his affairs of that week.
Mattan Torah has the further significance in that it has to be regarded and accepted as a new experience every day. This also evidenced from the bracha [blessing] over the Torah which we make every morning in our morning prayers, "Noten haTorah" [Who gives the Torah] -- in the present tense. As you know, our Sages declared that the words of the Torah should be as new every day.
One of the basic messages of the Ten Commandments is contained in the fact that they begin with "I am," i.e. the profound principle of monotheism, which in itself was a tremendous revolutionary idea in those days of idolatry, dominated by the polytheistic culture of Egypt (as indicated in detail in the Second Commandment, where all forms of idolatry are prohibited).
Incidentally, the emphasis on monotheism, and the denial of polytheism, is to be seen not only in the fact that these ideas form the subject of the first two Commandments, but also in the quantity of words and detail which they contain. At the same time, the Ten Commandments conclude with such apparently simple and obvious injunctions as "Thou shalt not steal," etc.
The profundity of monotheism, with which the Ten Commandments begin, and the simplicity of the ethical and moral laws, with which the Ten Commandments conclude, point to an important lesson, namely:
- The true believer in G-d is not the one who holds abstract ideas, but the one whose knowledge of G-d leads him to the proper daily conduct even in ordinary and commonplace matters, in his dealings with his neighbors and the respect for their property, even if it be an ox or a donkey, etc.
- The ethical and moral laws, even those that are so obvious as "Thou shalt not steal," and "Thou shalt not murder," will have actual validity and will be observed only if they are based on the First and Second Commandments, that is to say, based on Divine authority, the authority of the One and Only G-d.
If in a previous generation there were people who doubted the need of Divine authority for common morality and ethics in the belief that human reason is sufficient authority for morality and ethics, our present generation has unfortunately, in a most devastating and tragic way, refuted this mistaken notion. For, it is precisely the nation which had excelled itself in the exact sciences, the humanities and even in philosophy and ethics that turned out to be the most depraved nation in the world, making an ideal of murder and robbery, etc.
Anyone who knows how insignificant was the minority of Germans who opposed the Hitler regime, realizes that the German culture was not something which was practiced by a few individuals, but had embraced the vast majority of that nation, who considered itself the "super race," etc. Surely it is unnecessary to elaborate on this at greater length.
The Shluchim [emissaries of the Rebbe] Placement Department has announced the following two new Chabad Centers:
Rabbi Meir and Leiba Konikov recently arrived in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where they will be establishing a new Chabad Center serving the Fort Lee Jewish community;
Rabbi Meir and Devorah Leah Kirsh recently arrived in Tshaliabinsk, Russia, where they will be establishing a new Chabad Center and he will be serving as the official rabbi of the local Jewish community.
In addition, Rabbi Mendel and Shterna Lipsker will be enhancing the existing programs of Chabad of Sherman Oaks, California, and Rabbi Tzvi and Dina Pinsky and helping to expand Chabad-Lubavitch activities in Petersburg, Russia.
This Shabbat we bless the new month of Adar Rishon, or the "First Adar." (As this is a leap year in the Jewish calendar, an entire extra month is added between the months of Shevat and Adar. This month is known as "Adar Rishon" and the second Adar is known as "Adar Sheini.")
Our Sages have taught that "When Adar begins we increase in joy."
What benefit does joy bring us?
Chasidic teachings use the example of two individuals who are wrestling to teach us the advantage of joy. When two individuals are wrestling with each other, each striving to throw the other, if one is lazy and sluggish he will easily be defeated and thrown, even though he may be stronger than his opponent. Similarly, when we are trying to correct our bad habits or encourage spiritual growth, etc., it is impossible to accomplish any of these goals with a heavy heart or sluggishness, which originates in sadness. Rather, we are most successful at "overthrowing" our character flaws when we use alacrity which is derived from joy.
The Tzemach Tzedek, the third Chabad Rebbe, received a letter from one of his followers, complaining that it was difficult for him to be "joyous." The Tzemach Tzedek's advice to him was that he think only positive and happy thoughts, that he be careful not to speak of sad or depressing matters, and to behave as if his heart was full of joy. "Ultimately," concluded the Tzemach Tzedek, "this will be the reality."
As we enter the first month of Adar, a month when we are enjoined to increase our joy (over and above our regular mitzvot to "serve G-d with joy" and "to be joyous constantly," may we celebrate the greatest joy of all, the revelation of Moshiach and the ingathering of all Jews to our Holy Land, NOW!
And all the people answered together and said, "All that G-d has spoken we will do." (Exod. 19:8)
Instead of each individual answering, "I will do," the Jews all responded together, "We will do." Each individual Jew not only took upon himself to observe the Torah, but to be responsible for other Jews doing so.
Yitro, the High Priest of Midian, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard. (Exod. 18:1)
The Torah already mentions earlier that Yitro was the High Priest. When the Jews left Egypt and the Sea split, the world witnessed the greatness of the Jews. People from all over wanted to convert and be a part of the great Jewish nation. Since their motivation was to share in the glory, and not a sincere love of Torah and Judaism, they were rejected. However, when Yitro decided to convert he could not be accused of seeking glory, because he had already held the exalted position of High Priest of Midian.
Aharon and all the elders of Israel came to eat bread with the father- in-law of Moshe. (Exod. 18:12)
Moshe did not participate in this festive meal. After receiving the Torah, Moshe went up to heaven three times and came back the last time on Yom Kippur. On the following day he conveyed the Torah to the Jews. Since Moshe already knew about fasting on Yom Kippur, he couldn't participate in the meal, which took place on Yom Kippur. The rest of the Jewish people did not learn the Torah until the following day, and they were able to eat because they had not yet learned about the laws of fasting on Yom Kippur.
It was Stalinist Russia. The sudden banging on the door made the occupants' blood run cold. The knocking was getting louder. They were about to sneak out the back exit when the older of the two suggested that the younger one stay behind. It was better to wait a few minutes before opening the door.
The banging continued even more vigorously. "Who's there?" the youngster called out, but the stranger refused to identify himself. The youth flung open the door. Standing there was a high-ranking officer of the KGB. "Is this where the shochet lives?" the officer demanded.
"Shochet?" he replied. "There's no one here by the name of Shochet."
The officer gave him a penetrating look and said, "Then perhaps there's someone here who cuts children?"
"No," he said in the most confident tone he could muster.
For a moment the stranger said nothing. Then he whispered in the boy's ear: "Don't deny it. I know that the man who cuts children lives here!" The youth was shocked, for the man had uttered these words in Yiddish!"
"I am a Jew. Seven days ago my wife gave birth to a baby boy, and I want very much for him to be entered into the covenant of Abraham. My wife is very much opposed to the idea. Tomorrow at exactly nine in the morning she will be leaving the house. I am begging you to come to my house tomorrow and bring the mohel. The baby will be in one of the front rooms."
The officer told the astounded youngster his address and hurried away. "Remember," he said pleadingly, "Tomorrow is the eighth day of my son's life. I implore you to do me this favor."
Reb Eizik was the only shochet and mohel in the entire city, and Yaakov, a boy with no living relatives in the world, had been taken in to live with the shochet and accompanied him on his holy and very dangerous rounds.
The officer left. Was it a trap? Yaakov was convinced that it was a clever ruse cooked up to catch Reb Eizik red-handed. When Reb Eizik came home, Yaakov filled him in on everything. The Chasid thought for several minutes, the deep wrinkles that lined his forehead testifying to his inner conflict and turmoil. He had reached a decision:
"Tomorrow morning we will go to the officer's house to enter his son into the covenant of Abraham."
The following day, Reb Eizik and his ward arose at dawn and recited their prayers. Then they set out in the direction of the river. On the way, the Chasid explained that he was almost certain that this was, indeed, a trap. He therefore wished to immerse himself in a mikva before they continued. "If this is to be our last day on earth, at least we will die in a state of ritual purity," he declared.
The officer's house was located on one of the finest streets in the city, which only served to confirm their suspicions. The neighborhood was inhabited by the highest ranking members of the KGB and their families. But the two Jews stuck to their decision. Reb Eizik and Yaakov secreted themselves in a hiding place across from the officer's house. Seconds later they saw a woman dressed in the latest fashion exit the building and proceed down the block. Together they strode across the street.
Reb Eizik knocked on the massive door. An older woman opened the door and motioned for them to enter. In the corner of the room was a beautiful crib, inside which a tiny baby was sleeping peacefully. They ran over and picked up the child, whereupon a small white envelope fell out.
Inside the envelope was a letter from the baby's father, apologizing for his not being able to be present at his son's bris and asking that they give the baby a Jewish name. The rest of the letter was an emotional statement of his thanks and appreciation for the great mitzva they were doing, without their even knowing who he was.
Reb Eizik quickly and deftly performed the bris, while Yaakov acted as sandek. They were about to leave when the woman who had opened the door suddenly appeared and motioned for them to stay put.
Yaakov was terrified. Seconds later, however, the woman brought out a brand new frying pan, and handed them a dozen eggs! A veritable fortune! She invited them to make themselves omelets. The young boy was so malnourished, so starved, that the eggs went down with no effort at all.
After they finished eating and were about to leave, the woman presented them with a huge sack of bread, another gift from the Russian officer. Such a quantity of bread was something the average citizen could only dream of, but how could they walk down the street carrying the bag. Surely they would attract the attention of the ever watchful police.
The woman suddenly understood why the two Jews hesitated to accept the priceless gift. She opened a drawer, ripped off a wad of coupons from a booklet and handed them over.
Many months later Yaakov was walking down the street when the same Russian officer stopped him. "I must thank you again, from the bottom of my heart. I have one more request to make of you. Whenever you make a bris, you should tell my story. Let everyone know that even in Soviet Russia, there are still Jews who have a warm spot in their hearts for Yiddishkeit."
This request led to a tradition in Yaakov's family. He is honored with being the sandek, in commemoration of the role he played in that bris so very long ago, and he relates the story of the Russian officer, from beginning to end, with great enthusiasm and fervor.
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine
One should not entertain the notion that the King Moshiach must work miracles and wonders, bring about new phenomena within the world, resurrect the dead, or perform other similar deeds. This is not true.
(Maimonides, Laws of Kings, 4:3)