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We're in the midst of the baseball season now. Fans are willing to sit through hours of blazing sun, rain showers, and extra innings to watch their favorite teams. They're also hedging their bets on who will make it to the world series.
In baseball, each team has its own fans and supporters cheering it on to victory. When a team loses a game, its fans are naturally disappointed. A series of defeats will likely frustrate them even more, and they will lose interest in the team, switching their allegiance to another one. The players themselves, however, will persevere; the loyalty they feel towards their team is more enduring and will withstand the letdown of defeat.
This idea is relevant to the study of the human personality and how it deals with frustration and adversity.
There is a personality similar to that of the team fan. When confronted with adversity, this character type will generally attempt to avoid it, often behaving in an undisciplined and inconsistent manner. He will often change his course of action so as to escape from whatever causes him frustration and dissatisfaction.
By contrast, another personality type exists, similar to that of the player. Regardless of what happens in his life, he will persevere and put forth his best efforts to make things work out. Such individuals regard everything that occurs to them as part of a constellation of events designed for their betterment.
It goes without saying that the latter personality style is indicative of a well-integrated person capable of meeting adversity head on. His ability to maximize the gain from all situations, even those fraught with difficulty, lies in the recognition that they too are replete with opportunities for character development and refinement. These challenges, when viewed as opportunities, will serve to elevate both the individual and his environment.
A young man stood before the Rebbe one day in 1954, to receive a blessing before his bar mitzvah. He was surprised when the Rebbe asked him, in English. "Which sport do you like best?"
"Baseball," the boy replied.
"Do you ever play baseball with your friends?" The Rebbe asked.
"And do you ever see professional games?"
"Sure I do"
"What's the difference between your games and the professionals'?"
"Rabbi, When we play, it's just kids' stuff, but the professional games are for real."
The Rebbe addressed the boy with a broad smile. "In your heart you have a big field. The two sides are the yetzer tov, the good inclination and the yetzer hara, the negative drives. Until now they played kids' stuff, but from now on the game's for real. Remember, just as in baseball, the side which plays best will win. If you only want to you can always overcome your yetzer hara."
From: Listening to Life's Messages, adapted by Rabbi Dovid S. Polter from teachings of the Rebbe - available from Sichos in English.
In this week's Torah portion, Shelach, the 12 spies return from their mission to the Land of Israel with a report that is deliberately discouraging. Why did the spies so desperately want to remain in the desert?
In the desert, the Jews led an extremely spiritual existence. For 40 years they did not have to concern themselves with worldly matters, as all of their physical needs were met in a miraculous manner. G-d provided them with manna from the heavens. Water was supplied by "Miriam's well." Even the need for clothing was taken care of, as their garments never wore out and grew with their bodies. For 40 years the Jewish people had the luxury of devoting themselves completely to a life of the spirit.
The spies realized that once they entered the land, an entirely new era would begin. No longer would the Jewish people eat manna; they would have to labor long and hard to derive bread from the earth. Their purely spiritual existence would cease, and the Jews would find themselves involved in more mundane tasks.
It was for this reason that the spies described Eretz Yisrael as "a land which consumes its inhabitants." They warned that whoever will live there will likewise be turned into eretz -- preoccupied with worldly matters. The spies wished to prolong their purely spiritual service of G-d, a service uninterrupted by other pursuits. Thus they tried to dissuade the Jews from entering the land.
Unfortunately, the basic premise of the spies was erroneous. The world was created not for man to ignore the physical, but that he fashion "a dwelling place for G-d in the lower realms." G-d wants us to utilize every aspect of physical existence for the purpose of imbuing it with holiness, uncovering its hidden spirituality. The entire period of the Jewish people's wandering in the desert was only a preparatory stage before their entry into the land.
These two stages -- "desert" and "the land of Israel" -- are paralleled in the life of every Jew. There are times when a Jew is involved in spiritual pursuits, learning Torah and praying, and times when he must turn his attention to the more mundane task of earning a living.
However, a Jew mustn't think that it is necessary to cut himself off from the world, or aspire to lead a purely spiritual existence. Rather, the Jew's objective is to imbue the physical world with G-dliness. A Jew serves G-d even when he eats and drinks, provided he conducts himself according to the Torah. In this manner, each Jew fulfills the will of G-d, just as the Jewish people fulfilled G-d's will in entering the land of Israel.
Adapted by Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, volume 4
By Yehudis Cohen
Every once in a while, something so spectacular happens that we are confronted with the reality that G-d truly oversees every minute detail of our existence. Such a chain of events took place one Thursday morning in mid-February. Nineteen-year-old Rivkah (not her real name, she doesn't want to be thought of as a "hero") was driving back from Manhattan to her home in Crown Heights.
"I had been taking care of something for my mother," Rivkah begins. "I usually travel by subway but that day someone had lent me a car. After driving over the Brooklyn Bridge, I made a wrong turn onto a deserted side street. As I was about to make a u-turn I noticed an overturned car at the end of the road."
Rivkah drove closer and saw smoke coming from the car. "I ran over to the other vehicle, looked through the driver's window and was horrified to see a woman suspended upside down. Her face was covered with blood and her shoulders were dislocated. I knew that you're not supposed to move someone in this situation. But nobody was around and I was concerned that, if the woman was still alive, she might die from hemorrhaging or the car might explode before I could get an ambulance."
With strength beyond her natural ability, Rivkah managed to open the car door and carefully eased the injured women out. Rivkah grabbed the women's pocketbook which, she hoped, would contain the woman's identification.
After pulling her out, Rivkah realized that the woman was pregnant. She quickly found the woman's pulse and then carried her into the back seat of the car. Knowing that every second was crucial, Rivkah considered the feasibility of flagging down a police car or finding a working pay phone to call for help. Within seconds she had decided to drive straight to a hospital.
"I headed back over the Brooklyn Bridge toward S. Vincents. As I drove, I reached into the woman's pocketbook and found her driver's license. Her last name was Hispanic."
At a red light, Rivkah checked on the woman. "I didn't find her pulse! I pulled over and began administering CPR. In less than a minute, thank G-d, she was breathing again."
Rivkah pulled up to the emergency room entrance of S. Vincents and ran in. Covered in blood, the hospital staff mistook her for the victim. She quickly explained that she was unharmed but that there was a critically injured person in her car. As soon as the woman was inside and being attended to, Rivkah gave the hospital all the information she knew as well as her own name and telephone number. When Rivkah was certain that she had done everything she could, she left the hospital.
"After Shabbat I returned to visit the injured woman," says Rivkah. "She was still unconscious. The nurses told me that she had needed 191 stitches and had had an emergency ceasarian section. The baby boy was premature but was doing well. "The chain of events of Thursday morning came rushing back at me: the borrowed car; the wrong turn; my EMT training. Truly nothing happens by chance.
As I was considering these thoughts, a large man walked into the room. He told me his name and upon hearing mine said, 'Thank you for saving my wife's life and my firstborn child's life. How can I ever repay you?'
"My immediate reaction was to ask, 'Are you Jewish?' I was surprised when he told me 'yes.'
"'Buy tefilin and wear them daily,' I told him."
Tefilin. The man vaguely remembered something about tefilin from his Bar Mitzvah. Without hesitating, he agreed to Rivkah's request. He asked how much the tefilin would cost and handed Rivkah a check, asking her to bring the tefilin to the hospital.
On Monday Rivkah returned with the tefilin. By now, the woman was semi-conscious. She could not, as yet, communicate. But the husband was very interested in talking to Rivkah. "He asked me many questions about Judaism. He told me that he had never really been involved in Judaism. His wife, however, was interested in Jewish things. 'Even though my wife isn't Jewish, she knows much more than I do because she's into culture and religion,' he told me. Then, he casually mentioned that his mother-in-law is Jewish.
"I was stunned. I told him that if the mother is Jewish then the child is Jewish. 'Your wife is a Jew and your newborn son is a Jew,' I told him."
On Tuesday Rivkah received a phone call. "Rivkah," a muffled voice on the other end said, "I want to thank you for saving my life. I am going to try to make my life worth having been saved."
The woman, too, wanted to do something as a small sign of her appreciation. Rivkah suggested that she begin to light Shabbat candles. The woman was eager to begin that very Friday.
"The next time I went to the hospital I gave them a 'Shir L'Maalot' card to put in the baby's bassinet. We discussed the importance of circumcision. The mother wanted her baby to have a brit, but the father was a little resistant. The baby was born premature so there was time for them to consider the importance of this mitzva. The baby was well enough to have a brit just days before Passover, the 11th of Nissan, the Rebbe's birthday. They named him 'Menachem Mendel.' "
One woman in the school where Rivkah teaches approached her after hearing what had happened. "If I had been in your shoes, when the husband asked me what he could do to thank me, I would probably have said something like, 'You don't need to thank me, thank G-d.' But because you have been educated by the Rebbe you knew to tell this man to thank G-d by doing a mitzva, and what's more, a mitzva that he does every day!"
Rivkah hopes that people's amazement at the part she played in this incident doesn't overshadow the true story here: the subtle Divine Providence of these finely patterned pieces of the puzzle that allowed Rivkah to save two lives, two worlds, and reintroduce a family to Judaism.
Summer time is vacation time for school age children and young adults. Many people take advantage of this break to go on family vacations or at least long weekends. In 5722 (1962) the Rebbe urged people to use the more relaxed atmosphere and extra hours for extra Torah study. Your local Chabad House never goes on vacation, nor does Chabad Lubavitch in Cyberspace (www.chabad.org), pre-recorded Torah telephone classes and Judaica book stores. So take advantage of the summer season to enhance your Jewish knowledge.
27th of Shevat, 5723 
After not having heard from you for some time, I received your recent letter on which you write about yourself, and your settling down to study at the yeshiva.
With regard to the question of parnasa [livelihood], you are quite right that it is too premature, at this time, to worry about it, since the question can come up in only several years time, after completing your studies at the yeshiva. During this time, it is not only that you yourself may have a change of mind or a change of heart as to what career you might want to take up, but also the general circumstances are changeable and in constant flux, so that it makes no sense to worry about it at this time. Therefore, in view of the fact that you have only just now re-entered the yeshiva, you should apply yourself for at least one-two years to the exclusive study of the Torah, without distractions, and without any external thoughts or plans, and concentrate on your learning with diligence and devotion.
The Torah itself has that great quality of purifying the mind processes of thought, as well as deepening the grasp of things and strengthening one's resolutions. This will, therefore, in itself be the best possible preparation for your future life, and for whatever decision you will have to make later on.
With regard to matters of Chasidut, etc., it would be well for you to consult with our Lubavitcher friends in Sunderland or London, and to be guided by their advice...
Hoping to hear good news from you,
24th of Sivan, 5738 
I duly received your letter of the 24th of Iyar. As requested, I will remember you in prayer for the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good in the matters about which you wrote.
Having had the great zechut [privilege] to find your identity and commitment to Yiddishkeit [Judaism], Torah and mitzvot, under such adverse circumstances and overwhelming odds, until G-d helped you to come out from there to freedom, it is gratifying to note your efforts on behalf of those who are as yet still behind the Iron Curtain, and we surely share the hope and confidence that they too will find freedom.
What I would like to emphasize in particular is that a person like yourself, and other Jews of similar experience, have a tremendous impact on their surroundings in this country, for they serve as a shining example and inspiration. Certainly where one has a prominent position in a certain field, it is human nature that many people look up to him and are influenced by his personal way of life and ideas, including those which are not related to his particular field. Thus, one is in a privileged situation to promote Yiddishkeit, Torah and mitzvot, to a far greater extent.
It is also certain that where the opportunities and challenges are greater, G-d provides the extra strength to meet them and carry them out in the fullest measure.
14th of Tevet, 5731 
I was pleased to receive a good report about your progress in your studies, as well as your letter of the 4th of January, conveyed to me by your parents.
May G-d grant the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good in the matters about which you write.
As for the question whereas to continue your studies, it is well to bear in mind that in the present day and age Jews are under extreme pressure not only physically, but even more so spiritually. The forces of alienation and assimilation are strong, and it is therefore necessary for each and every Jew to fortify himself and herself in the maximum possible measure. This calls for attendance at an educational institution with the utmost Yirat Shamayim [fear of heaven] and most conducive atmosphere to inspire and permeate the students, so as not to be influenced or affected by outside pressures.
If anyone may think that he or she should not be afraid to be exposed to a test or trial, suffice it to mention that our Sages of blessed memory who knew well human nature, strongly cautioned against such overconfidence. Indeed, every Jew, even a Tzadik [righteous person] who has spent scores of years in learning and practicing the Torah and mitzvot, also begins the day, like any other Jew, with the prayer at the beginning of the morning prayer: "Bring me not into the hands of temptation ." Moreover, our Sages point out that when King David, G-d's anointed, in a moment of great spiritual elation said, "Test me, oh G-d, and try me," it brought him into trouble.
...I am confident that you will make the right decision, and may G-d grant you the utmost hatzlacha [success].
TO AWAIT MOSHIACH
To Await Moshiach, by Rabbi Alexander Zushe Kohn, is a book for young readers. It contains sixteen short stories of great Jewish leaders and their anticipation of the coming of Moshiach.
Each story is accompanied by a black and white illustration and, at the conclusion of the tale, the lesson to be learned from that particular story.
This Shabbat we read the Torah portion of Shelach, in which we learn about the spies who Moshe sent to explore the land of Israel before the Jews would enter it. This was not a commandment from G-d, but a choice left to Moshe's discretion. We learn this from the words of the Torah portion, "shelach lecha -- send for you," according to your own discretion.
The Rebbe explains that the spies' mission described in the Torah portion can be compared to the soul's descent into the material world.
The mission of a Jewish soul is to descend into this world enclothed in a physical body in order to make this world a dwelling place for G-d. In order for the soul to fulfill its mission, it must "explore the land," to figure out the nature of the service that must be carried out and which conflicts and difficulties will arise, and what is the best way to transform the land into a dwelling for G-d.
This mission, like the sending of the spies, is left up to man's discretion. Indeed, G-d allows for the possibility of an error in both cases, because in order to make this world into a dwelling place for G-d, a person must act upon his or her own initiative, based on his or her own decision.
The act of the spiritual soul coming down to this physical world and elevating it to a higher spiritual plane by making it a dwelling place for G-d is the perfect synthesis of material and spiritual. We have recently celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, in which we commemorate the giving of the Torah. The act of bringing the very holy Torah into this world made it possible to fuse together the spiritual and the physical. May we imminently experience the ultimate fusion of the two in the Messianic Era.
Moshe called Hoshea son of Nun "Yehoshua" (Num. 13:16)
Moshe prayed that Yehoshua not be influenced to join the spies in their plan to bring back discouraging news to the Jewish people about the Land of Israel. Yehoshua knew that Moshe would pass away before the people entered the land and Yehoshua would be the one to lead the Jews into Israel. Moshe was concerned that Yehoshua, who was very devoted to him, would refrain from opposing the spies so that Moshe would live longer.
And how is the land...are there trees in it or not? (Num. 13:20)
Rashi, a foremost commentator on the Torah, explains this to mean that Moshe was really asking if there were any righteous people in the land who would protect the inhabitants. If that is the case, then it would have made more sense to tell the spies to search the synagogues and study-houses rather than the fields. What Moshe was really doing was conveying a lesson to the Jews. A truly righteous person doesn't shut himself away in a synagogue, but is out there among the people, and like a tree he is producing fruit, the fruit of good deeds.
Calev silenced the people toward Moshe and said, "We shall surely ascend and conquer it." (Num. 13:30)
Yehoshua didn't join in with Calev in his attempt to calm the Jews because everyone knew about the prophecy that he would lead them into Israel, and he didn't want people to think that he was speaking in favor of the Israel in order to become the leader as quickly as possible.
They brought forth to the Children of Israel an evil report on the land they had spied out (Num. 13:32)
The spies didn't want the Jews to enter the land, because while they were in the desert they didn't have to deal with material matters. They ate manna, water was provided, and even their clothes were cleaned and ironed. Once they entered Israel, they would be busy farming their land and providing sustenance for themselves. Therefore, the spies felt it would be better to remain in the desert so the Jews would have more free time to study Torah.
Reprinted from Vedibarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
Getzel Shlomo was his name. He was a pauper, one of those beggars who roamed the town of Harki, going from door to door, asking for alms. If anyone pitied him and handed him a coin, and even if they didn't, his only response was "Shma Yisrael," and the townspeople were sure he was incapable of uttering any other words. He was regarded as an imbecile, a half-wit, who occasionally passed through their lives like a shadow and then was thought about no more.
The begger's young son, Chaim Shmuel grew up, it seemed, with little help from his parents. When it was time for his Bar Mitzva, a local, kindhearted teacher taught him how to read and don tefilin with the blessings. When the boy reached the age of fourteen, he left Harki to strike out on his own to try to make his fortune in another town where he wouldn't be known as "The begger Getzel Shlomo's son."
Life was not easy for him, but he was honest and hardworking, and he eked out a living doing handy-work. After ten years, he married the daughter of a local villager and settled down.
During that time, Getzel Shlomo continued his daily rounds of the householders of Harki. And throughout all the years no one ever heard him say anything more than the two words, "Shma Yisrael."
Now, Getzel Shlomo was very old, and he sensed that he was about to die. He called the members of the Chevra Kadisha (the Jewish burial society) to come to him and hear his last request. The men entered the bare room where Getzel Shlomo lay on a wooden pallet.
"My friends, I would like to ask you the favor that you carry out my final wish and bury me in the poorest section of the cemetery at the beginning of a new row. I am very sorry to say that I have no money to pay for the burial, but at least I have saved you the trouble of bringing water to wash my body," and he pointed to the corner of the room where a barrel of water stood.
The Chevra Kadisha members were astounded. Getzel Shlomo could actually speak! They had obviously been wrong about him. He was not the imbecile they all had taken him for. Then, Getzel Shlomo handed one of the gravediggers a basket and said, "Please be sure to bury this with me."
The gravediggers gathered around the basket, curious to discover what it might contain. Looking inside, they saw a pile of papers. "Maybe it's Getzel Shlomo's literary works," one joked, and loud chuckles broke out from the others in the crowd.
When, a short while later, they returned to Getzel Shlomo's room, they found him lying with closed eyes, reciting his last prayers. He then arranged himself and silently drew his last breath.
The Rabbi of Harki, who always made it a point to attend all funerals, whether of the great or the small, asked that he be notified of the time of Getzel Shlomo's funeral. When the Rabbi arrived, the sexton showed him the basket of papers and told the Rabbi that the deceased had wished to be buried with them. Was it allowed? The Rabbi's astonishment could be seen on his face as he flipped through the papers. They contained a meticulous accounting of every penny Getzel Shlomo had collected over all the years. The tiny figures told how he had collected money and then distributed it to the poor of Harki. Getzel Shlomo had performed the demeaning work of begging to spare others from suffering the shame of begging.
The Rabbi looked up at the crowd and declared, "Getzel Shlomo is a hidden Tzadik and he must be accorded the honor which is his due." The Rabbi himself undertook to recite the Kaddish until the dead man's son could be located.
It was only after two years that Chaim Shmuel heard of his father's death and discovered that his father had been a hidden Tzadik. It was then that he returned to Harki together with his family. He continued working very hard to earn his daily bread, but he never complained of his difficult lot. And he never thought of capitalizing on the growing reputation of his saintly father.
One person, though, took a particular interest in Chaim Shmuel, and that was the Baal Shem Tov. Soon after Chaim Shmuel returned to Harki, the Baal Shem Tov instructed his followers there to take him under their wing. He informed them that the son of the Tzadik possessed a very lofty soul and was destined for great spiritual and material riches.
Under the loving tutelage of the Chasidim, Chaim Shmuel began to advance in his study of Torah. He also became very successful in business and it wasn't long before he became one of the greatest philanthropists in Harki, as well as a well-respected scholar.
"What is our task now? There only needs to be the acceptance of Moshiach's kingship by the people, and the devotion and attachment between the king and the people in a most revealed sense."
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Mishpatim, 5751)