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"You didn't buy a house!" That's the home-grown wisdom one Yiddishe Mama dispenses to her adult children when they purchase an item that they later decide is not to their liking. It wasn't such a big investment of time and money that you have to lose sleep over it, she is counseling her offspring.
But once you've purchased that house, or even if you're not yet up to buying a house but simply want to make your rented quarters homey, what furnishings should it contain?
Jewish teachings suggest that we furnish our homes, first and foremost, with people.
Rabbi Yosay ben Yoezer from Tzrayda taught that our homes should be a meeting place for Jewish scholars. His colleague, Rabbi Yosay ben Yochanan of Jerusalem said that our homes should be wide open for guests and that the poor should be treated as members of one's household.
Taking this advice from our Sages gives a special ambiance to our homes even before we've decided on the decor.
But what of the furniture, fixtures, appliances, gadgets, rugs and art? When purchased with the right attitude, these can all be within the spirit of Judaism.
Such an attitude is aptly represented by a story of Reb Pinchas Reizes, a famous chasid of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe.
Reb Pinchas was fabulously wealthy. And yet, when he mentioned to Rabbi Shneur Zalman his plans to build himself a beautiful, brick mansion, the Rebbe asked him, "Pinchas, why do you need such a mansion?"
As most of the other houses in his city were made of wood, his home would stand out and could be construed as an ostentatious sign of wealth and pretentiousness.
"Rebbe, believe me," explained Reb Pinchas, "when I think about building my house, I shed more tears than there will be bricks. I keep reminding myself, 'Do I need a brick mansion?'
"But, because I will have a mansion, important community meetings will take place in 'Pinchas' mansion.' Since the meeting is taking place in 'Pinchas' mansion,' Pinchas has a say. Once Pinchas has a say...!
"Now, if Pinchas doesn't have a mansion, the meeting won't be taking place by Pinchas. Then Pinchas won't have a say...."
Rabbi Shneur Zalman responded, "You are right, it is a proper thing for you." 
Some people chose to tailor their home's furnishings to the guests that will fill their homes. This might preclude white sofas or carpeting, expensive antiques or collectables within reach of small children, or other items one must ponder before purchasing if one's home will be filled with guests of all shapes, sizes and age.
To make a dwelling into a "home," a home in which one's family and friends can truly feel "at home," the advice of Jewish teachings is the best decorator around.
- (Back to text) From the soon to be published Early Chassidic Personalities by Rabbi S. B. Avtzon
This week's Torah portion, Pinchas, details the manner in which the land of Israel was to be apportioned between the Twelve Tribes. The Torah states: "According to the mouth of the lot shall the inheritance of each be divided."
The lot determined which section of the Land of Israel each tribe would inhabit. It was not a rational process, but a method of dividing the land in which no logical reasoning was apparent.
According to Chasidic philosophy, the physical plane of existence is a reflection of its higher spiritual source. It follows, therefore, that just as the division of the Land of Israel was accomplished by means of a lot, so too are certain aspects of a Jew's spiritual service determined in a super-rational manner.
To explain: Every Jew is obligated to keep all of the Torah's mitzvot. However, certain commandments are more pertinent to some individuals than to others.
We are told of various Sages of long ago who were especially scrupulous in their performance of one mitzva. Of course, being Tzadikim, they observed all the Torah's commandments. But one mitzva was more personally relevant than all the rest. How do we explain this?
That a particular mitzva has special significance for a given individual is not something that can be explained rationally; the person himself doesn't necessarily perceive that this is so, either. In truth, it is a matter that transcends intellectual understanding, just like the process of choosing by lot. Indeed, the particular mitzva that is most relevant to each of us is determined from Above.
The Jew's function in life is to be especially careful in that one area, and to observe that mitzva to the best of his ability.
The simplest way to determine which mitzva is the most vital to us personally is by examining the relative ease or difficulty we encounter in observing it. As a general rule, the mitzva we find the most difficult to fulfill is the one that is most imperative on a personal level. In fact, the hardship we experience is proof of this, as the evil inclination, recognizing the mitzva's special significance, will spare no effort in trying to deter us. The machinations of the evil inclination increase in direct proportion to the mitzva's importance.
The lesson to be learned is tremendous. Whenever we find it exceptionally difficult to do a certain mitzva, or it seems that the effort required of us is greater than that required of other people, it is forbidden to throw up our hands in defeat. On the contrary, we must try even harder in that one area, as it is most relevant to us personally. Indeed, the mitzva for which we must overcome the greatest number of obstacles is the one which can be said to have fallen to our lot.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 2
The Tzivos Hashem Newsletter, published five times yearly by Tzivos Hashem/Jewish Children International, contains a heartwarming feature: Jewish Heroes. In this column, children write about why they consider their grandmother or grandfather a Jewish Hero.
My Grandfather: A Man of Honesty, Kindness, and Joy by Asher Gluck
I want to write you about my grandfather, Mr. Asher Gluck. Three things made him a great Jewish hero: His honesty, his kindness, and his simcha [joy].
These great qualities do not just come naturally. A person has to fight the Yetzer Hara [evil inclination] all the time. But that was my grandfather's life, day by day. My grandfather lived in Israel. Every day, when he arrived at work, he had to punch in a time card like all the workers. At the end of the day they would "punch out."
All the employees used to punch in their cards as soon as they arrived. Then they would change into their work clothes. But my grandfather did not do that. He would come in, change into his work clothes, and then with one hand on the machinery, he would punch in and begin working quickly.
When he finished his work at the end of the day, it was the same. He would first punch out, and then change back into his street clothes. He never wanted to take a penny from his boss that he had not earned honestly.
If he received phone calls at work, he would pay for the time he had taken off from the job.
And at night, if he stayed in shul longer to learn after everybody left, he would make sure to pay for the extra electricity he had used.
Everybody who knew my grandfather liked him. Once, a few people made a bet to see who could be the first one to say "Good morning" to my grandfather. The bet was only for fun. But no one ever succeeded. My grandfather always won!
He had a ready smile for everyone he met, in the street or in stores. On Shabbat he would always be the first one to say "Good Shabbos" to everyone. His face would glow with a warm smile, and his eyes would sparkle with pleasure. Everyone was happy to receive such a warm and kind greeting.
My grandfather did not have a lot of money. But he used to say that every person is created in the image of G-d, and deserves to be treated royally. There was always a place ready in the house if anyone needed a bed to sleep in or a meal to eat. He treated everyone like a king or queen. At a wedding he would be the first to make sure that everyone had a chair, even if it meant giving up his own. His hospitality was so great that it could never be measured or returned.
I am very proud to have the same name as my grandfather. We should all merit to follow in his ways, and to go with our good deeds to greet Moshiach speedily in our days.
Reaching Out to the Lonely by Aron Meir and Levi Yitzchak Shloush
Our grandmother, Marilyn Sara Forse, has her own special brand of kindness. She always looks for ways to make people feel they belong.
When Grandma was a little girl, both her mother and father passed away. She knew what loneliness was all about.
After she married Grampa Max (Moshe) Forse, of blessed memory, she settled in Portland, Oregon. Her special kind of kindness is well known. She is always looking for fellow Jews who are new in town. Sometimes she brings them a basket of challa, wine, and other treats. Sometimes, she invites them to her home, and introduces them to people she thinks they might like. Many people say that because of Grandma they were able to make friends in Portland.
When the Russian Jews began to arrive in the '60s, Grandma was there to introduce them to her friends, to help them learn English, and to help them get furniture. She still helps the Russian Jews today.
When Grampa passed away ten years ago, Grandma decided to start a group for Jewish widows to meet, talk and share good times. Now many of the ladies get together for Shabbat and Yom Tov, meals too.
Once someone criticized her, saying, "Why do you always pick up the strays?" as if her old friends wouldn't like her anymore if she kept on associating with the lonely.
Grandma was upset for a few days, but then she pushed the whole thing out of her mind, because she there is no such thing as a "stray" Jew.
Besides, she knows how much she herself benefits from helping people. She is always making new friends. And guess what? All of her old friends still like her, too.
We are so proud of our Grandma, and all her good deeds. May she enjoy good health and happiness until 180!
Joy in the "Three Weeks"
The period from the 17th of Tammuz through the 9th of Av is commonly referred to as "The Three Weeks," when we mourn the destruction of our Holy Temples. The Rebbe has emphasized that, within the parameters of Jewish law, we should be joyous, in anticipation of the long-awaited Redemption. "In addition to adding joy through Torah study, there must also be joy in the plain sense. This is accomplished through gathering many Jews together, especially in a Chasidic gathering which can accomplish wondrous things...one must utilize every opportunity which Jewish law allows to add in joy. At a brit or pidyon haben, for example one should increase in joy as much as possible... The joy can still transcend all boundaries."
(The Rebbe, 15 Tammuz, 5747-1987)
15th of Sivan, 5718 
I am in receipt of your letter of May 29th in which you write about the problem which Mrs. __ discussed with me during her visit here.
As I told her, it is undoubtedly wrong to exclude any person or persons from participating in the __ meetings and activities, for it is necessary to give every Jew an opportunity to learn our Torah, which is called the Torah of Life, in the dual sense of being a guide in life as well as the source of life. To withhold the benefit of the Torah is like withholding the fountains of life.
Moreover, as it is a question of participation in the said meetings to hear the words of the Torah, and learn more about the customs and practices of our people, there can be no room for offense to anyone. Such participation should therefore not only be tolerated, but even welcomed gladly.
On the other hand, if despite the above there are persons who cannot find it in their hearts to attend the same meetings with the others, making the issue "either-or," regrettable though it is, the choice must, of course, be in favor of the organizers and old members. So much in so far as Mrs.__ is concerned.
With regard to you and your family, while I understand your feelings, it should be borne in mind that not every member of that family is equally to blame, and there may well be certain members who did not agree with the way it acted -- a thing which would be difficult to ascertain. It is therefore not right to condemn one and all on the basis of mere suspicion and doubt, and to deprive them from the opportunity of benefitting from the Torah and mitzvot, the loss of which is certain.
Thus, my opinion, as above, is clear: if it is a question of "either- or" -- the priority belongs to the older members who put their heart and soul into the __. At the same time I must emphasize that this is not the best solution, for there should be room for all in such sacred work, as the Torah and especially Chasidism demands "Ahavat Yisrael" [love of one's fellow Jew], even where some personal sacrifice, real or imaginary, is involved.
I hope you had an enjoyable and inspiring Festival of Matan Torah [giving of the Torah] and Kabalat HaTorah [receiving of the Torah].
5th of Menachem Av, 5721 
I received your letter, in which you write about the old problem which we already discussed in the past, namely, the feud between families and how it reflects upon the work of __.
You will surely recall that when the problem first came to my attention, I expressed my opinion and made my suggestions on the basis of the viewpoint of the Torah. As the viewpoint of the Torah isn't changeable, it is clear that the suggestion I made at that time is still valid at this time.
Now that we are in the midst of summer, which necessarily brings about a change in the program of activity, I trust, however, that the summer months will not bring about a complete cessation, G-d forbid, of the activities of the __, but they will be continuous, and in some respects even more active, since the summer months offer special opportunities to come in contact with people of various circles, etc.
Hoping to hear good news from you,
As in previous years, the students of the Lubavitcher Yeshivot will be visiting numerous communities around the world during the summer months. The cities and countries include: Bulgaria; Saskatoon, Regina and Alberta, Canada; Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Aruba, Bonai, Curacao, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, the Caribbean; Guatemala; Honduras; El Salvador; Chile; Japan; Taiwan; Vietnam; the Philippines; Malaysia; Indonesia; China; Frankfurt, Munich, Germany; Belfast, Cork, Dublin, Leitrim, Ireland; Liechtenstein; Kaliningrad; Estonia; Martinique; Guadalupe; Poland; Norway; Finland; Ecuador; Bolivia; Spain; Portugal; Gibraltar; Turkey; Yugoslavia, as well as many communities in Australia and the surrounding countries and islands there. They will also be visiting small communities throughout the United States.
This week we begin, once again, to read on Shabbat afternoons Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers). The first Mishna in the chapter reads:
"Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; the Prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly."
We can learn many lessons about positive character traits from this one statement. If this list was written merely for the purpose of describing the chain of tradition, a more detailed list would have been appropriate. However, each individual or group mentioned teaches us a lesson on how better to forge a relationship with the Torah.
Moses represents both humility and pride. Although it says that he was "more humble than any man on the face of the earth," at the same time he was the epitome of strong leadership.
Joshua exemplifies complete and total devotion. One must be completely devoted and committed to learning Torah and observing its laws.
The Elders represent cultivated wisdom and maturity. The complete devotion that Joshua represented must be nurtured through study.
The Prophets teach us how to discipline our thinking processes so as to reflect our spiritual values.
The Men of the Great Assembly reveal to us the ability to see G-dliness and holiness in the time of exile.
Even mentioning Mount Sinai teaches us a lesson. Sinai is a mountain, encouraging us to stand tall and proud. But it was also the smallest of the mountains, which reminds us that we should temper our pride with humility.
Let us learn from the examples set before us, of pride and humility, of devotion and disciplined intellect, until G-dliness will be evident to the whole world with the coming of our righteous Moshiach, may it be Now!
When he zealously avenged My vengeance among them (Num. 25:11)
Very often when someone sees a problem within a community, he will attempt to solve the problem by getting others to join him. He will persuade them to detach themselves from the community, thereby causing a split in the community. Pinchas saw a problem and acted zealously, but not in a way that caused division in the community. The lesson for us is that we should strive for unity, and when attempting to solve a problem within the community, one should work together with the community.
(Rav Pinchas M'Koritz)
When he zealously avenged My vengeance among them...Behold, I give him My covenant of peace (Num. 25:11-12)
On the surface, both Pinchas and Korach acted in the same fashion. They both saw something they considered wrong and took drastic action. The difference between them is how they went about correcting what they thought was wrong. Whatever Pinchas did was, as it states, "among them," within the community and without affecting the unity of the Jews. Korach worked the opposite way, creating disunity and divisiveness.
(Rav Rafael Stein)
Our father died in the wilderness and was not...in the assembly of Korach, but he died for his own sin and he had no sons. (Num. 27:3)
The daughters of Tzelafchad wanted to inherit their father's share in the Land of Israel. They therefore mentioned the cause of his death, stressing that he was not a member of Korach's rebellion. For, according to Jewish law, when a person is sentenced to death for rebelling against the king, his assets become government property. If Tzelafchad had died as a member of Korach's group, they would have lost all claims to his inheritance.
From Vedibarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
In the Talmud it states: "Rabbi Eliezer said: 'A person should do teshuva [repent] one day before his death.'" Therefore, a person must do teshuva every day, not knowing exactly when the day of his death will arrive. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai explained this statement with a story.
Once, a king informed all of the people who resided in his palace that they were invited to a feast. However, he did not tell anyone at what time the party was scheduled.
Some of the servants said, "We have so much work to do. We cannot just cease working while we wait until the king tells us that it is time for the feast. When the king does decide that it is time, we will notice the preparations being made. Only then will we prepare ourselves and put on our fine clothes for the party."
Other servants were wiser. They said. "The king is capable of preparing a banquet at a moment's notice. We had better wash up and get dressed now, so we won't be caught off guard." They dressed in their finest clothing, eagerly awaiting any mention of the upcoming party.
After some time passed, the king suddenly made an announcement: "All residents of the palace are to come to the banquet hall immediately." Everyone rushed to follow the king's order. The clever servants were all dressed appropriately for a royal feast, and they proceeded to the banquet hall. The ones who had not prepared themselves were afraid that they would be locked out if they didn't hurry, so they didn't take the time to change out of their soiled work clothes.
The king was very pleased with the wise servants and served them a lavish feast. To the other servants he turned and said, "Fools! Why did you not get ready immediately? Did I not tell you that I was preparing a banquet? How dare you arrive in shabby work clothes! You do not deserve to partake in the feast!"
"What shall we do?" the servants asked, shame-faced.
The king replied, "You will stand by and watch as the others enjoy their feast. Your embarrassment will be your reward."
Rabbi Yochanan explained to his students, "You must be like the clever servants in the story. G-d can summon any one of us to His palace with a moment's notice. Prepare yourselves each day, through teshuva and good deeds. Then when your time comes, you will ascend directly to heaven with pure souls, and you will be admitted at once to the "banquet," to enjoy G-d's presence. This is the way of the righteous.
"The foolish servants are like people who feel that they can behave in any fashion for their entire life, and who insist that they will improve their behavior right before they die. When they are summoned to Heaven, sometimes at a moment's notice, they arrive still wearing their "dirty clothes," their bad deeds that they hadn't done teshuva for. Imagine their shame as they see the righteous enjoying the feast that G-d has set out for them.
Reprinted from the Tzivos Hashem Newsletter
In the times of the Talmud a certain merchant who sold all kinds of herbs and medicines lived near the town of Zippori. Everyday he walked through the streets calling out, "Whoever wants to live a long life, come and buy this special potion!"
Of course, wherever he went people poured from their homes to see what this magical potion could be which would give them long life. Once, the great Sage, Rabbi Yannai came to see what the man was selling, for he, too, wanted long life. "No, Rabbi, you, who devote your whole life to studying the Torah, don't need this medicine."
But Rabbi Yannai was insistent. The salesman took from his bag a book of Psalms and handed it to the rabbi. "Is this the potion which offers long life?" the Sage asked.
The merchant opened the book and pointed to the words, "Who is the man who wants life? Guard your tongue from speaking evil." The merchant explained, "I teach this sentence to all the people who come to buy my medicine."
Rabbi Yannai was impressed by the merchant's explanation. "You are very correct," he said, "this is truly the potion of long life! Now I understand this teaching which King David implanted in his Psalms, for when we refrain from maligning others, G-d will grant us long life.
King Solomon, the wisest of men said, 'He who guards his mouth and tongue, guards his soul from evil.' You are selling the best possible 'medicine,' and I bless you that you will have lots of success in your work!"
Return in mercy to Jerusalem Your city and dwell therein as You have promised; speedily establish therein the throne of David Your servant, and rebuild it, soon in our days, as an everlasting edifice. Blessed are You L-rd, who rebuilds Jerusalem.
(From the "Shemona Esrei" prayer recited three times daily)