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"Uncle Sam needs you." Posters displayed in the United States during World War I and World War II with this slogan carried an illustration of a red-white-and-blue clad elderly man pointing his finger at YOU.
In addition to encouraging every able-bodied man to enlist in the U.S. Army, Uncle Sam was hoping to inspire the average guy or gal on the street to do everything possible for the welfare of the country, including volunteering one's time for the war effort.
And in times of peace? In the 1960's President Kennedy established the Peace Corps to rally and unite American youth. The Peace Corps was based on the foundation of volunteering to help those less fortunate here and abroad.
Today we have "volunteerism." From major conferences on volunteering addressed by important political figures to rules in schools that before getting a diploma one must devote a predetermined number of hours to volunteering, we've come to the realization that its good to do good!
Concerning volunteering, we might ask the age-old question, "Is it 'Jewish'?"
Volunteering is most definitely an activity prescribed by Jewish teachings. Our Sages have taught that the world stands on three "pillars" - Torah study, prayer and acts of kindness. An act of kindness is a good deed, a favor, an action one performs not expecting to be "repaid." Though such activities don't usually require an outlay of money, they do involve an expenditure of time and emotional involvement.
An act of kindness can be a one-time occurrence. Someone asks you to do him a favor on the spur of the moment and you (graciously) agree. Or the mood hits you to do something nice for someone else and you look for an opportunity to fulfill the urge. Volunteering, on the other hand, conjures up images of being in a certain place at a specific time; making a commitment in advance and sticking to it.
As Judaism encourages establishing fixed times for activities such as Torah study and prayer (two of the three "pillars"), it follows that we should also establish fixed times for acts of kindness, i.e., volunteering!
Of course, the importance of people spending time volunteering does not apply only to Jews.
In fact, years before conferences on volunteerism or volunteering being a prerequisite for one's diploma, the Rebbe spoke about the need for Jews to "spread goodness among the other nations... In particular, this involves spreading the observance of the Seven Universal Laws commanded to Noah and his descendants. These laws center on the theme of establishing a stable environment. This involves living ordered lives, seeking not to damage a colleague's property. On the contrary, we must stress the importance of helping others, even when doing so involves an expense."
So, volunteer away. Encourage your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers as well. It's "good for the Jews" and good for the world.
[If you would like more information on the Seven Laws, please write to: email@example.com and in the "Subject" or "Body" write: SEVEN LAWS and we'll e-mail u a copy].
This week's Torah portion, Vayeira, relates the story of the akeida, the Binding of Isaac. G-d said to Abraham, "Please take your son...and offer him there for a burnt offering."
Abraham was tested by G-d ten times throughout his life. The akeida constituted the tenth and final test.
The Talmud explains that G-d's request was an entreaty -- "Please take your son" -- to express His wish that Abraham withstand the trial. "I have tried you many times, and each time you passed the test," G-d said. "Would that you pass this test as well, that people not say the first ones were without substance."
Why was it so important for Abraham to pass the final test, and how would his failure to do so have invalidated the success of the previous nine? The akeida was certainly the most difficult trial, but even had Abraham not withstood it, why would the previous ones have been considered to be in vain?
Another question: The first test was when Abraham was thrown into the fiery furnace after destroying his father's idols. Wasn't this test just as critical as the tenth one?
The answer is: Sometimes, when a Jew is willing to give up his life for the sake of G-d, it is hard to distinguish if he is doing so solely because G-d wants him to, or because he himself understands that an act of self-sacrifice is required.
For example, the argument could be made that because Abraham understood the necessity of spreading awareness of the one G-d throughout the world, he was willing to allow himself to be burned. In other words, self-sacrifice was a logical conclusion, arrived at by Abraham's own intellect.
The trial of the akeida, however, was entirely different. Withstanding the trial would not result in the public recognition of G-d's Name, as no one else was present except for Abraham and Isaac. On the contrary, G-d's request seemed to defy logic. Abraham wanted his son to continue spreading the belief in G-d after he was gone, yet here G-d was asking him to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering! If Isaac were sacrificed, who would be left to continue his path?
Thus the akeida constituted a test of Abraham's willingness for self- sacrifice in a situation in which his own intellect led him to the opposite conclusion. His ability to withstand the tenth test thereby demonstrated that the first nine were not in vain, as it proved that he had acted out of love of G-d and not merely because his intellect compelled him to obey.
This contains a lesson for each of us, Abraham's descendents, in how to serve G-d. Rabbi Shneur Zalman writes: "It is good to recite the chapter of the akeida each day...in order to subjugate the [evil] inclination and serve G-d." The power to do so comes to us from Abraham, the first to show us how.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Volume 20
Tzvi's Bar Mitzvah
Our shul was crowded beyond normal Bar Mitzva capacity. Everyone was quiet as my son Tzvi was called up for his aliya. Haltingly, he walked to the bima. Tears came to my eyes as I heard the familiar "tap tap" of his Lofstrand crutches.
We held our breath as Tzvi slowly began to say the blessing, assisted by my husband, Ruvain. After the first few words he began to laugh. I feared he couldn't finish. But Tzvi came through, and completed the blessings with a wide smile lighting up his face, proud of his major accomplishment.
Tzvi is the fourth of our nine children. Everything was normal about his pregnancy, labor, and delivery. But after noticing developmental delays, we took Tzvi for an evaluation.
He wasn't sitting up, grasping a toy, talking, or even rolling over at a year old. One thing he did, though, was smile. His smile captured everyone's heart. People tried to tell us that he was just a late bloomer like our other kids. But by eighteen months old, the doctor broke the news to us: Tzvi had cerebral palsy with mild mental retardation.
We immediately started taking Tzvi for therapy. It wasn't easy, since all of my children were under five years old. I took Tzvi for therapy twice a week to the Center for the Disabled. Tzvi loved speech and occupational therapies, but he cried during physical therapy as they stretched his tight leg and arm muscles to increase his flexibility.
It took me a while to reconcile the fact that we had a "special child." A friend once mentioned to me that she would have fallen apart if she had had such a child. Well, I simply didn't have the time to fall apart, and with my husband's help I kept telling myself that Hashem (G-d) wanted this child to be exactly as he was. Hashem doesn't make mistakes. Nor does He always give us exactly what we want, but He always gives us what our neshama (soul) needs. You see, every person comes to this world to fulfill a specific mission, and we don't always know what that is.
I tried to internalize the lesson that Hashem only gives us what we can handle and make the best of the situation. I tried to explain to myself that Tzvi has limited capabilities because his soul has already accomplished most other mitzvot in a previous lifetime, and has little left to complete in this lifetime. Some days I believed it; most days I didn't. But I still talked to myself over and over until it became a part of me.
Tzvi had his first operation on his tight leg muscles when he was three years old and I was expecting my fifth child. We then had to cope with his six week recovery in a body cast. We bought a Fisher Price wagon to transport Tzvi around the house. We borrowed a scooter and he had fun riding on his stomach up and down the hallway. Tzvi had one more operation on his legs, and as an added "bonus" he underwent a hiatal hernia operation between the leg surgeries.
The hardest part of raising Tzvi is the intense physical care he requires. He was in diapers during the day until he was eight years old, and at night until he was eleven. I thanked G-d (for weeks!) when he finally got out of diapers. At age 13, I still dress him sometimes, and give him baths. Baruch Hashem [thank G-d] he feeds himself and plays nicely by himself.
To cope with our situation, we've tried to maintain our sense of humor. One day, I got a phone call from a woman who said that she played back her phone messages and heard someone saying, "I like you. I like you," and our phone number showed up on their Caller I.D. box.
I told her she must have made a mistake. Was she sure it was our phone number? She read me the number. It was ours. I then remembered that Tzvi had played with the phone earlier that day, and he must have left a message for this woman because he liked her voice. After I explained the situation, the woman apologized. We all ended up getting a good laugh.
I have been inspired by many people and books which have taught me to accept my lot and be happy with what I have. We once had a girl over for Shabbat who was a counselor at the Hebrew Academy for Special Children summer camp. She sent me the Artscroll book Times of Challenge which inspired me a lot. It was an eye opener to read how other people dealt with challenges much bigger than mine. Another inspiring book I read was Shining Lights by Ruchama Shain.
The mother of a child with cystic fibrosis once told me that she would approach Jewish women and girls and ask them to light Shabbat candles as a spiritual boost to her son's health. She told us that we often need someone else's merit to help us along. Until his Bar Mitzva, I could never ask people to do mitzvot for Tzvi. It took me many years to build up the courage, but I remembered what this inspiring woman told me ten years ago and have begun doing the same.
Of course, we would have preferred to school Tzvi at the local Jewish day school, but his physical needs come first. He has learned his love for Yiddishkeit from our home atmosphere and our observance.
What is the gift in all this? Have we grown by this experience? We've developed patience beyond our wildest imaginations. We have learned to appreciate every bit of progress Tzvi has made. Tzvi joyously sings niggunim, wordless tunes, at the Shabbat table. He can also clap or bang to a rhythm with incredible precision.
Most of all, we're proud that Tzvi practices whatever mitzvot he can do to the best of his ability. Reciting the blessings over the Torah at his Bar Mitzva was a great milestone for him and our family. We know there are also great things in store for Tzvi. The Lubavitcher Rebbe gave Tzvi a blessing that Tzvi will "grow to Torah, chupa, and maasim tovim [good deeds]." May we all merit the coming of Moshiach very soon, when everyone will be healthy and whole.
Reprinted from the Jewish Holiday Consumer, published by Rivkah Goldstein, N'Shei Chabad of Rockland
The Rebbe emphasized the importance of adhering to our Sages' advice to fix times for Torah study:
"The coming of the Messianic Era will be hastened by taking on good resolutions to increase one's service in Torah and mitzvot, establishing fixed times for Torah study. The establishment of these study sessions must be in our souls as well as in time. And as our Sages emphasized, an entity which is 'fixed' never becomes nullified. Even when a person will be involved in other matters, the influence of his Torah studies will continue. (Tishrei, 5752- 1992)
16th of Tammuz, 5720 
After the very long interval, I was pleased to receive your letter of June 17th, in which you write about your wedding in a happy and auspicious hour. I was also especially interested to read about your having settled down to a family life based on the foundations of our Torah, which is called the Law of Life. Judging from the description of your experiences with a sense of humor, I trust that both you and your wife are sincerely determined to live up to the Jewish way of life, which will ensure a happy and harmonious life, both materially and spiritually. The important thing is to start with a firm determination, and then, as our Sages said, "One mitzva brings another in its train," and these are the channels and vessels to receive and enjoy G-d's blessings.
You write about meeting a Jew in the course of your travels who comes to the synagogue to help make up a minyan, yet at the same time reads the newspaper. Everyone, or course, reacts to an experience in a way that is closest to him.
Thus, for my part, I make the following two extreme observations: First, I see in it the extreme Jewish attachment which one finds in every Jew. For here is a person who has wandered off to a remote part of the world, and has become so far removed, not only geographically, but also mentally and intellectually, as to have no concept of what prayer is or what a house of G-d is, etc; yet one finds in him that Jewish spark, or as the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad, expressed it in his Tanya - "The Divine soul which is truly a part of G-d." This divine soul, which is the inheritance of every Jew, seeks expression as best it can, and in the case of this particular Jew, it seeks expression in at least enabling other Jews to pray congregationally, and he therefore goes out of his way to help them and at the same time to be counted with them.
My other observation, following from the above, is as follows: If, where the odds are so great against Jewish observance, yet a Jew can remain active and conscious of his Jewishness, it can easily be seen what great things could have been accomplished with this particular Jew if, at the proper time the should have received the right education in his early life, or at least he proper spiritual guidance in his adult life. This consideration surely emphasizes the mutual responsibility which rests upon all Jews, and particularly on those who can help others.
I will not deny that the above is said not in a spirit of philosophizing, but with a view to stimulate your thinking as to your own possibilities in your particular environment, and what the proper attitude should be.
We must never despair of any Jew, and at the same time we must do all we can to take the fullest advantage of our capacities and abilities to strengthen the Jewish consciousness among all Jews with whom we come in contact. For one can never tell how far-reaching such influence can be.
To conclude this letter on the happy note of the beginning of your letter relating to your marriage, may I again reiterate my prayerful wishes that you establish and conduct your home on everlasting foundations of the Torah and mitzvot, and thus enjoy a truly happy and productive life, both materially and spiritually which go hand in hand together.
I trust both you and your wife will find the enclosed copies of my recent message interesting and useful.
Hoping to hear good news from you always,
CHILDREN'S MEDICAL CLINIC
Tzivos Hashem has opened a clinic to serve the needs of the Jewish children of Northern Ukraine. The Jewish Children's Clinic is housed in a wing of the new 5 story 'Zdrovya,' the best private medical clinic in Zhitomer, 75 miles south of Chernobyl, and will share medical staff and equipment.
NEW CHABAD YESHIVA OPENS
A New Chabad Yeshiva for boys ages 14-17 was opened earlier this month in the holy city of Tzefat. The student body consists mainly of children of Shluchim - the Rebbe's emissaries around the world. The Boys came from: Australia, Canada, Holland, Italy, South Africa, Russia and the USA.
This week we will be commemorating the birthday of the fourth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Ber, who was known as the Rebbe Rashab. It is said that on a person's birthday, the "spiritual source of the soul shines powerfully." Therefore, it is important to understand what the central point of the Rebbe Rashab's leadership was, and how it differed from the other Chabad Rebbes.
The Rebbe explains how each of the Rebbes was characterized by a particular dimension which reflected his individual nature.
Chabad Chasidut is characterized by the ability to make the esoteric teachings of the Torah, which remained hidden from the majority of the Jewish community, accessible to every single Jew. The Rebbe Rashab was able to bring the teachings of Chabad Chasidut to an even more comprehensible level than his predecessors.
The Rebbe Rashab's teachings put a great emphasis on summarizing subject matter so that it could be more easily implemented into daily life. For this he is referred to by many as the "Rambam [Maimonides] of Chasidut," because he summarized Chasidut in the same way the Rambam summarized the Oral Law, making it comprehensible and giving it clear directions for every aspect of our conduct. The lessons of the Rebbe Rashab are easily understood and are concluded with directions for the practical application of those lessons.
In 1897 the Rebbe Rashab established a yeshiva, Tomchei Tmimim, and he was personally involved in every aspect of it, designing the curriculum, and asking for a detailed progress report on each student. He strove to raise both their standard of learning and their standard of behavior. It was a great honor to be accepted into the yeshiva, and its students were highly respected by the community.
The Rebbe Rashab published many of his teachings, which deal with improving one's character, how to prepare for prayer and the importance of prayer, and of studying Chasidut. May we all benefit from his teachings.
And behold, three men were standing over him (Gen. 18:2)
When the angels visited Abraham, they are referred to in the Torah as "men," but when they appeared before Lot, the Torah refers to them as "angels." Abraham was a very righteous man who excelled in the mitzva of hospitality. No matter who the guest was, Abraham would treat him with great respect. Lot only invited people into his home that he thought were important. He invited the angels to his home because he felt that it would add to his prestige.
Behold now I have taken upon myself to speak to the L-rd, although I am but dust and ashes. (Gen. 18:27)
All people are but dust and ashes, yet they speak to G-d daily when they pray. Abraham was pointing out that, despite the wickedness and corruption of the people of Sodom, Abraham felt enough compassion for them to pray on their behalf. Abraham was saying that if he could feel compassion for those people, then so should G-d, Ruler of the universe, grant them mercy and allow them to live.
(Reb Bunim of P'shischa)
Suppose ten (righteous men) are found there. (Gen. 18:32)
Abraham was praying that G-d should not destroy the city of Sodom. Since Abraham lived close to the city, one would assume that he already knew of the existence of any righteous people in Sodom. However, the inhabitants of Sodom were wicked, and would torture anyone caught acting in a kind manner. Thus, any righteous inhabitant of Sodom would have to be very discreet and keep his good deeds hidden.
(Sha'ar Bat Rabim)
Adapted from Vedibarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
Laying the "foundation stone" for the Tzemach Tzedek's shul [Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe] was cause for great joy and celebration. The Chasidim set up rows of tables and benches and made a farbrengen, or gathering, in honor of the happy event. When the Tzemach Tzedek arrived he turned to his followers with a question: "Which would you prefer? Would you like to hear a Chasidic discourse or would you prefer that I tell you a story?" The Chasidim all chose to hear the story.
The Tzemach Tzedek began:
There was once a man by the name of Reb Yaakov, who was a Chasid of the holy Ruzhiner Rebbe (Rabbi Yisrael Friedman of Ruzhin, great- grandson of the Maggid of Mezritch).
Reb Yaakov was an innkeeper who leased an inn from a Jewish tax collector, also named Reb Yaakov. This Reb Yaakov was a very honest and G-d fearing man, who, in turn, rented the inn from its true owner, the poritz, who owned all the local properties and rented them out to various individuals. The innkeeper was a very poor man and had not been able to pay his rent for a very long time. After a long period of grace, the tax collector sent notice to Reb Yaakov that he would be evicted is he did not come up with the money. Reb Yaakov went to his rebbe, the holy Ruzhiner, for advice.
The Ruzhiner begged the tax collector to have pity on the poor innkeeper and his hungry children, and to free him from his formidable debt. Being a straight and honest individual, the tax collector agreed. He not only waived the money he owed , but even lowered the future rent, stipulating only that he pay on time in the future, as he too had bills to pay.
Unfortunately things continued to go badly and the innkeeper received another eviction notice. Again the innkeeper ran to the Ruzhiner for help and the Ruzhiner pleaded with the tax collector. Once more the rent was forgiven, but to no avail. The tax collector found himself again in the same position, paying the poritz the monthly rent from his own pocket. He had stretched as far as he could go and he decided that he had no choice but to actually evict his impoverished tenant.
The familiar scene played itself out a third time, as the innkeeper traveled to Ruzhin and the Ruzhiner called for Reb Yaakov the tax collector. This time, however, the Ruzhiner was unable to get him to budge.
"I've done all that is humanly possible," he answered the Ruzhiner's pleas. "I forgave him his debts not once, but twice. More than this I'm not willing to concede. It's my money that's involved here, not the Rebbe's!" he stormed.
The hapless tenant and his family were evicted.
It was not until many years later, when Reb Yaakov the tax collector passed away and his soul ascended on high to the World of Truth, that his moment of reckoning came. The prosecuting angels insisted that Reb Yaakov be found guilty for evicting a poor Jewish man and his family from their home and preventing him from earning a living, however meager.
"What did I do that was so terrible!" answered Reb Yaakov in his own defense. "How many times did I waive all his debts and allow him to take as long as he wanted to pay the rent? Not only that, but I lowered the amount several times as well. What else could I have possibly done? Was I supposed to throw away all my own money for his sake?" he complained.
"Furthermore," he testified, "What do you know about money? You angels have no conception of money and cannot understand its value to those of us down below. You therefore cannot properly judge my case. I demand to be judged by a court of people who once lived on earth and are familiar with such matters," he said.
A heavenly court was quickly convened, consisting of the BaCh (Rabbi Yoel Sirkis, great Polish scholar; 1561-1640) and the Beit Yosef (Rabbi Yosef Karo, codifier of the Shulchan Aruch; 1488-1575). After hearing both sides of the case, they too found him culpable.
"The only reason I was found guilty is because these two Tzadikim have been absent from the physical world for such a long time that they forgot what money is," Reb Yaakov insisted in his own defense. "I demand that my case be judged by people who at this moment inhabit the physical realm!"
The Tzemach Tzedek paused at this point in the story. "What do you think?" he asked the group of Chasidim who were listening attentively.
No one dared open his mouth. The Rebbe's question was met with a protracted silence.
"I believe that Reb Yaakov is correct," continued the Tzemach Tzedek. "What do you think?"
The Rebbe then pronounced: "Gerecht, gerecht, gerecht (not guilty, not guilty, not guilty)."
Those present then realized that the Tzemach Tzedek had just vindicated Reb Yaakov the tax collector up in heaven and decided the case in his favor.
Giving birth to children shares a connection with the ultimate redemption because Moshiach will not come until all the Jewish souls will descend and will be born within this material world.
(The Rebbe, 22 Marcheshvan, 5751)