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Leather. Metal. Earrings. Food. Music.
Far from a flow of consciousness one might have at a heavy metal concert, these items are physical matter that becomes spiritual in the world of mitzvot.
"The physical matter of a Jew is spiritual. G-d gives us material bounty for us to transform into something spiritual," explains Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidism.
The boxes of tefilin are fashioned from leather. The verses within the tefilin boxes are written on parchment, also made of animal hide (as are mezuzot and Torah scrolls).
Pennies, nickles, quarters, all different kinds of metal, are coins which, when dropped into a charity box, become "spiritual entities." The bulk of a car, too, is metal. And when that car is used to transport one to a hospital to visit the sick, on Friday to shlepp the food to shul for a Shabbat kiddush, or bring one to a Torah study class, or just to do someone a favor by giving them a lift somewhere, physical matter becomes spiritual.
Immediately after the exodus from Egypt, the Jewish women living in the desert refused to give their earrings and other jewelry to form the golden calf, but eagerly gave their earrings as a donation to the desert Tabernacle. And today, if a husband purchases earrings for his wife in honor of a holiday, he is following the advice of the great Jewish Sages as recorded in the Talmud (check it out ladies!). Physical is spiritual.
Food. Food prepared in accordance with the laws of kashrut, thereby physically and spiritually nourishing the Jewish nation. Food that provides energy so that one can perform mitzvot. Traditional Jewish foods like latkes on Chanuka, apples and honey on Rosh Hashana, matza on Passover, cheesecake on Shavuot, hamentashen on Purim. These delicious delicacies to please the pallet are in accordance with the Jewish law that we are to honor Shabbat and holidays with fine foods.
Bands, one man or 16 piece, at weddings that help one fulfill the mitzva of rejoicing with the bride and groom. King David's harp and the harp of Moshiach. The musical instruments played by the Levites in the Holy Temple. Singing G-d's praises in the Hallel prayer and the cacophony of children's voices during the singing of the Grace After Meals.
Every moment of our lives, we are transforming the physical material G-d has given us into something spiritual.
"When occasionally," continues Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "it is not so at the moment (G-d has not provided the material wealth), then we must give G-d whatever we can, even a 'pauper's offering,' and then He gives generously."
In this week's Torah portion, Shemot, we read the incident where Moses came upon two Jews (Datan and Aviram) in the midst of an argument. When one man lifted his hand to strike the other, Moses cried out, "Rasha! (Evil one!) Why do you strike your fellow?" Moses called him a rasha even though he had not yet delivered the blow, as the very act of raising one's hand against another person is forbidden.
Any individual who lifts his hand against another is termed a rasha, even if he does not actually hit him. But why is it prohibited to raise one's hand?" Why is it considered such a serious transgression?
Man was created for the sole purpose of serving his Maker, to learn Torah and perform mitzvot in accordance with G-d's will.
The human body is comprised of many different limbs, each one of which must be properly utilized in the service of G-d. Some mitzvot are performed with the feet, others through the power of speech, and yet others with the nose. Each and every limb has a specific purpose, designed to carry out its own particular commandments.
So too has the human hand been created to perform G-d's mitzvot. There are many commandments that are done with the hands: donning tefilin, building a suka, lighting Shabbat candles, etc.
The hand is especially suited to perform the mitzva of tzedaka (charity). With our hands we take a coin and give it to a poor person or place it in a tzedaka box, as the Torah enjoins us: "You shall surely open up your hand."
The primary function of the hand is to do good for others. When a person argues with his fellow man and lifts his hand as if to strike him, he is using that hand to bring him harm -- the opposite of the purpose for which it was created.
For this reason Moses called the man a rasha, for it is evil to use the hand which G-d has created for good in a negative fashion. Indeed, it is a serious transgression to pervert the potential for good into a potential for evil. Moses therefore became angry even before the blow was delivered.
A person who hits his fellow and causes him pain commits a sin "between man and his fellow man."
A person who lifts his hand in anger, even though he does not strike the other person, commits a sin "between man and G-d" by distorting the very purpose for which the hand was created.
Let us therefore use our hands -- and all our limbs -- to carry out G-d's will and serve Him. For that is the true purpose for which man was created.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 31.
From a speech by Reuven (Bob) Lichtman at the
Chabad of Huntington (New York) Second Annual Banquet
When Rabbi Asher Vaisfiche honored me by asking me to say a few words for this occasion and told me the theme would be called "Building the Bridge," I must admit, the first thought that popped into my head was of the Lubavitcher chasidim literally building a bridge. I pictured in my mind hundreds of Mitzva Tanks, along with the Rebbe's troops, armed only with prayer shawls, tefilin, prayer books, Shabbat candles and the Torah, crossing the bridge to do battle in Suburbia against the forces of assimilation and secularism.
However in reality, in a very personal sense, I know what Chabad means when they talk about "Building the Bridge." I, like many of my generation who had a traditional Jewish, Orthodox upbringing, decided during a very turbulent time in our history to trade in our Judaism for a sophomoric cultural revolution and the illusion of liberation.
We subscribed to a pop culture theology where we attached more significance to the irresponsible yammering of the spaced-out false prophets and demented gurus of the counterculture when we should have embraced the teachings of the Torah and the wisdom of our great Sages and Chasidic masters. We became ambivalent towards our own culture and heritage, while becoming obsessed with, and adopting, other peoples' cultures.
When I made the decision to return, Chabad and the Vaisfiche's were there to welcome me home. When Lubavitch talks about building the bridge, it's not meaningless rhetoric. You remember when President Clinton ran for re-election, he spoke about building a bridge to the twenty-first century. Very nice, except he never told us what the toll would be to get on that bridge, or what you'll find on the other side.
I'll tell you what the toll is to get on the bridge that Chabad has built, because I gladly paid it. The price is love and a desire to get back in touch with who and what we are. To appreciate the enormous impact the Jewish people have had on civilization, and to learn and understand the wonderful legacy our ancestors left for us. A legacy that we are privileged and obligated to continue. There's a reason why we Jews are still here, despite history and logic telling us that we should have become extinct over a thousand years ago.
The price also includes a spiritual renewal, for without G-d, and faith in G-d, it makes it more difficult to get on the bridge. If you break down the word "spiritual," you find two words: spirit and ritual. The spirit is G-d and the ritual is how you get closer to G-d. For Jews, the path to true spirituality is reveling in and celebrating the rituals of our faith. Chabad has helped to bring a special joy and ecstasy to our faith and our lives that's totally refreshing.
Actually, it all started with Shabbat. That's where it all begins.
Shabbat is the mother of all mitzvot. When my wife Cheryl lit the candles on Friday night for the first time, the road to the bridge became illuminated. And the next day, when I decided to go to shul on Shabbat after a very, very long absence, I searched for an Orthodox shul because I wanted my Judaism the way I remembered it: pure, undiluted, undistilled, unadulterated, unapologetic, uncompromising and passionate. To once again daven [pray] like a Jew. I was looking for an intimate atmosphere, "the right vibes" as we used to say. When Reb Asher welcomed me into the congregation, honoring me by calling me up to the Torah, and giving a blessing to my wife in absentia, he made me feel at home. I knew then and there that Chabad Lubavitch would be the driving engine of my spiritual odyssey.
Through my association with Reb Asher of Chabad I've come to appreciate my responsibility to my people, to help spread love of Torah and Yiddishkeit.
The three hours I spend in shul on Shabbat, and in fact all of Shabbat, are now the highlight of my week. To those of you in the audience who I see in shul, it's a pleasure to know you, and of course you can understand what I'm saying. As for the rest of you, I would like to extend an invitation to join us on Saturday mornings at the Chabad of Huntington. You will find a unique and very enjoyable experience. And bring your children! When you experience the mystical and peaceful ambience of Shabbat, everything else begins to fall into place. For me, it was the key element of my personal renaissance. When we treat our Judaism as a faith and not a hobby, we become spiritually elevated and we begin the journey home. And with a gentle push from the Rebbe's emissaries, we're through the tollbooth and on the bridge. As for what's on the other side? We all know the battle cry of Chabad Lubavitch is "We want Moshiach, and we want Moshiach now!" Well, guess what's waiting on the other side of the bridge?
In closing I would like to quote the Rebbe: "The final Redemption is no longer a dream of a distant future, but an imminent reality...This generation is the final generation of exile and the first generation of Redemption, personal redemption and universal Redemption, leading to the perfection of society, and a world filled with awareness of G-d. Everything now depends on us!"
May G-d bless us all with good health, love, peace, happiness, and prosperity, so we can give more tzedaka [charity]. With our continued effort, support and generosity, the bridge will become connected to all of our people that much sooner.
18 Tevet, 5758 Negative Mitzva 250: It is forbidden to cheat or deceive another person in business deals. This mitzva is derived from the verse (Lev. 25:14), "You shall not defraud one another."
20 Tevet, 5758 Negative Mitzva 251: It is forbidden to say things that may hurt or trick another person. This mitzva is derived from the verse (Lev. 25:17) "You shall not wrong one another and you shall fear your G-d." The Torah includes the words "and you shall fear G-d" to remind us that G-d knows the intent behind our words.
28th of Adar, 5737 
I duly received your correspondence, in which you mention various problems. I trust that since writing, the problems have been resolved satisfactorily.
The reason I am so confident is the reports I have been receiving about your activities in strengthening Yiddishkeit [Judaism], and particularly in behalf of our brethren who came from behind the Iron Curtain, after so many trials and tribulations. Hence, every possible aid that can be given them is a special zechut [merit] for those who dedicate their time and effort in their behalf.
Moreover, as you are surely also aware of it, many of them are confused and discouraged by the state of Yiddishkeit that they find here in some quarters. For, knowing how many difficulties they had to face in preserving their Yiddishkeit, and yet they did their best, each according to his position and ability, they thought that when they came to a place where there are no restrictions on Yiddishkeit, they would find it flourishing everywhere, and Jews openly and proudly following the way of the Torah and mitzvot in their daily life. They were thus looking forward to being personally further encouraged to deepen their own Jewish identity, yet, unfortunately, in many circles this is not so, and it is very disappointing and discouraging to them.
All this adds further value, content and importance to every aid given to them, both materially and spiritually. And G-d may be fully relied upon that He recompenses, and in a most generous measure, all those who give of their time and energy to help these people, not merely personally, but also involving others in this great cause.
May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all the above...
With prayerful wishes to you and to all your family, and hoping to hear good news from you,
10th of Tamuz, 5739 
I am in receipt of your letter of the 2nd of Tamuz, and many thanks for the good news it contained, especially about your good work in behalf of the immigrants from behind the Iron Curtain. And although you write that the work sometimes leaves you exhausted, it surely comes under the category of those about whom it is written, "Those who trust in G-d shall renew their strength." Moreover, the zechut [merit] of this vital work will surely widen the channels to receive G-d's blessings for the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good in all the matters about which you write in this letter, and in your previous correspondence....
Wishing you hatzlacha in all above, With blessing,
10th of Kislev, 5743 
Thank you very much for your recent correspondence about all the family. May G-d grant that you and your esteemed husband should have true Yiddish nachas [Jewish pleasure] from each and all of them in every respect.
I was particularly glad to receive the good news about your youngest married daughter. May G-d grant that she should have a normal and complete pregnancy, and normal and easy delivery of a healthy offspring, in a happy and auspicious hour.
The zechut [merit] of your and you husband's activities in spreading Yiddishkeit [Judaism], and particularly helping our brethren from behind the Iron Curtain, will additionally stand you all in good stead for hatzlacha [success] in a growing measure....
WEDNESDAYS AT CHABAD
Explore the literal, allegorical, and esoteric meaning in the Torah portion every Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. at Chabad of Port Washington, Long Island. See the ancient words of Torah come alive, how they relate to us today, and to our personal lives. For more info call (516) 767-TORA
CHASIDIC WELCOME CENTER
Every Sunday the Chasidic Discovery Center offers tours of the Chabad- Lubavitch community in Brooklyn. Visit Lubavitch World Headquarters, "770." See a Torah scroll written with quill on parchment by a scribe. View an exhibition of ancient Jewish works at the library of Agudas Chasidei Chabad. Browse through a Chasidic Art Gallery. Buses leave from Midtown Manhattan. For reservations call (800) 838-TOUR.
For a person to make a statement that we must "live with the times," seems rather ordinary. At first glance one would think the person is saying that we have to read the headlines in the newspaper, or tune into the radio "on the hour" to hear the latest news, or subscribe to various news services on the internet. However, if that statement is coming from a Chasidic Rebbe, it becomes rather extraordinary.
Such were the words of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, known as the Alter Rebbe. He enjoined us to "live with the times."
The Alter Rebbe's intent was that one should live with the Torah portion that was being studied and read that particular week. For Torah, which comes from the word "hora'ah," or teaching, is pertinent and valid in all times and at all stages in one's life.
This coming Thursday is the 24th of Tevet (coinciding with January 22). The 24th of Tevet is the yahrzeit of Alter Rebbe.
Once, the Alter Rebbe's grandson, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, known as the Tzemach Tzedek, explained to his own son that the Alter Rebbe's intent for Chasidut is that it should be vitalize everything. "Chasidut itself is vitality," he explained to his son. "Chasidut is to bring life and illumination into everything, to shed light even on the undesirable -- to enable one to become aware of one's own evil exactly as it is, in order to correct it."
The Torah and mitzvot require that we deal honestly in business, that we stay away from lies, that we never utter false oaths. Chasidut teaches us to be honest with ourselves which can often be infinitely more difficult than the abovementioned mitzvot. Only by being honest with oneself can one become aware of one's own failings, the "healing" that needs to be affected in the soul.
As the Previous Rebbe taught, in order for there to be healing of the soul, there are two pre-requisites: "to know that he is ill, and desire most fervently to be cured of his malady; and to know that he can be cured, with hope and absolute truth that, with G-d's help, he will indeed be cured of his sickness."
She stretched out her hand and took it (Ex. 2:5)
This verse refers to Pharoah's daughter, who rescued Moses from the Nile. The word the Torah uses for "hand" is amata, because G-d made a miracle and caused her hand to stretch out many amot [cubits] to reach Moses. This teaches us an important lesson. Whenever we see a child in danger, whether physical or spiritual, we shouldn't stop to calculate whether or not we can rescue the child, but we must do our utmost to accomplish that goal, even if the situation appears helpless. If we since rely do all that is in our power, G-d will surely help us.
(Reb Bunim M'Pshischa)
Pharaoh comanded all his people saying, "Every son that is born cast him into the river." (Ex. 1:22)
Pharoah's original decree was only that Jewish male babies must be thrown into the Nile. He added that also Egyptian male newborns should be cast into the Nile for the following reason: When the Jewish midwives refused to obey the order to drown the Jewish babies, Pharoah summoned them and said, "The Jews have a rule that 'the law of the government is binding.' Why aren't you following my law?" The midwives replied that this refers only to a law for all of the residents of the land. Pharoah therefore included Egyptian babies in his decree. So eager was he to destroy the Jewish people that it did not trouble him to kill his own people.
Pharoah heard this thing and he wanted to kill Moses (Ex. 2:15)
As a child, Moses once snatched the crown from Pharoah's head. Pharoah took this as a sign that Moses would grow up to be the redeemer of the Jewish people and would destroy Pharoah. Pharoah wanted to kill Moses then, but changed his mind. When Moses grew up and it was brought to Pharoah's attention that Moses was inquiring after the welfare of the Jews, and had killed an Egyptian for hitting a Jew, he realized that Moses was indeed the savior of the Jews and he wanted him eliminated.
From Vedibarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
Great was the plight of the Jews who lived under the rule of the Romans after the destruction of the Second Temple. The Roman government constantly persecuted the poor, defenseless, defeated people. Despite all of this, however, the Romans did not succeed in breaking the strong spirit of the Jewish nation.
At that time, the greatest Jewish leaders of that period were Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Joshua, and Rabban Gamliel. They went to Rome to plead for an easing of the cruel decrees against the innocent Jews. In the meantime, however, a decree had gone out to the effect that, within thirty days, no Jews were to be found in the whole Roman Empire. This meant nothing less than the end, G-d forbid, of the entire Jewish nation, for Rome then ruled over almost the entire known world! The Jews were doomed, for where could they hope to escape to in so short a time?
Like all their fellow Romans of that time, the Roman senators were idol-worshipers. There happened to be amongst them one notable exception, a man who believed in the one G-d. This particular senator was known to greatly admire the Jews, and counted many Jews amongst his closest friends and associates.
When word reached him of this terrible new decree against the Jews, he lost no time in hurrying to Rabban Gamliel to inform him about it. Rabban Gamliel and his colleagues were thrown into a state of despair! Rome ruled the world, and it was impossible for hundreds of thousands of men, women and children to suddenly find refuge in some far-off land!
"Don't worry," the senator comforted them. "Yours' is a great G-d and surely Your G-d will surely not forsake you. You still have thirty days before the decree can be put into effect, and G-d can bring about your salvation in a mere blink of an eye!"
The days and the weeks passed unremarkably, and there were but five days left before the decree against the Jews would become law. The senator and his wife worried constantly about the fate of their friends, but could not devise a plan of action to save them. One day they were sitting at home talking about the dreadful situation of the Jews, when the senator sadly remarked to his wife, "I feel so ashamed to be part of a people that can do such wicked things to the innocent and defenseless Jews."
His wife was silent for a while, then, in a serious tone she spoke slowly and deliberately, "Are you sure there is nothing that can be done to save our friends?"
"There is only way that they can be saved at this late stage. If a senator were to suddenly die, the decree would be annulled. For, as you know, according to Roman law, when a senator dies all laws passed within the past thirty days become null and void."
Five days later, on the thirtieth day, the senator and his wife were again sitting in their home discussing the decree against the Jews and what could possibly be done to help them.
"Today is the thirtieth and last day," the senator said to his wife in a tone of despair. "This is terrible! I wish I knew what to do to help them!"
"If you really mean what you are saying," said his wife, "there is something you can do. I know what I would do in your place to show the world that there is still at least one man left in Rome who possesses a conscience and a feeling of decency and respect for his fellow human beings." After she had uttered those momentous words, she cast a sad and poignant glance at the beautiful ring on her husband's finger.
The senator understood immediately what his wife meant. The center of this very special ring had a tiny hidden compartment. Inside this compartment was a fatal poison. Without further thought, the senator bid a sad farewell to his lifelong partner, put the ring to his lips and within seconds, death froze a smile of satisfaction on his noble face. Because of the supreme self-sacrifice of this noble friend, the decree against the Jews was immediately nullified.
When the Tannaim heard of the death of the Roman senator, they hurried to comfort his widow. They praised the nobility and greatness of her distinguished husband, who gave up his life in order to save the Jewish people. He had willingly made the ultimate sacrifice and no words could convey their gratitude.
"We would have been proud, indeed, to have counted your husband as one of our own," they concluded.
"You may now know that you have, in truth, every right to be proud of him, for he was in his beliefs, in every respect, one of you," the widow answered.
Adapted from Talks and Tales
The ultimate perfection of the days of Moshiach is a kind of birth --a revelation of the light of G-d within the deepest recesses of a man's heart.
(Torah Or of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, Va'eira, p. 55a)