Chemical Reactions | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | Rambam this week
The Rebbe Writes | What's New | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
How did you fare in chemistry? Was the thought of memorizing the periodic table enough to make your heart palpitate? Do your palms still sweat when you see diagrams of the molecular structure of water? Or were you a science whiz who loved the smell of sulfuric acid and ammonia, thrilled at the thought of yet another experiment, perceived writing out formulae as an enjoyable challenge?
Whether you loved chemistry or hated it, whether you slept through the experiments or bounded into the chemistry classroom on lab day, there's one type of experiment you undoubtedly remember: how a very small quantity of a particular substance can completely transform a tremendous amount of surrounding matter. Its action is that of a catalyst, effecting change without itself being altered in any way.
If we put this law of science to work in our daily lives, it can be inferred that applying even minimal effort can sometimes allow a person to have a profound impact on forces that appear to be more powerful or beyond his or her abilities.
With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that in the laws on repentance, the great codifier of Jewish law, Maimonides, wrote: "Every individual should view himself and the world as being perfectly balanced between good and evil. Should he perform one mitzva, he will tip the scales in favor of the good and bring salvation and delivery to himself and to the entire world."
The salvation and delivery to which Maimonides referred is the era of personal and global peace, health, and Divine knowledge that will be ushered in by Moshiach. And one mitzva can tip the scale.
Are any particular mitzvot weightier, more readily able to tilt the Divine scale?
From chemistry we know that putting certain chemicals together elicits absolutely no reaction, while combining other chemicals can create an enormous effect.
While Maimonides did not specify any particular mitzva and we can therefore deduce that the above law applies to all mitzvot, there are specific mitzvot which have long been connected with hastening the Redemption.
"Charity brings the Redemption closer," the Talmud states. A coin in a tzedaka box or a sandwich for a homeless person, who knows which one might tip the scale?
As the destruction of the Second Holy Temple and our subsequent exile was on account of wanton hatred among Jews, loving every Jew, even when one sees no apparent justification for loving him, can tip the scale. This is true especially today, when so many are indignantly pointing at their neighbor, declaring that he is the one who is dividing the Jewish people.
Increasing Torah knowledge in general and studying about Moshiach and the Redemption in particular hastens the Redemption. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained: "This is not only a spiritual means of securing the speedy advent of Moshiach, it is a way of beginning to live one's life in the frame of mind of the Messianic Era, by having one's mind permeated with an understanding of the concept of Moshiach and the Redemption that are in the Torah."
One simple kind act or good deed can tip the scale and bring redemption to the entire world. "Moshiach is ready to come now," the Rebbe said to a reporter of CNN, and told him "It is only necessary on our part to increase in acts of goodness and kindness."
And that one act might just be mine or yours! Let's do it!
Nothing in the Torah occurs by chance, including its division into Torah portions. The Torah is divided into 53 weekly readings, and each one has a unique theme. Even in years when two portions are read together, the individual portions retain their own unique character.
Thus the two Torah portions that are read this week, Vayakhel and Pekudei, each make their own distinct point, although both speak about the Sanctuary and its vessels.
In the Torah portion of Vayakhel we read about how Moses gathered the Jewish people together and told them of G-d's command to build the Sanctuary. In this portion we are told that the Jewish people obeyed G-d's instructions.
In the Torah portion of Pekudei Moses tallies the contributions that were made for the Sanctuary, anoints its vessels with the anointing oil and offers its sacrifices. We are then informed that these activities caused the Divine Presence to rest in the Sanctuary: "And the glory of G-d filled the Sanctuary."
Vayakhel is focused primarily on the service of man and his actions within the context of the physical world. The Jewish people contributed to the construction of the Sanctuary by giving of their personal wealth (donating gold and silver), by physically participating in its erection (actually bringing their contributions), and with their souls (investing their higher faculties and contributing in a heartfelt manner). Vayakhel thus concentrates on a Divine service that flows in an upward direction, a service that commences in the physical world and proceeds upward toward G-d.
Pekudei, by contrast, speaks of a drawing down of G-dliness from above to below, of G-d's causing His Divine Presence to descend from the higher spheres to dwell in the physical Sanctuary. In the Torah portion of Pekudei, G-d descends to man and makes Himself near.
Each of the two portions thus concentrates on a different aspect of our Divine service. The first is the service of G-d's creations, the upward striving of Vayakhel. The second aspect is the arousal that originates above and flows downward, the drawing down of the Divine Presence of Pekudei.
This year, as in many others, both Torah portions are read on the same Shabbat, which also reveals a unique lesson: Both thrusts, from below to above and from above to below, must be combined in our service of G-d. For this type of service is the most appropriate way to prepare ourselves for the revelations of the future Redemption with Moshiach.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 3
The Albany Hagadah
Perusing the window or shelves of seasonal items at your local Jewish bookstore these days will bring you face-to-face with dozens of Passover Hagadot. The story of how one unique Hagada came into being follows:
The Passover seder begins with the familiar story of the five great Sages: Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Joshua, Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Tarfon at an all-night seder two millenia ago in the city of B'nai Brak.
Twenty centuries later, six young Talmud students at the Albany, New York Yeshiva High School Boys Division worked to reconstruct that event by exploring the circumstances and personalities of the Sages who attended that seder.
Working under the direction of Rabbi Yisroel Rubin, Chabad director of the Capital Region who serves as the Rosh Yeshiva and Talmud instructor, the students recently published their own 200 page "Albany Hagada."
Rabbi Rubin is a soft-spoken, energetic, highly creative individual whose weekly schedule looks like something out of a nightmare day- timer.
The Hagada project was sparked by a question that Rabbi Rubin threw out to his class: "The Sages talked all night, but what exactly did they say? Let's get a 'transcript' by researching their lives to find out more about them and what actually happened that night in B'nai Brak."
The research took Rabbi Rubin and his students through hundreds of commentaries, with a special emphasis on notes in the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Hagada.
Hagada illustrations usually depict the Rabbis in B'nai Brak seated calm and relaxed. But The Albany Hagada sees them as expressing opposing schools of thought, whose interpersonal dynamics fueled the all-night debate.
"They say that two Jews have three opinions. (Some disagree, saying that three Jews have five opinions). Seeing the Exodus from different angles and perspectives is the spice of the story, which energized their seder," explains Rabbi Rubin. Indeed, these Sages are quoted in arguments on Passover issues such as the afikoman deadline, the Hagada text, the number of cups of wine, etc.
The Albany Hagada offers us a virtual seat at the B'nai Brak seder, so we can almost hear the thunderous debate shatter the stillness of the night, and see the Sages' brilliance turn darkness to dawn.
While respectful of each other's views, their crossfire reverberated with controversy that raged until morning. Interestingly, despite the Sages' differences, they chose to leave their own cities to celebrate the seder together in B'nai Brak. Students were assigned to prepare biographies on the five rabbis, while one student "interviewed" Ben Zoma, who is quoted in the story.
Rabbi Rubin was amazed at the results. "The Passover story is usually transmitted from the old to the young, but this interaction was a welcome reverse. To quote the Talmud: 'I have learned most from my students.' "
The young scholars learned a lesson in research, critical thinking and detective work. "We picked up clues about the Sages and their sayings, looking around as if we were at an Indiana Jones archaeological excavation. To connect with these Rabbis and see them come alive was very exciting," said Jacob Morganbesser.
"Rabbi Eliezer was very insistent in his views," said student Moshe Barouk, 15, from Florida. "It was impossible to change his mind, so he was eventually excommunicated. Actually, we had to figure out how Rabbi Eliezer was able to join this seder with his colleagues."
Levi Simon, 16, discovered that Rabbi Joshua was a Levite who played instruments in the Holy Temple. This demonstrates that even Levites must relive the Exodus, although they didn't suffer so hard under Egyptian slavery.
"Studying for the project wasn't easy. We had to look through hundreds of books to find clues, but getting there was half the fun," said Simon.
The Albany Hagada also includes a commentary on the eternity of Moshiach climaxing the B'nai Brak story, plus Chasidic insights in English by Rabbi Moshe Rubin (Rabbi Yisroel Rubin's father), of blessed memory.
The Hagada concludes with an interesting comment on the end of the story, when the students came to tell their Rabbis that morning had arrived:
"The students did not mean to interrupt their masters' discussion. On the contrary, they continued their masters' message and mission. They recognized that it was their Rabbis' talk of the Redemption that allowed them to see the light, an eye-opener to the dawn of a new day after the exile's dark night."
Reprinted from The Albany Times Union
Rambam for 23 Adar
Negative Mitzva 313: It is forbidden to add anything to either the Written or Oral Torah.
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut 13:1): "...You shall not add to it."
We are forbidden to add anything to the Torah. For example we may not wear five tzitzit instead of four, nor may we make up new mitzvot on our own.
Negative Mitzva 314: It is forbidden to delete anything from the Torah.
This mitzva is based on the continuation of the above-mentioned verse (Deut. 13:1): "...and you shall not subtract from it."
Just as we are forbidden to add to the Torah we are not allowed to subtract anything from it.
3rd of Adar I, 5733 
I was pleased to be informed of your forthcoming Bar Mitzva celebration.
You surely realize the significance of reaching the age of maturity as a full-fledged Jew, with all the privileges and responsibilities that it entails in all matters of Torah and mitzvot.
Included, of course, is also the "great principle" of our Torah, V'ahavta l'reacha kamocha (love your fellow as yourself), the obligation to serve as a source of good influence to your friends, bearing in mind that the most effective influence comes from showing a living example of daily life and conduct.
I want to take this opportunity of sharing with you some thoughts which are highly relevant to a Bar Mitzva.
Considering the significance of the occasion, as mentioned above, becoming Bar Mitzva is not simply reaching a further milestone in the Jew's life. To reach the privileged status of becoming a fully qualified member of the Chosen People, whom G-d has singled out to receive His greatest treasure, the eternal Torah and mitzvot - is certainly a deeply joyous occasion, a real Yom Tov [holiday] when all Jews first became "Bar Mitzva" at Mount Sinai.
It seems strange, therefore, that such a happy occasion should not be marked by the omission of Tachnun (supplication prayers). For Tachnun is not said on all joyous days in our Hebrew Calendar, even on the so- called "minor" festivals. (If the day of Bar Mitzva happens to be Shabbat, when Tachnun is not said, it is due to Shabbat, not to the Bar Mitzva.)
However, there is a profound lesson in the custom of saying Tachnun on the day of Bar Mitzva.
You see, in matters of Torah and mitzvot one must never be satisfied with the achievements of the past, although these were the best that could have been accomplished in that stage of development. For, the Torah and mitzvot are endless, since they originate from G-d Who is Infinite. Consequently, there is no limit to the devotion and joy with which a Jew can fulfill G-d's will. This is why there is always room for advancement in all matters of goodness and holiness in the daily experience of Torah and mitzvot.
Thus, while reaching Bar Mitzva is indeed a great Yom Tov, the Bar Mitzva boy does say Tachnun on this occasion, to ask G-d's forgiveness for not having done better in the past; for Tachnun, as you know, is a prayer for forgiveness which all Jews say every day (except on Shabbat and Yom Tov) for the selfsame reason.
On the other hand, if for some reason the past was not as good as it should have been, there is certainly good reason to say Tachnun. For, in such a case, the yetzer (one's evil inclination), which is shrewd and cunning, and whose job it is to confuse and discourage, tries to do so by saying, "Look here, you've failed in the past; it's no use. You might as well continue as before."
The best answer in such a case is, again, to say Tachnun most sincerely, in the fullest confidence of G-d's forgiveness, for we have the assurance that nothing stands in the way of teshuva (repentance). Thus the Bar Mitzva boy can start with a clean slate. Indeed, our Sages of blessed memory, tell us that after teshuva one becomes even more endeared and beloved by G-d.
I trust that the above thoughts will also be your guiding principles in life, as you begin your adult life as a Jew. Thus you will be a source of constant joy-true "Yiddish nachas"- to your parents, your community, and all our people.
Wishing you hatzlacha (success) to go from strength to strength in the study of the Torah and the observance of the mitzvot.
PASSOVER HOLIDAY GUIDE
The Passover Holiday Guide and Calendar is available on-line at: www.chabad.org/pesach/ . Since this calendar is on-line and is accessible from people in all time-zones there are no exact times listed. Rather, the "times" are based on sunrise, sunset and nightfall.
AUDIO FILES ON-LINE
Thanks to Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace, Torah Lectures, Insights to Kabbalah and Mysticism, Moshiach, Stories about the Baal Shemtov, plus lots more, previously only available via telephone in some major Jewish cities, are now available on-line: www.chabad.org/tapes/
For those who do not have access to the "world-wide-web" Chabad- Lubavitch in Cyberspace is creating a set of 8 CD's which will enable anyone with a computer to learn from the CD's on their computer.
(The programs will be available for Windows or Macintosh systems. List Price: $18.00 plus $2.00 for S&H - USA $7.00 out of USA).
For more info and discounts for early/bulk orders write to: email@example.com and in the subject or body write: CD INFO
This week we read the third of the four special Torah portions, Parshat Para.
Parshat Para describes the offering of the red heifer (the para aduma) and begins, "This is the decree of the Torah." These words indicate that the significance of the red heifer relates to the Torah and its mitzvot in its entirety.
The mitzva of the red heifer reveals two tendencies in a person's G-dly service: a yearning to cling to G-d, known as "ratzo" and the willingness to return to this world to carry out G-d's will, known as "shov." These two qualities are fundamental thrusts of Torah and mitzvot.
The burning of the red heifer with fire represents the thrust of ascending upward - ratzo. Fire is characterized by activity and a constant upward movement. The use of "living water in a vessel" which was combined with the ashes of the red heifer refers to the service of shov, for water naturally descends from above to below. Furthermore, when found on a flat surface, water remains in its place, reflecting the quality of tranquility.
Ratzo and shov are fundamental thrusts in Torah, not merely because of the unity they can bring about within the world, but because these two tendencies reflect positive qualities which must be emulated in our service of G-d. A Jew must possess the quality of ratzo. He must not be content with remaining at his present level, but must always seek to advance further. He must always be "running to fulfill a mitzva." Even though he has reached a high level, he must always seek to attain higher heights.
In contrast, ratzo alone is insufficient and it is necessary to internalize all the new levels he reaches, making sure that they become a part of his nature. This is reflected in an approach of tranquility and settledness (shov). It does not, however imply complacency. Rather, the internalization of one level produces the desire to reach higher peaks. After reaching those new peaks, one must work to internalize them, which, in turn produces a desire to reach even higher peaks.
May we all grow in both areas of growth and tranquility, ratzo and shov until we reach the highest height of all and actually greet Moshiach.
And all the wise-hearted among you shall come and make everything that G-d has commanded (Ex. 35:10)
Whenever one feels an urge to perform a mitzva he should do so immediately. Talking about it too much and putting it off till later is likely to create obstacles that may prevent it from ever being carried out. That is why the Torah states "All the wise-hearted among you" - those of you who are truly wise and desire to observe a commandment of the Creator - "shall come" and do it at once, without procrastination.
They came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, they brought the offering of the L-rd (Ex. 35:21)
The Torah relates this in wonderment. Imagine, we are to consider, among all the millions of Jews, there was not one who planned on making a contribution to the Sanctuary yet never got around to it! Every single Jew's intention was carried out and actualized. This is in contrast to today, when unfortunately, most good intentions remain in the realm of potential...
(The Chida, Rabbi Yosef David Azulai)
And the men came with (literally "in addition to") the women (Ex. 35:22)
When the men arrived with their donations for the Sanctuary they found that the women had already preceded them. This was typical behavior of the righteous women of that generation, who refused to take part in the making of the Golden Calf and would not give up their jewelry for that purpose. Now, however, they were the first to contribute, and willingly gave up their finest possessions.
Adapted from Vedibarta Bam - by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
Reb Shmuel Munkis was one of the most colorful and beloved of the early Chasidim of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch Movement.
When he arrived at the Rebbe's court in Liozna around 1778 he was a young man, already well-versed in Talmud and many other parts of the Jewish canon. He immediately became one of the Rebbe's foremost disciples and enjoyed a unique relationship with the Rebbe throughout his life. In tribute to his great spiritual refinement, Reb Shmuel was chosen by the Alter Rebbe to be his personal emissary to the Chasidim and spiritual mentor to many other remarkable personalities of the age.
One might imagine that a person of enormous spiritual achievement would be very serious-minded. But in the case of Reb Shmuel Munkis this was certainly not so. He was known as a jester, though his "jests" were never empty jokes - they all contained an important core of truth.
Once a distraught mother hurried to the House of Study of the Alter Rebbe, whom she had never seen. When she reached the building she rushed in and ran up to Reb Shmuel Munkis. Having never seen the Alter Rebbe she assumed that Reb Shmuel was the Tzadik she sought. Excitedly, she began explaining her predicament, begging for his blessing. "Rebbe, please help my daughter. She is in labor, but it is dragging on and I am very worried about her."
Reb Shmuel realized that she had mistaken his identity, but nonetheless, here was a Jewish woman who needed help badly and every Jew in need must be helped. In a calm and reassuring tone he told the woman, "Don't worry. Just go home and recite Yizkor [the prayer which is recited to remember deceased parents] seven times."
It was strange advice, but the woman trusted in the words of the holy Tzadik. She rushed back home and hurried to fulfill the Tzadik's behest. A few days later the woman returned to the house of study with a tray piled high with many types o f delicacies. She asked to be admitted to the Alter Rebbe's study and when she entered, she thanked the Rebbe profusely for his blessing and advice. She explained that as soon as she had finished reciting Yizkor for the seventh time, the baby was born, healthy and well. She was so excited relating her story that she didn't notice that she was not speaking to the man who had given the advice.
The Alter Rebbe congratulated her and blessed her. Then, he called in Reb Shmuel. The Rebbe asked, "Where did you find the segula [an action which brings good fortune] of reciting Yizkor seven times?"
Reb Shmuel replied, "If when we say Yizkor in shul one time all the children and even some adults run out, I figured that when it would be said seven times, for sure the child would come out quickly!" [It is customary for those whose parents are alive to leave the synagogue when Yizkor is recited.]
Once, while on the way to Liozna, Reb Shmuel met someone who was traveling in his direction. Being a friendly person, Reb Shmuel greeted him and then asked the man who he was and where he was going. The man answered, "I am very knowledgeable in Kabala, but there are a few points which I do not completely understand. I heard that the Magid of Liozna (as some referred to the Alter Rebbe) is very wise. So I decided to ask him my questions and see if he is as brilliant as they claim he is." Reb Shmuel was very disturbed by this person's arrogance and wanted to soften it without ridiculing him. So he said, in feigned happiness. "How fortune I am! I am also going to Liozna to judge him. Please, tell me your questions; I am also somewhat knowledgeable in Kabala."
After hearing the man's "deep and difficult" questions, Reb Shmuel said, "My friend, I see you are more knowledgeable than I am in Kabala. Perhaps you can do me a favor. I, too, have a question in Kabala that has been bothering me for some time:
"It is written in one of the books of Kabala: 'First it was scattered, then it became connected. Then it came to the level of a great circle. Then the level of three lines was applied to it and it became the level of a triangle with the point in the middle. And through the combination of the foundation of water with the foundation of fire it was finished and became good."
"Now," continued Reb Shmuel, "since you are so much more knowledgeable than I, perhaps you can ask the Maggid of Liozna my question. You will certainly be able to discuss it with him on a higher level than I can and then you will be able to share the answer with me. "
The man immediately agreed to Reb Shmuel's suggestion. When he entered the Alter Rebbe's room for a private audience he introduced himself in grand terms. Then, he asked his own questions followed by Reb Shmuel's question.
To this final question, the Alter Rebbe smiled and answered, "It is a krepel (dumpling). First it is flour (scattered), then it is kneaded and becomes connected. You roll the dough into a circle, cut it into a triangle, and put meat in the middle. You fold up the sides, put it in water and cook it over the fire."
Seeing how truly ignorant he was in Kabala, the person left slightly embarrassed of his own arrogance but greatly humbled by the experience.
Later, when Reb Shmuel entered the Alter Rebbe's room, the Alter Rebbe asked him, "This was a piece of your work?"
Adapted from Early Chasidic Personalities: Reb Shmuel Munkis by Rabbi Sholom D. Avtzon - available from Sichos In English - www.chabad.org/sie
In the time to come, the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring the yetzer hara (evil inclination) and slay it in the presence of the righteous and the wicked. To the righteous it will have the appearance of a towering hill, and to the wicked it will have the appearance of a thread of hair... The wicked will weep saying, 'How is it that we were unable to conquer this thread of hair?'"
(Talmud, Suka 52a)