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Life is full of those little truisms that we hear as children and play back as adults. Recorded in books like Life's Little Instruction Book and P.S. I Love You, sprinkled throughout The Reader's Digest and gathering dust in The Farmer's Almanac, pithy sayings and bons mots can do more than just make us smile or send us running for a pen and paper to write it down and hang it on the refrigerator.
If someone were to ask you, "What's your motto in life?" or "What are your golden rules for living?", how would you respond?
Perhaps by familiarizing ourselves with one of the treasure-stores of Jewish wisdom, Pirkei Avot - Chapters of the Sages, we can each find our own special saying that "fits like a glove."
(On the long Shabbat afternoons throughout the summer months, it is customary to continue our study of Pirkei Avot which was begun in the spring.)
Many of the teachings of our Sages in this guide to Jewish living are preceded by the words "He used to say..." One commentator points out that most of the Sages quoted therein said many, many things, some much more famous that the teaching quoted in Pirkei Avot. However, "he used to say" tips us off to the fact that what is recorded in Pirkei Avot for that particular Sage was his motto in life, the slogan he lived by and with on a daily basis.
For instance, Joshua ben Perachaya used to say, "Judge every person favorably." The great Sage Hillel said, "Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures, and bringing them near to the Torah." Hillel also made the famous statement: "If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"
Shammai, Hillel's colleague, said, "Receive every person with a cheerful countenance."
Shimon ben Gamliel said, "There is nothing better for one's person than silence" and "not study but practice is the essential thing."
Rabban Gamliel said, "Do not say, 'When I will have free time I will study [Torah],' for perhaps you will never have free time." He also used to say, "In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man [i.e., mentsch]." This is just a sprinkling of the many insightful saying one will find when perusing Pirkei Avot.
To acquire a motto for life, one needn't create an original or innovative saying. Your "saying" already exists for, as the wise King Solomon said, "There is nothing new under the sun." It is waiting to be personalized and stamped by you with your individual and distinctive character. But first, you must find it.
"Learn it and learn it, for everything is within it," is Ben Bag Bag's bon mot as recorded in Pirkei Avot. He was referring to the Torah, in all its glory.
Studying Pirkei Avot at this time of year is one of the ways we can "learn it" and find "within it" a motto for life that will truly bring life. For, as it says in Proverbs, "It is a tree of life for all who hold onto it."
In this week's Torah portion, Beha'alotecha, Aaron, the kohen gadol (high priest), is commanded to light the menora: "Speak to Aaron...When you light the lamps."
According to Jewish law, any Jew, even someone who is not a kohen, is permitted to light the menora and the kindling will be valid. Furthermore, the trimming of the menora's wicks need not necessarily be done by the high priest; any kohen is allowed to perform the task. Why then is the commandment to light the menora directed specifically at Aaron?
The fact that the Torah addresses Aaron indicates that although others are permitted to kindle the lamps, Aaron, the high priest, is the one who should do so. For lighting the menora is an activity best done only by someone with the spiritual standing of a kohen gadol.
The commandment to kindle the menora is symbolic of every Jew's obligation to involve himself with others and exert a positive influence on everyone with whom he comes in contact. All of us are commanded to ignite the Divine spark in our fellow Jews and light up our surroundings.
How are we to exert this influence? By emulating the example of Aaron, the high priest, the embodiment of the highest level of holiness. We too must not content ourselves with presenting a watered-down version of Torah and mitzvot to our fellow Jews; only the highest levels of sanctity and holiness will suffice!
What was so special about the kohen gadol? One day each year, on Yom Kippur, the high priest entered the holy of holies, the most sanctified place on earth. The chamber itself was bare except for the tablets of the law, the Ten Commandments. Indeed, this is the essence of the high priest: the Torah in its purest form.
The Ten Commandments were engraved in stone, its letters part and parcel of the tablets themselves, inseparable from the substance in which it was etched. Again, this expresses the nature of the high priest: someone to whom the Torah is his very essence.
The commandment to light the menora is both the duty and the merit of every single Jew. All of us are required to kindle our own "lamp," our G-dly soul, and ignite the spark of G-d that dwells in others. And while any Jew can and must light the "menora," his own G-dly soul and his environment, it must be done in a manner consistent with the high priest, whose whole being was synonymous with the highest levels of sanctity.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 2
by Sam Fishman
When Pa was about 16, his family fled the Russian pogroms and settled in Brooklyn. As a boy in a little shtetl, Pa had studied all day memorizing the Torah and Talmud. Here in America, Pa had to earn a few dollars working in a sweatshop. Ma's family came to Brooklyn from Romania. When she met Pa, she was 17 and worked as a seamstress. Ma was a gracious lady. Pa was devoted to her, and she adored the kind, gentle scholar. They were married in 1912 and I was born in 1913. Together, Ma and Pa worked and scrimped, saving enough money to buy a knitting machine to start up a business making sweaters. For a few years they lived a bit easier, and along the way had a second child, my sister Shirley.
Intent on expanding, Pa went into debt but didn't put aside any reserve funds. The Depression wiped us out and Pa's spirit broke. I still remember the terrible crying jags. Ma was a constant source of comfort, hope and love unlimited. Her repeated "It will be all right" kept us alive and gradually healed Pa.
Eventually Pa managed to borrow $200 to buy a little candy store. For the rest of their working years, Ma and Pa spent 18-hour days, 52 weeks a year (excluding the Sabbath and holy days) in the candy store. They were sustained in their labors only by their hopes and the aspirations of their children.
Through it all, Ma was like a Rock of Gibraltar, while Pa, from behind his soda fountain, explored the universe. "Ah," he would say, "the Creator made such wonders: the skies, the mountains, the oceans. Such beauty, if only people wouldn't spoil it." To him, a human being was the most marvelous creation of all. "I'll never understand how even the Creator could make us." Despite all the hardships, Ma's well of love and comfort never ran dry. And Pa always had his jokes, and wrote poems for all family occasions.
Though they never had much in material things, they were always quick to help people who had less. Every day Ma dropped a few precious pennies into the little metal charity box.
And Pa? For over 60 years I have retained this crystal-clear memory of one hot midsummer morning during the height of the Depression: I was with Pa. Despite the lack of business, we tried, as much as possible, to have two of us at the store at any given time. I remember Pa was, as usual, at the soda fountain, waiting for a rare customer. I was off in a corner reading a magazine. About 10 a.m. a short, thin, middle- aged man came in, out of the scorching hot sun and walked very slowly to the soda fountain. He was neatly dressed in an obviously well-worn blue suit. I remember he was even wearing a tie. He asked Pa if he might have a drink of water, apologizing profusely because he did not have the two cents to pay for a glass of seltzer.
Pa said, "Here, take the seltzer. You'll owe me two cents."
Sipping slowly, the man went on in a low halting voice, telling Pa how he had walked here all the way from the Bronx, hoping to get some work in a tailor shop down the street. The owner was sick, it was to be a temporary job, but it paid a full $10 a week.
The man had read the advertisement in the evening newspaper and had left his home long before dawn. Our store was near Coney Island, miles and miles from the Bronx. By the time he got to the tailor shop, the job was taken. Now he had to walk all the way home and tell his family.
And he sobbed, "When will I ever get a job?"
I'll never forget Pa's face, crying silently with his fellow man. To this day, when I think of it, I cannot repress the tears in my own eyes. Pa went to the cash register, took out two dollars and change, the whole morning's receipts, and gave it all away. Pa never said a word about it. Never spoke of it at all. It was done. It was gone. It was not an exceptional phenomenon, nothing rare or unusual. It was just... Pa.
Reprinted from the Holiday Consumer published by N'Shei Chabad of Rockland County.
ON THE BALL
On the Ball is the latest book in the Yossi and Laibel series from HaChai Publishing. When Avi, who is in a wheelchair, moves in next door to Yossi and Laibel, it doesn't look as if he could possibly be a very good ball player. Will the boys judge him by his appearance, or give Avi a chance? Join them as they find out what really makes someone a friend. Written by Dina Rosenfeld in words and rhyme and illustrated by Norman Nodel.
BRANCHES OF THE CHASSIDIC MENORAH
Branches of the Chassidic Menorah is the Previous Rebbe explanation of the uniqueness of the Chabad approach to Divine service: What exactly distinguishes Chabad Chasidim from Chasidim of other trends? In his own inimitable manner, the Previous Rebbe describes how Chabad Chasidut was initiated and defines the spiritual goals that Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad-Lubavitch set for his followers. Translated by Shimon Neubort and published by Sichos In English.
THE TREE OF LIFE
In this classic treatise, the Rebbe Rashab (the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) teaches us how to appreciate and relate to the ever-present spiritual potential which G-d invested in the Torah and apply its insights in our day-to-day experience. Intended originally as a guide for the students of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva, this text serves as an invaluable resource for anyone seeking to understand and internalize the path of Divine service with which Lubavitch is identified. Translated by Eli Tougar and published by Sichos In English.
5th of Nisan, 5719 
I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you on having such a fine son as Y. A., and although I have not met him personally, I have been receiving good reports about him, and I also gather as much from the letter he wrote me recently. I am very gratified that your son is making such fine progress in his studies, and I hope that you and your wife are giving him every encouragement in this direction. For, in the presence of confusion and conflict, which is making so many young people unhappy, unfortunately, it is a vital necessity to provide children with the solid and unbreakable foundation of Torah and mitzvot, to guide them happily and cheerfully through life.
I hope that you and your wife conduct your home in accordance with the Torah, which is so-called "Torat Chaim," the Law of Life, meaning that it is the guide to a happy life on this earth. But no matter how good things are, there is always room for improvement, and may G-d grant also to send you increased blessings, to you and all your family.
Wishing you all a kosher and happy Pesach,
18th of Sivan, 5719 
I received your letter, in which you write about your anxiety in regard to the question of parnasa [livelihood]. Needless to say, I am much surprised at you, that you should allow yourself to be so affected by this. For you surely know how often our Sages have impressed on us the importance of trust and confidence in G-d, in order that we realize that all difficulties encountered in life are only trials and tests of a passing nature.
To be sure, the question of parnasa is one of the most difficult tests -- nevertheless, G-d does not subject one to a greater test than he can withstand, as our Rabbis expressed it, "According to the camel, so is its load." The very trust in G-d is a vessel and channel to receive G-d's blessings, apart from the fact that such confidence is good for one's health, disposition, and therefore is also a natural means to the desired end. All the more so, since, as you write, you have noticed an improvement in recent weeks.
This should serve as an encouraging sign and greatly strengthen your trust in G-d. No doubt you also remember the commentary of my father- in-law of saintly memory in regard to the saying of our Sages that "Life is like a turning wheel," at which my father-in-law remarked that "When a point on the wheel reaches the lowest degree, it is bound to turn upwards again."
As for your request for advice, in my opinion you ought to set a period of time for the study of pnimiut [inner teachings] of the Torah, namely, Chasidut, concerning which it is written in the Zohar (part 3, page 124b): "In the area of Pnimiut HaTorah there is no place for negative things and evil," and as further explained in Igeret HaKodesh, chapter 26.
In addition, I suggest that you should set aside a couple of pennies for tzedaka [charity] every weekday morning before prayer, and also before Mincha [the afternoon service]. Also to recite at least one kapitel Tehilim [chapter of Psalms] every day after the morning prayers, including Shabbat and Yom Tov.
All the above should be bli neder, and at least until Rosh Hashanah. It would also be very good for you to know by heart several perakim Mishnayot [chapters of Mishna], and at least one perek Tanya [chapter of Tanya].
I am confident that the above, together with an increased measure of bitachon [trust], will soon bring an improvement in your parnasa.
In accordance with the teaching of our Sages (Bava Batra 15, 2) that money from a good and saintly source brings G-d's blessings, you will find enclosed a check from one of the treasuries for my father-in-law of saintly memory, to deposit to your business account, and may G-d grant that the prediction of our Sages will be realized in your case also.
Hoping to hear good news from you and with blessing,
P.S. Enclosed you will find a copy of a message which I trust you will find useful.
Rambam for 21 Sivan, 5758
Positive Mitzva 212: "Be Fruitful and Multiply" By this injunction we are commanded to be fruitful and multiply for the perpetuation of humanity.
The duty to be fruitful and multiply does not apply to women; the Talmud explicitly says it is "laid on the man, not on the woman."
"Do not separate yourself from the community," the great Sage Hillel counsels us in Chapter 2 of Ethics of the Fathers. The Jewish concept of community (tzibur) is unique for when a minyan of Jews (ten) comes together, a new entity is formed that did not previously exist: a tzibur.
A tzibur is more than the sum of its parts. The spiritual power of a Jewish community is infinitely greater than our power as individuals - which is why we assemble in groups to pray, learn Torah and observe other mitzvot. The measure of sanctity brought down into the world by a community engaged in a holy pursuit is much greater than that which even many individual Jews can effect.
Take a look in our siddur (prayer book) and you will find that most of our service of G-d is communal. Reciting prayers and benedictions in the plural binds the individual Jew to the Jewish people as a whole, and gives our acts of devotion an added "punch."
In truth, a Jew needs to identify himself with the larger Jewish community in order to be complete. This implies certain responsibilities, such as supporting and participating in Jewish communal efforts.
Furthermore, the actions of a single Jew have a ripple effect throughout the community. Whenever a Jew publicly increases his observance of Torah and mitzvot, it imbues others with the strength and resolve to follow his example.
It states in Proverbs, "In the multitude of people is the King's glory." May we all come together in true Jewish unity and merit G-d's ultimate blessing - the revelation of Moshiach and the Messianic era.
When you light the lamps, then shall the seven lamps give light toward the body of the candlestick (Num. 8:2)
The seven branches of the menora are symbolic of the seven branches of secular wisdom; the body of the menora is symbolic of the G-dly wisdom of Torah. All knowledge of the natural, physical world should be used to "give light toward the body of the candlestick" - enhance our understanding of Torah - thereby enabling secular wisdom to truly illuminate.
And if they blow with but one [trumpet], then shall the princes assemble themselves to you (Num. 10:4)
If genuine Jewish unity is the goal, "then shall the princes assemble themselves" - there must first be true unity among our leaders, who must cease infighting and provide a proper example for others. Only then can they demand unity from the rest of the people.
For G-d has spoken good upon Israel (Num. 10:29)
The words "spoken good" occur only twice in our Scriptures, here and in Megilat Esther, where we find the phrase "spoken good for the king." According to our commentators this is an allusion to G-d: When a person speaks well of his fellow Jew, it is considered as if he spoke well of the Master of the world.
And G-d's anger was kindled greatly, and in the eyes of Moses it was also displeasing (Num. 11:10)
Why was G-d angered? Because "in the eyes of Moses it was also displeasing": in this instance, Moses hadn't tried to justify the Jews' behavior or find an excuse for them. From this we learn that when a tzadik (righteous person) finds merit for the Jewish people, it stills any accusations from Above.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)
The Talmud illustrates the bounty of the Land of Israel with the tale of various sages who enjoyed the wonderful fruits of the land said to be flowing with milk and honey. Once the scholar Rami ben Yechezkel was visiting Bnei Brak and came upon an orchard of fig trees. It was the height of their season and the trees were heavy with fruit which fell to the ground oozing their delectable syrup. As he watched, a flock of goats which was grazing nearby was attracted by the smell, and began eating the fallen fruits. He noticed that the goats were full to bursting with milk, with dripped from their udders, and Rami ben Yechezkel exclaimed, "See, how this is truly a land which flows with milk and honey! Here are the words of Torah so clearly seen!"
The Talmud further tells of the time Rav Yehuda of Saskin asked his son to go to their attic and bring him some dried figs which were stored in a barrel. The boy went up to the attic, but when he put his hand into the barrel, he felt only a thick, sticky substance. "Father," he called, "I cannot find the figs. It seems there is only something sticky and wet in the barrel."
His father replied, "Put your hand further into the barrel. What you are feeling is the fig honey. The figs are deeper in the barrel." His son did as he was told, and lo and behold, he found huge, soft figs, so rich in honey, that they dripped with thick, sweet syrup.
In one more illustration of the wonder of the fruits of the Land of Israel, Rav Yossi of Tzippori once asked his son to bring him some olives which were kept in a barrel. The son went as his father asked, but he couldn't even get to the container, for the floor was slippery with the shiny olive oil which had spilled onto the floor. The olives of that time were so full of oil that the oil flowed out of the barrel in which the fruits were being stored. The blessings which were so apparent in those days have not been seen since, but in the time of Moshiach, these wonders will be common once again, only in a much greater measure.
Once a great sage was visiting the court of a famous Rebbe. In his honor, a special bottle of wine from the Land of Israel was brought to the table. This wine was used sparingly, and only for great occasions, since it was a rarity to obtain wine from the Holy Land.
Everyone looked forward to a small taste of this unique wine, but when it was served, the sage refused to partake of it, opting to drink instead the simple local wine. Everyone was surprised at his reaction and questioned him about his refusal to partake of the special wine.
The guest was reticent, but when pressed for an answer he replied, "I am no expert on wine; in fact, I know nothing about the relative merit of different types and varieties of wine. I am afraid that if I taste the wine from the Land of Israel I will not be able to sense its true value, and therefore, I will sin against the Holy Land, insult its fruits. That is why I prefer to drink only the simple wine of this land."
When his famous pupil, Rabbi Chaim Vital, arrived in Tzefat to study with the Holy Ari, the Ari took him to the banks of the Kineret, where he filled up a cup and gave him water to drink.
"This water comes from the well of Miriam, the water which sustained the Jews through their travels in the desert. It has special powers and drinking it will enable you to learn Kabala and absorb it."
And it was true that Chaim Vital was given the ability to learn the holy, mystical secrets of the Kabala and master that knowledge.
In his autobiographical work, Shem Hagedolim, the Chida (Rabbi Yosef David Azulai) writes that during the lifetime of the Ari, Jerusalem had a gentile governor. This man wanted to solve the water problem of the city. He studied the ancient history of the city and discovered that during his war with Sancherib, King Hezekia had stopped up the Gichon spring, which flowed from the Holy Temple and provided water for the entire city. This he had done to prevent the enemy forces from gaining control over the water resources.
The gentile governor called all of his advisors and charged them with finding a way to clear the spring. Finally, they suggested that Chaim Vital be called. He was known to be a saintly rabbi and he would be able to release the waters.
Rabbi Chaim didn't want to obey the governor, who had commanded him on pain of death. And so, through the use of holy names and prayer, he transported himself out of the Land of Israel and far away to Damascus. That night, the Holy Ari appeared to him in a dream. "It is very tragic that you disobeyed the governor, for you had a chance to repair King Hezekia's error. It was wrong of him to close up the spring of Gichon, and you could have remedied his mistake. If you had heeded his words, you would have hastened the Redemption."
Rabbi Chaim was crestfallen. "Should I return to Jerusalem now and do as the governor ordered?" But the Ari replied, "The chance has passed; it is too late for now."
In the present, the Torah is garbed in narratives - the story of Laban [Jacob's father-in-law], the story of Bilam [the non-Jewish prophet], and the like. In the time to come, however, it will become apparent how these stories in fact speak of G-d, of the building of the supernal world.
(Keter Shem Tov)