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by Yehudis Cohen
I have become known, at least amongst the Jewish students at New York University in New York City, as the best Rice Krispy Treats maker this side of the Rockies.
Perhaps you will better fathom the significance of Rice Krispy Treats and their impact on the Friday night social scene for Jewish students at NYU if I relate the following: One Shabbat when I was out-of-town and there were no Rice Krispy Treats to be had (I had not, as yet, comprehended the import of this confection) many students did not stay late to socialize upon being informed that there were no Rice Krispy Treats.
What is it that magically draws Jewish students to a mixture of marshmallow fluff, crisped rice cereal and margarine?
Preparing multiple batches of Rice Krispy Treats each week for the "starving students" has given me plenty of time to contemplate the message of this thoroughly sweet, sometimes sticky dessert.
(I have yet to master the art of successfully doubling this recipe. Thus, each Friday morning I spend at least an hour preparing this simple yet sought after nosh.)
In keeping with a primary teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that one can glean a lesson for Jewish living from everything one sees and hears, I present the follow hypothesis in answer to the above question.
A box or bag of crisped rice cereal contains hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tiny, distinct pieces of crisped rice. If, by mistake, one spills this cereal, it scatters everywhere, in all directions and into every nook and cranny. However, upon mixing the cereal with marshmallow fluff the individual pieces become stuck together.
And that, simply speaking, is one of the main messages I have found in Rice Krispy Treats. We Jews want to be united. We want to be "stuck" together with the help of a sweet, delicious, pristine, healthy (marshmallow fluff is cholesterol free) substance. We don't want to be scattered, alienated, detached and divided in a million directions. Of course, every Jew wants to retain his or her uniqueness and identity just as in Rice Krispy Treats each individual piece of crispy rice is recognizable and discernable. But ultimately we want to be part of, not apart from, the Jewish community. And we want every other Jew to feel connected to all other Jews.
How can we accomplish this? By learning even more from my experience with Rice Krispy Treats at NYU.
I personally don't find preparing Rice Krispy Treats particularly challenging nor do I find them gastronomically appealing. I would prefer making (and eating!) my grandmother's oatmeal jelly bars, or perhaps Betty Crocker Double Chocolate Fudge Brownies. Even Peanut Butter Chocolate Rice Krispy Treats are more exciting than the marshmallow fluff variety as far as I am concerned. But the students want ordinary Rice Krispy Treats, so that is what I give them.
Now, imagine adopting such an attitude when we relate to another Jew. Imagine putting aside what we want to give, what we would like to offer another Jew (what we think the next Jew is lacking?), and instead, concentrate on the needs or desires of the other person. When a friend wants someone to listen, we listen instead of talk. When he wants to learn to read Hebrew, even if we're itching to teach him something more advanced, we teach him Hebrew or find someone who will. And conversely, if we know someone who wants to explore Judaism at a rate or depth that will exceed our own comfort level, we encourage her and help her along.
Let's all take the Rice Krispy Treat challenge. I believe we'll be pleasantly surprised at the results.
The true test of a Jew's Divine service is seen precisely when he encounters trials and difficulties. The trial serves to reveal his hidden abilities, and his service of G-d is strengthened by the experience.
The 40 years of wandering through the desert were a trial for the entire Jewish people, a preparation for their service in the Land of Israel. In general, there are two types of tests a person may face: the trial of wealth, and the trial of poverty. The Jews' trial in the desert consisted of both elements, and this was reflected in the phenomenon of the manna.
This week in the Torah portion of Eikev we read about the manna - a G-dly food, "bread from the heavens." In the desert, the Jewish people did not have to worry about where their next meal would be coming from; the manna fell predictably from the sky each day. It was entirely digestible, and had whatever taste a person wished. In addition, the manna was accompanied by gemstones and pearls. Thus the manna was symbolic of the epitome of wealth.
At the same time, however, the manna also embodied an element of poverty. Eating manna, the only sustenance the Jews were offered, was not satisfying like regular food. Moreover, the Jews received only enough manna for that particular day; there was never any extra. It is human nature that when a person's house is stocked with food, he becomes sated after eating very little; when there is nothing in his cupboard, he is never fully satisfied.
Thus we see that the manna was extremely contradictory. On one hand, it was the richest sustenance a person could ask for; on the other, it was poor and unfilling.
When a person looked at the manna he saw only manna, and not the other foods whose taste he was experiencing. This in itself caused a feeling of deprivation. And because the Jews only received enough manna for one day, they had to have faith that G-d would cause it to fall the next day, too. So although the manna was the epitome of abundance, from the Jews' standpoint it was a trial of poverty, as the coarseness of their physical bodies prevented them from fully appreciating its G-dly qualities.
In truth, the manna teaches us a lesson in how to overcome both types of tests we may encounter throughout life:
When a Jew is blessed with wealth, he shouldn't think that it is the result of his own efforts. Rather, he must always remember that it is G-d Who has granted him these riches. And if, G-d forbid, a person is faced with the test of poverty, he must likewise remember that "no evil descends from on High." His suffering is the consequence of his own misdeeds, and he must accept it with love. For G-d bestows only bounty and beneficence, despite the limitations of our physical eyes.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 4
by Dr. David Lazerson
When my students would pay me a Shabbat visit it was a sight to behold. I returned from the synagogue all decked out in Shabbat duds, only to find two or three of my crew sitting on my front steps listening to a rap song on WBLK, one of the black radio stations.
We'd talk a bit, they'd chow down some cholent ("Man, that stuff looks nasty!") and be on their way. Everyone was, in fact, pretty nonchalant about the whole thing.
One Shabbat day, however, our phone started ringing. After about 45 rings in a row we began to get nervous. Maybe there was some kind of an emergency. Right on cue, our youngest child picked up the ringing phone.
The voice rang loud and clear. "Yo, Mr. Laz. You home?" It was Terrence. I couldn't believe it. We laughed out loud. "Some emergency," my wife Gittel said, in that I-told-you-so tone of voice.
Terrence, hearing some voices, continued to ask for me from the ivory colored phone that was now laying on our kitchen floor.
"You have to tell him not to call here on Shabbat," my wife said to me, "And tell the rest of the kids in the class not to call on Shabbat either."
We maneuvered our little girl into picking up the receiver and resting it back in its place.
I knew that our behavior had to look mighty unusual in Terrence's eyes. Chalk up another episode for multi-cultural experiences!
I would have to do some heavy explaining back at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community School that Monday.
"You guys want to visit me on weekends, no problem," I said. "It's not too exciting on our Sabbath, though. We don't listen to radio. We don't watch TV."
"Not even for a good ball game?"
"Afraid not, pal. Not even to watch the Juice and the Buffalo Bills."
"Look at it this way. For one day a week, you don't have to be bothered by all the nonsense. You don't have to see 83.6 murders per hour. You don't have to listen to seductive women telling you to buy mouthwash or toothpaste, which will guarantee you happiness and success for the rest of your life. You aren't bombarded by all that garbage."
"Sounds like you don't do nothin' but bum out the whole day!" "Yeah, what do you do anyhow?"
"It might sound crazy," I said, "but we have a real nice time just being with each other. You know, we eat together. No rush, no quick down the gullet variety and then bombin' out the door for some fast shopping. We eat a long meal. It gives us time to talk and listen to each other. Sometimes we even sing songs together."
"Sounds cornball to me."
"Nothing corny about funk soul music, is there?" I asked. "Well, that's what we sing. Jewish funk soul!"
A few of my students reacted with a long, sneery laugh in disbelief. I ignored it.
"So what's it matter if I call you or not?" Terrence jumped in. "I ain't asking you to watch TV with me."
"This is a hard, difficult topic to explain," I said. "But, basically, we try to make our Sabbath a very different day from the rest of the week. We don't use the phones either."
"Man oh man," one of them said in exasperation. "I'd go crazy just doin' nothin'!"
"Look at it this way," I replied, giving it one more shot before moving them on to their math lesson. "It's the one day a week we're not bothered with doing business, making money or being aggravated about money."
"Okay, so forget about money for a day," Leland said. "Don't you get bored just eatin' and talkin'?"
"Sometimes, sure," I replied. "But we're not just hermits hanging out a whole day. We go on walks and go to the synagogue a few times. It's also a day we try to get closer to G-d."
I paused, waiting for the impact of that word to sink in. I had almost caught myself, but it managed to sneak past my teeth and lips and somehow vocalize itself in the air to form the small but explosive three letter word: G-d.
They couldn't appreciate the effort that I went through on a daily basis not to mention this word. Hey, it was taboo, a real no-no, a violation of the supposed separation of church and state. This was public school, brother, not some yeshiva! But at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community School, this separation was a joke. Our assemblies, particularly at New Year's, Easter and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, were more like holy roller conventions than public school assemblies. We had guest reverends lead the school body in opening and closing convocations.
I have always felt that many of my inner-city students, these supposed tough, hard-core rejects, were highly sensitive to religion and believing in G-d. All the jabbering about walks and talks and songs and time together sounded okay, but somehow off the mark. When I mentioned that our Shabbat was a day to get closer to G-d, there were no questions, no sly comments, no laughs. It was as if I had finally said something that made perfect sense, something true.
Unfortunately, it took them about four consecutive Sabbaths, complete with two-minute-long nerve-wracking rings, before they accepted the notion of no phone calls. They may have been sensitive, but they sure were stubborn, too.
Excerpted from Skullcaps 'n' Switchblades, written by Dr. Lazerson about his experiences as a learning disabilities teacher in the Buffalo, New York, school system where he won the teacher of the year award. Dr. Lazerson is currently the director of Beit Rafael Yeshiva in Florida which he founded.
The newest release from Sichos In English is a book containing reflections on reaching the age of 60, the age which our Sages refer to as the age of "sagacity." This book is based on talks by the Rebbe at various Chasidic gatherings throughout the years. It can be purchased at Judaica stores or through the publisher by sending $4 to: S.I.E., 788 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213.
Elul 5th, 5712 
I have received your letter of August 7th, in which you express your very deep appreciation for the education and upbringing which your youngest son has received at the Yeshivah in the last four years, which you recognize to be the finest thing that could have happened to him, for which you feel thankful to me. Thanks are not due to me, of course, but to the Almighty who has given you such a fine son, whose desire it is to be a "vessel" to receive the right upbringing in Torah with Yiras Shamaim [fear of heaven], rooted in Chasidus. To him also gratitude is due for the recognition stemming from this Chinuch [education], that one is steadily to advance along this road like all things connected with Kedushah [holiness] which must rise higher and higher toward G-d the infinite. This is particularly true in the age of youth and adolescence, the impressionable age, when the right education and upbringing is bound to bring ever-growing fruit for the whole life.
Pursuant to the above, and to the spirit of your letter, I must say that I was greatly surprised and chagrined to read the conclusion of your letter which is so contradictory to its introduction, that you wish him to remain in - . This is all the more disappointing in view of the fact that only this summer he has become Bar-Mitzvah, when the Jew just enters into his obligatory life of Torah and Mitzvos. At this critical stage you consider uprooting him from the environment and upbringing which has been so beneficial to him, because you and your wife cannot be separated from him any more.
I fully appreciate, of course, the feelings of parents, especially towards such a son as - , and separation undeniably is a great hardship. On the other hand, it is also self evident that when it concerns the molding of one's son's character and upbringing which is to last him for the rest of his life and thereafter, the temporary separation of a few years is comparatively negligible considering the reward and what is at stake.
... the paramount factor is this:
At all times, and more so nowadays, everything should be done to spare one's child any crisis in his life, for there are enough crises in life beyond our control. Inasmuch as your son has become so attached to the Yeshivah environment and has benefited from it so much, has many friends among the students, etc., there can be no doubt that to take him away from it and placing him in another environment, even one of Torah with Yiras Shamaim, but surely not identical with this one, is bound to create a crisis, which will be both apparent and hidden, deep in his innermost being, which may have lasting effects, G-d forbid.
Being also acquainted with the general state of Torah education in -, I know that there is a basic difference in the approach to the whole problem between here and there, and the transition would by no means be a smooth one, involving either a cardinal change or a breach, G-d forbid, an experience which should be avoided even in the case of an adult, let alone a child, especially such a sensitive one as your son.
I must therefore emphasize again that you must weigh the physical and especially spiritual well-being of your son against the temporary separation from him. There is also the advice of our Sages, "Go into exile to a place of Torah" (Avoth 4:1 3).
Let me finally add that, based upon my observations and life experience, I am certain that when parents concede to the above saying of our Sages, despite their personal sacrifice, it is amply rewarded with the joy and happiness of their children. I trust you will bear with me for being so outspoken in this problem, since I consider it my duty, having personal knowledge of the factors and knowing your son intimately. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of return to New York before Rosh Hashanah, for that special atmosphere that prevails here at that time, where he longs to be together with his friends, during prayers and at meal time, and be inspired together with them by all that he sees, hears and feels here.
I pray that you make this decision without undue difficulty, and the Almighty will surely reward you with much joy from him and your other children.
Our Sages say that the words of the Torah "And ye shall teach them diligently unto thy children" refer also to one's disciples; and truly the students are treated here like one's own children. I shall therefore feel greatly relieved to hear that you have made the right decision with regard to - .
Wishing you and yours a kesiva vechasima tovah [inscribed and sealed for good],
Rambam for 26 Menachem Av 5758
Positive mitzva 132: Recital upon bringing the first fruits By this injunction we are commanded, upon bringing the first fruits, to recount the favors which G-d has bestowed upon us, how He has delivered us from the trials of Jacob and from the slavery and afflictions of the Egyptians, to give thanks and implore Him to perpetuate His blessing. It is derived from the verse (Deut. 26:5): "You shall speak and say before the L-rd your G-d: 'A wandering Aramean was my father. "
This Shabbat we will study the fourth chapter of Ethics of the Fathers, in which a saying is attributed to Rabbi Elazar Hakapar: "Envy, desire, and seeking honor drive a man from the world." An envious person is troubled if he is not as rich or successful as his neighbor. It eats him up; he is consumed by jealousy.
A person who is driven by desire allows his evil inclination to lure him from one physical pleasure to the next. But the evil inclination is insatiable.
A person who seeks undue honor and recognition craves a sense of power over others.
Our Rabbis explain that these three negative character traits prevent an individual from developing and growing as a person. Chasidic philosophy, however, adds another dimension to our understanding:
What is holiness? Holiness is nullification before G-d. Conversely, the opposite of holiness is the perception of self. For example, the more Maimonides learned Torah and delved into the significance of the Divine commandments, the more awe of G-d he experienced and humble he became. The Greek philosopher Aristotle, by contrast, grew increasingly arrogant along with his knowledge.
We may legitimately ask, Why did G-d create human beings capable of manifesting such character traits? Because the potential to yearn for or crave something is not necessarily bad; our task as Jews is to take this natural potential and channel it toward positive, holy matters. This, in essence, is the totality of the Jew's Divine service: to utilize all of his inborn, G-d-given talents and abilities in the pursuit of ever-higher levels of holiness and sanctity.
So it's okay to be jealous - as long as we're jealous of someone else's positive character traits or Torah knowledge and resolve to acquire them for ourselves.
And it will come to pass because (eikev) you will hearken to these ordinances (Deut. 7:12)
Hebrew word "eikev" means literally "heel," and refers to the End of Days - the period right before the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption. Our Sages counseled us to "Anticipate the footsteps of Moshiach"; at present, we can hear their faint echo and begin to appreciate Moshiach's light.
And now, Israel, what does the L-rd your G-d require of you but to fear the L-rd your G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 10:12)
From the way this verse is worded, one would think that this command is easy. Yet the Talmud asks, "Is fearing G-d really such an easy thing to do?" For Moses, the answer goes, it was easy. But how does this help the average Jew? Every Jewish soul, without exception, contains an aspect of Moses; with the help of this element, fear of G-d is attainable by all Jews.
To fear the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 10:12)
A person should be afraid of sinning, rather than afraid of being punished. The Magid of Mezeritch gave the following analogy: A father warns his son not to walk around barefoot, lest he step on a thorn. The young boy, whose wisdom is immature, thinks only about how painful it would be to remove a thorn from his foot, yet doesn't worry about the thorn itself. The father is trying to prevent the thorn from piercing his child's foot; should it happen anyway, he would welcome its removal. So too is it with sin. G-d's concern is that we not sin; any punishment, if it becomes necessary, is only part of the corrective process.
And you turn aside, and serve other gods (Deut. 11:16)
The Baal Shem Tov taught: As soon as a Jew "turns aside," i.e., moves away from his attachment to G-d, he is automatically considered to be "serving other gods," engaged in idol worship. For the Jew, there is no middle ground. Either he is connected to G-d, or connected to the pleasures of this world.
The reputation of the simple Jewish innkeeper whose blessings always came to fruition reached the ears of the Rebbe of Apta. The Rebbe, who was living in Mezibuz at the time, decided to travel to the innkeeper's village to see what he could learn from the man.
When the Rebbe met the innkeeper, he watched him for some time. Yet, he could discern nothing special about the simple Jew's behavior or mannerisms. Finally, he approached the innkeeper directly. "Tell me, what is the source of your power to bless people? How is it that your prayers are heard and listened to so readily in the heavens?" the Rebbe asked him.
"I am but a simple Jew," the innkeeper began. "What you see is what I am. However, I must admit that my faith in the Almighty is unshakeable," the innkeeper answered modestly.
"Please tell me more," the Rebbe begged.
"I have always believed that whatever G-d does is for the best. Whatever comes my way I know is from G-d and so I accept it lovingly and with the understanding that even if it is seemingly bad, ultimately it is for the good.
"Even when things look really bleak, I trust in G-d and do not despair of His help. I also give charity with an open hand and go out of my way to help those who are not as fortunate as I am."
The Rebbe encouraged the innkeeper to continue, and so he did. "Let me give you an example. My house is always open to wayfarers and travelers. I try my best to treat them royally. Once, when I was busy attending to my guests, a messenger from my landlord came banging at my door.
"'I have a message for you to appear before the landlord at once.' When I explained to the messenger that I would come as soon as I finished taking care of my guests he intimated that the landlord was very angry and would easily throw me in prison if I failed to show up immediately.
"I thanked the messenger and then quickly considered my options. If I left immediately the guests would go to bed hungry as they certainly would not wait to go to sleep until I returned to feed them. Haven't we learned from our ancestor Abraham that welcoming and caring for guests is equal to or perhaps greater than greeting the Divine Presence? I had no choice but to finish taking care of the guests. When they were all fed and I had shown them to their rooms, I proceeded to the home of the landlord.
"To my surprise, the landlord greeted me very happily. We had an amiable visit and then he sent me along my merry way."
The innkeeper saw that the Rebbe of Apta was interested in hearing more, and so he continued with another amazing story. "Two years ago, I suddenly became very poor. No matter what I turned my hand to was not successful. My family, though upright Jews, did not share my unshakable faith in G-d. They begged me to try my luck somewhere else. Perhaps, they suggested, in a larger city I would be able to find a partner who would go into business with me.
"Eventually I acquiesced to their urgings though I did not relish the thought of putting my faith in flesh and blood rather than in G-d above. All my life I had trusted only in G-d and now I would trust in man? But keeping peace in one's home is also a mitzva and so I sent on my way.
"As I walked past orchards, fields and vineyards bursting with their luscious produce I began to think of the Creator. My faith in G-d became even stronger. If He could create this entire world and sustain it, certainly he could support my family and me!
"I decided then and there to ask G-d to be the partner whom I was seeking and from the depth of my heart I begged Him to accept my offer. I would give Him one half of everything I earned henceforth if he would become my new business partner. "Just then, I felt something in my pocket. I reached in and my hand withdrew a silver coin. It had not been there before as I had searched and researched all of my pockets long ago for a few copper coins with which to buy food for my family. Surely this was the answer to my prayer and G-d had agreed. I immediately returned home and purchased a supply of liquor with the coin. I sold the liquor quickly and at a nice profit. I set aside half of my profit in a special cash box for my "partner."
No one knows who my partner is but I handle His money even more carefully than I do my own. I distribute His half where I believe it can be best used." When the tavernkeeper finished his story the Rebbe of Apta rose, thanked him and left.
When the Rebbe returned to his Chasidim in Apta, he related to them everything he had heard from the tavernkeeper and concluded, "Whoever has strong enough faith to become a partner with G-d and is meticulously honest in his dealings is able to perform wonders and miracles."
The great Kabbalist and scholar Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, passed away on the 20th of the Hebrew month of Av. His last audible words on the eve of his passing were, "Oh, the footsteps of Moshiach, the footsteps of Moshiach."