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We've come a long way from tying strings around our fingers as reminders that we have to do something important.
Modern technology has brought us bells in our cars so we remember to put on our seat belts; watches and computers that can be set to chime if we mustn't forget to make an important phone call or be at an appointment; private voice mail and email where we can leave messages when we're away from our desks to be accessed anytime, anywhere.
Of course, long before the onset of every holiday or celebration, card shops remind us of the upcoming special day and enjoin us not to forget anyone.
A most recent innovation is personal reminder services which have come into vogue. The service sends subscribers reminders about birthdays, anniversaries, etc.
Throughout the year, we also come across reminders of Jewish holidays and, by extension, our Jewishness. From the local supermarket's ad promoting honey, gefilte fish and Shabbat candles around Rosh Hashana, to American Greetings' and Hallmarks' attempt to get us "in the spirit" before Chanuka, commercialism sporadically reminds us of our Judaism.
But with weeks since the High Holidays and over a month until Chanuka, we can all use a daily reminder, at the very least, of our Jewishness.
Jewish reminders, a.k.a. mitzvot, come in all shapes and sizes. Daily mitzvot can take literally a second or as long as you like. But, in keeping with our fast-paced lives and the quick reminders modern technology and consumerism afford us, we'll mention just a few moment-taking mitzvot that can be done on a daily basis and will enhance our Jewish living.
- Putting a coin daily in a tzedaka box (except on Shabbat and Jewish holidays).
- Touching or kissing the mezuza on your front door before leaving or entering your home.
- Saying the Shema prayer before retiring at night.
- Reciting a blessing before gulping down that coffee, Snapple, or spring water (The blessing is "Baruch Ata Ado-ni Elo-haynu Melech Haolam, Shehakol N'hiya Bidvaro-Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, by whose word everything came into being").
- Listening to a pre-recorded Torah class. They last anywhere from 3 minutes to 30 and you can call your closest Chabad-Lubavitch Center to find out your local number.
- Taking a moment to contemplate the blessings and good you have in your life and thanking G-d for them.
- Doing a good deed or kind act specifically to bring the Redemption.
We shouldn't wait until we're so inundated by non-Jewish symbols or holidays that we establish Jewish bells, chimes or messages as a reaction to the onslaught. And, of course, Jewish reminders don't have to be limited to those times during the year when the more external reminders are absent.
This week's Torah portion, Vayeira, speaks about the greatness of our forefather Abraham, the very first Jew. Through Abraham's service, G-d's Name was made known throughout the world, and many people were brought to believe in Him.
The Torah states: "And Abraham planted an eishel [literally a grove] in Be'er Sheva, and called there in the name of G-d." The Torah specifically mentions Abraham's planting of the eishel, as this was considered a very great deed and a unique accomplishment.
The Midrash explains that an eishel is more than just a stand of trees under which wayfarers may find protection from the burning sun. An eishel is an inn, a place of lodging. Our Patriarch Abraham established his eishel in Be'er Sheva, in the heart of the desert, to cater to travelers in that inhospitable climate.
Did Abraham know these travelers personally? Of course not. He had no idea who might arrive. All he knew was that these strangers would no doubt be hungry, thirsty and tired from their trek across the desert. His motivation was to make their journey more pleasant and less taxing.
Abraham provided his guests with all kinds of amenities, not just bread and water to satisfy their hunger and quench their thirst. His visitors were offered meat, fine wines, fruit and a wide array of delicacies, as well as a place to sleep to rest from their travels.
His visitors' spiritual needs were also taken into consideration. Next to the inn that provided all their physical necessities, Abraham established a sanhedrin, a court of law, so that wise men could answer the travelers' questions and find solutions to their personal and business problems.
This same attribute of kindness and justice is the birthright of every Jew, an inheritance from our forefather Abraham. And the Torah portion of Vayeira teaches us how we are supposed to fulfill the mitzva of tzedaka (charity):
It isn't enough to provide a poor person with the basic requirements necessary to sustain life. We must offer him more than just the bare minimum, bringing him pleasure and enjoyment. And not only must his physical needs be met, but we must also try to help him resolve his spiritual struggles. This applies to every single Jew, even those we do not know personally, and constitutes the true meaning of the commandment of tzedaka.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 3
by Moshe Haber
I vividly remember the Rebbe's talk on Passover more than 15 years ago when he spoke about the need for a "moment of silence" in the public schools. While this was not the first time the Rebbe had spoken on the subject, it was at that moment that the realization hit me with full force that as a public school teacher I now had a responsibility.
As it was already late spring, and the school year was winding down, I resolved to spend the remainder of that year planning how I would put the "moment of silence" into practice, in order to be prepared for the beginning of the coming year.
In September I was ready to begin. During the homeroom period I turned off the lights, timed one minute on the clock and told my eighth grade inner city students to "get into" themselves; to think about their actions and thoughts, note where there was room for improvement, and resolve to continue with the good things they were doing. After several days, there was a perceptible change in the tone of the class. Even when I did not see them again until the end of the day, there was a less charged atmosphere in the classroom.
I wrote the Rebbe about the institution of this new practice and informed him of the positive results. The Rebbe's written response to my letter was, "Thank you for the good news. You should give me good news in the future."
This practice continued for the remainder of that year. Around October of the following year, however, I began to have certain misgivings about the way I was conducting this time. If the purpose of the "moment of silence" was to reflect on the authority of the Creator, my practice was falling woefully short, as I couldn't bring myself to mention the word "G-d."
It became clear to me that my problem hinged on my fear of mentioning "G-d" in my classroom. The very next week, an assembly program was held in school, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the school's opening. The school is named after a woman, a famous gospel singer. At this assembly, the president of the PTA addressed the audience. In her speech she made reference to the woman after whom the school was named, saying to the students gathered, "Never forget that, first and foremost, she was a woman of G-d... Her belief in G-d was the foundation of her life... You kids should take an example from her and put your faith and trust in G-d..." After nearly falling off my seat, I chucked inwardly at the "irony" of this and was given new energy for the change I knew I had to make in my "moment of silence."
Things continued this way for the next several years. Consistency was sometimes lacking, due to time constraints during the homeroom period; i.e., number and length of announcements over the public address system, clerical duties, etc., but the practice continued. Last year I resolved that as far as it was in my power, I would strive to not miss a single day. Thank G-d, I was successful, and everything was running smoothly until the day after PTA conferences last February.
My supervisor, an assistant principal, requested a meeting with me in regard to a poster that was displayed on the window of my office. The poster had a picture of the Rebbe with the words, "A message from the Lubavitcher Rebbe: Moshiach is on the way. Get ready with acts of goodness and kindness." My supervisor related that parents had complained that they felt the picture was a violation of the "separation of church and state." I told her that the message on the poster was a non-sectarian, universal message. I pointed out that pictures of Martin Luther King, who was a religious figure, were prominently displayed all over the building. She protested that he was not seen as a specifically religious figure. I countered by telling her that every year on the Rebbe's birthday, the U.S. Congress issues a proclamation declaring a national day of education and we are in the education business. She said that she would discuss it with the union chairperson and I told her I would discuss it with people as well. Though most of my fellow teachers knew nothing about our discussion, two of my non-Jewish colleagues who found out about it encouraged me "to stick to my guns."
Exactly one week later, the same supervisor stopped me again. This time she was beaming. She told me that she attended the principal's cabinet meeting a little while after our private meeting. At the principal's meeting they were discussing how to make the homeroom period a more productive part of the educational day. One of the students in my homeroom class was present at the meeting. It seems that this young lady, a particularly willful and independent student, was found in the hallway when she should have been in homeroom. The assistant principal who picked her up decided to take her to the cabinet meeting rather than trust her to go unsupervised to homeroom. During the cabinet discussion on making homeroom more "meaningful," the principal turned to my student for her input. The principal asked if her homeroom teacher had the same complaints about homeroom being too short or full of irrelevancies to be productive. My student responded, "Oh no. Mr. Haber even has time to shut off the lights and give us a moment to reflect"
My supervisor, still beaming as she recounted the tale, then concluded; "We all looked at each other and said, 'Wow, what a great idea!' "
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine.
DIAMONDS OF THE REBBE
Diamonds of the Rebbe contains 28 stories of Jews and non-Jews whose lives have been touched by the Rebbe. In this new book by Mordechai Staiman, you will meet professors and politicians, writers and entertainers, educators and business people, all of whom, like every person, are diamonds to the Rebbe. Published by Otsar Sifrei Lubavitch.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
Choosing a baby's name, and the ceremonies surrounding giving the name, are discussed in many books of Jewish law and custom. However, numerous details are not commonly known. What's In A Name, by Rabbi Zushe Wilhelm, compiles this information in a format accessible to the layman, but with extensive technical footnotes and references. Published by Sichos in English.
29 Shevat, 5739
February 26, 1979
The Honorable Walter F. Mondale
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. Vice-President:
I read with profound interest your Remarks at the Meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee For a Cabinet Department of Education, Jan. 24, 1979. Needless to say, I fully endorse the substance and urgency of your message. Indeed, in light of the saying of our Sages, "Words coming from the heart penetrate the heart and are eventually effective," I am confident, Mr. Vice-President, that your words will find the proper response they deserve.
You will surely recall, Sir, the meeting at the Caucus Room of Congress, which you graciously chaired, in celebration of the H.J. Res. 770, authorizing and requesting the President to issue the Proclamation designating April 19, 1978 as "Education Day, U.S.A." I trust you also read some of my remarks in this connection that appeared in the Congressional Record, the thrust of which, permit me to reiterate, was:
Education, in general, should not be limited to the acquisition of knowledge and preparation for a career, or in common parlance "to make a better living!" We must think in terms of a "better life," not only for the individual, but also for society as a whole. The educational system must, therefore, pay more attention, indeed, the main attention, to the building of character, with emphasis on moral and ethical values.
The above principle, which is surely indisputable, assumes added significance now that the Administration is making an all-out effort to promulgate the required legislation to implement the President's proposal for a Cabinet-level Department of Education-for the following reason:
The skepticism on the part of those who, at present, oppose the Administration's educational program (of which you make mention in your Remarks) is, I believe, in large measure due to the shortcomings of the educational system in this country, which leaves much to be desired in the way of achieving its most basic objectives for a better society. In a country, such as ours, so richly blessed with democracy, freedom of opportunity, and material resources, one would expect that such anti-moral and anti-social phenomena as juvenile delinquency, vandalism, lack of respect for law and order, etc. would have been radically reduced, to the point of ceasing to be a problem. Hence, it is not surprising that many feel frustrated and apathetic.
I submit, therefore, that the Administration's resolve to restructure the Federal education role-long overdue-would be well served if it were coupled with greater emphasis on the objective of improving the quality of education in terms of moral and ethical values and character building that should be reflected in the actual everyday life of our young and growing generation.
I take the liberty of enclosing a copy of a brief memorandum on the subject, which I trust you will find of interest.
With prayerful wishes and blessings for success in your endeavors to upgrade the educational system, and in all your public and personal affairs,
I remain, Mr. Vice-President,
21 Marcheshvan 5759
Positive mitzva 98: Defilement of food and drink
By this injunction (Lev. 11:34) we are commanded to deal with uncleanliness of food and drink in accordance with the Torah's prescribed rules. ("Cleanliness" and "uncleanliness" applies only in reference to the Sanctuary and its holy objects. If a person does not intend to enter the Sanctuary or touch any holy object, he may remain unclean as long as he likes and eat ordinary food that has been in contact with unclean things.)
This Monday, the 20th of Marcheshvan, is the birthday of the Rebbe Rashab, fifth in the Chabad dynasty. The following incident took place shortly after he became Rebbe in 1883:
A Jew once came to the Rebbe and begged him for a blessing. Faced with a difficult problem, he was troubled and distraught. But the Rebbe refused to help. "There is nothing I can do," the Rebbe said. "I cannot help you."
The man left the Rebbe's chamber and burst into tears. At that moment the Rebbe's brother, Reb Zalman Aaron, happened to pass by, and asked him what was the matter. The Jew poured out his heart and told him what the Rebbe had said.
Reb Zalman Aaron immediately went and confronted his brother. "Is that how you treat someone who comes to you for help?" he asked him. "A Jew asks for a blessing, and you tell him you can do nothing? Why, even now that man is sitting outside your door, weeping in agony and distress."
At that the Rebbe Rashab put on his gartel and asked for the man to be led into his room a second time. The Rebbe gave him his blessing, and he was delivered from his terrible predicament.
It sometimes happens that a person may not yet be worthy of receiving G-d's blessings. When the Rebbe Rashab told the man that he couldn't help him, his words were so painful that his spirit was shattered. With a broken heart he called out to G-d, and was thus transformed into a suitable vessel. The Rebbe could then bless him, and his blessing was fulfilled.
Every Jew is good in his innermost core, wishing sincerely to fulfill G-d's command. However, if he stumbles and transgresses, he is no longer worthy. Pride and ego can then cover up his true self, causing him to overlook his shortcomings.
When a Jew is in pain his pride disappears, and his inner, essential goodness is allowed to resurface. In this way he becomes an appropriate vessel to contain all of G-d's abundant blessings.
Let a little water be fetched, I pray you, and wash your feet (Gen. 18:4)
At first glance it seems odd that Abraham, who personally provided every amenity for his guests, should ask them to fetch their own water to wash their feet. But as Rashi explains, in those days the Arabs who traveled the desert worshipped the dust. Abraham, whose mission was to teach people about G-d, did not want even a trace of idolatry tracked into his tent. Had Abraham brought the water (or performed any other action to nullify their idolatry), it would not have been considered a true nullification, as the concept of idolatry is already completely alien to the Jew. His Arab guests had to do it themselves, thereby sanctifying G-d's Name even more. (Eil HaMiluim)
And the two angels came to Sodom (Gen. 19:1)
Why did the angels disguise themselves as people when they visited Abraham, but appeared in their true form when they came to Lot? Abraham, who epitomized the mitzva of hachnasat orchim (hospitality), greeted everyone in a pleasant manner and with great respect. Lot, by contrast, would not have allowed the angels to cross his threshold had they not appeared as supernatural beings. (Rabbi Leib Sarah's)
And he looked, and there were three men (hinei shlosha) who stood near him (Gen. 18:2)
The numerical equivalent of the Hebrew words for "three men" is 701 - the same as for "these are Gabriel, Michael and Refael" (the names of the angels who appeared as the "three men"). (Baal HaTurim)
And Abraham called the name of his son that was born to him...Isaac...as G-d had commanded him (Gen. 21: 3-4)
Instead of waiting until the baby's brit on the eighth day to give him a name (as is done nowadays), Abraham called his son Isaac as soon as he was born. This was at the express command of G-d, Who had previously informed Abraham that "Sara your wife will bear you a son, and you will call his name Isaac." Abraham fulfilled this immediately upon the baby's birth, and did not wait even a minute. (HaNetziv)
In his voluminous writings, the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, has documented the profound bond he had with his father, Rabbi Sholom Ber, known as the Rebbe Rashab. The following excerpts afford us a glimpse into the unusual childhood years which formed his towering personality.
From the year 5647 (1887) [when the author was seven years old] until 5649 (1889) I did not see my parents, because throughout this time they visited various health resorts abroad. Only occasionally did they return home for a few days. My lifestyle during those two years made me forget my earlier memories of my father.
The warm closeness which my father showed me from the summer of 5649 onwards erased all traces of the suffering which I had undergone as a result of my wanderings and difficulties in the preceding two years, and once again I recollected everything that I had seen and heard in the years before that period.
On the Sabbath my father would pray at considerable length. He would go there when the congregational prayers began at about 9:30 a.m. The congregation finished at about 11:30 a.m. and he would complete his private devotions at about three or sometimes four.
Usually, even those individuals who prayed at length had completed their prayers half an hour or at most an hour after the congregation had finished.
At this age I recalled that when I had been a very little boy, still taught by Reb Yekusiel, I used to run to shul to hear my father at his prayers. At that time, though, my heart was sad: Why didn't my father daven fast like the whole congregation-like my uncles, for example? Once, in answer to my question, my uncle, Reb Zalman Aharon explained to me that my father wasn't able to read all those letters so fast. This made me really sad.
Once, when I was little, I came to shul and found no one there but my father. He was facing the wall and entreating G-d for compassion. I was utterly unable to grasp why he entreated more than all other worshipers and why he was more in need of compassion than other people.
Suddenly, my father wept intensely. My heart fell within me: no one was there in the House of G-d but my father, and he was weeping. I listened carefully and heard that he said Shema Yisrael and wept, and said HaShem Elokeinu and wept. Then, still weeping, he said from the fullness of his heart and in an awesome voice, Hashem Echad.
This time I could contain myself no longer. I went and asked my mother tearfully: "Why does father daven longer than everyone else? My uncle Reb Zalman Aharon says that father can't pronounce the letters quickly, but why can't he read quickly and properly? Besides, today I saw and heard him crying. Mother, come along with me and I'll show you that Father is crying!"
"But what can I do?" replied my mother. "Can I send him to a teacher? Go and ask your grandmother. Perhaps she will be able to do something about it."
Hastening to follow my mother's advice, I went to put my innocent question to my grandmother.
"Your father is a great chasid and a tzadik," she said. "Before any single word leaves his mouth he first thinks of its exact meaning."
As I now recall, her answer set my mind at rest. From that time on I related differently to my father, for I now knew that he was different from all other people. At every single step I began to see just who my father was. Other people talked, and talked excitedly; my father was silent most of the time, and when he spoke he spoke softly.
In the course of one month in the summer of 5649 I became a different boy. My father showed me such closeness that I felt all the warmth of a father, all the love of a compassionate father. I went to sleep with the thought that now I, too, had a father and a mother to whom to say goodnight, and in the course of the following two years I completely forgot the bitter conditions under which I had previously lived.
In the course of those next two years I attained understanding. I was now able to appreciate the great difference between my father and his brothers, that is, between his aspirations and theirs. For over a year now I had been listening to his discourses of Chasidic philosophy, standing behind my father as he delivered them. My father was expounding Chasidut and I was there to hear it.
In the course of those two years the Sabbaths were holy and the festivals were devoted to prayer and joy. Every Sabbath I would listen to the Reading of the Torah while following attentively in a Chumash, and in the course of the day I would study the commentary of Rashi as well. Rosh Hashana of the year 5650 (1889) [when the author was nine years old] was the first Rosh Hashana on which I did everything like an adult. And from that day on I was a grown-up.
It is incumbent to await the coming of Moshiach every single day, and all day long... It is not enough to believe in the coming of Moshiach, but each day one must await his coming... Furthermore, it is not enough to await his coming every day, but it is to be in the manner of our prayer "We await Your salvation all the day," that is, to await and expect it every day, and all day long, literally every moment! (The Chafetz Chaim from Chizuk Emunah)