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Fruit. It's come a long way. In years gone by we were advised, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." More recently the National Cancer Institute has recommended that people eat at least four or five servings of fruit each day. According to a report in Nutrition Action Health Letter, "Fruit is naturally sweet and delicious - and often provides lots of vitamin A and C, folic acid, and other vitamins and minerals. Fruit also provides fiber and the phytochemicals that appear to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke."
So, except for when it's been tampered with by people, fruit is a healthy choice. The numerous varieties of fruit also share two other qualities: they are naturally sweet and delicious and they have seeds.
Jewish teachings refer to mitzvot as "fruit."
In order for our mitzvot to be like edible fruit, they too have to be healthy, free of additives, untainted by ego, one-upmanship or a holier-than-thou attitude.
The fact that a fruit contains seeds means that it is able to reproduce. The seeds from a piece of fruit grow into a tree which bears fruit. Those fruits decompose and then the seeds germinate. They grow into saplings and eventually into new, fruit-bearing trees. This chain, the first link of which goes all the way back to the beginning of the world, continues eternally.
Mitzvot must "contain seeds." Our mitzvot should produce other mitzvot-they should inspire within ourselves and within others the desire and the ability to increase in Jewish living.
Moreover, mitzvot are eternal. And, like fruit trees, they link us not only to the future but to the past, as well.
It is not for naught that the first mitzva in the Torah, given to the first people, was "Be fruitful and multiply." For, it is truly a basic and prime mitzva to bring forth another Jew, to create - physically or spiritually - another person who him/herself will do fruit-bearing mitzvot, ad infinitum.
Finally, mitzvot like fruit, are sweet. They satisfy our "craving" for the most delicious things in life-loving kindness, a relationship with G-d, a sense of community, transcending our mundane existence, wisdom.
In the Garden of Eden, all trees bore fruit. The Midrash teaches that in times of Moshiach, when all of creation will return to its perfect state, all trees will once again bear fruit - healthy fruit, sweet and delicious fruit, fruit producing fruit.
There is no "Institute" or "Association" that has set limits to or recommended daily allowances for our mitzvot observance. Surely if we attempt to perform as many mitzvot as possible each day, and even more, we will soon merit to experience the perfection of the world in the final Redemption.
In the previous Torah portions of Teruma and Tetzaveh, G-d commanded Moses to build the Mishkan (Sanctuary) and make all its vessels. This week, in Vayakel and Pekudei, G-d's command is transmitted to the Jewish people and carried out in full.
Without exception, everyone participated in the building of the Sanctuary, Jews from all walks of life. Men and women, rich and poor, all contributed as much as they were able.
Their contributions, however, were not equal in value. As no specific amount was required, some donated less and some donated more, according to their individual inclination and financial ability. Thus there were contributions of gold and silver and contributions of oil and wood, if that was all a person was capable of donating.
Significantly, the type of contribution a Jew offered had nothing to do with his connection to the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary belonged to every Jew in equal measure: the rich man whose donation was extremely valuable, and the poor man whose donation was more humble. Every Jew was connected to the Sanctuary to the same degree.
"Both the one who gives more and the one who gives less; provided that he do so for the sake of heaven." Although the individual contributions may have varied, the intention behind the offering was always the same. All Jews wanted to build a House for G-d; all Jews therefore shared an equal portion in its construction.
Moses emphasized this equality among Jews, regardless of their donations, when he said, "See I have called by name Betzalel the son of Uri, the son of Chur, of the tribe of Yehudah...and Oholiav the son of Achisamach, of the tribe of Dan...He has filled them with wisdom of heart...of those who do any work, and of those who design artistic work." Betzalel and Oholiav were both in charge of all the artisans who worked on the Sanctuary.
Betzalel came from a very well-connected family. The grandson of Miriam, his tribe of Judah was one of the most prestigious.
Oholiav, by contrast, was not distinguished by his lineage. A grandson of one of the maidservants, his tribe of Dan occupied a much lower rung on the social ladder.
And yet, both men were appointed to oversee the holy work, as it states, "Betzalel and Oholiav, and all those filled with wisdom of heart...did all kinds of work for the service of the Sanctuary."
In building the Sanctuary all Jews are equal. It makes no difference whether one is rich or poor, a descendent of the most exalted parentage or a child of the simplest people. The only qualifier is that the Jew's heart be directed toward heaven!
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 26
by Dr. Yaakov Brawer
There are Chasidim who relish davening (praying) on airplanes. Although the airline is under the impression that it has staged the flight in order to make money, and the passengers think that they are on the plane in order to arrive somewhere, the Chasid knows better. He understands that the objective of the flight is to sequester hundreds of souls 50,000 feet above sea level so they can watch him daven and learn that there is a G-d in the world.
Although my admiration for these stalwarts knows no bounds, I am definitely not one of them. I cannot bear to make a spectacle of myself, no matter how worthy the cause.
Thus, some years ago, while en route to LA, my stomach knotted up as I realized that I would have to daven on the plane on my return trip. The homeward flight left too early to daven Shacharit [the morning service] beforehand and because of the time change, it would not arrive until well past noon. While pondering my predicament, I recalled that, when my children were small, my wife always asked for the bulkhead seats when we traveled. As I remember, the bulkheads were partitions that separated the last 5 or so rows of seats from the rest of the plane. I looked down the aisle and confirmed that there were indeed panels partially isolating the back end of the cabin. If I could secure a bulkhead seat for the return flight, I could stand and daven in relative privacy. Such an arrangement was not ideal, but I could live with it, and I began to relax.
Immediately upon my arrival I rushed to the ticket counter and procured a boarding pass for a bulkhead seat for my homeward flight.
When I boarded the plane to go home, the flight attendant indicated a seat at the doorway, facing the cavernous entry to the plane. I stared at her in disbelief and explained to her that I had a bulkhead seat. Just so, she replied, and pointed to the same seat. Another brief exchange with the attendant set me straight. The "bulkhead," as the term applied to this particular aircraft, was nothing other then the door to the plane, behind which were endless rows of seats. My davening that morning would be graced by a captive audience of about 300 people!
The plane took off and soon the captain switched off the seatbelt sign. The moment of truth had arrived, and I had no choice but to daven as best I could. As I stood up and donned tallis and tefilin, I soon discovered that the doorway area afforded plenty of space in which to stand and I was visible only to a few forward rows. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad afterall. However, the revelation that it would be so bad after all was not long in coming.
Just as I finished reciting the prayer Baruch Sh'omar, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to confront two very impatient flight attendants standing by a mammoth mobile bar. "Sir, you can't do that here. This is the bar area."
"It so happens that I am a servant of G-d and a Chasid of the great and holy Rebbe of Lubavitch, and I intend to sanctify this spot by reciting my morning prayers here." This is precisely what I did not say. In fact I didn't say anything because I was between Baruch Sh'omar and Yishtabach, an interval in which speaking is not permitted. I couldn't have spoken in any case because my stomach had lurched up against my diaphragm, and I began to hyperventalate. I raised my eyebrows and shrugged hoping that the attendants would understand this gesture as an appeal for sympathy, help and understanding. Unfortunately, they were unreceptive. They were clearly annoyed that this apparition from the Biblical era had not only commandeered their bar area, but wouldn't even speak to them. "Sir, you can do whatever you are doing at the back of the cabin."
So there was a place at the back of the plane where I could do whatever I do! A sense of relief surged through my distraught brain. Then, suddenly I froze with the dread realization that Providence was not about to let me off so easily. For I would have to walk the full length of the plane, resplendent in tallis and tefilin.
My trek down the aisle electrified the entire cabin. "Mommy, what's that?" "Hey look Lucy, Moses is back" "Bizarre, man" "What's that box on his head?" I saw looks of bewilderment, shock, and amusement. Somehow I made it to the semi-secluded haven at the back of the cabin and tried to collect myself. I started to daven but the only prayerful thought that I could muster was a fervent hope that the rear emergency door would blow open and I would be sucked out of the aircraft.
I finished the prayers like a zombie. Cringing at the thought of walking back up the aisle to my seat, I stared at the floor and quickly proceeded up the aisle. The cabin was quiet and fairly dark. The in-flight movie had begun. I glanced at the movie screen and the marvel that met my eyes stopped me dead in my tracks. There on the screen were Jews, dozens of them, all wearing tallis and tefilin, and all davening. I watched until this extraordinary tableau faded to another scene, and I then continued up the aisle. The movie, which I later discovered was "The Jazz Singer," had also apparently made quite an impression on the other passengers.
As I made my way, I attracted considerable attention, but it was totally different this time. The looks were those of respect. People nodded knowingly to each other and smiled. I saw one woman pointing to me and explaining something to her small child. People in aisle seats wished me good morning and one man even stood up. When I arrived at my place the erstwhile testy fight attendants deferentially inquired after my comfort. I was aglow with wonder, gratification, and thankfulness. I was also more than a little ashamed of myself. The Alm-ghty did not produce and direct this magnificently orchestrated comedy of errors only in order to apprise 300 people of His eternal and all-encompassing presence. It seems that the 301st passenger, namely myself, was also in need of some serious instruction in this ultimate truth.
From Eyes That See, published by Seminary Beis Menachem, Canada
Using a little humor and a lot of information, Rabbi Anchelle Perl, spiritual leader of Congregation Sholom Chabad of Mineola and director of N.C.F.J.E. of Nassau County, N.Y., has launched a campaign to spread the word on why cremation is not a choice in Jewish life. "Cremation puts the traditional Jewish burial in grave danger," smiles Rabbi Perl. "I have received too many calls to help stop a cremation for me not to go on the road to bring awareness to the Jewish public." The choice by many to cremate is mostly for lack of knowledge. To be buried gives truth to our belief that life is eternal. Burial purifies the body in preparation for its ultimate return at the time of the Revival of the Dead. Rabbi Perl may be reached at 516-739-3636 or email@example.com
A continuation from the previous issue of a letter to someone instrumental in restoring parts of the Previous Rebbe's library to its rightful owners. In the first half of the letter the Rebbe explained that even inanimate objects contain a "soul."
Applying the above principle in our case - manuscripts and books of the most sublime content, written by Jews whose whole life was dedicated to Torah and the Jewish people and studied with heart and soul, enriching and illuminating Jewish life - clearly their albeit "material" and "inanimate" aspect is imbued with eternal light and life of the highest order.
Thus, when they are in "exile" from their natural environment, from their "home," they are indeed in "exile" and "captivity," however well treated. They are, in a real sense, like Shvuim - people held in captivity - who can never be fully happy even if well provided for with their material, and even spiritual, needs, for they long to return home, to be united with their family and friends and whole milieu in which they belong. This is why Pidyon Shvuim in the ordinary sense is such a great Mitzvah. Hence, it is impossible to overstate the great Zechus [privilege] that you and your associates in the endeavor have in the "Pidyon Shvuim" of these manuscripts and books.
I am aware that there may be those who may say that these are mystical ideas that should not be taken into account, in consideration, etc. Needless to say, I do not include you and your friends in this category, but you may perhaps come across a person, or persons, who may attempt to argue in this vein, even though inwardly not very convinced. Be it as it may - in light of Jewish experience in our own eventful times, eventful from one extreme to the other, now brilliantly bright, now dismally bleak - I doubt if anyone can truthfully deny the truth of what has been said above on the ground of it being intangible or mystical.
I am pleased about the timing of this letter on the eve of your departure on the second stage of your endeavor to return a further substantial part of this library that are still in "exile."
I trust and am confident that you will not encounter difficulties, since you will be dealing with fellow-Jews, children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, especially those whom Divine Providence has privileged to be the custodians of this part, after it had been pillaged during the war and Holocaust, miraculously survived, until they finally came under that custody of the present guardians, in order to be restored to their rightful owners and rightful home in the true sense of veshovu bonim ligvulom.
Indeed, the Zechus of having taken care of them in the interim will stand them in good stead, and make them even more responsive to their pleasant duty in the realization that they can now complete and bring to the culmination point their guardianship.
Reiterating my heartfelt appreciation of your achievement in the past, I extend to you prayerful wishes for Hatzlocho [success] in your present trip, and all good wishes to your associates in the endeavor, as well as to the esteemed present guardians, who will surely extend to you their kind and fullest cooperation.
The merit of your great mission will certainly stand you and all yours in good stead for additional generous blessings in all your personal affairs, materially and spiritually.
With esteem and blessing,
P. S. In accordance with the time-honored Jewish custom to make one who sets out on journey a "shliach-Mitzvah" [an emissary for a mitzva] in addition to whatever great mission one's journey is connected with, by giving him some money for distribution to Tzedoko [charity] on arrival at his destination, I am taking the liberty of enclosing an amount for Tzedoko to contribute in the Holy Land, and, if not too much trouble, a part of it at the Western Wall.... veshovu bonim ligvulom: "when the sons return to their borders"
In memory of Yosef Yitzchok ben Shlomo Shneur Zalman (yblc't)
25 Adar 5759
Positive mitzva 206: loving our neighbor
By this injunction we are commanded to love our fellow Jew even as we love ourselves, and that a person's love and compassion for his brother should be the same as his love and compassion for himself. This applies in respect to money, one's person, and whatever one possesses and desires. It is contained in the words (Lev. 19:18): "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
This Shabbat we read a special Torah portion, Parshat HaChodesh, that speaks about the month of Nisan (which arrives on Thursday).
Our Sages argued over when the Final Redemption with Moshiach will occur. Some held that "In Nisan [our ancestors] were redeemed [from Egypt]; in Nisan [the Jewish people] will be redeemed in the future." Others insisted that the Final Redemption will take place in the month of Tishrei.
There are two reasons why Moshiach has to come. One is by virtue of the Jewish people's cumulative service of G-d over the last few thousand years. The other is simply G-d's promise to bring Moshiach.
According to Chasidic philosophy, the month of Nisan symbolizes the level of G-dliness that transcends our service. G-d took our forefathers out of Egypt on Passover despite the fact that they were spiritually degraded and unworthy. By contrast, Tishrei (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), is a time for returning to G-d in repentance and prayer.
The Rabbis' disagreement over the most appropriate month for Redemption was based on whichever factor each considered more decisive. Those who believed that spiritual status is more important held that it will occur in Tishrei, insisting that the Jewish people must be aroused to increased observance of Torah and mitzvot in order for Moshiach to come. Those who believed that G-d's promise is the determining factor held it will occur in Nisan.
So how was it resolved? Actual halacha (Jewish law) rules that "in Nisan they will be redeemed" - that the overriding consideration is simply G-d's promise. But both sides had a valid point, for by the time Moshiach comes, the world will have already been transformed by our service into an appropriate vessel for G-dliness. Yet the revelation of holiness that will occur will far surpass any level man could have attained by his own efforts.
May it happen immediately.
These are the things that the L-rd has commanded you to do (Ex. 35:1)
Why is the plural "things" used, when what followed was only one commandment, the mitzva to keep Shabbat? "These things" refers to the 39 categories of creative work that are forbidden on Shabbat. During the week, a Jew's service consists of elevating and refining the material world by engaging in these tasks. On Shabbat, his service is to refrain from them, thereby completing the process of elevation. The mitzva of Shabbat thus contains all of the Torah's mitzvot within it, the underlying purpose of which is to elevate the physical realm and make it spiritual. (Ohr HaTorah)
You shall not kindle any fire throughout your habitations (Ex. 35:3)
The main reason we observe Shabbat is in remembrance of the Six Days of Creation. As fire was not created until after the first Shabbat ended, the Torah specifically singles it out - lest anyone think it isn't included in the 39 prohibited labors. (Rabbi Yonatan Eibeschutz)
These are the accounts of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of the testimony (Ex. 38:21)
Why is the word Tabernacle repeated? The first time it refers to the spiritual Sanctuary up above; the second time it refers to the actual physical Tabernacle. Testimony is only required when something is hidden and not readily apparent; the physical Sanctuary was called the "Tabernacle of the Testimony" because it testified to G-d's presence in the physical world. (Likutei Sichot, Vol. 1)
And they beat the gold into thin plates, and cut it into wires, to work it into the blue and into the purple (Ex. 39:3)
Rashi explains how this was done: "They used to spin the gold together with the threads...making them intertwined with every kind of material...the threads of all the kinds were six-fold, and the gold was the seventh thread." This teaches that people whom G-d has blessed with gold and riches should not hold themselves apart from their poorer brethren. Rather, they should act humbly and freely "mix" themselves with the more common threads. (Siftei Tzadik)
Upon the passing of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut (known as the Alter Rebbe), his son, Rabbi Dov Ber, the "Mitteler Rebbe" assumed the mantle of leadership. He instituted many innovations which led to the wider dissemination of Chasidic teachings. One of his requirements for newly married men, was that while they still lived in the home of their parents-in-law, they devote three hours daily to study Chasidut. With this system in place, the number of young men who were knowledgeable of Chasidut grew, and their influence also spread as they matured as teachers and mentors.
As time passed, the general Jewish public become more widely exposed to the new teachings, which took hold in many towns and villages throughout the region. There was in the town of Liepli, a Chasid of the Alter Rebbe named Reb Yekutiel. He was a salt dealer and although he was widely admired for his piety, his knowledge of Torah, and particularly of Chasidut, was meager.
Once, one of the Mitteler Rebbe's young Chasidim came to Liepli and remained there for a week, reviewing with the villagers one discourse of the Rebbe each day. The topics discussed in these brilliant discourses dealt with the most elevated and lofty concepts, things normally closed to the human intellect, but illuminated by Chasidic thought. The young teacher was very adept at explaining these subjects, so that his audience was spellbound by his words. Poor Reb Yekutiel was among the throng of listeners, but to his utter dismay, he couldn't understand even one word. He couldn't reconcile himself to the thought that here was a man many years his junior who had so much knowledge in his grasp, while he, an elder Chasid, understood nothing.
Many years later Reb Yekutiel described this incident and the terrible inner turmoil he experienced to friends. "Here was I, a forty-year old Chasid, having gone to the Alter Rebbe for some fifteen years. One day, this young man, a mere babe, comes to the town and gives over the Rebbe's teachings with such burning fervor, while I couldn't understand a word he uttered.
"Every day I went to hear this young man and every day I grew more and dispirited over my lack of understanding. I was missing out on so many profound spiritual insights, I couldn't bear the pain. Finally, I decided to ask the young teacher to sit with me privately and review the material. I kept him in my house for three weeks while I labored intensively to understand. I stopped working in my business and devoted all my time to studying, but even with all this effort, I failed to reach my goal. The teachings remained closed to me.
"When, after three weeks the young man left, I was totally devastated. I wept and fasted for many days, all the while reciting Psalms and begging G-d to open my eyes to these precious teachings, but all to no avail. Finally, one day, I saddled my horse and rode off to Lubavitch to ask the Rebbe what to do."
It had been almost a year since Reb Yekutiel had been to Lubavitch and many changes had taken place. Now, sixty young scholars sat and learned the Rebbe's words, reviewing them constantly with one another. The Shabbat after Reb Yekutiel arrived, the Mitteler Rebbe said two Chasidic discourses, and although Reb Yekutiel understood a bit of the first, the second was completely unintelligible to him. To the young men surrounding him, however, it was all perfectly clear! He returned to his room and wept bitter tears.
When he was granted a private audience with the Rebbe, Reb Yekutiel recounted in great detail his entire trial: how the young teacher came to Liepli and how he struggled to understand his words, but failed in every attempt. The Rebbe replied, "There is nothing that can stand in the way of a person's will. Although a person's will is not his essence, nevertheless it contains the power to sway the soul in the desired direction."
The Rebbe explained that true desire is the key that opens the soul's faculties and powers, particularly the faculties of thought and understanding. "If you truly desire it," the Rebbe concluded, "you have the ability to broaden your understanding."
Those words had a deep impact on Reb Yekutiel. He decided right then that he would remain in Lubavitch as long as necessary to achieve his goal. He sent a message to his family, informing them of his decision, and set to work. For four months he struggled in his studies, often meditating on one thought for many hours, and he would review his topic of study many times. As the months went by, Reb Yekutiel felt a transformation taking place within himself. As he later told his friends, "I felt as if I had been created anew. Thank G-d, I succeeded in scouring the old pot. I had become a new, clean vessel."
Reb Yekutiel returned home with his mission accomplished. Many years later the Previous Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe) said in reference to this story: "One can see from this story the attitude that prevailed amongst the Chasidim of yesteryear. When a Chasid heard in his private meeting with the Rebbe, that his desire, his will, is a crucial tool for his personal transformation...he disregarded any discomforts or difficulties, and never flagged in his efforts until the desired end was achieved."
The distinctive goal and task of this generation is to bring Moshiach immediately. We want Moshiach now! There is nothing innovative about this. After all, every Jew requests in the prayers of Shemone Esrei [the Amida], "speedily cause the scion of David Your servant to flourish,... for we hope for Your salvation all day long." And when it is time for the afternoon prayers of Mincha, and Moshiach has not yet come, we way it again; and if (G-d forbid) the "speedily" is further delayed, we repeat the same prayer yet again in the evening prayers of Maariv! (Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, vol 20)