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"How's the supper, kids?"
"It would be nice if you told me once in a while!"
"Ma, you know you're a great cook and we love your food. We don't need to tell you!"
"Of course you need to tell me. It's not enough for me to 'know.' I want to be told and to be thanked, as well."
"You're so caught up in your latest project, you're never around and when I ask you anything you only grunt back. It makes me feel like I'm an insignificant part of your life!"
"What do you mean? You know you're precious to me and the most important thing in my life!"
"Well, you need to tell me that once in a while!"
You wake up in the morning and there's a refreshing breeze blowing through your window. You hear birds chirping and you feel energized. "Today's going to be a great day. Thank G-d, I'm alive," you think to yourself.
Or maybe you've just woken up and your neck is stiff from the awkward position you fell asleep in over the technical manuals you read each night to stay on the cutting edge of your profession. You're exhausted and not looking forward to putting in another 18 hour day. "But hey," you tell yourself, "at least I'm alive, not like that guy in the office next to mine who..." Your thoughts trail off and you feel thankful to be starting another day, albeit a draining one.
Each morning when we awaken, Jewish teachings tell us, we should direct our first thoughts to being thankful to G-d that we are alive.
But reflecting on our good-fortune that we are alive is not enough. We have to verbalize our thanks to G-d by reciting the Modeh Ani prayer at the earliest moment that we recognize we are awake. "I thank you, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great."
"But G-d knows I'm thankful. G-d knows I'm appreciative."
The Baal Shem Tov taught that every single moment G-d is recreating the world. G-d reinvests the divine spark that invigorates everything within each part of creation. We are not required to constantly thank G-d for all of His goodness.
But we are expected to start each day in the right frame of mind; the rest will come on its own.
Hey, it's nice to hear it once in a while, isn't it?
The mitzva to give tzedaka (charity) appears twice in this week's Torah reading, Re'ei. Significantly, each time the Torah mentions this commandment, the verb it uses is "doubled."
The first commandment is "You shall surely open your hand to your brother," which in Hebrew means literally "Open, you shall open your hand to your brother." The second commandment is "You shall surely give him," the literal meaning of which is "Give, you shall give him."
Our Sages deduced from this double phraseology that the obligation to give tzedaka is not limited to one occasion. Rather, a Jew must give again and again, throughout his life. On the words "You shall surely open your hand" Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, notes, "even several times." On the words "You shall surely give him" he comments, "even 100 times."
In fact, the two verses refer to two different aspects of the mitzva of tzedaka. The first verse is directed to the giver. The Torah appeals to him, "You shall not harden your heart or shut your hand from your needy brother...You shall surely open your hand." The person giving the tzedaka must work on overcoming his Evil Inclination.
The second verse, however, concerns the act of giving itself. The emphasis here is on the poor man's needs, and the obligation to provide him with whatever is necessary.
This helps explain why, in one instance, Rashi comments "even several times," while in the other he observes "even 100 times":
A specific number can only be suggested for an act that is measurable. It is meaningless to assign a number to how many times a person must attempt to overcome his Evil Inclination, as it is an ongoing, life-long struggle. In this case, "even several times" is specific enough. By contrast, "even 100 times" implies that the poor man's needs are varied and many.
On a deeper level, there are two ways a person can fulfil the mitzva of tzedaka. The first involves battling the temptations of the Evil Inclination. The second consists of just doing it, pure and simple.
However, there is an advantage in the first method, as the struggle against the Evil Inclination serves to arouse the soul's vast and unlimited powers. Choosing to do good, in spite of one's natural inclinations, reveals the G-dly soul's infinite strength and capacities.
By giving tzedaka, particularly during the coming month of Elul, when it is customary to give more than usual, every Jew will merit to be inscribed in the Book of the Righteous, leading to the Final Redemption, as "Israel will only be redeemed through tzedaka."
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol 34
by Aliza Karp
Olga Birney was born in Yugoslavia in 1937.
Both of Olga's parents were doctors. They lived in Novi Sad, now Serbia. When there was an outbreak of disease in the city of Nis, her parents went to help out. Olga's father died there of a ruptured appendix and soon after Olga was born.
As a young child, Olga moved to Belgrade with her mother. There, they lived with her deceased father's parents. Olga remembers her grandfather as a tall man with a black suit, black hat, and full beard. He would bring her sweets when he returned each morning with the newspaper.
Olga recalls being woken up in the middle of the night by sirens and being taken to her grandparents' basement for protection. Once, Olga's mother took her to a nearby tunnel instead. When the air raid ended, they were told that her grandparents' house had been bombed and everyone in the basement had perished.
Mother and child walked from village to village. Olga's mother tried to buy milk but no one would sell any to her. They came to Novi Sad and settled in a small apartment. Men in uniform would come and take them to a place where Olga's mother would be beaten and interrogated. Olga remembers seeing people being shot. When she asked her mother why there were so many bodies in piles her mother said the people were sleeping.
Olga went with her mother every day to the hospital where she worked. One day, in 1941, her mother brought along a suitcase full of Olga's things. An Austrian couple came and took Olga. Her mother had arranged for her to be taken to safety in Austria.
Olga and seven other children traveled with the couple, whom she remembers as being very kind. They all arrived at the couple's home outside of Vienna. Olga was placed in an orphanage.
At the end of the war, people came to take their children but Olga's mother didn't come. Eventually, Olga and another orphan friend summoned up the courage to leave the farm and go to the city. They supported themselves by babysitting. Olga found her way to the American Children's Home outside of Salsberg where she was told that her mother was searching for her. Olga would soon be returning home.
It was 1950 when Olga returned to her native Yugoslavia. At 13 years of age she was accustomed to fending for herself and felt more comfortable with the Austrian culture than with her native Yugoslavian culture. Olga began saving up the allowance her mother gave her to buy a train ticket to return to Austria. At the time, it was illegal to leave Yugoslavia. She didn't even share her plans with her mother.
In 1955, at the age of 18, Olga attempted to cross the border into Austria. She was caught and sentenced to eleven months in prison. The male guards were very rough with the inmates. Olga's skull was broken by one of the guards. She was grateful that they did not kill her. There was no complaining or asking questions. As Olga put it, those who did not follow the rules "could just be swallowed up by the night, never to be seen again."
Olga married soon after being released from prison. She and her husband made plans to leave Yugoslavia for Austria. From Austria they made their way to Vancouver, Canada.
In the years that followed, Olga and her first husband divorced. She married Alan Birney and they moved to the town of Kelowna, a few hours outside of Vancouver.
In 1967 Olga returned to Yugoslavia to see her mother. During her visit, one of the neighbors told Olga that her uncle from Israel had recently visited. The uncle had wanted Olga's name and address but her mother would not give it to him.
On previous occasions when Olga had asked about her family, her mother had said that everyone was dead. This time, Olga would not tolerate the silence. She bombarded her mother with questions: "Who am I? Why didn't you tell me about your brother? Why does he live in Israel?"
Olga's mother said, "It's not good to talk. We are Jews. In Canada, it is different. Not here. I did not tell you because I wanted you to live." That is all her mother would say.
Olga returned to Canada with many questions. She now knew that she was Jewish and wanted to understand the significance of being Jewish. She went to the Judaica store and bought books. When she began looking at pictures of Jewish things, some of them seemed vaguely familiar.
Soon, Olga became one of the most active members of the Jewish community in Kelowna. In fact, when two Lubavitcher yeshiva students visited there last summer (pairs of young men go to small towns and remote locations throughout the world each summer to reach out to their fellow Jews under the auspices of Lubavitch's educational wing, "Merkos") they were given Olga's name by the Jewish center as their main contact. She knows everyone and everyone knows her.
The first time the Lubavitcher students visited her they spoke for four and one-half hours. Olga was thrilled to meet them and she told people later that their visit made a lasting change in her life. She had known intuitively the basic fundamental concepts in Torah and Chasidic philosophy which they shared with Olga: "They told me what they believe and I realized that it was the same as what I believe," she said.
Olga's determination to acquire Jewish knowledge is matched by her enthusiasm for all things Jewish. Each week she studies on her own the weekly Torah portion and is reading through the entire Bible (Torah, Prophets and Writings) with commentary. She spends the Jewish holidays with the Lubavitch community in Vancouver. Once a month Rabbi Wineberg, the Rebbe's emissary in Vancouver, travels five hours round trip to give a class in her home.
A Jewish soul, the spark of G-liness which can never be extinguished, returns. Welcome home!
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
LEARN AND LEISURE
The Chabad House in Venice is offering "Nachlei Emuna," a unique program throughout August. Classes geared to gaining a deeper insight into Judaism and one-on-one learning are coupled with organized tours to Italian cities of Jewish interest, fine kosher meals and beautiful accomodations. Open to individuals, couples and families (there is a children's program) contact the Chabad House at 39-339-692-8469 or 514-733-9649 in Canada.
L'Chaim is looking for sponsors for subscriptions to be sent to Jewish inmates. If you wish to participate send $36 to: L'Chaim, 1408 President Street, Bklyn, NY 11213.
25 Menachem Av, 5738 
This is in reply to your letter of Av 5th, in which you ask about the apparent contradiction in regard to the matter of "alien thought" between Tanya, chapter 28, where it is stated: "This refutes the error commonly held by people, who mistakenly deduce from the occurrence of the foreign thought that this proves their prayer to be worthless," and the source in the Testament of the Ribash [Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov], to the effect that "the man who is praying - if he is unworthy, he is driven forth: an alien thought is thrown him, whereupon he leaves of his own accord."
The explanation of this apparent contradiction is twofold:
Sometimes a "foreign thought" may be provoked by the individual himself, who, while praying, diverts his attention to it. This is the kind of alien thought to which the second of the above sources refers. On the other hand, the foreign thought that occurs to a person during prayer may be the work of the nefesh habahamis [animal soul] to distract and disrupt his concentration on the prayer, and this is the kind of foreign thought that the Tanya speaks of, and counsels to ignore it, as if a goy [non-Jew] was standing there to distract him.
There may also be a sort of an "intermediary" situation, where the individual has not yet mastered complete control of his thoughts. In such a case, when an alien thought occurs to him, he lacks the strength to dismiss it immediately. Thus, while the alien thought was planted in his mind by the nefesh habahamis, he becomes an accessory and is at least partly to be blamed if he allows the alien thought to linger in his mind.
Seeing that you take such an interest in your studies, with attention to detail, etc., I trust that this is expressed also in the practical aspects of the learning, in both quantity and quality, namely, the kind of learning that leads to action, the fulfillment of the Mitzvos with hiddur [beauty], and the general conduct in actual practice. May G-d grant that you should go from strength to strength in all of this.
7th of Tammuz, 5721 
I received your letter from before Shovuos with some delay.
You ask whether you should continue your efforts in regard to the problem you mention in your letter.
Generally speaking, we have a basic principle that a Jew must engage in strengthening and spreading Yiddishkeit and all such factors that work in the same direction. As for the particular shul you mention, it is difficult from a distance and without knowing all the details to advise how to go about it, or whether to take sides, since the taking of one particular side would, of course, arouse the dissatisfaction of the other side and antagonize. On the other hand, one must also consider that if the effort is successful, it could bring about a general strengthening in the position of Yiddishkeit. In view of the above, it is a question of approach and consultation whether the gain will be greater than the loss, and this could best be decided on the spot. Another basic principle is that an approach which comes in a friendly and peaceful manner is bound to be more successful than in a militant way.
May G-d, Whose benevolent Providence extends to everyone individually, guide you aright, especially in this problem which concerns the public good, for there is no good other then the Torah.
I trust that you and your friends had an inspiring Shovuos and that the inspiration will be lasting throughout the year.
In memory of Yosef Yitzchak ben Shlomo Shneur Zalman yblc't
24 Menachem Av 5759
Negative mitzva 68: The high priest entering the Sanctuary at any but the prescribed time
By this prohibition the kohen gadol (high priest) is forbidden to enter the Sanctuary at any and all times, out of respect for the place and awe of the Divine Presence. It is contained in the words (Lev. 16:2): "[Speak to Aaron your brother] that he not come at all times into the holy place." It is only permitted during the time of actual service.
This Shabbat we bless the month of Elul, the final month of the year before Rosh Hashana. One of the most fundamental principles in Judaism is that a person can always change for the good. Regardless of one's past actions, the only requirements are remorse for misdeeds, the resolve not to repeat them, and a sincere desire to draw closer to G-d. This process of returning to one's true, inner nature (which is essentially good in the Jew) is known as teshuva, to which the entire month of Elul is dedicated.
Unfortunately, the concept of teshuva is sometimes misconstrued. "Becoming a baal teshuva" is not just for Jews who were never exposed to Torah and never had a chance to learn the basics. The greatest rabbis and scholars are also obligated to "do teshuva," for when it comes to levels of holiness and purity, there is no end to up. Only G-d can assess what is in a person's heart, ignoring the externals. On the contrary, a person who was raised in a religious home is better equipped to "do teshuva," armed with the benefit of a Jewish education to guide him.
The story is told of a teacher in a "baal teshuva" yeshiva who, in the course of an audience with a certain Chasidic Rebbe in Israel, described how wonderful his school was. In the midst of the conversation, he felt a sudden need to clarify that he himself "was not a baal teshuva."
"And why aren't you a baal teshuva?" the Rebbe gently chided him.
"Doing teshuva" is not a one-shot deal. A Jew doesn't become a "baal teshuva" by beginning to perform mitzvot and assuming that he's made it. The initial turning toward G-d may be revolutionary, but teshuva is an ongoing process. Every day we are faced with choices; every day is a new opportunity to elevate and refine ourselves.
And the coming month of Elul is a particularly good time to renew our resolve...
And the curse, if you will not listen...and turn aside out of the way (Deut. 11:28)
In connection with blessing, the Torah states only "if you will listen," without mention of which "way" G-d expects a person to follow. The reason is that when a Jew "listens" - has the right intentions, before he can even perform the deed - G-d "connects the good thought with the action" and blesses him immediately. By contrast, a "bad thought" is not punished until the person actually acts on it... (Be'er Mayim Chaim)
You shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your needy neighbor (Deut. 15:7)
In performing mitzvot, complete simplicity and sincerity of heart are the highest motivations. We observe G-d's laws without asking questions. Yet there is one mitzva in which a little discretion is required: the giving of tzedaka (charity). The giver must always make sure that the recipient is not embarrassed. (Arono Shel Yosef)
Lest your eye be evil against your needy brother...and he cry out to G-d against you, and it be a sin in you (Deut. 15:9)
Not helping another person in his time of need is bad enough, but looking down on him and blaming him for his own predicament is even worse. For if "he cries out to G-d against you," your own behavior will be carefully scrutinized, and your own sins and failings come to light... (Rabbi Shmelke of Nicholsburg)
It states in Proverbs 22:2: "The rich and poor meet together; G-d is the Maker of them all." Most wealthy people think they acquired their riches because of how clever they are; the poor man, by contrast, is pitied as being a hapless ne'er- do-well. Yet when rich and poor come together, they both realize that everything is determined from Above. (Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh of Berlin)
It came to the attention of the tzadik, Reb Yitzchak of Drohovitch, that the Baal Shem Tov was employing very powerful kameyos (charms, often inscribed with the mystical names of G-d). Reb Yitzchak was extremely displeased at the use of the holy names, and he uttered the phrase, "He who uses the holy names [the power of the names] shall pass away." Immediately, the kameyos, which had up to then been so strong, became totally useless.
Complaints about the inefficacy of the kameyos reached the Baal Shem Tov's ears, and when he investigated, he discovered that Reb Yitzchak's words had rendered them useless. The Baal Shem Tov exerted his tremendous powers of concentration and caused Reb Yitzchak to become confused as to which day of the week it was. Reb Yitzchak was traveling and when he arrived in Medziboz on Friday afternoon, he mistakenly thought it was Thursday. Being in no particular hurry, he prayed, had a bite to eat and lay down for a nap.
When he awoke, he was shocked to find the entire staff of the inn preparing for the holy Sabbath. "What is going on?" he inquired. "Why are you already prepared for Shabbat, when it's only Thursday afternoon?"
"Why, you are mistaken, it is almost Shabbat," everyone assured him. But Reb Yitzchak wouldn't believe them. Only when he went outside and saw the street filled with Jews running this way and that did he conclude that it was indeed Shabbat eve.
Reb Yitzchak hurried back to the inn to quickly prepare for the holy day, but his preparations were interrupted by a visitor - none other than the Baal Shem Tov himself!
"I beg of you to join me for Shabbat," the Baal Shem Tov implored, but Reb Yitzchak declined, saying that the innkeeper had already prepared for him.
"Don't worry," said the Baal Shem Tov. "I have already spoken to the innkeeper, and he forgives your change in plans."
"But, I am accustomed on Shabbat to eat until I am completely satiated," Reb Yitzchak objected. "I'm afraid you won't have enough food for me."
"Don't worry at all; I have prepared a lot of food," the Baal Shem Tov assured him. Finally, Reb Yitzchak ran out of excuses, and had no choice but to accept the Baal Shem Tov's invitation.
When Reb Yitzchak said he was accustomed to eat huge amounts, he wasn't exaggerating, for he fasted the entire week, from Shabbat to Shabbat. At the Shabbat meal he had an enormous silver platter, engraved with G-d's name, upon which he heaped food. Every week, after he recited the kiddush, he placed the laden platter before him and devoured everything served at each course.
When he finished the portion of food set before him at the Baal Shem Tov's Shabbat table, he accused the Baal Shem Tov, saying, "You promised to provide me enough to fill myself, and I am still hungry, but there is no food remaining!"
"I am truly sorry," replied the Baal Shem Tov. "I expected angels, but I never anticipated serafim (spiritual beings that "consume" everything in their path)!"
When the Sabbath ended, the Baal Shem Tov approached his guest and asked, "Why have you seen fit to remove the efficacy from my kameyos?"
"It is forbidden to make use of the holy names of G-d in such a manner," Reb Yitzchak replied.
"You are mistaken, for I do not use the holy names. All I write in my kameyos is my own name - Yisroel ben Sara."
It was only when the Besht took one of the kameyos and actually showed it to Reb Yitzchak that the tzadik could believe that such miracles could result from kameyos that did not contain the holy names of G-d. He was so overwhelmed by this discovery that he at once restored the potency to the kameyos, saying, "Alm-ghty G-d, if such wonders can come from the name of this man alone, why should You mind?"
Once Reb Yitzchak Aisik of Komarna traveled from Bordy to Radovitz, where he spent the night. He prayed the evening service and went to the inn to make arrangement to spend the night there.
"We have no bed, but this chest will serve the purpose, I suppose," the innkeeper answered. Reb Yitzchak agreed, but when he lay down, he had a terrible burning sensation in his bones.
"Who has slept here before me?" Reb Yitzchak demanded to know.
"I remember that many years ago the rabbi of Berdichev was here and he too slept on that chest. The same thing happened to him - he leapt up from the chest and complained that his bones were burning. He also asked me who had slept here before. My grandfather knows more about it."
In the adjacent room Reb Yitzchak found an ancient man, more than one hundred years old, lying on the bed. When he was asked, the old man remembered the story and told him that the Baal Shem Tov had been the first one to sleep on the chest.
Israel will be redeemed when they will be a singular band, as it says in Jeremiah (50:4), "'In those days and in that time,' says G-d, 'the Children of Israel will come, they and the Children of Judah together...'"; and it says in Jeremiah (3:18), "In those days, the House of Judah will walk with the House of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north to the land I have given as a legacy to your fathers." When they are bound together they shall receive the Face of the Divine Presence!" (Tanchuma)