Work In Progress | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Rambam this week | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Family members, co-workers, neighbors, salespeople. The list of people with whom we interact daily goes on and on.
When you're in a good mood, the sun is shining and the stock market is up, it's easy to establish and sustain a positive interaction. But how do you have a positive attitude when you encounter someone with an "attitude?"
Think of the other person (and yourself) as a "work in progress." None of us are finished products. We are all at some point in our life's journey. And the person with whom you are dealing right now might deserve not only tolerance but respect for getting to where he is now from where he came.
Ultimately, cultivating such an approach to others will turn the mitzvot of judging others favorably and loving one's fellow Jew into second nature.
A most important part in the exercise of self-growth is to remember that what we see is only part of the person and not the complete individual.
This can be illustrated as follows:
You are on the street and see someone walking past you with a cast on his leg and using crutches. You could focus on the cast, the crutches and the clumsy gait. Or, you could imagine that weeks earlier the person was hardly able to hobble along on the crutches, but now is mobile and independent.
The same is true for everyone. From the time we are born we all have different qualities, challenges, life experiences; some more positive and some more negative. Through guidance by good role models, and above all through self-improvement if done correctly, the bad traits become weaker. The crutches become less necessary.
A person must grow throughout his entire life. So it's no wonder that we can meet a person in the middle of his work and still be able to see some of his negative qualities. This is not necessarily because he isn't progressing. Rather, by every measure he has weakened and reduced his negative traits compared to how he was earlier.
The above analogy is based on an answer from the Rebbe about how to achieve the goal which G-d has set up for every person, "that he should be truly happy with his family." The Rebbe explains that we can reach this objective through Torah living. However, we must beware of the nagging voice which might point out to us a person who people believe lives according to Torah yet has many deficiencies. The voice argues that since this is a person who conducts himself according to Torah and has these negative points then it must be that the Torah is not good, G-d forbid.
The Rebbe answers with a story: If a person is walking in the street and meets someone on crutches leaving a medical specialist's office, the passer-by could think that the specialist is not good. After all, this person came to the specialist and is obeying all the doctor's instructions. Yet, he still needs crutches!
Now imagine that it was explained to the passer-by that, before the patient was in the doctor's care, he couldn't move his feet altogether and was completely paralyzed. The doctor reduced the paralysis and strengthened the patient to the point where he is able to use his feet and even to walk. As time goes on things are improving and it's getting easier to walk. Even though he still needs crutches, there may come a time- if he follows the doctor's advice-that he will get rid of the crutches and be completely healed.
If a person who lives according to the blueprint of the Torah still has negative traits, it is not necessarily because he isn't following the instructions of the "specialist," i.e., the Torah. Rather he has weakened and reduced his defidiencies compared to how he was earlier on. And, like the rest of us, he is a "work in progress."
For the past several weeks the Torah readings have dealt with the Mishkan (Sanctuary) and its numerous vessels. The requirements were very exacting, involving many different types of building materials and complicated instructions on how to make the Sanctuary's various parts.
The Torah portions of Teruma and Tetzaveh contain G-d's detailed command to erect the Sanctuary and fashion its components. Immediately afterward, the portions of Vayakhel and Pekudei, the second of which we read this week, speak of the actual building of it.
A question is asked: Why is it necessary to devote four separate Torah readings to the subject of the Sanctuary?
Every word of the holy Torah is deliberate and precise; not one word or letter is superfluous. If so, why does the Torah devote so much space to what seems to be a repetition? Surely the Torah could have enumerated all the details of the Sanctuary and then simply stated that the Jews followed them to the letter. From this we would have understood that the Sanctuary was built according to G-d's instructions.
However, in his commentary on the Torah (Genesis 24:42), Rashi explains a general principle: Whenever something is particularly beloved to G-d, the Torah goes to great length in its description, and indeed may repeat itself several times, even if nothing new is added by the repetition.
The Sanctuary and its vessels were extremely beloved by G-d. The Sanctuary was also especially important to the Jews, for it was the means by which G-d's Presence rested among them, as it states, "And they will make Me a Mikdash (Sanctuary) and I will dwell among them."
Moreover, to the Jews the Sanctuary was particularly beloved, for it testified that G-d had forgiven them for having made the Golden Calf. That is why it was called "the Mishkan of Testimony."
It is precisely because of its great significance, both to G-d and to the Jewish people, that a full four Torah portions are devoted to the Sanctuary: Teruma, Tetzaveh, Vayakhel and Pekudei.
The Jewish people's dedication to the Sanctuary expressed itself in their overwhelmingly enthusiastic response to the call for donations. In fact, they contributed so much of their personal wealth and possessions that an order had to be given for them to cease!
In a like manner, it is not enough to be content with the simple performance of mitzvot. Each one of G-d's commandments must be precious and dear to us, observed with willingness and devotion, and performed with alacrity and love.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 16
JUST THE BEGINNING
Participants from this past summer
by Irene Devorah Livshits
"Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely." Karen Kaiser Clark
Sitting in my cozy, tiny dorm room in Syracuse I remember the Ivy League Torah Study Program like a dream. In five weeks I was suddenly transformed into a new person. Like Alice in Wonderland, I was able to look at the world through a different dimension and to assert myself against nonsensical parodies of moral verse. I tackled Judaism and my Jewish identity, moving away form secular reality to a wider, unknown world of collective unconcious.
Surrounded by wonderful faculty, counselors, and friends, I lived in a bungalow colony in the Catskill Mountains away from New York City's scorchers. Without prior Jewish education, first intensive classes and lectures seemed overwhelming. I remember the feeling of being confined to the chair as I listened to discourses in Chasidic philosophy. I felt the urge to dash out of the room into the fresh air, and to jump and run non-stop to full exhaustion. Only due to tolerance, acceptance, and the unconditional care and patience of my instructors, I took one big step forward. I realized that my experience in Ivy League would be to a large extent what I myself make it.
Mark Twain once said, "Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." In Ivy League all instructors believed in their students. They presented lessons with sparkles and smiles, always adding personal anecdotes, amazing stories, and controversial arguements to stir our interest. They allowed cookies and endless questions, often delaying the end of classes. And, when it came to "rest," they had extra time to shmooz with us all night long. Although we talked practically about anything at night meetings, every moment was loaded with intense Torah study. Every down to earth conversation had special meaning or insight that taught us a life-long lesson.
One of the lessons I brought home from Ivy League is that only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. Every day was an adventure. We learned to love nigunim (wordless Chasidic melodies), Chumash, and reading Hebrew in the program. We climbed trees, went canoeing, played pool, and ate blueberries at icy Cave Mountain in between classes. We enjoyed ice-cream in the nearby town or swam in the pool as bats were flying above our heads at night. And, most importantly, we all felt Jewish and felt good. We learned to be confident and sure that we are privileged to be among the elite group of people. It was funny to hear that the most basic unit of Judaism is a Jew. But after all, this is the fact. We are all part of the game whether we want it or not.
Before I attended Ivy League, I thought that the program would mark both the beginning and end of my Jewish education. At the time I didn't know that we do not know a millionth of one percent of anything. Weeks of effort to read Jewish texts, to learn prayers in Hebrew, and to play soccer in our long skirts paid off. I noticed that the more I learned about my Jewish heritage, the less I knew. My learning was intensive. Yet, I felt more ignorant than ever. I thought Ivy League would be a crash course titled: "Everything you need to know about Judaism" or "Full guide to Judaism for Dummies." Luckily, it was not. Instead, Ivy League introduced us to the rather broad, but fascinating world of Jewish thought. The beauty of our birthright, the essential part of our human education, opened before us. We were shocked at what we were missing.
No, there is no pat ending to my story. There is only the beginning. I did not become "Orthodox" at Ivy League. But, I celebrate my Jewish identity in my own way. When I do homework, I take a short break to call "Dail-A-Jewish-Story" to hear words of inspiration. After my part-time job on campus, I come to Hillel for Shabbat services and friendly dinners. Over winter break I went on a trip to Israel that was made possible by Birthright Israel program. I live and I learn. I learn and I live. I believe that doing more things faster is no substitute for doing the right things. So, I am on Jewish time. I do things slowly, but I hope I do them right.
Only a week ago, I learned that the "Sholom Alaychem" song welcomes the Shabbat angels. I have known the song for years, but I had no idea about its significance. Ivy League Torah Study challenged my ideas, and achieved success. Today, there is a long-range planning page in my diary planner where I make sure to demand of myself "to expand my Jewish education."
Ed.'s note: As one of the instructors at the Ivy League Torah Study Program, I often quoted the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that "nothing happens by chance." Truly, it was far from coincidental that Irene ended up studying at ILTSP this past summer.Marsha, a fellow student of Irene's at Syracuse University, had applied to the program and suggested that Irene also apply. But Irene, whose interest in Judaism was minimal at the time, wanted to spend her summer interning in New York City.Soon after she found out that the internship she had hoped for did not come through,Irene received a phone call from her friend Natalie in Brooklyn. Natalie told herabout a program where she could study Torah intensively for 5 weeks in upstate New York and receive a stipend.When Irene realized this was the same program that Marsha had suggested, and that she could spend five weeks with two of her friends, she decided to go for it. Irene's openness, her determination to learn to read Hebrew, her late-night jumping rope sessions, and her choosing a Jewish name, made the program memorable not only for her but for her co-participants and instructors as well. For information about ILTSP, sponsored by the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, call (718) 735-0200, (800) 33-NCFJE or visit www.iltsp.org/
LIFE WITH MOSHIACH
Over the past decade talk of Moshiach and the Redemption has become mainstream in all spectrums of the Jewish world. What will life be like in the Age of Moshiach, and how can visualizing it help make it a reality? Rabbi Yossi Jacobson and Mrs. Chaya Teldon, both dynamic teachers, will be the main lecturers at the Shabbos Discovery Weekend from March 17-19. Sponsored by the Lubavitch Youth Organization and hosted by the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the weekend is open to people of all ages and levels of observance. For more info call 718-953-1000 or visit www.chabadiscoveryweekend.com/
NOT UNDERSTANDING THE REASON FOR MITZVOT
21st of Shevat, 5724 
Your letter reached me with some delay. I was glad to read in it that you have made good progress in your learning of the Torah. I hope that you will not rest content with your accomplishments in the past, but that you will make ever-growing efforts to speed your achievements, not only in the study of the Torah, but also and especially, in the fulfillment of Mitzvoth, for the essential purpose of the study is that it should lead to practice and fulfillment.
You ask about the transmission of the Torah and Mitzvoth from generation to generation, and you mention that there are certain aspects which you do not understand especially in regard to certain details connected with the Mitzvoth. All these matters have been adequately explained in various books of Mussar and Chassidus. If you will discuss this matter with any Rov in your environment, you will be able to clear up all these matters of questions and doubts.
I want to make one general observation, however, and this is so obvious, it is surprising that it had not occurred to you.
The point is this:
It does not surprise anyone if a small child does not understand the thinking of a very wise man or an advanced scientist, even though between the small child and the scientist is only a difference of years and development. For a small boy can one day become even a greater scientist, while the scientist was once a small boy.
Why should it, therefore, be surprising if a human being cannot understand G-d the Creator, especially as there is nothing in common between the Creator and the created? It is only because G-d, in His wisdom and kindness, saw fit to reveal to us some glimpses of the reasons for this or that Mitzvah that we have any idea about the significance of the Mitzvah, but actually, no human intelligence, however great, can fully understand the Mitzvoth or any details connected with them.
With regard to the question of dating, and similar questions which are dealt with in the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], you consult with a Rov, who will be able to tell you the Psak Din [legal ruling] and the Torah view on these and similar questions.
The important thing for you at this time is to apply yourself with devotion and diligence to the study of Torah, the kind of study that leads to action and good conduct, as our sages emphasized. Moreover, with this study of Torah, and especially with the observance of the Mitzvoth, you will get a deeper insight into the meaning and significance of the Mitzvoth. The illustration for this is simple:
When a person is hungry, but wishes to know how food turns into energy in the human body, the way to go about it is not to refuse to take nourishment until the question is answered, but rather to take nourishment first, and then try to get an answer to his question. For, in addition to the fact that the nourishment is needed to keep him alive, it is also needed in order to facilitate the various functions of the body, including the brain. Similarly, it is with matters of the soul and spirit, where Torah and Mitzvoth are the nourishment of the soul.
Surely no further elaboration is necessary.
7 Adar I 5760
Positive mitzva 3: love of G-d
By this injunction we are commanded to love G-d, i.e., to contemplate His commandments and works so that we may obtain a conception of Him, and in doing so, attain absolute joy. It is derived from the words (Deut. 6:5): "And you shall love the L-rd Your G-d."
Sixty years ago this week, the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, arrived in America after a 12-day voyage from Europe. His ship anchored in New York on a Monday at 6:00 p.m. (the 8th of Adar II 5700/1940), but according to law, passengers on ships arriving after 4:00 were not allowed to disembark until the next day.
That Tuesday the Previous Rebbe was officially welcomed by a huge crowd. Thousands of people cried out "Shalom Aleichem" when they caught their first glimpse of the Rebbe, and many joyfully recited the "Shehecheyanu" blessing. Delegations from all of the American Jewish organizations were on hand, as was a special representative of the Mayor of New York. After a short ceremony the Rebbe was driven to Manhattan's Greystone Hotel, where he lived for several months before moving to 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn.
"I thank Alm-ghty G-d for having saved us and brought us to freedom," the Rebbe declared at his reception. "But as much as it pains me to infringe on the happiness of everyone present, the unmerciful torment of our brothers and sisters will not allow me to rest. Their cries, particularly those of the many yeshiva students in Poland, accompany me wherever I go. I cannot allow myself any respite until G-d will save them."
That same day, the Rebbe announced the establishment of the American branch of Yeshiva Tomchei-Temimim:
"We immigrants.have been brought here for the purpose of accomplishing a task: to transform America into a place of Torah. I know very well how much effort and self-sacrifice this requires, but I am sure that in the merit of our holy ancestors, and with our own self-sacrifice, we will succeed. Within time, Tomchei-Temimim will be the largest yeshiva in the country, and its students will illuminate Jewish homes and encourage other rabbis to devote themselves to disseminating Torah."
The first handful of students began studying in the new yeshiva the very next day, and thank G-d, the Rebbe's promise has been completely fulfilled.
And they beat the gold into thin plates, and cut it into threads, to work in the blue and the purple yarn (Ex. 39:3)
Rashi explains how this was done: "They would spin the gold together with the threads, beating the foils thin and cutting from them threads along the length of the foil, making the threads intertwined with every kind of material on the breastplate and ephod." From this we learn that people whom G-d has blessed with wealth must not consider themselves superior to others. Rather, they should act humbly and mingle with those people who have not been similarly blessed, like the thread of gold that was interwoven with the other components. (Siftei Tzadik)
And the Children of Israel did according to all that G-d commanded Moses.and they brought the Tabernacle to Moses (Ex. 39:32-33)
This contains an important lesson in how to build the individual "Sanctuary" that exists in every Jewish home: The first thing is to establish it according to "all that G-d commands," observing mitzvot carefully and scrupulously. The next step is to bring it to "Moses," the singular Jewish leader of a given generation, to allow the Divine Presence to rest in it. (Likutei Sichot)
And Moses blessed them (Ex. 39:43)
What was his blessing? "May it be G-d's will that the Divine Presence rest on the work of your hands." Every blessing, of any type, needs a proper "vessel" on which to rest. A person cannot sit back and wait for G-d to shower him with blessings; he must take practical action and expend the required effort in forming the vessel. (Imrei Shefer)
The Rebbetzin was clearing off the table when she realized that a silver spoon was missing. She stopped and counted them again, and then a third time, but it was gone. The only logical conclusion was that someone who had eaten with them had stolen it.
Her husband, the Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt, Rabbi Yeshayahu Halevi Hurwitz (known as "the Holy Shaloh"), was distressed by the news. As head of Frankfurt's yeshiva, his guests had been a handpicked group of students.
Suspicion fell on a particular bachur (young man) who had been acting strangely throughout the meal. The Rebbetzin was convinced that he was responsible, and the Rabbi conceded that it was at least a possibility. A surreptitious search of the young man's belongings was conducted. To everyone's great disappointment, the silver spoon was found.
The bachur was summoned before the Rabbi and declared that he was innocent; indeed, he was willing to swear to it. He had no idea how the spoon had gotten into his belongings and was deeply offended by the accusation.
The Shaloh decided to forget the incident and declared that he would never repeat what had happened. But "the walls have ears," and soon everyone in the yeshiva was talking about it. The young man found himself in a very uncomfortable situation, and one day just disappeared.
The Shaloh was very saddened by his departure. But there was nothing he could do about it, as the young man had left no forwarding address.
Years passed, and the Shaloh was appointed Chief Rabbi of Prague. In his old age he decided to move to the Holy Land, the fulfillment of his lifelong dream.
After a long and arduous journey the Shaloh arrived at the port of Jaffa, and after disembarking from the ship, bent down to kiss the holy soil. When he regained his feet he noticed that there was someone standing next to him regarding him intently. The man appeared to be a high-ranking official, and turned out to be the pasha (governor) of Jaffa himself.
The pasha explained that he always greeted all the ships when they arrived in port. If there were any distinguished personages on board, he would invite them home. "I would be very honored," the pasha said, "to have you as my guest."
Indeed, the pasha entertained the Shaloh royally, providing him with kosher food and many comforts. The next morning the Shaloh was about to leave for Jerusalem when the pasha insisted on giving him a tour of the premises. He led him into a grand hall, where he proudly showed him his collection of knives, bayonets, daggers and other weapons. Pointing to one of the swords, he told the Shaloh that it had the sharpest blade in the world.
Removing it from the wall, the pasha unsheathed it from its scabbard. The Shaloh, who hadn't understood at first why the pasha was showing him his weapons, was now frightened. The pasha's face, which until now had been friendly and affable, took on a threatening cast. Intense hatred seeped out of every pore. "Your last hour on earth has arrived," he announced to the elderly Rabbi. "You may recite a prayer before I cut off your head."
The Shaloh broke out in a cold sweat. He looked at the pasha and then, in the space of a split second, realized that he had seen those eyes before. Yes, they were the eyes of the young man who had left the yeshiva many years before after being accused of theft.
"It was all your fault -I was innocent!" the pasha cried, realizing that he had been recognized. "Because of you I had to leave the yeshiva. And now I will exact my revenge!"
The Rabbi apologized profusely and tried to placate him, but his words had no effect. "Lie down on the floor!" the pasha ordered.
The Shaloh obeyed his former student. Closing his eyes, he recited the "Shema Yisrael" with great intention and waited for the end.
Instead, he felt a light kiss on his brow. He opened his eyes and saw that the pasha was smiling.
"Rabbi," the pasha said as he helped the Rabbi to his feet. "Please forgive me for having frightened you. But I did it for your benefit.
"Many things have happened to me since I left the yeshiva," he explained. "As you can see, I became estranged from Judaism. But in my heart of hearts I could never forget the happy days I spent learning Torah as your student.
"When I saw you get off the boat," he continued, "I controlled my urge to reveal my identity to you and invited you home. Last night I couldn't sleep. I was overcome with regret over how my life had turned out. In the end I decided that if you would agree to take me with you and show me how to repent, I would become a baal teshuva.
"With that thought in mind I fell asleep, and had the most peculiar dream, which involved you. In the dream I was shown from Above that you had one small spiritual blemish that was keeping you from perfection: the sin of having inadvertently offended one of your students. I was also shown exactly what to do to remove the stain, which I did today."
The Shaloh hugged his former pupil gratefully. His joy was double: not only had a spiritual flaw been fixed, but a promising student had returned to him after so many years.
No one ever knew where the pasha of Jaffa went; he simply dropped out of sight and was never heard from again.
In the famous "Letter to Yemen" by Rabbi Moses Maimonides (the "Rambam") he writes: "It is true beyond doubt that the restoration of prophecy is the first phase of the coming of Moshiach. As it is stated, 'After that I will pour out My spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophecize' (Joel 3:1)"