You Don't Need Your Reading Glasses | 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
Put down your reading glasses. No, this isn't an advertisement for laser surgery to correct your failing vision. It's just that even if you normally have to put on your reading glasses to enjoy L'Chaim, you won't need to squint to find out the point of this week's article. Just look at the top right corner where the issue number is printed and you'll see "613." That is the number of mitzvot the Jewish people are obligated to fulfill.
For most people, the word "mitzva" conjures up images of helping a little old lady cross the street, returning a lost child to his parents in a supermarket, or spending an afternoon off visiting a lonely relative. "Mitzva," to many, is synonymous with "good deed."
In truth, however, a mitzva is not a good deed. It can and does include various deeds which people consider "good," but it is not limited to "good deeds."
The actual translation of the word mitzva is "commandment." A mitzva is not a suggestion, a proposal, or a good idea. It is a command.
A mitzva has three components: The commander-G-d; the "comandee"-us; the commandment itself. The mitzva provides a means of connecting with the One who gave it.
The objective of a mitzva is not that we should "feel good." A mitzva's goal is to connect us with G-d. And mitzvot afford us numerous opportunities to make the connection.
The fact that the mitzva has been commanded is the crucial factor in creating the bond. The mitzva creates the possibility for limited, finite people to connect with the Omnipotent, Omniscient G-d.
Like the reading glasses that some of us had to put back on in order to find out more about "613," mitzvot magnify and bring into focus our connection to G-d.
Of course, no single individual can carry out all 613 of the mitzvot. Some mitzvot concern only a man or a woman. Others concern only a priest or a king. Still others can only be performed in specified places or at certain times. Nevertheless every individual perform mitzvot as part of the whole of the Jewish people; an integral component of a particular generation in time and place. For, as Chasidic philosophy explains, every generation is a cross section of the timeless entity that is the Jewish people.
Even when we cannot actually observe certain mitzvot, such as mitzvot that are performed only when the Holy Temple is standing, we can access the connection they produce by reading aloud and studying Torah about them.
Connect with the Infinite (thereby connecting with the entire Jewish people) today. Do a mitzva. Give charity. Study Torah. Say a prayer. Your mitzva might just be the one to bring about the era of universal peace, harmony and knowledge the world has awaited for millenia.
A large part of this week's Torah portion, Shemini, discusses the Jewish dietary laws, kashrut. We read about the kosher animals a Jew may eat and the non-kosher ones that are forbidden. The Torah gives us two signs to distinguish a kosher animal: it must chew its cud and have split hooves.
One of the reasons certain foods are prohibited is that the food we eat becomes part of our physical bodies, transformed into our flesh and blood. The Torah prohibits us from ingesting certain foods to protect our bodies from their negative influence. Keeping kosher enables a Jew to avoid the spiritually harmful effect of these non-kosher substances.
We must also "chew our cud" and have "split hooves":
The hoof is the lowest part of the animal's body, coming in direct contact with the earth and separating it from the ground. Even an animal, whose head is closer to the ground than man's, must maintain a certain distance and separation from the earth to be considered kosher.
A Jew must also guard this distinction between the "earth" - his corporeal nature - and his higher spiritual faculties. Even the lowest levels of his soul, analogous to the foot, must not come into direct contact with the ground. We should never become completely involved in our material affairs, but maintain a certain detachment in the way we relate to them.
The hoof of a kosher animal is cloven, consisting of two parts. So too must the Jew's involvement in worldly affairs - analogous to the "hoof" that connects him with the ground - consist of two simultaneous but opposite thrusts: his "right hand draws near" while his "left hand pushes [negative influences] away." With the "right hand" the Jew learns Torah, performs mitzvot and draws his fellow Jews closer to Judaism. The "left hand" helps him to avoid negative influences.
The distinction between "right" and "left" is very important. One cannot hope to obtain goodness without shunning evil. Good and evil must never be confused, just like the kosher animal's hooves are split into two distinct halves.
The second characteristic of a kosher animal is that it chews its cud. Likewise, a Jew must "chew over" his every step and consider it carefully before acting. When we subject our behavior to this scrutiny, all our actions will be pure.
The Torah gives us several signs by which we can recognize kosher birds, but in this instance we are not allowed to rely only on these characteristics. Only birds explicitly regarded as kosher by our holy tradition are permissible.
From this we learn that a Jew must never rely solely on his own intellect, as his guidelines in life must also be derived from our holy tradition. In addition to his own intellectual achievements, the Jew must connect himself to the leader of the generation in order for his service to be pure.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 1
The right place at the right time
An Interview with Fruma Rosenberg by Tzivia Emmer. Fruma is currently the Family Education Coordinator at Hillel Academy in N. Miami Beach, the largest day school in the world. She also has a private counseling practice emphasizing stress reduction.
As I was growing up, the only prejudice in my family was against religious Jews. When I went for my college interviews, I remember that there were certain schools that appealed to me and my mother said, "You can't go there, it's too Jewish." My first positive Jewish experience was a spiritual festival in Boulder, Colorado.
I had the choice of having the visiting yogi or Shlomo Carlebach stay at my house... and of course I chose the yogi. That was in 1971, which was the year [my husband Yossel and I] became frum [Torah observant].
The emphasis when I was growing up was always on external stimulation.
When I would come home from a party the question was not did you have a good time, but how did they like your dress. I was an only child, and I was groomed to be a performer and to get positive points from how others reacted to me.
It was very important for me when I learned Rabbi Yochanan's words to his students when they asked him to bless them before he died.
He said, "Have as much fear of G-d as you do of your fellow man." That you should be able to perform the mitzvot in the private sphere with the same kavana (intention) you would have if you were doing it in front of other people.
For me that was a particularly big test. I think it's a big test for a lot of people. I remember reading the book Jewish Woman in Jewish Law, which discusses the fact that the highest avoda (service) was private avodah, the highest part of praying is the Amida, the silent devotion, and the highest part of the service of the High Priest was on Yom Kippur when he went into a room that was totally private and spoke to G-d. And that the highest part of Abraham's service was the Binding of Isaac, where he took his son alone to the mountain top.
This, by contrast, is compared to the story of a Greek general, who sacrificed a child to win a war: he basically invited the equivalent of NBC news and all of his country to watch him do this "noble deed."
I learned again and again that the avoda of a woman is to take that aspect of G-dliness and put it into a very private place, into her relationship with her children and her husband, sometimes davening [praying] at home when there is nobody there to see that she is davening.
It is something I still struggle with.
There's a certain image of woman as being very powerful and very understated at the same time. There are a lot of women in Crown Heights who fit this category, who are very modest and powerful.
I see this very positively, in light of having come from a place where it was very important to stand out. At this point in my life I find that very distasteful.
There's something about being part of a world view that sanctifies time.
There is a feeling you get when you know that it's 18 minutes before the sun goes down and it's time to light candles and there you are, having put all your energy for the last 24 or 36 hours into making this moment happen, and knowing it's the right moment and you're doing the right thing.
And there's an unbelievable feeling of satisfaction that comes from that.
It's a very transcendental experience - maybe exactly the opposite of a transcendental experience; it's a very grounded experience. It gives you that reinforcement so often, of knowing that you are in the right place at the right time.
There was a point in our lives when my husband and I ran a farm for women in the summertime. Women used to come to our farm in the Rockies and drive tractors and pick fruit and my husband would stay in the kitchen and make brown rice and can vegetables.
The idea of being able to be the same and fulfill the same roles was very appealing. But long ago, in being a Jewish mother, I realized that there wasn't anything more powerful, or in some ways even as compelling and powerful, about being a man as there was about being a woman.
I feel fortunate to understand, through learning Chasidic philosophy, the difference between being self-serving and being G-d-serving.
I've always been involved with psychology and with a holistic approach to physical and spiritual well-being. After I became frum my attraction to psychology became an attraction to Tanya [the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy] and various Mussar [ethical teachings] books... the things I was focused on in my Torah studies were those things that overlapped psychology. And it's all there.
In our state of galut, exile, there are probably very few people who have a fulfilled sense of self. And in their lack of self-fulfillment they use a lot of crutches.
Rather than dealing with the fact that one just doesn't feel adequate, that one is not perfect, they tend to blame it on their situation. What we have to do is take an honest account and say, "I am imperfect, but there is a G-d in the world, and I'll continue working towards my own self-perfection. It doesn't have to do with where I am or what I'm doing; it has to do with who I am."
The focus should be on establishing a healthier psyche through Torah values. Because it's hard to have a healthy psyche today in America. That's what the exile is all about.
Reprinted from Wellsprings Magazine, Published by Lubavitch Youth Organization - Brooklyn, NY
Tzivos Hashem, the world's largest Jewish children's club, helped chapters organize Purim programs at senior citizen centers. Pictured above is a Purim show in New York city. To join Tzivos Hashem call them at (718) 467-6630 or call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center. Visit their website at www.tzivos-hashem.org
The Lubavitch Center of Essex County, NJ in conjunction with Borders Books in Livingston is presenting a 4-week "crash course" on Jewish mysticism, Sundays at 7:30 p.m. April 2 is "Soul Powers" and April 9 is "Implementing the Soul's Beauty." For more info call 973-216-6680.
IMPORTANT ROLE OF CHILDREN
Erev Rosh Chodesh Nissan, 5729
It gave me great pleasure to read your letter of the 22nd of Adar, reporting on your visit in England, and enclosing also a copy of your article.
I may also note with particular pleasure that your report arrived together with/after reports from other quarters, both from London and Manchester, which speak of the extraordinary impression your appearances there have made, as well as those of Mrs. . . , and the shining example which both of you presented wherever you went, and during your various addresses and lectures. These reports are still coming in.
I trust that the good fruits of the seeds which you planted, and the fruits of fruits, some of which you have already seen, will further stimulate your work and contribution in this direction. It is, of course, quite natural for a person to gain encouragement in direct proportion to the success of his efforts and there is no end to the good, so that when a person has done his maximum one day, G-d provides additional capacities for even greater effort and accomplishment the next day.
It was good to see you at the Purim Farbrengen [Chasidic gathering], and no doubt your wife was present too, though I did not see you later, possibly because of the large gathering. May G-d grant that all matters should be in accordance with the words of the Megillah: "For the Jews there was light, joy, gladness and honor." May this be fulfilled also in the case of each and every one of us, in the midst of our people Israel, in accordance with the traditional text which we add to this quotation from the Megillah - "So may it be for us," at the termination of Shabbos and Yom Tov [festivals], when going back to the ordinary days of the week, and it is necessary to make Chol [mundane] into Kodesh [holy].
Should you remember additional details in regard to your visit in England, I trust you will not withhold the good and share them with me, and thanks in advance.
Needless to say, I appreciate very much your giving my personal regards to Chief Rabbi Yisroel Jacobovits and Prof. C. Domb.
Wishing you and yours a happy month of Nissan, and a Kosher and happy Pesach, and hoping to hear good news from you.
P.S. Needless to say, all prayerful wishes expressed above include "also" your wife and children. I trust you found the children well and happy, especially during the happy season of Purim, in which the children have a particularly important role, as is well known that the Gezera [decree] was nullified when Mordecai gathered Jewish children and taught and inspired them to the point of Mesiras Nefesh [self-sacrifice] for the Torah and Mitzvoth.
5th of Nissan, 5725 
Students of Class 7
I was very pleased to receive your letter of March 29th, and to read in it about the progress you are making in your study of the Torah and similar subjects. I was especially gratified to note that you are advancing in the fulfillment of the Mitzvoth in the daily life for this is, after all, the main purpose of the study of the Torah.
At this time, between the festivals of Purim and Pesach, you will surely remember the important part of the Jewish children in the two mentioned festivals especially. For, as our Sages declared, the miracle of Purim took place at the very time when Jewish children were gathered around Mordechai and were inspired by him to the utmost dedication and devotion to the Torah and Mitzvoth. As for Pesach, you surely know the importance of the "Four Sons" who are mentioned in the Haggadah, for whose benefit the Seder is mainly arranged. One of the important lessons here is that all Jewish children, whatever their background, should be gathered at the Seder table and taught the importance of Pesach and of the Jewish way of life in general. Those, like yourselves, who are fortunate to receive a Torah-true education so as to merit the title "Wise Son", have a special duty and privilege to serve as a living example to less fortunate Jewish boys, to bring them closer to their Father in Heaven and to the Jewish way of life, the way of the Torah and Mitzvoth.
The collection for Tzedoko [charity] for Mo'os Chittim ["wheat money," i.e., money for Passover needs] , which was raised in your class, is very welcome and a receipt is enclosed herewith. May it stand each and every one of you in good stead, to receive G-d's blessings in all your needs, and especially to bless you with success in your advancement in Torah and Mitzvoth.
Wishing you all, as well as your teacher and parents, a happy and inspiring festival of Pesach, the Season of Our Liberation,
24 Adar II 5760
Prohibition 199: eating chametz after midday on the 14th of Nisan
By this prohibition we are forbidden to eat chametz after the middle of the 14th day of Nisan. It is contained in the Torah's words (Deut. 16:3): "You shall eat no leavened bread with it," referring to the Pascal lamb.
This Shabbat we will bless the month of Nisan, the month in which the Jewish people left Egypt. Two weeks before the Exodus, on the first of Nisan, G-d spoke to Moses and Aaron and told them to instruct the Jews to get ready for the great event.
How were they supposed to prepare themselves? By accepting G-d's commandments even before the Torah was given, especially the main mitzva in which they were then involved, the Passover offering. On Rosh Chodesh (the first of) Nisan, the Jewish people resolved to fulfill G-d's command. The redemption from Egypt came in the middle of the night on the 15th, at the height of their observance of the mitzva.
"In every generation a person must consider himself as having gone out of Egypt." The Final Redemption with Moshiach will be similar to our forefather's redemption from Egypt. To prepare ourselves, we must follow our forefathers' example and accept even now, during these last few moments of exile, the totality of G-d's mitzvot and resolve to observe them joyfully.
Rosh Chodesh is literally "the head of the month." Just as in the physical body the head is in charge of the various limbs and organs, so too does Rosh Chodesh set the tone for the entire month to come. On the first of Nisan, the head of the tribe of Judah, Nachshon ben Aminadav, brought an offering in the Sanctuary. This Nachshon ben Aminadav was the same person who jumped into the sea when the Egyptians were in hot pursuit. No mere body of water would prevent him from advancing toward Mount Sinai! Without hesitation he jumped in, and it split in two.
Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the first of the month of redemption, teaches us how to prepare for the Final Redemption with Moshiach. Like Nachshon, we will not be deterred by circumstances or difficulties. Instead, we will do exactly what G-d requires and asks of us, joyfully and willingly.
And Moses said to Aaron: Draw near unto the altar, and prepare your sin offering and your burnt offering, and make an atonement for yourself and for the people (Lev. 9:7)
As Rashi explains, Aaron was reluctant to approach the altar, prompting Moses to reassure him that the reason he had been chosen by G-d for this Divine service was precisely his feelings of unworthiness. After the incident of the Golden Calf, Aaron had girded himself in iron chains as a sign of penitence, and gone from door to door begging the Jews to accept the yoke of heaven. There was therefore no more worthy candidate for the high priesthood than Aaron, as someone who could successfully help the Jewish people reach atonement for their sin. (Divrei Shaarei Chaim)
And they brought near before the L-rd a strange fire, which He had not commanded them (Lev. 10:1)
In truth, a Jew should perform every one of the Torah's mitzvot with such enthusiasm and self-sacrifice that it utilizes all of his energy and life-force. The mitzva, as a commandment of G-d, will then in turn infuse him with renewed vitality and life, as it states, "And you shall live by them." Nadav and Avihu, however, were not "reanimated" after bringing their "strange fire," for despite having the proper intentions, what they did was not a mitzva. (Siftei Tzadik, quoting his father)
Nadav and Avihu were holy men whose intentions were pure. Unfortunately, what they lacked was a sense of nullification before G-d's command. That is why we say, before the performance of any mitzva, ".Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us, etc." The mitzva itself, i.e., the fact that G-d has commanded us to observe it, is what imbues us with sanctity and holiness. (Chidushei Harim)
Yaakov Abulafia and Yitzchak Shraga were orphans, their common fate drawing them together and making them fast friends. The two urchins spent their days on the streets of Baghdad, obtaining the necessities of life in any manner they could. More than once they had spent time under lock and key.
One day the two boys noticed a large crowd gathering in front of the home of the wealthy Avraham Ben Chasdai. Blending into the throng of guests, they entered the mansion and found a celebration underway. The hungry lads quickly helped themselves to some of the delicacies that were on the tables.
When the signal was given, a children's choir burst into song. All of the guests rose to their feet as a young man of about 17 was led in amidst much pomp and circumstance. The focus of their attention, flanked on either side by his parents, was dressed in beautiful robes and a sparkling white tallit. Three of the city's most prestigious rabbis brought up the rear.
When the young man reached his seat the singing halted, whereupon the head of the rabbinical delegation unrolled an official-looking scroll and began to read: "By the power invested in us, the judges of the Jewish Court of Baghdad, we hereby confer rabbinical ordination upon the chacham, Rabbi Yehuda Ben Chasdai. From this point on he shall bear full rabbinical authority, according to the laws of Moses and Israel."
The newly appointed Rabbi was invited to say a few words. After requesting permission from his parents, teachers and guests, the young man delivered an exceptional Talmudic oration based on various points of Jewish law. Everyone was impressed, particularly young Yaakov and Yitzchak, who couldn't believe that someone their own age could be so learned. The two lads drew nearer, till they were almost standing in front of the speaker.
At that moment Rabbi Yehuda Ben Chasdai happened to glance in their direction. The surprised look he gave them seemed to question what they were doing there among all the invited guests. Within seconds Yaakov and Yitzchak had been unceremoniously escorted outside.
Publicly humiliated, the boys' hearts burned with the desire for revenge. Yaakov suggested that they ambush the Rabbi that night and deliver a beating, but Yitzchak was reluctant. "What sense is there in violence?" he asked. "And besides, I've got a much better idea."
Yitzchak outlined his plan to his friend: It might take them a long time to accomplish, but in the end it would earn them respect and honor, and ultimately embarrass Rabbi Yehuda Ben Chasdai.
"Let us leave Baghdad and enter a yeshiva," he proposed. "For five years we will study Torah night and day, and become even more learned than that upstart Rabbi. When we come back, we will somehow find a way to show him up." The boys made a solemn pact to implement their plan.
The orphans were lucky to find a wealthy patron at the famous yeshiva of Bursif, who took them under his wing. They applied themselves diligently to their studies, and the five years passed quickly. They did so well, in fact, that they decided to remain at the yeshiva another three years. The former urchins were transformed into Torah scholars, and they both married into fine families.
The time had come to put their plan into action, and with their wives' permission they traveled to Baghdad. The first thing they saw was a notice announcing a public lecture the following day, to be given by "the famous sage Rabbi Yehuda Chasdai."
The lecture was long and complicated, culminating in a practical application of Jewish law. However, Yaakov and Yitzchak were the only members of the audience who realized that the great Rabbi Yehuda Chasdai had made a serious error, and that his entire argument was erroneous.
Yaakov's first impulse was to raise his hand in protest, but Yitzchak stopped him. "Let's speak with him in private," he said. "After all, we would never have come so far in life if not for him."
Yaakov and Yitzchak approached the Rabbi and explained why the basis of his talk had been flawed. They added that they felt obliged to point it out, as people might inadvertently transgress as a result.
Rabbi Yehuda Chasdai was very impressed. "In my whole life I've never met Torah scholars of your caliber!" he exclaimed.
"You did meet us before," they said, "and you embarrassed us, too."
"What?!" the Rabbi cried. "You don't look at all familiar to me."
"Think back," they encouraged him. The Rabbi was silent for a moment before making an admission. "Only once in my life did I embarrass someone. It was on the day of my ordination, when I had two street urchins expelled from the celebration. I've regretted it ever since."
"Well, we are those two street urchins," the men replied, smiling. The Rabbi was so astounded he was at a loss for words.
The next morning Rabbi Yehuda Chasdai convened an assemblage of the city's Jews at which he related the entire story from start to finish. Everyone resolved to be more careful to avoid embarrassing others.
Incidentally, Rabbi Yaakov Abulafia and Rabbi Yitzchak Shraga were both later appointed to prestigious rabbinical posts in Babylon.
In the time to come, the Levites will become Kohanim (priests). It thus appears probable that Moses, a Levite, willl then serve as Kohen Gadol-High Priest. (Ohr HaTorah, Shemot)