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Have you been called up for jury duty lately? Or maybe your kids ask you to decide who's right and who's wrong in the latest squabble. Has your boss asked you to voice an opinion about a co-worker or client? Consider the following before you pass judgment:
Said Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov: When person comes before the supernal court to account for his sojourn on earth, he is first asked to voice his opinion on another life. "What do you think," he is asked, "about one who has done so and so?" After he offers his verdict, it is demonstrated to him how these deeds and circumstances parallel those of his own life. Ultimately, it is the person himself who passes judgment on his own failings and achievements.
This explains the peculiar wording of the passage from the chapter of the Mishna Avot ("Ethics of the Fathers") studied around the world this week on Shabbat afternoon: "Know. before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting." Is not the verdict handed down after the cross-examination of the defendant? So should not the "judgment" follow the "accounting"? And why are you destined to "give judgment" as opposed to being judged? But no judgment is ever passed on a person from above. Only after he has himself ruled on any given deed does the heavenly court make him account for a matching episode in his own life.
The same idea is also implicit in another passage in our chapter of the Avot: "Retribution is extracted from a person, with this knowledge and without his knowledge." As a person knowingly expressed his opinion on a certain matter, he is unwittingly passing judgment on himself.
What we have here is a most profound insight into the specialty of the human soul. In all of the creation, nothing is loftier than the "spark of G-dliness" that is the soul of man. This is reflected in the fact that man has been given the power of choice-a power he shares only with the Creator Himself.
Free choice allows him to stumble and err, but it is also what makes his potential for good infinitely greater than G-d's more spiritual creations. So even when a soul comes to stand in judgment, implying that here are perhaps faults and failings in its past performance, no judge, be it the loftiest and most spiritual of heavenly beings, has any jurisdiction over his fate. The only power on earth or heaven that can judge man is man himself.
From Beyond the Letter of the Law by Yanki Tauber, published by Vaad Hanochos Hatemimim.
The Torah portion of Emor opens with a warning to the kohanim (priests) not to become defiled through contact with a dead body: "Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them, There shall be none defiled for the dead among his people." The famous commentator Rashi explains that the Torah repeats the word "say" - "to warn the adults with regard to the children."
This is not the only instance in which adults are commanded to ensure that children observe certain mitzvot. In the entire Torah we find three such cases: the prohibition against eating insects, the prohibition against eating or drinking blood, and the prohibition against kohanim becoming ritually impure through contact with a corpse.
Why these three specific mitzvot? In each of these instances, an educator might despair of ever getting the point across to his pupil. However, the Torah encourages us to never give up hope, and assures us that we have the power to succeed.
In fact, each of these mitzvot brings out a different lesson. Eating insects is described as "a revolting practice." Ingesting blood is something that was a common practice in the ancient world. The prohibition against defilement with the dead is a super-rational mitzva that has no basis in logic.
From this we learn three fundamental principles regarding education:
1. If a Jew should ever find himself in degrading circumstances, surrounded by people who behave improperly, he mustn't think that there is nothing he can do. Even when confronted by a person who "eats insects," he can still exert a positive influence through proper education.
2. The view that education doesn't work once a person has become used to acting in a negative way is unfounded and false. The Torah teaches that change and personal growth are always possible, even in so extreme a case as educating people not to ingest blood.
3. Another misperception is that education only applies to the acquisition of factual information, rather than matters of faith. If a person claims to be a non-believer, how can he be taught to believe? However, by singling out the prohibition against defilement, a commandment that is purely super-rational, the Torah emphasizes that education is effective in this area as well. In his heart, every Jew is a believer; a proper Jewish education merely uncovers that which is concealed.
When the Torah commands us to do something, it doesn't mean that compliance is merely possible. Rather, the commandment itself - that G-d has commanded it - imbues us with the power to fulfill the mitzva. G-d does not ask us to do things that are beyond our capability; when He requires something from us, He makes sure that we can do it.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
NOT JUST ANOTHER HOLLYWOOD MEMOIR
By Penina Roth
Ever since I was 12, I had dreamed of a Hollywood career. It was to be something that involved a high fashion wardrobe, critical acclaim, and, of course, lots of money. In reality, I didn't become the rich and famous screenwriter I set out to be. And the only high fashion clothes I could afford were the ones in thrift shops and garage sales. But in trying to achieve impossible dreams, I attained invaluable life lessons.
As a "Modern Orthodox" young woman, I had convinced myself that any lifestyle was possible as long as it incorporated basic elements of Judaism like Shabbat, prayer and Torah study, a kosher diet and modest dress. So when I graduated college in 1990, I flew out to L.A. with vague aspirations and one half-finished script. I also carried the phone number of a local Chabad woman, Leah Drizin, who was the sister of my father's very close friend.
Needing money for dull essentials like groceries and rent, I searched for full-time office work. Eventually I landed a position at a commercial and music video production company. Working as a receptionist in the middle of a Hollywood studio lot, I felt as if I was playing out a scene from one of my childhood daydreams. Movie stars and rock legends sauntered past, luxury automobiles drove by fast, and racks of clothing zoomed in and out.
When I discovered that selling a screenplay for a million dollars was not a daily occurrence, I decided to pursue something more realistic like costume design. Unfortunately, every female who had ever played dress-up as a little girl had similar aspirations. But as a receptionist in a bustling production company, I had certain advantages.
My front office position gave me access to successful wardrobe stylists. These stylists created the looks featured in popular music videos. Eager to gain on-set experience, I assaulted every stylist who walked through the door, begging her to let me work for free on my days off. Impressed by my enthusiasm (or was it my gullibility?), they granted my request. Thus was launched my inglorious but thankfully short-lived career as a Hollywood wardrobe stylist.
In Hollywood, modest dress is considered aberrant behavior and the way I looked set me apart. Over the course of my two-year career, nearly every male designer or photographer I worked with would ask me why I always wore "long skirts." This line of conversation not only defused awkward situations - it also reminded some creative types of their own Jewish roots. Sometimes this meant the wrap-up party for a shoot would be held at a kosher restaurant instead of the latest treif hangout. On other occasions, I was able to persuade busy photographers to break from their hectic schedules in order to be wined and dined on Shabbat at the homes of Chabad families I had become close with through Leah.
Non-Jews, too, were sensitive to my religious observance. For several months I worked as a wardrobe assistant on rap and hip-hop music videos. On set, I would work the long, hot and grueling shoots in a long black skirt and vintage blouse. Needless to say, I stood out. Some of the female producers on the set questioned why I would "subject myself" to such physical discomfort. When I explained that Judaism believes that a woman's true beauty lies within and is not meant to be flaunted, the women nodded approvingly.
Sensing I was sincere in my beliefs, my bosses, at first, accommodated my need to take off for Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Ultimately, however, it became apparent that what Hollywood truly worships is itself and the mighty dollar. As one well-known stylist/costume designer put it, "I respect you and what you stand for, but I can't hire you if you're not available to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week." My personal beliefs did not conform to the Hollywood norm.
Of course, being my stubborn self, I did not give up there but flailed around for another year as an independent stylist. Investing in my career future, I often labored for free, making contacts and building my portfolio. After a year and a half, offers for remunerative work began pouring in. Nearly broke, I rejoiced at the prospect of financial solvency, but quickly despaired when I realized that most of the shoots conflicted with Shabbat.
I wish I had been familiar then with certain fundamental Chasidic tenets. I had mistakenly assumed I could lead a "double life," celebrating Shabbat on the weekends and working in shmutz throughout the week, without being affected.
By the end of my costuming career, I was almost completely desensitized. One day as I draped strands of silver jewelry over a model dressed only in mud, I realized that I was literally immersed in shmutz. At that point, and before declaring bankruptcy could become an absolute necessity, I decided to quit the business.
That would have been the end of my Hollywood saga, if not for the fact that I still had some significant debt to clear up before I could move on with my life. I was now taking my friends' shidduch (matchmaking) offers seriously and was attempting to act more "dignified" in both my professional and personal life. After consulting with a rabbi and a spiritual mentor, I decided to seek an administrative position in another Hollywood office.
With the Rebbe's blessing, I landed a position almost immediately, as a receptionist/client service administrator for a special effects/post production company. Essentially, this position required that I answer moderately busy phones, greet industry heavweights as they entered the facility, and that I master the frothing and pouring of perfectly executed espressos and cappuccinos.
It wasn't long before I met my husband (again, after the Rebbe's blessing) who whisked me off to Crown Heights where I now reside. In between familial obligations I am taking classes in non-fiction writing and working on a book.
But as Chasidism teaches, despite our other commitments, we are really "day workers." Day means light. Our work is to illuminate the world with the light of Torah.
THE NEW FRONTIER
Chabad Discovery Weekends presents The New Frontier @making-marriage.wrk over the weekend of May 26 - 28. The Shabbaton weekend is devoted to exploring the unique Chasidic approach to finding and nurturing the intrinsic love and unity Jews have for each other by their very nature. Join Jewish couples, singles and families as they experience an unforgettable, fulfilling and stimulating Shabbaton featuring Rabbi Manis Friedman and Mrs. Rivka Slonim. Hosted by the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. For more info call the weekend's sponsor, Lubavitch Youth Organization at (718) 953-1000 or visit www.chabadiscoveryweekend.org
28th of Tishrei, 5722 
Greeting and Blessing:
Your letter reached me with considerable delay. In it you write a number of questions regarding Nusach Ari [the prayer liturgy composed by Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchok Luria, known as the "Ari"] as compared to others.
Generally speaking, the matter of Nusach has been dealt with in various sources, and as far as Nusach Ari is concerned, you will find the answer to most of your questions in Shaar Hakolel by Rabbi Abraham David Lavut, which, if you haven't got it there, you can borrow from your friends or library.
As for your question why people in distress behave in one way, and when they are out of it in another, this is not a new question, and, in any case, it should be directed to the people concerned.
With regard to the question of traveling on a Jewish ship, I am enclosing a copy of my letter which I have written on this subject. In it you will also find the answer to the question of so-called automatic navigation. Only one who has no conception at all of navigation of a modern ship can think that there is a possibility of a modern ship being navigated automatically for more than several hours at a stretch, and even then not everything in the ship can be carried out automatically. Those who insist on spreading the view that a ship can apply its course on the high seas for twenty-four hours entirely automatically, do so either in absolute ignorance of the facts, or maliciously and misleadingly.
Regarding the meaning of Ko'osi Maar ["When will the Master (i.e. Moshiach) come?"], the source for this is a letter by the Baal Shem Tov published in a book of one of his great disciples, Poras Yosef, by Rabbi Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye.
May I conclude with one general observation, namely, that it is not the proper thing for a Yeshiva Bochur to divert his attention and time to looking for questions and problems - Kashyos - regarding any particular Shito [approach], but he should rather dedicate all his attention and time to the study of the Torah, both Nigleh [the revealed aspects of Torah] as well as Pnimius Hatorah [the inner teachings of the Torah], and as the Vilner Gaon stated, that for proper understanding of Nigleh of Torah, Pnimius Hatorah is essential.
20th Shevat, 5722 
Blessing and Greeting:
I received your recent two letters.
The best way to cope with the problem is to show to those you mention in your letter that since you have developed a feeling for Lubavitch, it has had a beneficial influence on you in observing the Mitzvot with more Hiddur [enhancement] and in a greater measure of devotion and diligence in your studies and in your daily conduct in general. This is the best way to lessen the opposition and to turn their attitude in your favor.
Needless to say, the above should be reflected also in your reaction to the attitude of those persons whom the Torah obligates you to respect and honor, so that while you cannot accept their viewpoint in this matter, it should be expressed in a respectful way, in accordance with the Torah. This, together with the improvement in your whole way of life as above, will, I hope, bring about the desired results.
I would also like to advise you that you should avoid all discussions and debates on the merits or demerits of Lubavitch, and in any case it is not by discussion, but by example, that one can convince best - while in discussion it is often difficult to avoid a wrong word, etc.
Incidentally, it is already a matter of decades that the Nessiim [Rebbes] of Lubavitch, my father-in-law and his father of saintly memory, have been on good terms with the Rabbeyim of Ger and when the present Gerer Rebbe's brother and brother-in-law were here, as well as other close relatives, we have met in a most friendly atmosphere.
P.S. I am sending this letter Special Delivery in case there is still a possibility to rectify the matter. At any rate, you ought to call her attention to her mistake of presuming to rule on a matter in a way directly contrary to Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], particularly where another person is involved; all the more so that she is bent on attaining madregos [levels]....
7 Iyar 5760
Positive mitzva 152: looking for the prescribed indications among fish
By this injunction we are commanded concerning the tokens of cleanliness in fishes, defined in the Torah as (Lev. 11:9): "These you may eat of all that are in the waters, etc." On the basis of these signs we are obligated to decide which fish are kosher and which are not, as it states (Lev. 20:25): "You shall separate between the clean beast and the unclean."
We are now in the period of Sefirat Ha'Omer, the counting of the omer. The mitzva to count the days between Passover and Shavuot is unique, as alluded to in the commandment, "And you shall count to yourselves." This means that each and every Jew must conduct his own individual count; on the fiftieth day, he celebrates the festival of Shavuot.
In this respect, Shavuot is different from all other holidays, for which the Torah gives us a specific date. By contrast, Shavuot is described only as the "fiftieth day."
Thousands of years ago, when the calendar was fixed according to eyewitnesses and the months of Nisan and Iyar could have either 29 or 30 days, it sometimes happened that Shavuot fell out on the 5th or 7th of Sivan, rather than the 6th. Even today it is possible that a person will celebrate Shavuot on the 5th or 7th of Sivan, if, during Sefirat Ha'Omer, he crossed the International Date Line. In that case, the individual must continue his own count, rather than adapt to the local one. Depending on which direction he was traveling, his celebration of Shavuot will be one day earlier or later than everyone else's.
However, because the Torah was actually given on the 6th of Sivan, a person celebrating Shavuot on another date cannot include the words "the time of the giving of the Torah" in his prayers. Shavuot thus has two components: a personal factor, dependent on one's service, and one that is decreed from Above.
This contains a lesson for every Jew: Through personal effort (the refinement of all 49 different aspects one's character, which is the spiritual service of Sefirat Ha'Omer), a person can merit to receive the Torah, even if others have not yet prepared themselves sufficiently. At the same time, there are certain aspects of Torah that can only be granted from Above at specific, auspicious time, which are determined only by G-d.
And G-d said to Moses: Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron (Lev. 21:1)
The words of G-d are described as "holy utterances"; the Torah's strictures concerning ritual purity and impurity were given to the Jews because they are holy and pure, and must therefore conform to a higher level of sanctity than other nations. An analogy is given of a king's son and a peasant: The king's son will sicken very quickly if he eats coarse food, but the peasant is better able to tolerate it. Because Jews are so spiritually refined, they must be careful to avoid even the slightest impurity. (Divrei Shaarei Chaim)
And you shall sanctify [the priest], for the bread of your G-d does he offer; holy he shall be to you, for I am the L-rd Who sanctifies you, I am holy (Lev. 21:5)
Despite the fact that the kohanim (priests) derive their sustenance from your donations of food, you must never treat them with disrespect or contempt. When a person gives food to a holy person or a Torah scholar, it is considered the same as bringing an offering in the Holy Temple. The service of the kohanim is the channel through which G-d sanctifies the entire Jewish people, and they should be treated accordingly. (Ktav Sofer)
Whosoever of your seed in their generations shall have a blemish shall not approach to offer the bread of his G-d (Lev. 21:17)
The specific defects that invalidate a kohen from performing the priestly service are physical manifestations of a spiritual defect. G-d, in His infinite wisdom, knows precisely which souls are worthy of offering sacrifices and those that are not. (Sefarim)
The festivals of G-d.these are My feasts: Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest (Lev. 23:2,3)
Shabbat is the "introduction" and gateway to all the Jewish holidays. In the Talmud our Sages note that had the Jewish people observed Shabbat properly, the nations of the world would have never had the power to abolish the High Court in Jerusalem (which determined by eyewitness when the festivals would occur). The sanctity of the festivals is thus dependent on the sanctity of the Sabbath. (M'lo HaOmer)
For many years the Jews of Bukhara were terribly persecuted by their Muslim neighbors. In one historical period, the Muslims enacted 18 separate laws designed to oppress them and cause public humiliation.
Failure to comply with any of these edicts was punished by whipping, having one's hands or feet cut off, and worse. If the infraction was more serious, the Muslim courts had no compunctions about sentencing a Jew to death.
In addition, whenever a Jew was arrested and imprisoned he would be subjected to immense pressure to convert to Islam, lured by the promise of a reduced sentence. The Muslims believed that their religion compelled them to convert as many Jews as possible. It was not unheard of for Jewish children to be kidnapped from their homes.
In the event that a Jew did convert, willingly or unwillingly, his every step was eagerly scrutinized. If it was discovered that he had retained any Jewish custom or practice, he was immediately put to death.
The story of Khudadad, a young Bukharan Jew whose Hebrew name was Netanel, took place approximately 200 years ago. One day Khudadad was walking through the streets of the city when he thought he recognized an old childhood friend. Without thinking twice, the young man said hello and extended his hand in greeting. The stranger took the outstretched hand and shook it before he could see to whom it belonged.
It was then that the unfortunate error was discovered. The stranger was not an old acquaintance but, in fact, a religious Muslim, whose hand Khudadad was prohibited from shaking by law. The Muslim was very upset by what had happened. Through no fault of his own he had allowed himself to be disgraced publicly.
Khudadad was the first to recover. In an attempt to smooth things over and dissuade the Muslim from hauling him off to the nearest police station, he clapped him on the shoulder. This, of course, only incensed the Muslim further, who even more than he hated Jews was worried about what his friends might say if they saw him. "No matter, my friend," Khudadad said with a smile. "Do we not all believe in the same G-d and agree that He alone is the Creator of the world?"
The Muslim, who by then had gathered his wits, seized the Jew's words as if he had suddenly stumbled upon a great treasure. "Did you hear that?" he cried out in a loud voice to the crowd of onlookers. "This young Jew just accepted the Muslim religion upon himself!"
Khudadad was immediately led to the emir's palace, where the Muslim testified that the Jew had converted to Islam of his own free will. Several Muslim bystanders also swore that they had heard the Jew's declaration of belief in G-d and the prophet Muhammad with their own two ears.
Khudadad realized that he was in far more trouble than he would have faced for merely shaking a Muslim's hand. "They're lying - it just isn't true!" he protested, but no one believed him. The emir accepted the witnesses' testimony and pronounced Khudadad an authentic Muslim.
But the young Jew was unwilling to cut himself off from his Judaism, even outwardly. "You can believe whatever you want, but I was born a Jew and I'll die a Jew," he insisted. In the face of such sacrilege the emir had no choice but to throw Khudadad into prison.
The leaders of the Bukharan Jewish community did everything they could to save him, but the only concession they won (with the help of a sizeable bribe) was that Khudadad was allowed to remain under house arrest until his trial.
Even though the outcome of the trial was a fait accompli, Khudadad conducted himself calmly during this period, offering encouragement to his parents, brothers and sisters, and young wife. "Just make sure to tell my children when they grow up that their father sacrificed his life for G-d and for the honor of the Torah," he told them.
On the day of the trial a huge crowd of Muslims and Jews gathered around the emir's palace, waiting tensely to hear the verdict. Again Khudadad was offered the opportunity to save his life by accepting Islam.
But Khudadad remained unimpressed, and with a disdainful smile he refused their gesture. "Hurry up and carry out your sentence," he declared. "My revenge will ultimately be taken by the G-d of truth." That very day Khudadad was executed.
The story of Khudadad, the young Jew who bravely sanctified the name of G-d, was passed down from generation to generation, and later greatly encouraged the Jews of Bukhara under the totalitarian Communist regime. At the end of the nineteenth century his children emigrated to the Holy Land and settled in Jerusalem, and many of his descendents are today pious Jews and Chasidim.
The Chofetz Chaim wrote: "G-d forbid that we despair of Moshiach's coming because of his delay. We must stand ready and await salvation as it is written, 'await him.' One must stand alert for Moshiach as one would stand awaiting another person. Perhaps at this very moment he is already standing behind the wall." (Awaiting Redemption, Ch. 2)