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There is a loud crunching sound. You look around wondering if anyone else hears it. Everybody else seems to be oblivious to the noise, or perhaps they are just being polite. You wonder, don't they notice it too?
But, of course, they don't hear the sound because it's you who is munching on the celery or chomping on the carrot. Since you are the perpetrator of this cacophonous conduct and the clamor is emanating from inside your head it resonates in your ears, blocking out other more subtle sounds. But ask someone seated just a few feet away from you if they can hear you chewing and they will assure you that they don't detect anything.
Perhaps it is for this very reason that the great Jewish thinker and sage, Rabbi Joshua ben P'rachya taught (Pirkei Avot 1:6) "Provide yourself with a master; acquire for yourself a friend; and judge every person favorably."
When a person finds himself in a situation where he has to make a big decision, he's sure to "chew" it over or "ruminate" on it for awhile. But, inevitably, whatever thoughts or opinions are in that person's head will come through loudest and clearest, making an objective decision essentially impossible.
However, if a person takes Rabbi Joshua's teaching to heart, he will find a "master," someone he respects and whose opinion he values. A master is not a friend whose advice we solicit but when we don't like the recommendation we ignore it. A master, or rav in the original Hebrew, is someone whose wisdom and knowledge of Torah teachings guide his advice, someone who will tailor his counsel to the person's nature, character and unique situation.
Consulting with a "master" when making decisions that affect one's quality of life will enable a person to come to conclusions that are acceptable to himself, pleasant to those around him, and pleasing to G-d.
It is worthy to note that Rabbi Joshua was a nasi, a leader of the Jewish people. That it was Rabbi Joshua who presented this advice teaches us that even someone of a very high stature, a person who is very learned and who has perhaps even reached the peak of human perfection, should humble himself and seek a teacher or "master."
Rabbi Joshua also recommends that we "acquire a friend." Jewish teachings speak of the importance of friendship and urge us to exert ourselves in these relationships. Unlike a master, though, a friend is a peer, someone on our own level who can share the trials and tribulations of life with us. They've been there and done that (or they're in the process).
The Hebrew words for "acquire" can also be understood as "buy." Rabbi Joshua is not suggesting that we "buy" our friends. Rather, we should know that even if we have to go out of our way, to give of ourselves, we must do so in order to nurture friendships.
Whether master or friend, another person will help us filter out our more personal ruminations and cogitations allowing us to really "chew over" the matter in a more objective manner.
In the portion of Naso, the Torah commands the Jew to bring the first of his harvest to the Holy Temple. This is the mitzva of bikurim, first fruits, through which the Jew thanks G-d for His abundance.
But what is actually done with the first fruits after they are brought? The Torah states: "Every offering.which they bring to the priest, shall be his." Our Sages explain that this means that the produce is to be given to the priests.
Why is the Torah so circuitous? Why does it instruct us to bring the first fruits "to the House of the L-rd," rather than telling us directly to give them the priests?
The Torah's directive to bring the bikurim "to the House of the L-rd" is intended to establish the awareness that the first fruits do not belong to the individual, but to G-d. Their rightful place is therefore in the Holy Temple, G-d's "House." Once this fundamental principle has been acknowledged, G-d gives us the practical instruction of what to do with them.
The first fruits are the finest and most select portion of the crop, the result of a great deal of effort on the part of the farmer. For months he has worked the land and tended it carefully. Nonetheless, after all this exertion, the Torah commands him to bring the very best of his yield to the Holy Temple and give it to the priest.
In truth, the mitzva of bikurim contains a fundamental lesson to be applied in our daily lives, in all times and circumstances. It teaches that a Jew must always give G-d the first and best of all his labors. Whenever G-d grants us success and abundance, the finest portion must always be set aside for charity.
The Evil Inclination sometimes tries to dissuade us. It's only right to give charity to the poor, it may whisper, but why do we have to give the very best? Or, once the person accepts that he should part with his money, it tries to convince him to give it to a nameless institution rather than a specific individual. Or if he already agrees to help the needy, the Evil Inclination might advise him to divide his money among many poor people rather than hand over the fruit of his labors to one person.
Therefore, the Torah makes it clear that a Jew must always remember that his "first fruits" belong to the "House of the L-rd your G-d." If the Evil Inclination tries to interfere with a person's good intentions, the reason is that he has not fully relinquished the claim on his material goods. If he were to truly recognize that the money he gives to charity is not really his, he would not be troubled by these thoughts. The next step, of actually deciding where the money will do the most good, will then flow naturally and easily, rendering him even more worthy of G-d's blessing.
Adapted from Vol. 8 of Likutei Sichot
Angel From Montgomery
by Jonathan Mark
Tolstoy tells the story of an angel disconsolate over the world's random sadness. Who, after all, understands the reason for Jobian tests such as the early death of a parent, or the abandonment of children through bitter circumstance? G-d's answer to this angel was to throw him out of the leaden sky and into the Russian snow. There, vulnerable and mortal, he learns that no one is really abandoned but is buoyed by the acts of grace by those living in G-d's name.
If any fallen angels are reading this-you know who you are-fall out of the sky to Montgomery Street in Brooklyn. You'll meet a woman there, Devorah Benjamin, of humble means. Unlike chasidic legend, she and her husband Shmuel never caught a fish in whose belly was a diamond. That would be too easy. G-d has given this Lubavitch husband and wife nothing more than the simple salary earned by pre-school teachers in frugal yeshivas. They live with their two children in a modest two-bedroom apartment-but to close your eyes there is to be in a tabernacle, a place where angels are taught lessons.
Devorah, 27, knows of the random sadness and so she has taken it upon herself to help those without parents or those without money at that particularly lonely age when one wonders about affording a date or, dare they dream, a wedding.
Many are orphans, children of broken homes, or disowned by non-Orthodox parents in vengeance for their child becoming chasidic. "Some," she says, "come for money, for advice, to help pay for a date, to pay for clothing or to buy a gift."
Devorah estimates that, "Thank G-d, I have raised with the help of my husband and a few friends over $250,000 and made over 500 weddings" since 1992. The official name of her tax-deductible operation is Keren Simchas Chosson VeKallah, the foundation for the happiness of bride and groom, and Devorah says she runs it out of her apartment without taking a nickel for herself.
She says of one groom-to-be: "He lost his father when he was seven years old. His mother is Russian." She bought him a new shirt and gave him $50 for a taxi in which to transport his date.
Where does she get the money? "I go to door-to-door," she answers. How much can she raise door-to-door? "I do it by miracles. I have to raise $1,000, maybe $2,000 a week. Purim time, here in Crown Heights, in the shuls, we went around with a bucket and raised $10,000, just coins and dollar bills. It's a very special community, Crown Heights.
"Sometimes when my landlady gets money that's dropped off, she won't tell me who gave it because people want to give anonymously. I get $10 from one, $100 in pennies from another. People don't realize what pennies can do. I took the pennies and bought one fellow some clothes."
Devorah says one upcoming wedding will cost "about $12,000 and I'll contribute between $5,000 and $7,000. Next Thursday, I'm making a whole wedding for 120 guests for $6,000."
When it comes to making weddings for the poor-sometimes three or four a month-the entire chasidic neighborhood helps out.
"We use a one-piece band," says Devorah. "My photographer gives me a break. The bridal gown is loaned. The officiating rabbi doesn't charge. The flowers might be donated. The caterers give me a break. Someone does the makeup for the brides, free. We order basic invitations. Everything is simple, but kovodik [with dignity]. We don't want anyone to be embarrassed."
No matter the extra expense, there's always a large table for more than a dozen uninvited people that might walk in off the street in need of a hot meal and a simcha. If the bride and groom have small families or no families, the Benjamins might invite boys and girls dorming in nearby yeshivas to "come and dance and make it very leibidik [lively], to make the chosson and kallah happy," says Devorah. "The main thing is the simcha."
A few years ago she was exhausted, "I was thinking of stopping. We had just done three major weddings. I felt overwhelmed. I wanted to ask the Rebbe what I should do. So I took down a book of the Rebbe's letters, and on the very page I opened, there was a letter the Rebbe wrote years ago to someone else: 'Thank you for continuing your holy work. The money you collect should go for clothes and jewelry for the wedding.' "
Now, says Devorah, "Every guy that comes to my house, I make sure that he has clothes to wear and a piece of jewelry to give to his bride."
One Brooklyn mother told us, "Devorah's helping me pay for whatever I can't do, even for the paper goods for the Shabbos Kallah," the gathering of the bride's friends and families on the Shabbat before the wedding. The Chasidic mother explains that she tries to make ends meet, "but with six children and three foster children..."
Another bride, Miriam, a young woman from Argentina, explains that her mother still lives in their rural hometown and her father died when she was 13. Devorah was making her wedding.
Miriam says she grew up "totally secular," but three years ago met a Chabad rabbi in Buenos Aires. "Six months later, I was in Machon Chana," a seminary for newly observant women in Crown Heights.
"All the time in Machon Chana," says Miriam, "I saw Devorah Benjamin helping the other girls. No one calls Devorah; when a girl becomes engaged, Devorah calls the kallah, offering help. Even if they don't need the money, maybe they need her advice on where to get the best things. But most girls in Machon Chana do need financial help. Devorah will buy the bride gifts for her chosson, such as a tallis and a kiddush cup."
Let's take our leave. Watch through the windows of this small apartment on Montgomery Street. There's Devorah on the phone, surely making arrangements. In the living room, Shmuel talks to a groom-to-be. Perhaps it is for people like this, in every generation, that G-d Himself made the Israelites His bride under the clouds of that desert mountain.
Reprinted from The Jewish Week. To reach Devorah Benjamin call her at (718) 778-6239 or e-mail DGold41431@aol.com
NEW CENTER IN BUCHAREST
Rabbi Naftali and Risha Deutsch recently arrived in Bucharest, Romania to head Chabad-Lubavitch activities there. In addition to their involvement at The Lauder School, the only Jewish day school in Romania (where Mrs. Deutsch is the Jewish studies principal), they conduct Torah study classes for college students and community members, Shabbat dinners, holiday programs and are also involved in t he recontruction of an old mikva in the city, in cooperation with the established Jewish community.
19th of Tammuz, 5720 
I received your letter of the l6th of Sivan, and I was pleased to read in it about your efforts to strengthen and spread Yiddishkeit among the youth. As for suggestions as to how best to carry this out, this is a matter which depends primarily on local conditions. Therefore, it would be best for you to consult with some local friends who have interest, and experience in such activity. Needless to say, the same applies to the question of a committee on scholarships for boys to go to Brunoy. As G-d rewards in kind, but in a most generous measure, your efforts to help others will bring you G-d's blessings in your needs....
Now to refer to the question which you have been asked as to the reasons why G-d does one thing this way and another thing that way, etc. The whole question has fundamentally no basis. By way of illustration, suppose a small child, whose only interest is in food, toys and the like, would be asked to explain a profound philosophical problem, or the construction of an intricate machine. This would certainly be considered absurd, although the difference between the small child and the philosopher or the engineer is only a difference in degree. It would be even more absurd to expect a human being to understand G-d's reasons, for the difference between a human being and G-d is absolute, namely, the difference between a created being and the Creator.
If sometimes certain aspects of Divine Providence are questioned, it is only in cases where other human beings are involved, as for instance, the question of why some righteous people seem to be suffering and others seem to be prosperous. The reason such a question is asked is because there seems to be a contradiction between the qualities of the two persons and their experiences in life. On the other hand, the question why did G-d create the world is one that lies entirely in the realm of the Creator. Similarly, why did G-d create the world in this way and not in another way?
Parenthetically, I wish to add that it is true that some people attempt to answer such ques tions. But this should not be taken to mean that the question itself is a legitimate one, that is to say, a question which begs to be answered, and if we do not know the answer, we are deficient in our understanding. It is only that in some instances G-d has revealed to us additional knowledge, but even if He did not, it would still not reflect on man's necessary knowledge, inasmuch as such additional knowledge is out of his range.
To illustrate this, as above: If a child, at the proper age, should not know the ABC, or how to use a fork and knife, etc., this would be a defect on his level, where as it would not be a defect if he did not know philosophy or mechanics. On the other hand, there may be a possibility where the engineer would attempt to give the child some rudimentary knowledge about the construction of a machine, or the philosopher might use a simple parable to put across some element of his philosophy, in a way that the child might grasp it.
On the questions of the meaning of the Hebrew word Adam in relation to the soul of the first man, needless to say, Adam, and similarly, Noah, were the fathers of all the peoples of the earth. Generally speaking, until our father Abraham was born, there was no distinction between Jew and non-Jew, although, insofar as their souls were concerned, in their very root, the distinction was implicit.
By way of illustration: When a baby is born, there is no differentiation in the embryo between the various limbs of the body, such as between the head and foot. Later on, however, the organ develops in such a way that the head and brain develop out of a more delicate part than the foot, although previously there was no differentiation between delicate and non-deli cate parts, as there was only one entity.
I have, thus, answered your questions, although I must say that I am not at all pleased at the fact that you take up so much time with such questions. For, as the Old Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman], the founder of Chabad, writes in Iggeres Hakodesh - all Jews are believers, the sons of believers, who believe in simple faith that G-d created the world and gave us the Torah and mitzvos, giving humanity at large the seven basic mitzvos, including the said seven Noahide laws. Let me emphasize again that there is an essential distinction between any human being, and the brute animals and lower forms of creation.
Hoping to hear good news from you,
14 Sivan 5760
Positive mitzva 127: the first tithe
By this injunction we are commanded to set aside the tithe from the produce of the land [of Israel]. It is contained in the Torah's words (Num. 18:24): "For the tithe of the children of Israel, which they set apart as a gift to the L-rd." The Torah explains that this tithe belongs to the Levites.
This Shabbat we return to Chapter 1 of Ethics of the Fathers, which opens with the chain of transmission of the Torah: "Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly."
After providing us with the historical information of how the Torah has come down to us, the Mishna continues with the counsel of the Men of the Great Assembly: "They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment; raise up many disciples; and make a fence around the Torah."
At first glance, the transmission of the Torah and the advice of the Men of the Great Assembly appear to be unrelated. However, as they are included in the same Mishna, we know that they express a single theme and are somehow interconnected.
Moses received the Torah from G-d, but he did not stop there and keep the knowledge to himself. After Moses received the Torah he passed it on to others, ensuring that the Torah's influence would continue throughout the generations. This symbolizes the responsibility of every Jew: After the initial step of receiving the Torah, each of us must share our knowledge and extend the Torah's influence to our surroundings.
This underlying principle is reflected in the advice of the Men of the Great Assembly. The first step is to be "deliberate in judgment," nullified before the bearers of our sacred tradition in order to learn from them. The next step involves "raising up many disciples," teaching what we know to other Jews. Their final instruction is to "make a fence around the Torah," observing Torah and mitzvot with the utmost meticulousness, proudly transmitting our eternal heritage to the next generation.
So shall you bless (Num. 6:23)
The Torah's commandment to the kohanim (priests) was not meant as a command to bless the Jewish people but as an instruction how, i.e., in such and such a manner shall you bless them. For kohanim are by nature loving and giving; there was no need to order them to bless, merely to tell them what form it should take. (Rabbi Avraham Mordechai of Gur)
May the L-rd bless you and keep you (Num. 6:24)
The priestly blessing is in the singular tense, directed to each and every individual Jew. For the most important blessing they can receive is unity, that they join together as one person with one heart. (Olelot Efraim)
And he who offered his offering the first day was Nachshon, the son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah (Num. 7:12)
The order in which the leaders of the Twelve Tribes brought their sacrifices teaches the proper order of our Divine service: First came the tribe of Judah, from the Hebrew word meaning "to thank." This is symbolic of the first step in worshipping G-d, humility and acceptance of the yoke of Heaven. Next came the tribe of Issachar, whom the Torah describes as "men of understanding." This alludes to the second step, the study of Torah. The third tribe to make its offering was Zevulun, about whom it states, "Rejoice Zevulun, in your going out." This is symbolic of the third step, the practical performance of mitzvot. (Addendum to Ohr HaTorah)
Eliezer HaKohein Isaac told this amazing account of his World War II experience to his son-in-law, Yitzchak Hershkovitz, of Petach Tikvah.
I was in a concentration camp in Hungary, near the Romanian border, under the rule of the accursed Nazis. When their defeat was all but official, and the once-mighty German war machine was retreating in the face of the advancing Russian troops, rumors increased of the imminent arrival of the Russians. I and two others decided to attempt to escape from the sinister clasp of the Nazis and reach the presumably friendlier arms of the Russians.
Our plan was to sneak over at twilight, one by one, to the corral at the edge of the camp where the horses were kept. From there it would be easier to escape. As soon as it became dark, we would run as fast as we could into the nearby forest. The plot was fraught with danger and we well understood that if apprehended we would immediately be hanged, but the temptation of possible success outweighed our fear.
One evening, the guards seemed lax in their attention. We decided that this was it! Carefully, we slipped over to the corral in intervals. Each of us carried a brush for grooming the horses. If anyone stopped us, we would say we had come to care for the animals.
As soon as it became dark, we sprinted toward the forest. Much to our relief, no alarm was raised. Nevertheless, we knew we didn't have much time until our disappearance would become known and the pursuit would begin. So when we reached the forest, we decided to keep running for as long as our strength would hold out in the direction we estimated that the Russians were coming.
For several hours we ran through the thick forest. Suddenly we heard sounds from behind us, in the distance. Quickly we climbed as high as we could into three nearby tall trees and waited nervously.
The sounds became louder. It was the barking of dogs! After a while, we saw German soldiers with ferocious dogs. Thank heaven, neither soldiers nor animals noticed us as they whipped by and continued deeper into the forest.
We dared to hope that the Nazi beasts would not expend much more time hunting for us: the chances of finding us in the pitch darkness were slim, and they would have to worry about running into the advancing Soviet troops. So it was. After a few hours, we saw them heading back in the direction of the camp.
Even after they were gone, we remained in our trees until we were absolutely convinced that none of our pursuers had remained in the area. Then we descended and resumed our trek. Although we were already exhausted, we pushed ourselves to kept moving until daylight penetrated the dense green overhead. Then, after some looking about, we found a well-hidden pit where, on the verge of imminent collapse, we felt confident enough to curl up and sleep.
At dusk, we emerged and began to walk again. For three days we traveled by night and slept during the day. Towards morning of the fourth day, we spotted in the distance a clearing in the forest, with a house in the middle of it. We didn't detect any signs of life whatsoever. Convincing each other that it was safe, we gathered our nerve and entered.
After exploring every room, we concluded that the house was indeed abandoned. We went up to the roof and spread out thin mattresses of straw. Exhausted and physically broken, within a few minutes all three of us were sound asleep in a deep slumber.
I don't know how many hours we slept, but our wakening was instantaneous and frightening. The door crashed loudly open with a kick! If it was Germans, we were doomed. Even if they were Russian soldiers, it might not help us much; they tended to shoot first and ask questions only afterwards.
As we bolted upright, I heard a scream of "Sh'ma Yisrael-Hear O Israel," followed immediately by a quick order barked in Russian. Three Russian officers appeared in our line of vision, led by an officer. The muzzles of their rifles were aimed directly at our foreheads.
We froze. It took me a few seconds to sort out my perceptions, whereupon I realized that the piercing shout of "Sh'ma Yisrael" had come from Bernhard, while the order in Russian had burst forth from the officer.
It turned out that they were a patrol whose job was to hunt for German soldiers trying to escape or in hiding. The commanding officer was a Jewish doctor serving in the Russian army. As soon as he heard "Sh'ma Yisrael," he had instinctively roared the command, "Hold your fire."
Amazing! Bernhard's cry from the depths of his soul had saved our three lives. The most surprising thing was that he, unlike myself and our other companion, was a totally non-religious assimilated Jew! In fact, only his mother was Jewish, which had made him "just half-Jewish" in the eyes of our cruel captors, and as such wore a white ribbon on his arm instead of a yellow one.
To this day, two questions from this harrowing turning point in my life gnaw at my mind. Why didn't the quick-triggered Russians shoot us as soon as they spotted us on the roof? And how could it be that Bernhard, an assimilated Jew in his own eyes as well as in everyone else's, was the one who cried out "Sh'ma" so quickly and instinctively?
I guess I'll never know. But one thing I certainly learned from that incredible episode: hidden in the heart of every Jew is an extraordinary Jewish soul, waiting to assert itself at that moment of truth.
Translated/adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles for Ascent in Sfat, Israel. Visit their website at www.ascent.org.il
At the time of the Resurrection of the Dead, bodies will not be born of a father and mother, but will be vivified from "the Dew of Resurrection." Accordingly, they will be holy and pure, and live eternally. They will resemble the body of Adam, "the handiwork of the Holy One, blessed be He," which was utterly pure and refined. (From a discourse of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn)