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You go past a spanking new, sparkling clean, stretch-limo and wonder why on earth anyone needs one. Is the oversized luxury vehicle not the ultimate example of pretention and ostentatious consumerism?
Then you think again about when a stretch-limo could be used and you come up with an answer that makes sense. You imagine, with a laugh, a group of people: men in tails, women in long gowns and furs, climbing out of a van or a mini-bus and into an elegant ballroom. You realize that, despite the extra cost of a stretch-limo, there is a time and place for elegance.
Without too much digging, you can find this concept within Judaism, too. It's called, in general terms, beautifying a mitzva. "Why spend $40 on a mezuza when you can get a perfectly 'kosher' one for $25?" some people ask. "Where are your priorities if you spend money on a silver Chanuka menora even though you aren't well-off?" others might further question.
Back in the old country, people would scrimp and save a whole week long so that they could have challa on Shabbat instead of black bread, a little piece of fish and a bite of chicken. They did without so they could honor the Sabbath in a manner they felt was fitting.
Today, adding beauty to a mitzva can take the form of buying more expensive objects with which to perform those mitzvot. Of course, beautifying a mitzva doesn't have to entail money at all. It can mean observing a precept a little more carefully, thereby adding honor or glory to its performance. Or it can even be giving charity to a poor person with a genuinely warm smile.
We are not obligated to enhance the way we do a mitzva. However, Jews have been doing just that for thousands of years. In fact, this concept is based on a verse which describes the reaction of the Children of Israel at the splitting of the Red Sea. Upon witnessing miracles and actually seeing G-dliness at that time, the Israelites proclaimed: "This is my G-d and I will glorify Him." The Talmud comments that this verse refers to making sure one has a beautiful talit, and beautiful tefilin and mezuzot.
We can discharge our obligation by just doing the mitzva. But, it's certainly nicer to add to its beauty. It's a little like driving to a thousand dollar per person evening in a van: you'll get there just like everyone else. But wouldn't it be a lot nicer if you arrived in style?
The Torah portion of Beha'alotcha contains the mitzva of Pesach Sheini, the "second Passover." If a person was ritually unclean or "on a distant journey" on the 14th of Nisan, and therefore unable to bring the Pascal offering to the Holy Temple, he is permitted to do so one month later, on the 14th of Iyar.
Our Sages offer several explanations of what is meant by "on a distant journey." One interpretation is that the person was physically unable to reach the Temple courtyard in time for the offering to be slaughtered. Rashi, however, opines that even one who was standing just outside the courtyard and could have easily entered but chose not to is also considered to have been "on a distant journey." In other words, even though his failure to bring an offering seems to have been deliberate, the Torah allows him a second chance on Pesach Sheini.
The reason is that a distinction is made between a person who deliberately refuses to bring a sacrifice (even though he is present in the courtyard), and one who simply refuses to enter. In the first case, not bringing the Pascal offering is a punishable offense, as it states, "And his soul shall be cut off from his people." In the second instance the Torah is more lenient, and rules that the person's deliberate act consisted of not entering the courtyard, rather than in refusing to offer a sacrifice. If he wasn't in the right place at the right time, he couldn't bring the Pascal offering, and is thus given a second opportunity to do so.
In truth, however, Jewish law allows everyone to make amends, even the person who was present in the courtyard and refused to bring a sacrifice. According to Maimonides, the punishment of excision only applies if he didn't do so one month later, on Pesach Sheini.
Pesach Sheini is thus symbolic of a Jew's ability to rectify all transgressions, even the most deliberate. It is never too late to make amends; a Jew can always correct a past misdeed, and G-d will always be willing to accept him.
This principle also helps us understand the nature of the Final Redemption with Moshiach, whose arrival is imminent. Unlike previous redemptions in Jewish history, when Moshiach comes, not one Jew will be left behind in exile. Even Jews who don't want to be redeemed will be included with the rest of the Jewish people, as G-d has promised: "And it will come to pass on that day, that the great shofar will be blown, and [even] those who were lost in the land of Assyria will come, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and they will worship the L-rd at the holy mount in Jerusalem."
Adapted from Volume 8 of Likutei Sichot
EYES THAT SEE
by Avraham Schapiro
In his refined, unassuming way my father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Schapiro of blessed memory, enriched the minds and kindled the souls of thousands of students and eased the burdens of countless fellow Jews. He was an educator par excellence and continually showed his love for his fellow Jew with practical actions.
My father was dearly beloved and respected by his students and their parents. He succeeded as an educator not only because of his innate ability to explain, clarify and bring to life the words of our holy Torah (and then patiently repeat the process if necessary), but also and primarily because he cared. He listened with his ears and with his head and his heart. He spoke with "his children," i.e., his students, encouraged them warmly and chided them gently. He beamed at their accomplishments and cried in their pain. His devotion was total. The children picked this all up and so they learned from him and emulated his ways.
Upon the advice of the Rebbe and in keeping with his natural inclination, my father began teaching in the Lubavitcher Yeshiva of the Bronx soon after his marriage. Thus began a very successful career in Jewish education which lasted for 19 years until it abruptly ended on 24 Sivan, 1990.
After seven productive years in the Bronx, my father was recruited by the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education to work with the recently arrived young boys from Iran. He proved that genuine concern and love for a child can break barriers and spark the soul.
In 1980 my father joined the staff of Oholei Torah, where he was to remain as a teacher and later as assistant principal.
A Chasid is one who says little, thinks more, does even more and all of this, through his own effort. A Chasid, too, strives for the essence as he focuses on the deed. My father was a Chasid.
My father firmly believed that no child was hopelessly beyond help-a philosophy which he pursued with a passion. The dozens of parents whose children my father helped can attest to his stubborn conviction that every child can be reached and every child can succeed.
Countless testimonies to my father's acts of kindness have come to light and these, it seems, are a drop in the reservoir of his good deeds.
An acquaintance once happened to mention to my father that he needed a substantial sum of money for his business. He was not soliciting funds, for he knew my father was a man of limited means. How surprised the man was when my father brought over a loan to him for the full amount the next day.
Rabbi Hershel Lustig, principal of Oholei Torah, said this of my father: "As a teacher Rabbi Schapiro was the most inspiring on the faculty. His students were enthusiastic about learning and worked hard to acquire sterling qualities. As an assistant principal, he was selfless in his devotion to the school. His main concern was to help whoever needed help. Assistant a struggling student to succeed, cheering up a troubled child, guiding a parent in the difficult task of raising children; these were only some of the ways our yeshiva and community benefited from him.
"He was a dear friend of mine but I didn't know him at all. For ten years we worked closely together and I knew nothing of the many hundreds of people he helped. He never breached their confidence."
At a gathering at the end of the week of mourning, many people spoke. A nine-year-old student related, "I had the great honor of knowing Rabbi Schapiro. Once, there was a boy in yeshiva who had not come to school for many days. Rabbi Schapiro called his house. He found out that the boy did not have shoes. He took money out of his own pocket and bought the boy shoes so he could come to school.
"Last Wednesday, my parents had to go away and gave me money to buy supper. When school ended I didn't have the money in my pocket anymore. I went to look for it and came late for the bus. Rabbi Schapiro asked me why I was late and I told him what had happened. He reached into his pocket and took out money and gave it to me. He told me, 'Ess Gezunterheit' (eat heartily)."
A parent said, "Rabbi Schapiro always knew what was needed-whether it was a child in need of guidance or the parents in need of advice. He would take our problems and break them down into manageable parts. An overwhelmed parent could speak freely, for he was never judgmental. A parent always left an encounter with Rabbi Schapiro with his or her self-esteem intact. Rabbi Schapiro's wonderful humanity encouraged everyone to seek his guidance in personal matters."
I heard another "typical" story about my father's great kindness and sensitivity. One frigid morning my father saw a boy bracing himself against the cold. His eyes, "the windows for his heart," saw this sight and was troubled. He approached the boy inquiring, "Why aren't you wearing a winter coat?" The boy said that since winter came suddenly, his mother had not yet mended his old coat.
Being aware of the family's financial plight and pride, he strove to find a solution that would maintain the family's dignity. That very day, during an assembly, a surprise raffle was held. The proud winner, who just happened to be this young boy, was told to wait for his prize in my father's office. The prize-a new winter jacket, which the boy was sent to pick up immediately at a neighborhood clothing store.
Upon the boy's departure from his office, my father made two calls. He called the store and asked that the student be fitted in the coat of his choice and my father would pay for it. My father then telephoned the mother, informing her that her son had won a raffle at the assembly and was on his way to pick up his reward.
These are only a few of the many special memories that people have of my father, may his kindness, caring and humility be a lesson for all to emulate, until we are reunited with the coming of Moshiach.
Eternal Joy, Vol. II
This second volume of Eternal Joy is culled from the Rebbe's letters and personal responses to people who turned to him during this crucial period in their lives or in the lives of their loved ones, regarding marriage. Eternal Joy assembles these warm and thought-provoking pearls of the Rebbe's wisdom as well as excerpts of the Rebbe's public addresses on the topic. Written by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English.
NO REAL CONFLICT BETWEEN SCIENCE AND FAITH
The date of this letter was unavailable
...You write that although many apparent contradictions between religion and science have been explained to you in a way that they could be individually acceptable to you, you find it hard to accept them in total. You attribute this difficulty to your background, which taught you to think for yourself at every phase, having been brought up in a public school and high school, instead of in a Yeshivah atmosphere. But it is not your being trained to think for yourself that is your difficulty, but rather your inability to think straight in this matter, because of the prejudice which was acquired - consciously and even more subconsciously during these formative years, which you spent in an atmosphere which was alien to the point of view of the Torah, while the Torah viewpoint has come to you only recently.
It is therefore not surprising that whenever any detail comes up which apparently is in conflict with your former attitude, you find it difficult to accept, in the belief that everything must strictly conform to your former viewpoint, without stopping to examine what of that viewpoint represents truly scientific criteria.
I believe I once pointed out to you that the behavior of any individual is, in 90% or more of his actions, determined not by rational thought, but habit and faith in the authority of other people. Just consider your own actions, from the moment of your awakening in the morning until you go to sleep at night, and ask yourself which and how many of them you perform on the basis of scientific analysis or any kind of premeditation?
And here is another point to bear in mind. Precisely from the point of view of modern science - more than at any time in the past - it is clear that there can be no real conflict whatsoever between science and faith. Modern science upholds the view that there is no longer any immutable physical laws, that everything is relative, and that the so-called laws are no more than probabilities.
Modern science no longer claims absolute certainty in the physical world. The fact that a certain thing behaves in a certain way today, is no conclusive evidence that the same thing behaved in the same way 5000 to 6000 years ago, or that it will behave the same way a thousand years hence unless all other things are equal, including all external physical conditions of atmosphere, outer space, temperature, pressure, etc., not to mention human nature which is also changeable. And even then, all things being equal, modern science will say that the past behavior of a certain thing in a certain way offers us no certainty that it will behave that way, but only the "chances" are that it will.
Clearly, therefore, modern science cannot presume to judge with any degree of certainty the truths which our religion proclaims. The most science could say is that these truths are more or less probable. Obviously, there is no room here to speak of any conflict between science and faith.
Finally to refer to your statement that your attitude to Yiddishkeit is based on your faith in a certain person, let me say that in truth this is no means the whole story. To illustrate:
If a spark sets off a powder-keg, the resulting explosion in all its force cannot be attributed to the spark "exclusively", for the spark was no more than the immediate cause setting off the reaction. The energy released was already contained in the powder-keg. Similarly, every Jew already contains a Divine soul and all the potential energy, except that it is sometimes inactive, or that it is only active in a limited way. When it comes in contact with a person, or with an event or an experience, which sets in motion a chain reaction releasing the potential energy already contained in the Divine soul, the reaction is indeed deep-rooted and by no means dependent on the external cause.
I send you my personal wishes for growing faith in G-d, Whose Divine Providence extends to everyone individually, and that you strengthen your bonds with the Source of all life and all good, that is G-d, through the daily observance of the Torah and Mitzvos, which will give you peace of mind, true happiness and success in all your undertakings.
23 Sivan 5760
Positive mitzva 132: recital upon bringing bikurim (first fruits)
By this injunction we are commanded, upon bringing the first fruits, to recite the favors G-d has bestowed upon us: how He delivered us from the trials of Jacob, and from the slavery and afflictions of the Egyptians, and to thank and implore Him to perpetuate His blessing. It is contained in the words (Deut. 26:5): "You shall speak and say before the L-rd your G-d: 'A wandering Aramean was my father, etc."
G-d created the world so that there are always two paths from which a person must choose: a good path, and bad path. This is the fundamental doctrine of free will, which brings up the question: What effect can an individual Jew have on the coming Redemption with Moshiach? If the Messianic era is the culmination of history and is already "written into" G-d's plan for the world, how can human actions have any influence at all?
A basic principle in Judaism is that although G-d has given us free will, our choices can never "override" G-d's intentions. Our Sages said, "Everything is in G-d's hands except for fear of heaven." In truth, the capacity for free will has no effect on altering the direction of the world. Since the beginning of time, all of creation has been moving inexorably closer to its inevitable perfection. Today we are closer to Moshiach's arrival than yesterday, and that much closer than the day before. Our actions can only make it happen faster or temporarily delay the process, G-d forbid.
Think of it as riding on a train that is traveling to a certain destination. While some passengers may decide to walk backward to sit in the last few cars, they cannot stop it from arriving at the station or alter its path. Furthermore, when they finally realize that they're going in the wrong direction, it only makes them more eager to get to where they're going.
With his prophetic vision, the Rebbe has announced that the Messianic "train" is due to arrive at any moment, and asked us to increase our performance of mitzvot and good deeds. May our actions persuade the "Engineer" to "pull the throttle" full force, and transport us to the Final Redemption at once.
At the order of the L-rd the people of Israel journeyed, and at the order of the L-rd they camped (Num. 9:18)
All of a Jew's actions should be "at the order of the L-rd." Whenever one states a future plan, one should say, "I will do such and such, G-d willing," or "I will do such and such with G-d's help." Likewise, when a person is traveling and reaches his destination, he should declare, "I have come here with the help of G-d." The underlying idea is to always make mention of G-d. (Shaloh)
And the people of Israel also wept and said: Who shall give us meat to eat? (Num. 11:4)
In truth, the Jews had plenty of meat to eat in the desert, supplied by the sacrifices that were brought in the Tabernacle; the only restriction was on meat that had not been offered as a sacrifice. The meat of the sacrifices was permitted to be eaten within two days; thus even while traveling the Jews had a two-day supply. It wasn't until the third day of the journey that they began to complain, as they were still in transit and unable to erect the Tabernacle. (Rabbi Shaul of Amsterdam)
We remember the fish, which we ate in Egypt for nothing (Num. 11:5)
The world was created in such a way that whatever is associated with the "side of holiness" requires hard work and effort. By contrast, the spiritual emanations of the "other side" come easily. In Egypt, a place of moral depravity, the Jewish people had grown accustomed to receiving abundance "for nothing," without any effort on their part. When they left Egypt and realized that they would have to work to receive G-d's blessing, they rose up in protest. (Siddur Im Divrei Elokim Chaim)
And the man Moses was very humble, more so than anyone on the face of the earth (Num. 12:3)
The reason for Moses' humility was that he had attained the ultimate spiritual level of chochma, wisdom. For the greater a person's understanding and comprehension of G-d, the more it will cause him to feel completely nullified before Him. This humility will then be reflected in his relationship with human beings. (Likutei Torah)
There was once a Torah scholar named Reb Yosef who lived in the city of Nikopol, in northern Bulgaria. Although Reb Yosef's main interest and joy in life was the study of Torah, he insisted on supporting his family through the sweat of his own labor. To that end, he entered into a business partnership with an acquaintance and opened a store. But the division of labor would prove to be problematic.
Reb Yosef's daily schedule was as follows: After waking up early in the morning to pray, Reb Yosef would go to the study hall for several hours, and did not arrive in his store until noon. His partner, who had already been dealing with customers for several hours, eventually began to resent this arrangement. He respected his partner's diligence in Torah study, but at the same time needed help with the practical aspect of running a business.
Reb Yosef realized that his partner was right and remained silent. "But what can I do," he thought to himself, "if my love of Torah is so strong?"
One morning Reb Yosef was studying when someone raised a particularly complex question in Torah law. The heated discussion that ensued lasted for hours as all the scholars in the study hall attempted to answer it. By the time Reb Yosef looked up from his volume of Talmud it was already late in the afternoon.
When Reb Yosef finally arrived at the store his partner was furious. "That's it!" he fumed. "I've had enough of this joint venture!"
Reb Yosef asked his partner to wait one more day before dissolving the partnership, as he wished to consult with his wife. That evening he went home and asked her opinion. His wife, a righteous woman, advised him to continue learning, and not reduce the number of hours devoted to Torah study. "If your partner wishes to close one door to you, I have full faith that G-d, Who opens the gates of salvation, will surely unlock other channels through which to send His blessing."
Encouraged by his wife's words, the next day Reb Yosef returned to the store and announced that he was willing to end the partnership amicably. Reb Yosef was given half the value of the store's holdings and suddenly found himself unemployed.
"There's no point in letting the money just sit at home," his wife advised him the following morning. "Why don't you go to the marketplace and look for another business venture?" Reb Yosef agreed it was a good idea and set out at once. But he was so involved in his Torah thoughts that by force of habit his feet led him in the direction of the study hall, where he remained until evening. Only when his wife questioned him that night did he remember what he had set out to do. "Don't worry," he told her, "G-d will surely send something my way tomorrow."
The next day Reb Yosef had barely entered the marketplace when an unusually tall man approached him with a huge mortar and pestle for sale. Reb Yosef handed over all his money and bought the mortar and pestle with his last cent.
"What will we do with this old mortar and pestle?" his wife wondered when he returned home. But Reb Yosef wasn't worried and went off to the study hall.
Two days later Reb Yosef had a curious dream in which the tall man who had sold him the mortar and pestle told him a secret. "You should know," he revealed, "that good fortune has long been awaiting you, which was not meant to be shared by your former partner. That is why it was necessary that you part ways. But now that you're on your own, your hour has come.
"The mortar and pestle I sold you," he continued, "is made out of pure gold. You must learn its true worth before you can receive fair compensation. Then you must leave this place, as it is not where you belong. Go to the Land of Israel, and live in the city of Tzefat."
The next morning Reb Yosef recounted his dream to his wife, who immediately summoned a goldsmith for an appraisal. The goldsmith rubbed off the accumulated dust and dirt and was astonished by what he saw. "This mortar and pestle is made out of pure gold!" he told them, and determined that it was worth a fortune.
The mortar and pestle were quickly sold, and Reb Yosef and his wife moved to the Land of Israel and settled in Tzefat. In fact, the money they received from the sale was enough to support them for the rest of their lives.
But the thing that pleased Reb Yosef most was that it finally enabled him to publish his two greatest works, the Beit Yosef and Shulchan Aruch. For Reb Yosef was none other than Rabbi Yosef Karo, the famous medieval codifer of Rabbinic law.
Mundane entanglements, involvement with worldly matters, may be tiresome, difficult and distasteful for one who aspires to spritiual heights. They are, however, an integral part of the Divine plan, and as Chasidut explains: "The ultimate intent of the descent and exile is to prepare for an immense ascent when, in the days of Moshiach, the light of G-d will radiate in a manifest way!" (Living with Moshiach by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet)