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Game show hype aside, most of us have probably daydreamed about what it would be like to have oodles of money. We all make our mental lists of just how we would spend that elusive lottery jackpot or fantasy stock market windfall. Surely somewhere on the list we all write the name of a relative who could use a little financial assistance, a favorite charity to which we've always wanted to be a major donor, or an institution bursting at its seams that could use a new wing built in memory of a loved one. Somehow, with some of the money, we just know we could make a difference.
Perhaps your dream is not to be a millionaire, but to be a best-selling author. And what a bonus it would be if your book creates a grass-roots revolution to improve some small aspect of the quality of life somewhere in the world.
Or maybe you've always hoped to be in the spotlight. In addition to the accolades, you know that somewhere down the road you could become an advocate for a special cause and have an impact.
Whether it's a mere "fifteen minutes of fame" or a lifetime of distinction, every person wants and has his "hour." For this reason, the great Jewish teacher Ben Azzai stated (Ethics 4:3): "There is no person who does not have his hour, and nothing which does not have its place."
According to Jewish mystical teachings, each one of us has his own "hour" which he will ultimately fill with positive activities. These activities will have a lasting effect on the person and ultimately a beneficial impact on the world.
That each one of us has an "hour" obligates us to seek out worthwhile pursuits in order to make sure the hour is used to its fullest potential. And would it be so terrible if we filled not only one hour but many hours with good deeds, acts of kindness, Torah classes, etc.?
In addition, the knowledge that every person has "his" hour will help us interact appropriately with every individual. In fact, Ben Azzai prefaced his statement by enjoining us: "Do not regard anyone with contempt, and do not reject anything, for there is no person who does not have his hour, and nothing which does not have its place."
Our appreciation of the worth and value of everyone and everything is bolstered by our realization that each creature and creation makes a positive contribution to our world.
The story related in this week's Torah portion, Korach, contains a lesson for each and every Jew. Korach instigated a rebellion against Moses, for which he and his 250 followers were severely punished.
What do we know about Korach? The Torah relates that Korach was the descendent of one of the most prestigious Jewish families. An outstanding Torah scholar and wise man, he was also very wealthy. Additionally, Korach was on intimate terms with both Moses, the leader of the entire Jewish people, and his brother Aaron, the High Priest.
By contrast, one of Korach's followers, a man by the name of Ohn ben Pelet (the son of Pelet), was none of these. The Torah mentions nothing by which Ohn ben Pelet was distinguished. Ohn ben Pelet was neither particularly clever nor highborn.
It is therefore surprising that each of their lives took such an unexpected turn. In fact, the fates of Korach and Ohn ben Pelet were the exact opposite of what one might anticipate!
The well-connected and intellectually gifted Korach met a bitter end. Not only did he bring himself to ruin, but hundreds of unfortunate Jews who followed his example met with the same fate.
On the other hand, Ohn ben Pelet was saved, together with his entire family. Indeed, he was the only follower of Korach who escaped punishment.
What was the reason for these different outcomes? None other than the conduct of their respective wives, and the influence they wielded over their husbands.
At the very last second, the wife of Ohn ben Pelet rescued her entire family from destruction. His wife was a true "akeret habayit" (mainstay of the home), the epitome and embodiment of the highest ideals of Jewish womanhood.
Korach's wife, by contrast, aided and abetted her husband and his group of rebels through her actions and words. Instead of being an akeret habayit, the ikar (main component) and underlying foundation of the Jewish home, she chose to be an "okeret habayit," literally a woman who destroys and uproots her home.
This story, brought down in the Midrash, reveals the truly momentous responsibility that has been entrusted to the Jewish wife, underscoring her critical role and the extent to which her behavior affects her husband and family. For as King Solomon says in Proverbs, "The wisdom of women builds her house, but folly plucks it down with her hands."
Adapted from Volume 2 of Likutei Sichot
A Miraculous Story
by Rabbi Eliezer Avtzon
The year was 1941 and the world was the darkest it had ever been. In the midst of the horror, Hitler's Nazis turned on their loyal friends in the Kremlin and invaded the Soviet Empire.
My father's family was living in the city of Lughansk in Eastern Ukraine at the time. He had already been exiled to one of Stalin's colonies for "prisoners of the state." He spent over seven long, horrible years there for the "crime" of being a yeshiva bachur (student), otherwise known as a "counter-revolutionary."
Upon his release after the war, my father began a desperate search for his family. He had no idea what had happened to them, but his deep faith and relentless optimism drove him ceaselessly to try every avenue possible to find them.
He was told that there were no survivors from his town. The Nazis had surrounded and sealed off the city, rounding up all the Jews and killing them.
Bereft at the news, my father found himself with no choice but to accept the tragedy and mourn for his parents. Not knowing their actual date of death, he was instructed by his rabbis to commemorate his parents' yarzeit on the same day as he said the Kaddish for my mother's parents, who both died during the war of hunger.
Shortly thereafter, my parents, together with my mother's two surviving sisters, escaped Russia by posing as Polish citizens who had been given permission by the Russian regime to return to their homeland after the war.
From Poland they made their way to France where they lived for almost five years, finally immigrating to the United States with the help of HIAS in 1957. Through all the years, my father rarely spoke about his family. Any mention of them brought with it such terrible pain and nightmares about what they might have endured. He could not bear the thought that he had not been able to see them one more time or say good-bye to them.
What neither he nor any one else in our family knew all this time was that, in fact, his parents had actually escaped Lughansk six weeks before the Nazis sealed its borders.
In the chaos of the war years and their aftermath, so many people were lost that finding accurate information about what had happened to individuals was often impossible.
Now this story takes a leap forward to 1996. A granddaughter of my father's niece was working for the Jewish community in Kharkov, Ukraine under the leadership of Rabbi Moshe Moscowitz, the Rebbe's emissary to that city. She was the artist for his monthly magazine.
In the course of one of their many discussions, this young woman happened to mention to Rabbi Moscowitz that her grandmother had once told her that she (the grandmother) had an uncle, Meir Avtzon. She said that they had not heard anything of him since the war and she wondered whether the Rabbi might have ever heard of the Avtzon family.
Rabbi Moscowitz didn't have to look very far. He and I had been classmates and close friends and, at that time, in 1996, we were working together. The Global Jewish Association Relief Network (GJARN), which I direct, had opened an office in Kharkiv in 1992 and Rabbi Moscowitz and I were often in contact with one another. He immediately called me and I confirmed to him that my father's name is indeed Meir.
When I called my father, he couldn't comprehend what I was telling him. He had been convinced for so many years that his entire family was killed by the Nazis, that the shock of this news was more than he could accept on the spot.
Several more transatlantic phone calls were made, and after hearing all the names of his brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles, my father, with trembling hands, finally took the phone and spoke to his niece. It was the first time he had spoken to any member of his family in nearly 50 years.
One-and-one-half months later, on a routine visit to the Kharkov office, I went to visit my new relatives and bring them presents from America. Before I left to go there, my father sat down with a tape recorder and told his family everything that had happened to him since they lost contact with each other. He filled a 90-minute tape and could probably have filled many more.
During that trip when I first met my family, I learned all the exact dates of death of almost everyone, except for my father's father for whom we only had the month and the year since he died running from the Nazis. My father's mother, on the other hand, lived to be well over 90 years old. She never knew that her son had survived, immigrated to America, and had a family of 15 children and dozens of grand- and great-grandchildren, keniena hora.
My grandmother's yarzeit is the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the day all Jews mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple. The first time my father would have been able to commemorate her true yarzeit, he was unfortunately hospitalized for severe pneumonia, so a minyan [quorom] was brought to his hospital room, where he led the services from his bed. Thank G-d, he recovered and is doing well, and we take this opportunity to extend him our best wishes for many more years of good health and nachas from all his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
I think this personal story illustrates that we are indeed all one Jewish family around the world - in the United States, in Ukraine, in Israel, everywhere - and that we are truly linked to each other more strongly than any of us might ever imagine.
By helping each other - by caring and sharing - we carry out our responsibility to one another as compassionate human beings, and, at the same time, we sometimes end up helping ourselves as well, as happened to me when, through GJARN, I found family that we thought had been lost.
On Wednesdays, 7:45 - 9:15 p.m. from July 5 - August 30, Be'er Miriam presents "Chasidut by the Sea: A Journey into Jewish Mysticism." At Pier 17 in Manhattan's South Street Seaport, join an informational lecture series with Rabbi Eli Cohen of Chabad at NYU on topics such as: evolution vs. creation; the meaning of suffering; prayer-a ladder to G-d; and is Moshiach the Jewish Utopia? Rain or shine. For more info call Be'er Miriam at (718) 467-5519.
NEW CENTER IN RIO
A new Chabad-Lubavitch Center recently opened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The seven-floor structure stands one block away from the famous Leblon Beach and includes two sanctuaries, two modern mikvas, a multilingual library, a swimming pool, a large ballroom, a youth center, lecture and conference rooms and preschool facilities. The land for the center, which will serve the city's 30,000 Jews, was donated by Rio's Mayor Cesar Maia.
THE REWARD FOR A MITZVA
August 26, 1948
I am referring to the two questions which you raised in connection with the "Talks & Tales"* of the current month (Menachem Av), and which have been conveyed to me for reply.
Question No. 1 concerns the interpretation of "Eikev" in the featured series "The Names of the Sidrahs [Torah portions," in the sense of "minor" precepts which one is apt to treat too lightly and "tread upon." It was pointed out that the significance of the first verse of the Sidrah was to make us mindful of the so-called "minor" Mitzvos which often present the real test of our faithfulness to our Torah, and "that is why G-d promises special rewards for these precepts."
You referred to the last statement and pointed out that it seemed in contradiction to Mishnah 1. ch. 2 of Pirkei Aboth [Ethics of the Fathers], where Rabbi [Judah the Nasi] taught that "thou knowest not the grant of reward for Mitzvos."
In reply: The reward for Mitzvos is of two kinds: a) The reward for the very nature of the precept performed, where we do not account for the relative importance of the various Mitzvos, and b) Special reward - cited in the Talks - dependent upon certain conditions as to the nature of the person performing the precept, the kind of performance, and the circumstances of time and place involved.
To illustrate point b): Two persons buy the same kind of Esrog, pay the same amount of money, make the same blessing. But one of them could less afford to pay the price. He is performing the Mitzvah at greater sacrifice. He is deserving of greater reward.
Or take the case of a heavy smoker who stops smoking before Sabbath and abstains from smoking throughout the Sabbath. He is deserving of a greater reward than the one who is less addicted to smoking.
Or the case of a "self-made" man, who never had occasion to take orders from anybody, and grew up with the idea of exceptional self-reliance. When such a person puts his own strong will aside and accepts the guidance and leadership of a spiritual leader in Israel, he is deserving of a greater reward than the person who has been brought up since his very youth in the spirit of self-abrogation and submission to the wishes and guidance of the Rabbi.
This is what our Sages meant by saying "According to the [painstaking] labor is the reward." (Aboth, end of ch. 5).
Your question No. 2 concerns the story of Jabneh ("Let's Visit Jabneh," T. & T. of current month), particularly the plea of Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai, "Give me Jabneh and its scholars." You asked, why did not Rabbi Jochanan plead for Jerusalem instead? Your own suggestion was that since Rabbi Jochanan knew that G-d had decreed the destruction of Jerusalem, he did not want to act against G-d's wish.
While your suggestion is an interesting one, it cannot, however, be applied to this case. Any Divine decree concerning the fate of an individual, and especially that of a community, can be rescinded by Teshuvah [repentance], prayer, and good deeds. Consequently, the idea you suggested could not have served as a basis for Rabbi Jochanan's request.
The Talmud, dwelling upon the same question, gives two explanations of Rabbi Jochanan's apparent failure to plead for Jerusalem: a) It was a case of temporary beclouding by G-d of the intellect, and b) Rabbi Jochanan was afraid that if he asked for too much, he would get nothing.
The first explanation itself requires elaboration. Why should his intellect have failed him at such a crucial moment, which was so abnormal for such a great man? Here is where your suggestion can be fitted in: Because the decree was already in force, G-d caused Rabbi Jochanan's intellect to fail him.
I trust that the above will satisfactorily answer your questions, but should you have any further remarks concerning the above, or any other questions, do not hesitate to write to me.
With kind regards and best wishes to you and yours,
*Talks and Tales was a monthly magazine for children published by Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch.
5 Tamuz 5760
Positive mitzva 23: the service of the Levites in the Sanctuary
By this injunction the Levites are commanded that they alone are to perform certain services in the Sanctuary, such as closing the gates and chanting during the offering of the sacrifices. It is contained in the Torah's words (Num. 18:23): "But the Levites alone shall do the service [of the Tent of Meeting]."
We are now in the Hebrew month of Tamuz, which oddly enough, was the name of a Babylonian idol! Why would our Rabbis choose such a seemingly inappropriate name for a month on the Jewish calendar?
The literal translation of the word Tamuz is "heat," which alludes to the intense heat of the sun at this time of year. The Book of Psalms explains that the heat of the sun is used as a metaphor for G-d's power. G-d's strength expresses itself in two ways, creating positive energy and destroying negative forces. By using the name Tamuz, our Sages emphasized the infinite power of the Divine. In the same way the idol Tamuz was destroyed by G-d's wrath, all negativity encountered by G-d will be mocked and ultimately destroyed. G-d is always in control.
Moreover, in Chasidic terminology, the revelation of the Tetragrammaton - the unpronounceable four-letter Name that alludes to G-d as He transcends the natural order - is strongest at this time of year. The name Tamuz thus emphasizes this deeper dimension of G-dliness.
The numerical value of the Hebrew word Tamuz is 453, which is the same as "tagein" meaning "a protection or shield." This refers to G-d's protection of the Jewish people from the dangers posed by our adversaries. G-d protects and nurtures us even during our darkest moments. And when the letters of "tagein" are rearranged, the word "ginat" is formed, meaning "a garden." This image is a metaphor for the love and pleasure G-d derives from the Jewish people. In the same way a gardener stands in loving admiration of the rose's beauty despite the thorns on the rosebush, so too does G-d forgive His people for all their transgressions, for His love for us is constant and unwavering.
And Korach.took [a bold step].and they rose up before Moses (Num. 16:1-2)
The Mishna states in Tractate Avot (5:17): "Which is a controversy that is not for the sake of Heaven? The controversy of Korach and all his faction." The Mishna specifically avoids calling it a controversy between Korach and Moses, because even within Korach's group of 250 followers there was dissention, each one vying with the others for honor and glory. Indeed, this was a sure sign that their argument was not for the sake of Heaven. (Ye'arot Devash)
A person who is broadminded will not respond to taunts, as he is mature enough to disregard them. By contrast, a person who is narrow-minded is unable to tolerate anything that goes against his will, and becomes immediately angered like a young child. In Chasidic terms, unity is derived from "broadness of the intellect"; controversy results from "smallness of intellect." (Maamarei Admor HaZakein)
And they assembled against Moses and against Aaron and said, "Why do you raise yourselves up above the congregation of the L-rd? (Num. 16:3)
It is characteristic of controversy that righteous people are accused of sins that are entirely inapplicable to them. The Torah testifies that Moses was "the most humble of any man on the face of the earth"; thus Korach's accusation that he was arrogant was inherently absurd. (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk)
And Korach gathered all the congregation against them (Num. 16:19)
When it comes to doing a mitzva, it isn't all that easy to find people who are interested. Unfortunately, however, when it comes to inciting controversy, everyone comes running. (Mateh Aharon)
About 120 years ago there was a large wave of Jewish immigration to the Holy Land. Many people came as part of organized groups, while others arrived as individuals. The majority settled in the Old City of Jerusalem, which soon became extremely overcrowded. But there were very few other options, as the gentiles were reluctant to sell any property to Jews.
Beyond the walls of Jerusalem was desolate wasteland, vast stretches of stony, uninhabited terrain. Bands of plundering Arabs roamed about freely, and Jews rarely ventured outside the relative safety of their enclave. Even the settlement that had recently been founded by the famous Sir Moses Montefiore was having difficulty attracting occupants. Many courageous Jews who had moved there had subsequently given up and returned to the Old City.
One Shabbat an announcement was made that quickly spread throughout the Jewish quarter. Reb Zalman Baharan (the son of Rabbi Nachum of Shadik) would be holding an urgent meeting right after sundown to discuss the expansion of the Jewish settlement of Jerusalem. No one expected that a simple meeting could lead to practical results, but as Reb Zalman was a respected member of the community, everyone complied.
That Saturday night over a hundred people were crammed into the Menachem Zion synagogue when Reb Zalman proposed his plan for a new settlement, calling upon everyone present to contribute a majida (worth 100 coins) to the building fund as a show of good faith. Unbelievably, by the end of the evening, no less than 100 majidot had been collected to purchase land for the new development.
It took several years until Meah Shearim, the first Jewish settlement in modern times outside the walls of Old Jerusalem, was founded. But when it finally came to fruition it greatly alleviated the Jews' desperate living conditions, and many more settlements followed in its wake.
Our story takes place during the time after the land was purchased but before construction had actually begun. This is what happened:
Reb Zalman Baharan had a beloved student by the name of Issachar. When Issachar reached marriageable age he was betrothed to a girl from a fine family, but two years passed after their engagement and they were still not married. Eventually the bride's father gave Issachar an ultimatum: Either marry my daughter at once, or break off the engagement.
Unfortunately, Issachar did not have two cents to rub together, let alone enough money to make a wedding and support a wife. He could not recall the last time he had bought a new article of clothing.
Reb Zalman was touched by the young man's plight and longed to help him. At first he considered going from door to door collecting donations, but he knew that his student would never accept a handout. To further complicate matters, his own dire financial straits prevented him from helping Issachar, either.
Now, Reb Zalman had a cousin who also named Zalman; to differentiate between the two, one was called Reb Zalman Baharan and the other Reb Zalman Baharil (ben Harav Yaakov Leib's). Reb Zalman decided to ask his cousin's advice, and the two Zalmans put their heads together to devise a plan.
It was obvious that they couldn't take out a loan, for how would they ever repay it? Reb Zalman Baharil then suggested that they wait until Sukkot and sell etrogim, but his cousin countered that it would deprive the regular etrog merchants of their livelihood. In the end it was Reb Zalman Baharan himself who came up with a viable plan: The field they had just purchased for the new settlement north of Jerusalem was still vacant, as they had yet to obtain enough money to start building. "Why don't we use part of the land to grow wheat for shmura matza?" he suggested. [The wheat that is used to bake shmura matza is carefully watched from the moment of cultivation throughout the baking process to make sure that it doesn't become leavened.] "We'll have lots of customers, as everyone trusts our integrity. We won't be taking away anyone's livelihood, and the profits will pay for Issachar's wedding!"
That very day the residents of Jerusalem were astonished to see two of its most distinguished citizens setting out with hoes over their shoulders. For three days straight the two Zalmans weeded and plowed until the ground was ready for seeding. The day after the wheat was planted a light rain fell - a sign, the two men agreed, that G-d approved their plan.
A few days later Reb Zalman and his cousin informed the girl's father that the wedding would take place before Passover. From there they went and secured a loan, confident that they would be able to repay it. Issachar and his bride were finally wed.
At the end of the season the two Reb Zalmans harvested the wheat, bundled it into sheaves, and personally milled and sifted it. It was a very fine quality of wheat, and kosher for Passover according the highest standards. With the money they made they easily repaid the loan.
And that is how the community of Meah Shearim was founded.
When Moshiach comes, the body will see Divinity with palpable sense-perception. The physical eye will see the light and the Divine life-force which are the essence of every created thing... In our times, the nefesh (soul) is the mashpia, the fount of spiritual energy, and the body receives its life-force from it; that is to say, materiality is the recipient of the benefactions of spirituality. When Moshiach comes, however, the body will be the benefactor. (Likutei Diburim of the Previous Rebbe)