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It seems like everyone's back in school. From tots to teenagers, grade school kids to graduate students, a new year of education and edification has begun.
And a new crop of stickers enjoining us to look out for the children are replacing the worn-out ones on car bumpers. The person who places the "School's Open: Drive Carefully" bumper sticker on his car isn't tying a string around his own finger. Rather, he's reminding the driver of the car behind him to look out for boys and girls walking back and forth to school. (And those kids aren't even necessarily his own children or grandchildren).
We all feel a responsibility for the children around us. It makes no difference if they're yours or mine. We want them to be happy, we're concerned for their safety and well being. And we all share a desire for them to receive a proper education.
Education, here, is defined in a broader and deeper sense - not merely as a process of imparting knowledge and training for a "better living," but for a "better life," with due emphasis on character building and ethical values. Afterall, education is the first and foremost vehicle of developing the most basic and inexhaustible national resource, our youth.
If this is true of education in general, surely it is true of Jewish education in particular. Today, the purpose of a Jewish education is not merely to learn to read Hebrew, acquire knowledge about Jewish festivals or understand where everything fits into the timeline of Jewish history. The goal of a Jewish education is to implant in the child positive feelings for Judaism, respect for Jewish traditions and a desire to make Jewish living an essential part of daily life.
The objective of Jewish education is to raise a child who will be religiously as well as morally and ethically upright.
This Jewish consciousness and rightful pride in our destiny has to be implanted in our children from their earliest formative years and the vital importance of it cannot be overemphasized.
The fact that for the first time in Jewish history, nearly all Jews live in democratic countries, with a full measure of freedom, makes such Jewish consciousness even more imperative,for being a small percentage of the total population, apathy and assimilation assert themselves more strongly than elsewhere.
Jewish education should remove from the child any vestige of an inferiority complex about his Jewishness in a predominately non-Jewish environment, until he grows up to understand that democracy and freedom are not a cauldron of assimilation, but rather the contrary; they offer the possibility for every one to have his place, enjoy his rights, and live according to his faith 100%.
So, drive carefully. School's open.
According to Maimonides' enumeration of the Torah's 613 mitzvot, general commandments such as "You shall be holy" or "You shall keep My laws" are not, as a rule, considered mitzvot in their own right. Rather, these injunctions are classified as broad directives encompassing all of Judaism.
It is therefore surprising, at first glance, that the commandment in this week's Torah portion, Ki Tavo, "You shall walk in His ways," is classified as a positive mitzva, requiring a Jew "to emulate the Holy One, Blessed Be He." Maimonides writes, "Just as G-d is gracious, so shall you be gracious. Just as G-d is merciful, so shall you be merciful. Just as G-d is pious, so shall you be pious." Indeed, the commandment implies that a Jew is required to emulate G-d to the best of his ability, at all times and in all circumstances.
But why is this commandment different from all other general statements in the Torah, to the point that it is characterized as a separate mitzva? What does the verse "You shall walk in His ways" entail that other similar commandments do not?
Maimonides classifies "You shall walk in His ways" as a distinct commandment, as it contains a unique aspect not found in any other general directive in the Torah. This innovation is alluded to in the specific use of the word "walk," which implies an ongoing and perpetual sense of motion.
One of the differences between the soul of a Jew and an angel is that angels are stationary beings, fixed in their spiritual positions, whereas the Jewish soul constantly ascends from one spiritual level to the next. The Jew is constantly in motion, reaching higher and higher spiritual heights by virtue of his actions.
It sometimes happens that a Jew may observe mitzvot, yet he remains on the same spiritual rung as before. His performance of the mitzva did not cause him to progress or ascend any further. The commandment "You shall walk in His ways" comes to teach us that a Jew must never be stagnant, and that his performance of the mitzvot must always lead to an improvement of his overall spiritual condition.
How are we to accomplish this? By observing the Torah's mitzvot solely because they are "His ways" - because of our desire to emulate the Creator. For when we do, our spiritual ascent to higher and higher levels of G-dliness is assured.
Adapted from Volume 4 of Likutei Sichot
"M" is for Mikva & Marriage
by Jeanette Anne Cohen
August 1998 - that meant Maurice and I would be married for forty years. Forty years of love, life and laughter, four wonderful children, three wonderful grandchildren and one on the way. No reason to be discontented.
But there was something that bothered me, especially since my daughters had become Lubavitchers. Maurice and I had been married in a Reform temple. I wanted to be remarried in a religious ceremony and have a kosher ketuba [marriage contract]. I wanted to be married under the stars, under a tallis with Rabbi Wineberg (the local Lubavitch Rabbi in Johannesburg, South Africa) officiating.
Sounds simple enough. First hurdle, Maurice. When I blurted out what I wanted, he looked at me as if I needed to be certified. He doubled over with laughter while protesting that we were already married. I was so overwrought I burst into tears (not my usual style). That brought the laughter to a halt. When Maurice saw how serious I was he asked if I was "proposing" to him. I nodded, still sniffling. "Jeanie," he pleaded, "Don't cry, I accept, I'll marry you!"
So that's how it all happened. I thought that "getting married" again just meant the chupa and a party. But Rabbi Wineberg and my daughter Neria had other plans. Mikva! I balked!! I told Neria not to push me - I'd think about it.
The idea didn't excite me in the least. In fact, I felt quite aggressive about it.
I know many will laugh and even sneer at what I am about to write, but on numerous occasions in my life on really important and even not so important matters, I hear the Rebbe's voice. It happens in the early hours of the morning (I go to sleep very late). He repeats his message. This time, the words were plain and simple: Mikva-Mikva-Mikva. The dye was cast!!
Phone calls were made and on the appointed Sunday, I, a sixty year old "kalla" (bride), found myself entering an absolutely beautiful mikva in a nearby suburb. I was attended by an extremely kind and gentle lady; she made me feel like a young bride as she guided me through all the preparations. The prayer she gave me to say was so beautiful I wanted to read it over and over again.
Now for the "big guns" - the immersion. The pool room had a certain holiness about it, something not quite tangible. I found myself feeling really excited and nearly fell in!! What followed was quite wonderful though it had its moments of humor. I'm quite slim and lightweight and kept bobbing around and knocking into the sides. Eventually, I got into the rhythm and managed to touch the bottom.
I left the mikva building after about an hour, my face void of its usual make-up, my hair just hanging. Never in my entire life had I felt more beautiful, more spiritual and more worthwhile.
I walked back to my car but my feet didn't touch the ground. I heard the birds twittering in the trees, yet I felt as if my entire body was in a vacuum. I sat in my car for about half an hour reliving the past hour. I was filled with the urge to be better. Inwardly I felt so peaceful yet excited. I said a private "thank-you" to the people who had urged me to "do" mikva - particularly to my daughter, Neria, whose quiet insistence could straighten the tower of Pisa or even cause the Rock of Gibraltar to tremble !!
That afternoon, a bewildered Maurice found himself whisked off to the men's mikva by his son-in-law. Golf in the morning, mikva in the afternoon and getting married at night. That's what is called living in the fast lane.
This time the tears were tears of joy. At sunset in the Torah Academy courtyard, under a tallis, with Rabbi Wineberg officiating, surrounded by close friends and relatives, attended by my beautiful daughters and baby grandson, a sixty year old kalla circled the love of her life. No bride half my age could have felt younger or more joyous. Maurice broke the glass with all the vigor of forty years ago. Mazaltov! Mazaltov!
The local kosher restaurant did us proud. The tables groaned with delicious food, beautiful flowers and the wine and Black Label flowed freely. What a simcha! What a wedding! To health! To Life! LeChaim!
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
TASTE OF SHABBAT
Thanks to NCFJE of Nassau County and Congregation Beth Shalom Chabad of Mineola, Jewish men, women and children who find themselves far from their fellow Jews are now able to appreciate "a Taste of Shabbat." Whether in residential homes, prisons, drug rehabilitation centers, schools for special needs children or those who receive "meals-on-wheels" through non-Jewish organizations, Chabad of Mineola has sought out hundreds of Jews in various institutions throughout Nassau County (Long Island, NY) and provides them with two challas and a bottle of grape juice each week in honor of Shabbat. Explains Rabbi Anschelle Perl, creator of the Taste of Shabbat project, "We want all Jews, wherever they are, to know that they are not alone."
WASHINGTON SQUARE FAIR
A Rosh Hashana Expo will take place on Sunday, September 24 in Manhattan's Washington Square Park. This year's expo promises to be even bigger and better than that of the previous year, with a Shofar Factory, a scribal arts presentation, challah baking workshop, live music, Jewish art exhibition, clowns, mimes and great Jewish food. The Expo is co-sponsored by Chabad on Washington Square and Tzivos Hashem For more information call Chabad on Washington Square at (212) 674-6894
FESTIVAL OF JEWISH MUSIC AT SEA
The 5th Festival of Jewish Music at Sea will take place Jan. 14 - 21, 2001. Co-sponsored by Chabad Lubavitch of Florida, The American Society for the Advancement of Cantorial Arts and American Express Travel, the week on the high seas features strictly kosher gourmet cuisine, entertainers Avraham Fried and Dudu Fisher, world renowned cantors and scholar-in-residence Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom. For more information call 877-567-4372.
Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5735 
I received the letter about your son Moshe, and was subsequently pleased to receive the report that the medical treatment was successful. May G-d grant that he should have a complete and speedy Refuo [recovery], and that together with your wife, you should bring him and all your children up to a life of Torah, Chuppa [marriage canopy] and good deeds.
Everything is by Hashgocho Protis [Divine Providence], and it is significant that this reply is written on Rosh Chodesh Elul, a time of special opportunity for every Jew, as you know. I only mention it in compliance with the suggestion of our Sages, "He who has 100, desires 200; and having attained 200, desires 400." In other words, your accomplishments in the past should be a constant source of stimulation for greater achievements in the future, particularly as this is for the benefit of the many. Moreover, in the area of Chinuch [Jewish education] every effort is eventually greatly rewarded and multiplied in the form of a chain reaction. And the Zechus Horabim [merit of the multitude] also helps. May G-d grant that you should do this in peace of mind and happy circumstances.
I take this opportunity also to express my appreciation of the help which you have shown to our workers in the Miami area. No doubt here too, you will continue your good efforts in an ever-growing measure.
In this context, I would also like to mention a point to which I had occasion to call attention last night, in connection with Rosh Chodesh Elul, a most propitious time . . .
I refer particularly to the campaign which has been urged recently to strengthen Taharas Hamishpocho [Laws of Family Purity, i.e., Jewish marriage laws]. I pointed out that a special effort should be made in reference to women who have reached the age of . . . the so-called "change of life." It should be explained to them that by proper preparation and going to the Mikvah this one time and undergoing tevila [immersion] in the proper manner, it would purify them for the rest of their lives. In view of this, surely the effort involved (even if this be an effort) is infinitesimal by comparison to the results which can be achieved. It would be easily accepted in many, if not most, cases.
In addition to the merit of this thing in itself, it would also have the effect of "one Mitzvah [commandment] bringing another Mitzvah in its train," namely, having done this themselves, these women could be enlisted to use their influence with younger women to spread the idea of Taharas Hamishpocho. All the more so that it often happens that mothers and grandmothers who have become observant of the Mitzvos in many areas, and would like to influence their daughters and granddaughters in the area of Taharas Hamishpocho, hesitate to do so in case they are asked, When is it that you went to the Mikvah the last time?
May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all above
With esteem and blessing for a Kesivo veChasimo Tovo...
16th of Adar I, 5725 
I was pleased to receive your letter of the 15th of Shevat, in which you write about the successful initial meeting on Taharas Hamishpocho, and the fruitful beginnings.
It is, of course, unnecessary to emphasize to you the paramount importance of this cause. Nor do I think that it would require a great deal of persuasion to convince the other participants in the meeting of the vital importance of Taharas Hamishpocho.
Suffice it to say that even where a person may not be so meticulous insofar as he or she is concerned, yet there is no limit to the love and devotion of parents to their children, their readiness to spare no sacrifice for their benefit.
Even if the observance of the laws and regulations of Taharas Hamishpocho entailed a certain effort or even sacrifice on the part of the parents, surely it would be done eagerly, knowing that in addition to the essential thing of the need of observing G-d's commands for their own sake, these observances have a direct influence on children, and through them on grandchildren and so on. Of what account, therefore, is a temporary inconvenience or effort by comparison to the everlasting benefit in terms of good health, physical and spiritual, and true Nachas, etc. All the more so since the inconvenience or effort are smaller than imagined.
May G-d grant that this vital activity of Taharas Hamishpocho in your community should grow and expand, bringing even more and more members and participants, and may the observance of this essential law and regulation stimulate also the general observance of the Torah and Mitzvos, where there is always room for improvement.
18 Elul 5760
Positive mitzva 98: defilement of food and drink (in reference to the Sanctuary)
By this injunction we are commanded to deal with uncleanliness of food and drink in accordance with the prescribed rules. [A person who does not intend to enter the Sanctuary, however, may eat food that has been in contact with unclean things.] It is derived from the Torah's words (Lev. 11:29-30): "These also shall be unclean to you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth, etc."
This Monday is Chai (the 18th of) Elul, the birthday of both the Baal Shem Tov (founder of the Chasidic movement) in 5458-1698 and the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism in 5505-1745. In the same way that the Chasidic movement revitalized Jewish life and introduced a new path in the service of G-d, so too does Chai Elul ("chai" - from the Hebrew word meaning "life") introduce an element of liveliness and vitality into our Divine service in the month of Elul, the main theme of which is repentance.
A basic fundamental of Chasidut is the joyful service of G-d. As surprising as it may seem, Chasidic philosophy teaches that even the mitzva of teshuva (repentance) should be approached with happiness rather than trepidation. If all of the Torah's mitzvot should be fulfilled with joy, how much more so the mitzva of teshuva, which is so great it has the power to perfect all other commandments!
At first glance, the "shidduch" between teshuva and joy appears unrealistic. Repentance is serious business: conducting an honest assessment of one's past behavior, feeling remorse for one's misdeeds, and begging G-d for forgiveness for transgressing His will. How are we to do this out of a sense of joy?
The answer is that joy, as defined by Chasidut, is not the opposite of seriousness. Joy does not mean frivolity, a life without responsibilities or mindless revelry. Rather, joy itself is serious business, a deep feeling created when a Jew contemplates the enormous merit he has to have been born Jewish, to be able to study G-d's Torah and to fulfill His commandments. When a Jew appreciates that he is never alone and that G-d is always with him, his joy becomes the impetus to draw even closer to the Infinite.
With Rosh Hashana approaching, what could make us happier than the knowledge that doing teshuva during Elul is easier than at any other time of year? For the gates of repentance are always open, and G-d always gives us the opportunity to return to Him.
I have put away the hallowed things from my house...I have not transgressed any of Your commandments, nor have I forgotten them (Deut. 26:13)
Every year (aside from the Sabbatical year) a Jew is obligated to set aside a tithe of the land's produce; every three years, he must remove them from his possession and give them to the Levites. A special "confessional" is then recited, which includes the above words. But why the apparent redundancy? If a person claims to have "not transgressed any of Your commandments," isn't it obvious that he hasn't forgotten them? The answer is that a person can fulfill a commandment yet "forget" it at the same time - if his mind and thoughts are on something else, other than the mitzva.
Blessed you shall be in the city (Deut. 28:3)
According to the Midrash, "the city" means "in the merit of the mitzvot you do among society," implying the obligation to ensure that one's surroundings are also imbued with Torah and mitzvot.
(Divrei Shaarei Chaim)
According to Chasidut, all of the Torah's curses in this section are directed against the "sitra achara" ("the other side," i.e., the forces of evil), as it states, "And the L-rd your G-d will place all these curses upon your enemies and on those who hate you." This will be fully realized in the Messianic era, when G-d will "remove the spirit of uncleanliness from the earth."
When the Baal Shem Tov (Besht) began to teach publicly in 1734, he was opposed by certain rabbinic leaders. The Besht's charismatic leadership and Kabala-based doctrine made them apprehensive. Further, the Besht's insistence on every Jew's ability and obligation to establish a relationship with G-d, regardless of his level of scholarship, led them to fear that the Besht denigrated the need for in-depth Torah study. There were other points of disagreement, but these were the basic ones. Nevertheless, there were rabbis from the "opposition" who recognized the Besht's greatness, as this eyewitness report from 240 years ago by Rabbi Yaakov Kaidener, a well-known scholar and author, demonstrates:
When I was working as a teacher in Yanova, the esteemed chief rabbi of Dubrovna, Chaim Mordechai Margolius, lived nearby. On one of his occasional visits to town, the citizenry came to greet him. He repaid our display of honor by sharing with us some of his original insights in Torah.
Afterwards, the conversation turned to the ways of the Chasidim, and some of those present made snide remarks about several of the great Chasidic rabbis. Eventually they started to make fun of the founder, the holy Baal Shem Tov.
At this point Rabbi Margolius burst out, "Stop this talk! Let not my ears hear such things about this holy angel and precious man! True, I am also one of those who oppose the ways of Chasidism, as is known. You saw that I said nothing till now. Nonetheless, we in these parts do not oppose the holy Besht, G-d forbid. On the contrary: in our eyes, he is just as great as the holy Ari of Zefat!"
When the crowd heard this, they were amazed. They asked, "Rabbi, please tell us who he really was, for we are confused. If he was so great, why do so many denigrate him? And were not his ways unlike those of the great men of the past?"
The rabbi replied, "Your are right; his ways were different, and his teachings were different. Nevertheless, there is no need to be startled by this at all. Even if there could be found a verse in his sermons that seemed to be misquoted, it would still be forbidden to entertain any doubts about his words, for all the letters of the Torah were given into his hands from above, to do with according to his will.
"This can be compared to a great and exalted king who had a beloved only son, whom he loved as much as his own life, and out of this great love gave him all his precious treasures. Once, the king's ministers came to him and said, ‘Our lord king! May you and your son live forever! We know that the king gave his son all the precious treasures, and who can say anything about what the king does; especially since he already did it. Moreover, his son is worthy of this due to his great wisdom and good deeds. But, we cannot understand why your son is arranging the treasures of the king differently than the king-literally from one extreme to the other!'
"The king answered, ‘I gave him these treasures and they are his to do with as he pleases. Besides, I am confident that he is sufficiently wise so as to not cause any harm, and that nothing improper will come from his hand.'
"Exactly the same is known to us about this holy man, the Baal Shem Tov. Once he expounded on the passage in the Talmud [Shabbat 81b]: Rabbi Chisda and Rabba bar Rabbi Huna were traveling in a boat. A certain woman said to them, ‘Let me sit between you.' They did not let her. [It is prohibited according to Jewish law for a woman to sit between two men or for a man to sit between two women.] She uttered an incantation and stopped the boat. They said an incantation and released it.
"Rashi explains that the incantation she voiced was the name of a certain power of impurity, and that the incantation they uttered in return was the name of a pure power. The Besht questioned, ‘It makes sense that the Talmud did not say explicitly what this woman uttered, since it was an impure name, but why not tell us what the rabbis said, so that we would know the incantation to recite in order to counteract witchcraft? After all, there are several pages in the Talmudic tractate Gittin devoted to incantations for various maladies.'
"The Besht's answer was that witchcraft is nullified by pronouncing the verse ‘You shall not allow a witch to live' [Ex. 22:17], having in mind its hidden meanings. He then proceeded to expound on the mysteries of this verse, and said that through these meditations any type of witchcraft in the world can be counteracted.
"He then said that Rabbi Chiya and Rabba bar Rabbi Huna also used this verse and these meditations to thwart the witchcraft. Thus, when the Talmud states that ‘she uttered an incantation,' it means a name of an impure power. The Talmud seems not to specify what they said because the correct text is not ‘they uttered an incantation ["milta"mem-lamed-tof-alef],' but ‘they uttered milat'- without the alef at the end of the word-which is the initials of this very verse: Mechasheifa lo techaye, ‘You shall not allow a witch to live.'
"After we heard this, we went to great lengths to find ancient copies of the Talmud. Eventually we found a very old one, from the earliest days of printing. Sure enough, the Besht's words were borne out: her ‘incantation' was printed with an alef, while their ‘incantation' was without one, but with the two lines ["] between the last two letters indicating that it is to be read as an abbreviation. Thus we were privileged to see that his words of Torah are those of the Torah of Moses from Sinai!
"So, do not do this evil any more of belittling this holy and awesome man, who is the prince of the Torah. For the Torah of Truth was in his mouth, and he caused many to return from sin, for he was an angel of the L-rd of Hosts!"
All the thousands who perished in battle in the days of [King] David, perished only because they did not demand that the Holy Temple be built. This presents an a fortiori argument: If this happened to those in whose midst there had not been a Holy Temple, which, therefore, was not destroyed in their days, yet they were punished for not demanded it, how much more so then with regards to ourselves in whose days the Holy Temple is destroyed and we do not mourn it and do not seek mercy for it!"
(Midrash Tehilim and Midrash Shmuel)