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Let's try a stream of consciousness. Think of different kinds of materials that can be strung together to make necklaces: Wooden beads... pearls... pumpkin seeds... tiny glass beads a bit bigger than a pin-head... onyx... noodles... gold balls... cherrios... plastic baubles... The list is endless. All a person needs is some patience, creativity or money and the funkiest or most elegant necklace imaginable can be fashioned.
What do all of these "beads" of diverse medium have in common? Not much! They do have, however, one shared trait: they are crafted with a hole or they are pierced, making possible their stringing.
Chasidic philosophy uses the analogy of beads, pearls in particular, to teach an interesting lesson for life.
Pearls (South Sea, cultured, baroque, you choose) are precious. An essential part of making a pearl necklace is the drilling of a hole in the center of the pearl. Once there is a hole, the pearl can be strung together with additional pearls (or mixed with various other stones or beads) until the desired length necklace and effect is attained.
Every Jew is a pearl, truly a gem, precious beyond belief. Each Jew is important as an individual and his/her life should embody the conviction that, as Jewish teachings explain, "The whole world was created for me."
Simultaneously, in his center, in his heart of hearts, there must be a "hole." His core must be void of self-centeredness and egotism.
For, in addition to being a person of worth and value, he is part of the Jewish people. Our success at joining together with others and connecting with them, to becoming a pearl on the illustrious necklace of Klal Yisrael - the Jewish people, requires that we practice selflessness and compassion for others.
When stringing a pearl necklace, a knot is placed on either side of the pearl. In this way, even if the thread was to tear, at most one pearl would be lost. In addition, this allows each pearl to retain its uniqueness and be appreciated as an individual pearl.
So too with every Jew. Piercing our core with the realization that we must care for and reach out to others does not negate our individuality. Rather, it allows us to become part of something that is infinitely grander and more precious than any one of us alone.
This is similar to what the Prophet Isaiah said concerning the Messianic Era. At that time (may it commence immediately) the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean. This comprehension of the G-dliness within everything will not turn us into automated robots. Just as the waters of the ocean cover and unite everything within, but all creatures of the ocean retain their identity, so too will we retain our individuality as we unite in these last moments before the coming of Moshiach, and afterwards, as well.
The Midrash recounts the sequence of events that led to Adam and Eve's eating from the Tree of Knowledge, as narrated in this week's Torah portion, Bereishit: First the serpent approached Eve, and asked if G-d had forbidden them to eat all the fruit in the Garden of Eden. She replied that they were permitted to eat any fruit, except for those growing on the Tree of Knowledge: "G-d has said, 'You shall not eat of it, and you shall not touch it, lest you die.' " When the serpent heard this reply, he pushed Eve towards the Tree and told her, "Surely you will not die."
The Midrash explains that Eve's mistake was adding on to G-d's command. The prohibition was only against eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, yet Eve added that they weren't allowed to touch it. It was this initial digression that enabled the serpent to lead her astray, and later, for her to cause Adam to sin.
Our Sages tell us that the reason Eve made this mistake was that she didn't hear the command directly from G-d; it was transmitted only second-hand, through Adam. Had she heard it directly from G-d, not only would she not have sinned and led her husband to sin, she would have kept Adam from transgressing.
This is why, at the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai, G-d commanded Moses to give the Torah first to the Jewish women, then to the men. "Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob," G-d told him, referring to the Jewish women; "and tell the people of Israel," referring to the Jewish men. In this manner, G-d ensured that the Jewish women would always be on the forefront of Torah observance throughout the generations, and from their perspective, "correct" the sin of the Tree of Knowledge.
The special advantage of Jewish women - the ability to extend a protective and positive influence on their husbands - is derived from the way Eve was created, which was different from Adam. Adam was created from the earth, from a base substance, whereas Eve was created from Adam's rib, from the body of a human being.
Our Sages also interpret the verse "And the L-rd G-d built (vayiven) the rib" as relating to the "extra measure of wisdom (bina) that G-d has given women over men." Because women are on a higher spiritual level, they possess this ability to guard them.
This underscores how crucial it is to provide Jewish girls with a Torah-true education, instilling in them pride and a sense of joy in their Judaism. For the Jewish woman is the foundation of the home, and the positive influence she wields is very powerful.
Adapted from Vol. 3 of Likutei Sichot
Reaching Our Potential
Juby with her children
by Juby Shapiro
Ten years ago when I was expecting my first child, family and friends asked whether I would like to have a boy or a girl. I responded, "I want a healthy baby."
Nine months later, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy. Aaron was a very happy baby, always so alert. Even at an early age, his sweet, patient disposition shone through. Aaron laughed at 1 month, rolled at 4 months and sat at 6 months old.
At eight months I asked the pediatrician if he was concerned that Aaron was not crawling. He said that there was no reason for concern.
At 10 months, I asked the pediatrician if it was okay that Aaron was not waving "bye, bye."Again, I was told that this was normal. At 12 months old, Aaron was not pulling himself up to a standing position and he still was not waving "bye, bye."
At his 1-year-old check up, I asked the pediatrician why Aaron's development differed so vastly from that which I had read in child development books. He responded that normal development has a very large range. He told me that Einstein spoke at three and not to worry. But that if I was concerned, I could have Aaron checked out by a neurologist.
So one winter day when Aaron was 14 months old, I bundled him up in his snowsuit and took him to a top pediatric neurologist in Manhattan. After examining Aaron, the doctor called Aaron's pediatrician and began to write numbers down. After several minutes, he said, "Mrs. Shapiro, we have a problem. Your son's head is not growing as it should. A small head means a small brain, a small brain means big problems."
"What kind of problems?" I asked.
The doctor sat back. "He won't be good in sports."
"That's not a problem," I replied. "What do you mean by problems? Will Aaron ever read?"
"Will Aaron ever speak?"
"Probably not and if he does, most likely never in a full sentence and he will be difficult to understand."
"Will Aaron ever walk?"
"Yes, but he'll never walk well."
When I asked what I should do to help Aaron, the neurologist gave me a list of medical tests to undergo to determine why Aaron's brain was not growing and advised me to enroll Aaron in early intervention therapy. I left the office, Aaron bundled protectively in my arms and sat in my car and wept.
At first I truly did not believe the prognosis. I had arrived with my beautiful, alert son who was perhaps at worst a "late bloomer" and left with a profoundly handicapped child. In the months to follow, Aaron had a full battery of tests all of which came back with normal results much to the bafflement of the doctors. Aaron was approved for early intervention and a team of therapists began to service him in my home.
When Aaron was two, I gave birth to Chana. Chana's development was precocious. She crawled on her hands and knees at 5 months old. At 10 months she was beginning to take steps holding onto furniture. The therapists who worked with Aaron told me that her development was perfect. When Chana was 11 ½ months old at a routine visit to the doctor we discovered that Chana's brain was not growing. My precocious daughter with her sunshine smile was diagnosed with the same devastating condition as Aaron.
For the next 9 months, I ran to specialists searching for answers and more importantly, searching for a cure. We found neither answer nor cure. I was exhausted both physically and emotionally. That summer, I came down with Mononucleosis and was put on bed rest.
I was forced to slow down and take inventory. I considered the possibility that I may not find a diagnosis or a cure and that perhaps that search was not a life's mission in itself. I thought and prayed and searched my heart for many hours. I arrived at the realization that perhaps G-d gave me Aaron and Chana to bring out some strength that I didn't know I possessed. I began to look at my situation not as a punishment or a stigma - something meant to destroy my family or me - but instead as a challenge, an opportunity to grow and change and perhaps reach out to others.
By the end of my summer in bed, I decided to start a support group for mothers in the community whose children had been diagnosed with disabilities and special needs. Our first meeting took place in the fall of 1994, a group of 10 mothers reaching out of our isolation to support one another. Fifteen mothers attended the second meeting and we decided to invite fathers to the third meeting and to host a guest speaker. When 60 parents showed up, we all felt the electricity in the room. We united under the name TAFKID, an acronym for Torah Alliance of Families of Kids with Disabilities.
The phone in my kitchen rang continuously as parents called seeking information, advice and comfort. Soon a computer and a fax machine were added. For three years, TAFKID ran from my home as I cooked dinner and folded baskets of laundry. My kitchen became even cozier when I added a file cabinet and a couch. After three years, and a very crowded kitchen, TAFKID moved to an office. Today, TAFKID provides support, information, advocacy and referrals of doctors, programs and services to more than 1,000 families. Through meetings, lectures and events families come together sharing, crying, laughing and supporting one another. TAFKID's tapes and literature have reached out to families all over the world.
Obtaining support is critical as being the parents of a special child can prove to be a daunting task in a society which measures value and success in terms of achievement and productivity. Most parents dream of their children growing up to strive for excellence, whether it be academics, sports or other talents.
When a child is diagnosed at birth or later on with a lifelong disability, parents suddenly feel the pain of the loss of all their dreams and aspirations they had for their child. For many of us, it means no science fairs, no lead roles in the school play and no ball games. Instead of inline skates, I buy orthotic braces for my ten-year-old son. Instead of soccer practice, there is physical therapy so that he may one day be able to walk a block without sitting down 6 or 7 times. There is no need for college funds and unless a great miracle occurs, I may never see my daughter stand under the chupa. Aaron and Chana and other children with special needs may never be the best at anything except for always being the best they can be. However, that in and of itself is more than most of us will ever accomplish in a lifetime. They reach their potential 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Special children teach us to slow down and realize that which is priceless, the value of a step, a word, a smile and even a tear. My daughter has 30 words in her vocabulary. Her words include: Shabbos, kiddush, tzitzis, thank you, I love you, Mommy, come home. She has never spoken ill of another person, she has never hurt someone with her words. My son is always smiling. It takes so little to make him happy - a smile, a hug, singing and dancing together. It is this realization, looking for the excellence from within, that is the basis of the concept of TAFKID - a Hebrew word meaning "mission" or "purpose." It embodies within it the spirit of empowerment, a raison d'etra, our sacred mission of caring for and raising all of our children to their potential while at the same time striving to reach our potential, tapping into an inner strength and faith we didn't know we possessed.
Juby Shapiro resides in New York with Aaron and Chana. She is the President and Director of Programs at TAFKID, 1433 Coney Island Ave., Bklyn, NY 11230, (718) 252-2236, Fax: (718) 252-2216 and e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Free Translation of a letter of the Rebbe
25 Tishrei, 5703 
...With regard to ritual slaughter: All opinions agree that Scriptural law requires an animal to be ritually slaughtered for its meat to be permitted. With regard to fowl, there is a difference of opinion among the Sages, and the halachah is that ritual slaughter is required. With regard to fish, there is no need for ritual slaughter; gathering them is sufficient.
The spiritual significance of these concepts is explained in several sources in Chassidic philosophy, and is also alluded to in Nigleh, the teachings of Torah law. Our Sages state that the Hebrew word which communicates the commandment for ritual slaughter connotes also "and he drew it after him," i.e., the slaughterer takes the life force of the animal and draws it after him, transferring it to a totally different spiritual place.
This concept is also reflected in another term for slaughter used by our Sages n'tilas neshama, "taking the soul," i.e., the animal's life energy is taken from the spiritual place it was previously, and transplanted to a higher spiritual plane. On this new level, it can be transformed into flesh and blood for a human being and can provide him with energy for his Divine service, instead of leading to a spiritual decline, heaven forbid.
Animals were created from dust. They cannot lift themselves from the ground at all independently; they must be lifted up by others. Using this as an analogy to our Divine service, the analog would be the body and the animal soul, to which can be applied the verses: "A man is born like a wild ass," and "The inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth." Our Sages explain that the word min'urav, translated as "from his youth," can also be interpreted as "from the moment he stirs," i.e., from the moment a fetus stirs and goes out into the world, it is confronted by the evil inclination.
Therefore, according to all opinions, an animal requires ritual slaughter, i.e., the process of transplanting its spiritual energy described above. This task - refining the body and the animal soul - is the mission of the soul and the purpose for its descent into this world. For the soul itself requires no improvement; the sole purpose of its descent is to improve and elevate the body.
Fowl were created from mud on the waters, i.e., water and earth. They also have the potential to fly, but must return to the earth, because they become tired after flying.
The parallel in our Divine service is the intellectual soul, which serves as an intermediary between the animal soul and the G-dly soul. The intellectual soul can conceive of G-dliness. Nevertheless, its essence is mortal intellect as prompted by the G-dly soul which is enclothed within it. As such, there is a difference of opinion as to whether the spiritual service associated with] ritual slaughter is necessary. The final ruling is that slaughter is required.
Fish are always found in their source of nurture; as soon as they depart, they die. The spiritual parallel is the G-dly soul, which at all times, even when a person sins, remains faithful to Him. It remains connected to its source of life, the ultimate Life.
This enables us to appreciate the severity of a sin. Since a person is connected to his G-dly source at all times, sinning can be compared to a person who takes the head of the king and submerges it in a latrine.
Because of this ongoing connection, with regard to fish, there is no need for the spiritual service associated with ritual slaughter. There is, however, a need for fish to be gathered. For the enclothement in the body and the involvement with the task of refinement may lead to fragmentation of the G-dly soul's energies in its worldly tasks. Therefore, they must be gathered together and collected.
On a deeper level, it can be explained that the fowl refer to [three of the five levels of the G-dly soul] the levels of nefesh, ruach, and neshamah, and the fish to the levels chayah and yechidah, the soul's encompassing powers. This is not the place for elaboration of this matter.
Grasshoppers do not require ritual slaughter. Taamei HaMitzvos explains that the rationale for this mitzvah is that they and fish are both from the level of Yesod. In contrast, domesticated animals, wild beasts, and ritual slaughter all relate to the level of Malchus.
Perhaps this is the mystical explanation why they do not possess blood, an analogy for material desires, at all. And they are characterized by selflessness - as reflected in the verse, "And we were like grasshoppers in their eyes" - and oneness - as reflected in the verse, "Locusts have no king, and yet they go forth in bands."
Negative dimensions may, however, also arise from selflessness, as reflected in the verse: "Ephraim is joined to idols." And therefore, there are also non-kosher grasshoppers. But even then, because "peace is great...," even though they are non-kosher, the brine which is produced from them is permitted.
May it be G-d's will that through the slaughter of the evil inclination in the present era, we merit the fulfillment of the prophecy: "In the Era of the Redemption, the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring out the evil inclination and slaughter it."
May He grant us life, maintain us, and cause Moshiach to gather our dispersed remnants together in the near future.
Reprinted from I Will Write It In Their Hearts, translated by Rabbi E. Touger and published by Sichos in English
- (Back to text) Every Jew has three souls, i.e., three different sources of vitality: the animal soul centers on physical desires, the intellectual soul derives its vitality from the mind, and the G-dly soul is an expression of the fundamental G-dly spark present in each of us.
30 Tishrei 5761
Prohibition 250: wronging one another in business
By this prohibition we are forbidden to wrong one another in the business of buying and selling. It is contained in the Torah's words (Lev. 25:14): "If you sell something to your neighbor, or buy something from your neighbor's hand, you shall not defraud one another."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is "Shabbat Bereishit," when we read the very first portion of the Torah. As explained by the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the way we conduct ourselves on Shabbat Bereishit has an influence on our conduct of the entire year to come.
This week is also the Shabbat on which we bless the coming month of Marcheshvan. The name is derived from the Hebrew word meaning "drop," as it is in Marcheshvan that the rainy season begins in the Holy Land.
Winter is the season for rain; summer, for dew to fall. But what is the difference between rain and dew?
Rain is dependent on man's Divine service. In the merit of our prayers, G-d causes the rain to fall. If, G-d forbid, our behavior is lacking, He withholds His life-giving waters. Dew, by contrast, occurs independent of our actions. G-d causes the dew to regularly replenish the earth, without any effort on our part.
The physical phenomena of rain and dew expresses the essential difference between summer and winter. In the summer, when dew falls, the world receives G-d's blessings from Above without our exertion. Winter, when rain falls, is a time when it is more difficult to obtain His blessings, as we must labor to be worthy of receiving them.
The Previous Rebbe once stated: "The service of G-d is easier in summer than in winter."
This Shabbat, when we bless the month of Marcheshvan, we imbue the "month of rain" with the power which will sustain it. It is the last Shabbat of Tishrei, the "chodesh hashevi'i" (the "seventh month" when counting from Nisan), that is "musba" ("satiated," from the same root word as "sheva," meaning "seven") with all that is good. For only a month that is so full of mitzvot as Tishrei can impart the necessary strengths to the difficult month that will follow. Indeed, it is from Tishrei that we draw the ability to perform our G-dly service throughout the entire winter.
So rain or shine, it's always time to do a mitzva.
In the beginning G-d created (Bereishit bara Elokim) (Gen. 1:1)
In the same way that every author alludes to himself on the opening page of his work, so too has G-d set His seal at the very beginning of the Torah. G-d's "stamp," as it were, is "emet," truth - arrived at by rearranging the final letters of the words "Bereishit bara Elokim."
(Rabbi Bunim of Pshischa)
The attribute of truth
The Midrash relates that before G-d created man the ministering angels broke into factions, some supporting the plan and others against it. The attribute of benevolence said, "Let him be created, for he will perform kind and loving deeds." The attribute of truth said, "Let him not be created, for he is filled with falsehood." The attribute of justice said, "Let him be created, for he will seek justice." The attribute of peace said, "Let him not be created, for he will only sow discord and dissention." What did G-d do? He took the attribute of truth and flung it to the earth. Commented Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk: This teaches that truth cannot be attained by "standing tall" and insisting that one's opinion be accepted; the only way to reach it is by "bending down" and being humble.
And G-d blessed them, saying, be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:22)
The first mitzva in the Torah is the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. From this we learn that the first responsibility of a Jew is to ensure the existence of another Jew in the world, and to try to influence other Jews to be "more Jewish."
(Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi)
In the mid-1800's there lived a wealthy merchant who had a large store in the center of the city of Pressburg. He was well-known for his generosity. Each day he would calculate how much profit he had made and from that separate 10% for maaser (tithe), which he would deliver daily to the yeshiva.
Tragically, this outstanding man passed away at a relatively young age, leaving behind a widow and five daughters. His wife had always helped her husband in the business and knew it well. After his death she maintained its prosperity. She was also careful to continue in her late husband's generous ways, and each day would deliver the 10% from the profits to the head of the yeshiva, the illustrious Rabbi Avraham Benyamin Schreiber, known as the Ksav Sofer.
As she had no sons, she asked the Ksav Sofer to arrange for Torah scholars to say kaddish for her husband for the entire eleven months, and also each successive year on the yahrzeit. She also requested that a second kaddish be said each day, having in mind all those souls who have no one saying kaddish for them.
This went on for nearly ten years. But then the wheel turned. Instead of profits there began to be losses. Even so, the widow appeared daily at the yeshiva, except that she would inform the Ksav Sofer that today, unfortunately, she had nothing to give. They assureed her that they were still saying the kaddishes.
Her financial situation got progressively worse, until she had to start selling some of her valuables in order to put food on the table. No one was aware of her situation except for the Ksav Sofer and some of his closest disciples.
One day a shadchan (matchmaker) came to her home and, after some pleasantries, said, "My dear lady, your daughters have all matured nicely. I am confident that I can find many outstanding yeshiva students for you to choose from; just tell me how much dowry you are willing to provide for each one."
She decided not to admit her true situation to him, and instead merely said that she would think it over and then get back to him. He left, and she burst into tears.
She hurried to the yeshiva and poured out her heart to the Ksav Sofer. Suddenly the door opened. A distinguished-looking elderly man entered and turned to her. He told her that he knew of her desperate situation and that he was prepared to help. He then requested of the Ksav Sofer that two scholars join them. The Ksav Sofer summoned his son, Rabbi Shimon Sofer, and Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld.
When they were all assembled, the mysterious guest said, "I know you have five daughters of marriageable age. Each one needs a thousand kroner for dowry money and another thousand kroner for wedding and household expenses. That is 10,000 kroner. To put your business back on its feet, you need another 10,000 kroner.
He took out a check, wrote the woman's name on it, inscribed it for 20,000 and signed it! Before handing it to her, however, he asked the two young scholars to sign on the back as witnesses to the transaction. He also asked them to take out their personal notebooks so he could sign in each a sample of his signature, in case the signature on the check would be challenged. Turning back to the woman, he told her that she should present the check at the government bank when it opened at nine o'clock and they would honor it. Then he left, as suddenly as he had come.
At nine the next morning the widow was at the bank. When she showed the check to the teller, he said that for such a sum he had to see the manager. He presented the check to the manager, who looked at it and fainted! As soon as he gained consciousness, he asked the woman, "Please tell me how you got this check?"
She told him of her difficulties and the sudden appearance of her benefactor. She explained about her husband and his practice of daily maaser, and of the kaddishes she had arranged for him and for those souls who had no one to say kaddish for them. She added that two rabbis were official witnesses. The banker contacted the yeshiva to ask that Rabbi Sonnenfeld and Rabbi Shimon Sofer come to his office.
They came and confirmed all that the woman had said. The banker then said that he would personally honor the check, as it was drawn on his own family account, but that his wife had to endorse it, too. He sent for his wife and asked her to bring the family photographs with her.
Although the banker was a Jew, his wife was not. When she arrived the banker spread out the photos on his desk. He asked each of the three separately to identify the man who gave the check. Each one confidently picked out the same man.
The banker announced, "The man who gave the check is my father, the previous bank manager. But he has been dead for ten years! Last night he appeared to me in a dream. He said that he had been saved from purgatory by the kaddishes that this righteous woman had arranged, and now we must help her. He said that he would give her a check for 20,000 kroner.
"I woke up frightened. In the morning I told my wife the dream. When the check was shown to me at the bank I knew then that the dream was true. I will pay the 20,000 kroner and I will add another 20,000 of my own, because you fulfilled my obligation and helped my deceased father's soul with the kaddish you arranged."
He continued, "I fully regret my lapse from Judaism. I see that our G-d is true and He gives to all their just reward. Henceforth I will fulfill His commandments."
The man's wife declared that she wished to convert and live in accordance with Jewish law. "Please guide us," they begged the rabbis.
The first thing the woman did when she received the 40,000 kroner was to give 10% of it to the yeshiva. Soon thereafter, her business prospered again. Her five daughters made good marriages with G-d-fearing Torah scholars.
Translated by Yrachmiel Tilles from Otzar Hamasiyos in the name of Rabbi Y. Shapira, who heard it from Rabbi Sonnenfeld.
In the very beginning of the Torah, we learn about the creation of the world. There it is stated, "And the spirit of G-d hovered over the surface of the waters." The Midrash explains that this "spirit" is "the spirit of King Moshiach." From this we learn that G-d's objective in creating the world, mentioned in the Torah before the creation of man, is the Messianic Era. We must yearn, therefore, for the complete fulfillment of the realization of G-d's Divine Plan.
(The Rebbe, Parshat Acharei, 5746 - 1986)