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Despite the ups and downs and downs of the stock market, home purchasing, renovations and remodeling continue at an astounding rate.
The Torah (Deuteronomy 22:8) teaches that when we are building a new home, we must erect a guard-rail around the roof. The following verse presents the obvious reason for this commandment: someone can fall from an unenclosed roof.
According to various commentators, this mitzva applies to a home one purchases or even rents.
On a deeper level, this mitzva applies not only to someone who is constructing, purchasing or renting a home, but to every Jew. Whether an apartment, condo, co-op, or a house, any edifice that we call "home" must have a guard-rail.
The Hebrew word for guard-rail is "maaka." And it is from this word that we can learn how this partition applies to each of us.
The first letter of maaka is mem. The mem signifies "malchut" or royalty. In a Jewish home everyone should be regarded as royalty, not just guests! Everyone (spouses, siblings, children) should be treated with respect and dignity.
The second letter of maaka is ayin. Ayin is the first letter of the Hebrew word "ol," meaning "yoke." Each person must place upon himself or herself the "yoke" of 100% commitment to the other person, be it spouse, parent or child.
The next letter is kuf. Kuf stands for kedusha - holiness. Every activity in the home can and should be endowed with holiness, even such mundane acts as eating or decoarting the home.
We can understand the intrinsic holy nature of a Jewish home (apartment, dorm room, etc.) by studying an earlier commandment in the Torah. "You shall make a Sanctuary for Me and I will dwell in them," G-d commands us (Exodus 25:8). G-d enjoined us to make one Sanctuary but promised to dwell "in them" - plural - for G-d dwells in every Jewish heart and home where His presence is welcomed.
The final letter of maaka is "hei." In Hebrew each letter has a numerical equivalent and hei equals five. This teaches us that in our homes we must bombard all five senses with good. What we see, touch, taste, smell and hear should be positive and beneficial.
When we see a mezuza on the doorpost or Shabbat candlesticks in a prominent place, we know that we are in a home where Jewish observance is valued. The words that we hear in the home should be worthy of this "miniature sanctuary." The distinctive aromas - latkas or sufganiyot on Chanuka, special dishes in honor of Passover, fresh challa baking on Friday afternoon (straight from your local supermarket freezer) are scents that literally create memories...
In addition, Judaism involves our senses in practical mitzvot: When Shabbat ends we recite a blessing over spices and smell them during the Havdala ceremony. Upon seeing a rainbow, or a long-lost friend, there are special blessings say. It is a mitzva to hear the shofar blown on Rosh Hashana. We are encouraged to taste of the foods of Shabbat on the eve of Shabbat, and so forth.
G-d's purpose in creating the world, according to our Sages, is for us to make it into His "home." This will be realized in the Messianic Era. As each of us works on building a maaka for our own homes, we simultaneously prepare for the Messianic Era, when G-d will comfortably dwell in this world, may it commence now.
In this week's Torah portion, Shemot, we read that Moses "saw an Egyptian man smiting a Hebrew man...and he smote the Egyptian." The next day Moses went out and saw two Jewish men fighting. "He said to the wicked one, 'Why are you striking your fellow?' " To which the man answered, "Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?"
The two Jews then went to Pharaoh and informed on Moses. "And Moses was afraid, and he said, 'Surely this thing is known.' "
The Midrash explains that Moses was afraid not only for his own safety but for the future of the Jewish people. Till then, Moses had not understood what the Jews could possibly have done to justify being enslaved. But when he saw that there were Jews who engaged in gossip and slander (lashon hara), he worried that they might not be worthy of being redeemed.
At first glance, Moses' concern seems surprising. We know that during the Egyptian exile there were some Jews who descended to the level of idol worship, yet even this sin wasn't enough to prevent them from being redeemed. How could the sin of lashon hara be worse than idolatry, to the point that it justified the Jews' continued enslavement?
According to Maimonides, the Jewish people inherited their intrinsic faith in G-d from the Patriarchs, after which they became "a nation that knows G-d." However, "As Israel's sojourn in Egypt lengthened they regressed and learned from [the Egyptians'] deeds, and they began to worship the stars." Nonetheless, "G-d chose Israel as His inheritance, and crowned them with the commandments."
In other words, before the Exodus from Egypt the Jewish people were defined by their deeds: Jews were "a nation that knows G-d." This definition could no longer be applied when the Jews went into exile and worshipped idols. Nonetheless, it was precisely then that G-d chose them as a nation.
G-d did not choose the Jewish people because of their good deeds or superior qualities. His choice completely transcended all reason. That some Jews worshipped idols was therefore not a hindrance to their redemption.
However, when Moses saw that there were Jewish gossipmongers, he became very frightened. Dissention and infighting among Jews threatens their very existence as a nation. Because G-d chose the Jews as a single, united entity, Moses worried that internal strife would cause them to lose that quality, and nullify their merit to be redeemed.
As it turned out, the difficulties and suffering of the exile drew the Jews together, and their renewed sense of unity made them worthy of being chosen by G-d. The Children of Israel were thus transformed into "a people forever," whose identity can never be lost among the nations.
Adapted from Vol. 31 of Likutei Sichot
The Engaging Ring
Esther (sans rings) with one of her children
By Tzvi Jacobs
"I can't wait to show my parents my new ring," my wife said, smiling at the large sparkling stone. After 13 years of marriage, Esther surely deserved an engagement ring. But we had a long day behind us and a long night ahead of us before Esther would be showing off her ring.
Our destination was her parents' home in Rochester, New York. In addition to spending Shabbat with Esther's parents, I was scheduled to tell some stories about Divine Providence at the Rochester Chabad House from my recently printed collection, From the Heavens to the Heart.
Driving at night had its advantages, including that the children would fall asleep. A few hours into the drive we pulled off at a truck stop. As I filled up the gas tank, Esther took our 4-year-old son, Mendel, inside. The cashier directed her to the ladies' room.
Esther was taking off Mendel's wet clothes when he let out a shriek. There was a red scratch on his back. Esther pulled off the offending ring and set it on the sink ledge. She finished changing Mendel and then put the wet clothes in a bag. "I have everything," she said to herself, as she returned to the car.
We arrived at the Kotins at 2 a.m. Grandpa and Grandma hugged their grandchildren and put them in beds. After unloading the car, I also sank into bed.
I pulled myself from the edge of sleep when I heard Esther come upstairs. "I was about to show Mom my ring... It's gone. I'm sure I left it in the truck stop. I took it off when it scratched Mendel."
I stared at the clock: it was 2:35 a.m. Five hours in a busy truck stop bathroom. Should we forget about it and just go to sleep? Even though the ring was not an expensive diamond, it was a labor of love - and much help from Above. About six weeks earlier, I had won a community lottery to attend the wedding in Israel of our rabbi's eldest son.
Two days after the wedding I drove to Tel Aviv, determined to finally buy Esther an engagement ring. I was directed to a store. I passed through two steel doors and entered a brightly lit room filled with locked tables of rings and other gold jewelry.
I don't like shopping, but on that day I spent over an hour looking at all of the rings. I found a ring that I was sure Esther would love and I asked its price.
"Five hundred and fifty shekel," was the reply.
It was a large, gorgeous, skillfully cut diamond on a beautiful, unique, substantial gold setting.
"How many karats?" I asked.
"Fourteen," came the reply.
Fourteen karats! I knew that the price of diamonds had fallen, but this ring was a real find.
My plane landed in Newark on Tuesday, the fourth day of Chanuka, our 13th anniversary.
Esther loved the ring, but she was sure it wasn't a real diamond. We went to a local jeweler who told us: "It's a good imitation." It turned out that the ring was indeed 14-karat - 14-karat gold; at 550 shekel, that's a very good price, the jeweler said.
By now, five hours later, some lucky person who had visited the ladies' room in the truck stop was surely admiring her special find. Finders keepers.
I looked at Esther. She looked hopeless. "I should have... It's gone for sure."
I came to Rochester to speak about Divine Providence: Esther shouldn't blame herself. G-d set it up this way. Maybe it's a kapara, some kind of atonement; or maybe it's a test of faith or character. Who knows. "Please pass me the phone," I said, unable to move from the bed.
I told the operator the story and she listened patiently. "What's the name of the truck stop?"
"I don't know."
"What's the name of the town?"
"My wife thinks it starts with a G."
None of the Amoco stations in and around Binghamton were in towns starting with the letter G. "Maybe the highway patrol can help you?"
She wished us luck and connected us to the highway patrol. The patrolman also listened patiently, then said, "I'm sorry, nothing matches that description." He paused, and asked, "About how far outside of Binghamton was it?"
Esther had taken over the driving after we left the truck stop and I had gone to sleep, so I had no idea. "Esther, about how far outside of Binghamton was the truck stop?"
"Right after I got onto the highway there was a sign that said: 'Binghamton, 34 miles.' "
"Thirty-four miles? That's Pennsylvania, buddy. Let me connect you to their highway patrol."
I thanked him. Everyone was being so helpful.
I told the Pennsylvania patrolman the story, adding that the stop was 34 miles to Binghamton.
"Sounds like Gibson's truck stop."
"That's it," Esther said.
"Let me connect you. Good luck, sonny."
I handed the phone to Esther. "Hello. At about 9:30 tonight I was changing my son in the ladies' room and left my ring on the ledge above the sink. It's a gold ring with a large stone."
"We got it! It's right here in the register."
"Oh, thank G-d," Esther said gratefully. "I can't believe it. Who found it?"
"Christina, one of the girls. I'll put her on."
My wife thanked Christina profusely. "It's nothing special. It's the right thing to do." Christina, a 16-year-old girl from one of the nearby towns, works as a waitress in the evenings at the restaurant.
On Sunday evening, we stopped at the Gibson truck stop. My wife entered the restaurant and met Christina, a wholesome girl with long, strawberry-colored hair and inexpensive rings on her fingers. She gave her an autographed copy of my book as a small token of our appreciation. "Maybe my husband can write your story in the next book?"
Esther put the ring back on her finger. Some day I hope that I can set a real diamond in her ring. In the meantime, the ring is a constant reminder to us that G-d created many good people in this world.
A beautifully illustrated, whimsical tale in rhyme about how fish compete amongst themselves for the honor of making it to the Shabbat table. Worthwhile for young readers. Written by Sashi Fridman, illustrated by April Stewart Klausner and published by Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch.
24th of Teves, 5729 
To All Participants in the Dedication of the New Youth Center
Oak Park, Michigan
Greeting and Blessing:
I was very gratified indeed to be informed ...of the forthcoming Dedication of the joint New Youth Center, attached to the Lubavitcher Shul.
The occasion is particularly significant, for we are all aware of the fearful confusion and insecurity troubling the ranks of youths in this country and elsewhere. This is expressed in rebelliousness against the so-called establishment, and often takes the form of open revolt against the most elementary laws of a healthy human society. Underlying this acute tension is, unquestionably, the inner disunity and disharmony between reason and emotion, giving way to misconduct etc.
Sad to say, these tragic symptoms have also affected some segments of Jewish youth.
In these critical times, it is obviously a vital necessity to strengthen, among our youth, the inner spiritual equilibrium, and the only road to attain this is through Torah and Mitzvoth, with unity and harmony between the mind and the heart in a way that gives the mind mastery over the heart.
Indeed, this is what Chabad teaches and is trying to inculcate into everyone. Its message - which goes back to the great and saintly Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, Founder of Chabad, on whose day of Yahrzeit this letter is being written - has never been more timely, more pressing, and more practical than it is today.
The Youth Center which you are privileged to dedicate, and which will undoubtedly help many youngsters (and adults) attain the said inner balance with mastery of the mind over the heart, clearly fills an urgent need....
May G-d bless each and every one of you in all needs, materially and spiritually.
With esteem and blessing,
29th of Teves, Erev Rosh Chodesh Shevat, 5734 
Greeting and Blessing:
I am writing to you in English this time, in order to give you an opportunity to convey the contents of this letter to a wider circle of friends, without the necessity to pour it from one vessel into another. Moreover, this is a case where the important thing is the content, and consideration must be given to the avoidance of language limitations, so as to make it accessible to all.
We are now about to pass from the month of Teves, which begins with the latter days of Chanukah, and enter into the month of Shevat, which for us has a special highlight in the Yahrzeit of my father-in-law of saintly memory on the 10th of this month. And, as has often been emphasized, every commemoration in Jewish life and every observance dictated by Torah or Jewish custom, has for its main purpose to give the Jew an opportunity to relive and experience in a personal way the events or matters remembered or commemorated.
In light of the above, first of all, I want to express to you my sincere appreciation of your activities in connection with our Operation Chanukah, to illuminate as many Jews as possible with the light of Torah and Mitzvoth, as symbolized by the Chanukah lights, which have the special requirement to be seen also outside. Moreover, as in the case of light which is of immediate benefit not only to the one who lights it, but also to many others at the same time, so a Jew has to illuminate his personal life as well as his surroundings with the light of Torah and Mitz-voth. I hope and pray that the benefits which you brought to many, and the effects of which you have already seen, should continue in a growing measure, also in keeping with the message of the Chanukah lights, which are kindled in growing numbers from day to day, as has often been emphasized before.
And from Chanukah to Yud Shevat, which brings to mind my father-in-law's dedicated efforts in the course of the last decade of his life in this country, to spread the principles and teachings of Chasidus to many who were "outside." Thus, many "outsiders" became "insiders," whose lives were brightly illuminated with the light, vitality and warmth of Chasidus, and who in turn became "shining lights" illuminating others.
In accordance with the saying of our Sages, "He who has 100 desires 200, and having gained 200, desires 400," may the Hatzlocho [success] of the past serve as an ever growing stimulus for even greater accomplishments in the future in all the above matters and activities.
24 Tevet 5761
Positive mitzva 206: loving our fellow Jew
By this injunction we are commanded to love one another even as we love ourselves, and that a person's love and compassion for his brother should be like his love and compassion for himself. It is contained in the Torah's words (Lev. 19:18): "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Today is the 24th of Tevet, the yartzeit of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. The Alter Rebbe, as he is also called, was a student of a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. Author of the holy Tanya and compiler of the Shulchan Aruch, he established what would later become known as Chabad Chasidut.
The goal of Chabad Chasidut - an acronym standing for chochma (wisdom), bina (understanding) and daat (knowledge) - is to bring the Jew to an intellectual understanding of G-d through the contemplation of G-d's exalted nature and His relationship with the world and the Jewish people. It brings the loftiest and most abstract concepts down into a framework the human mind can readily comprehend and assimilate.
Chabad Chasidut is unique in that, while "enclothing" the inner secrets of the Torah in the "garment" of intellectual understanding, none of the finer, super-intellectual points are lost in the translation!
For thousands of years prior to the writing of the Tanya, the rarefied secrets of the Kabbala were beyond the true grasp of the intellect. G-d sent the holy soul of Rabbi Shneur Zalman down into the world for the purpose of creating a body of teachings that would once and for all break through the barrier between the infinite light of the Creator and the limited intellect of His creatures.
Chabad Chasidut thus forged an entirely new path in fulfilling Moshiach's promise to the Baal Shem Tov to come when "the wellsprings of your teachings will be disseminated." Over the next seven generations, this new path in man's service of G-d was developed and broadened by the leaders of the Chabad movement. Each successive Rebbe added new insights, drawing from the bottomless well of Divine wisdom and bringing us closer to the Messianic era, when, as G-d has promised, "The world will be filled with G-dly knowledge like the waters cover the sea."
May it commence immediately.
And these are the names of the Children of Israel (Ex. 1:1)
One of the merits the Jewish people had to be redeemed from Egypt was that they did not change their Jewish names: Jews named Reuven and Shimon went down to Egypt, and Jews named Reuven and Shimon went up from there. They did not call Yehuda "Royfa"; Reuven "Loyliani"; Yosef "Loystus" or Binyamin "Alexandri."
And she called his name Moses (Moshe) and she said: Because I drew him out of the water (Ex. 2:10)
Moses' name, Moshe, is in the present tense because it refers to an ongoing process: In every generation there is one "Moses" whose function is to pull Jews out of the depths of the "sea," lifting and elevating them from both spiritual and physical "mud." For "the reflection of Moses exists in each and every generation."
Send, I beseech You, by the hand of him whom You will send (Ex. 4:13)
There are some commandments in the Torah that cannot be done intentionally, such as the mitzva of the forgotten sheaf (which must be left for the poor). Being a leader is in this category, for "Whoever pursues honor, honor flees from him." Only a person who does not wish to lead is worthy of doing so. Thus it was not until Moses declined being the leader of the Jews that he merited the position.
(Prayer Book with Chasidic Interpretation)
And Pharaoh said...I do not know G-d [the Tetragrammaton], nor will I let Israel go (Ex. 5:2)
The Tetragrammaton, or four-letter, ineffable Name of G-d, refers to the level of G-dliness that transcends nature, whereas "Elokim" refers to G-dliness as it is enclothed in nature. (The numerical equivalent of the word "Elokim" is the same as "hateva" - nature.) When Pharaoh said he did not know G-d, he meant that G-d's transcendental aspect has no connection to the physical world. In truth, however, G-d's ineffable Name illuminates equally in all worlds, which Pharaoh only came to realize after a series of miracles: "And the Egyptians shall know that I am G-d."
The daughter of a Chasid of Rabbi Shnuer Zalman, the "Alter Rebbe" of Chabad, had blossomed into young womanhood, but her impoverished father lacked the means to provide for her to get married. His friends suggested that since it was winter, he should venture into the hard liquor business. Buy a large quantity from a local distillery, they told him, transport it to one of the large fairs at a big city, and with G-d's help, sell it there for a tidy profit.
The man decided to follow his friends' advice. He borrowed a sizable sum of money, and used it to buy a barrel of vodka and to rent a horse and wagon to transport his newly acquired merchandise to the city.
Finally he reached his destination. He immediately went to the fairgrounds, in order to start selling as soon as possible. He seized the barrel in order to hoist it from the wagon, but then froze in mid-action. The barrel felt frighteningly light! Sure enough, the bottom of the barrel was cracked. The strong smell of alcohol wafted into his nostrils from the soaked wood of the wagon. The entire contents of the barrel had leaked out during the long ride. Not a single drop was left!
In great sorrow, he loaded the empty barrel back on the wagon. He decided to drive on to Liozna, to the Rebbe. When he was admitted to the Rebbe's study he unburdened to him his whole sad story. But the telling made the reality of his loss sink in heavily, and he became even more upset. He had barely finished his words when he fainted on the floor.
The Rebbe's attendant succeeded in reviving him, but when the poor Chasid sat up and came to himself enough to realize where he was and why, he fainted again.
This time, as soon as he opened his eyes, the Rebbe called out to him, "You can go home now; G-d will prosper your efforts."
The Rebbe's encouraging words made the Chasid feel a bit less desperate. After a few minutes he felt well enough to climb up to his wagon and begin the return journey to his town. But after he got to his house and had a chance to rest a bit, he became increasingly nervous and agitated as he considered his situation. He had lost his entire investment, he had no foreseeable means to pay back the large loans he had taken, and worst of all, he had ruined his last chance of being able to help his daughter get married.
Bitter tears streamed down his cheeks.
He tried to gain control of himself. Before he could stop crying, his wife ran into the house, bursting with joy. "I found a treasure! I found gold!" she whooped.
"What are you talking about?" he asked .
It took a few moments before she could calm down enough to answer. She related that she had gone to unload the empty barrel from the wagon so as to store it away. She thought she heard a clunk so she looked inside.
Sitting on the bottom was a wrapped bundle. She dumped it out and opened it, and it was full of gold coins. A fortune! More than enough to pay their debts and marry their daughter, and all their other children, too (each at the proper time, of course).
What had happened? When he was riding home on the way back from the Rebbe, it was a freezing cold, Russian winter day. When he got to the river, instead of crossing over on the bridge that spanned it, he decided to save time by driving directly on the river surface itself, since it was frozen solid. While he was in progress, a wealthy Russian aristocrat was crossing in his fancy carriage on the bridge above him. Apparently, the package of instant golden wealth had fallen out of the aristocrat's carriage, and plopped directly into the barrel on the Chasid's rickety wagon.
When the Alter Rebbe was told all that had transpired, he immediately said, "Don't think that I made a miracle, or even that when I told him that G-d would prosper him, "It was Divinely inspired. It was simple logic. We are taught that G-d Alm-ghty does not require of anyone more than he is capable of, not even in the slightest. When I saw that this Jew was totally unable to withstand the misfortune that had come upon him, I already knew with certainty that G-d was arranging his salvation."
Translated-adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from Peninei HaKeser vol. II,
As he looked into the Book of Adam, Moses was shown the Sages and the leaders of all the generations of the future. When he thus gazed ahead at the generation that would live to witness the footsteps of Moshiach, he saw that they would have but a modest conception of Divinity, and in serving G-d with their minds and hearts they would not attain the loftiest peaks of Divine service. Rather, they would actively observe the Torah and its commandments in a spirit of self-sacrifice. At the same time, he was shown what joy this service would bring about in the heavens Above.
(Sefer HaMaamarim, 5710)