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Once, when Rabbi Beruka met the prophet Elijah in the market-place, Rabbi Beruka asked him, "Can you show me someone who is assured of a place in the World to Come?"
Elijah pointed to two ordinary looking people, whereupon Rabbi Beruka approached them and asked what their occupation was.
"We are jesters who make people laugh when they are sad," they replied.
What exactly is a jester and how did these particular jesters make people laugh when they were depressed? The word "jesters" is defined by Rashi as "one who is joyful and causes others to rejoice."
This word can also be read as "I have given joy to others; consequently, I have also rejoiced." One experiences personal joy only after he dispenses it to others.
The nature of joy is that it permeates a person's entire being. When a person is happy, he lives joyfully. This happiness affects the way he conducts his life and influences everyone with whom he comes in contact. He shares happiness with those around him and his happiness brings him success in all matters.
At the conclusion of a passage in the Torah describing a series of curses to be visited upon the Jewish people, the Torah explains: "Because you did not serve the L-rd your G-d with joyfulness and with gladness of heart..."
This idea is somehow foreign to the customary notion of happiness. When do we consider ourselves happy? Well, for most of us, happiness connotes some pleasurable situation or occurrence.
Jewish teachings define happiness not only as the feeling of joy that results from pleasure. For the Jew, happiness is itself a form of devotion, of Divine service to the Creator. It is a self-imposed state of mind, which denotes our faith and belief in G-d. We are joyous because we are sure that everything He does is in our very best interest; we are joyous because we are living in accord with G-d's Divine blueprint for universal life, the Torah.
Our joyous state of mind exists regardless of externals, it defines our being Jews. And happiness is also a great mitzva, for it is an affirmation in the truest fashion, of our faith in an omniscient and benevolent G-d, whose plan for us may be unfathomable, but Whom we trust, as a child trusts his mother and father.
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria comments: "Simcha [joy] is fundamental to the service of G-d. Even if our service was lacking in other aspects, if we had been happy while serving G-d, we never would have been exiled."
Of course, the mega-simcha we are all awaiting is the imminent commencement of the Messianic Era. And we can each hasten its arrival by maintaining an attitude of joy, which will most certainly have a ripple effect through our relationships with everyone we encounter on our meandering paths through this world.
This Shabbat is the beginning of the month of Adar, about which the Talmud states, "When Adar begins we increase our joy."
In last week's Torah portion, Yitro, we read about how the Torah was given "amidst thunder and lightening." This week, in the Torah portion of Mishpatim, we begin learning the commandments that were given at Mount Sinai. In contrast to what one might expect after such an extraordinary event, the mitzvot enumerated in Mishpatim involve simple, straightforward matters between man and man, the kind of laws logic would dictate even without specific commands in the Torah.
At first glance, the two portions seem to symbolize opposite extremes: Yitro describes the supernatural revelation of G-dliness on Mount Sinai, whereas in Mishpatim, the Torah deals with the mundane details of daily life.
On a deeper level, however, these two portions represent two necessary stages in the transformation of the world that was initiated at Mount Sinai: The Torah was given to man for the purpose of bridging the gap between the spiritual plane of existence and physical reality. With the revelation of the Torah, holiness could be introduced into the material world, thereby uniting the spiritual with the physical.
The objective was not for holiness to nullify or negate the physical world. Rather, G-d wanted it to continue to function as before, albeit suffused and permeated with a higher sanctity.
The first stage in the fusion of the spiritual and physical is described in Yitro: "And G-d descended on Mount Sinai." All of creation held its collective breath when the Torah was revealed, as the Midrash relates: "Not one bird screeched, not one fowl flew, not one ox bellowed...the whole world was silent and soundless." The Jewish people were so nullified by the intense revelation of G-dliness that they fled several miles and had to be brought back.
Such a state of nullification, however, was not the ultimate goal, as G-d wants the world to exist as a "regular" physical entity. Accordingly, the second stage is described in Mishpatim, which deals with monetary regulations and the laws of damages, i.e., how a Jew is supposed to observe G-d's commandments within the framework of his day to day life. In fact, it is precisely through observing these "simple" mitzvot that holiness is brought into the world and becomes part and parcel of it.
Being holy does not mean being disconnected from the world or having to transcend it. On the contrary, holiness can also be expressed in compensation for damages, respecting deposits and pledges, paying employees on time, etc. - mundane, concrete actions carried out according to Torah that make the world holy.
With faith in G-d as his foundation, every Jew has the power to sanctify all aspects of his life.
Adapted from Volume 16 of Likutei Sichot
Thoughts on Spring YeshivaCation
By Tzvi Tannenbaum
What can someone say about a place with 14- or 15-hour days of learning and praying, and, yet, at the end of the day, you felt energetic and refreshed rather than exhausted? What can someone say about the opportunity to be Jewishly challenged, to rise to a higher level of thought and understanding, and also of feeling? A chance to have spiritual batteries recharged? The chance to spend ten days in a loving, magical neighborhood? A chance to learn from learned rabbis, true Torah-sages, very wise and kind men, with whom every moment was precious? Ten days that felt like three, but were equal to 30 or 60. A chance to spend time with full-time students who were extraordinarily friendly and welcoming.
I can honestly say that I've never learned so much in such a short period of time. Not a moment was wasted. From 8:00 in the morning till 10:30 at night - and later, when there was a farbrengen! - not a moment was lost, not a minute was wasted. Whether it was learning Chasidic thought, Talmud, Chumash (Five Books of Moses), or Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), in a class, with a study-partner, or in tutorial sessions, the atmosphere was saturated with Yiddishkeit. Even during mealtimes, conversation usually centered on the lessons of that day.
As a college professor, I was truly in awe of the quality of the teaching. Rabbi Goldberg, Rabbi Wircberg, and Rabbi DeHay are truly masters of educational method. They brought a passion to their teaching that allowed them to engage each student at his own level of ability, always with the greatest respect. They were able to make the Torah concepts vivid and lively, and through patient and gentle, but firm, guidance implant those concepts in their students' minds and hearts. I have rarely seen such a wonderful combination of passion and love brought so effectively to the classroom. I truly hope that some of their energy, love, and respect comes to my own teaching. They were wonderful examples of how to teach with energy, passion and love, as well as respect for both the subject and their students.
And then, the neighborhood of Crown Heights. What a pleasure it was to be able to experience a vibrant, magical neighborhood. What a treat it was, coming, as I did, from a small town with a small and scattered Jewish population, to be able to walk down streets on which almost every home and business had mezuzot on their doors and gates. To see so many men with yarmulkes or hats. To see almost all of the businesses closed on Shabbat. To hear the siren for candle-lighting as Shabbat was about to begin.
And of course, the warmth and hospitality that I enjoyed, from my host family to the neighbors who hosted me for Shabbat dinners and others who invited me to visit even during the week.
I can honestly say that the YeshivaCation was one of the most wonderful, intense and refreshing Jewish experiences I have had (and I've had some very good ones). Each day was like a 14-hour feast for the mind and soul. Being able to spend each day, almost every waking hour, learning Torah or davening (praying) or simply being immersed in a total Jewish environment, made every day of the YeshivaCation almost like a mini-Shabbat. This was a rare opportunity that was indescribably special to someone who lives in an area with a small Jewish population and where so many of the things needed for a full Jewish life are only available by traveling long distances.
Professor Zvi Tannenbaum teaches at Missouri Southern State College, Joplin, Missouri, where he lives with his wife and family.
For info about this year's YeshivaCation call (718) 735-0250 or visit www.hadarhatorah.org
Rabbi Riddle Speaks
Rabbi Riddle Speaks is a delight-fully entertaining book for children. It is based on the popular "Rabbi Riddle" (www.RabbiRiddle.org) study sheets, published for the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education. Rabbi (and Rebbe-tzin) Riddle's goal is to teach Torah values to Jewish children of all backgrounds. The creative team of writer Leibel Estrin, illustrator Dovid Sears and project director Schneer Zalman Kalman Zirkind, of the original Mendy and the Golem Comics, have joined together once again to publish this phenomenal first volume that teaches about Loving Others, Charity, Honoring Parents, Hospitality and the Messianic Era. Published by Shazak Unlimited, available in Judaica stores or through Feldheim Publishers, www.feldheim.com
The Moshiach Times
The Moshiach Times, a bi-monthly magazine for children published by Tzivos Hashem, is full of exciting stories, car-toons, and great games that make learning fun. There's a whole new world of Jewish exper-ience in every issue! Order a subscription on their website at www.tzivos-hashem.org or send a check ($10 - one year, $18 - two years in the U.S.; call (718) 467-6630 for international rates) to The Moshiach Times, 332 Kingston Ave., Bklyn., NY 11213
Erev Shabbos Parshas Shekolim, 5726 
To All Participants in the
"Evening With Lubavitch" in
G-d bless you -
Greeting and Blessing:
It is significant that the "Evening With Lubavitch" is taking place on Rosh Chodesh [the new month of] Adar. In olden days, when the Beis Hamikdosh [Holy Temple] was in existence, the first day of Adar was noted for the "Shekolim Call" which went out on that day, whereupon every Jew contributed a half-shekel [coin] to the Sanctuary chest which provided the public sacrifices on behalf of all the Jewish people.
The saintly Rebbe the "Tzemach Tzedek" (so named after his monumental Halachic [Jewish legal] work) - and this year marks the 100th anniversary of his demise - in discussing the Mitzvah [commandment] of Machtzis haShekel [contributing half a shekel] in one of his renowned Chassidic-philosophical works, offers some insights into this Mitzvah requiring no more and no less than half a shekel.
It indicates, he explains, that when a Jew makes a contribution toward a sacred cause, it is immediately matched by a similar benevolence from G-d to him, in accordance with the principle that human initiative acts like an impulse which calls forth a corresponding impulse from On High. The two, together, constitute the complete Shekel haKodesh ("holy shekel").
Moreover, though human endeavor must be voluntary and spontaneous, the assurance has been given that where there is a resolute intention, the person receives aid from On High to carry it to fruition in the fullest measure.
To be sure, the physical Sanctuary in Jerusalem was destroyed and the sacrificial service has since been interrupted. Nevertheless, in a spiritual sense the Sanctuary and all that was connected with it have never ceased; they exist in our daily experience and practice of the Torah teachings and Mitzvos. This is one of the aspects of our infinite Torah, which is in no way subject to the limitations of time and place.
The Mitzvah of the Half Shekel teaches us, among other things, that human effort, provided it is sincere and resolute, is "met halfway" by Divine Grace.
Thus, though the goal may, at first glance, seem too ambitious or even beyond reach, we are not limited to our own human resources, since our initial effort evokes a reciprocal "impulse" from On High which assures the attainment of even the "unattainable."
The Mitzvah of the Half-Shekel was originally related to the Beis Hamikdosh, where simple material objects were trans- formed into things of holiness, through dedication and sacrifice. Such is the unlimited power which the Creator vested in the Jew by means of the Torah and Mitzvos originating in the En Sof (Infinite).
Every Jew has the power to transform small and ordinary things of nature into values and categories which transcend nature - through living his daily life in accord with the will and command of G-d.
In this way the Jew fulfills his purpose in life and the ultimate destiny of Creation, namely, to make an abode for the Holy One here on earth, in fulfillment of the Divine command, "Let them make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them" (Exod. 25:8).
To the realization of this destiny of the individual Jew and of the Jewish people as a whole, the Lubavitch activities in all parts of the world are dedicated.
I take this opportunity to extend prayerful wishes to each and all participants in the "Evening With Lubavitch." May it be a source of lasting inspiration to you all, and an abiding influence towards the experience of a fuller, nobler, and, indeed, holier daily life, where the material "half-shekel" is balanced by its heavenly counterpart "in the scale of holiness" (b'Shekel haKodesh), ensuring a harmonious and truly happy life, materially and spiritually.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is "Shabbat Shekalim," when we read about the mitzva of the "half-shekel" the Jews were commanded to give as atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. The half-shekalim were used to bring the communal offerings on behalf of the entire Jewish people. Every person had to give the same amount, "ten gerah," which was the equivalent of half of "a holy shekel."
It didn't matter if a Jew was rich or poor - everyone was required to give a half-shekel, and in fact, it was forbidden to give more. For the Jewish people and G-d are one entity; without G-d, they are only half of a single whole.
According to Chasidut, the "ten gerah" are an allusion to the ten powers of the soul. The mitzva teaches that our ten soul powers are only "half a shekel," and that in order to be a complete entity, one must join together with another Jew.
The half-shekels were used to conduct a census of the Jewish people. A census emphasizes the unique importance of every individual. At the same time, it also underscores the fact that every Jew's true existence is bound up with his fellow man's. It is only when a Jew fulfills the commandment to "Love your fellow man as yourself" that he can reach his own individual fulfillment and potential.
This is one of the reasons Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, placed the declaration, "Behold, I accept upon myself the fulfillment of the mitzva, 'Love your fellow man as yourself,' " at the very beginning of the prayer book. Indeed, this principle should be the foundation of all our daily activities.
When Moshiach comes, the communal sacrifices will again be purchased from the half-shekels we will give. Yet even now we can still perform a service representative of the half-shekel - giving to tzedaka (charity). When we recognize the fundamental unity we share with others, it prompts us to increase our donations to tzedaka and give generously.
May all our efforts hasten the rebuilding of the Holy Temple with Moshiach, immediately and at once.
If a man digs a pit... the owner of the pit shall make it good, and return money (kesef) to the owner (Ex. 21:34)
Every person "digs a pit" with his sins into which other people fall and get hurt. The way to correct this situation and "make it good" is by "returning kesef (related to the word kisuf - longing and yearning) to the owner" - with a sincere desire to return to the "Owner" of the world in repentance.
(Likutei Sefat Emet)
If fire breaks out and finds thorns, and shocks of corn are consumed, or the standing corn, or the field (Ex. 22:5)
It states in the Talmud: "Punishment comes to the world only on account of the wicked, yet begins with the righteous." When G-d brings punishment ("fire") into the world, it is directed primarily against the wicked ("thorns"). However, as long as righteous people exist, their merit protects everyone. Therefore, if G-d determines that punishment is absolutely necessary, the righteous are often the first to be stricken, so that their merit can no longer shield others.
If you afflict them in any way, and they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry (Ex. 22:22)
It is forbidden to chastise anyone too harshly, even if one's intentions are good. Because Penina inadvertently caused pain to Hannah (the mother of Samuel) in trying to influence her to pray to G-d for children, we find that she was punished. One must be very careful not to cause someone to "cry out" to G-d, for He will "surely hear their cry."
(The Vilna Gaon)
And holy men you shall be to Me (Ex. 22:30)
G-d wants us to sanctify that aspect of us that makes us human, and to perform holy, "humanitarian" actions. G-d desires good and holy people, as He already has plenty of angels to do His bidding.
(The Rabbi of Kotzk)
In the olden days, the Jews of Germany were known for their highly organized social and community structure. Being chosen for a post in one of these communities was a badge of honor, as it signified having been approved by several screening committees. And once a candidate was selected, his authority and influence over communal life was considerable.
The selection process for religious leaders was equally stringent. Being the Rabbi of a German Jewish community was a prestigious position, and there was much competition.
Rabbi Refael Cohen, the Rav of Pinsk, was one of the leading Torah authorities of his generation. At the age of ten he had been accepted into the famous yeshiva of the "She'agat Aryeh," and at 19 he already headed the yeshiva. Before Pinsk, he had served as Rav in Posna and Minsk. It was therefore not surprising when he was asked to serve as Rabbi of Hamburg, one of the most important Jewish communities in Germany. The Rabbi set off for Hamburg to meet with its leaders and begin the official process of appointment.
By that time, the winds of the Enlightenment had already begun to blow across Germany. The stated aim of its proponents was the "modernization" of Judaism, while retaining its age-old traditions. In fact, however, its underlying goal was the removal of all barriers separating Jew and non-Jew, and the ultimate assimilation of the Jewish people into the family of nations. Rabbi Refael, who hailed from the "backwaters" of Lithuania, had never met any Maskilim, as they were called, and the whole idea was foreign to him.
Moses Mendelssohn was one of the main proponents of the Enlightenment then living in Berlin. To many German Jews, he was a visionary whose opinions and "Weltanschauung" greatly influenced their own. Among those who regarded him in this light were several of the community leaders of Hamburg, who were now in charge of appointing a Rabbi. Their ideal candidate would be knowledgeable in Torah, yet "progressive" enough to keep up with current fashions and trends.
When Rabbi Refael appeared before the selection committee they were impressed by his obvious scholarship and wisdom. His personal views and beliefs, however, remained unknown. The board decided that the best person to judge Rabbi Refael's character would be Moses Mendelssohn himself.
Rabbi Refael was told only that if he wished to conclude the appointment process as quickly as possible, he must travel to Berlin to meet with one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of all time, Rabbi Moses Mendelssohn. If he received his recommendation, the position of Rabbi was his.
Rabbi Refael, in his naïveté, assumed that he was going to meet a Torah sage, and set off for Berlin. In the meantime, the board sent an urgent letter to Moses Mendelssohn explaining the situation and asking him to assess the moral fiber of the Lithuanian Rabbi. Was he truly qualified to be Rav of the "progressive" community of Hamburg?
Rabbi Refael walked into Moses Mendelssohn's home and saw the "Torah sage" sitting at his desk with his head uncovered, rifling though a Hebrew Bible. He was so astonished that he was momentarily speechless. In addition to his shock, he also felt as if he had been deliberately deceived and misled.
When Mendelssohn looked up and greeted his visitor with "Shalom," Rabbi Refael responded with a quote from Isaiah, " 'There is no peace, says the L-rd.' How could they have sent me to a heretic?" he thundered. "I would rather be reduced to begging than have to obtain the recommendation of someone who sits and learns our holy Torah with an uncovered head!" With that, he turned on his heels and left.
Before he got back to Hamburg, however, a letter arrived from Moses Mendelssohn apprising the board of his findings: "I did not have time to assess the character of the Lithuanian Rabbi," he wrote, "for as soon as he saw me he called me a heretic and stormed out. Why? Because my head was uncovered as I was looking into a Bible. He refused to accept any recommendation from me, and declared that he'd rather be a beggar than need my approval."
The members of the board assumed that Moses Mendelssohn was telling them that Rabbi Refael was obviously unqualified for the position. But no! The end of the letter contained a surprise: "I therefore recommend that you appoint him as Rav, for he is a man of truth. I am sure that such a person would never be anything less than completely impartial, even if a sword were suspended over his throat..."
In the end Rabbi Refael was appointed as Rav of Hamburg, and served in that capacity for many years. Throughout his life he continued to be a staunch opponent of the Enlightenment and of Mendelssohn himself, whose recommendation secured his job in the first place.
It states in the Zohar: "During exile the Jewish people are like a bride standing in a butchers' market. Because of her Bridegroom's great love for her, its foul odor does not deter Him from visiting her where she is; indeed, in His imagination she is standing in a bazaar of perfumers." This relationship refers to the time of exile. But the time has now come that there should be an end to the exile, and we have to get ready for the Redemption. And surely it is obvious that we cannot accompany G-d to the chupa wearing the same "garments" (i.e., our thoughts, speech and actions) that were good enough for the butchers' market...
(Likutei Sichos Vol. 20, p. 178)