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Today, in addition to brushing twice a day, we are encouraged to floss daily and use an anti-bacterial mouthwash. For children, it's considered important to schedule their first dental appointment by age 1 and it is common to treat older children's teeth with a sealant. All of this is to insure that our teeth and gums remain healthy, devoid of cavities and other common tooth ailments.
There are many similarities between tooth care and the attention we must pay to our Jewish commitment. What kind of "treatment" do we need to give to our Judaism to guarantee that it remains "healthy?"
We might start off with basic tooth-brushing, especially after meals and before bedtime. Brushing has to become a good habit. Sometimes, parents must even nag their children to establish this routine. But it's worth-while in the end. Similarly, Jewish children and adults must be well-educated about Jewish life and the Torah until, yes, it becomes a habit. Until we don't think twice about saying the Shema prayer before going to bed (after brushing our teeth), or saying a blessing before we eat. Parents might have to remind and nudge their children, but in the end, it's well worth it.
Fluoride is an other component of preventative dental care. It's found in toothpaste, vitamins, even drinking water. Judaism, too, must be incorporated into every dimension of our lives. Judaism is not and cannot be relegated to certain times and specific places. Judaism isn't just for the synagogue or Chanuka. It's for everything in our lives, even something as commonplace as the water we drink.
Next comes flossing. Many people approach flossing with great trepidation. It's a hassle and in the beginning it's uncomfortable. Flossing, however, is one of the most beneficial aspects of dental care. In Judaism, some people approach the observance of mitzvot with trepidation. Some mitzvot, in the beginning, might even seem to be a bit uncomfortable. Whether it's a little boy wearing a yarmulka for the first time or an adult contem-plating keeping kosher, it can feel restrictive. But the benefits of actual mitzva observance, not just learning and talking and feeling but actually doing, is one of the most beneficial components of Jewish care.
Anti-bacterial mouthwash (and taking an extra few seconds to brush your tongue) is easy. It's like those mitzvot that only take a minute-such as putting on tefilin or lighting Shabbat candles-but have tremen-dous spiritual and emotional value.
Then, there's sealant. Some dentists recommend to have permanent teeth, especially children's molars, sealed with a special compound that prevents tooth decay. But even sealant isn't fool-proof. It only seals one out of five of the tooth's surface. And the teeth have to be resealed every six months to three years because the sealant wears off. There will always be something new or "improved" coming along, a new "product" or "treatment" or panacea for keeping our Jewishness healthy and alive. But they all wear off in the end. None of them are fool-proof. In our lives, nothing is fool-proof or absolute except G-d, Torah and mitzvot.
It pays to take care of what rightfully belongs to you. Then you'll be able to smile with ease.
The Torah portion of Teruma contains the commandment "And you shall make two cherubim of gold." The cherubim were placed atop the Ark of Testimony in the Sanctuary, which contained the Tablets of the Covenant.
What did the cherubim look like? Our Sages offer several opinions. Rashi describes the cherubim as "having the face of a baby." Nachmanides maintains they had the form of "the chariot that was seen by Ezekiel."
Rashi's explanation is based on a passage in the Talmud that depicts the cherubim as looking like a boy and a girl facing each other, symbolic of G-d's love for the Jewish people. When G-d spoke to Moses, the Divine voice issued from between the two cherubim, as it states, "And I will speak with you from above the Ark cover, from between the two cherubim that are upon the Ark of the Testimony." This was the place of the most intense revelation of the Divine Presence.
In general, Rashi's commentary explains the Torah's "literal" meaning, whereas Nachmanides' interpretations are more mystical and esoteric. Nachmanides thus describes the cherubim according to their deeper, spiritual significance, i.e., as resembling the "chariot" seen by the Prophet Ezekiel, while Rashi gives us the simple facts, i.e., that the cherubim had the face of a baby.
However, it is Rashi's literal interpretation that best expresses the depth of the connection between the Jew and G-d. Our Sages say that the idea of creating the Jewish people occurred to G-d before He thought of creating the Torah, as it were. In other words, the love that G-d has for the Jews transcends and is "higher" than the Torah. G-d loves the Jewish people with the kind of love a parent feels for his child, which is independent of the child's conduct or actions.
This is reflected in the fact that physically, the cherubim were placed on top of the Ark of Testimony, which contained the Ten Commandments. For the inner bond between the Jewish people and G-d, which is derived from their essence, is above even the Torah itself.
This also helps explain why the innermost level of a Jew's bond with G-d remains unaffected even if he sins and transgresses the Torah's commandments, G-d forbid (as opposed to the more external aspects of their relationship, which sustain damage).
Lastly, in emphasizing the indestructible connection between the Jew and G-d, the cherubim and kaporet (covering over the Ark) achieved atonement for the Jewish people, as alluded to in the word itself (kaporet is related to kapara - atonement).
Adapted from Volume 26 of Likutei Sichot
It's a Great Mitzva Always to be Happy
by Malka Rosenfeld (age 11)
It's a very big mitzva always to be happy, and to make other people happy. That was my Zaide, Emil W. Herman, Reb Menachem Zev ben Reb Pinchos.
My Zaide was very smart, and well-respected. He lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania all his life, where he worked as a lawyer and was the head of his law firm.
Other lawyers and judges all liked him, and so did all the people who knew him, even the janitor and the parking lot attendant where he worked. This was because my Zaide truly loved people and greeted everyone with a smile.
My grandfather helped people who were in all kinds of trouble. Many of his relatives, neighbors and friends were also his clients. They told him all their most private problems because they knew that Zaide would never talk to someone else about them. I never heard my grandfather say a bad word about anyone. When disagreements came up, he worked hard to bring people together.
When my Zaide met Rabbi Sholom Posner, the Rebbe's emissary in Pittsburgh, my grandfather did everything possible to help Rabbi Posner succeed in his work. Sometimes the Rabbi needed money for his school, Yeshiva Achei Temimim. Sometimes he needed legal work or advice.
My Zaide respected Rabbi Posner and became his student and his good friend. No matter what Rabbi Posner wanted, Zaide never let him down.
When Rabbi Posner encouraged my grandparents to go to Crown Heights to have a yechidus (private audience) with the Rebbe, of course they went. The Rebbe told my Zaide to use his respected position in the community to influence others to live a Torah life. That's exactly what my Zaide always did.
My grandfather didn't spend a lot of money on himself. He was satisfied with simple things, and never wasted anything that could still be used. But he always gave charity generously and gave to the yeshiva with an open hand.
He loaned people money for their needs and never told anyone about it. Before Passover, he used to go to the kosher grocery store and secretly pay off people's bills.
Of course Zaide was always eager to buy things and do things for his grandchildren.
Every summer, my brothers and my sister and I would visit Zaide and Bubby in Pittsburgh. Zaide would always take time from his busy schedule and take us places and show us a good time.
Just being with him was wonderful. Almost every night we would play games like ping-pong, Monopoly, or baseball in the back yard. Zaide even had patience to teach each of us how to play chess!
No one was more fun than my Zaide. He was able to lighten everyone's mood with a joke, a smile or a song. He was a great actor and could imitate different voices. One Purim, he and my Bubby acted in a puppet show for the yeshiva. Everyone enjoyed seeing my dignified Zaide dressed up in a turban and a long Persian robe for the show!
My grandfather loved to sing, and he had a great voice, too. He taught us funny songs and told us how to sing them to my grandmother to make her laugh. Whenever a new baby was born into our family, Zaide would set his or her name to a tune and create a special personalized song!
On Friday nights when he came home from shul, Zaide would bless us and give us a kiss. Then we would sit and sing together around the Shabbos table. Zaide always sang the low harmony with his deep voice.
For three years Zaide had a serious illness, but didn't tell anyone, not even his own family. He worked hard the whole time, kept his cheerful attitude and never gave up hope.
Zaide Herman passed away last year and I really miss him. When I think of him, I remember the wonderful discussions and close times we had. I think about the way Zaide never wasted any time being sad or worried. He realized that everything is in G-d's hands.
A lot of people said that G-d must have wanted a good lawyer to convince Him to bring Moshiach once and for all. I can't wait until Moshiach does come and Zaide will be with us again!
Reprinted from the "Jewish Heroes" column in The Tzivos Hashem Newsletter
Last month The New York Times featured an article about the koshering of the Kremlin kitchen by Chief Rabbi of Russia Rabbi Berel Lazar and Rabbi Yitzchak Kogan, emissaries of the Rebbe in Russia. Entitled "Why the Rabbi Blowtorched the Kremlin Kitchen," Michael Wines described how, in honor of the visit by Israeli president Moshe Katzav, "the Kremlin created an entire kosher kitchen for the occasion, an undertaking that required, among other things, an army of rabbis, all-new cooking utensils and a blowtorch." Wines explained that Rabbi Kogan spent an entire day in a slaughterhouse making sure that the meat and fowl served to the Israeli president and the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, and guests were killed in accordance with Jewish dietary law.
Though Jewish leaders had suggested it would be simpler to have the meal catered, Russian officals insisted that the Kremlin chefs would prepare the food as they would for any other head of state.
Rabbi Lazar supervised the creation of what Russians call a "koshernaya kukhniya." Wrote Wines, "There was also the matter of instructing Kremlin chefs how to cook a traditional Russian dinner according to kashrut, the labyrinthine body of Jewish dietary laws. Rabbi Lazar and his aides delivered lectures, then oversaw the purchase and cooking of foods."
Reported Wines, "The Federation of Jewish Communities [headed by Rabbi Lazar] has begun certifying Russian-made kosher foods for sale in local stores. A new division in the Federation is being devoted to spreading kosher cuisine. And Rabbi Kogan, who lives in Moscow and was persecuted by the K.G.B. for keeping kosher as recently as the 1980s now ships three tons of kosher meat weekly from the Miasokombinat plant to cities across the nation."
18th of Adar, 5734
Greeting and Blessing:
...With regard to the essential points of your letter, specifically in regard to the activities of Shamir [an institute in Israel dedicated to helping Russian immigrants], I agree of course with all you stated in your letter.
However, I believe one essential point, and perhaps very essential, is missing.
This is not surprising, inasmuch as it is perhaps the most difficult one to cope with, and it is also complicated by the fact that it might create certain suspicions and prejudices on the part of persons connected with the various departments.
Consequently, what I am writing to you here (with a copy to Prof. Branover), may be premature to be brought out into the open for the time being.
I have in mind the economic problems of new Olim [immigrants to Israel], and what should be done about it. As in the case of everything, there are effects and symptoms, and there are causes which bring them about. While the reason why many of the Olim have not been absorbed into a religious atmosphere is that they have not been approached and taken care of immediately, or soon after, their arrival, or for lack of an adequate budget and the like - an important reason, and perhaps the main cause, is the fact that in the final analysis every new immigrant is preparing for or becomes involved with the problem of Parnosso [livelihood], a suitable job and a suitable apartment, and in some cases there is the problem of a job not only for the head of the family, but also for his wife and grown-up children.
Now, the distribution of apartments and jobs, etc., like everything else in Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel], is in the hands of certain parties, representing certain ideologies. Even those Olim who have no desire to fall under the influence of the party (and ideology) from which they receive economic assistance, it is inevitable that they should indirectly be so influenced and, considering human nature, it is inevitable that direct influence should be brought to bear.
Needless to say, the responsibility to provide a job rests upon the government, and upon state and municipal offices, all of which, as mentioned above, are involved in politics. And it is not for Shamir to become a political activity; on the contrary, as often emphasized, it should steer clear from (party) politics. However, what can be done, and very effectively, is that when an individual has to negotiate for an apartment, etc., it should not be done by the individual alone, or even by a friend or relative, but through the organization. And if this were to be done, the above mentioned undesirable sad effects and influences on the part of those who dispense economic assistance, could be largely curtailed.
In view of the above, I had occasion to discuss the above with Prof. Branover, and I believe also with you, and I have often emphasized that Shamir should become a place where Olim could also receive help in their economic problems, and, in due course could not only be helpful, but it should become a force to obtain better conditions, etc., for the Olim in whose behalf Shamir would act as their representative.
As indicated above, this problem requires a discreet approach, in order not to get involved in politics. However, with good will and determination, this matter could be put into effect. If the administration of Shamir will make this one of their important goals, even if at the beginning it has to be handled with discretion, without coming out with it at full blast, it would nevertheless immediately provide new guidelines for many branches of Shamir's activities. I need hardly add that time is an important fact in this area, for such matters as housing and earning a livelihood are pressing needs, and naturally preoccupy the minds of the new Olim from the moment of arrival, even though the first few months are spent in an Ulpan [absorbption center]. But the anxiety is there, and the sooner it can be alleviated the better it is from every viewpoint, including, above all, the main point that they should not have to feel that they are entirely dependent upon some persons and department who are, unfortunately, more interested in party politics, than in the spiritual well-being of the people depending upon their good graces.
7 Adar 5761
Positive mitzva 164: fasting on Yom Kippur
By this injunction we are commanded to fast on the tenth day of the month of Tishrei. It is contained in the Torah's words (Lev. 16:29): "You shall afflict your souls, etc.," which is interpreted to mean "in respect to that upon which life depends, i.e., abstinence from eating and drinking."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we read a special portion from the Torah known as "Parshat Zachor." The Torah commands us to remember what the Amalekites did to the Jewish people when they left Egypt. It also tells us to "blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget."
But why does the Torah give us a mitzva that we cannot fulfill in practical terms? Why are we supposed to "remember Amalek" every day of our lives?
According to Chasidut, Amalek is not only to be understood literally but in the broader sense, as a negative character trait and outlook on the world. This approach is so devoid of any positive element that the only way to "fix" it is by "blotting it out" completely.
Amalek attacked the Jews at what was then the highest point in their history. The Jewish people had just left Egypt amidst wonders and miracles, the Red Sea had just parted, and all the nations of the world were in awe of the power of the Almighty. When Amalek attacked, it was not due to a lack of knowledge about G-d; it was also completely illogical. Amalek "recognized his Master and deliberately rebelled against Him." He knew exactly what he was doing, which is why he is symbolic of the ultimate in "chutzpa."
Amalek is also associated with "coldness," as it states, "...how he met you ['korcha' - from the Hebrew word for 'cold'] on the way." Amalek stands for everything that "cools off" and dampens a Jew's natural enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvot. Amalek is also the master of doubt, sowing seeds of skepticism for the sole purpose of preventing a Jew from serving G-d.
So why is it important to remember Amalek? Being aware of this "internal" Amalek allows us to be ever vigilant against his negative influence, which is so destructive that it cannot even be negotiated with. For the only way to get rid of Amalek is by "blotting out his memory from under the heaven..."
Speak to the Children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering (Ex. 25:2)
Why does the Torah use the word "take" instead of "give"? Because in reality, everything in the world already belongs to G-d without us having to "give" it to Him, as it states, "For all things come from You, and of Your own have we given You." However, when a person does a good deed with his own money, he acquires it for himself in the true meaning of the word. Only then can he offer it to G-d as something that is truly his.
And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings upward...and their faces shall look one to another (Ex. 25:20)
Every talmid chacham (Torah scholar) should aspire to these very same traits: On the one hand, his "wings should stretch out upward" - he must be very careful to observe the mitzvot between man and G-d. At the same time, his face must look toward his brethren - i.e., relate to his fellow man with justice and righteousness.
And you shall make a crown of gold (zahav) around its border (Ex. 25:25)
The numerical equivalent of the word "zahav" is the same as "David," as the crown of sovereignty was promised to King David and his descendants forever. (King Moshiach is a descendant of King David.)
Long before Rabbi Meir of Premishlan was known as a tzadik (righteous person), his unusual kindness and compassion were demonstrated. Even as a young child he would go from door to door collecting money for the poor. Rabbi Meir was simply unable to bear seeing someone in an unfortunate situation. He would do everything in his power to relieve the other's suffering.
At the same time, he was extremely modest and went out of his way to avoid drawing attention to himself. A year after he was married, he hired himself out as a tutor for an estate owner's children, a common way to support one's family in those days.
It did not take Rabbi Meir long to realize that the wealthy landlord was a coarse individual. Nonetheless, the children seemed to be progressing nicely under his tutelage, despite their father's rough and boorish behavior.
Rabbi Meir was particularly distressed by his employer's stinginess. Whenever a poor person knocked on the door asking for a donation or a crust of bread, he was treated condescendingly and with a tight fist.
For the first few weeks in his new position Rabbi Meir tried to concentrate on his teaching and ignore what was happening. But as time wore on he found it increasingly difficult to restrain himself.
One day, Rabbi Meir approached the owner of the estate and made a suggestion. "From now on," he proposed, "every time a poor person comes, I'd like to you give him a coin, which you can deduct from my salary." The landlord agreed to the plan, as there was no reason for him not to.
From that day on, every beggar who arrived on the doorstep received a coin, and sometimes even a light meal to ease his hunger. In the meantime, the owner of the estate was carefully recording every penny that went to charity in his ledger. No one could understand the miserly landlord's sudden generosity, but at least the beggars were happy.
Six months passed, and soon it was almost Passover and time for Rabbi Meir to go back home. Before he left, the owner of the estate called him in to pay him his salary. Taking out his ledger, he deducted all the coins and food he had "wasted" on the poor, and was shocked to see that nothing remained. And not only that, but Rabbi Meir actually owed him money! The landlord was furious. How could he, a smart and savvy businessman, have allowed himself to fall into such a trap?
Rabbi Meir was banished from the estate without a penny in his pocket. Why, he was lucky to even have a pocket, as the landlord had briefly considered taking Rabbi Meir's overcoat as payment for the "damages" he had incurred, before changing his mind at the last second.
Rabbi Meir, however, was not particularly upset by what had occurred. In fact, he was in a good mood. Passover was coming, he was going home, and there were many things in the world more important than money...
Rabbi Meir was on the outskirts of Premishlan when something shiny in the road caught his attention. Looking closer, he saw it was a very valuable gold coin, worth far more than the entire salary he was supposed to have received as a tutor!
Rabbi Meir, however, did not think along the same lines or in the same way as "regular" people. The whole way home his thoughts had been focused on higher, more spiritual matters. His initial reaction upon seeing the coin was hesitation. "Is this the way it has been decreed from Above that I derive my livelihood?" he thought to himself. "Does G-d really want me to make a living from the dust of the earth?" Rabbi Meir continued walking and did not bend down to pick it up.
Rabbi Meir's wife was overjoyed to see him after a half-year's absence. Several days later, when her husband still hadn't mentioned any earnings, she thought it was strange, but having full faith in him she did not bring up the subject, assuming he had his reasons.
By the following week she decided the time had come to allude, very delicately, to their financial situation. But her husband only responded cryptically, "Let's wait until tonight..." and left for the synagogue. In shul, money was soon the farthest thing from his mind.
That evening, Rabbi Meir was in the study hall when the servant of one of the wealthiest inhabitants of Premishlan suddenly tapped him on the shoulder. Handing him a gold coin he said, "My master asked me to deliver this to you."
Rabbi Meir jumped up as if bitten by a snake. "What is the meaning of this?" he inquired. The servant related that earlier that day his master had returned to Premishlan after a long journey, and had found the coin lying on the ground. After some deliberation he had decided to give it to a young Torah scholar, and Rabbi Meir's name had been drawn from a lottery.
"I see this coin really was supposed to be mine..." Rabbi Meir smiled, pondering the ways of the Creator.
This Friday, 7 Adar, is the birthday and anniversary of the passing of Moshe (Moses).
"Moshe is the first redeemer and the last redeemer," states the Midrash. As noted in the Zohar, the numerical value of the Hebrew letters comprising "Moshe" is the same as that of "Shiloh" (the term in Genesis 49:10 denoting Moshiach): the soul of Moshiach is the "soul-of-the-soul" of Moshe, so that in effect Moshe will be the final redeemer.
(From the book Mashiach by Rabbi J.I. Schochet)