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Can you imagine listening to the Vienna BOY Choir, or reading about the adventures of the ONE Musketeer? Or what if computer hardware and software weren't compatible? So many examples abound of teamwork, cooperation and compatibility that we take many of them for granted.
It shouldn't seem unusual, then, to expect the similar modes of behavior from our fellow Jews. When we're around our brethren, whether at a social or religious function, it's easy to notice the dissimilarities, to get carried away with the differences. He's so tall, she's so skinny. He's dressed rather conservatively, everything she's wearing is designer. She's a lawyer and he's a doctor. He does this mitzva, she doesn't do that one. The list can go on forever.
But once we get past the extraneous, non-essential components of a person and uncover who he really "is," we come to realize that being Jewish is an integral part of his or her life. We all share a common past, and a common destiny that binds us together.
Teamwork and cooperation among Jews can produce astonishing results. There is a Chasidic aphorism which declares: What a Chasidic farbrengen (a gathering permeated with love of one's fellow Jew) can accomplish, even the angel Michael cannot accomplish." Now, the angel Michael is responsible for bestowing upon us the blessings of children, health and wealth. That's a pretty impressive resume! But the aforementioned dictum is teaching us that together, united, we have the power to do even more than what the angel Michael is empowered by G-d to do.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, explained this concept with an analogy: Children are naturally possessive of their own belongings. They defend their own property from other children or horde their possessions in a display of poor character traits. They do not care about others and worry only about themselves and their own things. This greatly distresses their parents and so, their parents put much effort into training the children to share, to be kind and generous, and to have other positive traits and form good habits. Time passes and the parents watch their children and see that they care for others and are not as concerned about their own "stuff" or "space." This gives the parents tremendous pleasure and now they are more likely to grant requests that the children may have.
This is how G-d reacts to us when He sees that we are united and cooperative, and behave in a respectful and dignified manner toward one another. When we act lovingly toward each other, G-d is more likely to grant our requests for health, wealth and children, and our prayers for peace for Israel and the entire world.
In an orchestra, there are dozens of musicians playing tens of different instruments. Each musician has his own personality, temperament, goals. Every instrument has a shape, sound, quality of its own. Somehow, all of these disparities unite to bring music to our ears. If even one instrument is out of tune, or one musician out of synch, the discord is obvious and irritating to the listener. How much more so when we're talking about an entire people.
We Jews often, maybe even always, have differences of opinion. Certainly we look, talk, act and think differently. But the important thing to remember is that we cannot let our numerous differences cause disharmony, dissonance and discord. After all, where would we be without teamwork? The cry of "One for One, and One for One" wouldn't have made the Three Musketeers very famous.
As we read in Bereishit, the Torah begins with a description of creation. "In the beginning G-d created the heaven and the earth." The Sage Rabbi Isaac asks a logical question, quoted by the famous commentator Rashi in his discussion of the Torah's very first verse: If the Torah is a book of law, it should have begun with a commandment, the first of which pertains to the calculation of months. Why then, does it open with an account of creation?
Rabbi Isaac answers his own question, based on a verse in Psalms, "He declared to His people the strength of His works, in order that He might give them the heritage of the nations": "For should the peoples of the world say to Israel, 'You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations of Canaan,' Israel may reply to them, 'All the earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He. He created it and gave it to whom He pleased; when He so desired He gave it to them, and when He so desired He took it from them and gave it to us."
This answer is surprising, as it seems to imply that the entire order of the Torah was changed solely to counter the Gentiles' argument that the Jewish people "stole" the Land of Israel. Is the Gentiles' claim really so valid that it would justify such a drastic step? Moreover, why wouldn't a refutation in the Oral Law (Mishna, Talmud, etc.) have been sufficient? Why was it necessary to change the order of the Written Law (the Five Books of Moses)?
We must therefore conclude that opening the Torah with "In the beginning" is intended not only as an answer to the Gentiles, but also contains an important teaching for the Jews themselves.
In general, the life of the Jew can be divided into two areas: the realm of Torah and mitzvot, and the secular realm. When the Torah demands that a Jew observe its commandments, the request is viewed as logical and acceptable. But when it demands that a Jew's personal life also be sanctified, that all of his actions be done for the sake of heaven, on the surface it seems like an invasion of privacy.
Indeed, this is the deeper meaning of the argument, "You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations of Canaan." The "seven nations of Canaan" are symbolic of the secular domain, the physical, "earthly" aspects of a Jew's existence. By what right can a Jew be expected to "take them by force" and subjugate even these areas to the realm of holiness?
The answer is, "All the earth belongs to the Holy One." In truth, every area of life belongs to G-d. Yes, G-d created a certain distinction between the material and spiritual realms, but He also wants us to imbue our physical existence with holiness. "When He so desired He gave it to them [the secular realm], and when He so desired He took it from them and gave it to us [to the realm of holiness]." When a Jew sanctifies all areas of his life, he fulfills G-d's will and draws holiness down into the physical world.
Adapted from Vol. 20 of Likutei Sichot
Teach Your Children Well
This article originally appeared in the Forward newspaper.
by S.A. Greene
When Arkady Baryshnikov returns to summer camp here in the Russian village of Istra, he will receive a hero's welcome. He'll be applauded and given gifts, and all the other boys at Camp Gan Israel will go out of their way to do him favors. Nothing, after all, is too good for a boy brave enough to volunteer for circumcision.
"It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," Arkady, 8, said as he climbed off the operating table above the Bolshaya Bronnaya synagogue in Moscow, about two hours away from camp. "I thought it would hurt more, but it doesn't. My head's spinning a bit, though." Mr. Baryshnikov, of course, had the benefit of an anesthetic, something his mother didn't. "I think I may have felt it more than he did, so far," she said. "I couldn't sleep last night. And now, here he is bouncing around the room."
The two petrified 14-year-olds who were next in line for the mohel, or ritual circumciser, eyed Arkady incredulously. "There's no way he's already had it done," one whispered to the other. "He's too happy."
Like most young Russian Jews, Arkady was born into a family for which Judaism was mostly a mystery. As a result, many of his campmates - and indeed young Jewish boys across the former Soviet Union - were never circumcised. It's an oversight many of the boys themselves are eager to correct.
It's simply the most pointed example of how children are bringing Judaism back into the homes of Russian Jews. While many older Jews may not seek out religious activities on their own, they are often eager to enroll their children in the programs organized by Jewish organizations, which include the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia. The Federation, dominated by the Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidic movement, runs Gan Israel, as well as camps in 32 other cities in the former Soviet Union.
Summer camp has long been an integral part of Russian childhood. Almost all Soviet children spent time away from their parents at Young Pioneer camps, at which they received their Communist indoctrination. Most of those camps have since closed or been taken over by other organizations - Gan Israel uses an old Young Pioneer facility - but private camps are too expensive for most families. Jewish camps, on the other hand, provide a wholesome experience and good facilities at an affordable price: Gan Israel costs only $37 for the summer.
Camp, of course, is camp, be it in upstate New York or in the suburbs of Moscow. Most of a camper's day is spent playing, swimming and capturing the flag. But for an hour each morning, the youngsters at Gan Israel study the Hebrew alphabet, and for an hour each evening they learn the basics of Jewish tradition. Upon arrival, boys are given yarmulkes and tzitzit, or ritual fringes, and while wearing them is optional, almost all of the boys do.
"It's a Jewish experience that happens to be a summer camp," said Noam Osband, a Harvard student and volunteer counselor at Gan Israel. "After three weeks," he added, "these kids can read Hebrew. Imagine achieving that in the U.S."
Each day at Gan Israel is dedicated to a different Jewish holiday for the campers not only to study, but to experience - on "Passover," for example, matza is served. The whole camp prays every morning and evening and, of course, on the Sabbath. Because the camp is sponsored by Chabad-Lubavitch, all meals are strictly kosher. The same is true of all of the Federation camps, with differing levels of observance offered at camps run by other groups, including the Russian Jewish Congress, the Va'ad and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
"The most important thing is to feed the kids Yiddishkeit: to show them what keeping Shabbos is, what tying tefilin is, making Jewish friends and being proud of having a Jewish identity," said Alexander Kaller, a Russian-born New Yorker and director of Gan Israel.
What the campers take home with them varies. Some will simply beg their parents to send them back next year, while others ask to enroll in Jewish Day Schools, of which there are almost 100 in the former Soviet Union. The schools, the youth groups and the camps are virtually all oversubscribed, a mark of the children's enthusiasm and their parents' willingness to indulge them. Almost all of the children, though, will prod their parents toward greater observance, Mr. Kaller said, in some cases even dragging the whole family to the synagogue.
"One boy even told me he wanted to grow up to be Chief Rabbi of Russia," said Levi Yurkovich, a volunteer counselor from Israel. "A lot of these kids come from broken homes and very poor homes. Here, they have everything they need, and they have fun, and they learn to associate that happiness with Judaism."
The gifts go beyond a little Jewish education. One of Mr. Yurkovich's charges showed up for three weeks of camp with a single pair of socks and some well-worn sneakers - they were all that he had. So the counselors got together and bought him what he needed, as they have done for countless other campers. It's in part that charitable inclination that brings volunteers such as Mr. Yurkovich, Mr. Osband and Mr. Kaller to Russia to work alongside local staff.
"There are probably better camps in the world, and maybe even in Russia," Mr. Yurkovich said. "The counselors have come here to help people. We're here working for the kids, and I think that's why they like the camp."
Arkady was eager to get started back to camp less than 15 minutes after his circumcision, but a bit of rest and recuperation was advised. So instead, he launched into a protracted argument with his mother about his new Hebrew name. She wanted Shalom, he insisted on Yehoshua, and both got a little agitated as Arkady's counselor, bemused, looked on.
"That's the other reason we usually do this on babies," he said.
Reprinted with permission from the Forward, www.forward.com. For subscription information call 866-399-7900.
Simchat Torah March
Joy and enthusiasm were enfused into Simchat Torah celebrations when over 3,000 Lubavitcher Chasidim walked to synagogues in Brooklyn, Queens and parts of Manhattan on Tuesday, October 9 from Lubavitch World Headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. For over three decades via these annual marches, the Lubavitch Youth Organization has sent out delegates to bring the simple message of rejoicing on the holiday to Jews in small and large congregations alike. Some of the marchers, who range in age from five to 70, walk for over three hours to reach their destination. Many of the Chasidim are themselves visitors to this great metropolis, having came from abroad to spend the holidays in the Rebbe's community.
15th of Cheshvan, 5723 
Sholom uBrocho [Peace and Blessing]:
Having wound up the holy days of Tishrei with Simchas Torah, the concluding message is to carry the spirit of Simcha [happiness] with the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] into every day of the new year, especially in the light of Chassidus, which demands enthusiasm and joy in every activity connected with Torah and Mitzvoth, especially in the field of Chinuch [Jewish education].
Please convey my regards and good wishes to all the members of the ... family, who are also included in this letter,
13th of Marcheshvan, 5741
To All Participants in the
Chabad Lubavitch Concert
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleased to be informed of the forthcoming Concert, and extend prayerful wishes to all of you to make this outstanding annual event a complete success.
This year, being a Year of Hakhel, adds a special dimension to all Torah-related activities, as has been emphasized on various occasions recently. True, the Mitzvah of Hakhel - assembling all the people, the men, women and children in the Beis Hamikdosh [Holy Temple] once in seven years, for the purpose of encouraging them toward a greater and deeper commitment to the Torah and Mitzvos cannot physically be fulfilled nowadays (until such time as the Beis Hamikdosh will be restored).
But spiritually there are no restrictions of time and place, and every one of us must strive to attain the same objective, namely, unifying all our Jewish people into one kohol [congregation], as one organic body, permeated with fear of G-d and love of G-d and complete dedication to the way of G-d, the way of the Torah and Mitzvos in the everyday life.
When it comes to communication and influence, the spoken word has certain limitations. First of all, the language must be common to the speaker and the audience, and the message must be on the intellectual level of each particular listener, both in regard to content and articulation.
These conditions cannot ordinarily be adequately fulfilled when one addresses a vast audience of men, women, and children, of different backgrounds and walks of life. This is why Hakhel was such an extraordinary and unique experience in that it did unify all the Jewish people and evoked in them the same immediate and lasting response.
Here is where the Niggun [wordless melody] has a supreme advantage over the spoken word. A hearty Niggun, especially a Chabad Niggun, touches the innermost core of the Jewish heart, which is alive in every Jew, man and woman, regardless of age, knowledge and intellectual level.
However, needless to say, with all the importance of inspiration and enthusiasm ultimately it is the resulting action that counts, for "action is the essential thing," namely, the actual performance of the Mitzvos every day, with vitality and joy. Herein lies the real Hatzlocho [success] of the Concert, and may G-d grant that it will be realized in the fullest measure.
With esteem and blessing,
4 Tishrei 5762
Prohibition 266: coveting another's belongings
By this prohibition we are forbidden to set our thoughts to covet and desire what belongs to another, because this will lead to scheming to acquire it. It is derived from the Torah's words (Deut. 5:18), "Neither shall you desire your neighbor's house."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
As explained in the mystical Zohar, one of the many "job descriptions" of King Moshiach is that he will bring even the righteous (tzadikim) to repentance. On the surface, this seems contradictory. If they are truly tzadikim, why will they have to repent? And if they really do have something to repent about, how can they be called righteous?
Chasidic philosophy resolves the problem by explaining that when Moshiach comes, the righteous will not have to atone for any sins. Rather, in doing teshuva (literally returning to G-d), they will simultaneously combine the advantage of the righteous person who never sinned, with the advantage of one who returns in penitence. To explain:
A tzadik lives his life exactly as G-d wants him to, observing Torah and mitzvot without ever committing any transgressions. His entire life is spent in the realm of sanctity and holiness.
A baal teshuva (penitent), by contrast, has the advantage of actually being able to transform darkness into light. Precisely because he wandered so far afield, his desire to cleave to G-d is even stronger than the tzadik's. His love for G-d is so intense that even his deliberate sins are turned into merits.
When Moshiach comes, the righteous will do teshuva in the sense of ascending to ever-higher levels of connection with G-d. When all mankind, tzadikim included, will witness the infinite holiness of the Messianic era, even the highest spiritual levels already attained will seem like nothing, and they will be aroused to unprecedented heights, with the energy and vigor of baalei teshuva. This, of course, will be accomplished by Moshiach, who will open the whole world's eyes to the underlying G-dly reality of existence.
May it happen at once.
In the beginning G-d created ("Bereishit bara Elokim") (Gen. 1:1)
When the final letters of "Bereishit bara Elokim" (tav, alef and mem) are rearranged the result is the word "emet," truth, spelled alef, mem and tav. These are also the opening letters of the Ten Commandments ("Anochi"), the Mishna ("Me'eimatai") and the Gemara ("Tana"), as it states in Psalms (119:160), "The beginning of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever."
In the beginning G-d created the heaven and the earth (Gen. 1:1)
The first verse in the entire Torah consists of seven Hebrew words - "Bereishit bara Elokim eit hashamayim ve'eit ha'aretz." These are symbolic of the seven days of the week, the seven years of the Sabbatical cycle, the seven Sabbatical years in a Jubilee, the seven celestial firmaments, the seven lands, and the seven planets in the sky.
It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help to match him (Gen. 2:18)
As we learn from G-d's actions in the creation of the world, every man is obligated to do three things, and in this particular order: build a home, plant a vineyard, and marry a woman. For indeed, the Holy One, Blessed be He, first built a house (i.e., created the world), filled it with various provisions and means of livelihood, and only afterward created Adam and his wife.
The L-rd G-d called to Adam and said to him, Where are you? (Gen. 3:9)
From this we learn that one should never burst into another person's home unannounced. Indeed, we derive proper manners from G-d Himself, Who "stood" at the entrance to the Garden of Eden and initiated a conversation with Adam before entering.
Many years ago there was a man who occupied a high ministerial position in the Spanish government. When the official was accused of being a secret Jew, he was arrested by priests and subjected to a trial by Church authorities. He was found guilty - like everyone else accused of the same crime - and sentenced to death by burning. However, the minister was well connected and was a personal friend of the Spanish king. Even though such matters fell under the jurisdiction of the priests and had nothing to do with royal affairs, the king requested that the sentence be postponed for a year, to allow the minister to transfer his official responsibilities to another person and to assure a smooth transition. The Church authorities agreed and the auto-da-fe was postponed.
After the year was up the king once again asked for a postponement, this time for a month. The next month he asked for another week, and the following week, for another day. But the day of execution finally arrived, and the entire city was invited to witness the event in the center of the city's square, which had been specially prepared for the public spectacle.
Before the sentence could be carried out, however, a massive earthquake shook the very spot where the minister was about to meet his death. Pandemonium broke out as the crowds tried to run away, and many were trampled and died. In the midst of all the tumult the minister was able to escape. With the clandestine help of the king he succeeded in fleeing the country.
Now, this particular minister was an intellectual and a philosopher. As such, he felt compelled to understand the nature of the event that had just transpired. Was the sudden earthquake just a coincidence that saved his life at the very minute he was about to be executed, or had G-d performed a special miracle on his behalf? The minister decided to study the matter, and, based on his findings, act accordingly: If he concluded that the earthquake was merely coincidental he would continue to hide his Jewish identity, but if he came to believe that it was a miracle he would live openly as a Jew, for he was no longer under the jurisdiction of the Spanish authorities.
In his quest to understand the matter he sought the opinion of the greatest minds in Germany. He made sure, however, to never reveal that he was the individual involved in the case, saying instead that he had heard of such an occurrence and that he found it intriguing. Each wise man had a different opinion on the subject, but the minister was unable to accept any of their conclusions. He was still undecided what to do when he learned of the existence of a very great tzadik, Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov. He decided to pay him a visit to ask his help.
Entering the courtyard of the Baal Shem Tov, the minister passed someone standing in the yard, grooming the horses. This was Reb Zev Kitzes, one of the Baal Shem Tov's students. The minister asked him where the Baal Shem Tov lived, and was shown the right house. As soon as he entered the door, and before he had even announced his presence, he was greeted with the following words: "Peace upon you, O Spanish Minister!" The man froze in his tracks, for no one, during all his travels, had yet identified him. He realized that he was in the presence of a holy man. As he stood rooted to the spot, unable to speak, the Baal Shem Tov continued: "As far as your question is concerned, my student, the person you passed standing near the horses on your way in will provide the answer."
The minister went outside and explained his predicament to Reb Kitzes. "Let us assume," replied the disciple, "that ever since the Six Days of Creation it was preordained that on that very spot, at that very moment, an earthquake would take place. The very fact that your death sentence was scheduled to be carried out at that very moment, not one second before or after, is an indisputable miracle."
This explanation was immediately acceptable to the minister, whose mind was finally put at ease. Thenceforth he lived openly as a Jew and became a Chasid of the Baal Shem Tov.
On the Shabbat which precedes the new moon, a blessing is recited over the new month and the day on which it falls is announced in the synagoguge. This public blessing commemorates the act of sanctifying the new month which was performed by the Sanhedrin. At that time, the Rabbinical Court would verify the sighting of the new moon and recite three blessings over a cup of wine. The third blessing was a prayer for the coming of Elijah, the appearance of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.
(Book of Our Heritage by Rabbi E. Kitov)