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This Friday marks the beginning of the month of March...
"Hey, wait a minute," you might be thinking. "In a Jewish publica-tion, shouldn't the discussions be about Jewish months rather than 'secular' months?"
A famous teaching of the Baal Shem Tov is that from everything a person sees or hears - whether in the realm of holiness or the seemingly secular - he can learn a lesson in his G-dly service.
So, what can we learn from March?
Many of us know the saying, "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." Free associate and the image of the lion and the lamb brings to mind a time of world-peace. So powerful is this image of lion and lamb connoting world-peace that a grass-roots group of parents who promote non-violent toys for children call themselves the Lion and the Lamb.
When our prophets speak of the ultimate world peace in the Messianic Era, they do not pair the lion with the lamb but rather state, "The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid..." The prophet continues, "...And the lion will eat straw as the ox."
One might ask, "Is this allegorical, or will animals that were previously adversaries actually co-exist peacefully?" That's a good question!
According to the opinions of many of our great Sages, these prophecies should be taken literally.
Nachmonides documents this stand profusely, although he maintains that their fulfillment will not necessitate great changes in Creation because, "Initially when the world was created, prior to the sin of Adam, animals were not predatory. Only after Adam's sin did their natures change..."
Similarly, Radak declares that animals were not originally predators, as G-d created only one male and one female of each species. If either one would have been killed, the species would have become extinct.
However, there are other great thinkers whose opinions differ. No less a giant than Maimonides declares: "Do not presume that in the days of Moshiach the nature of the world will change, or there will be innovations in the work of Creation. Rather, the world will continue according to its pattern."
How are we to understand Maimonides' words, knowing that he established as one of the 13 principles of Judaism the belief in the resurrection of the dead, an act that is certainly a change in the nature of the world?
The Rebbe explains that there are two stages to the Messianic Era. In the first stage, "the coming of Moshiach," everything will go according to its natural pattern. In the second stage, the actual Redemption, we will experience supernatural and miraculous occurrences.
However, it is possible, according to the Rebbe, that we could by-pass the first stage and go straight to the miracles - if we are meritorious.
Differing opinions aside, whichever way it's going to happen, let it just happen already! And may we celebrate the month of March (and the rest of the month of Adar) in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem!
In this week's Torah portion, Ki Tisa, G-d commands Moses to make a washing basin of brass for the kohanim (priests) and set it before the Tent of Meeting. The kohanim were required to wash before performing their service, as it states, "And Aaron and his sons shall wash out of it, their hands and their feet, when they come into the Tent of Meeting."
The washing process not only ensured that the kohanim were clean and pure in the physical sense, but imbued them with an extra dimension of holiness. For this reason, it is referred to as "the sanctification of the hands and feet."
In our times, although we no longer have a physical Holy Temple, the services that were performed there continue to be relevant on the spiritual plane. Indeed, every Jew is considered a "kohen" (the Jewish people are "a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation"), and the concept of washing as preparation for spiritual service still exists.
In his laws concerning prayer, the great legal redactor Maimonides writes, "Before the morning service one must wash his face, hands and feet." Nowadays, prayer is the substitute for the offerings in the Holy Temple. In the same way the kohanim washed before executing their duties, so too must we prepare ourselves properly before praying.
There is, however, an important distinction. Whereas the Torah commands the kohanim to wash only their hands and feet, Maimonides includes the face. As will be explained, this has a special significance in the historical period after the destruction of the Temple.
The hands and feet are symbolic of practical action; the face represents the inner faculties: intellect, vision, hearing, speech, etc. When it comes to worldly concerns, a Jew should invest only his most external powers, i.e., his hands and feet. His higher faculties should be reserved for the true essence of his existence, i.e., his service of G-d.
In the times of the Holy Temple, the "face," the true essence of the Jew, was on a higher and more sanctified level, essentially removed from worldly affairs; no special procedure to make it holy was thus necessary. After the destruction, however, the negative atmosphere of the exile affects even the Jew's inner powers, dragging them down into the realm of the mundane. An extra measure of purity and sanctity is thus required.
It is interesting to note that other codifiers of Jewish law do not specify that the face be washed. In their opinion, the declaration of "Modeh Ani," thanking G-d for restoring one's soul upon awakening, demonstrates that the Jew is always intrinsically connected to G-d, and that no additional sanctification is necessary. For a Jew's true inner essence is always ready and willing to serve G-d, and impervious to spiritual contamination.
Adapted from Vol. 31 of Likutei Sichot
By Ariel Galian
Twenty years ago, as a man lay ill in a Caracas, Venezuela, hospital, he was visited daily by a Lubavitcher rabbi. Soon he began to put on tefilin, sing Jewish songs and even dance with his committed visitor. This tale came full circle two years ago in Shanghai, China.
Rabbi Sholom and Dina Greenberg were a young, idealistic couple embarking upon the mission of a lifetime. Heeding the exhortation of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, they decided to become part of the small Jewish community in Shanghai.
"We were looking for a place where Jews needed Judaism but couldn't find it," says Dina, who was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, where her parents are shluchim, emissaires, of the Rebbe. "It's every Jew's right to know about his/her religion."
Becoming the spiritual leader in a small community, in a Communist nation where Judaism is not recognized, entails difficulties. Before anything else, the Greenbergs needed a home and a meeting place for their congregation. This is where the Caracas and Shanghai stories meet.
Shortly after their arrival in Shanghai, Dina met a woman who told her, "You help people, now I want to help you." Her father was the man who had been ill in Caracas. To repay the favor, she and her husband offered to assist the Greenbergs in obtaining an apartment and community meeting place-not an easy task in crowded Shanghai.
There was one hurdle. The husband needed permission from his boss in Atlanta, who controlled property in Shanghai. Serendipitously, the boss was vice president of the Lubavitcher shul in Atlanta-so the needed approval was quickly granted! The Greenbergs had their home, and the Jewish community of Shanghai had a place to meet.
The connections between Chabad in Caracas, Atlanta and Shanghai were all part of a dream inspired by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, says Dina. He sent shluchim all over the world to offer Judaism to Jews who want to learn more about their roots.
The Greenbergs' mission in China required deep sacrifice. Dina and Sholom have siblings who are shluchim in Argentina, Israel, Alaska, Texas, Connecticut, and Ohio and were raised in homes that were "always open to people not necessarily at the same level of observance." But to transfer this experience to a distant and immensely foreign locale would be daunting.
The Jewish community in Shanghai dates back to 1843 with the arrival of Sephardic Jews from Iraq and India. With an influx of Russian Jews in the 1920s, the population reached 1,700. During World War II, about 20,000 Eastern European Jews escaped to Shanghai, as it was one of the few places they were accepted. When the wings of Communism spread over China in 1949, most of the Jews there immigrated to Israel or the United States.
Today, Shanghai is a modern metropolis with sleek buildings and renovated roads. "It's becoming the Manhattan of China," says Dina. Yet, one just needs to peer down a side alleyway to see a very different picture. Filth and poverty are endemic. Many of the locals don't even have electricity. Foreigners, including the 250 resident Jews, are immune to the squalor.
When the Greenbergs arrived in Shanghai, they were unceremoniously greeted by the Chinese government. "They wanted to know what we were doing here," says Dina, who is deliberately reticent when discussing governmental issues. "This was the biggest obstacle. We didn't know if they were going to allow our community to practice Judaism."
The largest Communist republic in the world, however, was not going to sway the Greenbergs from their life mission. They remembered why they were there. "The Rebbe said that our mission in life was to help others," says Dina.
After their initial scare with the government, an accord was reached. The Greenbergs agreed to permit only foreign passport holders to attend functions. Today, the Chinese government "keeps careful tabs" on the Greenbergs.
There have been other challenges. Keeping kosher in Shanghai is about as easy as obtaining snow in the Bahamas. Kosher food must be imported from California or Australia. The cost of shipping, along with a steep customs tax, means paying 300% more for meat than average. With Chabad a "franchised" operation, the Greenbergs, who provide weekly Shabbat meals for 35-40 people, must personally raise their own funds.
For the Greenbergs first Shabbat in Shanghai, Dina experimented with serving Chinese-style cuisine. The guests protested that they came "for gefilte fish and roasted chicken."
Services are conducted according to Torah law. There is a mechitza (partition) between the men and the women. "At home many of the people who come to our services would never pray with a mechitza or have contact with those who do. Their opinion of observant people changes," says Dina.
Far from imposing their own religious views, the Greenbergs want to be available so if congregants choose to learn more, "We can help." They have organized Bar and Bat Mitzva classes as well as adult education classes on various levels.
The community has begun to include Jews who, ironically, would never have been involved in Jewish pursuits if they were not in Shanghai. "People are more willing to embrace their Judaism in Shanghai," Dina says. "Many say that they never knew that Judaism has a philosophy. 'If I would have known,' they tell us, 'perhaps I would not have (first) explored Buddhism.' "
Even with the existence of a Jewish community, China is still not the ideal place to raise a Jewish family. This is felt poignantly by the Greenbergs, who home school their young children. Recognizing that education is the key to Jewish development, however, the Greenbergs have begun a campaign to create a local preschool.
Despite the challenges, Dina feels that the Jewish community is becoming more "aware and knowledgeable" of its Judaism. Inspired by the Rebbe, the Greenbergs have created something in Shanghai that eludes many other Jewish communities. "We're all together," says Dina.
Reprinted with permission from the Cleveland Jewish News
Chabad Centennial Celebration
Saluting 100 years of the Rebbe, the Jewish Learning Group presents a Philhar-monic Tribute in the Manhattan Center (NYC). Taking place on Sunday, March 10, the evening includes a 60-piece orchestra conducted by Israel Lamm, guest artist Avraham Fried, and a debut performance by the Nikolayev Kapeliah choir. Co-sponsored by Chabad of the West Side and Chabad of Kensington, tickets are available at your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center, by calling 888-56-LEARN, or by visiting www.chabadcentennial.com.
Erev Purim 5737 
Blessing and Greeting:
I received your letter of Feb. 22, and may G-d grant the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good, and you should have good news to report in all the matters about which you wrote, especially that you and your husband are bringing up your children to a life of Torah, Chuppah [the wedding canopy] and Good Deeds and having true Yiddish Nachas [Jewish pleasure] from each and all of them in good health and pleasant circumstances.
The Zechus [merit] of your observance of our sacred traditions - which I was gratified to note in your letter - will surely stand you and yours in good stead in all above, including your continued advancement in all matters of Torah and Mitzvos. For, although this is a "must" for its own sake, in compliance with G-d's Will, this is also the "channel and vessel" to receive additional Divine blessings in all needs, materially and spiritually.
The above is a particularly timely message now that we are about to celebrate Purim, the highlight of which is the reading of the Megillah, evening and morning. It is noteworthy and significant that although - as the Megillah tells us - both Mordechai and Esther were instrumental in bringing about the Miracle of Purim and saving our people, the Megillah is not named after both of them jointly, nor after Esther and Mordechai in this order, but solely after Esther - "Megillas Esther."
Here is a pointedly emphatic message for every Jewish woman about her unique role in Jewish life. To be sure, no one can compare to the stature of Queen Esther, but it does emphasize the extraordinary potential of every loyal Jewish daughter to shape the future of her family, with far-reaching consequences for the environment and even for the entire Jewish people.
If this seems farfetched and mystical, the following episode will illustrate what even a comparatively small effort can accomplish.
You may have heard that many of our senior Lubavitch students volunteer their summer vacation to travel to distant places in order to reach out to fellow Jews in need of encouragement to strengthen their identity with, and commitment to, our people and the Torah way.
In the course of this program it so happened that one of the students visited a small, Jewishly isolated town where he found only a few Jewish families, and, as he later reported, he was disappointed to have accomplished nothing there. But several months later, our Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch which sponsors this program received a letter from one the families in that town.
The writer, a woman, related that one summer day she happened to stand by her front window when she saw a bearded young man, wearing a dark hat, his Tzitzis showing, approaching her door. She confessed that when she admitted the young man and learned of the purpose of his visit, she was not responsive, for she and her family were not prepared at that moment to change their lifestyle. Yet for a long time after that encounter, the appearance of the young man haunted her. He reminded her of her grandfather and had refreshed her memories of the beautiful Jewish life she had seen in her grandparents' home, though the material circumstances were incomparably more modest than she had come to know in her married life.
Finally - the letter went on - she decided to make the change. She made her home kosher, and the family began to observe Shabbos and Yom Tov, and she is raising the children in the Torah way. Since then her home was filled with such contentment and serenity that she decided to write to the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch and express her profound gratitude.
Now, if all that was the result of a brief encounter with that young man, though unknown to him of his lasting impact, how much more can be achieved by an American Jewish family, whose influence is not limited to a few minutes' conversation, but serves as a shining example of the kind of daily life and conduct that should be the privilege and blessing of every Jewish family.
Needless to say, if in maintaining the proper Jewish standards there may be some difficulties to overcome (many of which may even be more imaginary than real), surely such difficulties should be of no significance in comparison to the infinite benefits. More-over, the effort required is a personal one, while the benefit is also for the many.
With prayerful wishes for a joyous and inspiring Purim and
20 Adar 5762
Positive mitzva 222: the law of divorce
By this injunction we are commanded that divorce must be accomplished by a bill of divorcement (a "get") and not otherwise. It is contained in the Torah's words (Deut. 24:1): "Let him write her a bill of divorcement."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is known as "Shabbat Para," when we read the special portion of the Torah about the red heifer. The ashes of the red heifer (of which only nine have ever existed) have the power to remove the spiritual impurity caused by contact with a dead body.
As Maimonides writes: "There were nine red heifers from the time we were commanded until the destruction of the Second Holy Temple. The first was prepared by Moses our Teacher, the second by Ezra, and seven more between Ezra and the destruction. The tenth will be prepared by King Moshiach, may he be speedily revealed, Amen, may it be G-d's will."
Maimonides impassioned "outburst," as it were - "may he be speedily revealed, Amen, may it be G-d's will" - is somewhat surprising, given its context in a book of Jewish law. Moreover, even if we were to make "allowances" for such a prayer, surely it would seem more appropriate in his Laws of Kings.
The explanation, as Maimonides himself provides elsewhere, is that believing in Moshiach and actively awaiting his arrival is a perpetual mitzva. A Jew longs for Moshiach because he feels incomplete without him. He hopes for Moshiach "all the day" because until he arrives, a crucial element is missing.
Accordingly, the mere mention of Moshiach, however indirect or tangential, has the power to arouse a passionate response in the Jewish soul. Even the slightest reference elicits a heartfelt prayer, that G-d should fulfill His promise and send Moshiach at once.
The red heifer is particularly associated with the Final Redemption, as it states, "Then I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean." This refers to the sprinkling of the ashes of the red heifer, which will remove our present state of spiritual impurity (due to contact with the dead).
In the tiny interval that remains, let us remember that every positive action we do draws nearer the day when "The spirit of uncleanliness I will remove from the earth," with the coming of Moshiach, "may he be speedily revealed, Amen, may it be G-d's will."
See, I have called by name Betzalel the son of Uri (Ex. 31:2)
When Moses ascended on high to receive the Torah, G-d showed him all the Sanctuary's vessels and explained how to make them. Moses thus assumed that he would be the one to make them, until G-d took out the Book of Adam and showed him the names of all the people who would live from Creation until the Resurrection of the Dead, "each generation and its kings, its generation and its leaders and prophets." Pointing to Betzalel's name He declared, "See, I have called by name Betzalel," i.e., ever since the creation of the world, Betzalel was intended to be the Sanctuary's artisan.
Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations (Ex. 31:16)
The Hebrew word for "throughout their generations," "l'dorotam," is written without the letter vav; thus it can also be read "l'diratam," "throughout their abodes." When a Jew makes his home "Shabbosdik" in honor of the holy Sabbath, "the table is set, the candles are lit and his bed is made," the Divine Presence declares, "I will dwell with you." If there is no Shabbat atmosphere in the home it declares, "This is not the abode of an Israelite."
And the Tablets were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d (Ex. 32:16)
What was so remarkable about the Tablets, considering that the Jewish people had already heard the Ten Commandments? Rather, when the Ten Commandments were inscribed in stone, they were simultaneously engraved upon the heart of every Jew forever and ever, as it states, "Write them on the tablet of your heart." This, indeed, was truly "a work of G-d."
And you shall see My back (literally "end"); but My face shall not be seen (Ex. 33:23)
The significance of most events is not readily apparent when they first occur; it is only with the passage of time that we are able to discern the guiding hand of Divine Providence throughout history. That is what is meant by "And you shall see My end" - only in the end will you understand; "but My face shall not be seen" - whereas in the beginning, a true understanding of the overall picture is impossible.
Rabbi Shmuel Hanagid was a medieval poet who lived in Moslem Spain from 993-1056 of the Common Era. One of his most prized possessions was a tiny Torah scroll he had written on special parchment, which he always carried with him wherever he went.
Rabbi Shmuel Hanagid's love for calligraphy was passed down to his sons, who even as young children demonstrated an aptitude for lettering. By the age of 8, his son Yehosef had already transcribed his father's book of poems, Ben Tehillim. Another work, entitled Ben Mishlei, was copied by his son Elyasaf at age 6½. Rabbi Shmuel wanted his third book, Ben Kohelet, to be copied by his son Yehuda, but the boy unfortunately passed away before he could do so. Rabbi Shmuel Hanagid was grief-stricken, as he had loved his son very much. In the end he transcribed the book himself, and dedicated it to the boy's memory.
Rabbi Shmuel had many enemies. When he came under attack, he was forced to defend himself and wage war. He was a fearless and successful fighter, but it was during one of these battles that he lost his precious manuscript, Ben Kohelet. He was especially distressed by the loss, as it was the only copy in existence.
Rabbi Shmuel returned home to what he hoped would be a life of tranquility and scholarship. However, this proved impossible, as he found himself besieged by numerous requests for holy books from Torah scholars near and far, who complained about their desperate shortage. (Remember, this was before the invention of the printing press, when all reading materials had to be painstakingly copied by hand.)
Rabbi Shmuel thus became the founder of a famous institute for copying Jewish holy books, with a large number of scribes in his employ. Indeed, he was responsible for developing a new method of "mass" production, whereby transcribers would sit in a half-circle around a single "reader" in the middle and faithfully reproduce his words.
Thanks to Rabbi Shmuel Hanagid, Jewish holy books became much more readily available to the common man. He also took pains to bind them in attractive bindings. Copies were sent to far-flung Jewish communities around the world. Apprentice scribes flocked to the new school, begging to be accepted. It was said that Rabbi Shmuel Hanagid could determine a person's character just by looking at his handwriting.
One day a potential scribe arrived at the school and asked to be accepted as an apprentice. When Rabbi Shmuel asked him to provide a sample of his calligraphy, he took one look at the handwriting and pronounced him to be a professional plagiarist. The man was immediately taken aback, and admitted that he had been involved in producing forgeries. However, he said that he was happy to have been found out, and promised to amend his ways. Rabbi Shmuel decided to take him on as a student.
Several years passed, until one day the former plagiarist brought Rabbi Shmuel a copy of the Talmudic Tractate Bava Metzia he had transcribed for his approval. After inspecting his work, Rabbi Shmuel told him that he could see from his writing that he had been "cured," and would never again fall prey to temptation. The man was so happy that he kissed his mentor's hands and gave him a small manuscript as a token of his affection. Rabbi Shmuel could hardly believe his eyes: it was an exact copy of his book, Ben Kohelet, that had been lost years before!
The student then told Rabbi Shmuel that as a result of his former criminal associations he had met a man who boasted of having written a book of poetry. Indeed, the man was very fond of quoting "his" poems at length. By that time, the student was well acquainted with Rabbi Shmuel's work and recognized his style. He realized that the poems could have only been authored by him, and learned them by heart, word for word and line by line. He then transcribed them into a book as a gift for his wonderful teacher, who had refused to give up on him and given him a second chance.
Rabbi Shmuel Hanagid's joy knew no bounds. Not only had he been proven a good judge of character, but the beloved manuscript he had thought was lost to him forever was restored to him in its entirety.
The Talmud states, "In the future time, G-d will make a banquet for the righteous from the flesh of the Leviathan." This banquet is replete with spiritual allusions: the Leviathan, the Wild Ox, the "preserved wine" - each has its profound mystical significance. At the same time, however, this will also be a physical banquet. For, the ultimate reward in the days of Moshiach will not be granted in the Garden of Eden, "where there is neither eating nor drinking," but in the World of Resurrection, to souls garbed in bodies.
(From a talk of the Rebbe, Parshat Balak, 5751/1991)