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In nearly 200 countries around the world, Earth Day was celebrated this past month.
Media types love to cover Earth Day events and love to hate earth day participants, finding it irresistible to bemoan the tons (literally) of garbage left by those who gather to proclaim their concern for our environment.
Paper plates, non-returnable bottles, disposable diapers, novel items only a few decades ago, have become a way of life for even many of the most conscientious environmentalists.
We're living in the age of throwaways. In an attempt to simplify our ever more hectic lives, we find that it's less complicated to throw it out and buy another one than to fix, clean or repair what we have.
Are you one of the rare ones who still resoles his shoes? Conversely, do you buy a new VCR or vacuum cleaner rather than hassle with repairing it within or without the warranty?
In the age of throwaways, it's important and even comforting in knowing that there is something permanent: Torah and Jewish tradition.
Week after week, year after year, we're celebrating the same holidays that we celebrated as long back as we can remember. On Rosh Hashana we still dip apples in honey... on Chanuka we still spin the dreidle... on Shabbat we still make the blessing over the braided challa and wine... We still eat matza on Passover, put a penny in a "pushka" (charity box) and cover our eyes when we say that fundamental of all Jewish prayers, the "Shema."
Judaism and Jewish traditions last because they're unbreakable. And there's no chance of getting bored with Judaism because we can always spice up a mitzva (commandment) with something new we've learned: a custom we never knew about before, a novel interpretation that someone recently shared with us or a commitment to fulfill the mitzva in a more observant manner than in the past.
The motto for Earth Day 2002 was "Who says you can't change the world?" Far from thinking that we must do something vast to make an impact on our environment, Earth Day aficionados were encouraged to not use their cars for a whole day (thereby participating in a "car free day") or to plant a tree as part of a "global tree planting" project.
The notion that each one of us can play a part in changing the world is at the very core of Judaism. Jewish teachings explain that from the moment of creation each one of us was empowered with the ability to have a positive influence on the world. So central is this theme to Judaism that the great Maimonides directed us to view the entire world as if perfectly in balance and that an individual's one positive action could tip the scale to the side of good and bring salvation to the person and the entire world.
How can an individual make an impact on the world and bring about the era of peace, prosperity and unlimited knowledge that we have looked forward to for thousands of years? Earth Day offers valuable suggestions that parallel Jewish teachings as well. "Do good..." and "Take action."
By increasing in acts of goodness and kindness (as recommended by the Lubavitcher Rebbe when asked by CNN about his message to the world concerning Moshiach); by taking action rather than simply discussing or philosophizing about what can or should be done; by "acting" in a manner befitting life in the Messianic Era (when there will be no jealousy or envy, only love and good will), we will affect a permanent change in our environment today and always.
At the end of his Laws of Kings Maimonides writes: "One should not think that any aspect of the world will be altered in the Days of Moshiach... Rather, the world will continue to function in its usual manner." In other words, in the Messianic Era the world will still operate according to the laws of nature.
However, in the second of this week's two Torah portions, Bechukotai, we find two contradictions to this ruling. "And the tree of the field will give its fruit" - in the Messianic Era all trees, including non-fruiting bearing varieties, will yield fruit. This is obviously a departure from the laws of nature. In another verse, G-d promises "And I will remove evil beasts from the land" - wild animals will no longer be predatory. This also contradicts the way nature operates at present.
Maimonides himself explains the discrepancy: When the world was first created, all trees produced fruit. It wasn't until after the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, when Adam was punished with the decree of "Thorns also and thistles shall [the earth] bring forth to you," that some varieties of trees stopped producing fruit, and some animals became predatory. In the Days of Moshiach, the world will simply revert to its original character. According to Maimonides, this does not constitute a change in nature. True, the world will be different from the way it is now, but nonetheless "continue to function in its usual manner."
There are also several seeming contradictions in the Torah's description of how Moshiach will be revealed. In one instance the Torah tells us that Moshiach will arrive "on heavenly clouds" - in a supernatural manner - yet Moshiach is also depicted as "lowly and riding on a donkey." The first description relates to a situation in which the Jewish people will have "merit"; the second describes Moshiach's arrival "if they will not have merit." Likewise, the manner in which the Holy Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt also depends on whether or not the Jewish people will be worthy. With sufficient merit, the Third Holy Temple will descend from heaven completely erected. If they are less deserving, Moshiach will build it.
The fact that Moshiach will arrive is certain, regardless of our actions. The only variable is how the Final Redemption will take place. Because the Laws of Kings is a legal work, Maimonides gives us the "worst case" scenario, describing how Moshiach will come if the Jewish people will not have sufficient merit. The existence of Moshiach will not necessarily alter creation, "and the world will continue to function in its usual manner."
If, however, we will be worthy, Moshiach's arrival will be accompanied by many more revelations of G-dliness, as well as open miracles.
Adapted from Volume 27 of Likutei Sichot
Daughter and Mother
by Nechama Mankovsky,
I can't help but seek the truth.
As a small child, my mother sent me to a Lubavitch day care near home. That was a pivotal experience for me and I have a video of myself to prove it. Marching around the family room at the age of three or four, my mother asks, "Are you part of the army of Hashem (G-d)?"
"Yes," I answer, and keep marching as I sing a Jewish song I had learned in the day care.
As a child I was instilled with a strong Jewish identity, though my traditional upbringing left me missing the answers to many questions.
My mother was born in Winnipeg, Canada and has always had a strong connection to and a high regard for her Jewish heritage. Though she considers herself a reform Jew, she sent me to a Lubavitch Day Care because, as she puts it now, "We trusted Chabad, they're Jews."
My father, of blessed memory, was from Ukraine. He got out in 1976 through Italy. During the time he spent in Italy, he lived in the home of Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik, the Rebbe's first emissary to Italy. Eventually my father left Italy and settled in Toronto, Canada. Although he never became religious, Chabad always remained close to his heart. My father passed away when I was twelve years old.
I attended a Jewish day school. The school's main merit from my mother's perspective was that they taught Yiddish. From my perspective along with folk dancing, holiday plays and Hebrew, being Jewish meant having Roots clothes and a Mercedes, neither of which I had. I did, however, graduate with skills in Hebrew and some in Yiddish and French. Throughout those formative years, I was continuously asking questions and always felt there was something deeper than the answers I was getting.
After graduation, I enrolled in an arts-based high school and danced my way through. Slowly my connection to Judaism faded. I played Rugby, produced the school's fashion show and toyed with a lot of rebellious teenager type trouble. I always managed good grades with minimal work and developed a name for myself as someone with tons of potential but who could not focus.
Confused, like many of my peers on what path to take in life, I ended up spending time and money on the beaten one. I attended university, which had its pros and cons. I didn't stick to it and resorted back to the working world where I was more comfortable.
Together with a neighbor, I started an organization that helped clean up the neighborhood and bring unity to the area. When I came to Chabad to ask them for a reference letter, I met Rabbi Levi Jacobson. In return for the letter he asked me to help him organize a free trip to Israel called Birthright.
When Purim rolled around, I celebrated at the Chabad Jewish Russian Community Center, dressed as the color purple. There was no particular reason why I had decided to attend the Russian Center. Perhaps it was my desire to reconnect to my father's past. I returned to attend Shabbat services and began participating in Shabbat meals in the community.
The trip to Israel I had helped Rabbi Jacobson organize was scheduled for June and he offered to take me along as a chaperone. I went on the trip and I fell back in love with G-d.
There is a phenomenon in this generation of people searching for truth. I am one of them. My search led me to the Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I arrived at the end of the high holidays and slipped into the scene with ease. I began attending classes at a women's yeshiva there called Machon Chana. I stayed in Rabbi Jacobson's parents' home until the renovations on the bedrooms in the Machon Chana dormitory were complete.
As an added "bonus" I met Rabbi Garelik who was visiting Crown Heights from Italy. I spoke with him about my father and he told me, "Your father was like a son to me."
My experience at Machon Chana has finally brought me peace concerning the early passing of my father and my search for truth.
by Sheine Mankovsky
Last October my daughter Brenda, Breindl Nechama, informed me that she had withdrawn from the Ontario College of Art and Design and had made arrangements to study at Machon Chana in Crown Heights. Although Brenda had become more observant than the other members of my family I had no idea that she was considering such a move.
I asked my two younger daughters what they thought of all of this. Their response was that Brenda had a right to follow her own path in life. They reminded me that I had raised them to be decent, self-assured, competent, independent individuals. They reminded me furthermore that I had sent them to a Jewish day school because I wanted them to have a sound knowledge of Judaism. And all three had had a Bat Mitzva. So how could I have a problem with Brenda's decision? I had to agree; I couldn't find fault with Brenda's decision to study Torah. Having raised my daughter to make her own decisions, I had to support and assist her despite my discomfort.
I recently attended the Machon Chana parents' Shabbaton and it was a wonderful experience. It was clear that many people had made a great deal of effort to welcome parents and relatives. They tried to make them feel comfortable, to show them that their daughters were safe and well cared for, and to give them opportunities to get to know Machon Chana, and the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights. The Shabbos (not Shabbat!) that the girls prepared with the assistance of the dorm mother, Mrs. Gansburg, was more than terrific. The Jacobson family was particularly hospitable to me and I remain grateful for their generosity.
And the young women who attend Machon Chana, they are special people, each in their own way. They are searching for a higher meaning for life, and I respect them for having the courage to set out on that journey, just as I respect my own daughter. It was a joy to witness their growing bonds of friendship and community.
Judaism in a Changed World
Judaism in a Changed World will be the topic at a special Shabbaton weekend May 24-26 (Memorial Day Weekend) in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Featured speakers Rabbi Manis Friedman and Mrs. Rivkah Slonim will facilitate the exploration of our personal and communal roles in a world that is continually changing. Discussions and topics include "Has religion been good or bad for the world?" "Does Judasim have anything to say about what is happening in the world today?" and "How does Israel fit into this cosmic picture?" Join Jewish couples, singles and families experience an unforgettable Shabbaton accompanied by traditional cuisine, amidst the warmth of Chassidic family life and song. For more info or to register call Lubavitch Youth Organization at (718) 953-1000 or visit www.shabbaton.org
27th of Iyar, 5720 
Greeting and Blessing:
Thank you for letter of May 19th.
I trust that Mrs. - will not be discouraged by the "tough fight," as you write in connection with her attempt to influence -. However, I hope that the effort will be continued in a spirit of friendship and pleasantness, and that eventually Mr. - and [his wife] will recognize that you are only trying to help them, and have nothing but their own good in mind. "Words coming from the heart enter the heart," all the more so when the subject matter concerns the vital interests of the parents and children to the end of posterity. Of course, I need not elaborate this to you and Mrs. -, but our Sages say "Encourage the energetic ones." I trust that both you and Mrs. - will, therefore, continue your efforts in this direction.
With regard to the question of your daughter, I am surprised you do not mention anything about her plans for the forthcoming vacation time. I trust that she will make use of it in the best way for her own benefit as well as for the benefit of others.
As for her plans for the new term, and your desire that your son should continue here, which would entail a postponement of your daughter's coming here, I note from your letter that she is only sixteen, and therefore her coming to study here could be postponed for a year or so. I assume, of course, that in the interim your daughter will have regular appointed times for the study of Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in the maximum possible way, both in regard to quantity and quality.
I enclose a copy of my message, which I trust your daughter will find useful, and that also you and Mrs. - could make use of on your appropriate level.
Wishing you and your family, in the words of my father-in-law of saintly memory, a happy Shovuoth [the festival marking the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai], and to receive the Torah with joy and Pnimius [inwardness].
Needless to say, I do not agree at all with the spirit of resignation which you express in your letter in regard to Parnosso [livelihood], being prepared to wait for a substantial improvement until winter. For your benefit as well as for the benefit of the Tzedoko [charity] fund, which needs for its steadily growing commitments, a correspondingly growing income, I hope and pray that the improvement will come much sooner, and I trust that you will also be strong in your faith in this since the strength of faith and trust in G-d provides the channel and vessel to receive G-d's blessings.
Rev. M- is due to see me this evening.
Since writing the above, I want to add that Rev. M- visited me together with his brother and sister, and we had a lengthy discussion on the communal affairs of Manchester. No doubt he will communicate to you all that we spoke about. As you know me, you can take it for granted that I spoke to him about the need to expand his work and all other communal activities, for the strengthening of Yiddishkeit in Manchester and environs.
10th of Iyar, 5719 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter of May 10th and I will again remember you in prayer, for successful business. You, on your part will surely continue in regard to Tzedoko, as suggested, and I trust that you will have good news to report.
If you will have occasion to be in Italy, I would suggest that you make a visit to Milan where one of our young Rabbis, Rabbi Garelik has been sent, and he has also made the acquaintance of businessmen. It would therefore perhaps be advisable for you to spend a day or two there, to make business contacts, if possible, and the connection with us will stand you in good stead, as well as your setting aside Tzedoko from the profit. Even if it might appear farfetched, our Sages have already said, "Do not carp at anything."
With regard to your son A-, I suggest that you should get in touch with Rabbi Dubov, or other members of the faculty of the Manchester yeshiva, that they should give him an informal examination, so as to ascertain his status in learning, and then they should write about it to the Yeshiva Administration here in order to make sure that there would be a suitable class for him, etc.
I trust that the condition of your wife has greatly improved, and will continue to do so.
As for Mr. -, about whom you write that it is not very pleasant to interfere in another person's family life, however, I trust that you and your wife will, nevertheless, find a discreet, diplomatic way to encourage Mr. - and his wife to conduct their home on the foundations of the Torah and Mitzvoth. It is always easier to make an initial effort to put a thing right in the first place, than to try later to change it.
With all good wishes, and with blessing,
22 Iyar 5762
Positive mitzva 125: bringing first fruits to the Sanctuary
By this injunction we are commanded to set aside the first fruits and bring them to the Sanctuary. It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 23:19): "The choicest first fruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the L-rd your G-d." The mitzva is binding only during the existence of the Temple, and applies only to the "seven kinds" grown in Israel (and Syrian and Transjordan).
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The summer is quickly approaching and those who have not yet made vacation plans are now busy with them.
Vacation for most means time to relax, a change of pace and scenery, more time to spend with family and friends. We all know, however, that one can never take a "vacation from Life."
Life, in the true sense, is not just our day-to-day living. "For they [the words of Torah] are our life" is often quoted about the importance of Torah study and observance. Truly, there is no vacation from "life"-Torah study and observance.
When making our vacation plans this summer, we must make sure to include time for Torah. It can be a weekly class, a daily five-minute Torah-on-the-Line phone call, a visit to a Torah website, or any other numerous opportunities that we might have to arrange to study Torah.
In addition, it is certainly important to mention a few words about the necessity of ensuring that every Jewish child spend his or her summer in a Jewish environment. There are numerous summer camps, conducted in a true-Torah atmosphere, that provide the latest in modern camping. Jewish day camps and overnight camps can instill in a child a sense of pride in his heritage and help him acquire Jewish knowledge in a fun, spirited atmosphere. Make sure children you know are signed up in one of these day camps.
May we all make sure to include "life" in our summer plans, and then, certainly G-d, will make sure to add life to our life, in happiness and fulfillment.
And G-d spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai...(Numbers 1:1)
G-d purposely chose a desert in which to give the Torah. He spoke to the Jews in a place where everyone enjoyed free access, to show us that every Jew has an equal obligation and share in the Torah.
(Bamidbar Rabba and Michilta B'Shalach)
Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses...(1:2)
In order to know the number of people in each tribe, first they were counted according to their families and then each member of the family was counted. This shows us the importance of the family. The existence of the Jewish people is based on and dependant on the actions of each family.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
And these are the generations of Aaron and Moses...(3:1)
Previous to this statement, only the sons of Aaron were mentioned. Why, then, were they also considered the generations-children-of Moses? Moses taught Torah to the children of Aaron; whoever teaches Torah to the children of his fellow-man, Scripture credits him as though they were his own children.
Those that pitch [their tents] on the east side are the standard of the camp of Judah...the tribe of Issachar...and the tribe of Zevulun...(2:3-7)
According to Rabeynu Bechaye, the tribes of Judah, Issachar and Zevulun camped near Moses and Aaron. For this reason, they all became great scholars. This shows us the importance of choosing righteous neighbors.
To be rich was never Berel's ambition. He was a plain Jew, quite satisfied with what he had. When he prayed to G-d three times a day, he prayed for many things: good health; good children; that G-d would put more sense into his head to understand Torah, and more feeling into his heart when doing mitzvot (the commandments). But riches? It never even occurred to him to pray for such a thing. Thank G-d, he had a good wife, nice children, and he was making a modest living. Could anyone wish for more?
Berel lived in a little town called Chasnik, not far from Chernobil, where the great rebbe, the saintly Rabbi Mordechai Chernobiler, lived. Berel was a chasid of the "Chernobiler Rebbe" as he was known, and he went there several times a year to get a spiritual boost. On such occasions he would take with him the money he had put aside for charity to leave with the Rebbe, who would know where it would do the most good.
One day the town of Chasnik went agog with excitement. Word was received that the Rebbe was coming on one of his rare visits. Berel was especially excited, for the Rebbe usually stayed in his house. However, Berel was soon bitterly disappointed. He learned the Rebbe would not stay in his house this time. Worse still, the Rebbe let it be known that Berel was not to appear before him, either in private audience, or with others. Furthermore, Berel was not to come to the Rebbe's table, nor was he to be among those to welcome him on arrival, or to see him off on departure!
The Rebbe had made it very clear that nothing would make him change his mind except one thing: If Berel would come with 2,000 rubles in his pocket and place it on the Rebbe's table for charity; then, and only then, would he again be the favorite chasid he had always been!
Poor Berel was quite bewildered and upset. Surely the Rebbe knew his financial position. If he would sell his house with all that was in it he could not raise half the amount the Rebbe expected of him. What had he done to deserve such punishment?
The thought of being so completely shunned by his beloved and revered rebbe was too much for Berel to bear. For once in his lifetime he wished he were a rich man, and for the first time in his life he now prayed with all his heart that G-d would make him rich, so that he could bring the Rebbe 2,000 rubles for charity.
The Rebbe had come and gone. All the Chasidim of Chasnik had welcomed the Rebbe with joy and dancing, had sat spellbound listening to his inspiring words, had received his blessings, and had seen him off dancing in the street. Berel sat alone in his house, feeling hurt and miserable. However, he didn't give up hope that G-d would accept his prayer and make him rich if for no other reason than that he should be able to be reunited with his rebbe.
Sometime later, there was excitement in Chasnik, but this time it was more like a panic. A battalion of invading soldiers was passing through town, and the town's people were ordered to quarter the soldiers. Several armed soldiers arrived at Berel's house and announced that they were going to spend the night there. They carried a heavy chest, which they placed in a closet. The soldiers were very tired from their long march, and they were soon fast asleep.
In the middle of the night an alarm was sounded. The half sleepy soldiers scrambled out of the house in a great hurry, and made off with all their comrades. A few hours later, a troop of some twenty soldiers returned and combed the town, looking for the chest which had been forgotten when they responded to the alarm.
Several times the soldiers passed Berel's house, but never entered to search it. After hours of fruitless searching, the troop left again.
Days later, Berel noticed the chest in the little-used closet. Months passed and Berel had almost forgotten about the chest when he noticed it again. Since nobody came to claim it, he decided to look inside. He was amazed to find it filled with money, in paper and coins, and realized that it was evidently the treasury of the invading battalion. The thought came to Berel's mind that G-d must have, after all, accepted his prayer and made him rich! Berel immediately counted out 2,000 rubles and left immediately for Chernobil. With a happy smile on his face, Berel came to the Rebbe and placed the money on his table. The Rebbe did not seem very surprised, though he was obviously pleased.
"Where did you get the money, Berel?" the Rebbe asked. Berel told him.
The Rebbe than said to Berel, "It had been revealed to me that you were in for a big fortune. The only hindrance was that you had never prayed for riches. In Heaven they wanted to hear a prayer from you, at least one little prayer, that you wanted to be rich. So I decided to help out. The rest you know. Now that your prayer was accepted and you have become a rich man, I suggest that you move to a larger town and become a wholesale merchant, and G-d will bless you with success. However, remember, Berel, that riches can be a more severe test than poverty. Be careful that you should be worthy of G-d's trust in you."
To believe in the coming of Moshiach and to await it are two separate concepts. "To believe" is a doctrinal affirmation as for any other part of the Torah: affirming the principle of Moshiach who will come eventually, whenever that may be. "To await" means an active and eager anticipation of the redemption, that it occur speedily: "I await him every day..." literally.
(From Mashiach by Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet)