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Have you heard the one about how many Jewish mothers it takes to change a light bulb? "That's O.K.," the Jewish mother says, "I'll sit in the dark."
This is our modern-day stereotype of the Jewish mother -self-sacrificing, guilt inducing, a bit of a martyr and a little manipulative. And, your therapist might add, responsible for all of your problems.
Though martyrdom and manipulation are not traits that we might want to emulate, what about self-sacrifice and selflessnes - two qualities that have been getting a lot of bad press over the last couple of decades?
Most of us would not be where we are today had it not been for our mothers' selflessness: waking up at all hours of the night, nursing us back to health when we were sick, putting their own needs and desires on hold in order to help fulfill ours. True, dear old mom might remind us of these things a little more often than we'd like to hear, but our mothers deserve our recognition, and more, for their self-sacrifice.
In fact, they deserve limitless appreciation and recognition. According to Jewish tradition, our debt of gratitude toward our parents can never be repaid. The command-ment to show honor toward another is mentioned in the Torah only concerning our parents and G-d. The Torah does not even command us to honor a king or a sage!
The explanation for why we have been commanded to "Honor your father and your mother" is the fact that our parents were partners with G-d in giving life to us, though Mom probably had more sleepless nights from us than either of the others two partners.
Where would the Jewish people be without the self-sacrifice of countless Jewish women throughout the ages?
Jewish tradition teaches that it was because of the self-sacrifice and righteousness of the women that the entire Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt. When Pharaoh enslaved the Jewish people, the men refused to have more children. "Why should we bring children into the world to be slaves and suffer like us?" they asked.
The Jewish women, however, though shouldering the same burden of slavery and suffering as their husbands, purposely sought out ways to endear themselves to their spouses. They were responsible for the birth of a new generation, a generation fit to be redeemed. The women reasoned, "True, our children will suffer hardships like us, but, soon G-d will fulfill His promise to them and deliver them out of the land of Egypt."
In every generation, whenever all seemed hopeless, it was the righteous, self-sacrificing Jewish mothers who inspired their families and communities to have faith and look toward better times.
So important is motherhood in Jewish life that one of the greatest Jewish women of the Bible, the prophetess, judge and military leader Deborah, described herself as a "mother." She recognized that that one word said it all.
We shouldn't just set aside one day a year to honor mothers. We should remember them every day-it's a mitzva!
The Torah portion of Bamidbar is always read before the holiday of Shavuot, and is therefore considered part of our preparation for receiving the Torah.
It is an established rule that the name of a particular Torah portion alludes to its content. What, then, does "Bamidbar," which literally means "In the wilderness" (as well as the continuation of the verse, "of Sinai"), have to do with Shavuot?
"Wilderness" would seem to imply a very undesirable situation, an uninhabited wasteland in which nothing grows. Likewise, "Sinai" is related to the word "sina," meaning hatred, as our Sages explained, "Hatred descended into the world because of it." How, then, can these two seemingly negative concepts prepare us for the Giving of the Torah?
The answer is revealed when we consider the conditions that are necessary and conducive to Torah study. The main preparation consists of emptying the mind of worldly matters, to prevent any distractions. A person who wants to learn Torah should be completely detached from anything that might disturb his concentration.
This detachment should be not only from mundane affairs, but also from other topics within Torah that are unrelated to the subject at hand. Of course, all aspects of the Torah are interrelated, and the ultimate goal is to turn one's knowledge into practical action and to teach others. However, this is only the second step and not the first.
This optimal approach to learning Torah is alluded to in the word "wilderness." A wilderness is isolated and devoid of people, a place where there is nothing to divert one's attention. When a Jew studies Torah, he should feel as if there is nothing else in the world besides himself and the Torah, as our Sages said: "A person who does not make himself into an 'unclaimed wilderness' cannot acquire the Torah's wisdom."
Moreover, an element of "hatred" is also required as a preparation for learning Torah. A person should feel so removed from mundane matters that he simply cannot bear anything that interferes with the Torah's light.
When a Jew prepares himself in such a manner, he is guaranteed that his learning will be successful. He will then be able to go out into the world and apply his knowledge, transforming it into "a dwelling place for G-d."
For indeed, the ultimate objective is not to "hate" the world, and not even to nullify its negative aspects, but to actually transform them into good by revealing their inherent G-dliness.
Adapted from Vol. 3 of Torat Menachem Hitva'aduyot 5750
A Sephardic Outpost in Chula Vista
By Donald H. Harrison
Rabbi Daniel Menachem Mendel Srugo is the spiritual leader of the only Sephardic congregation in San Diego (California) County: the Beth Eliyahu Torah Center located in the Bonita section of Chula Vista.
If his middle names - Menachem Mendel - sound familiar, it is because he was named after Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. This was not because he was born into a family affiliated with the Lubavitcher movement - such affiliation didn't occur until he was nearly a teenager. Rather it was because "my grandmother could not have any children for about four years. She asked for a baracha (blessing) from all the tzaddikim (righteous people) and the famous rabbis in Israel and all over the world, but they still couldn't have any children. Then they went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and he gave her a blessing and she became pregnant."
The grandmother bore the daughter who became Srugo's mother, and "my mother felt she should have some appreciation. So she called me 'Menachem Mendel.' Since my father wanted to call me 'Daniel' they put it all together. But my father ended up winning: they call me 'Daniel,' not 'Menachem Mendel.'"
But perhaps it was the mother who won after all. After Srugo's father moved the family from Argentina to Mexico City to establish a kollel (a center where rabbis study), its success in expanding from about four members to 30 was remarked upon by the Chabad movement. "My father was asked by the head rabbi of Chabad in Argentina to come back and open a yeshiva for Chabad," Srugo said.
"My father asked a baracha from the Rebbe, who told him it was really a good thing to do, a good and important cause. So he went back to Argentina and started a yeshiva. Today the yeshiva has between 50 and 70 people."
A teacher of Torah, Srugo's father, Rabbi Marco Srugo, had been friendly to Chabad but not a member of it. "But then as you can influence people, so too can you be influenced, and my father was influenced for good things by Chabad," Srugo said. "First the children became members of Chabad, and then my father."
Through the Chabad movement, Srugo became conversant with the rites of both the Sephardim and the Ashkenazim. From his father's yeshiva in Buenos Aires, he went to study for 2 1/2 years in Kiryat Gat, Israel, then went to another yeshiva in Morristown, N.J., about a two-hour drive from Lubavitcher headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, N.Y.
"It was a very important time in our lives because we (students at the yeshiva) used to go every week there to be by the Lubavitcher Rebbe for Shabbat," Srugo said.
From the Morristown, N.J., yeshiva he transferred to another yeshiva in Montreal, Canada, from which he was sent as a shaliach (emissary) to Caracas, Venezuela, where he served as a rabbinical assistant. Then he was dispatched to Germany. He returned to New York after that assignment, then in 1997 he received an important message from a former classmate in Argentina Rabbi Mendel Polichenco, who just had become the new Chabad rabbi at the Centro Social Israelita in Tijuana, Mexico.
Polichenco told him he needed some help operating a youth camp in Tijuana, so Srugo came to help his old friend. "And I heard that the community of Bonita needed a rabbi; that their rabbi was leaving. One day I was in the neighborhood, so I came for the Shacharit (morning prayers) service with them, and they asked me to come back."
After receiving his smicha (ordination), Srugo began serving the small congregation as its rabbi in March of 1998.
Mario Adato was one of the founders of the congregation in Bonita, which was initially called Congregation Beth Torah. It was renamed as Beth Eliyahu Torah Center about six years ago.
"Most of the members belonged to the synagogue in Tijuana," recalled Adato, who is in the leather business, "but the thing was they all wanted to have Sephardic services and Orthodox, of course."
Adato recalls that "Rafael (the congregation's president at that time and the grandson of Eliyahu Mizrachi for whom the Torah Center is named) and I went to see Rabbi Yonah Fradkin of Chabad of San Diego and asked him if he could send us a young rabbi, a student rabbi, from the yeshiva of Chabad but we wanted a Sephardic rabbi." As it turned out, Srugo already was preparing to come to help Polichenco in Tijuana.
"Rabbi Srugo is young, but he has a lot of good things going for him," Adato said. "We wanted a young rabbi so he would be attractive to children and to very young people. Because we really think the future of our congregation is young people. If they get used to coming to the synagogue and getting involved with Judaism, with a young rabbi there are more chances that they continue coming."
Grace Mizrachi, the outspoken mother of Beth Eliyahu Torah Center's president, is on a campaign to forge greater bonds of unity not only among Sephardic Jews but among Jews generally.
I asked Rabbi Srugo his feelings about a Chabad-led congregation working closely with the Sephardic Centers (for all Jews) in Los Angeles and Jerusalem "In the Torah it says that if you have a rope that is made from three ropes, it will be much harder to break," he replied. "If you have the Yellow Pages (of the telephone directory) and you try rip each of these pages, they are thin. But try to rip the whole thing together it would be impossible. As long as we get together, it makes us only stronger. As long as it is done the right way, we can work together and bring the communities together."
Instead of making differences between Ashke-nazim and Sephardim a reason for division, Srugo said, they should be a reason for celebration. "We are all Jews and we are all part of one big unity."
Excerpted and reprinted with permission from the San Diego Jewish Press-Heritage
Torah Teen Resort
Torah Teen Resort is entering its sixth successful summer. Run by the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education (N.C.F.J.E.), the "organization with a heart," this four-week camp for teenage boys in the Catskill Mountains offers all the amenities of a regular overnight camp experience such as trips, sports, camping, workshops, and hiking. In addition, teens are treated to hands-on Jewish living. The Torah Teen Resort experience emphasizes personal growth and leadership skills. This year's program runs from June 24 - July 22. For more information call 1-800-33-NCFJE or e-mail the director at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit their website: www.torahteen.com
Motzoei Shabbos, Parshas Bamidbar, 5717
To the Annual Convention of the Agudas N'shei uBnos Chabad
G-d bless you all!
Blessing and Greeting:
Herewith I send my greeting and blessing to the participants and members of the Agudas N'shei uBnos Chabad [Lubavitch Women and Girls Organization], on the occasion of your Annual Convention. May G-d help you to put into effect all the vital plans that will be adopted at the Convention, and turn them into ever-growing accomplishments. For the end-purpose of "thought" and "speech" is practical action.
In accordance with the well-known saying of the Founder of Chabad, under whose banner you carry on your good work, namely, "It is necessary to live with the times," meaning that it is necessary to live according to the instructions and teachings contained in the weekly portion of the Torah, I hope your Convention will introduce into your work new life and vitality -from the source of life, our Torah, "the Law of Life," as it is illuminated by Chassi-dus which is distinctly called "the teachings of the G-d of Life," which will find expres-sion in your overall work, and particularly in the phases which are alluded to in the Torah portion pertaining to this week.
Your convention is taking place during the week between the [Torah] portions of Bamidbar and Nosso. One of the subjects which we find in both these weekly portions is the Sanctuary in the desert and the distribution of the duties connected with it, when the Sanctuary was carried from place to place.
This emphasizes the fact that even when Jews find themselves in a desert, they have the ability to erect a Sanctuary for the Divine Presence to dwell among them, and in every one of them.
Just as there is a desert in a physical sense, a place of desolation, where extreme climatic conditions prevail, a place of poisonous snakes, etc., so is there a "desert" in a spiritual sense, created by harmful ideas; and such a spiritual desert can be found also in a land which is materially a flourishing garden.
Our holy Torah teaches us that when Jews find themselves in such a spiritual desert, it is possible, necessary and imperative to erect a Sanctuary, carry it, and go forward, step by step, until eventually the environment and situation change from a spiritual desert - into the blessed and holy land, with the fulfillment of the true and complete Redemption, through our Righteous Moshiach.
Here is guidance for all Jews, especially for Jewish women, for, the Torah tells us, the Jewish women responded first and foremost, even before the men, when the Sanctuary was to be erected in the desert.
In the spiritual desert, in which certain sections of our people find themselves, where a desolate aridity and void prevail in matters of Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in general, not to mention in the Chassidic way of life, you have a challenge and a great and eternal zechus [privilege] to be among the first to bring about a radical change in the prevailing conditions through the dissemination of Yiddishkeit in the fullest sense and in maximum degree, thereby making the environment into a Sanctuary, a fitting place for the Divine Presence. I hope that you will fulfill this, your life-duty, with devotion and vitality.
I especially wish to call attention to the necessity of including in your sphere of activity, not only the adults and the young, but also the very young children, for, as experience has clearly shown, when we begin bringing up a child in a certain direction from the earliest age onward, we can be assured greater success and of greater and better fruits.
With prayerful wishes for success in your work, which will also bring you G-d's blessings in your personal needs,
And with the traditional blessing of my father-in-law, of saintly memory, that every one of us receive the Torah with joy and inner inspiration, in the midst of all Israel,
28 Iyar 5762
Positive mitzva 140: counting the years to the Jubilee
By this injunction we are commanded to reckon the years from the time we conquered the Land of Israel and became masters of it. This mitzva is fulfilled by the Great Sanhedrin (Court), which must count the 50 years of the Jubilee cycle year by year. It is contained in the Torah's words (Lev. 25:8): "And you shall count seven Sabbaths of years to you."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we bless the new month of Sivan. The most outstanding date in Sivan is the holiday of Shavuot, the festival on which we celebrate receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.
It is interesting to note that the festival of Shavuot does not have an independent date of its own, as do all other Jewish holidays; no month or day is specified in the Torah as the time for its celebration. It is only specified that Shavuot is the "Fiftieth Day" of the counting of the Omer--the counting which we begin on the second day of Passover, on the day after the liberation from Egyptian bondage.
In this way the Torah emphasizes that Shavuot is the goal of Passover: that the Season of the Giving of Our Torah is the culmination of the Season of Our Freedom. This teaches us that the true and complete freedom, both for the individual as well as for the community, and both materially and spiritually, can be attained only through Torah.
We live in a time and in a country where, notwithstanding external "freedom," in general we are still largely "enslaved" and at a loss how to free ourselves from the shackles of spiritual and mental confusion.
The only key to the bars and shackles of our enslavement is a Torah education. For our children--and every Jewish child is "our" child--this means an uncompromsing Jewish education. For ourselves this means attending Torah classes, studying and reading Jewish texts privately, and teaching and inspiring others.
May we all merit to learn this year not only the Torah that was given and revealed to us over 3,300 years ago at Mount Sinai, but the "new Torah" that will be taught by our righteous Moshiach in the Messianic Era.
When you will come to the Land... the Land will keep a Sabbath to G-d. (25:2)
"When you will come to the Land"-when a person organizes his life and begins to be involved in earthly matters and mundane work, "the Land will keep a Sabbath to G-d"-it is imperative for the person to know that the whole intention and purpose of his involvement in earthly matters is for the purpose of the "Sabbath"-holiness.
(Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)
For six years you shall prune your vineyard. (25:3)
The Jewish people are called a "vineyard": For G-d's vineyard is the army of the House of Israel. (Isaiah 5). Each and every Jew must work at clearing up and pruning his own vineyard-his unfavorable traits such as jealousy, hatred, lustfulness, etc.
If your brother becomes poor and sells of his possessions. (25:25)
This verse teaches us that one is not permitted to sell his field in the Holy Land unless he is oppressed with poverty.
If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments...(26:3)
One might think that walking in G-d's statutes refers to the fulfillment of the commandments. But the verse continues and states, "and keep My commandments." So, the keeping of the commandments is explicit. How then can it be explained? According to the Sifra, walking in G-d's statutes refers to "toiling in the study of the Torah." The above can be clarified even more according to Chasidic philosophy. Since studying the Torah is really one of the statutes mentioned in the first part of the verse, the explanation "toiling in the study of Torah" must have a unique twist. It teaches us that all of our "toil," everything that we work at in our lives, must be permeated totally with the teachings and ethics of the Torah.
If you walk in My statutes... (23:6)
The Baal Shem Tov explains: If a person gets to a point where his spiritual service become like a "statute," an unbending decree-and he is not able to move, then he must walk-he cannot stay in that place. He must invigorate, renew, add to his spiritual service until he is able to go forth to a higher level.
(Keter Shem Tov)
Shaul, the merchant, had a beautiful home expensively furnished and decorated with fine works of art. His magnificent gardens displayed the rarest flowers, whose fragrance could be appreciated from afar.
Shaul's elderly father also lived in his home. The relationship between father and son had possibly never been the best; who is to know. But as his father grew older and weaker, he became a "burden" to the family and particularly to Shaul.
During meal times, especially, Shaul was repelled by his father. The elderly man's trembling hands spilled soup and drinks on his clothing and the fine linens; oftentimes the china would fall on the floor and shatter. The patriarch's appearance and hygiene was sorely neglected.
One day, as the family was sitting at dinner, the old man dropped an expensive crystal wine goblet. It shattered into thousands of splinters and red wine spilled all over the tablecloth. Shaul was livid. His patience was spent. He decided there and then to send his father away.
But, of course, Shaul couldn't just send his father packing and into the streets. When he overcame his anger, he came up with what he thought was a brilliant solution.
"Go out and buy wooden dishes and cups," Shaul ordered one of his servants. His father would use the wooden utensils, Shaul decided. There might still be spills, but at least none of the expensive china or crystal would be ruined. Of course, when company came his father could hardly sit at the table with them using his coarse dishes. But, that wouldn't be so terrible at all, thought Shaul.
Weeks passed. One day, Shaul's youngest son, Yosef, went out to the store to buy candies. He was a sweet child with a good heart, loved by everyone who knew him. Suddenly he saw a group of beggars sitting on the street corner, eating out of wooden bowls from the soup kitchen just like his grandfather used at home. Yosef was touched but confused. Without hesitation, he took all the money out of his pocket and gave it to the beggar.
Yosef ran home. He asked his father for a piece of wood and a whittling knife. Then, he ran up to the attic, happy that his father had agreed to give him the supplies.
As he was whittling, Yosef heard his father's impatient voice. "What are you doing up there? Why are you taking so long?"
Yosef took the wood downstairs with him.
"What are you holding?" Shaul asked Yosef curiously. "Why have you asked for wood and a knife?"
"I am making a wooden bowl and plate and cup for you, Father!" replied Yosef sweetly. "That way, when you get old and start to break things and I have to give you wooden dishes like the beggars use, I'll have made them already," explained Yosef sincerely.
Shaul was shocked by his son's words. For a moment he imagined himself in his father's place: old, helpless, and being treated without the least bit of reverence or respect. Shaul saw clearly his terrible behavior. He went to his father and begged forgiveness.
From that day on, the old man lived in comfort, honored by his son and grandchildren. He spent his last years pleasantly in his children's home. In time, when Shaul became elderly, he also enjoyed the honor and comfort which was given to him by his son Yosef.
"Watchman (i.e., G-d), what will be of the night (i.e., the exile)? Said the Watchman: 'Morning (i.e., the Redemption) has come, and also night (i.e., retribution for the heathens and oppressors of Israel); if you will request, request. Return and come!" (Isaiah 21:11-12) G-d says the He is ready, indeed anxious, to make the 'morning' shine for us. Upon Israel's question 'when?,' the Divine response is: "Whenever you want, He wants! If you want to make your request to hasten the end, request!"
(From Moshiach by Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet)