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Ahh, spring. If spring is here, can summer be far behind?
Spring forces us out of hibernation. In the spring we yearn to be outdoors, at least more than we were during the cold, dreary winter months. Spring, and the summer season that follows, inspires us to exercise and get in shape.
Interestingly, Jewish mystical teachings explain that "strengthening the body" can sometimes lead to a "weakening of the soul."
Thus, especially in the spring and summertime, when we are more preoccupied with getting and staying in shape, we have to be especially diligent about exercising and fortifying our souls.
Traditionally, this spiritual body-building is done through the study of Ethics of the Fathers - Pirkei Avot - on Shabbat afternoons beginning the Shabbat after Passover.
In the first chapter of Pirkei Avot (which we study this Shabbat afternoon) we read that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachya said: "...Judge every person favorably."
At first glance, this doesn't seem like such a difficult task. After all, it's like saying that we should give someone the benefit of the doubt or that we should uphold that great American principle of "innocent until proven guilty."
However, in real life situations, it's not so simple to consistently "judge every person favorably."
After all, it's easy to give someone the benefit of the doubt when we don't even have to lift a finger to do so. But this precept is teaching us to judge favorably even if doing so is a struggle.
Imagine someone asking you to bench press 10 pounds. What a joke! Now, imagine being told to bench press 100 pounds. That's much more serious. What if you were asked to bench 200 pounds? That's something altogether different.
Judging someone favorably when the other person's actions don't impact on you is no big deal. It's like bench pressing 10 pounds. It's practically a joke. But if the other person's conduct does affect you and does not seem worthy of favorable judgement, that's more like bench pressing 100 pounds or even 200 pounds. Yet, even then, one should endeavor to find redeeming virtue in him.
Judging a person favorably involves an honest appreciation of the challenges that person faces. And this awareness should also lead to the understanding that G-d has surely given that person the ability to overcome these challenges. For, as our Sages state, G-d forces a person to confront only those challenges which he can overcome. Knowing that G-d has entrusted the formidable powers necessary to overcome difficult challenges should heighten the esteem with which we regard this individual.
With our newfound respect for the person, our interactions with him will be permeated with admiration. Our attitude will, in turn, inspire the individual to bring these potentials to the surface.
As the warm weather continues to lure us into being increasingly involved in healthy and pleasurable pursuits, let's remember to build our characters and strengthen our spiritual muscles as well.
In this week's Torah portion, Nasso, we read, "When a man or a woman utters a Nazirite vow... he shall abstain from new and old wine... grape-beverages, grapes and raisins..."
The term nazir (Nazirite) has two meanings: it denotes "separation; keeping aloof"-in the sense of his obligation to keep away from grapes and grape-derivatives etc..; and it de-rives from nezer (crown; diadem), as it says, "nezer (the crown) of his G-d is on his head... he is holy to G-d" (Num. 6:7-8).
We are confronted by a paradox. On the one hand the Nazirite is called "holy to G-d," thus a man of lofty spiritual stature. On the other hand, his separation from worldly things could be criticized by the Talmudic retort, "Is it not enough for you what the Torah has already forbidden you?" (Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:1) - because man's purpose is to infuse himself and the material world with sanctity. However:
Maimonides concludes the laws of the Nazirite as follows: "He who vows unto G-d by way of holiness (as opposed to mere abstinence for its own sake) does well and is praiseworthy. Of him it is said, 'the crown of his G-d is upon his head... he is holy unto G-d.' Scripture considers him equal to a prophet, as it is said, "I set up prophets from your sons and Nazirites from your young men' (Amos 2:11)."
This verse of Amos relates also to the time of the redemption. Then, too, there will be Nazirites who will attain the ultimate holiness, above and beyond that of earlier times. With the coming of Moshiach, a person will be a Nazirite not for the sake of simply separating from worldy matters, because these will then no longer impact negatively upon us. For in the Messianic era, "good things will be abundant and all delightful things accessible like dust, and the singular preoccupation of the entire world will be to know G-d." Thus it will be the consummate form of the holiness of being a Nazirite.
The laws of a Nazirite teach us a most significant principle about our belief in the coming of Moshiach.
Halacha (Torah-law) decrees: If one declares, "I undertake to become a Nazirite on the day that Moshiach will come," then if he made this vow on a weekday he is forever bound by it from that very moment. If he made his vow on a Shabbat or a festival day, it will become operative from the next day onwards, forever, but not on that day itself. For it is uncertain whether Moshiach will or will not come on a Shabbat or Yom Tov, which, therefore, precludes making the vow operative on that day (Eruvin 43b; Hilchot Nezirut 4:11).
This demonstrates clearly the fact that "the day that Moshiach will come" is a possibility that applies to each day. Thus we say in our daily prayers, "every day (and all day long) we hope for Your salvation"; or in the version of the Thirteen Principles of the Faith: "I await his coming every day."
From Living With Moshiach, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet, Kehot Publication Society
Proud Grandpa Had Good Fortune
By Harold Glicken
The last time I saw Phil Newman was at his grandson Dov's wedding last year. Hundreds of men wearing black hats and an equal number of women on the other side of the dance floor watched as Mr. Newman threw a wine bottle in the air.
I held my breath as he put his hands out to catch the full bottle. Like the baseball player he had been all his 92 years, he caught it and let out a yell that could be heard over the band. He was wearing a new double-breasted suit and a gray fedora. He looked like a million bucks. His son, Rabbi Yitzchok Newman, and a trio of grandchildren helped him walk back to his table.
"Harold!" he yelled. "How the heck are you?"
"Nice suit, Mr. Newman. It must have cost you at least twelve hundred bucks."
He pulled me closer to put the finishing touches on our routine. "Seventy-nine bucks. I got it on closeout."
"And the tie?"
"You want the tie? Take it!"
That was the last time I saw Mr. Newman, and one of the few times he didn't actually give me a tie or a watch. His grandson told me recently that he had moved from Long Beach to a kosher nursing home in L.A. and wasn't doing so well. Phil Newman passed away recently at the ripe old age of 92.
Phil Newman was born in Boston on March 12, 1910, the son of Reb Dovid Newman, a Jewish educator. He graduated from Northeastern Law School and practiced law for 64 years. Along the way, he went into the asphalt driveway paving business, because "I couldn't stand lawyers. Thieves! All of them!"
As he became more prosperous, he moved his family from the old Jewish neighborhood in Boston to the suburbs.
His wife, Miriam, persuaded him to move back.
"My colleagues couldn't believe it!" he'd say at the numerous community functions where he always had a word to say and said it loudly.
"Here I was a big shot lawyer, and I'm living back where I started when I didn't have a nickel to my name."
Phil and his wife had four children: Rabbi Yitzchok Newman, dean of the Hebrew Academy Lubavitch in Huntington Beach; sons, Yehuda Leib and Moshe, who are rabbis in New York; and a daughter, Batya Esther Palace, who is married to a rabbi and lives in Los Angeles.
Before raising a family, Phil played semi-pro baseball in Boston. "I'd be wearing my tsitses (fringes worn by Orthodox Jewish men), and the other players would come over and touch them for good luck."
Even when he was well into his 80s, Phil could be seen playing ball with the students at Hebrew Academy picnics, a baseball hat covering his yarmulke.
At Congregation Lubavitch, where his son Yitzchok is the rabbi, Phil opened the doors well before the 6 a.m. minyan (prayer quorum) began. Never reluctant to express his thoughts, he was the synagogue's Zaide (grandfather): "You're davening (praying) too fast," he'd admonish whoever was unlucky enough to be cantor that morning.
There was only one reason why Phil would miss a minyan - morning, afternoon and evening - and that was because he was traveling the country attending brises, Bar Mitzvahs and weddings of his 48 grandchildren and 35 great-grandchildren.
"So, Mr. Newman," I'd ask on Friday evenings, just before Shabbos services. "How many grandchildren and great-grandchildren do you have this week?"
"Aw, I don't know," he'd say, closing his eyes, "but I'll tell you one thing. I know where every one of them is tonight," he'd say, bursting with pride.
And he was right. The little man in the gray fedora and $79 suits who always looked like a million bucks was the proudest Zaide in Long Beach.
All his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were in synagogues around the world, or at home lighting candles, keeping the Sabbath.
"You can take all the big shot lawyers and all the politicians and all the millionaires in the world, and they don't have what I have," he'd confide in me: "Yiddishe naches (good fortune)."
It was his proudest achievement.
Reprinted with permission from the Long Beach Press-Telegram
Keeping in Touch
The founder of Chabad Chasidism, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, enjoined his followers to "live with the times," i.e., to integrate the lessons of the weekly Torah portion into their lives. This second volume of Keeping In Touch, a compilation of thoughts on the weekly Torah portion, is a collection of practical and down-to-earth suggestions for living a more meaningful and satisfying life. Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger and published by Sichos in English.
Lost and Found
Join master storyteller and veteran educator Rachel Jaffe in this collection of heartwarming stories that span the ages. Bryna Waldman's art enhances each episode with detailed beauty. Lost anad Found and Other Stories is sure to captivate and inspire young hearts everywhere. Published by Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch.
Erev Shavuos, 5716 
Sholom U'Brocho [Peace and Blessing]:
In reply to your (undated) letter, you should bear in mind the following points:
- There can be no question but that Teshuvo [repentance] is effective in every case, and whatever the transgression, for Teshuvo is one of G-d's commandments, and G-d does not require of us the impossible.
- It is likewise certain that any kind of depression, despondency or sadness, is a trick of the Yetzer Horah [evil inclination] to discourage one from serving G-d, as is explained at length in the books of Mussar, and in the books of Chasidus; and you would do well to refer to Tanya, ch. 26 and further.
- Even where one has relapsed in committing the same transgression for which one has done Teshuvo, and, moreover, even while doing Teshuvo one is not certain whether he could resist the temptation should it recur, this must in no way prevent him from studying the Torah and observing its Mitzvos [comandments], included among which is also the Mitzvah [commandment] of Teshuvo, for every action of man has its repercussions both down here below and Above, and you surely know the saying of our Sages: "No transgression extinguishes a Mitzvah," (even though it extinguishes the reward of a Mitzvah). I refer you again to Iggeres Hateshuvo (part III of the Tanya), ch. 11.
I advise you from now on to stop weighing and dwelling on things which are of no practical value, and especially the kind of thought that only leads to despondency, but concentrate ever growing efforts on Torah and Mitzvos.
I wish you to celebrate the Festival of Our Receiving the Torah with inner and lasting joy,
11 Sivan, 5738 
Greeting and Blessing:
Thank you for your letter of 2nd Sivan upon your return from Eretz Yisroel [the Holy Land] and previous communication.
I am pleased to note that you and your wife enjoyed your visit in Eretz Yisroel and were impressed with the activities of Chabad there. As I have remarked on similar occasions, it is customary to bring back souvenirs from the lands one visits that are characteristic of native features and products, etc. I trust, therefore, that you, too, brought back with you the right souvenir from the Holy Land, namely, an extra measure of holiness, which will serve as a fitting memento of your visit. And, of course, there is always room for improvement in matters of holiness, Torah and Mitzvos, in the daily life. In your case this is even more important, not only for your own benefit, but also for the benefit of the many who look to you for inspiration; and one is inspired not by someone else's good thoughts and intentions, and not so much by word of mouth as by a living example, which needs no elaboration to a psychologist...
13 Sivan 5762
Positive mitzva 63: the burnt offering
By this injunction we are commanded as to the procedure of the burnt offering. It is contained in the Torah's words (Lev. 1:2-3): "When any man of you brings an offering to the L-rd...if his offering be a burnt offering of the herd, etc." [According to our Sages, such offerings atone for sinful thoughts and for the violation of a positive commandment.]
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
There is a story I would like to share with you about the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan:
At midnight, when all were asleep, the Chofetz Chaim would enter his study, close the door and stand there in total darkness. The Chofetz Chaim would then commence to pour out his heart to G-d. He began by praising G-d for His kindness, detailing everything that had happened during the day. When he finished his own personal account, the Chofetz Chaim began speaking about the merits of the entire Jewish people.
At this point the Chofetz Chaim's style of speech, as well as his tone, changed drastically. Instead of thanking and pleading, he began demanding. The Chofetz Chaim would declare that G-d owes the Jewish nation a full accounting.
He would ask, "G-d, what have You given us? You gave us a great and Holy Torah, but it was sealed and closed. What have we done in return?
We opened the Torah, gave you the Prophets, the sages of the Talmud, the Torah geniuses; we tied crowns to the Oral Torah. But alas, what have we received in return for this? We have received misfortune, persecutions, and murder. We were not prepared for this. Throughout the lands where we were dispersed and exiled, we brought our Torah with us, carrying it, saving it from our enemies, and we carry it still to this very day! It is firmly within our grasp."
This was how the Chofetz Chaim demanded the accounting. Then, he would proceed with the demand for payment of the debt.
"How much longer must we wait? Until when? We are totally broken. G-d, consider and ponder, is the heart of one Jew whole?"
This is what the Chofetz Chaim would do every single night. When the dawn came, he would return to his studies, eagerly awaiting Moshiach's arrival and confident that the debt owed would be paid.
Let us demand that which is due the Jewish people--Moshiach, NOW!
The L-rd bless thee and keep thee (Num. 6:24)
The Priestly blessing is said in the singular because it is primarily the blessing of unity that the Jews need.
The princes of Israel brought their offerings, the heads of their fathers' houses... they brought their offerings before the L-rd (Num. 7:2.3)
Twelve times the Torah repeats this phrase, detailing the identical offerings brought by each of the princes of the twelve tribes. Why the repetition? These offerings were the same only externally; in actuality, each prince brought his offering in a different manner, a manner corresponding to the tribe's spiritual source in Heaven.
And they shall confess their sin which they have committed (Num. 5:7)
Why is the commandment to confess one's sin, the first step and foundation on the path to repentance, mentioned here, where the Torah speaks about robbery? Because any sin a person may commit has an element of robbery in it. G-d gives a person life and strength, in order that he use these gifts to perform His will. If one takes these gifts and uses them to defy G-d, he is misusing and "stealing" the property of his Creator.
May G-d cause His face to shine upon you (Num. 6:22)
G-d's "face" symbolizes His love, goodwill, and closeness to us. "May G-d cause His face to shine upon you" means that the innermost part of G-d's Divine Will should shine upon and illuminate the Jewish people and that which has its source in holiness. Of course, everything in this world comes from G-d, and even things which are not holy derive their sustenance and life-force from G-d too, but this is an inferior and external sustenance. To what can it be likened? A king makes an elaborate party and invites all his highest ministers and officials to partake of the meal. Naturally, his servants and maids, and even the dogs, will eventually benefit from the leftovers, but this was not the king's intent when he made the feast. The dignitaries are influenced by the king's "innermost" will, and the servants, maids and animals receive only the "external" benefits.
As part of his inheritance, Rabbi Yosef received a clock that had belonged to his father, the Seer of Lublin.
When the shiva (first seven days of mourning) for his father ended, Rabbi Yosef set off for his home in Tulchin. On the way, it began raining heavily. The roads were soon flooded, making it impossible to go on. Fortunately, Rabbi Yosef found a Jewish inn and decided to stop there until the storm ended.
After three days the rain stopped, at which time Rabbi Yosef was more than ready to leave. The innkeeper, let us call him Zev, presented Rabbi Yosef with the bill that Rabbi Yosef could not pay. He offered Zev any of his possessions as payment, and after some consideration, Zev chose the clock.
Zev hung the clock in a back room of the inn, wound it up, gave the pendulum a swing, and the clock began ticking away. Every hour the clock rang out the time in an appropriate number of chimes.
At first, Zev and his wife were thrilled when they heard the clock chime, but as time passed, they paid it little attention.
Years later a rabbi came to stay at the inn and was given the room where the clock hung.
That night, Zev, though exhausted, could not sleep. From the rabbi's room came sounds of beautiful singing and the sound of dancing. And when the clock struck the hour, the music took on an added quality of joy!
Zev decided he would ask the rabbi in the morning what this great joy was all about. With this thought in mind, he fell fast asleep.
The following morning, the rabbi, as if reading Zev's mind, said:
"You must be wondering why I was so joyous last night, but I am wondering where you got the clock!
Zev could not understand the connection between of the two things but told the Rabbi the story of rabbi Yosef and how he acquired the clock.
"I see you have no idea what a bargain you got," said the Rabbi. "This clock belonged to my saintly rabbi, the Seer of Lublin. As soon as I heard the chiming, I recognized it!"
"A clock is a clock," mumbled Zev.
"Let me explain what a clock really is," offered the Rabbi. "People think a clock is for the telling them when to get up, go to work, eat, sleep. That is nonsense. People lived for thousands of years without clocks. An animal doesn't need a clock to show it when to do these things."
"True," said Zev, waiting for more.
"A clock reminds people that there is such a thing as time in this world. When G-d created the world, He created time. The minute and hour hand on the clock remind us that each minute and every hour G-d gives life to the whole world and sustains us.
"A clock is indeed a great thing," Zev called out enthusiastically.
"That is not all," continued the rabbi. "The clock also reminds us that time is passing, and we must watch and guard it. Anything lost can be found, except for time, which can never be recovered. When the clock chimes, it makes us consider if we have filled the passing hour in a worthwhile manner."
"Oh, Rabbi, when I think of how many hours I have wasted," Zev cried out.
"Don't be downhearted," the rabbi said encouragingly. "Do you know that the Hebrew word for hour also means 'a turn'? Do you know what 'a turn' is? Imagine a person walking carelessly along a dangerous road, till he reaches a cliff. Suddenly, he realizes where he is and quickly turns around. This turn immediately saves him, even before he has managed to take the steps away from the danger. In one hour or with one turn toward the right path a person can change his whole life."
"How wonderful!" Zev marveled.
"Now, I shall tell you the really exciting secret of this clock, the clock of my saintly Rebbe.
"This clock is exceptionally perfect and wonderful, for in addition to all the previously mentioned virtues, the clock has a most happy chime. Every chime rings out like a message of good news, as if to tell us that an hour of Exile has passed and we are now one hour nearer to the complete and final Redemption with Moshiach."
"Now," the Rabbi asked Zev, "Can you understand why I rejoiced so much the whole night? I heard the chime of the clock, recognized it, and celebrated with fervor."
This world is the period of the battle between material existence and spirituality, between good and evil: "One nation shall contend with the other" (Genesis 25:23), with the good sometimes prevailing and sometimes the evil. In the days of Moshiach, when the Jewish people will have completed the battle - when the good will have been sorted out from the evil and the evil from the good - and they will go out of exile, they will attain the perfect state of man that existed before the sin of the Tree of Knowledge.
(Teshuvos U'Biurim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)