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by Rabbi Noach Vogel
Where I live, computers are the talk of the town. You see, I live in Silicon Valley and I hear a lot about computers, whether it's hardware or software.
The Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Chasidic movement) taught that everything that one sees or hears is placed before us in order to teach us a lesson.
It is with this teaching in mind that I began to think about Windows XP (or Windows 2000). It struck me that there are many similarities between the "new" (or newest as of today) version of Windows and the commandment to love one's fellow Jew.
For many computer aficionados, and even for your average two computers in the den and a dog in the yard users, one of the major differences of note between the previous editions of Windows and the latest upgrade is as follows: In the older versions, if a program had a problem and it shut down, it took Windows down with it. Typically, you would find yourself staring vacantly and with more than a little annoyance, into a blank screen.
However, in Windows XP, only the program that is in trouble will shut down and the rest of Windows is left intact.
As I was pondering what one could learn from this as a way to serve G-d better, I began to zero in on one aspect of interpersonal relationships. Let's imagine a scenario where two friends (or relatives) are speaking with each other. One of the two says something insensitive or callous, knowingly or unknowingly. The other person takes offence and begins remonstrating. Before you know it, a full-blown argument ensues. The final result? The two don't speak with each other for a few days, a few weeks, or, as unfortunately happens all too often, they never speak to each other again.
In other words, the whole system crashes. But life is too short! They've been friends or relatives for a long time. How can one irrational word cause the relationship to disintegrate?
Windows XP reminds us that we are made up of many diverse programs, that our relationships are encoded with varied data. It is a sign for us that just because one program has crashed, just because there is a glitch somewhere, the whole relationship doesn't have to break down.
In truth, however, human relations should be even better than a mere computer operating system. For, we are told that we should model all of our actions on that of our Creator. "Just as He is merciful, so too should you be merciful. Just as He is compassionate, so too should you be compassionate...." G-d sees all of our failings and He still puts up with us and loves us. Shouldn't we try to be G-dly in our person-to-person dealings?
Surely if we all do something to upgrade and repair our interpersonal relations, G-d will inaugurate the Messianic Era at which time there will be no more crashes, large or small.
Rabbi Vogel directs the Almaden Valley Torah Center in S. Jose, California
This week's Torah portion, Pinchas, describes the apportionment of the Land of Israel. The Torah states, "Through the lot shall the land be divided." The Talmud notes that the process by which the lots were drawn was not random; the miraculous Urim and Tumim, in the breastplate of the High Priest, guided the outcome.
The famous commentator Rashi explains that not only was the portion of the Holy Land to be given to each tribe written on the lot picked for that tribe, but the lot itself spoke and announced the result. In other words, the division of the soon-to-be conquered Land of Israel was determined by G-d Himself.
The inheritance of the physical portion of land is symbolic of the spiritual inheritance of every Jew with which he is enjoined to fulfill his individual mission in life. Just as each of the Twelve Tribes was given a specific portion of land to live in and cultivate, every Jew is allotted his own spiritual realm to perfect.
Although a person might think he is free to choose his own spiritual portion, following whichever path in the service of G-d that appeals to his nature, the Torah teaches that this is not a matter of free will or logic, but is ordained by G-d.
Every Jewish soul has its own particular inclinations and disinclinations; some mitzvot (commandments) are easier to observe than others. The Talmud notes that many of our Sages were especially careful in their performance of one particular commandment. Although they certainly observed all 613 of the Torah's mitzvot, their performance of that one mitzva was especially praiseworthy. The exemplary observance of that one mitzva served as the conduit through which all other mitzvot flowed.
A person cannot choose his own spiritual bent; it is an integral part of his individual spiritual makeup. But how does one determine exactly which mitzvot are especially relevant to him? By objectively ascertaining those which he finds the hardest to do!
A person may safely assume that a given direction is his "inheritance" whenever the path seems strewn with obstacles and hindrances. In fact, the more important the mitzva, the harder the Evil Inclination tries to dissuade the person.
A lack of interest in a particular facet of Torah study or indifference to a certain mitzva indicates that it is precisely in these areas that special efforts must be made. In the merit of this effort, G-d grants the individual success in all other areas of his life as well.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
This Land is Our Land
by Miriam Karp
"What can I do to help Israel?" is a recurrent question in many of our minds. Buy Israeli products ... boycott CNN... Say Psalms... donate bulletproof vests... write to President Bush... report media bias... forward emails.
The Talmud tells us that "Jews are responsible for one another." We accept the responsibility and want to help, but how?
Aliza Karp (no relation) is one person who is using her particular talent to advocate for our land and people. Aliza writes clear, upbeat and informative articles, combining interviews with famous personalities, little-known history, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's perspective on defending Israel, with special focus on the much maligned and misunderstood settlers of Hebron. Clearly, this woman has found "her voice."
Growing up in Winnipeg, Canada, Aliza excelled in math and analytical skills. "I couldn't read or write well, but somehow I managed to graduate in business from Queens University. Only after college did I start to really read. Maybe I outgrew a learning disability, I don't know. Now I always have a book in hand."
Aliza's literary skills may have been late blooming, but the seeds of her love of Israel were implanted, nurtured and cultivated from her youth. "I grew up in a wonderful Jewish, though non-observant, family. My father was proud to be Jewish and supported Zionist groups and Israeli projects. I visited Israel with my family when I was 14 and 16 years old, before and after the Six-Day War. When we landed at Ben Gurion Airport on my second trip, I had a strange 'ah-hah' experience. An internal voice startled me, whispering, 'I'm home.' What was this? Home was Winnipeg-not Israel!"
After college Aliza did the usual post-sixties thing-traveled and searched. She didn't see herself as particularly "spiritual," but came to realize that "spirituality is very real." Places where mediation was being practiced to pursue spiritual was the choice of her peers, but her pragmatic bent and clear mind kept her from flocking to Eastern religions. "It occurred to me that there must be some kind of 'instructions for life' and that those instructions must be readily accessible, without necessitating traveling to some distant cave to find them." Ironically, this thought came to her in a little hut near Bogota, Columbia.
Then, at a Shabbaton in Sioux City, Iowa, Rabbi Moshe Feller, the enthusiastic and bubbly Chabad Rabbi of S. Paul, Minnesota, was a speaker. He invited Aliza to "come visit us in S. Paul" where he directs Bais Chana, a dynamic school for women exploring Judaism and Chasidic thought. "Hey, I've traveled to South America. Why not spend a few days?" thought Aliza.
From there she found her way to the Lubvitch community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where she hoped to "find the loopholes" that would enable her to pick and choose which "instructions" to follow. But the more she studied, the more her commitment grew.
Aliza and her husband lived twice in Jerusalem, first for a year, and later for 5 years. "I loved raising my children, absorbing everything in the warm community."
Aliza's writing career started by "a fluke." Living in Montreal, she once visited with the editor of a Jewish women's magazine in Brooklyn. "She asked me to write an article. I composed it during the long drive home. That was the beginning and I developed writing skills as I went along.
"At first, I wasn't particularly focused on Israel. Then I wrote about Donny Cohen, a Hebron activist." From that time forth, Israel and particularly the settlers, have been in Aliza's blood.
"When the intifada started I followed it closely. It became more personal and critical to me when a dear former neighbor (when we were living in Jerusalem), Tzachi Sasson, was murdered. Then I was asked to report on the visit of Elisheva Federman to Brooklyn. This lovely young mother lives in Hebron under fire. I had many unanswered questions. I had no time-but great passion for the topic-and quickly did lots of research, translating Hebrew books and documents and compiling the background on the Lubavitch movements' historic involvement with Hebron.
"The settlers need to be better understood. They undergo tremendous danger; their every day lives express their beliefs. They have undertaken a difficult task and do it with joy, self-sacrifice and love for their fellow Jews.
"Anat Cohen, a settler, explained the belief of many Israelis. 'Every bullet has a name on it.' What's meant to be will be. Jews have lived through this kind of danger for generations," explains Aliza.
Aliza's daughter Tirtza experienced life in the settlements first-hand. Tirtza went to Hebron for two weeks last summer to volunteer with seven other young women. The warmth and unity of the families inspired the eight young women.
"Gap was a million miles away. These families were not concerned with fads, but with a wholesome lifestyle based on family and mutual support, the girls learned. The young women volunteered to help out large families, assisting the local day camp and making arts and crafts programs for the children."
Showing respect for previous generations, the girls cleaned up the ancient Ashkenazi cemetery. Restored in 1998, the unguarded cemetery has been desecrated 17 times since the Hebron agreement. At the end of the restoration the girls found themselves under Arab assault, experiencing both the beauty and harsh reality of this holy city.
"My latest writing assignment was a summary of the Rebbe's timely points on fighting terrorism. Thousands of copies were distributed at the massive rally for Israel in Washington DC," reports Aliza.
Aliza's positive words are crucial to fortify our faith, deepen our understanding of the issues, and help clarify the truth to people of good will.
This article first appeared in the Jewish Holiday Consumer.
Summer in the Mountains
Hadar Hatorah Men's Yeshiva moves to its sprawling campus in Upstate New York from June 25 to August 27. The special summer program offers different levels of classes from beginners thru advanced, outdoor activities, olympic-sized swimming pool, beautiful camp setting. Study for a long weekend, a week, a month or more. Learn and grow in the lap of nature. For more info call (718) 735-0250 or visit www.HadarHatorah.org
New Chabad Center
Chabad of Camden County New Jersey, under the directorship of Rabbi Mendy and Mrs. Nechama Dina Mangel, recently held a dedication ceremony for its new center in Cherry Hill. The day of the dedication was proclaimed "Chabad Day" by the city of Cherry Hill. The new 11,000 square foot center is situated on 3.5 acres of land.
11 Tammuz, Erev Chag HaGeulah, 5744 
Greeting and Blessing:
Your letter of May 12 reached me with considerable delay. My reply has been further delayed partly because of pressure of duties, and partly also because I felt confident that you would see without my prodding that there can be only one answer to your question. Should you, however, still find yourself indecisive, my response is as follows:
- There is surely no need to emphasize to you that intermarriage is a disaster from any viewpoint, and for both parties. It is particularly tragic as an act of treason to our Jewish people, especially after the Holocaust, since children born of a non-Jewish mother are not Jewish according to the Torah [of truth], Toras Emes. Thus, instead of bringing new Jews into the world by marrying a Jewish wife, one would contribute to the decimation of our people and the "Final Solution" that Hitler and his followers began and nearly succeeded, but for the mercy of Hashem [G-d].
- Even apart from the religious-spiritual factor, which is the essential point, it is well known that inter-marriage usually results, sooner or later, in endless friction and unhappiness. That a casual, or even more serious kind of relationship in the past seemed to indi-cate compatibility, etc. is no proof, of course, that it would be so ever after in a marriage situation. On the contrary, it is inevitable that two persons of such divergent backgrounds - one descending from generations of oppressed and victimized people, the other from the world of the oppressors and predaceous should not be affected by hereditary forces. As a physician you surely know how important the hereditary factor is and how it can surface after a period of dormancy.
- On the other hand, to undergo a "cosmetic" or "plastic" conversion is, obviously, no solution to a seriously-minded person, and even more abhorrent to an honest person. A true geyrus [conversion] has to be such as to transform a non-Jew into a Jew, with a new Jewish Neshama [soul], like a newborn Jew of Jewish parents. Such a geyrus is one that is carried out in strict accordance with the Halachah [Jewish law]; anything less is only a sham and a mockery.
- The Halachah is very clear in its insistence that the would-be convert honestly and wholeheartedly accepts all the Miitzvos [commandments]. Accepting all but one of the Mitzvos automatically invalidates the conversion, and the non-Jew remains a non-Jew ex-actly as before. Of course, it is possible to mislead a Rabbi or Rabbinic court by declaring one's readiness to accept all the Mitzvos; but one cannot mislead the Creator Who is the One Who imbues the Neshama.
- In the particular case, it is inconceivable that a person who has been successful and contented as a non-Jew, and who has not been interested in the Jewish religion, indeed had been "turned off" by it, should suddenly realize with absolute conviction that the Jewish religion is the true religion, that she wants to become Jewish more than anything else, and honestly accepts to fulfill all the Mitzvos, etc.
- As for the other party, it would be difficult to reconcile a seriously-minded, intelligent and conscientious Jew, who values his Jewish heritage and commitment, with being influenced by a personal desire, or physical attraction and the like, which, at best, can only be temporary, and can in no way be worth the sacrifice of eternal values and principles.
- There is the well-known "argument" that it is unfair to demand of a would-be convert in terms of adherence to the Mitzvos more than many born Jews adhere to in actual practice. Of course, this contention is inadmissible, since it is a requirement and stipu-lation of the Halachah to which the would-be convert must unequivocally commit himself, or herself. However, if one wants also a logical explanation of this and other matters connected with geyrus, it can be found in the book in English on this subject by Chief Rabbi Dr. I. Jakobovits, London. I do not recall at this moment the exact title of the book, it should not be difficult to ascertain from a Jewish library, or a librarian, or you could write directly to the author.
- Of all professions, that of a medical doctor is the most responsible and exacting, and requires the utmost peace of mind to cope with the everyday challenges of the profession. The Torah holds it in great esteem, considering the human doctor the direct agent of the "Healer of All Flesh Who Works Wondrously" to bring cure and relief both physically and spiritually, which go hand-in-hand together. Why, then, consider at all, or even be distracted by, compli-cating one's life with a situation replete with problems and doubts and adjustments, to say the least?
Much more could be said on the subject, but the above will surely suffice.
To conclude on the timely factor of this letter being written on the eve of the Geulah [Redemption] Anniversary of my father-in-law, the Rebbe of saintly memory (on the 12- 13th of Tammuz) - I trust you are familiar with the background and significance of this historic Anniversary. One of its basic lessons for all of us is that when a Jew is determined to live and carry out his mission in life in accordance with the Will of Hashem, he receives aid from on High to overcome even insurmountable obstacles.... Certain-ly when the problem is basically a passing one, and is in your own hands to resolve quickly and finally.
May Hashem grant that you should find it much easier to resolve than you might have anticipated, and much sooner.
With prayerful wishes for Hatzlocho [success] in all above, and hoping to hear good news from you very soon.
25 Tammuz, 5762
Positive mitzva 107: (Spiritual) uncleanliness of a corpse
In Leviticus 19:14-16 we are commanded concerning the uncleanliness of a dead body. (Termed "the father of all uncleanliness," it conveys spiritual impurity to whatever enters or remains within the same tent or under the same roof with it.)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We are now in the midst of the "Three Weeks" of mourning for the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples.
In the well-known Musaf prayer recited on Shabbat, we say, "and because of our sins we were exiled from our land." Therefore, through rectifying and removing the cause, the effect will also be removed.
In these next few weeks, as we commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temples and the beginning of our long and bitter exile, it is appropriate and commendable to strengthen and increase our study of Torah and observance of mitzvot.
But we should do this with a unique outlook. For, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe stated, the Jewish people as a whole has already rectified the reason for the exile.
The Rebbe was referring specifically to the "unwarranted hatred" that caused the destruction of the Second Holy Temple.
The Rebbe explained that by enhancing our ahavat Yisrael - the love of a fellow Jew - we will experience a foretaste of the unity and ahavat Yisrael that will be prevalent in the Messianic Era.
For, when Moshiach is revealed, the G-dly essence of everything will also be revealed.
Thus, we will experience the true appreciation of our fellow Jew, and this will lead to true "love of a fellow Jew."
The Rebbe also declared that "Teshuva [repentance] has already been done."
We have repented of our transgressions, the reason for the exile, and thus, at any moment, G-d can fulfill his long-overdue promise to the Jewish people and the world at large and bring the true and everlasting redemption.
At that time, according to our Sages, our days will be occupied with performing mitzvot and the pursuit of knowledge of the Divine through studying Torah, and especially the new insights into Torah that will be revealed by Moshiach.
May our additional mitzvot and enhanced Jewish knowledge tip the Heavenly scales and bring the Revelation of Moshiach now.
My sacrifice... you shall observe to offer to me in its time. (Num. 28:2)
The Hebrew word used for "observe" is often used to imply hopeful anticipation of a future happening. Though we do not have the opportunity to observe the laws of sacrifice while in exile, our constant anticipation and hope for the rebuilding of the Temple gives us a portion in the sacrifices which were previously offered there.
It is a continual burnt offering which was offered at Sinai (Num. 28:6)
A continual burnt-offering hints to the "hidden love" which every Jew has. This love is continuous, it never ceases.
Let the L-rd, G-d of all living souls, appoint a man over the congregation (Num. 27:16)
Such was Moses' plea before G-d: Our Father, as You are the G-d of all living souls-to the righteous and evil alike-so may You please grant Your people a leader who will deal fairly with "all living souls" who will love each Jew equally.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)
The land shall be divided by lot. (Num. 26:55)
The Land of Israel has different areas: mountains, valleys, fields, orchards, etc. When one person received his share in the mountains and another person in a valley, or one received cornfields and another orchards, this division of the physical Land of Israel reflected the person's individual relationship to the spiritual Land of Israel. This means that everyone has something unique that relates specifically to him or her in his spiritual service.
And G-d said... take the sum of all the congregation of the Children of Israel from twenty years and upward (Num. 26:1,2)
The Midrash explains that the Jewish people are counted in nine places in Scripture; the tenth and final census will be taken in the Messianic Era. This will be done either by Moshiach, according to the Aramaic translation and commentary of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel, or by G-d Himself, according to the Midrash.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Chukat 5750)
David and Meir had been childhood friends. From the earliest they could remember, they had studied Torah together. After they both married, David mysteriously disappeared and Meir did not see him for many years. Meir did, however, hear that David had joined the disciples of the Besht (Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism) and became the Rabbi of the city of Nikolayev.
Meir eventually inherited his father-in-law's business and divided his time between work and Torah study. On one of his many trips to a trade-fair in a far-off city, Meir stayed at an inn where there a group of chasidim was rejoicing.
"What are you rejoicing about?" asked Meir.
"Rabbi David of Nikolayev is here," they answered him.
Meir realized that the chasidim were referring to his childhood friend, and asked them where Rabbi David was. They pointed to a room. Meir knocked and called out excitedly, "David, open the door for me!"
Rabbi David opened the door and recognized his old friend. They hugged each other with great emotion. When they both regained their composure, one of Meir's first questions to his friend was, "Why did you go to the Baal Shem Tov?"
"Do you remember," began Rabbi David, "when we used to study Torah together? We continually discussed that we wanted to learn Torah "lishma"-for its own sake-but we were not able to reach that level. I had heard that in the Besht's circle, they learn Torah lishma."
"And what made you stay once you got there?" asked Meir.
"When I first came to the Besht," answered Rabbi David, "I didn't find what I was looking for. But the chasidim encouraged me to stay a while longer. I decided to spend the holy Sabbath with the Besht and his chasidim. On the eve of Shabbat, I heard the Besht reciting the Song of Songs. Truly, it was something to experience. I felt as if a tumult was being made in the heavens. But I still wasn't convinced that this was the place for me and determined to leave at the end of Shabbat.
"The Besht's chasidim convinced me to stay on for a few more days to be there when the Baal Shem Tov observed the yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of one of his parents.
I waited until the night of the yartzeit, and there was truly something to be awed by. However, I still was not convinced.
" 'Stay until the night after the yartzeit,' the chasidim told me, 'for the Besht will fast for the entire day and then, at night, he will make a festive meal. If you attend this meal, it is impossible that you won't be totally drawn to the Besht.'
"I agreed to stay. I rested well in preparation for the evening. At the meal, the Besht sat at the head of the table, surrounded by his chasidim. He began to expound on the mystical meditations for immersing in the mikva (ritual bath).
"One of his students stood up and asked, 'Rebbe, doesn't the Arizal (famous 13th century Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria) explain this concept differently?'
"The Besht's face went a fiery red, and then a pale white. Immediately, I became exhausted and could not stop myself from falling asleep. While asleep, I saw many people running somewhere. I asked them where they were going and they told me that in a few minutes the Besht was going to expound on some deep concept. I, too, began to run.
"We arrived at a large building and I saw two seats in the middle of the hall. I was told the seats were for the Besht and the Arizal. I managed to stand right near the Besht's chair.
"The Besht began to expound on the mystical mediations for immersion in the mikva. After he finished his lecture, the Arizal asked him many questions and the Besht answered. The scholarly discussion proceeded until the Arizal acknowledged the truth of the Besht's words.
"Immediately thereafter I awoke to find myself once again at the festive meal with the Besht. The Besht once again began to expound on the meditations for the mikva and the same disciple asked once more, 'Doesn't the Arizal explain it differently?'
"The Besht looked straight at me and said, 'David, tell us what you saw!'
"And that," concluded Rabbi David, "is how the my soul became attached to the Baal Shem Tov and chasidism."
When Meir heard this story from his long-lost friend, he decided to travel together with Rabbi David to the Besht and eventually became one of his greatest chasidim.
In our times the Final Redemption is eagerly anticipated. Every miracle that occurs during this period of anticipation is experienced as only a foreshadowing of what the future holds in store for us. The full measure of song and praise is therefore also held in abeyance, awaiting the full Redemption.... Soon our song shall burst forth in its full might. Soon we shall be able to tell the whole story of Redemption down to the last detail alluded to by the Prophets. Very soon, in our days. Amen!
(From Book of Our Heritage by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov)