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One never knows.
We've all had the type of conversation I'm about to describe. It leaves one frustrated, annoyed, agitated. You think about it for days, you second-guess yourself. It may be that all one recalls from an hour and a half discussion - which probably deteriorated into a diatribe - are a few phrases, perhaps only one exchange or clever remark. But the feeling of irritation and frustration persists.
You're standing in a line - at the bank, the grocery store, the ticket counter - it doesn't matter where. Or you're traveling, using public transportation. Whatever the situation, you're trapped.
That's when it happens. The person next to you leans over and asks, "So what do you think about the situation in Israel?" Or the question may be more specific: "Is that Kabala you're reading?" This one usually has more than the usual degree of eagerness and awe. Sometimes the challenge appears up front: "Why do the Jews believe that?" or "I heard that Jews do this. Is it true?"
Sometimes the questioner is another Jew. Sometimes it's a non-Jew. Whoever it is, whatever the question, wherever one is, whatever one's own state of knowledge (or ignorance), there's always an awkward moment. Do I acknowledge this intrusion with more than a grunt or one-word brush-off? How much do I say? And how quickly can I get out of this conversation?
For even though you've got the answers, somehow he's in charge. And he won't let you go, not willingly, not until the inevitable catastrophic conclusion. Oh, you could be rude, but that's like resigning. It's an admission of defeat. And here, a stalemate or even mutual assured destruction is the only victory.
Of course, the questioner wants more than a direct answer. He or she wants a discussion, a debate, an argument. One answer leads to another question. And your inquisitor has to justify himself, explain, even a little, his experience, his position, his philosophy. Who can refrain from judging such philosophical nonsense? It's one thing when we're offered unsolicited medical or legal advice.
Even if the suggestion is a good one and the remedy works, the person offering the idea doesn't think she's a better physician than your family doctor. Even the neighbor who tells you how to get your yard to look nice and the garden to grow bases his words on experience and some study. But when it comes to religion or philosophy, everyone is born an expert.
So with an inward sigh and not so infinite patience, you go through the routine. Too often, "I don't know" - which is the truth and would get you some sleep or reading time - just isn't allowed. The conversation has to flood forward until it collapses.
For at some point, he will try to convince you. Despite all the questions and protestations, underneath all he wanted was your agreement - on something. He asked questions, he conceded - but isn't he right about something? Anything?
Well, yes, but. But the fundamental flaw, the arrogance, the imposition, the refusal to see, or admit what's seen, the persistent unreasonableness - its not even stubbornness - finally take their toll. The conversation ends - usually only because one of you has reached your (physical) destination. You say goodbye, politely, maybe even exchange names . Yet little effort is made to hide one's relief.
Afterwards come the regrets, the replays, the reruns, the reflections, the recriminations. After all, we don't have the patience of Hillel. And what good did all that talking accomplish, anyway, except to get us upset, angry and annoyed - annoyed at the challenge, upset with our inadequacies and angry with our ignorance.
And yet, one never knows. Maybe something struck a cord.
The Rebbe has emphasized that words from the heart enter the heart. And since we didn't choose the encounter - G-d "forced" it on us - well, one never knows.
"And he made the candlestick of pure gold," we read in this week's Torah portion, Vayakhel. "And six branches were coming out of its sides: three branches of the candlestick out of its one side, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side."
Surprisingly, a widespread misconception exists concerning the menora that stood in the Holy Temple.
This misconception, whose origin lies in non-Jewish sources, has unfortunately filtered down into Jewish circles, resulting in a faulty understanding of the genuine appearance of the menora.
In truth, the six side branches of the seven-branched candelabrum rose upward diagonally in a straight line from the center; they were not, as is commonly pictured, rounded in a bow-shape.
What makes this error even more regrettable is that it is derived from the famous Arch of Titus, may his name be blotted out forever.
The Roman emperor, seeking to memorialize his destruction of the Second Holy Temple and his pillage of the Temple's vessels, commissioned a work to secure his place in history. Its depiction of the menora, however, is not an accurate representation of the one that was stolen from the Holy Temple. Titus wished to improve upon the original and therefore "beautified" it by rounding out its branches.
The Hebrew word for "branch" - "kaneh" - alludes to the menora's true shape, for its literal meaning is "a reed" - a plant which grows at the water's edge in an unbending, straight line.
Both Maimonides and Rashi concur that the branches of the menora were straight; Maimonides even drew a picture of the menora so there would be no room for doubt.
It is of the utmost importance that this ancient forgery, which, unfortunately, has found its way into many synagogues and study halls, be corrected once and for all, and the true form of the holy menora be accurately depicted.
Another interesting feature of the menora was its "cups": "Three cups, shaped like almond blossoms, were on one branch, with a knob and a flower; and three cups, shaped like almond blossoms, were on the other...on the candlestick itself were four cups, shaped like almond blossoms, with its knobs and flowers" - a total of 22 cups in all.
In his drawings, Maimonides depicts these cups upside-down - the bottom of the cup on top, the wider opening on the bottom!
What are we to learn from the cups' unusual configuration?
The purpose of the menora was to illuminate - not only the inside of the Holy Temple, but the entire world.
This concept is also reflected in the fact that the windows of the Holy Temple were constructed to be narrow on the inside yet wider on the outside of the structure, thereby channeling the light of the menora outward, to the world at large.
Similarly, a cup that is upside-down represents the act of pouring out and providing sustenance, symbolic of the Jews' role as "light unto the nations."
Adapted from the Rebbe's Likutei Sichot Vol. XXI
by Rochel Bryn
This past summer I was "accused" by someone of having been born and raised in an Orthodox Jewish home. I teased her with a line about my experiences with the Marines, but I thanked her for the "compliment" nonetheless.
I grew up in Detroit, Michigan where my family belonged to a conservative synagogue that we attended for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I went to afternoon Hebrew School for years. I continued going to services every Shabbat, even after my commitment was fulfilled following my Bat Mitzva.
I was accepted to Michigan State for their communications program, but received the bad news that I was disqualified from getting financial aid. The day I went to school to inform my guidance counselor of that fact, the Air Force recruiter was there. Nine months later, I was in boot camp in Texas followed by initial broadcast training in Indiana, then two years in Japan, two years on the island of Crete, Greece, and a short stint in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
I started out at the bottom and achieved the rank of sergeant within 4 years. I was assigned to AFRTS, the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service. Overseas our job was running a full radio and TV station on just about every base. Everything from changing tapes of stateside TV and radio shows, to writing, producing, editing and even performing commercials, radio shows, local newscasts, and more, both for radio and TV. I arranged and performed interviews with everyone from celebrities to the Director of the Department of Defense Dependant Schools and the Consul General of Spain.
Living overseas on military bases, my options to meet single Jewish men were scant and following a short-lived marriage I became your classic divorced single mother.
After my military commitment ended, my daughter and I returned to Detroit where we soon returned to the same old routine at the same old synagogue. I was going on Shabbat and that was it. After a while, I began to feel something was missing, but didn't know what. "Could some other religion be right for me?" I wondered. Then I thought, "Before I search out something else, maybe I should find out if there's something more to my own Judaism."
The next Shabbat my daughter and I walked into a Chabad synagogue. The rabbi, Rabbi Elimelech Silberberg, invited us for lunch and we accepted.
I was ready. Shabbat observance soon followed and becoming totally kosher only took another few months. I found I felt fulfilled yet now strangely ignorant. There was SO much out there to learn! I found that what I'd known about Judaism before was like the Cliff Notes, while never being aware there even WAS a complete unabridged version.
So we grew. Because we didn't live anywhere near a shul, Rabbi Silberberg arranged accommo-dations for us every Shabbat, especially that first year.
I was laid off from my computer job, and you can imagine my distress. A single mother, with no job?! But what was nerve-wracking for me turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The secretary at Detroit's rabbinical organization was on sick leave and Rabbi Silberberg got me a part time position there. He also offered me work at his shul. Both jobs were tremendous growing and learning experiences for me. Within five years I was at the shul full time and I also had a part-time job doing the late-night radio traffic reports.
I was very busy, but G-d wasn't finished with me, he was just preparing me for what was next in my life.
I married Rabbi Dovid Bryn though I knew he had a serious genetic condition. Dovid was an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in North Miami Beach. He exemplified love for a fellow Jew. His love was genuine for each individual, no matter who it was. The biggest rabbi to the kid with the purple hair and nose ring were treated equally and touched equally to their core.
Dovid's overflowing care for others left no room for worry about his own well-being. If he could breathe, he would talk to others about G-d's goodness, the beauty of a mitzva or life's bright spots. If he could walk, he would go to share life with others and show them a positive perspective on life's twists and turns.
That is why 650 people danced with unbridled joy at our wedding. That's why he couldn't make it in and out of a restaurant, or a bakery, or a store, without talking to 30 people. That's why, while in a car with other Rabbis driving down the highway, he was the one to whom the teenage kids in the next car were yelling, "Hey, there's Rabbi Bryn! Hi, Rabbi!"
Four months after we were married we were in the emergency room. We spent the next 2 years in and out of hospitals in Florida and New York due to a hospital staph infection picked up following aneurysm surgery. It was an infection resistant to all but the strongest I.V. antibiotics and required eight surgeries to expunge it. Two weeks after returning to Florida from New York following another two months in the hospital, my husband's gallbladder gave out, meaning four more emergency surgeries in as many months, and the job his soul was sent here to accomplish was done. My husband passed away.
I will let you in on my secret to keeping my sanity during that time: G-d really does not give us what we cannot handle. I admit there were days when I thought G-d was being a bit too optimistic about me, but then I went back to that principle and took it a step further: If this is happening, then it must mean that I have the tools inside me to deal with it. I may just have to look a little deeper today.
As a friend of his wrote to me, "He showed strength not owned by men who appear stronger. He showed love that is only written about. He lived a full life of treating others as they would like to be treated. He did and lived 120 years of good in a third of the time. When I will need an example of the unrelenting power of love, I will think of him."
I'll finish with something my husband said concerning a particular rough situation we were in, only now I'll apply it to myself and my future: "I can't wait to see what G-d has planned."
Adapted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
Flight #64 Arrives
Flight # 64 of Chabad's Children of Chernobyl arrived recently in Israel, bringing the total number of children saved since 1990 to 2,231. The arrival of this flight brings CCOC closer to achieving the next goal of rescuing 3,000 Jewish children from the radioactive cauldron of Ukraine and Belarus. In Israel, the children live in a special center in Kfar Chabad where they receive top medical attention and are cared for and educated until reunited with their parents. For more info visit www.ccoc.net
28th of Teveth, 5722 
Blessing and Greeting:
I received your letter of the 21st of Teveth.
I trust that it is unnecessary for me to emphasize to you at great length that marriage is, in accordance with the text of the blessing, "An everlasting edifice" (Binyan Adei-ad), and that everything connected with it is not only of immediate and vital concern to the bride and bridegroom, but has a bearing also on their children. Therefore, it is self-understood that the maximum attention should be given to those factors which are essential to ensure a happy life partnership and an everlasting Jewish home. It is of no importance whatever in such a case to pay attention to the opinion of a neighbor or an acquaintance. An obvious example would be in the case where a deal is under consideration, involving a million dollars, when it would be foolish to pay attention to nickels and dimes, and thereby overlook essential conditions which affect the whole deal.
With specific reference to the matter about which you write in your letter and which seems to worry you, let me say this: When a young man has got the strength of will and the strength of character to wear a beard, and has done so for several years, even at a time when wearing a beard was not such a popular thing as it is now, not only in Orthodox circles but even in circles which have nothing to do with religion, it surely shows great courage and confidence, as well as a loyalty to obligations - all of which are essential qualities to ensure a happy family life.
It is surely also unnecessary for me to add that where religious boys do not wear a beard, it is not because they have the strength of character and conviction, rather because of the lack of them.
Finally, it is important to bear in mind what is written in the Zohar and in other holy sources, that this is a special channel and vessel to receive additional G-d's blessings, materially and spiritually.
7th of Mar Cheshvan, 5719 
Greeting and Blessing:
I duly received your cable and letter of October 12th. Needless to say I was very happy to receive the good news of your being completely exonerated at the trial, and of your brother -'s forthcoming marriage.
It has been often stressed that when a person takes the trouble to keep his eyes and mind open, he can see G-d's individual Divine Providence at every step, and often with unusual emphasis, and as you have yourself noticed in your case in the matter of the trial, as you write in your letter.
May G-d grant that you will continue to see G-d's Divine Providence, but in a benevolent way only, in obvious and tangible good, without anxiety or worry, and that the good always turn to better.
... may G-d grant that you will continue to have good things to report throughout the year in every way, both in your private, as well as your public affairs.
With prayerful wishes, and with blessing,
28 Adar I, 5763 - March 2, 2003
Positive Mitzva 147: Covering the Blood of a Slaughtered Wild Animal or Bird
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 17:13) "And he shall pour out its blood, and cover it with earth"
The Torah permits us to slaughter a kosher animal in order to derive nourishment from the animal. Nevertheless, its life force, its blood, must be respected and treated with dignity. Thus, the Torah commands us to cover up the blood which is spilled when we slaughter fowl or kosher animals from the wild.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we read a special portion known as Shekalim.
In connection with the commandment of giving a half-shekel during the time of the Holy Temple for the public sacrifices, we find that the Torah explicitly commands that "the rich shall not give more...than a half-shekel."
On the surface, this is difficult to understand: All the offerings in the Holy Temple were required to be perfect and complete. Why then, in this instance, was it forbidden to give no more than a half-shekel? Also, since the donation required was only a half-shekel, why does the Torah tell us that an entire shekel is equivalent to twenty geira? Why doesn't it just tell us that a half-shekel is equal to ten geira?
In resolution: This command teaches us that a Jew cannot become a complete entity, a "holy shekel," unless he joins together with another Jew. Every Jew by himself is ten geira, a half-shekel. When, however, he joins together with another Jew, they comprise twenty geira, a complete entity.
That the portion of Vayakhel and Shekalim are read on the same Shabbat emphasizes the need for establishing unity within oneself, making it possible to then establish bonds of unity with other Jews.
A Jew's service begins with gathering together and synthesizing the various aspects of his own being, after which he joins together with the entire Jewish people. Only then can he gather together every element of the world and show how its entire existence is intended solely to carry out G-d's will.
This will lead to the ultimate process of ingathering, the ingathering of the dispersed Jewish people, when G-d will "sound the great shofar...and bring us together from the four corners of the earth to our land."
Moses gathered together all the Congregation of the Children of Israel and said to them: "These are the things which G-d has commanded that you should do" (Ex. 35:1)
Every Jew approaches a mitzva (commandment) with his own thoughts and intentions, according to his intellect and understanding. Yet the physical performance of the mitzva is carried out in the same manner by all. Moses was able to assemble all the Jews in true unity because the performance of mitzvot is common to all Jews, irrespective of other differences.
(Rebbe of Tshortkov)
All the wise-hearted among you shall come, and make all that G-d has commanded. (35:10)
It is preferable for a person to do a mitzva immediately, as the opportunity presents itself, and not procrastinate. Doing a mitzva with alacrity prevents all kinds of obstacles from arising to prevent its performance at a later time. That is why the verse says, "All the wise-hearted among you shall come" - one who is truly wise - "shall come" - without delay.
Earring, nose ring, finger ring and bracelet (35:22)
These items were donated for the Sanctuary to teach us an important lesson in raising our children: Earring - We must listen carefully to the Torah's dictates on child rearing, and must always hear what our children are saying to make sure they are receiving a good education; Nose ring - We must "smell out" our children's friends, to make sure that they are positive and not negative influences; Finger ring - We must point, so to speak, with our finger, the right path to follow, and explain the dangers of straying from that path; Bracelet - We must use our arms, that is, all of our strengths and resources, to ensure that every Jewish child receives a strong Jewish education.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
And he put in his heart that he may teach (Exodus 35:34)
This expression appears only once more in Torah, in the verse, "That you be able to teach the Children of Israel all the statutes which the L-rd has spoken through Moses," to teach us that whoever is blessed with wisdom and understanding of Torah is obligated to share it with others.
Years ago in the city of Minsk there lived a man named Shmuel Nachum. Although his main occupation was studying Torah, his mind was so acute in business matters that he became an arbiter and legal advisor in all sorts of business disputes. In fact, this is how he made a comfortable living.
Shmuel Nachum and his wife had one daughter, named Devorah, on whom they doted. Devorah was an unusually bright child and her father assumed total responsibility for her education. By the age of eight she was studying the Five Books of Moses and the Prophets. Her progress continued and by age ten she knew the whole Bible and began learning Mishna and the Code of Jewish Law. In addition she learned mathematics, Polish, and was able to read and write. By the age of fifteen she was studying Talmud with the commentaries of Rashi.
At eighteen she married a fine young man and was a happy new bride. Her husband succeeded in business and she shortly gave birth to two girls and one boy. Suddenly, tragedy struck her in a series of terrible blows. Her two little girls died in an epidemic and within the same year her husband also died. Broken-hearted, the young widow returned to her parents' home with her little son. But three years later, her son also, was taken from her.
What did she have left to live for? All day she tried to hide her grief from her parents, but from time to time she would closet herself in her room and weep for hours. After some time she realized that she must take charge of her shattered life, and she threw herself into her studies more than ever. She also began to involve herself in the social welfare of the local women.
Together with two of her childhood friends she established study-circles among the young women of Minsk who had not been as fortunate as she in learning Torah. Indeed, her learning groups became popular and spread throughout the city, making her a sought-after lecturer. Devorah found great solace in her work for, in helping others, she at the same time stilled the dull pain in her aching heart.
One day her father was approached by a certain man named Tzadok Moshe with a suggestion for a match between Devorah and his rebbe, a notable Torah scholar from Vitebsk named Nachum. Devorah expressed an interest in meeting the man, and it was arranged that he should travel to Minsk to meet this extraordinary woman. Within a short time they became engaged and thus began a new episode in the life of this unusual woman.
Having been used to the high level of Torah scholarship amongst the women of Minsk, Devorah was appalled at the ignorance of the women in Vitebsk, and she set about remedying it. Again she arranged study-circles as she had in Minsk. In addition, she established institutions for the sick and needy. She was very happy in her new life, filling her time with study, social service and managing her husband's business.
Nachum was not merely astonished to find that his wife was such a capable manager of his business affairs, but her extensive Torah knowledge astounded him! He began to realize more and more what a treasure he had in such a wife, and his respect and admiration for her increased enormously. He began to realize what a change her coming had made, not only in his own home which had become a veritable "Open House and Council of Wise Men," but in Vitebsk at large, where her influence was felt and appreciated in every sphere of social and educational activity! What he did not know was that Devorah found time every day to study Talmud and that she was studying it in its entirety for the second time!
Devorah was not satisfied to concentrate on the women alone; her ambition was to see Vitebsk as a whole become a center of Jewish learning. To that end she devised a plan in which a number of promising students from the small Vitebsk yeshiva would be supported to learn in one of the great yeshivas in another town where they would prepare themselves to serve their home town upon their return. In the interim, she convinced her husband to import and maintain at his own expense, a group of teachers and their families to come and educate the people of Vitebsk. This plan took time to implement, but within a year ten teachers were installed in Vitebsk and the sweet sound of Torah could be heard throughout the whole town.
Devorah had made her home in Vitebsk for ten years and her dream of making it a Torah center was slowly becoming a reality due to her efforts, foresight, and rare abilities.
Adapted from "Memoirs of the Lubavitcher Rebbe" Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.
Moshiach can come any day, even before the predetermined date: "This day - if you will listen to His voice!" (Psalms 95:7) Every generation has a special "end date" its own, for, as stated, Moshiach is alive and present in every generation, albeit concealed. He is ready to be revealed at a moment's notice. In the course of history prior to "its time" there are especially auspicious times when it is easier to effect his coming. To take advantage of these, to hasten the redemption, that depends completely on us.
(Mashiach, by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet)