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We've all sat through one, and more than once - the interminable speech. It happens anywhere, anytime - almost like catching a cold. At a nephew's bar mitzva, a fund-raising dinner or some function honoring a past president, a retiring head coach or the like. A speaker with some name recognition - perhaps only locally - is asked to give the "keynote" speech and is told he has twenty minutes. But he - or she - knows better than the affair organizers. He's got so much to say, he's such a fascinating speaker, his time is valuable and he's going to give the organizers their money's worth. So he adds five, ten, sixty minutes to his speech and blithely blithers along.
It's not just the length, either. Many times speeches short on actual minutes seem excruciatingly long. Commencement speeches are like that, aren't they?
Why does this happen? Why do speakers speak and speak and speak? Why do even good speakers go on too long - or exhaust us with their exuberance? Let's eliminate obvious contributors to the "yawn factor": monotone, poor modulation, inappropriate comments, poor sense of humor, bad timing and little rapport with the audience, body language miscues, mispronunciations - the usual litany of rhetorical wreckage.
But what about good speakers, well-meaning speakers, speakers with something to say? Why do we so often want to tell them all - amateurs, certainly, but even some professionals, to just sit down and be quiet?
One reason may be that long speeches generate insincerity. After all, what's the point of a speech? To educate, to elucidate, to inspire. The great speeches get to the point - clearly and quickly, precisely and concisely - and then fall silent. They let the audience absorb and act. The speakers trust and respect their audiences.
So it's not the length. It's the attitude, the approach, the content. Because ultimately, speeches, however pretty, don't do anything. They can motivate us, inspire us, teach us, but, to indulge in a clich้, talk is cheap.
Or, to put it more Jewishly, "Shammai said, 'Say little and do much.'" Shammai was referring to Torah study: When it comes to learning Jewish law - the do's and don't's of Judaism - "say little." Learn what needs to be done (or not done) and do it (or don't do it). Learning Torah should not be an excuse for lack of observance of its precepts. (As a corollary, though, one should spend a great deal of time "saying Torah" for its own sake. The more Torah study for the sake of Torah study, the better.)
When it comes to action, though, to fulfilling the mitzvos in a practical sense - "do much," quantitatively and qualitatively. The more mitzvos, the more energy put into them, the better.
We know, instinctively that long speeches, poor speeches, self-important speeches, divert us from the task before us, doing all we can to prepare ourselves and the world for the coming of Moshiach. And when it comes to that, "Action is the main thing."
In the Torah portion of Eikev, Moses recounts the passing of his brother Aaron immediately after recalling the breaking of the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Our Sages tell us that the incidents are juxtaposed because "the demise of tzadikim (the righteous) is as difficult for G-d as the breaking of the tablets."
The parallel between the demise of the righteous and the breaking of the tablets is not only that they are both extremely difficult for G-d, but also that tzadikim and the tablets are analogous. How so?
With regard to the first tablets, the Torah states: "The tablets were the work of G-d; their text was written by G-d - engraved upon the tablets." The tablets thus had two distinct attributes: their very creation was a work of G-d; the text was engraved by G-d.
After the sin of the Golden Calf, "Moses looked at them and saw that the writing had disappeared. He said: 'How can I give the Jewish people the tablets, they are without substance? Rather, I will break them.' "
But even after the writing had disappeared, the tablets were still G-d's work. How could Moses refer to them as being "without substance"?
As indicated in the verse, the text of the tablets was engraved within the tablets themselves. As such, the text became an integral part of the tablets' substance, not something added as ink is added to paper. Hence, the engraving of the text had a profound impact on the actual tablets, the words becoming entirely one with them. In other words, the unity of the tablets and their text was so great that their true essence was displaced by the text engraved within them.
Therefore, once the "writing had disappeared" - although the tablets were still a work of G-d - they were "without substance," for the true entity was the actual text, with its soul and spirit.
These qualities of the tablets have a parallel within each Jew. Every Jew is a composite of body and soul. The Jew's body is similar to the tablets, which were a work of G-d, for even the body of a Jew possesses tremendous sanctity. The soul that was placed within the body is similar to the Divine writing engraved within the tablets. The unity of body and soul is thus similar to the unity of the writing and the tablets themselves.
As mentioned earlier, the tablets were important unto themselves - "the work of G-d" - even before the writing was engraved, for the tablets preceded the text. Still, once the Ten Commandments were engraved within them they were elevated to such an extent that their totality was the "Divine writing." So when the writing disappeared, they were considered to be "without substance."
So too with the Jew. Although his body was created independently of his soul, once the soul is vested in the body, it becomes truly one with the body. The essential aspect of the soul becomes the essential character of the body as well. Thus we say that "the life of the tzadik is not physical life, but spiritual life - belief, awe and love [of G-d]."
This then is the similarity between the demise of tzadikim and the breaking of the tablets. With the introduction of an even higher spiritual element - the soul, the Divine writing - both entities undergo a profound change, with spirituality becoming their entire essence.
From The Chasidic Dimension, based on Likutei Sichot, Vol. 14, in honor of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson's yartzeit on 20 Av.
by Rabbi Bentzion Rader
In 1967, soon after the Six Day War, the Lubavitcher Rebbe initiated the "Tefilin Campaign," encouraging all Jewish males Bar Mitzva age and above to don tefilin.
At the time, an acquaintance of mine asked me why the Rebbe had specifically chosen to make a campaign for tefilin of all the mitzvot (command-ments). Later that year, when I travelled to New York and had a private audience with the Rebbe, I asked the Rebbe my friend's question. The Rebbe answered: "There were two reasons: The first was that there it says in the Talmud (tractate Rosh Hashana) that once a Jewish male has put on tefilin he enters a different spiritual 'category.' The second reason was that a Jew in Miami who sees pictures of Jews at the Western Wall wearing tefilin gets an urge to put on tefilin himself."
In 1974, I received a call from a former client of my accounting firm. He was now in business in Miami and his accountant wanted to discuss certain aspects of the business with me. He asked that I fly to Miami and meet with the accountant.
I agreed and a few weeks later I went to Miami. I arrived late at night. Early the next morning, my former client's partner came to get me for the meeting. He knocked on my door but, hearing no response, he entered the room and saw me praying in prayer shawl and tefilin.He left the room.
At the designated hour we all sat down to a breakfast meeting. The accountant, who was Jewish, inquired as to why I wasn't eating to which my ex-client explained that I eat only kosher food. The partner who had seen me praying added, "I went to call him for the meeting and he was praying in a prayer shawl and with 'things' on his head.
The accountant asked, "You put on tefilin?" I responded affirmatively and asked, "Don't you?"
"I haven't put on tefilin since I was Bar Mitzva 50 years ago," he began, "but recently I saw a photograph of Jews at the Western Wall wearing tefilin and had an urge to put on tefilin myself."
After the meeting he put on tefilin in my room.
The following year, I returned to the United States for business discussions in Detroit. I arrived on a Tuesday morning, had meetings all day and in the evening went to stay with a couple who were becoming close with Lubavitch (the husband was involved in the business meetings).
My hosts had invited a few couples to their home for a get-together that evening. Although not at my instigation, the conversation turned to religion and one of the men kept asking questions about tefilin: Why can't they be round? Who said that they have to be black, etc. As we were saying goodbye, I said to the man who had been asking the questions: "It seems that you have a special interest in tefilin."
He replied, "Actually, I haven't put on tefilin for over 20 years!"
I told the man, "But you should!"
He said to me, "I own a bakery and we work all through the night. If you want me to put on tefilin, come to my bakery at about 6:30 a.m. At that time we have a break and I'll put on tefilin."
I couldn't refuse. At 6:30 in the morning I arrived at the bakery. Amongst the flour sacks he put on tefilin. The man knew exactly how to wrap them and what prayers to say. "You obviously know how to put on tefilin, why don't you do it regularly?" I asked.
He told me that he didn't own a pair of tefilin and it was not one of his priorities to buy a pair. But if someone would give him a pair of tefilin he would put them on regularly. I told him that I expected to be back in Detroit in about six weeks and that I would bring him tefilin at that time.
Later that evening, I flew into New York and stayed overnight in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The next morning, after praying, I wrote a letter to the Rebbe describing the business discussions and the episode about the tefilin. I ended by writing that I was was returning to London that evening and was especially looking forward to Shabbat; it was to be the first time all of my children and grandchildren would be together for Shabbat.
When I entered the Rebbe's shul before the afternoon prayers, one of the Rebbe's secretaries told me that there was an answer concerning my letter.
In his reply, the Rebbe gave a blessing for the business discussions but then wrote: "Do you think it is right that a Jew who put on tefilin yesterday for the first time in over twenty years should wait another six weeks for you to buy him a pair of tefilin so that he can perform the mitzva again? You should buy the tefilin today and arrange to get them to him in Detroit in time for him to put them on today. If not, you personally should return to Detroit today with the tefilin in order that he can put them on in good time tomorrow. You should do this even if it means not being with your family for Shabbat." The Rebbe then wrote: "And when this Jew sees how important it is for you that he does not miss even a day putting on tefilin, this mitzva will have an especial importance to him."
There were a number of obstacles that had to be overcome. But within a few hours I had managed to purchase a pair of tefilin, take them to La Guardia airport to be carried by American Airlines to Detroit. I arranged for my host to pick up the tefilin from the airport and hand-deliver them to the baker. Once I received confirmation that the tefilin had been delivered to the baker, I left for London after advising the Rebbe what had been arranged.
On my next trip to Detroit, I met the baker again and asked him how he was doing with the tefilin. He told me that he had not missed a day - even walking home one day in the snow when his car broke down so that he could put on the tefilin before sun down. "From the trouble you went to in order that I got the tefilin the very next day, they are especially important to me."
New Center in Monterey
A new Chabad Center recently opened in Northern California. Rabbi Dovid and Binie Holtzberg, and their nine month old son Mendy, arrived in Monterey at the beginning of the summer. They are offering adult education classes, afternoon Hebrew school, Sabbath services, holiday services and celebrations.
New Center in Cambridge
A new Chabad-Lubavitch Center will be opening shortly in Cambridge, England. Under the directorship of Rabbi and Mrs. Reuven Leigh. They will be working primarily with university students, though their educational programs, holiday celebrations and social service functions will also reach out to the general Jewish population.
3rd of Shevat, 5719 (1959)
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter of January 2nd, in which you ask my opinion on several points concerning conditions on a cemetery, such as the kind of memorials, flowers on the grave, etc. You ask if these points are in violation of Jewish law.
Generally speaking, the points you describe in your letter do not violate Jewish law in the strict sense of the word. However, it is possible that you did not mention all the facts and particulars which might affect the law on these points. I suggest that before you make any final decision, you consult with a local Orthodox Rabbi, who perhaps knows the property in question, or can ascertain all the necessary and pertinent details.
What I meant by saying that the points enumerated in your letter do not, generally speaking, violate the letter of the Jewish law, is that it is necessary in such case; to consider also the spirit of the law, which is no less Important in this case, and perhaps even more important.
This is to say that the general view of our Jewish religion in regard to monuments for the dead is that the true and essential monument is to give to their souls true spiritual gratification by extra deeds connected with our Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments]. For, inasmuch as we all believe in the eternity of the soul, and its passing from this world which is called "the world of illusion," to a higher world which is called "the world of truth," every good deed, in accordance with the Torah and Mitzvoth, which is done in connection with their memory and with the intention of affording them spiritual pleasure is the best way through which those who are left behind can commemorate the souls of their near and dear ones.
In view of the above, it is clear that although it is a good thing to have a tombstone or similar monument on a grave, and also to keep the grave in good condition, etc., one must bear in mind that that as a commemoration these are, after all, superficial symbols, the real significance of which comes to fruition only through profound and inner expressions of attachment, as mentioned above. In other words, physical monuments can only be secondary to spiritual monuments. Therefore, if there was a question of choice as to spending the money on physical monuments of bronze or stone, or applying the extra funds towards sacred causes of Torah and Mitzvoth, and the like, there can be no question as to where the priority belongs. Hence, even if beautifying the grave with flowers, and the like, is not necessarily a violation of the strict letter of the Jewish law, it would be in conflict with the deeper Jewish outlook of the soul, which prefers spiritual deeds rather than flowers.
By way of contrast, it is well to mention here, what the non-Jewish outlook is, as expressed in the gigantic pyramids and similar monuments of the ancient Egyptian and other non-Jewish kings. Although these monuments have survived for thousands of year, they can only bring to us a message of inhumanity, in that hundreds of thousands of lives and inestimable material were spent on what is really useless. Compare it with the way the passing, in distinguish, of the great King Hezekiah has been commemorated, as our Sages relate, when a Yeshiva was founded in his memory. It is surely unnecessary to elaborate further.
Needless to say, you do not impose on me when asking me such questions. I hope to hear good news from you, especially about your fruitful activities in all matters of Torah and Mitzvoth, which I hope will grow and expand, as growth is the sign of life.
17 Av, 5763 - August 15, 2003
Prohibition 251: It is forbidden to say things that may hurt or trick another person. This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 25:17) "You shall not wrong one another and you shall fear your G-d." This prohibition cautions us not to make remarks or say things that might hurt others, even if we don't intend such things to be mean.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The first and second paragraphs after the recitation of Shema Yisrael in our daily prayers are from last week's and our present Torah portion (Eikev) respectively. Both paragraphs enjoin us to serve G-d devotedly, and command us to observe the mitzvot of tefilin, mezuza, and teaching Torah to children.
Where do these paragraphs differ, then? The first paragraph is written in the singular tense, it is addressed to the individual. The second paragraph is written in the plural and is addressed to the community. In addition, the second paragraph also includes mention of the reward and punishment for keeping the above-mentioned and other mitzvot.
Our commentators also explain that because of the wording of the commandment to teach our children, we understand that one refers to a teacher's obligation toward his students while the other refers to a parent's obligation.
Concerning the mitzva of giving our children a proper Jewish education, the lesson from this and last week's portion is clear. Both the individual and the community is obligated to fulfill this mitzva. Parent and teachers both share the responsibility. We can do it for altruistic reasons. We can ensure a proper Jewish education for fear of punishment - "modern day" punishments might include assimilation, drugs, cults or intermarriage. Or we might be involved in Jewish education because of the reward - nachas from children, being honored at a dinner, etc. Whatever the reason, whoever the person, wherever the community, a proper Jewish education for every Jewish child must be our number one priority.
And now Israel, what does G-d your L-rd ask from you but to fear G-d your L-rd and to follow in all his ways to love him and serve him with all your heart and all your soul" (Deut. 10:12).
A person must fear the sin itself and not merely the punishment it incurs. The situation is analogous to a father who warns his son not to walk around barefoot. The father warns that if the child steps on a thorn, he will have to be brought to a doctor to remove it and the procedure will hurt. The son, because of his youth and limited intelligence, is not afraid of the thorn itself and the possibility that he might step on one; he is merely afraid of its removal. The father, however, really wishes him to avoid the thorn, and sees its removal as a positive remedy if he should so require it. So it is with our avoidance of transgression. Man wishes to avoid punishment, but G-d worries about the sin itself, and sees the punishment as a necessary atonement and correction.
(The Maggid of Mezeritch)
The Talmud asks "Is then fear such a small matter?" and answers, "For Moses it is a small matter." Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe, asked, "The Torah speaks here to every Jew. How is this an answer for every one. The answer which is given is that every Jew, whoever he may be, contains a spark of Moses. This gives every Jew strength to attain fear of G-d easily"
Do not say to yourself, "It was my own strength and personal power that brought me all this prosperity. You must remember that it is G-d your L-rd who gives you the power to become prosperous. (8:17-18)
The Talmud states: "The difficulty with which a person sustains himself is like the Splitting of the Red Sea." Just as the Splitting of the Sea was an unforeseen miracle, so does a person's sustenance come to him from G-d in a hidden manner.
(The Seer of Lublin)
The third Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, known as the "Tzemach Tzede," often visited groups of "Cantonistim." These soldiers in the Czar's army were Jews of unusual self-sacrifice that had been snatched from their homes from the age of five years and up. They served in the Czar's army as part of a cruel plan to "persuade" them to leave Judaism. But overall, despite the years of tortures and brainwashing, most of them clung to their Jewish identity.
In one of the Tzemach Tzedek's visits to these brave soldiers, he told them, "One must sacrifice one's life rather than one's Judaism. Even if the Czar himself personally tells you to change your religion you must sacrifice yourself rather than obey him."
These words, spoken from the soul, had a deep effect on one sailor by the name of Shimon Levin.
Shimon was an excellent and devoted soldier of the Czar. He loved his job and was one of the best, perhaps the very best, sailor in the Czar's royal navy to the point that he was called by his compatriots called him Semion Bodri (Shimon the brave).
He had been promoted to the rank of officer and served at the naval base in Svastopol on the Black sea. Then, one glorious day, the base received notice that the Czar was to personally make a visit.
It is hard for us to imagine the fear and awe that the very mention of the Czar's name inspired in every Russian citizen no less an actual personal visit by his Royal Highness! The very thought filled the sailors with trembling.
When the glorious day arrived the base had been scrubbed and polished for the visit and the sailors had a grand reception prepared. The band played, everyone was dressed in immaculate and pressed uniforms, even the decks of the ships gleamed. But the highlight of the day was something very special.
The commander of the base climbed to a platform, stood to his full height. The music stopped, everyone was silent, and he announced before the Czar that in honor of his royal Majesty, one of the officers would perform an act of unmatched skill and unequaled bravery. The commander swung his finger majestically up pointing to the highest ship mast in the harbor some twenty meters high.
Again the drums began to roll and suddenly stopped.
Shimon Levin, in full battle gear, stood at the foot of the mast, saluted and bowed to the Czar. Then, without hesitating, he climbed briskly up the mast, stood erect on its very point and, as the crowd gasped in amazement, jumped, arched his back and dived gracefully into the sea.
The crowd broke into applause as Shimon swam to shore, walked up to the Czar and bowed deeply.
The Czar was ecstatic. "Who is this man!?" he asked excitedly.
"His name is Semion Bodri," the commander proudly replied.
The Czar called out "Semion Bodri! I want to reward you. We will have another celebration at this same time here tomorrow!"
The next day the scene was repeated, but this time there were tens of new officials that the Czar wanted to impress.
The Czar was to the point. He stood proudly and announced "Semion Bodri, you are a true soldier, a credit to the Royal Navy, and a Jewel in the crown of Mother Russia. Because of your act of power and splendor that you demonstrated yesterday I hereby promote you to the rank of General! Congratulations!" The crowd broke into wild applause, the sailors began singing a patriotic song and the band played along.
But when it all ended Shimon just stood there without a smile on his face. "Your majesty" he replied. "I am truly grateful but according to the laws which your highness has made it is forbidden for me to accept." Silence reigned, only the wind could be heard whistling through the masts. "I am a Jew, your majesty and it is forbidden for a Jew to rise above the rank of petty officer."
The Czar was surprised and embarrassed. He had planned to brag before his generals and ministers and this Jew had made him look foolish.
"Then you will change your religion!" He announced angrily. "Do you hear me officer Bodri?! You will change your religion and become a general! Now!"
"Your majesty!" answered Shimon. "With your majesty's permission, first I would like to repeat the feat that I performed yesterday for your royal highness."
Without waiting for an answer and before anyone knew what was happening, Shimon ran in the direction of the mast, swooped up his gear and, without stopping, put it on as he was running. Even more swiftly than yesterday he climbed to the peak, stood there proudly, and announced loudly, "Your majesty, 12 years I have been serving in the Russian navy and I love my service with all my soul. But know, my king, that above all I am a Jew. Through my entire service I have kept the Sabbath and never eaten forbidden foods. I will never leave the G-d of Israel. 'Shma Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad!!"
Again he gracefully dived from the mast and plunging down into the blue sea. But this time he did not come up. Shimon the brave had conquered the Czar of Russia.
Our Sages teach that the opening phrase of this week's Torah portion "Vihaya eikev tishmayon - It shall come to pass when you heed..." alludes to our present era, ikvasa demishicha, the time when Moshiach's approaching footsteps can be heard. When we observe the Torah and its commandments in this time, G-d will keep the promises mentioned in the Torah and bring the Redemption.
(Keeping Touch, by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger)