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Ah, family reunions! Those gala gathering of the clan events. They can be held for special reasons - a mother's 75th birthday, the parents' 50th wedding anniversary, a Bar Mitzva. They can be held for no reason at all other than a celebration of the generations.
They can extend across a wide range of cousins - go back three or four generations. Some families have a yearly event. It starts with parents, children and spouses, and grandchildren. The reunions can have a theme, have special commemorative sweatshirts, occur around a holiday. Grandma can make some special recipes (a thousand chocolate chip cookies, anyone?), cousins play games (all night sessions of Chess, Monopoly or Risk), and the siblings catch up with each others' lives (how's the new job working out? you got a new car? which team's going to win?).
Around the dinner table, a recounting of family history. Stories of old frictions now produce laughs and a sense of togetherness, of battling through together rather than against each other.
Stepping back for a moment, though, or looking on as an outsider, we must be struck by two observations, apparent contradictions. We see an intensity of affection that, in many ways, has no parallel for breadth and depth. Oh, sure, there will sometimes be tense moments (fewer the older we get, the more reunions we have), conflicts, a flaring up here and there, on rare occasions, of unsettled issues. But over all, by and large - overwhelmingly so - consider the months of planning! - everyone focuses outward from themselves and inward to the family - the family as a whole, as an indivisible unit. One sees a clear and present pride, an exclusionary pride, that extends to and includes all - those born into and those adopted in.
And the second thing we see is the diversity. This one barely speaks English, that one can barely read Hebrew. This one wears a kipa, studied in a yeshiva and his wife covers her hair; that one is always on the go, hasn't settled down yet, has a high profile job; the other one is strictly "middle class" - two cars in the garage, suburbs, soccer and piano. They look different, they live differently and yet - they're family. Here, we don't measure lifestyles and we don't count mitzvot. Rather, we count neshamas - souls - to make sure everyone's here. At reunions, we measure the limitless responsibility and love we have for each other. Each guarantees the other. Each is bound to, part of, every member of the family.
The family reunion - a microcosm of the Jewish people. For all our diversity, we "camp at Sinai" as one people. Near or far, does not our family - our extended family, our fellow Jews - remain always in our minds and hearts? Do we not rejoice at the reunion, even with a "distant" cousin?
And of a certainty we look forward to the ultimate family reunion, when all Jews, living and dead, will be reunited in our ancestral home, in Israel, as we gather for the family feast, so to speak, at the rebuilt Temple, with the coming of Moshiach.
This Shabbat we read two Torah portions, Vayakel and Pekudei. Pekudei is the last portion in the Book of Exodus. It contains a description of the Sanctuary. At the end of the portion, the Torah notes that when the Sanctuary was erected "a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the L-rd filled the Sanctuary." The Torah continues, "And when the cloud was taken up from over the Sanctuary, the Jews went onward in all their journeys."
The purpose of the Sanctuary, and indeed that of the entire Creation, is tied to the fact that the Jews only "travelled" when the cloud departed. In understanding this, we must keep in mind that G-d's glory filled the Sanctuary specifically when the cloud was present.
It is not difficult to do G-d's will when G-dliness is revealed right in front of us, like the cloud. However, our whole purpose is to reach a level of holiness even when G-dliness is hidden and concealed as well; when it seems that the cloud has ascended back "up."
According to the Midrash, G-d created this world because He desired a dwelling place below. "Below" is not used here in terms of place, but rather, it implies a place where holiness is not openly apparent.
The goal of Creation is that our "lower" world in which the Divine Presence is not openly revealed should be transformed into a dwelling place for G-d.
This is accomplished through observing mitzvot (commandments).
Accordingly, when the cloud of G-d is "down" here and the presence of G-d is felt, this world cannot at all be considered lower. Thus, the purpose of Creation is not realized.
It is only when the cloud is taken up that the travels of the Jewish people can begin - carrying out G-d's will.
The aim of the Sanctuary was to give the Jews the strength to bring holiness into the world. This was to be done precisely when the cloud ascended. And, this is why, after describing the details pertaining to the erection of the Sanctuary, the Torah ends by telling us that the cloud went up. For this indicates its true purpose.
While the Jews are in exile, a spiritual darkness prevails in the world. One might think that, with G-d seemingly so far away, it is not the most opportune time to try and bring G-dliness into the world. And yet, it is precisely now when we must try harder. In the same way that the departure of the cloud was the sign that the Jews should go forward with their journey, so too, should the spiritual exile spur us on to fulfill our G-dly mission.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Search for the Truth
The following article is from www.jewsforjudaism.com Make sure to visit their new website www.jewishpassion.com
Looking back, it seems that most of my life has been a spiritual journey - a search for the truth. Now as I begin to write my story, I can say that after years of frustration and turmoil, I am finally at peace. I am attending synagogue regularly, building for myself a Jewish life and Jewish home, and everything has come full circle.
My story begins in Australia where I was born. Both sides of my family immigrated there in the mid to late 1800s. My childhood was spent in a Christian home. I did not know that I had a Jewish heritage until I was around age 13, at which time my mother told me of her family background and that she was Jewish. (She had embraced Christianity when she married my father.) For years it didn't impact my life greatly because I had no real understanding of what it meant to be Jewish. Additionally, my maternal grandmother died before I was born and I have only one memory of ever seeing my maternal grandfather. He has now been deceased many years.
My family immigrated to America when I was 12. Eventually, in my new country, I went to college, married, had a son, and attended church sporadically, all the while feeling the pull to explore and understand my Jewish roots. And because of my disconnection from my roots and not having the slightest idea of what to do about it, I did nothing. The kind of search I was to eventually undertake seemed out of the question at the time. From a Christian point of view, it was forbidden to ever question the teachings of the faith. Attending synagogue wasn't anything I thought seriously about. It was a bridge that seemed impossible to cross.
After the birth of my son, I learned about Hebrew Christianity. It seemed like the answer. I could have the best of both worlds. And because I had no understanding of what it meant to be Jewish, I was naturally drawn to them. About the same time I learned that our local university had a Judaic Studies Program. I enrolled in the Department for Post Graduate Classes.
This was to become a major turning point in my life. The more I studied and learned, the more I began to look at things differently. Not because the professors were proselytizing me, but because of my own research. I began to analyze the things I had learned and was being taught and to compare these teachings to the Hebrew Bible and against history. As I began to analyze the teachings of the New Testament, a very anti-Jewish picture was emerging. Fairly early in my studies, I wrote a paper concerning "The Roots of Christian Anti-Semitism." The writing of this paper was to profoundly change me. In the process of researching this paper, I read early Christian accounts from the documents written by the Church Fathers. The very people who were responsible for the foundation of Christian theology and who wrote of Christian love, also wrote of hatred toward Jews. The more I studied, the more unacceptable it was. More and more, the contradictions in their teachings and in the New Testament itself began to greatly concern me and were unacceptable to me as a valid belief system.
As I began to analyze the New Testament scriptures for truth or error, I became very observant of speakers and the weekly services. Academically, I continued to study and search for the truth, but my faith was unraveling. More and more a picture was emerging that was radically different from what I had always been taught and was being presented in the Hebrew Christian movement. The more I studied, the more apparent it became that it was impossible to be both Jewish and Christian. Hebrew Christians called their movement "Messianic Judaism," but there was nothing in it even close to Judaism. What was becoming increasingly apparent was that the movement was really just Christianity cloaked in Jewish external symbols. When one got past the tallits and the music and the Hebrew language, what lay underneath was Christian theology. Hebrew scripture was being distorted to make it fit the Christian interpretation of scripture.
Although my former faith no longer existed and no longer had meaning for me, leaving the religion of my childhood was not a thought I entertained lightly. Over the next 3 to 4 years, I continued to attend services, weighing the pros and cons of returning to my mother's roots, along with other options as to what I should do. Over this time I read and researched and gave it a great deal of serious thought.
Above all, my husband and child were of primary concern and how what was happening to me would impact them. It was a time of struggle and turmoil. I had friends in the movement who were warm and loving and kind, yet they were not enough. How could I continue to do something I felt was morally so very wrong?
Throughout my struggle, I shared openly with my husband. Eventually he was able to say to me that he would give me his blessing for me to begin to attend synagogue and that he would even attend with me.
The next difficulty was taking that first step. Although I no longer believed in the validity of Hebrew Christian teachings, it was hard to leave what I had known, and walk into a life that was unknown.
The first step was the hardest. But because I had the courage to take that first step, I am now working on building a Jewish life and a Jewish home. I meet on a weekly basis with my Rabbi and I am preparing for my own ceremony celebrating my return to my mother's people. I often think about my mother and the Jewish women in my mother's family. I think they would be proud and happy at my decision and my return.
It has been a long struggle, but finally I can say that my life is centered and has meaning for me. And at last I am at peace and I am focused on doing what I need to do, and what is right.
Communal Passover Seders
There are expected to be over 2,500 communal Passover Seders this year under the auspices of Chabad-Lubavitch. Centers throughout the world will be hosting public Seders at their local facilities as well as providing Rabbinical students to lead Seders in small communities that do not have centers. In the former Soviet Union alone there will be nearly 500 public Seders with approximately 250,000 Jews participating in holiday festivities. Over 300 communal Seders will take place in Israel and in the state of California there will be upwards of 200 public seders. To find out about a seder near you, or other Passover programs, call your local Chabad Lubavitch Center.
3rd of Nissan, 5723 
Young Israel of Eastern Parkway
Thank you very much for your letter of March 18th, with the most welcome news of the forthcoming presentation of life-tenure to your esteemed and distinguished spiritual leader, Rabbi Tzvi Dov Kanotopsky.
This event is very gratifying indeed, for not only is it a well-merited and worthy tribute to your esteemed rabbi, but it also does honor to the officers and membership of your congregation, who appreciate the qualities of leadership which distinguish your manhig ruchni [spiritual leader]. Outstanding among these is your rabbi's dedicated and fruitful activity among the youth, which is of special concern to the Young Israel movement and prominent on its banner.
At this time, only a few days before Pesach [Passover], it is particularly relevant to mention that the Festival of our Liberation, and the seder especially, place the accent on youth. For, as is well known, the seder has many features for the special benefit of the Arbo'o Bonim, the four categories of children, all of whom are to be gathered around the seder table, so that all of them would be uplifted to the level of the "wise son."
Needless to say, the message of Pesach must be carried into the everyday life. Indeed, the Haggadah declares, "In every generation it is incumbent upon every Jew to consider himself as though he himself has been liberated from Egypt." To which the Old Rebbe, author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch and founder of Chabad, adds with characteristic emphasis: "In every generation - and every day" (Tanya, beg. of Chapter 47).
The accent of youth, which is one of the main features of Pesach, is further emphasized by the meaningful remark of our Sages that G-d appeared unto the children of Israel at the crossing of Yam Suf [Red Sea] "in the image of youth."
May G-d grant that with the advancement of age, each and everyone of us retain the energy and enthusiasm of youth in our efforts to spread and strengthen Torah-and-Mitzvoth Yiddishkeit [Judaism].
With prayerful wishes for the success of your rabbi and congregation in your efforts in the said direction, in an ever-growing measure, and wishing you all a Kosher and inspiring Pesach.
5th of Iyar, 5743 
Greeting and Blessing:
I am in receipt of your letter of the 3rd of Nissan, and as requested, I am answering ahead of its turn.
To begin with, when I am asked for advice and give it, it is only in the form of advice which is not at all binding, G-d forbid.
Hence, inasmuch as you write that the suggestion I made is not agreeable to your wife and children, etc. I would suggest that you should consult with knowledgeable friends who know you, and to whom you could explain the whole story, and show them also this letter, and then make a decision accordingly. And so it is written, "Help comes with the abundance of counsel."
Needless to say, however satisfactory the everyday life and conduct is in accordance with the Torah and Mitzvoth, there is always room for advancement in all matters of goodness and holiness, Torah and Mitzvoth. In addition to this being a must for its own sake, it also widens the channels to receive G-d's blessing in all needs. This is especially important when an extra Divine blessing is needed to make the proper decision in an important matter.
26 Adar, 5764 - March 19, 2004
Prohibition 227: It is forbidden to sell land in Israel permanently
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 25:23) "The land shall not be sold forever." We are prohibited from selling the land in Israel permanently. The land of Israel is considered very special and we call it the "Holy Land." G-d gave a special holiness even to the earth in Israel and called it "My Land." No one person may claim total ownership of land in Israel forever. It is G-d's and He wants us to remember that He blesses us with property which is in our hands to care for, but we may not buy and sell it permanently. Every Jubilee year all land reverts to its original owner. When the land is sold, both the buyer and seller must bear in mind that such a sale is only valid until the Jubilee year.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week's Torah portion, Pekudei, contains within it the verses, "...and the children of Israel did according to everything that G-d had commanded Moses, so they did. And they brought the Sanctuary to Moses..." (Exodus 39:32-33)
The famous commentator, Rashi, notes that the Children of Israel brought the unconstructed Sanctuary to Moses because they were not able to set it up. The Sanctuary materials required superhuman strength for its construction. Moses, however, by merely placing his hand on the myriad collection of boards, pillars, etc., raised it.
The verses quoted above teach valuable lessons about how each person can build his own inner spiritual Sanctuary.
When the Children of Israel built the actual physical Sanctuary, they constructed it with all of the numerous details that G-d had commanded to Moses. Though they had not yet been commanded to erect the Sanctuary, and in the end, did not erect it themselves, they still made sure not to skip even one small item or part about which they were instructed.
This is similar to a Jew's relationship with G-d. From the start, it is incumbent upon each of us to be involved with Judaism in an all-encompassing capacity. This includes the many numerous details of the mitzvot that G-d has commanded us.
It is possible that despite all of this work on our part, we will not reach a level whereby we can "erect" our own personal Sanctuary. For, in order for the Sanctuary to be established and endure, Moses must somehow play a part in it.
Therefore, once we have done all we can in the way of building our own Sanctuary, we must connect with the "Moses" or (spiritual leader) of our generation. The ultimate crowning of all of our work and achievements, the uplifting of our spiritual service to its highest possible level, comes through him.
Moses assembled the entire Israelite community and said to them, "These are words that G-d has commanded you to do..." (Ex. 35:1)
When it came time to erect the Sanctuary, the first prerequisite was "Moses assembled" - unity and peace!
(Ohr P'nei Moshe)
The use of the word "assembled" over the word "gathered" has deep significance. "Assembled" implies that those who gathered became not merely a collection of individuals - separate beings gathered in the same space - but rather a new entity, a congregation. This was a prerequisite for the construction of the Sanctuary, whose purpose was to provide a dwelling place for G-d. For G-d chooses only to rest in a setting of absolute unity.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Moses called Betzalel and Ohaliav and every wise-hearted person ... (Ex. 36:2)
Why didn't the wise-hearted come on their own? Why did they wait until Moses called each and every single one of them? A truly wise-hearted person doesn't consider himself wise-hearted and doesn't realize that others are expecting him.
He made the copper washbasin and its copper base out of the mirrors of the dedicated women ... (Ex. 38:8)
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe, said: The offerings for the Sanctuary included gold, silver and copper, but nothing sparkled except for the mirrors presented by the women. From these mirrors were fashioned the washbasin and its base. These were the last of the Sanctuary articles to be made, but were used at the start of every Sanctuary service when the Kohanim washed their hands.
These are the accounts. (Ex. 38:21)
Moshe gave a full accounting of all the gold and silver given, to show that there was no reason to suspect him of stealing any of the precious metals brought for the Sanctuary. It says in Proverbs (15:16): Better a little, with the fear of G-d, than a great treasure, with confusion. Rabeinu Bechaye comments that it is better to have just a little money, obtained properly with the fear of G-d than an entire treasure obtained through foul means such as thievery or usury. In the Talmud (Sota) it says: "G-d despises a sacrifice brought with stolen money." The Talmud (Bava Kama) states that to steal from a non-Jew is a greater sin than to steal from a Jew, for then the sin also desecrates G-d's name.
Many of the Baal Shem Tov's ways might have seemed strange to an outsider. Reb Zev Wolf Kitzes, the Baal Shem Tov's constant companion, however, had enough confidence in his Rebbe never to doubt his actions. He knew that in the end - even if it took years - all would be for the best.
Reb Zev Wolf accompanied the Besht (Baal Shem Tov) once on a visit to a certain village Jew. The impoverished villager welcomed the Besht into his home.
"I must have a donation of 18 rubles," the Besht requested. The poor man did not have this large sum. But, considering that it was the Besht making the request, the villager took some of his furniture and his cow, sold them and gave the Besht the money. Reb Zev Wolf looked on silently while the Besht took the money and then departed.
Several days later the villager's rent was due on his inn. He could not produce the sum and the landlord evicted him. The villager, seeing no future for himself in this small village, decided to try his luck elsewhere. He finally found himself a tiny hut in a different village with a different landlord. By selling some more of his possessions, the villager managed to buy a cow. The cow provided him with his sole source of income; he sold her milk and eked out a meager living.
Some time later the landlord's cow became sick and her milk was unusable. One of the landlord's servants who knew of the new tenant quickly went to this villager and bought milk for the landlord.
When the landlord was served the milk, he commented, "This milk is of a superior quality. Tell the owner that I will pay handsomely for the privilege of being his only customer."
This incident turned the tide of fortune for the villager. Each day he delivered milk to the manor and each day the landlord commented on the quality of the milk and milk products derived from it. He grew fond of the Jew and began to consult him about his business, slowly turning over to him many responsibilities. The landlord trusted him implicitly and appreciated the Jew's honesty, reliability, and faithful service.
The landlord's relationship and bond with the villager became so deep that, being childless, he transferred ownership of that village and the nearby city to the Jew. Feeling that now everything was in good hands, the landlord took leave and went abroad after having given the Jew legal title to that area.
A few years later, Reb Zev Wolf came to the village of the new landlord collecting money on behalf of Jewish prisoners and captives. Reb Zev Wolf had already collected all but 300 rubles of the sum which the Besht had designated.
Upon meeting with the village rabbi, Reb Zev Wolf questioned him as to why he was so festively attired.
"I am going, together with a group of the town dignitaries, to greet the landlord of this city who will be paying us a visit today. Why don't you come along with us? He is a Jew and will most probably be willing to contribute to your cause."
Reb Zev Wolf accompanied the rabbi and his companions. The landlord greeted the delegation warmly, paying special attention to Reb Zev Wolf. After a little while, the landlord took Reb Zev Wolf aside.
"You don't remember me, do you?" he began. Reb Zev Wolf could not place the wealthy man's face. The landlord went on to retell the story of his change of fortune. Then, he took out 300 rubles and gave it to Reb Zev Wolf.
It was only upon returning to the Besht that Reb Zev Wolf understood the entire story. "The last 300 rubles were donated by the village Jew whom you once asked for a donation of 18 rubles. Today he is a wealthy man."
"Let me now tell you why I extracted that large sum from him when his circumstances were so difficult," began the Besht. "A change of fortune was awaiting him in the future but not in that place. It was necessary to bring him to the end of his rope so that he would be forced to leave and settle elsewhere. That is exactly what happened. The rest you already know."
When Moshiach will come (speedily in our time, Amen), then we shall really long for the days of the exile. Then we will truly feel distress at our having neglected working at G-dly service; then will we indeed feel the deep pain caused by our lack of Divine service. These days of exile are the days of working on ourselves, to prepare ourselves for the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our time, Amen.
(From talks of the Rebbe Rashab, Rabbi Shalom Dovber of Lubavitch reprinted in Hayom Yom)