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The history of the Jewish People begins with the Land of Israel. Lech Lecha, get yourself, G-d tells Abraham, out of your country, your birthplace, your father's house, and to the land I will show you.
The history of the Jewish People culminates with the Land of Israel. Moshiach's ultimate task is rebuilding the Temple and gathering the dispersed of Israel - bringing the exiles home.
And the history of the world begins and culminates with the Land of Israel. The Torah opens, "In the beginning, G-d created the heaven and earth." The famous commentator Rashi asks, "Why does the Torah begin with the creation of the world, when its central focus is the covenant between G-d and the Jewish People and the laws governing that relationship?" Rashi answers his own question as follows: G-d created the world, and as Owner, can designate to whom which part belongs. And He gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish People.
The land of Israel is part of the triad of holiness: the holy people are the Jews, the holy time is Shabbat and the holy land is Israel.
A central focus of our prayers, we mention Israel when reciting the Grace After Meals and several times in the silent culmination of the prayer service, the Amida. At our weddings and celebrations, dedications and invocations, we remember that our joy cannot be complete until the people of Israel is restored to the Land of Israel and the Land of Israel rests secure.
Israel has been the subject of our poems and songs throughout the ages, from Judah HaLevi's "Ode to Zion" to the inspirational lyrics (often from the Psalms) of today's popular music.
We have formed organizations and institutions dedicated to the preservation and protection of Israel. Indeed, the modern influx to and reclamation of Israel traces its origin to the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, the Chasidic pioneers who initiated an organized return. And for the past two hundred years, individuals and groups from across the spectrum have followed in their footsteps, united in their devotion to the people of Israel in the Land of Israel.
No one, of course, has been more concerned for the welfare of the Land of Israel or done more to promote its well-being than the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Even before ascending to the leadership of the Jewish People, he was an advocate for Israel. And his firmness formed a theme from the fifties onward. In private letters and public pronouncements he stressed the special responsibility and the special merit of Israel's leaders, emphasized the need for Jews everywhere to recognize and support our G-d-given right to the land, and reiterated the message that "the eyes of the L-rd are upon the Land from the beginning of the year to the end of the year," with all its spiritual and practical implications.
Indeed, in times of crisis the Rebbe reassured Israel that "the guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps." Before the Six-Day War, in conjunction with the tefilin campaign, the Rebbe prophesied a great victory. During the Yom Kippur War, he allayed fears about Israel's survival. And during the Gulf War he prophetically declared that, Israel is the safest place.
And today, despite the politics and debates, the land of Israel and its landmarks - Hevron, Jerusalem - unites us and draws us. Some of us have been there often; some have yet to go.
Either way, it's time to be there.
For all of us yearn for the land, for the day when "those lost in Assyria and those oppressed in Egypt will worship G-d on the holy mountain, in Jerusalem."
This week we read two Torah portions on Shabbat. They are Tazria and Metzora.
The portion of Metzora begins with the laws concerning the purification of the leper. Can we "live with the times" - find a contemporary lesson from a Torah portion about leprosy? Most know leprosy simply as a highly contagious and disfiguring disease. But, in Biblical times it was seen as a physical punishment from G-d for the sin of slander. Quite a harsh punishment for transgressing a commandment between man and his fellow man. Or is it?
It was the punishment Miriam received for speaking ill of Moses. And Moses, at the burning bush, saw his hand turn leprous. This was an intimation from G-d that his harsh words about the Israelites were slanderous.
A leper was isolated from the rest of the people once his illness had been diagnosed, and made to live outside the camp in the desert where the rest of the Israelites dwelled. Since the disease had a spiritual as well as a physical dimension, this was not simply a hygienic precaution, but had a moral purpose. Likewise, his purification was a recovery of spiritual as well as physical health.
The leper was required to remain outside the camp, and even people who were "impure" for reasons other than leprosy were not allowed near him. Rashi comments, "Because he, by slanderous statements, parted man and wife, or a man from his friend, [therefore] he must be parted [from everybody]." He was excluded from the camp because of his association with strife and dissension.
Unlike other forms of spiritual impurity, slander is progressive. At first it is turned against ordinary people, then against the righteous, then against G-d Himself.
On the day of the leper's purification, the Torah tells us, "He shall be brought to the kohen (priest). And the kohen shall go out of the camp" to meet him. Who is to go to whom? The answer lies in understanding that these two expressions are actually two aspects of the leper's spiritual cleansing.
The first indicates an assurance that even one who stands "outside the camp," isolated-even by a sin between two people- will in the end be motivated to turn to the "kohen" in repentance.
The second stage is when the kohen meets the leper, and in so doing initiates and awakens the desire to return. He will then strive to translate his revelation into a cleansing of the whole circumstances of his life which led up to the transgression.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
One Mitzva at a Time
by Yisroel (Scott) Pritikin
I was born and raised in Wilmette, Illinois, a posh suburb of Chicago. Mine was a very long path to Torah observance, a path I continue to this day.
In high school, I participated in all sorts of extra-curricular activities. I played on a sports teams and worked for the school t.v. and radio stations. I went to Northern Illinois University for college where I continued to be involved in many activities, including football, a fraternity, Hillel, and the local city council. I was also active in student government and I taught Hebrew school three days a week. Somewhere in between, I managed to graduate with a BA in Political Science-International Relations.
Growing up, my family belonged to a Conservative synagogue, but much of what I learned came from the traditional summer camp my parents sent me to (thanks Mom and Dad). From my camp experience, I always had the feeling that something was missing and that I wanted to be more observant one day. I just didn't know how or where to start. When I was president of Hillel, I invited Orthodox Rabbis to lecture and I began to study with them on a regular basis. I continued on my quest while on my first trip to Israel in 1987. Somehow, I made my way to the Chabad in Jerusalem and studied Chasidism for a few days with a rabbi there. This was my first introduction to Chabad and to Torah's esoteric teachings.
After college, I moved to Philadelphia to work for the pro-Israel media watchdog CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) and became very friendly with Chabad Rabbi Menachem Schmidt. When my job at CAMERA ended Rabbi Schmidt let me move into the Chabad House at the University of Pennsylvania in exchange for helping organize events and recruit students. I continued until I moved back to Chicago.
A great deal of my journey to observance was at the Chabad House at Northwestern University with Rabbi Dov Hillel and Rebbetzin Chaya Klein. Dov Hillel allowed me the opportunity to grow naturally through osmosis and Chaya provided me the warmth of spending Shabbat in a caring community.
My thirst for knowledge continued and in 1997 I took a three-week vacation from my computer support job to study in Israel. Upon my return, I started attending Torah classes all over Chicago.
A few years later, a friend persuaded me to go to the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, New Jersey. I made arrangements to visit Crown Heights and spend Shabbat there. On Sunday, my friend took me to the Ohel for the first time where I visited the graves of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. That evening, I arrived at the Lubavitch Yeshiva in Morristown. And I have been keeping Shabbat and kosher ever since.
Months later, when I returned to Chicago and my job in computers, I felt proud of being a Jew, but I was reluctant to share these feelings with my coworkers. To be honest, I was intimidated by their potential response. But, the more observant I became, the more my non-Jewish coworkers started to ask me thoughtful and sincere questions about Judaism. I soon realized that my coworkers not only accepted me as an observant Jew, but sought me out for advice and philosophical conversations.
When the dotcom revolution exploded in mid 2000, I ventured out on my own and started working full-time as a Macintosh computer consultant. Consulting has always been a feast or famine proposition for me, so I never wanted to do it full time. This time was no different. Instead of languishing in my own sorrow, I got up and spent a few months in Yeshiva. When I returned from my two month re-JEW-venation, business picked up a little, but soon died down again. It was at that time that a friend convinced me that observing the mitzva of letting my beard grow would have positive spiritual and financial ramifications. With little to lose, I (somewhat reluctantly) let my beard grow.
Soon, the consulting jobs started pouring in. Within a few months, I managed to set up an interview for a job with a Fortune 500 company. After much soul searching, I decided to go into the interview wearing a yarmulke (a first for me) and a full beard. You should have seen the look on my headhunter's face as he greeted me at the door before the interview. No one at this agency had seen me in about five years, so they had no idea that I had become observant. As it turns out, my fear of my identity as an observant Jew working in corporate America was nothing more than a product of my own "mishugas." I sat in front of a panel of five people and I aced the interviews. I will never know how much the beard and yarmulke ended up helping me, but I beat out several other candidates and received a firm offer for employment within 15 minutes of my second interview. And, my phone is ringing off the hook with potential clients for my Macintosh consulting business. Now that things are going well, thank G-d, I am spending three evenings a week studying Torah.
Over a year has passed since I was hired for this Fortune 500 job. Everyone at work knows that I leave early every week for Shabbat. People, both Jew and gentile, seek me out to ask me all sorts of questions on Judaism. A most memorable time for me was last fall when other Jewish employees I had never saw or met before popped up from all over and went out of their way to wish me a Shana Tova.
The dichotomy we feel between the secular and the Jewish world is not so much an external fight as an internal one. When we feel good about who we are, we can overcome the differences between the two worlds and elevate them with our deeds and actions. But we first have to overcome the internal exile that we place ourselves in.
My advice to anyone reading this: try not to set any ceilings for yourself. Just try to take on a little more each and every day by setting aside a few minutes to learn and grow - one mitzva at a time. And G-d will provide you with the rest.
New In Florida
A new center, the Paula and Harry Singer Chabad Campus, was dedicated recently in Weston, Florida. The 16,000 square foot building includes a sanctuary, mikve, library, social hall, classrooms, offices, pre-school and Hebrew school. Rabbi Yisrael and Leah Spalter arrived in this West Broward community eight years ago. Four years ago a fire devastated the Chabad Center of Weston. The new center is the culmination of eight years of hard work and two years of construction.
Rabbi Simon and Shaina Jacobson will be opening Chabad of Charlotte County, in the heart of the southwest coast of Florida.
11th of Kislev, 5735 
Greeting and Blessing:
Your letter of the 22nd of Cheshvan reached me with some delay, and this is the first opportunity for me to acknowledge it.
Following the order of your letter, I wish to extend here my prayerful wishes that your wife - should have a normal and complete pregnancy, as well as a normal delivery of a healthy offspring in a good and auspicious hour.
With regard to the business venture about which you write, it is clear that the general conditions which affect the problem, as well as those specific ones that you mention in your letter, are of a nature which change from time to time.
Indeed, as you write, this is also the reason that caused the problem of financing. At any rate, it seems at this moment that the next step does not depend on you, as you don't seem to have any options to choose from.
The only suggestion I can make to you is one that may appear mystical, but it has been borne out by experience and proved quite practical. I have in mind the idea that when a Jew strengthens his bond with the Source of wisdom, which is in G-d, he gains wisdom and understanding also in mundane affairs, which helps him to decide what to do and what not to do in matters of business and the like.
Needless to say, by strengthening one's bonds with the Source of true wisdom and understanding, is meant the actual observance of the Mitzvoth [commandments] which G-d set forth in His Torah, of which it is written, "This is your wisdom and understanding in the sight of all the nations."
As mentioned above, the advice that you should make an effort to strengthen your commitment and actual fulfillment of the Mitzvoth, which will also help you make the proper decisions, is at first glance of a mystical nature. But looking at it from a practical point of view, we know that in everything else the important thing is the actual results which a certain measure brings about. If experience shows that doing such a thing brings such and such results in the vast majority of cases, then it is not so important whether one understands how and why those results are caused, for the important thing is the result itself.
The same applies also to Jews and their commitment to the Torah and Mitzvoth throughout the ages. Our long history has borne out the fact that the well-being of the Jewish people, as well as of the Jew as an individual, is intimately connected with his observance of the Torah and Mitzvoth in the daily life. And although the Torah and Mitzvoth should be observed for their own sake, as the commands of our Creator, it has been revealed that the Torah and Mitzvoth are also the channels and vessels to receive G-d's blessings for Hatzlocho [success] in the material aspects of life.
May G-d, whose benevolent Providence extends to each and every one individually, grant you the wisdom to make the right decisions, and to have Hatzlocho in all the above.
P.S. Noting that you are an attorney at law, I would like to add a point that is no doubt quite familiar to you. This is that in matters of a legal suit, the best and weightiest legal argument is when one can cite precedents of judgment in similar cases, and there is no need to substantiate and explain the reason for the judgment further since the judgement speaks for itself.
P.P.S. Regarding the project in Nicaragua in general - in light of the world economic and political situation, it does not appear to be a practicable and realistic project in the near future.
3 Iyar, 5764 - April 24, 2004
Positive Mitzva 53: Appearing before G-d in the Holy Temple
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 16:16) "Three times a year, all your males shall appear." Three times a year; on Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, Jewish males are commanded to present themselves in the Holy Temple. The revelation of holiness on these occasions inspires everyone in his devotion to G-d. The arrival at the Holy Temple is marked by bringing a sacrifice, the olat reiya.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
If Passover is over, the summer is not too far away! Surely there are many who are already well into their summer plans.
When to go, what to do, which bungalow to rent, where to send the children to camp, are questions being tossed around.
The summer is looked upon as the time to become physically refreshed. But especially for children at camp, it is the perfect opportunity to become culturally and spiritually rejuvenated.
Though we are not here to suggest any particular camp, we would like to urge you to choose a camp that has not only kosher food, but a "kosher" atmosphere, too. Activities should be geared to strengthening growing bodies and souls. And the staff should be comprised of warm, dedicated people who appreciate and understand the special needs of our most precious commodity.
Especially beneficial would be attending a suitable overnight camp. For in that situation, the child lives in an enriched Jewish atmosphere twenty-four hours a day During the year, the child undoubtedly receives a good Jewish education. But, in the summer, instruction comes in a most unique and enjoyable manner; prayers are sung together and Jewish studies are enhanced with good-natured competitions.
Needless to say, although the children will be on vacation from school, one never needs a vacation from learning Torah. So make sure that ample time is scheduled in for learning about our beautiful heritage.
A woman who conceives and bears a son... (Lev. 12:2)
"Woman" is a common metaphor for the Jewish nation. "Conceives," in the Hebrew literally "gives seed," is analogous to the performance of good deeds. Bearing a child is the final Redemption. The performance of mitzvot is compared to the sowing of seed because one tiny seed can be the starting point for an abundance of fine produce. Similarly, just one mitzva can be the source for abundant G-dliness.
(Ohr HaChayim as elucidated in Ohr HaTorah)
And bears a son...On the eighth day, the child shall be circumcised (Lev. 12:2-3)
"Bearing a child" hints at the future redemption and "eighth day" hints at the eight strings on the harp for use in the Third Temple, may it be speedily built in our days.
On the day of his purity he shall be brought to the priest (Lev. 14:2)
Why must a person come to the priest specifically on the day when he became pure from the leprosy? The leprosy came as a result of speaking ill of another person or talebearing. This kind of behavior very easily becomes habitual. On the day when the person is once again allowed to re-enter society, he might immediately begin speaking improperly once again. Therefore, he is brought to the priest to receive extra strength and guidance to deal with this habit.
In the year 1912, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (who would become the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe after the passing of his father, Rebbe Shalom Ber Schneersohn, in 1920) was on a train from Paris to Petersburg. On the train he was approached by a well-dressed businessman who asked, "Rabbi, are you the son or grandson of Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch?"
"Yes," the Rebbe said. "In fact, I am his grandson."
The businessman's eyes filled with tears. He trembled slightly as though in shock, turned abruptly around and returned to his cabin. This scene repeated itself later that evening when the businessman happened on the Rebbe once again.
The next morning the Rebbe had just finished praying in his cabin when the same man appeared at his door. He entered and said, "Please excuse my emotional outbursts, but....." and suddenly began to weep again. After several minutes the man asked if he could borrow the Rebbe's tefilin. The man took the tefilin, kissed them tenderly, put them on and began to pray. The Rebbe left him alone to pour out his soul before his Creator. When he finished, he thanked the Rebbe and asked to borrow a Book of Psalms.
Several hours later, the man returned to the Rebbe's room. His face was pale and he looked as though he was undergoing dramatic changes. The Rebbe invited him in. "My name is Y...," he began. "I was born into a Chabad Chasidic home. My childhood was very happy; our house was always filled with guests, Torah and joy. When I was 15 I somehow got involved with a 'bad' crowd.
"My father saw what was happening and took me to the Rebbe for the High Holidays. Seeing the Rebbe had a profound effect on me. My father even took me in for a private audience. The Rebbe spoke to my father, then turned to me and said, 'The world can be very dangerous. Never forget that you are a Jew.'
"The experience changed me, but only temporarily. Eventually I stopped praying, stopped doing the commandments and after a year or so I left my parents' house. Several times my father tried to contact me but that only aroused my anger. I married an assimilated girl and broke completely with my past.
"I joined an underground political movement. There had been several pogroms, and most of our efforts were directed to helping Jews. After several years of this work, we heard that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was to visit Petersburg in order to stop the pogroms at the government level. We decided to let him know of several impending pogroms that we had heard about.
"We arrived at the hotel where the Rebbe was staying and were met by a large group of Chasidim, some of whom remembered me and greeted me warmly. Suddenly the Rebbe opened his door to come out to pray the afternoon prayer. He glanced at me and I knew that he recognized me.
"Later we had a private audience with the Rebbe. His knowledge of the situation in Russia was nothing short of miraculous, and the next few months we devoted ourselves to helping him in every way. We saw much fruit from our labors and saw how the Rebbe literally prevented dozens of pogroms.
"Then one day, as we were leaving his room and I was the last one out, the Rebbe called to me and said, 'Tell me, when was the last time you put on tefilin?'
"I was so stunned I couldn't even open my mouth. Those few words made such an impression on me that that day I looked for a pair of tefilin and put them on for the first time in years, and I even stopped eating non-kosher food.
"I returned home, told my wife that I wanted to return to a Jewish way of life and she agreed. Eventually I renewed ties with my father.
"At the end of that year it became known to us that there were to be a series of massive pogroms in the south of Russia. I was chosen to travel to Lubavitch to tell the Rebbe, and when I entered his office I could tell he was happy to see me. He told me we would meet again to discuss the problem in a few days.
"When we met again he said that he had visited his father's grave site. His father told him that there was no real danger but nevertheless, we must take steps. The Rebbe gave me some letters and told me what to do with them. Then he said: 'Because Moses helped the Jews, G-d gave him the chips of sapphire from the Tablets that he carved out. You are helping Jews, so you too deserve a reward.'
"The Rebbe continued, 'When I told you that my father spoke to me I noticed that you smirked. The reason for this is that you are so involved in the physical that you have no appreciation for spiritual things.' The Rebbe then sat with me for over an hour explaining what 'spiritual' means. He concluded: 'How long can a person live a life of physicality? Fifty years, 55 years? Remember who you are and where you come from. May G-d protect you and give you true happiness.'
"I didn't really understand what he was getting at, because I had already returned to Judaism for almost a year. But I thanked him warmly, took the papers he gave me, and set out by train for Petersburg to give them to officials there.
"Police stopped the train and began searching everyone. I considered throwing the Rebbe's letters away, but the Rebbe's words made me think differently. And miraculously, I was the only one they didn't check! In Petersburg I was able to give over the papers to the right officials. And, the Rebbe was right; the situation was not as severe as we thought.
"I became a very successful businessman and again left the Jewish path. In the last 30 years I never once even thought about G-d. Now I am returning from a party in Monte Carlo that my friends made for my 55th birthday. When I saw you, I remembered the words of your holy grandfather and it touched my soul."
The businessman became a different person. He moved his entire family and business to another country and became a pillar of the Jewish community there.
The Torah prohibits a kohen (priest) from entering the Holy Temple if he has drunk a reviit (approximately 3.7 ounces) of wine. He must wait about 24 minutes before he can enter the Temple to perform his holy service. There is one opinion in the Talmud (Taanit 17a) that even today, when we do not have the Holy Temple, a kohen is still forbidden from drinking a reviit of wine. For, if the Third Holy Temple will suddenly be rebuilt. he would not be allowed to enter the Temple. From this we see that the entire Holy Temple could miraculously appear in fewer than 24 minutes!
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. 2)