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Have you ever had one of those nights when you just can't get to sleep? You try all the old remedies - lying still and focusing on something relaxing - say, the sound of the ocean surf lapping the shore. After a few minutes, though, the storm clouds gather and what you've got is a hurricane in your mind, complete with thunder, roiling clouds and lightning.
So you get up and trundle into the kitchen. A glass of warm milk, a little wine - that's good for the arteries, too, they say - something to relax you. After a few minutes you do feel a little more relaxed - just enough that your mind's on full alert. So you sit down to read something. A chocolate chip cookie and the paper. But the editorial makes you mad and the comics make you think.
By now you've been up or wandering around the house for almost an hour, trying to be very quiet. At about this time, though, your spouse comes out and asks if you're still awake. You refrain from a sarcastic answer and just say you can't sleep. Go to sleep, you're told. In a few minutes, you answer, secretly pitying yourself for the lack of sympathy.
Then you might try the fool-proof method: open a Jewish book and start learning. After all, it's an old Jewish joke that learning cures insomnia. And if you don't fall asleep, at least you'll be making good use of your time.
Fifteen minutes and three sentences later, you regret having that glass of wine. You're too awake to sleep and too tired to concentrate. You close the book and decide to read the latest issue of L'Chaim online, then check your email. An hour and a half later, having answered all the emails and then some, you look at the clock and realize it's 4 a.m.
How are you going to function in the morning? And why can't you get to sleep?
A half-hour later you collapse from sheer exhaustion and stumble through the day.
Why couldn't you get to sleep?
Most likely you had something on your mind. Some crisis happened at work, your favorite team narrowly lost an important game, you had an argument with an old friend. Your adrenaline's up and you're so "wired" your body's in overdrive.
Or there's some problem nagging at you, or some idea rattling deep inside. You're not even aware of the problem or idea, just a vague discomfort or uneasiness, a sense that something's out of place - and until you know what it is, until from knowledge you build a plan, your subconscious won't let go, and your mind gets caught in its own feedback loop. Thinking, worrying, thinking, worrying.
Psalm 126 compares exile to dreaming. A dreamer doesn't know he's dreaming; he doesn't realize the story he's telling himself about himself isn't real.
But an insomniac, one who can't sleep, has, in a sense, the opposite problem. He wants to dream, he wants to retreat into the illusionary dream world. But his mind won't let him. His inner consciousness forces him to solve a real but as yet unidentified problem, forces him to confront a hidden truth.
Centuries ago we were like dreamers - asleep and unaware that we were asleep. In exile, we're still dreaming.
But in a sense, we're also insomniacs now. We want to go back to sleep; we want, superficially, the dream of exile. But we can't, not now, because we're on the doorstep of Redemption. Our subconscious minds - really, our Divine soul - is pushing us, forcing us to stay awake, to open our eyes and see the reality - Redemption - before us.
How can you sleep at a time like this? the Divine soul demands. We don't "hear" it but we sense it, and it becomes our restlessness.
Since we can't sleep anyway, because Moshiach is "knocking at the door," let's not fight our wakefulness, but embrace it.
Let's stay on the alert, do a good deed, fulfill a commandment, learn Torah, do an act of goodness or kindness - and open the door.
This week we read two Torah portions, Behar and Bechukotai. Bechukotai begins: "If (im) you will go in My ordinances..." The Talmud interprets the word im in this verse as a plea. That is, here the word im is not a condition (if), as it is in many other instances. In this verse it is an appeal. G-d, as it were, pleads with Israel: Go in My ordinances - exert yourselves with Torah.
This plea and command also confers ability and an assurance to every Jew, that you will go in My ordinances. How is this so?
There is a principle that G-d does not impose unreasonable or impossible obligations upon His creatures. He will not impose upon them burdensome demands which they are unable to obey, but comes to each one according to his ability, "as people say, 'In accordance with the camel is the burden.'" Thus it follows that where there is a Divine command there is also the ability to obey it.
There is another instance where a command and a assurance are found together -- in the mitzva (command) of loving G-d. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism, offers two meanings for "You shall love the L-rd, your G-d": "You shall - must - love," in the sense of a command; and "you shall - will - love," in the sense of a promise or assurance. There, too, both meanings are bound up one with the other: the command from Above confers ability and assurance.
Love of G-d is the very root of all the positive commandments including the mitzva to fear G-d - which is the root of all the negative precepts. Love of G-d, therefore, is the root of all mitzvot.
Therefore, the simultaneous command and assurance with regard to the mitzva of loving G-d applies to all the mitzvot! Thus, we are certain that G-d invests each and every person with the strength and capacity to observe all His commandments.
An additional interpretation states that the word bechukotai (in My ordinances) refers to mitzvot in general; those mitzvot which we can understand with our own logic as well as mitzvot beyond our understanding - mitzvot we observe simply because the King commanded them. The Divine plea and assurance relates not only to the actual physical fulfilment of these mitzvot, but also to the intent with which it is done: You will go in My ordinances, that is, that every Jew is assured that he will observe the mitzvot with the proper spiritual vitality.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Finding the Right PreSchool
by Helen Maryles Shankman
As a concerned mom who used to work at one of the big three parenting magazines, I was drilled day after day with the requirements of a good preschool program: a low student-to-teacher ratio, lots of toys, scrupulously clean facilities. A structured day with plenty of activities to hone both gross and fine motor skills, music, crafts, songs and stories, gentle discipline, and lots of love. Teachers with a degree in early childhood education who involve the parent in the learning process, and a low turnover rate among the caregivers. When the time came to enroll Gabriella in preschool here in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I was faced with a plethora of choices. Park Slope has half a dozen great preschools; the only problem was choosing between them.
I decided to look into Chai Tots, a New York City licensed Jewish preschool program located at the corner of Prospect Park West and Third Street. My friends said, "Isn't that just for ultra-Orthodox kids?" I set up a visit. I was sure I would see little girls in long dresses, boys with long side-curls in dark pants and white shirts.
To my surprise, I found kids named Dylan, Lindsay and Zoe. As I watched the teachers with the children, every situation that came up was handled patiently and resourcefully. They were loving and fun, always asking the kids what they thought, and respectful of their individuality. When I called parents for references, I found a mix of denominations, from Orthodox to Reconstructionist. Some acknowledged that initially, they had been concerned that Chai Tots might be too religious for their families.
"I never even went to Sunday School," said one mother. "So I went to the school to meet with Sara Hecht, the director. I really liked her. Then, I met the teachers. They were so personable, and really involved with the kids, that I signed up right away." Another parent said, "We're Reform/Conservative, so I was going to send her to Beth Elokim. However, it was just too big-Chai Tots is smaller and more intimate.
Everybody knows everything about my child.
My friends said, "Gee, aren't you worried she's going to end up really religious? I tell them, 'When she is older, she will go to PS 321. But she'll have a really nice Jewish background.' "
Another father listened to what the some of the other parents had to say about the program, and added, "Yes, but you're forgetting the main thing. It's really good, quality care." The last mother I spoke to said, "You know, I really love the teachers and the program. My daughter was actually excited about Chanuka. I'm so happy I don't have to explain to her why we're not going to have a Christmas tree." They all raved about the school and how happy their children were. The kids are introduced to Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Chanuka, but they also learn about Thanksgiving, the seasons, colors, and shapes.
They learn about Sarah and Abraham, but they also make leaf prints and snowmen. It is a great balance between learning about the world around them and learning about Judaism in a fun and positive way. So I signed her up. In her very first week, she brought home a book called "All About Me" that she made with pictures of her favorite food, her favorite color, and her family tree. Moreover, in her lunchbox was my first copy of Chai Tots News, a sunny newsletter describing everything she had done that week; songs, recipes, Bible stories, the theme for the week.
We are thrilled. I did not know three-year-olds were capable of understanding these concepts. Sending our daughter to Chai Tots is the best decision we have made since we moved to Park Slope.
Chai Tots director Sara Hecht and her husband, Rabbi Shimon Hecht, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Camp Gan Israel in Kharkov, Ukraine
It's Camp Time!
Almost five decades ago, the Lubavitcher Rebbe launched the international Chabad-Lubavitch Gan Israel network of summer day and overnight camps. This past year, more than 120,000 children attended Gan Israel camps in America, Europe, Israel, Australia and South Africa. The typical camp schedule of sports, arts & crafts, swimming, specialty workshops and trips is suplemented with songs, stories and mini-classes that inspire in campers a love for their heritage and a pride in being Jewish. To find out where your closest Chabad-Lubavitch summer day or overnight camp is, call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
Safari with a Soul
This summer, for the first time ever, Jewish women have an opportunity to go on a safari to the African Wilderness and discover the landscape of their souls. Soulscapes offers daily Kabala classes based on in-depth analysis of selected texts and an evening interactive workshop designed to help participants apply Chasidic teachings to their personal lives. Three glatt kosher meals are provided daily, as are two safaris that can be taken in open 4x4 vehicles, on foot or in canoes. Accomodations in lodges provide comfort and luxury, fitting seamlessly into their surroundings. At one of the campsites, each room is a luxurious floating chalet, moored in a secluded bay off Lake Kariba. Soulscape Safari runs from July 9 - 19. For more information contact Soulscape director Shimonah Tzukernik at 347-645-5331 or email@example.com.
Lag B'Omer, 5735 (1985)
To All Participants in the
Annual Dinner for Oholei Torah
G-d bless you all!
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleased to be informed about the preparations for the forthcoming annual event next Rosh Chodesh Sivan, please G-d.
The first day of Sivan is an auspicious day, since, as is well known, this is the day when the Jews arrived at Mount Sinai. Thus the Torah relates: "On the third month (Sivan), on this very day (the first of the month), they came to the Desert of Sinai, and (the people of) Israel encamped there facing the Mountain."
Our Sages of blessed memory observe that the word vayichan ("encamped") is expressed in the singular, to indicate that all the Jews were united "like one person, with one heart - " i.e. with one desire - to receive the Torah.
One of the inner aspects of this point is as follows:
Considering that the Jewish people consisted of twelve tribes, and that human beings, as individuals, generally differ from one another in their personal interests and opinions; and, indeed, the previous journeys and campings since leaving Egypt were in a manner of vayisu vayachnu ("and they travelled and the encamped"), in the plural, and were not free from friction - what was it that so completely united them all of a sudden, "like one person with one heart"?
The answer is to be found in the words "facing the Mountain." Having come face to face with the Mountain on which G-d was to give them His Torah, they were so inspired and overawed that all differences of opinion and personal interests vanished; for the one Torah, given by the One G-d, has the Divine power to overcome all peripheral aspects which separate one from another.
In other words, when Jews unite for one purpose, namely, to order their every-day life, in all details, in harmony with the Divine Torah, this not only supersedes all external things which divide individuals one from the other, but, on the contrary, it makes it possible to utilize such differences to complete one another into one perfect whole, one body.
It is to be hoped that the above idea will be reflected in the ranks of the friends of Oholei Torah, who have gathered for one purpose - to help, in a tangible way, this vital Torah-true educational institution, to enable it not only to continue its sacred work, but also to strengthen and widen its potential ities, to meet the urgent challenges of the present day.
Happy is the lot of all who take part in this, for this also widens the channels and vessels to receive G-d's blessings in all needs, for themselves and their families, materially as well as spiritually.
With esteem and blessing for Hatzlocho (success) and for good tidings,
3rd of Sivan, 5724 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter of the 7th of Iyar and, as requested, I will remember in prayer those mentioned in your letter.
This time, before the festival of Mattan Torah, is particularly auspicious to receive G-d's blessings, inasmuch as the Torah is the source of Divine blessings.
As there is always room for improvement in all matters of goodness and holiness, every additional effort to live the daily life in accordance with the Torah and Mitzvoth, in addition to it being a must for its own sake, will also bring additional Divine blessings in all one's needs, materially and spiritually.
Receipt is enclosed for your donation and may the Tzedoko stand you and the others in good stead.
Wishing you and yours a happy and inspiring festival of Mattan Torah,
23 Iyar, 5764 - May 14, 2004
Positive Mitzva 113: The Red Cow
This mitzva is based on the verse (Num. 19:1-9) "Have them bring you a red cow...It shall be kept for the congregation of the Children of Israel"
A completely red cow is very rare. The Torah commands us to use it for a unique Mitzva - the purification of a Jew from the impurity of contact with a dead body. This cow must have no blemishes and have never been used for other purposes. It is burnt and its ashes are mixed with special water, which is then sprinkled on the person, thereby purifying him. The person who burns the cow helps purify someone else, but, at the same time, he himself becomes impure. Since creation, only nine red cows have been used for purification. Moses prepared the first one. The tenth will be prepared by Moshiach.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The first words of one of this week's Torah portions, Bechukotai, are, "If you will walk in my chukot - statutes..." According to Rashi, this verse refers to the study of Torah. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chasidism explained that the word chukot is from the same root as the word for "engraving" - chakika. Combining these two meanings for the word chukot, one arrives at an interesting discussion on Torah study. One's study of Torah should be as letters that are engraved in stone.
Letters of ink become inseparably connected and united with the paper on which they are written. This symbolizes the level of Torah study in which the student becomes joined and united with the Torah; his actions reflect what he has learned.
However, the letters of ink are still an entity distinct from the paper. Letters engraved in stone, however, have no separate existence whatsoever. The letter is the stone and the stone is the letter.
The carved letter simply does not exist as a distinct entity independent of the stone. In the same way, one's study of Torah should ultimately reach the level of the engraved letter.
The summer months are approaching. Summer is a time when many people have a tendancy to relax and let matters slide. It is, therefore, important for us to make Torah study a priority. And what kind of Torah study? Classes, lectures or individual, private study time which will inspire us and enable us to truly become one with the Torah, like letters engraved on stone.
Our summer, then, will be a healthy one, both in body and in spirit. And, may I venture to say, also a more enjoyable one.
If you walk in My statutes... (Lev. 23:6)
The Baal Shem Tov explains: If a person gets to a point where his spiritual service become like a "statute," an unbending decree, and he is not able to move - then he must walk; he cannot stay in that place. He must invigorate, renew, add to his spiritual service until he is able to go forth to a higher level.
(Keter Shem Tov)
When you come to the land... the land will keep a Sabbath to G-d (Lev. 25:2)
"When you come to the Land" - when a person organizes his life and begins to be involved in earthly matters and mundane work, "the Land will keep a Sabbath to G-d" - it is imperative for the person to know that the whole intention and purpose of his involvement in earthly matters is for the purpose of the "Sabbath" - holiness.
For six years you shall prune your vineyard (Lev. 25:3)
The Jewish people are called a "vineyard" by the Prophet Isaiah: "For G-d's vineyard is the army of the House of Israel" (Isaiah 5). Each and every Jew must work at clearing up and pruning his own vineyard - his unfavorable traits such as jealousy, hatred, lustfulness, etc.
If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments... and you shall eat your bread with satiety and dwell in safety in your land. And I will give you peace (Lev. 26:3-6)
After enumerating all of the tangible blessings for keeping the commandments, the Torah states, "And I will give peace in the Land." For peace is balanced against everything.
For the Children of Israel are My servants (Lev 25:55)
The Jews are called both "servants" and "children" of G-d. Each term reflects the nature of the Jew's relationship with G-d. As far as the body is concerned, a Jew is G-d's servant. One must accept the yoke of Heaven as a servant must accept the will of his master and be subservient to him. But our souls serve G-d only through love, as a son serves his beloved father.
(Sefer Hamaamarim Kuntreisim)
When you come into the land which I am giving to you, then the land will keep a Sabbath to G-d (Lev. 25:2)
The Sabbath is not only the prized "possession" of the Jews. The Jewish land also has a Sabbath. The same way that a Jewish servant serves his master for six years and goes free in the seventh, so does the land produce for the Jew for six years, reverting to its true Master in the seventh. The value of the Holy Land is not limited to how much she can produce agriculturally; the Land of Israel has an independent value and worth. During the Sabbatical year we honor that essential value.
(Rabbi Yitzchak Breuer)
Reb Eliezer Lippman and his wife, Mirush, were unusually hospitable people. Weary travelers, hungry beggars, and itinerant rabbis were never turned away from their home. They were known far and wide for their kindness toward the masses of poor people who sought them out. And, in those days especially, the number of poor people who needed to rely on the kindness of their brethren was seemingly limitless.
Reb Eliezer and Mirush's boundless hospitality did not go unnoticed in the Heavens. Certainly their lavish performance of the mitzva of hospitality deserved a great reward. A discussion ensued as to how best to reward the couple. But then the Adversary stepped up and commented: "What they are doing is not really so difficult. They do not go without in order to feed their guests. And what of their guests? So, some of them are poor and dressed in rags. A bit disheveled or even smelly. What of it? Would they treat a repulsive beggar with as much kindness and care as anyone else?" questioned the Adversary with a smile.
It was decided that Reb Eliezer and Mirush would be tested. If they passed this test, their reward would be even more sublime.
Days later, a leper knocked on the door of Reb Eliezer and Mirush. Not registering even the slightest amount of shock, Mirush smiled at the leper and invited him in. "But everyone else just gives me food or money at the door and waits for me to leave," the leper informed Mirush. "It is not necessary for me to come inside. I know what I look like." And the leper proceeded to point to his many open, oozing sores, his clothes hanging onto his scabs like a second skin, his matted hair and beard.
"I have not bathed for months. No one can stand to help me and I cannot do it alone," he said quietly, ashamed of the horrific odor he carried with him everywhere.
"Please do come inside," Mirush offered as she opened the door wide for him. The leper warily entered. Mirush led him to the kitchen where she prepared warm, nourishing food. Then she informed the leper that she insisted he stay in their home until he was healed.
From then on, every morning and evening, Mirush applied special creams to the leper's sores. Days passed and the leper's open sores began to heal. As his skin improved, carefully and skillfully, Mirush peeled off the ragged clothing which had been sticking to his body. As soon as possible, Mirush bathed the leper and presented him with a new set of clothing.
Over the next few weeks, the leper continued to improve. When he was fully recovered, Mirush and Reb Eliezer encouraged him to stay a little longer until he had totally regained his strength. When he was finally ready to leave they gave him some money, and Reb Eliezer accompanied him part of the way.
When they were about to part, the guest said to Reb Eliezer, "In the merit of the kindness and hospitality you show toward every person, including a leprous beggar like myself, you and your wife will raise children who will be righteous tzadikim." And with that, he walked away.
Until that time, Reb Eliezer and Mirush's three sons were not known to be exceptional scholars. In fact, they had not even been able to keep up with the studies of their peers. But from that time forth, their children began to excel in Torah learning, performance of mitzvot and in the refinement of their personality. Two of their sons, Reb Zusia of Honipoli and Reb Elimelech of Lyzhansk were amongst the greatest disciples of the Baal Shem Tov and great Rebbes in their own right.
Illness is identified with exile, and healing, with redemption. In that vein, the prophet speaks of "the lame man skip[ping] like a gazelle," and of "healing" those who strayed on wayward paths. In a personal sense, healing will come as a result of the fusion of modern medical techniques with inner spiritual awareness. The Redemption - the ultimate healing - will come when, on the backdrop of the advances science and technology have been able to provide us, we project an image of spiritual consciousness and personal development.
(From Highlights by Rabbi Eli Touger)