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It's all a matter of emphasis - punctuation, that is. It depends on where we pause, where we focus. It's true of grammar, it's true of life, it's true of the spiritual ramifications of all we do.
Let's take a simple sentence: What you want I can't give. (Is this an unemotional statement of fact? A disappointment?) Now let's punctuate it differently. What? (Incredulous.) You want. (Defiant) I can't give. (Rejection.)
The punctuation can pause, and thus pose, it so: What you want, I can't give. (Rejection of the requester.) What you want, I can't give. (I can't, but someone else can.) What you want, I can't give. (But I can sell or trade.) Or even, What you want, I can't give. (But I can give something else.)
And so too in life. Events happen around us and to us. From the trivial to the essential, from tragic to joyous.
For instance, you get up in the morning, make your coffee, get the paper, and on the way to the table trip on one of the kids' toys. You've stubbed your toe and spilled your coffee. You place it high on the tragic-significant curve until a couple hours later when (let's go positive) your boss give you a raise.
Another example: On the way home, traffic's snarled and you get home almost an hour late. You walk in the door in a rage, until you look at the mail and see the check from your publisher. The traffic snarl sinks to the trivial-tragic as the check rises to the essential-joyous.
We can multiply examples. The point is that even the truly tragic can sink in significance if something else, also essential, elevates the joyous.
We find this concept embodied in the Chasidic reading of a Talmudic statement. The Talmud, observing the tragic nature of the month of Av, when the Temples were destroyed, declares, "When Av enters reduce in joy." In Hebrew: M'shenichnas av m'atim b'simcha. But we can read it - punctuate it - differently, resulting in a very different perspective, a very different emphasis: M'shenichnas av m'atim - b'simcha. "When Av enters, reduce - through joy.
The first version tells us to reduce our joy, because Av is the month of mourning. The second tells us to reduce the mourning in the month through joy. We cannot of course forget the tragedies; we should not minimize the significance of events. But we can alter our perspective, change the scales of significance.
Yes, the Temples were destroyed. Yes, we must remember, commemorate and observe the laws. Yes, the mourning on Tisha B'Av epitomizes the horrors of our history, including the Holocaust. Yes, we are still in exile.
Nevertheless and still, "serve G-d with joy," the Psalmist says. "Am Yisrael Chai" - the Jewish people live. There is joy within our lives, and Judaism rejoices - rejoices with the study of Torah, rejoices with the performance of mitzvot (commandments). The future will bring the rebuilding of the Temples and the Redemption is imminent.
In the microcosm of our lives, we can focus on the disappointments, the negatives and the painful. Or, we can acknowledge them, but punctuate them - interrupt, stop their significance - so that the emphasis, the focus is on the myriad acts encountered daily, big and small, of goodness and kindness.
By emphasizing the essential joy, we reduce not the existence, but the significance of the tragic. And in so doing we expand our perspective, we see differently, we perceive the third Temple built on Tisha B'Av and the imminent coming of Moshiach.
This week we read two Torah portions, Matot and Masei. Masei, meaning journeys, delineates the various travels of the Jews in the desert.
When the Jews left Egypt, they were beginning one long journey. The departure from Egypt and their travels in the desert were all so that eventually they would enter the Land of Israel. It would seem then, that each of the 42 stops they made along the way between Egypt and Israel are not really so significant. The stops presented an opportunity for the Jewish camp, comprised of millions of people, to take care of their various needs.
Yet, each and every separate stop the Jews made in the desert are mentioned separately, and each one is considered its own journey. Didn't the Jews reach the desert, and freedom, immediately upon leaving the borders of Egypt?
In every generation, in each individual's life, there must be an Exodus from Egypt, a departure from our own bounds and limitations. However, simply "leaving" Egypt is not enough. One must know that even after working on ourselves and spiritually leaving Egypt, we are not finished. No matter what spiritual level we have attained, we can still go further, we are still bound by our "Egypt." We must begin a new "journey," getting stronger and stronger as we go along.
There is a two-fold lesson from these "journeys." Even when one has already attained a high level, one must never be content with what has already been achieved. The whole purpose of man is to move in an upward spiritual direction - never to stagnate and remain in the same place. Each day that is granted to us by G-d should be utilized for fulfilling this mission. However, we must be cognizant that in relation to what is above us and what we can still achieve, we are still in Egypt.
On the other hand, one must never despair of all that is left to achieve and that one is in a lowly spiritual state. One must remember that it is possible, through work, to leave "Egypt" immediately, with only one journey. We must never think that our toil is in vain; with one move we can elevate ourselves and reach the "good and wide land" - the Land of Israel.
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
How to Live to Be 104
By Rabbi Mordechai Weintraub
David Schleifer has 104 good reasons to be happy, and all of them can be summed up into one. Several decades ago, he made a contract with G-d. "If You give me a long, good life, I will learn Your Torah consistently, dispense tzedaka (charity) graciously, and fulfill Your mitzvot (commandments) religiously."
Apparently, both G-d and David kept the terms of the contract. For David has been blessed, so far, with over ten decades of life.
"I liked the first contract with G-d so much that I think I'll ask Him to renew it for a second time," he quipped.
Davidel doesn't look a bit older than 72, the age of his son, the sole survivor of five children. "Dad greets everyone with a pleasant disposition," relates his son. "He gives everyone a heart-warming compliment and thinks well about him or her," added Davidel's daughter-in-law. "That's why everyone who knows him likes him."
Mr. Schliefer presently lives alone - his wife passed away after 72 years of marriage. He maintains his own apartment in Miami, Florida. He does his own shopping, cooks his own meals, and takes care of his own personal matters.
On his century-old birthday, some people who attended his celebration asked him if he ever thought he'd live to be 100 years old. His answer, "No, I did not think about living 100 years. I only thought about living each day, one day at a time."
This is how Davidel spends his days: He gets up early in he morning, takes care of his personal needs, and then goes to shul. He's frequently the first one there. He dons his talit and tefilin, participates in the Daf Yomi daily Talmud study learning program, and then prays. Then, after he recites and completes Psalms, he studies Torah for a period of time, and reads the contents of two newspapers - a Yiddish and an English one, without the aid of glasses. He also spends abut two hours each day writing out checks for tzedaka collectors. Subsequently, he returns to shul for the afternoon and evening services. At 10:30 p.m. he goes to bed to rest up for the next day of activities.
During his more than ten decades of living on three continents and through numerous wars, Davidel has been able to meet life's challenges both calmly and confidently. In all circumstances, his faith in G-d has remained constant and steadfast. Mr. Schliefer has a list of cherished recollections.
When he was ten years of age, in Romoli, Transylvania, a village where he was born and raised, he played a prank that brought immense encouragement to his fellow Jews. He penned a note in Yiddish on a scrap of paper, inserted it in a message holder, and attached it to the leg of a homing pigeon. Then he sent the bird into the heavens above to spread the jubilant news. A passerby found the tired bird, read its message out of curiosity, and then gleefully shouted, "Let's get ready, Moshiach is coming soon!"
When he was 14 years of age, David became a millionaire. No one expected that a teenager from a poor family would achieve such a status.
This is how he did it: When the First World War broke out, employing his inherent sharpness he raised extensive money, purchased large quantities of goods, and then hired a wagon and a coachman to transport the items to the warring parties, at an exceedingly profitable price.
Following the war, David occupied himself in a variety of commercial ventures. At age 17, he moved to Arad, in Transylvania. Together with his partner he started a wine selling business. In 1916 he married his wife. David was very active in the Jewish community of Arad. In 1936, he built the first clean, modern, hygienic mikva and helped construct the new shul. He was also very gracious with his charity giving. Besides dispensing charity to numerous causes, he helped support, on a consistent basis, five extended families.
Throughout his life he kept up his Torah learning schedule. David prides himself on being among the very first Daf Yomi learners in Europe. To this very day, he has persisted in this self-disciplined Oral Torah study.
In 1939, David, his wife and some of his family came to New York city primarily to visit the World's Fair. But in their mind's eye they saw the writing on the wall and decided to remain in New York.
The family eventually moved to Israel where David established one of the largest ice cream enterprises in Israel. Thereafter, together with a partner, David opened up a successful hotel business.
When queried about the reasons for David's long life, his son says, "My father attributes his long life to three factors: His Torah learning, his charity giving, and his safeguarding his speech from speaking evil." He explained, "My father only speaks when people ask him questions, and when he answers, he does it succinctly, because he wants to avoid speaking evil.
Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Press
260 Student Teachers
Established by the Lubavitcher Rebbe nearly six decades ago, Merkos Shlichut, nicknamed the "Lubavitch Peace Corps," enables Lubavitch rabbinical students to share their knowledge, enthusiasm and Jewish pride with world Jewry. This summer, 260 volunteers - the largest group to date - are visiting small Jewish communities and individual Jews in places such as Vietnam, Surinam, and remote cities in Peru, Germany, China and India. The students travel in pairs and teach classes in Jewish tradition, Talmud, Chasidic Philosophy and the Jewish life cycle, adapting the program to the specific needs and interests of each respective community. They also make available Judaica items such as mezuzot, tefilin and Jewish books.
19th of Tammuz, 5720 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter of the 8th of Tammuz, with the enclosures for which you will find receipt herewith.
As requested, I will remember you and your wife in prayer when visiting the holy resting place of my father-in-law of saintly memory, in accordance with the contents of your letter.
Needless to say, one must have absolute faith in G-d, while at the same time providing the channels and vessels in the natural way to receive G-d's blessings, and the greater the faith in G-d, the sooner and in a larger measure one sees the fulfillment of G-d's blessings.
With regard to the matter of the observance of the laws of Taharas Hamishpocho [family purity], and that there are some doctors who suggest that the period of abstention required by these laws might interfere with the period of ovulation, I need hardly say that the ruling of the Rov [Rabbinic authority] is, nevertheless, quite binding. Moreover, inasmuch as these laws are part of our Torah, which is called Toras Chaim, being the guide in life, it is impossible that the observance of the Torah, especially such a basic law as Taharas Hamishpocho, should interfere with another law, especially such a basic mitzvah [commandment] as procreation, which is the first mitzvah in the Torah.
As a matter of fact, I would like to call your attention to the fact, which I am sure also your doctor will substantiate, that there are many medical authorities who do not accept the whole theory regarding the period of ovulation with absolute certainty.
Furthermore, the number of medical authorities subscribing to this latter view is increasing. But even those who do attach importance to this theory, do not claim that the period of ovulation could be so carefully narrowed down as to make a day or two significant. Finally, there are various methods and treatments which help to postpone the period of ovulation and which have been applied to good advantage.
May G-d, whose benevolent Providence extends to everyone individually, fulfill your heart's desire to be blessed with healthy offspring.
Hoping to hear good news from you,
It would be advisable to ascertain if, at the time of your marriage, either you or your wife might have been involved in hurting the feelings of a man or woman through a previous broken engagement or promise, and the like, in which case a Mechila [asking forgiveness] might be necessary.
Ed.'s note: Eleven months after the Rebbe wrote this letter of advice and blessing to the childless couple he wrote another letter wishing them mazel tov [congratulations] on the birth of their first child
28 Tamuz, 5764 - July 17, 2004
Prohibition 250: It is forbidden to cheat in business deals
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 25:14) "You shall not defraud one another"
We are forbidden to deceive or cheat another person when conducting business with him.
29 Tamuz, 5764 - July 18, 2004
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 teaches us that we must be very careful not to say anything that may hurt or trick someone else. Sometimes we don't even realize that what we have said caused another person discomfort.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Sabbaths during the "Three Weeks" (the interval of time between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av), contain a unique dimension: They are within the period of lamentation over the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people, yet it is forbidden to mourn on Shabbat, and on the contrary, it is a great mitzva to rejoice.
In truth, these special Sabbaths express the true good that is hidden within the exile. Seen superficially, the exile is only a negative phenomenon - agonizing, painful and without merit.
On a deeper level, however, the exile contains a higher purpose, one which is only goodness and light - the Final Redemption with Moshiach.
In fact, in the era of Moshiach, those days that were marked by the Jewish people as days of mourning will be transformed into days of rejoicing.
A Jew must always remember that the true purpose of the soul's sojourn in the physical world, as well as the Jewish people's travails in exile, is solely in order to reach the G-dliness of the Messianic era. This awareness in itself gives us the strength to overcome all difficulties and to fulfill G-d's will in the most trying of circumstances, leading all of Creation to its ultimate perfection with Moshiach.
Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes... When a man utters an oath (Num. 30:2-3).
The word used here for tribes is "matot," which is a derivative of the word for "staff," denoting strength and firmness. In order to fulfill an oath, which means separating oneself and refraining from things which the Torah otherwise permits, we need the strength of a staff.
He shall not profane his words; everything that leaves his mouth he shall do (Num. 30:3)
Whoever is careful never to profane his words, and is particular to fulfill his commitments, has applied to him the verse, "Everything which leaves his mouth he shall do." That is, "He" - G-d will fulfill his every blessing and utterance. "The righteous decree and the Almighty fulfills"
These are the journeys of the Jews (33:1)
The 42 travels of the Jews in the desert are enumerated for good reason. They hint to 42 stages that a person must traverse in his life; 42 levels of spirituality that a person can experience in his life.
(Baal Shem Tov)
Long before the destruction of Jerusalem at the hand of the Roman oppressors, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai had foreseen the city's tragic fate. He was detached from all political entanglements, yet, when he saw the futility of the struggle against Rome and realized the inevitability of the fall of Jerusalem, he determined to establish a place of refuge for Judaism.
One day, Rabbi Yochanan called to his nephew, Abba Sikra. Abba Sikra was the head of the zealots - a faction of Jews adamantly against any type of dialogue with the Romans. "How long are you going to let your people die of hunger in the streets?" Rabbi Yochanan asked Abba Sikra.
"These matters are no longer in my hands," was Abba Sikra's sorry reply.
"Will you help me, then, to get out of the city and try to speak with the Roman general Vespacian?" Rabbi Yochanan appealed.
Sikra agreed to help. He suggested that Rabbi Yochanan pretend to be ill. He would "die" and could then be taken out of the city to be buried. From there he could stealthily make his way to the Roman general.
And so it was. But when Rabbi Yochanan's students carried his coffin near the gates of the city, the zealots stopped the procession.
"Let us stab the coffin with our swords to make sure the Rabbi is truly dead," they said.
Abba Sikra intervened. "Surely it is not befitting a great and holy sage like Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai to behave in such a manner."
The zealots hesitated and finally agreed to let them go. Rabbi Yochanan was able to enter the Roman camp.
"Peace unto you, king," Rabbi Yochanan greeted Vespacian.
"You are guilty of treason for calling me king," replied the general.
"Ah, but I know through prophecy that Jerusalem will only fall by the hands of a king. You, certainly, will soon become the Caesar."
While they were yet speaking, a messenger came, informing Vespacian that the Caesar had died and he had been chosen the new ruler of the Roman Empire.
It is said that Vespacian received this news when he had one boot on, and one off. When he tried to remove his boot, he couldn't. And when he attempted to put on the other boot, he couldn't do that either. Rabbi Yochanan explained that "Good tidings makes one's bones fat" (Proverbs 18:5), and that if he were to look at someone he didn't like, his feet would return to normal.
Vespacian was so impressed by Rabbi Yochanan's wisdom that he offered, "Ask of me anything that your heart desires and I will fulfill your wishes."
Rabbi Yochanan's first request was that the city of Yavneh become a place of refuge and an academy be established there. Second, to spare the life of the descendants of Rabbi Gamliel, so that the royal House of David shouldn't be destroyed. (The Roman custom was to liquidate the entire ruling family). Finally, Rabbi Yochanan requested the services of a physician to cure Rabbi Tzadok - a great sage who fasted for 40 years to try and save Jerusalem from destruction.
Vespacian readily granted these seemingly modest requests, not realizing their far-reaching implications for the survival of the Jewish people. The establishment of the new Torah center in Yavneh set the foundations for the spiritual rebirth of the Jewish nation even after its national independence was lost to the mighty Roman Empire - an empire which has since been wiped off the map.
The First Holy Temple corresponds to the patriarch Abraham; the Second Holy Temple corresponds to our patriarch Isaac; the Third Holy Temple corresponds to our patriarch Jacob. And since the dominant characteristic of Jacob is truth, which can be neither intercepted nor changed, the Third Holy Temple will stand forever.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. IX, p. 26)