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Have you ever been the victim of identity theft? It's a new kind of fraud. Well, actually, not so new, as thieves probably forged signatures soon after banks first issued checks; in fact, stealing someone's identity - pretending to be someone else - probably predates banks. We know that before photo id's, merchants, diplomats - anyone involved in commerce, contracts or treaties who had to deal with an agent - had to rely on the word of the other person - on his self-identification.
Recently, identity theft has become a widespread problem. Credit cards (and debit cards) are easy to use, convenient, and make bookkeeping simple.
But the use of credit cards, especially over the internet, has also made it easier for someone to steal your identity. You log on to what appears to be a real website and purchase something. When you enter your credit card or bank account number - even though you have a secure connection and anti-spyware software - it gets recorded by the bogus site. You think you've bought airline tickets, for instance, but you've just given your credit card or bank account to an identity thief.
And all of a sudden, charges start appearing out of nowhere. By the time you catch on and contact your bank and credit card company, hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars have been spent - in your name. Often, the bank gets its money back, you get your money back, and only the merchant loses. But your credit may never recover.
The lesson: guard your identity - and those things that identify you - carefully.
And there's an obvious spiritual lesson here, too. Too often we allow our environment - our acquaintances, our jobs, our interests - to steal our Jewish identity. We become so absorbed in the externals that we forget what's important. Or, worse, the outside interests begin to penetrate our consciousness and take over. We identify with a political party, a sports team, a job so much that that's how we see ourselves. Our Jewish identity gets relegated to an indulgence, and we become guided by the irrelevant.
Jewish teachings tell us that we were redeemed from Egypt because they kept their identity - their Jewish names, the Jewish way of dress, and Hebrew, their language. Be like us, the Egyptians demanded. Stop looking like a Jew, stop thinking and speaking like a Jew, stop identifying yourself as a Jew. The Egyptians knew that once a Jew's external identity different not from an Egyptians, soon the internal identity would become identical as well. He would stop acting like a Jew and then he would stop being a Jew.
Just as we need to take precautions to protect our credit cards and bank account from identity theft, so we have to protect our Jewishness from identity theft. Setting aside regular times to learn Torah is one way. Working on our Hebrew - getting comfortable with the prayer book - is another. And knowing and using our Jewish names may be one of the simplest, and most powerful, ways.
And of course we should help others protect their Jewish identities in the same way. Since all Jews are responsible one for another, the theft of one Jewish identity steals a little from us all.
This week's Torah portion, Behar, begins with the words "G-d spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai...and the land shall keep a Sabbath-Shmitta-to G-d." The commentator Rashi asks: What does the subject of Shmitta have to do with Mount Sinai? Were not all of the commandments given at Sinai? He answers his own question: Just as all the details and minutiae of the laws of shmitta were given at Sinai, so were all the details and specifications of the other commandments given at Sinai.
The commandment of shmitta teaches something about all the other mitzvot of the Torah. We must recognize that just as all the details of shmitta were given to Moses by G-d on Mount Sinai, so were all the other mitzvot and their details given in the same manner. If the Torah has chosen the particular commandment of shmitta to illustrate this fact, it must be that this mitzva expresses the general Jewish approach to life.
On the one hand, a Jew is enjoined "six years shall you sow your field and six years shall you prune your vineyard." A Jew must conduct himself and his affairs according to the laws of nature. One must plant and toil in order to eat. A Jew is not required to retreat from the world and sequester himself only in learning Torah and praying; on the contrary, he must fully participate in a normal lifestyle.
At the same time, the Torah commands that every seven years the Jew must abandon the land and allow it to have a Sabbath, and devote himself to learning, praying, and worshipping G-d. He then asks, "What will we eat during the seventh year, if we don't sow and reap our grain?" The Torah answers: "And I will command My blessing to be on you during the sixth year, and the land will produce enough grain to last for three years." Here the Jew is being asked to rely solely on G-d and not on natural law for his sustenance.
At first glance the two approaches appear contradictory. How can we be required to live according to the laws of nature, and simultaneously be asked to rely on the supernatural? But this is exactly what the Torah wants from us. We must synthesize both approaches to life. We must do everything possible according to natural law, at the same time believing in G-d's supernatural powers to sustain us.
Six years of active work followed by one of rest highlights this approach in a Jew's daily life. The six years of work are the obligation we have to elevate the world by imbuing it with holiness through our actions. The shmitta year allows us to recognize that despite all of our accomplishments, we are ultimately dependent on G-d for our well-being, and that trust in man and nature is misplaced. Once every seven years we sever ourselves from the natural world and rely solely on G-d. A Jew draws spiritual strength from the shmitta year, rededicating himself to the knowledge that our task is not to be subservient to nature, but rather to rule over the natural world and imbue it with holiness.
Similar cycles are to be found within a Jew's daily life as well. All day a Jew works in business or commerce, earning a living for his family, providing food, clothes and the like. But he must also dedicate certain times of the day for study and praying, thereby elevating himself from the mundane and connecting to G-d. Jews live their lives with a special combination of the natural and the supernatural.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
by Natalia Thalheim
G-d gives us second chances. My father's 77 years were replete with many life-threatening and traumatic events. He kept on surviving. Then he passed away last year on Pesach Sheni, the holiday of Second Chances.
In days of old, one who had been unable to bring the Passover offering at the appointed time was granted another chance to do so one month later, on the date known as Pesach Sheni. A Jew who wanted to come close to G-d learned that it is never too late. Similarly, my father's repeated episodes of survival enabled him to continue to give to his family and to serve his Creator.
Born in Moscow in1926, the only child of "bourgeoisie" parents, my father was raised without a Jewish education. When he was six his family left Stalinist Russia for Poland among a select group of 50 people. In Warsaw, my grandfather's connections enabled him to secure exit visas for his family. They were to set sail on September 4, 1939, but the German invasion of Poland precipitated a hasty change of plans.
Through an elaborate escape route, my father and his parents arrived in America. During their flight, my young father endured arduous walks without shoes (he had given his shoes to his mother), he witnessed executions of refugees in the fields, bombings of his railroad car, interrogations at borders patrols, theft, bribes, and brutality. Traumatic memories plagued him and later led him to question his survival.
As an immigrant teen in New York City, my father was mugged and beaten. He was sent away to Prep School, and secured admission to a prestigious college and medical school. Despite difficult cultural and language barriers, as well as physical maladies, my father became a physician. He married my mother, an Auschwitz survivor who was also a doctor. Together they raised four children with strong Jewish values.
My father's series of survivals continued: robbery at gunpoint; severe cardiac disease ( my mother once administered CPR to save his life; many times he was rushed critically to the ER); and several years ago, the sudden death of his beloved only son.
My father never dwelt on past difficulties; the trauma of his life was unspoken. Instead, he successfully communicated to his children and grandchildren his passions in life: family, philanthropy, a love for Israel, and medicine.
In recent years, perhaps coinciding with my journey toward Torah observance, my father spoke of his questions about G-d, the Holocaust, and evolution. I shared with him my enthusiasm for Judaism, and my perspective on his life: his survival was no "accident," there are no such things as "coincidences"; and G-d surely has His reasons for keeping him alive. He accepted my suggestion that he explore his questions. Occasionally he met with rabbis and discussed issues, though never quite to his satisfaction.
Nonetheless, my father was cultivating a sense of meaning in life and a connection with G-d. After losing his son, my father almost died of heartache. Afterwards, one his own initiative, he began to refrain from eating non-kosher foods. He quietly said kaddish by reciting his handwritten transliteration of the prayer. When he came to my home for Shabbat dinner, he blessed the wine and the challah, repeating my husband's Kiddush and motzei one word at a time. He didn't always enjoy the way we celebrated Shabbat, but he came anyway. During Sukkot, too cold to eat outdoors, he huddled in his coat at our kitchen window facing the sukka so that he, too, could be part of the celebration.
On the eve of Chanuka over a year ago, my father was struck by a car while crossing the street. Three days later, the doctors told us he had but a few hours to live. We said Viduy with him - the last confessions recited before one's passing - and went to light Chanuka candles outside the hospital. We were a tearful and shocked eclectic family group, unable to fathom Dad's impending death. But miracle after miracle occurred. Remarkably, he survived another four and a half months. As the Jewish people were redeemed during Chanuka, Purim, and Pesach, my father remained with us, albeit in a hospital ICU. But this gave us a chance to spend endless meaningful hours with him. We were able to care for him and honor him and pray for him and share our inner hearts with him. It was truly a gift of time. It was our second chance as much as it was his.
During my father's hospitalization, I spent many Shabboses in the hospital. I prayed and said more Psalms than ever before. I put holy Jewish books, a mezuza and a pushka (charity box) in my father's room. Sometimes he could manage to place a coin in the slot. Most times I held it between his fingers and let it drop in. Almost daily, I read aloud a particular selection from Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy. As I struggled to understand its lofty concepts of faith ("no evil descends from Above"), I sensed that my father already knew, in his soul, these inherent truths.
My father's body progressively weakened, yet his soul grew stronger. As I understood it, he was experiencing a spiritual process of return. The clarity in his eyes became more radiant. The light in his face shone brighter. Time and again, he shared a smile that was so luminous, its light remains reflected in our memories forever.
Days before he died, we were in the process of making arrangements to take my father home, weak as he was. He so much wanted to go home. Then suddenly, one morning, his heart gave up. He went to his final Home. The day was Pesach Sheni - the holiday of second chances. My dad had done his teshuva (return), and had lovingly and graciously invited us in during the process. He needed no more second chances.
Rabbi Yossi and Sara Hecht recently established Chabad of Aurora, serving Jews in Aurora, Newmarket and Oak Ridges in Ontario, Canada. Pre-holiday and holiday programs have attracted upwards of 100 people from throughout these small Jewish communities. Shabbat services, holiday events and adult education classes are among the activities currently being hosted by the Chabad Center.
Rabbi Schneur and Chana Cadaner will be arriving soon in the "Quad Cities" where they are establishing a new Chabad-Lubavitch Center. The Quad Cities consists of Rock Island and Moline in Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa.
Freely translated letters written during the lifetime of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, father-in-law of the Rebbe
12 Teves, 5703 (1943)
Greetings and blessings,
In response to your letter from the seventh day of Chanukah:
...Despondency is certainly unnecessary. On several occasions, I heard from my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe shlita, that just as a person must not err with regard to his own shortcomings, so too, he must know his own positive qualities.
Experience shows that often minimizing one's own self-worth is one of the tricks of the evil inclination to weaken one's resolve or cause a disturbance and prevent one from carrying out a positive activity, as each person certainly knows....
With the blessing "Immediately to repentance, immediately to Redemption,"
26 Shvat, 5708 (1948)
Greetings and blessings,
...With regard to the conclusion of your letter (which came as a response to my words that one must extend himself and filter through to a colleague): "What can one do if he is enclosed in his room? How can he be taken out of his locust skin?" In that context, my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe Shlita, wrote in one of his letters (quoting the Rebbe Rashab [the fifth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch]): "When a lantern is kindled, all those who seek light gravitate to it."
To focus on his wording: He employed the term chafeitzim (translated as "seek"). Chafeitz, in contrast to rotzeh, refers to inner will and desire .... The inner desire of every Jew is perfectly bound with G-d and His Torah, the Torah of light. As is well known, proof of this concept can be seen from the law governing a bill of divorce given under compulsion, as Maimonides writes in the conclusion of ch. 2 of Hilchos Gerushin.
With regard to your statement that perhaps the oil does not shine within himself because it is rancid: Rancid oil also permeates and it also sheds light. It is only that its light is not that bright. Obviously, it takes one out of darkness and can also be considered as kindling a light, as obvious from the Talmud and the halachic authorities and as can be seen in actual fact.
In general, of what value is it for you to write such statements if it does not bring about an advance in Torah, Divine service, or deeds of kindness? And if it prevents such service, it is forbidden.
Every person is an emissary sent to his place by Divine providence. He need only begin acting to fulfill his mission and he will certainly be successful. Moreover, it will lead to both spiritual and material well-being.
With wishes for success and for everlasting good in all matters,
7 Tammuz, 5708 (1948)
Greetings and blessings,
With regard to your question whether it is customary to eat matza on Pesach Sheni: In addition to what I told you in person: that our custom - based on the custom of the Rebbe Shlita's household - is to eat matza during the meal on the day of the 14th of Iyar, I recently found related concepts in printed texts. The text Likkutei Meir (authored by Rabbi Meir Benet of Cherada, Hungary) speaks about Pesach Sheni in the second volume and quotes the text Likkutei Maharich, Vol. III, which states that it is customary for men distinguished for their deeds to eat matza on the day of the 14th of Iyar.
Clarification is necessary, for the Pesach Sheni sacrifice was eaten on the night of 15 Iyar. Indeed, the text Zichron Yehudah states that the author of the text Imrei Eish and his father-in-law, Rabbi David Deitsch, followed the custom of eating matza and a cooked egg on the night of 15 Iyar.
The text Darchei Chayim VeShalom (by Rabbi M. Gold of Munkatch), secs. 631-632, states that the Munkatcher custom was to eat matza and maror during the daytime meal of 14 Iyar. Although the Pesach Sheni sacrifice was eaten on the night of the 15th, the sacrifice was offered during the day and the beginning of the sacrifice is of primary importance. It was, however, also customary for the Minchas Elazar, the Munkatcher Rebbe, to eat matza on the night of the 15th.
With wishes for everlasting good in all matters,
From I Will Write it in Their Hearts, translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos in English.
15 Iyar, 5765 - May 24, 2005
Positive Mitzva 109: Immersing in a Mikveh
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 15:16) "He shall bathe all his body in water"
Just as the Torah defines the different types of impurity - it also outlines the process for purification. The Torah describes the purification process, commanding the impure person to immerse himself in a mikveh. A mikveh is a special pool of water of a specific size. Its water must come from a natural source, rain or a spring. In the beginning of the universe, the entire creation emerged from water. After an impure person dips in the mikveh, he rises up as a new creation; purified and prepared to serve G-d.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
"It's never too late," is not just a cute cliche. It's a truism that is especially pertinent this coming week, when we will be commemorating the special day known as "Pesach Sheni."
During the times of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, everyone was required to offer a Passover sacrifice. But what of those people who were not able to come for various reasons? Were they to forfeit this important mitzva because they could not make it to Jerusalem at the specified time?
Anyone who could not offer the sacrifice at the prescribed time was permitted to offer it on this later date, one month after Passover. The day was called Pesach Sheni - the second Passover. Even if it was the person's own fault that he had been unable to offer the sacrifice, he was still allowed to offer it at this later date.
What better example than this do we need to prove to us that we always have the chance to make amends, start-over again with a clean slate, and try to improve in the future?
Pesach Sheni occurs this year on Monday, May 23. In commemoration of day, we eat matza and bread, together. On Passover, we eat only matza, which is called the bread of poverty and the bread of affliction; matza is symbolic of humility. But on Pesach Sheni, we eat bread and matza together. Hopefully, we are now at a level where we have learned to at least combine our ego (symbolized by bread, which rises) with humility and use it for something positive.
When you come into the land which I am giving to you, then shall the land keep a Shabbat to G-d (Lev. 25:2)
Shabbat is not only the prized "possession" of the Jews. The Jewish land also has a Shabbat. The same way that a Jewish servant serves his master for six years and goes free in the seventh, so does the land work and produce for the Jew for six years, reverting to its true Master on 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 Shmitta year we honor that essential value.
(Rabbi Yitzchak Breur)
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 totally subservient to him. But our souls serve G-d only through love, as a son serves his beloved father.
(Sefer Hamaamarim Kuntreisim)
The Sage, Rabbi Abba, had great love for his people and traveled around encouraging them to study the Holy Torah. One day he arrived in a small town where there were no Torah scholars. In fact, most of the townspeople there were ignorant. Rabbi Abba felt sorry for them and decided on a plan by which he could increase their Torah learning.
One morning he came into the local synagogue and made an announcement: "Whoever would like to have great wealth and be granted life in the next world should come and learn Torah with me!" He managed to stir up a lot of interest amongst the local people and many came to study with him. Through his kind demeanor and clear method of teaching he developed a circle of eager and steady Torah learners.
One day a new face showed up at the study session. It was an intelligent-looking young man who approached Rabbi Abba, saying: "I heard about your promise of riches if one studies Torah and I would like to begin my study so that I may be able to receive them."
"Very well," replied the rabbi. Of course, Rabbi Abba hadn't meant that his students would receive actual physical gold, but spiritual riches when they learned Torah. He was sure, though, that the young man would soon come to that conclusion himself when he had developed a true appreciation of Torah. "Who are you, what is your name?" the rabbi inquired.
"I live in this town and my name is Yosay," the young man answered.
"Well, Yosay, you are welcome to join our group. From this day on your name will be Yosay the Rich!" Yosay's face lit up when he heard these words, as visions of gold shone in his eyes. Yosay came to study with Rabbi Abba every morning without fail. He grasped the material easily and Rabbi Abba saw in this young man the potential for greatness.
One day Yosay wasn't his usual self. He sat listlessly looking out of the window throughout the entire study period. When it ended Rabbi Abba approached him and asked, "Yosay, my son, what is bothering you today? I missed your questions. Today you seem to be somewhere else."
"Rabbi, I have been studying diligently for weeks and yet I haven't received any of the riches you promised me," said Yosay in an accusatory tone. Rabbi Abba was saddened to hear him speak in such a fashion, for he had hoped that by now, Yosay would have begun to love Torah study for its own sake. Nevertheless, he didn't want to dissuade him from his learning and so he answered, "My son, you are doing very well. Just be patient and continue. I have no doubt that one day you will be rich."
After hearing his teacher's encouraging words Yosay felt better and continued to study as before, but Rabbi Abba was worried about him. Would he continue to study long enough to reach his great potential, or would he give up because of his expectation of receiving a material reward?
One afternoon as Rabbi Abba was sitting alone and poring over his parchments, a strange, well-dressed gentleman approached him. "Are you Rabbi Abba?" the man inquired. "Yes, how may I help you?"
"Rabbi, I have heard that you are a great scholar and I'm hoping that you will be able to help me. I am a very wealthy man, but I never had the opportunity to study Torah. Now I am very busy and I don't have the time or ability to begin studying at this late stage in my life. Therefore, I would like to pay someone else to learn in my place. Here, I have a solid gold goblet. It is worth a great deal of money, and I have eleven more cups just like this. I am willing to give a golden cup to whomever will 'sell' me a share in his Torah learning."
Rabbi Abba jumped at the offer. Losing not a moment he called Yosay over and introduced him to the wealthy gentleman. He explained the arrangement, and Yosay was, of course, more than happy to agree. Both parties were satisfied. Yosay devoted himself to his studies more and more diligently, until he could hardly tear himself away from the holy texts. He barely ever thought about the gold.
One evening, Rabbi Abba was alarmed to hear weeping coming from Yosay's corner of the study hall. "What happened? Why are you weeping?" he asked, fearing that his student had received bad news. "Rabbi, I can't stand it any more! I hate the thought that I am learning G-d's Torah for a monetary reward. At first, the money was my sole motivation, but now that I understand much more, I see that my actual reward is the knowledge itself. I have gained so much and feel a great difference in myself. Now I feel like a thief taking gold in return for my beloved spiritual labors. I was foolish to make a deal like this and I just wish I could get out of it."
Rabbi Abba blinked back tears of joy, for he saw that his prize student had truly matured in his learning. His greed for riches had disappeared and been replaced with a genuine love of Torah. Rabbi Abba summoned the rich man and said, "You have reaped great rewards in Torah and mitzvot from your bargain with Yosay, but now it is time for you to share your wealth with another poor student. I will help you find a new partner. Meanwhile, know that you have succeeded greatly in this 'deal.' "
When Yosay heard what his rabbi and teacher had done for him, he couldn't contain his happiness. Yosay continued to study Torah for the rest of his long life and taught Torah to his children and grandchildren. He became known as "Yosay the Golden" because he had exchanged his rewards of gold for the study of Torah.
What is the end of exile? The end of exile is like turning on a light, when suddenly you realize where everything is. Goodness is goodness, evil is evil, right is right, wrong is wrong. It's suddenly very clear. Truth and G-dliness become obvious.
(Rabbi Manis Friedman)