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Do you remember what it was like when you first learned to drive? You'd watched others do it hundreds, even thousands of times. Maybe even some of your friends were already driving. You knew the rules of the road; you studied the little guidebook to get your permit. So you were ready to go. And with that bravado you got behind the wheel.
All of a sudden, there were too many things to do, too much to remember and the responsibility was overwhelming. Remember? Put on your seat belt, adjust the seat, adjust the mirrors, start the car, get both hands on the wheel, find the gear shift, make sure you had your foot properly positioned over the gas pedal but also knew where the brake was, glance nervously at the even more nervous parent in the passenger seat, put the car in reverse and -
Squeal five feet because you hit the gas pedal too hard, then slam on the brakes in a panic, making it the shortest roller coaster ride ever.
Then came the boring part - around and around the parking lot, working on your turns, keeping both hands on the wheel, coming to a complete stop, etc.
Shall we even talk about the first time you ventured into traffic?
But you managed to get the hang of the city streets, and then came, gulp, the interstate.
Within a few months, though, you were on your own, whizzing around and full of confidence.
What happened? Where did the confidence - and ability - come from?
And that, in a sense, is how we should approach mitzvot (commandments), especially when we're starting out. Of course we're nervous. Oh, sure, we may act like we know what we're doing, but deep down we've got all these doubts, questions, insecurities. And sometimes, like a new driver, we're overly cautious. (That's not a bad thing, of course.)
In our minds, mistakes are magnified. Switch lanes without signaling, skip a paragraph in the service - and it's a disaster.
And there are so many details! The holidays, and Shabbat, and the Hebrew, and the learning, and the constant checking of the rear-view mirror - where have we come from and how much farther do we have to go?
It seems so overwhelming. But we have to remember how we learned to drive - a little at a time, slowly, slowly. With a teacher (mom, dad or hired, hopefully with a lot of patience). And slowly, slowly we integrated each step of the process. We gained experience and confidence. Now you can wrap the tefilin straps around your arm without assistance. Now you know by heart the blessing on the Shabbat candles and can cover your eyes without peeking. Now when change jingles in your first thought is to drop a few coins into a pushka (charity box).
When it comes to mitzvot, some of us get "driver's ed" when we're young. Some of us start a little later. But mitzvot, like learning to drive, is all a matter of doing it, gaining the experience and the confidence that comes with it.
This week's Torah portion, Korach, describes Korach's confrontation with Moses. Korach protested: "The entire nation is holy and G-d is among them. Why do you exalt yourself over the congregation of G-d?"
Why did G-d support Moses totally, bringing about a unique miracle to destroy Korach and his following?
To answer this question, we have to focus on two different approaches of leadership. One approach is based on charisma. Such a leader attracts people because he shines; he projects an image of a more exciting future. Korach was rich and he promised the people better stakes. And so, many gullible people ran after him.
Moses was tongue-tied and had trouble communicating. The people found it difficult to understand him. Nevertheless, they knew that Moses spoke G-d's truth. His source of strength was not his personal self, but rather his ability to transcend himself.
The dissonance between the feelings he inspired led to an approach-avoidance conflict. Because Moses didn't promise them glitter, they weren't overly excited about his message. On the other hand, they realized - and were constantly reminded by G-d - that Moses was G-d's messenger. He was only saying what G-d wanted him to say.
What this seems to imply is that Korach is attractive, but Moses is right. So, if I'll choose Moses, it will be with a kind of drab attitude of, "Well, this is what's going to be, so I might as well resign myself to it."
A Moses-style leader is concerned with empowering his followers to discover and fulfill their mission in life. Every person was created with a unique G-d-given purpose. A Moses does not give a person quick answers and ready solutions. Instead, he motivates him to penetrate to the depths of his being and understand G-d's intent for him.
True, this requires a person to look beyond his immediate horizons. He has to think not of what makes him feel good at the moment, but of what is genuinely right and true. That's a lot more challenging, but ultimately a lot more gratifying. For if something is right and true, even though it may require some immediate sacrifice, it will certainly lead to the person's good. Moreover, that good will be continuous, existing not only for the moment, but for the future.
Moses gives people a long-term vision that enables them to live their lives with purpose and joy. Instead of looking for an immediate high, a Moses person thinks about the goals he is living for. And the awareness of that mission endows him with vitality and joy. He is excited about living his daily life because every act he performs resounds with significance; there's genuine value in what he is doing.
In every generation, we can find leaders who are Korachs and Moseses. Similarly, each one of us can be a Moses or a Korach - for in our homes, in our workplaces, and among our friends - all of us act as leaders at one time or another. When exercising this leadership potential, we should not focus on self-interest - neither our own or that of the people we are trying to impress - but on the higher purposes that are involved. This is what Moses' leadership teaches us.
From Keeping in Touch published by Sichos In English, adapted by Rabbi E. Touger from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
I'm Grateful To Grow Up In the U.S.A.
by Jennifer Becker
I consider myself an observant Jew.
I have a Passover seder with my family; I light the menora on Chanuka; I fast on Yom Kippur; and I come to Chabad on Friday nights. I became a bat mitzva and confirmand and graduated from religious school at my synagogue. I am also a Sunday- and Hebrew-school teacher at Beth Tikvah (in Columbus), and I love passing on my knowledge of Judaism to the next generation.
I was raised in a Jewish household and came to accept these practices as a normal part of my life.
My family is from Kishenev, Moldova, a part of the former Soviet Union. Growing up, I would constantly hear stories from my parents and grandparents of just how different their lives were, not only culturally, politically and economically, but also in how they practiced Judaism. It was forbidden to openly practice Judaism in Russia, and those who defied the government had to pay the consequences.
My family would celebrate the holidays secretly in their homes, since going to a synagogue was not an option for fear of being caught by the police.
On Passover, my great-grandfather would secretly acquire matzah from the black market.
On Chanukah, my family would light the menorah privately in their homes, unable to display it in their windows as many of us do. Instead, they had a tree covered with ornaments prominently displayed, since New Year was the official holiday in Russia, and my family had to show their compliance with the atheistic government's orders.
My grandmother was a high-school English teacher but had to keep her religion a secret for fear of being fired. My mom and dad also couldn't reveal their Jewish faith without facing dirty looks and judgment from their peers.
People who spotted the chai necklace that my mom wore would shout things like "Go back to Israel." The Jewish cemetery where my grandfather was buried was vandalized; some of the graves were knocked down, and others, covered with swastikas and words of hate.
After years of facing discrimination, my family decided to immigrate to America. This was not an easy decision to make, since my dad would be leaving his parents and sister behind. But they felt it was a necessary one.
So, in August 1979, my mom, dad, grandparents, great-grandfather and older sister (who was then only 4), arrived in the United States. They weren't allowed to bring most of their possessions, so they basically had to rebuild their lives from scratch.
This past summer I finally got the opportunity to visit the land that my family came from. Seeing the rundown buildings, the disheveled landscape, and the overall disorder of things gave me a whole new perspective on the stories I had been hearing for years.
While I knew of the hardships my family had had to put up with when they lived there, being there in person gave me a better understanding and appreciation of them. My parents and grandparents left behind everything they knew so that my sister and I would not have to face the same life of discrimination they had.
Being here in the U.S., celebrating Shabbat in the warmth and comfort of the Chabad House makes me realize how lucky I am that my family made that sacrifice for me.
The next time you go to the synagogue, light Shabbat candles, celebrate a holiday with family and friends, or just wear your favorite Star of David necklace, take a moment to reflect on how lucky you are to be able to practice Judaism openly.
Jennifer Becker is from Solon, Ohio. She is studying dentistry at OSU College of Dentistry. Reprinted with permission of the author from The Cleveland Jewish News.
Carrollwood, Florida is the site of Tampa Bay's first mikva. Dedicated recently by Chabad of Tampa, this elegantly designed, fully appointed mikva will serve the entire Tampa Bay Jewish community.
The Jewish community of Baku opened a new mikva this past month. The new building also contains guest rooms so that women who are travelling from other cities in Azerbaijan, Georgia and southern Russia, have a place to stay.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
A new mikva is being built in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Designed to be one of the most beautiful and impressive mikvas built, it will include all the accoutrements necessary to enhance the mikva experience.
Rabbi Sholom and Hinda Pinson have became part of the team of Chabad emissaries in the South Bay area of Southern California. The Pinsons will be directors of outreach for the Torrance-Gardena-Lomita-South Bay area.
Rabbi and Mrs. Yitzchak Yakobson recently arrived in Samarkand. The Jewish has existed there for many centuries. Until now, the local Jewish community of Samarkand was served by the Chief Rabbi of Uzbekistan who lives in the Uzbekistan capital.
Bucktown/Wicker Park, Illinois
Rabbi and Mrs. Yosef Shmuel Moscowitz are opening the newest branch of Chabad in Illinois in the Chicago suburb of Bucktown/Wicker Park. Rabbi Moscowitz has also been appointed director of development for the regional headquarters of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois.
Freely translated and adapted
Kislev, 5729 (1969)
...There are those who discuss and formulate plans for abandoning the territories - or parts of the territories.
This endangers not only the security at the borders, but the security of the entire Holy Land according to all natural principles, as all who are familiar with these issues understand. (I am at a total loss to understand the wisdom in silencing the military and security authorities who to express their opinions regarding this.) This is especially true considering that there is absolutely no benefit or advantage to be gained from giving away land, since their word is worthless, as we have seen in the past with all the assurances of peace, etc.
As Rashi comments, "It is a halacha [law] that Esau hates Jacob," and the Sages have spoken extensively on all of the ways in which kindness of the nations is really veiled sin. It is clear that Israel has nothing to gain from giving away land, as we have seen in the past - and even the recent past, in the episode twelve years ago in the Suez Canal. Especially during the past year, every time talk of surrendering territory is made known, there is a new wave of terrorism, increasing death and destruction, as we can clearly see.
Incidentally, I received word that there has been an answer to my claim regarding the danger which will follow any compromise on land. My words were communicated by a reliable messenger, and according to the information I have received, my words have been discussed among government officials in Israel. Their answer was that they will disregard my charges, for the sole reason that they come from one who has never even once visited Israel. Obviously - since my claim relates to the danger facing millions of Jews living in Israel - their judging me is irrelevant. Instead, they should "accept the truth from whoever says it."
November 20, 1970
Concerning your letter dealing with my words regarding Jerusalem, which were challenged, saying that there is no basis for what I said ... I only wish it were true. But to my sorrow, the present situation clearly refutes the contention, that there is no basis for my words. What aggravates this impression is that they (the Israeli government) are numbing public opinion - with the usual slogans. I warned about this also, and they know that the only thing which is holding them (the Israeli leaders) back now is lack of convincing propaganda, which will satisfy the Jewish masses. Now with regard to the politicians, they have already toyed with many different phraseologies, among them one which I mentioned (they want to turn The City of the Great King into "The City of Three Kings").
There is presently "no King over the Jewish people, and each man does according to what is right in his eyes," since we are, after all, living in a democratic society. [They will then decide the issue of Jerusalem] as "three partners," in order of quantity, of course, which is the deciding factor in a democracy; first come the Christians, then the Muslims, and only then ... (Yesterday, the most important newspaper here, the New York Times, printed the latest approach, which was taken from the words of the Foreign Minister in the name of the Government: "It is the desire of the Israeli Government to retain "political control" over Jerusalem, and not to compromise on places upon which Israel's security depend, like the Golan Heights and certain other points on the West Bank of the Jordan." This is sufficient evidence for whoever understands.)
May it be G-d's Will that in approaching the month of redemption, the month of Kislev, we should be saved - even before the coming of Moshiach - from the modern-day Hellenists. Through the spreading of the wellsprings of Chassidus, which is the central theme of the holiday of redemption Yud-Tes Kislev, each individual will light flames using pure oil, which has not been tampered with by the hand of a stranger, or even lit by one, illuminating both the house and the outside world simultaneously, in an increasing and illuminating manner.
Respectfully, with blessings for true health and good news in all mentioned here and with blessings of Mazal Tov on the birth of your grandchild, may he live and be well,
28 Sivan, 5765 - July 5, 2005
Positive Mitzvah 236: Personal Injury
This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 21:18) "And one man hits another..."
If one person does cause personal injury to another he is liable to pay different kinds of damages. This positive mitzva includes the laws of fines and responsibilities a person must pay if he injures another.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Chutzpa, stiff-necked, stubborn. These are words which have been used to describe the Jewish people, not only by other nations, but even by our own prophets and the Torah itself.
Each and every trait that a person has can be used positively or in a less than positive way. This is even more so the case when an entire nation possesses some particular characteristic.
For thousands of years, the Jewish people have waited fairly patiently for G-d to "keep His promise to us" and send Moshiach.
Now, however, the time has come for us to use our characteristic obstinacy and toughness to demand that G-d send Moshiach now.
To illustrate this point more clearly, let me tell you about a real-life incident that someone related to me. Maybe you will even recognize your own children or yourself in this story.
A mother mentioned to her children that maybe she would take them to a toy store after school if, and it was a big "if," everything else during the day went as planned.
Afternoon came, and as each one came home from school, the children began to ask if they were, in fact, going to the store. The day, however, had not gone as planned, and the toy store was out of the question.
The normally well-behaved children began to beg, beseech, whine, and even demand that they be taken to the toy store. For days and days the children chided and cajoled their parents in an attempt to go to the store, an outing that hadn't even been promised, but was just a possibility.
We are all the children of our Heavenly Father. He never said that He would maybe bring Moshiach. He promised us!
We have been well-behaved children! It is time to use our stubbornness to beg, beseech, and demand of G-d that He keep His promise to us and bring Moshiach NOW.
The staff of Aaron blossomed and gave forth almonds (Num. 17:23)
The Rabbis explain that the entire cycle of the almond, from when it first buds to the finished fruit, is 21 days. For this reason, the translation of the Hebrew word for almond, "shaked," is "rush." This is similar to the blessings brought about by Aaron the high priest, which came quickly. The name "Aaron" also hints to the immediate visibility of the blessing since it is formed from the same letters as the word "nira," "seen."
And Moses got up and went to Datan and Aviram (Num. 16:25)
Rashi asks, "Why did Moses go to Datan and Aviram?" He answers, because he was sure that they would become more amenable to him - but they did not. We can learn from this a wonderful lesson in loving our fellow Jew. In the previous verse G-d said to Moses, "Get away from the dwellings of Korach, Datan and Aviram." Even so, Moses still sought a way to save them from their fate of being swallowed up by the earth. If Moses could feel this way toward such evil people, how much more so must the average Jew do all that is in his power to save someone who is in the category of "a baby that was kidnapped by non-Jews," to bring him closer to our Father in Heaven.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Now Korach took [a bold step] (Num. 16:1)
In a town close to Premishlan there erupted a controversy over a shochet (ritual slaughterer) who was accused of being lax in examining the lungs of the animal. The opposing sides went to Reb Meir of Premishlan to present their arguments. After listening, Reb Meir said: "Examining the lungs of the animal is a rabbinical injunction, whereas controversy is a prohibition from the Torah itself. Which is worse?" The tzadik continued: "I know you think that this controversy is for the sake of Heaven, and that your concern only stems from a desire to do good, but our rabbis say in the Ethics of the Fathers that the only controversy that was truly for the sake of Heaven was that between Hillel and Shammai in the Talmud. Only those who are on the spiritual level of a Hillel and a Shammai are engaging in controversy for the right reasons; all other controversy is like that of Korach and his contingent."
The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up (Num. 16:32)
Rabbi Zev Wolf of Strikov was once asked: Why were Korach and his followers punished by being swallowed up by the earth? He answered: Korach and his congregation fought against Moses, who was more humble than anyone "on the face of the earth." Moses considered himself as the dust on the ground. If so, there was no other place for Korach and his followers to descend other than underground!"
Every evening Reb Yisrael of Vizhnitz used to take a half hour stroll with his assistant. On one such evening, when they approached the house of a wealthy banker, Reb Yisrael stopped and knocked on the door.
The Rebbe's assistant wondered what this was all about, especially considering that this banker was no lover of the Chasidic movement and its rebbes. A servant answered the door and the assistant dutifully followed Reb Yisrael in.
The host received his guest with great respect. The rebbe took the seat offered him and sat for quite some time. Not a word was said between the two men.
The host knew that it would be disrespectful to directly ask the Rebbe the purpose for his visit, and so whispered his question to the assistant. The assistant, however, could be of no help since he himself did not know the reason for the intrusion.
After some more time passed, the Rebbe bid his host farewell and rose to leave. As a mark of respect, the banker accompanied the Rebbe the entire way home, back to the Rebbe's house. While standing outside the Rebbe's door, the banker could contain his curiosity no longer.
"Excuse me Rebbe, for my impertinence, but may I ask what was the purpose of of your visit?" questioned the banker.
"I went to your home to fulfill a mitzva (commandment)," answered the Rebbe, "thank G-d, I was able to fulfill it!" "Which mitzva?" asked the bank manager in surprise. "Our Sages teach," explained the Rebbe, "that just as it is a mitzva to say something which a person will listen to, so too it is a mitzva not to say something which one is certain will not be listened to. In order to fulfill this mitzva properly, one must go to the person who will not listen to. And that is exactly what I did," said the Rebbe with a smile.
The bank manager's curiosity was now truly aroused. "And what is it Rebbe," asked the manager, "that you refrained from saying to me? Maybe I will listen."
"I am afraid I can not tell you. I believe you will not listen."
The longer the Rebbe refused, the more curious the bank manager became. He continued to press the Rebbe to reveal that which he wouldn't do.
After some time, the Rebbe finally relented. "very well. There is an impoverished widow who owes your bank a large sum of money for the mortgage on her house. In a few days, your bank is going to take her house away from her, she will be out on the street. I had wanted to ask you to overlook her debt, but since I knew you wouldn't listen, I didn't ask you."
"But how could you even have considered asking me of such a thing?" said the amazed bank manager. "This woman owes the money to the bank, not to me personally. In addition, it is a tremendous amount of money."
"It is just as I had thought," said the Rebbe, sadly. "You did not want to hear." The conversation was thus ended. The Rebbe entered his home, and the bank manager went back to his.
But the Rebbe's words gave him no peace. He thought about them over and over again, until he finally paid the widow's debt out of his own money.
The Torah that was given on Mount Sinai also includes, "All the new concepts to be developed by an experienced Torah scholar." In an expanded sense, this also refers to the new concept developed by a child today when he expresses his hope that Moshiach will come. This will bring about a new expression of G-dly influence, for G-d, motivated by His great love for the Jews - a love that relates to children as reflected in the verse, "Israel is a youth and I love him" - will bring about the Redemption in an unlimited manner.
(28 Sivan, 5751, the anniversary of the arrival of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to America)