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Have you ever used an on-line translating service like babelfish or worldlingo? Have you read operating instruction written in English for a toy made in China that were Greek to you?
Translating requires great skill. The translator has to be fluent in both languages, the one he's translating from and the one he's translating to. Sometimes a translation captures the sense of the original, but not the rhythm of the language; it lacks the lyricism that made the original worth translating. Sometimes the words are right, but there's an awkwardness, a lack of grace. Translations can be too literal or too embellished; the translator can be self-indulgent, inserting his own ideas instead of being a transparent transmitter.
A good translation is a work of art in its own right. Yet, even with the skill, some words or idiomatic phrases just don't translate well.
For example, the Lubavitcher Rebbe pointed out that the common translation of three key Hebrew words fails to capture their essence. The words in Hebrew are tzedeka, teshuva and tefila, translated as charity, repentance and prayer, respectively.
Charity comes from the Latin word "caritas," meaning to care. The motive for giving charity is implicit in the term: we feel sorry for the other person, and are therefore moved to help. But the assistance we give depends on our feelings. Tzedeka, though, comes from "tzedek," the word for justice. We give tzedeka not because we feel sorry for someone, or even because we feel it's the right thing to do. We give tzedeka because it's an obligation - justice, Divine justice, demands it of us, and our feelings are irrelevant.
Similarly, to repent means to regret, to resolve to be different than one was; doing teshuva means to return to be the way one was before. Prayer means to ask or request; tefila means to connect.
If such basic terms are so easily mistranslated, what does that say of the process of translation in general? Granted, the problem may seem to be minor - are tefila, connecting, and prayer, requesting, really so far apart? But the results can be enormously damaging. Indeed, the Sages considered the translation of the Torah into Greek, ordered by King Ptolemy, as a devastating event. The day the Septuagint was finished became associated with the tenth of Tevet (commemorated this past month), a tragic day that marked the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.
Yet we can't live without translations. How many of us rely on a translation - into English, Spanish, Russian, etc - of the prayer book? While we would all probably agree that since the prayers were written in Hebrew, it would be better to pray in the original, is there anything wrong if we pray in English, or whatever language we understand?
Not at all! In fact, the Sages of the Talmud discussed this issue, asking when a translation might legitimately substitute for the original. And when it comes to prayer, it should only be Greek if you're Greek.
Of course, the translations have to be as accurate as possible. But when we know that the translation is universally accepted we can feel comfortable that the words in English (or whatever language) reflect the rhythm and convey the concepts of the original.
The point is, not knowing Hebrew isn't a barrier to learning about Judaism, or to praying. Today more than ever, it's all out there, in a language we can understand.
Seven of the ten plagues that were visited upon the Egyptians are described in this week's Torah reading, Vaeira. The purpose of these plagues was, as G-d told Moses: "So that you will be able to tell your children and grandchildren how I have made sport from Egypt, performing miraculous signs there."
Pharaoh is identified with his stubborn boasts, "I do not know G-d," and "the river is mine and I have fashioned it," denying G-d's influence in our world and replacing it with a belief in self and man's power.
The fundamental purpose of the plagues was to negate this approach, to manifest G-dliness openly so that all could see, and in doing so, to break the pride of Pharaoh and his nation.
G-d persisted in this endeavor until "Egypt [knew] that I am G-d," and Pharaoh's pride was crushed. Ultimately Pharaoh came to Moses in his nightclothes, entreating G-d's mercy.
And the evidence of G-d's influence in the world was not for Pharaoh alone. The miracles of the exodus serve as testimony of G-d's control of the natural order for subsequent generations as well. In Egypt, even Pharaoh had no choice but to acknowledge G-dliness. At other times, G-d's influence may not be as evident, but it is always G-d who is ordering our world and our destiny.
Nature itself is no more than a recurring series of miracles. For is there a reason why the sun should rise or the grass should grow?
But beyond the natural order, there is a G-dly hand directing our lives. Nothing happens by chance. Instead, in a way in which only His infinite wisdom can fully comprehend, G-d is guiding our lives and working miracles on our behalf.
This is one of the lessons of our Torah portion and the miracles of the plagues: to probe beneath the surface and become conscious of the involvement of G-d in our daily lives. The only difference between the plagues in Egypt and our present situation is the degree in which G-d's hand is overtly manifest, but the presence - and the working - of that hand always remains the same.
From Keeping in Touch, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos in English.
Kabala and Football: The Dream Team
by Esther Kosofsky
Did you hear the one about the Chabad Rebbetzin, the Muslim cleric and the Buddhist monk? No, this is not a new joke; it is a true story that happened to me.
I was contacted by the Southwick, Massachusetts, middle school and asked to participate in a religious diversity day when the students would be exposed to a variety of religions.
Realizing that I had been handed an irresistible opportunity, I agreed to attend, rather relieved to find out that the students would be split up and rotate from room to room to hear each representative individually.
As the day approached, my apprehension grew and I wondered what could I say that would impact the students, not just give them the answers they needed to fill out the charts the teachers had prepared. These charts asked the typical questions about special foods, places of worship, holidays, significant books, and of course the politically correct question - what is the role of women?
Southwick is a blue-collar town with very few Jews, so how could I reach out to them? The more I thought about it, the more concerned I became.
How could I leave the students with any meaningful information beyond terms such as synagogue, rabbi, gefilte fish and matza? How could I move them and inspire them to live more meaningful lives? I finally hit upon one of the great equalizers, sports and for this time of year, football.
The first group of students shuffled into the room clutching their important papers and pencils, eager to fill in the blanks under the "Jewish" column. While I certainly did not look like the religious leader they expected, they were not sure how to relate to a Jewish woman. They looked relieved that I did not have an accent, but they truly were not prepared for what I was about to describe.
"Imagine that you are a football coach" I began. Southwick is New England Patriots football country and the Patriots won two Super Bowls in the past three years, so when I saw some eyes light up and kids seemed to be paying attention, I knew it was a good beginning.
"Imagine," I continued, "you are the Patriots coach, coming off two world championships in two years. You are looking for a new challenge and are being offered two new options for coaching. Option A is to coach a team of hand picked all stars, players with instant name recognition. I am sure this team would include some famous players from the past - like Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, Johnny Unitas and Earl Campbell - and several current ones.
"With this team you could sit back and watch the players work together in harmony. All you would have to do is plan the Super Bowl victory party; the rest would be done for you. Just agree and you will go down in history as the coach of the best team of football players ever assembled. You will not only be the coach of the year, you might well be the considered the best coach ever.
"Option B would be to coach a team of, shall we say, misfits. This group of athletes is not quite in their prime, not quite as skilled and certainly not as talented as the first team. These players want to play but can't seem to get it together. These players have name recognition only with their mothers. They know the rules, but somehow come up short in execution. These are the players who might catch the ball and run towards the wrong goal and think they are actually scoring for their team.
"But do you know what qualities these players have? They have heart and they have the drive to win. With hard work and constant practice, with coaxing, convincing, and consistent leadership, there is a chance that these players might be able to be groomed into a winning team. If you can teach them the fundamentals, if you are committed to working with them and will give them a clear and attainable goal, it would be the greatest challenge but you might just surprise the world.
"So you have a choice, Option A, the dream team or Option B, the not ready for prime time players. And now," I asked the students, "which team would you rather coach?"
The overwhelming response was Option B and the reasons given were obvious: this team presented a challenge for the coach. If you are going to invest time and effort into a project, you want to know that you helped make a difference. If you believe in your squad and are willing to put up with them as they follow their learning curve, there is a slim possibility that you will see amazing results.
As I scanned the room and saw that the students were with me to this point, I was ready to help them make the leap into the next part of our discussion.
"Imagine you are G-d, and you want to coach a team, or in G-d's terms, you want to create a world. You already have a dream team; they are called angels. Angels don't fight, they don't get sick and they don't die. Angels listen to the word of G-d and carry out His request without question; in other words, they are perfect. But G-d wanted more.
"There is no challenge in 'coaching' angels. So what did G-d do? G-d created humankind, He created you and me and gave us a game plan, a guidebook that teaches us how to live a champion life. We might not get all the plays right, sometimes we think we are doing the right thing but then realize that we were confused and end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. We often stumble. Yet when we manage to overcome all of the setbacks and touch the divine within us, when we commit ourselves to a life of love and light, this causes the greatest satisfaction to G-d, the Creator of the universe."
While I may not have covered all the facts in my 30 minutes with each class, hopefully I gave them something to think about the next Sunday during kickoff: that we can all do something not only for ourselves but also for G-d.
Esther Kosofsky is an educator. She and her husband have been emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in western Massachusetts for the past 22 years.
Four young couples have moved to points near and far to bolster the activities of Chabad-Lubavitch Centers that already exist. Rabbi Shmuli and Raizy Binyamini arrived recently in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where their holiday events have already met with great success. Rabbi Levi and Miriam Hodakov will be moving soon to Palm Harbor, Florida, where their work will focus on community programming. Rabbi Yossi and Rachel Jacobs have relocated to Birmingham, England, and have begun their work with the Jewish community in that city. Rabbi Levi and Rivkah Landa are now in S. Louis, Missouri, and are involved in Chabad-Lubavitch programs throughout the greater S. Louis region.
13 Nissan, 5711 
Greetings and Blessings!
Your letter duly arrived, but numerous preoccupations did not allow me to reply until now. As a matter of fact you don't need my reply, because you received a reply from my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe, when you were here.
Nevertheless, I would like to reiterate something that I have already said a few times:
One ought to know, once and for all, that faith is not something that is meant to remain only in one's thoughts; it must permeate the whole of one's life.
You are, without any doubt, a believer. So, the very first point of belief is that G-d directs the world. And if He is capable of directing one-and-a-half billion people, then your own affairs will certainly see the fulfillment of the verse, "I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and deliver you."
Now, think this over. G-d promises, "I will sustain and deliver you." So think: Can a gentile from this or that land disturb G-d from fulfilling His promise (G-d forbid)? Having thought that, now consider: Is G-d really in need of your worry as to how He is going to run your affairs and solve your problems? Or will He succeed in finding good solutions even without your worrying?
After all is said and done, you must remember that the Rebbe - that is, my revered father-in-law, of saintly memory - gave you his blessing, and the blessing of a tzaddik is certainly fulfilled.
So the blessing you received will also be fulfilled.
However, until you see the fulfillment of the blessing, you have been given two options:
Either (a) you will walk around worried in case (G-d forbid) the blessing won't be fulfilled. And then, when the blessing is fulfilled, you will have a fresh worry: Why did you have to waste so much vital energy in vain?
Or (b) you will be staunch in your trust and faith in G-d - that He will lead you along the right path and will fulfill all the blessings that you have been given.
And then, when you see them being fulfilled in actual fact, you will able to tell yourself: "Just look how well I handled this deal! I didn't worry about things that were no cause for concern."
This is one of the meanings of my father-in-law's blessings to you, and not only as a blessing but also as a directive. Be happy, because - with G-d's help - the problems that you imagine to be so serious will be solved.
You have nothing to worry about. You can be happy, and you can fulfill the directive of the verse, "Serve G-d with joy." ...
10 Kislev, 5712 
Blessings and Greetings!
I received your undated letter of a few lines, and, as you request, I will mention your name when I visit the holy resting place of my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe, of blessed memory.
I was surprised to read in your letter that "if, G-d forbid, an unpleasant incident were to occur, and so on...." There is no need for lengthy explanations as to how vital is the attribute of placing one's trust in G-d.
This is especially true today, when all of us, the surviving remnant, are living testimony to manifest miracles by the very fact that we are alive. But [this does need to be said]: This very thought - as to what will happen if, G-d forbid, a misfortune occurs - is itself a misfortune.
In our days, when there is such broad scope for great work in every single field, and when one can clearly see that there is much work to be done and the time is short, it is a pity that mental energy and vigor are used and wasted on such thoughts, when they are so desperately needed for the labors of foundation and construction. In particular does this apply to all those who have been invested with capacities bequeathed to them by many generations of men of stature. For them, every moment during which they do not exploit those capacities for the above goal is a grievous sin. And if this is true of people of advanced years, how much more is it true of those [young] people who have only recently set up their Jewish homes. Clearly, they have no license to calculate "what will be if...," and so on, when the Master is pressing. True, "you are not obligated to complete the work"; at the same time, "nor are you free to desist from it."
You no doubt participate in an appropriate manner in the work of kosher education in the Holy Land (May it be built up!), for this is a field whose situation is severe, extremely dangerous, and in vital need.
I conclude with regards to your husband, though I do not know him, and with blessings that you should actively fulfill [the verse which serves as] the motto of the Baal Shem Tov - "Serve G-d with joy" - in accordance with the requirement of our faith, that every moment of life is a moment of Divine service.
From In Good Hands, translated by Rabbi Sholom Ber Wineberg, published by Sichos In English
3 Shevat, 5766 - February 1, 2006
Positive Mitzva 23: The Service of the Levites
This mitzva is based on the verse (Num. 18:23) "But the Levites shall do the service of the Tent of Meeting" The service of the Levites in the Holy Temple involves many different jobs. Among them is closing the Temple gates. They are also commanded to play musical instruments and sing in harmony with the service in the Holy Temple. To this very day, some of the same songs which the Levites sang are recited in our prayers.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we bless the new month of Shevat. The Jewish people are likened to the moon. Just as the moon temporarily wanes, but is restored and renewed again, so will the Jewish people be restored from the present darkness of exile to a bright and shining luminary.
However, the comparison of the Jews to the phases of the moon seems, at first glance, faulty. The Jews in exile really are small and "diminished." But the phases of the moon are only apparent. There really is no change in shape or brightness. The only distinction between the new moon and the dark phase prior to the new moon is how it is viewed on the earth. The moon itself never really changes. The portion of the moon that faces the sun is always illuminated; the portion of the moon that doesn't face the sun is always dark.
Nevertheless, comparison of the Jews to the moon really is quite accurate. In describing the creation of the sun and the moon, the Torah says "...let them be for lights... to illuminate the earth." Thus, the true purpose of the moon is to illuminate the earth. Even when the moon is complete and physically perfect, if it does not fulfill its mission of illuminating the earth, it is, according to Torah, non-existent.
If the moon illuminates with one-quarter of its potential, it is called a quarter moon; if it illuminates fully, it is called a full moon. When the moon does not shine at all, in essence it isn't there. It is essentially in a state of preparation for renewal and for fulfillment of its real purpose - to illuminate the earth.
Physically speaking, the Jewish people always exist. Jews are eternal because they are a portion of their Creator who is eternal. But as long as they are in exile they cannot properly fulfill their essential function - to serve their Creator. In exile, Jews are like the "invisible" moon which though existing materially, is not fulfilling its mission of illuminating the earth.
In the Messianic World, we will be able to fulfill our mission completely, like the moon after it is renewed - when it achieves its destiny and illuminates the world. Let's be there to see it.
Behold the Children of Israel didn't listen to me. How, then will Pharaoh listen to me? (Ex. 6:12)
Why is Moses comparing the Children of Israel to Pharaoh? The Children of Israel didn't listen to Moses because of their "impatience of spirit and cruel bondage." What excuse could Pharaoh have for not listening to G-d's word? It is specifically because Pharaoh had no reason not to listen that Moses didn't want to approach him. What if, after all, Pharaoh - an idol worshipper - listened to G-d while the Children of Israel hadn't? Surely this would put the Children of Israel in a bad light. For this reason, Moses didn't want to go to Pharaoh.
(Rabbi Y. Eibishitz)
I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan... (Ex. 6:4)
Who is the "them" to whom G-d promised to give the land? "Them," refers literally to our forefathers. But if they had already passed away, how could they receive the land of Israel? From here we learn about the Resurrection of the Dead. Even though they are no longer alive, the land will still be given to our ancestors because in the days of Moshiach, they, and all Jews, will come back to life.
(Yalkut Shimoni 6:176)
I stood you up [i.e. kept them alive], to show you My power (kochi) and to declare My name throughout all the earth... (Ex. 9:16)
G-d kept the Egyptians alive during the plague of pestilence so that they would live to witness additional acts of Divine might. The term used in the above verse to denote G-d's power is "koach." This expression is used rather than a word such as "gevura," meaning "strength" to teach us that in Egypt, G-d used only part of His strength. When the final redemption comes, G-d will reveal His full might.
One day while Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha was studying Torah with his students, a gentile entered the study hall and listened to the discussion that was taking place. His interest, however, was far from sincere. In fact, his only reason for coming was in order to glean some bits of Torah wisdom which he could then twist and use to the detriment of the Jewish people.
He understood Hebrew well, and stood quietly in the back, listening and waiting for just the right moment to spring. His plan was to put a question to Rabbi Yehoshua, and then use his own arguments to prove the rabbi wrong in front of his students. If he played his cards right, he might even succeed in sowing doubts in the minds of the young students and win them over to the ways of idolatry.
The moment came and the gentile confronted the sage. "I have a question for you. How is it that although you Jews sit all day and night and study your Torah, you still don't fulfill its precepts properly?"
Rabbi Yehoshua had seen these types before. He responded with a calm demeanor: "What exactly do you mean? What have you seen us do to cause you to think that we have transgressed the laws of our Torah?"
"It is not just to one particular law that I refer, but rather to the whole spirit of the Torah, for isn't it written in your Torah that 'the minority should follow the majority'? That seems to mean that if one holds a certain view while all others differ, he should follow the view of the majority. So why is it that there are many more idol-worshippers in the world than there are Jews, and yet you stubbornly insist upon following your own religion. So, you are transgressing your own laws by refusing to worship idols."
Rabbi Yehoshua had heard this foolish argument before, and he realized that the gentile had completely misunderstood the meaning of the verse he was quoting. The verse actually referred to decisions made by the Sanhedrin [the Supreme Court] while judging a case which demanded the death penalty. Then, only by a majority of two or more judges is it possible to decide for capital punishment.
Rabbi Yehoshua understood that the motives of the gentile were corrupt, and he decided not to explain the true meaning of the words to him. The idol-worshipper might distort his words and try to harm the Jews in some way. No, what he would do was to answer him in such a way that he would never try such a trick again.
Rabbi Yehoshua turned to the man and asked, "Do you have any sons?"
The man's expression changed in an instant from one of haughtiness to one of profound sadness. "How did you know? I have many sons, but they give me only trouble. Every night when the family sits down to dine, each of my sons blesses his own idol. Then the arguments begin. One son says that his idol is the true one, the next son screams, 'That's a lie - only mine is true!' And these arguments go on and on until everyone is too upset to eat. Sometimes, actual fist-fights break out and blood flows."
"How terrible!" said Rabbi Yehoshua. "I don't understand why you are unable to make peace between your children. Surely you must side with one or the other, and you can bring the others into agreement with you."
"That's not true at all! They are all mistaken; only my idol is the true one, and I can't convince them of it. There will never be peace in my home."
Rabbi Yehoshua faced the idol-worshipper and reprimanded him sharply, saying, "If you can't even make peace between your own children, how dare you come here with your phony questions!" The idol-worshipper turned on his heels and left, and was never seen there again.
Rabbi Yehoshua's students surrounded their teacher, praising him for his clever answer. "Master," they said, "it is explicitly written in the Torah in so many places that it is forbidden to worship idols. How could he have imagined that G-d would want us to follow a majority of idol-worshippers? But, tell, us, please, is his question mentioned anywhere in the Torah?"
Rabbi Yehoshua replied to them: "It may have seemed to you that I was just joking with that man, but that is not the case. My answer was serious. This man was suggesting that we must always follow the majority, even if they are evil, and that is why he asserts that we must worship idols, G-d forbid. But in truth, the gentiles are not a majority, for they are descended from Esau and have no unity amongst themselves. Since each of them has his own opinion, they consist of many individuals, rather than a unified group.
"The Jewish people, on the contrary, are descended from Jacob, and are united in service to G-d. The Torah refers to Esau, saying 'all the souls in his house' - souls in the plural, since they are divided in their opinions.
"Describing Jacob, it is written, 'all the people were seventy soul' - soul, in the singular, for all of them worshiped only the One G-d. From this we can see how exact are all the words of Torah. Nothing is extra, and each letter has deep meaning."
According to the command and directive of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, the emphasis now is on bringing the Redemption, to the extent that all our actions and deeds, including spreading the fountains of Chasidism to the outside, is permeated with the purpose and intent to bring Moshiach! All of this should be done with the knowledge and awareness that this is the unique mission of this generation - to bring the Redemption!
(The Lubvitcher Rebbe, Sefer Hasichos 5748 p.630)