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When's a good time to be happy? Anytime! But especially now, as we approach the Jewish month of Adar, concerning which our Sages state: "When Adar starts, we increase our simcha - joy."
As such, let's take a look at some of the words of our Sages and Chasidic teachings about the importance of joy and happiness in our lives.
King David in Psalms advises us, "Serve G-d with joy, come before Him with jubilation."
The power of joy is unlimited, for, as stated in the Talmud, "Joy breaks all boundaries."
In addition, G-d attaches a great deal of importance to joy, for "The Divine Presence rests only upon one who performs a mitzva (command-ment) in a joyous spirit." (Talmud)
In fact, it is said about the famous 16th century Kabalist, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, that he merited Divine inspiration and even to meet Elijah the Prophet, because he infused his mitzvot with so much joy.
Simcha, joy, is one of the most essential elements of the Chasidic way of life. In the early stages of the Chasidic movement, before the name "Chasidim" was coined, Chasidim were often referred to in Yiddish as "di freilicha," meaning, "the happy ones."
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidut, would say that sometimes, when the Yetzer Hara (the Evil impulse) tries to persuade a person to commit a sin, it does not care whether or not the person will actually sin.
What it is looking for is that after sinning, the person will become depressed and overcome with sadness. In other words, the depression that follows the sin can cause more spiritual damage than the actual sin itself.
The Chasidic master Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin taught that depression is considered the threshold of all evil. He said that although the 365 negative commandments do not include a commandment not to be depressed, the damage that sadness and depression can cause is worse than the damage that any sin can cause.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that if the Jewish people already begin now to rejoice in the Redemption, out of our absolute trust that G-d will speedily send us Moshiach, this joy in itself will (as it were), compel G-d to fulfill His children's wish and to redeem them from exile.
In Tanya, the basic work of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, Rabbi Shneur Zalman used the example of two wrestlers to describe the importance of joy:
"With a victory over a physical obstacle, such as in the case of two individuals who are wrestling with each other, each striving to throw the other - if one is lazy and sluggish he will easily be defeated and thrown, even though he be stronger than the other, exactly so it is in the conquest of one's evil nature; it is impossible to conquer it with laziness and heaviness, which originates in sadness and in a heart that is dulled like a stone, but rather with alacrity, which derives from joy and from a heart that is free and cleansed from any trace of worry and sadness. This is a cardinal principle."
A Chasid once wrote to the third Chabad Rebbe, the "Tzemach Tzedek," that he found it difficult to be happy.
The Tzemach Tzedek advised him:
"Thought, speech and action are within one's control. A person must guard his thoughts and think only thoughts that bring joy; he should be cautious not to speak about sad or depressing matters; and he should behave as if he were very joyous, even if he doesn't feel especially happy. In the end, he will ultimately be joyous."
What can you do to help a friend out of a slump if he isn't too happy? Tell him some good news, as our Sages advised, for good news gladdens the heart and good tidings expand the mind.
Adapted in part from The Chassidic Approach to Joy by Rabbi Shloma Majeski
The conclusion of this week's Torah reading, Mishpatim, speaks about the Jews' acceptance of the Torah that G-d gave them. Last week's Torah reading spoke about the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people by G-d. Why is this repetition necessary?
There two dimensions to the event at Sinai: G-d's perspective and ours. The previous portion, Yitro, relates that G-d gave the Torah, making it possible for man to relate to Him on His frequency. Until the Torah was given, there was an unbreachable chasm dividing man from G-d. For there is no other channel through which a finite man can relate to G-d in His infinity. By giving the Torah, G-d reached out to man and granted him the opportunity to connect himself to G-d on G-d's terms.
The portion of Mishpatim focuses on man's response to G-d's initiative. To what extent are we willing to commit ourselves to Him?
There are some who are prepared to do what G-d says when it makes sense. If there is a Divine commandment that they appreciate and feel a connection to, they will observe it. If, however, they do not understand, then they will pass.
Is there anything wrong with that approach? Well, such a person is not bad. He or she may indeed be quite refined and very pleasant company. Nevertheless, if the decision whether or not to follow a command is based on the person's logic or desires, he is not making a commitment to G-d; he is basically serving himself. He is his own man, not G-d's.
Ultimately, that can lead to a difficulty, for a person who is determining what is right or wrong on his own can easily err. Self-love is the most powerful bribe there is, and it is possible that it will warp a person's perception until he will confuse good and evil, defining values solely on the basis of his own self-interest.
Moreover, even when the person does not fall prey to such failings and is able to maintain exemplary standards of conduct, something is missing. The word mitzva (commandment) relates to the word tzavta, meaning "connection." When a person fulfills a mitzva only because of the dictates of mortal wisdom, his observance lacks the fundamental awareness of the bond with G-d that the mitzva establishes.
At Sinai, the Jews accepted the Torah by saying: "We will do and we will listen," expressing their commitment to follow G-d's will even before they heard - let alone understood - what He would command. By doing so, they adopted an objective standard of good and evil, for it would be the Torah's guidelines and not their own subjective feelings that would determine their values.
But more than that, giving such a spiritual blank check is the most appropriate way to respond to G-d's initiative. It implies that just as He is boundless and unlimited, we are prepared to open ourselves to Him in an boundless and unlimited way. This enables the Torah to bring about a complete bond with Him, tying us not only to the dimensions of Him that we can comprehend, but to His infinite aspects which defy all human understanding.
From Keeping In Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
From Helmet to Kipa
by Aaron Howard
Hey, sports fans! How many Jewish professional football players have won a Super Bowl ring?
The answer is: two. One of them is former Dallas Cowboys lineman Alan Veingrad.
Veingrad was an offensive lineman at Texas A&M University-Commerce (East Texas State University). He signed with the Green Bay Packers as a free agent in 1986 and played four seasons with the Packers.
In 1991, Veingrad moved to the Dallas Cowboys. The following year, the Cowboys won the NFC East with a record of 13-3-0 and then defeated the Buffalo Bills, 52-17, in the Super Bowl. Veingrad retired after the 1992 season, having played in 86 career NFL games.
Having played in the NFL, people want to know how he went from the secular world to being a Lubavitcher. "I wear a yarmulke and tzitzit and daven (pray) three times a day in a minyan," he says. "I don't feel it's a radical change. I put my toe in the water; it felt nice, so I jumped in. Some of my Jewish friends argue with me. But I lived the way they did for 40 years."
A 1981 graduate of Miami Sunset Senior High School, Veingrad went to East Texas State, where he was named team captain of the football team as well as making All Conference and All American. Oh yes, he also graduated on the dean's list.
Veingrad says that being a full-time Jew is a lot like being a professional football player. "In the NFL, all the time you think about football: from gaining weight to run and pass blocking; from pumping weights to the play book. Everything I learned in football, I can apply to making my Judaism the center of my life. You're praying to G-d in shul, and so you have to come in with the same focus [that you have when you come into a football game]. You can inspire yourself by continually learning. Every chance I get, I read or go to a shiur [Torah class] or ask questions."
Veingrad left football in 1993. Recently married, he only had started five or six games for the Cowboys in 1992. "I was anxious to get on with my life," he says. "I had some aches and pains and thought maybe it was time for me to retire. If a football player has these feelings, he may lose concentration, and you can get terribly injured playing football."
Retiring from football proved to be more difficult than Veingrad imagined. "I went from college to the pros," he says. "You have an itinerary. Every day of the week is scheduled for you. You got your locker, daily meetings, the practices and you're making a great living. You are looked up to by everybody.
"And all of a sudden, you retire. Your entire life has been football. Now you have all this energy, and what are you going to do with all this energy? Where's my coach and where are my teammates? You're out in the real world.
"I know players who are retired for 10 to 12 years and still are going through these struggles," he says. Veingrad didn't seek counseling at the time. "I was married to a psychologist," he smiles, "but I went through struggles for about four or five years."
Did religion play a role when he was in football? Not especially, Veingrad says. Most of the players didn't know he was Jewish. "The offensive linemen were a team within the team," he says. "Most of them knew I was Jewish - and maybe some of the other guys I had relationships with. But it never was a factor. Teammates didn't care what religion you were. Guys would make comments about me being Jewish. But these were the same comments directed at the guy who was Samoan or African American. There was never any anti-Semitism."
"There's always a group of guys who have Bible study and pregame religious services," he continues. "And there's a religious service in the hotel or some kind of spiritual inspiration given to the players. The team would get down on their knees and say the 'Lord's Prayer.' I felt like I was part of the team, but I'd make my own prayer. There's nothing wrong with the outward display of praying."
In January 2004, Veingrad made a decision: Friday night steaks and drinks no longer cut it. Becoming Shomer Shabbat [Sabbath observant] was the culmination of a religious journey that began over a decade earlier with a Friday-night Shabbat meal at his cousin's Miami Beach house.
"My cousin invited me to a Torah class in Miami," Veingrad says, "and I decided to go to one class. It hit me up the side of the head. Torah was like a road map for life."
In August 2003, a newspaper published one of those "where are they now" stories in the sports section. The reporter wrote that Veingrad was spending his time fishing, kayaking and playing with his kids.
"I read the article and thought, 'You really have a shallow life, Alan.' I was missing something. It was all playing. There was no meaning. I told my family I wanted to live a Shomer Shabbat lifestyle." Veingrad's kids, aged 11, 8 and 6, now attend Hebrew day school.
"You'd think they were religious kids all their lives," he says. "They saw me getting tangled up putting on tefillin and they flew with me as quick as they could go. Now, they're telling me what I'm doing wrong."
And football has become increasingly peripheral to his life. "Over the years, so many other things have become more important to me."
FYI: Edward Newman of the Miami Dolphins is the other Jewish football player. Reprinted with permission of the Jewish Herald-Voice, Houston, Texas.
Join Jewish couples, singles and families as they experience an unforgettable Shabbaton weekend March 3 - 5 featuring thought-provoking lectures, discussions and workshops - accompanied by delicious cuisine, amidst the warmth of Chasidic family life. Go behind the scenes of the famous story of Purim with Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Jacobson and Mrs. Chana Rachel Schusterman -beyond the hamantaschen, costumes and even the megila - and discover how Purim reveals the deepest secrets to personal empowerment, fulfillment, and life itself. Enjoy the weekend's meaningful guided Shabbat morning services with singing and soulful spirit...a delicious Shabbat lunch...time to relax and socialize with other Shabbaton guests. For more info or reservations visit www.shabbaton.org or call 718-774-6187
Erev Shabbos Parshas Shekolim, 5726 
To All Participants in the
"Evening With Lubavitch" in
G-d bless you -
Greeting and Blessing:
It is significant that the "Evening With Lubavitch" is taking place on Rosh Chodesh Adar [the new month of Adar]. In olden days, when the Beis Hamikdosh [Holy Temple] was in existence, the first day of Adar was noted for the "Shekolim Call" which went out on that day, whereupon every Jew contributed a half-shekel [coin] to the Sanctuary chest which provided the public sacrifices in behalf of all the Jewish people.
The saintly Rebbe the "Tzemach Tzedek" (so named after his monumental Halachah [Jewish Law] work) [Rabbi Menachem Mendel, third Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch] - and this year marks the 100th anniversary of his demise - in discussing the Mitzvah [commandment] of Machtzis haShekel [the half shekel] in one of his renowned Chassidic-philosophical works, offers some insights into this Mitzvah requiring no more and no less than half a shekel. It indicates, he explains, that when a Jew makes a contribution toward a sacred cause, it is immediately matched by a similar benevolence from G-d to him, in accordance with the principle that human initiative acts like an impulse which calls forth a corresponding impulse from On High. The two, together, constitute the complete Shekel haKodesh ("holy shekel").
Moreover, though human endeavor must be voluntary and spontaneous, the assurance has been given that where there is a resolute intention, the person receives aid from On High to carry it to fruition in the fullest measure.
To be sure, the physical Sanctuary in Jerusalem was destroyed and the sacrificial service has since been interrupted. Nevertheless, in a spiritual sense the Sanctuary and all that was connected with it have never ceased; they exist in our daily experience and practice of the Torah teachings and Mitzvos. This is one of the aspects of our infinite Torah, which is in no way subject to the limitations of time and place.
The Mitzvah of the Half Shekel teaches us, among other things, that human effort, provided it is sincere and resolute, is "met halfway" by Divine Grace. Thus, though the goal may, at first glance, seem too ambitious or even beyond reach, we are not limited to our own human resources, since our initial effort evokes a reciprocal "impulse" from On High which assures the attainment of even the "unattainable."
The Mitzvah of the Half-Shekel was originally related to the Beis Hamikdosh, where simple material objects were trans formed into things of holiness, through dedication and sacrifice. Such is the unlimited power which the Creator vested in the Jew by means of the Torah and Mitzvos originating in the En Sof (Infinite).
Every Jew has the power to transform small and ordinary things of nature into values and categories which transcend Nature - through living his daily life in accord with the will and command of G-d. In this way the Jew fulfills his purpose in life and the ultimate destiny of Creation, namely, to make an abode for the Holy One here on earth, in fulfillment of the Divine command, "Let them make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them." (Exod. 25:8).
To the realization of this destiny of the individual Jew and of the Jewish people as a whole, the Lubavitch activities in all parts of the world are dedicated.
I take this opportunity to extend prayerful wishes to each and all participants in the "Evening With Lubavitch." May it be a source of lasting inspiration to you all, and an abiding influence towards the experience of a fuller, nobler, and, indeed, holier daily life, where the material "half-shekel" is balanced by its heavenly counterpart "in the scale of holiness" (b'Shekel hakodesh), ensuring a harmonious and truly happy life, materially and spiritually.
Why do we use two loaves of challah at the Shabbat meals?
The two breads represent the double portion of manna that the Jews gathered each Shabbat eve while in the desert. This was in accordance with Moses' instruction, "Let no person go out from his place [to gather food] on the Sabbath day." There are various miracles associated with the manna. Regardless of how much a person gathered, he had the exact amount he needed. Anyone who, from lack of faith, left some over for the following day found his manna infested with maggots and worms except on Shabbat.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat, the joyous month of Adar will be blessed.
At a Chasidic gathering nearly 20 years ago, the Rebbe told the following story:
One of the tzadikim of Poland, when still a little boy, asked his father for an apple. His father, however, refused to give it to him.
The enterprising youngster proceeded to recite a blessing over the apple: "Baruch atah... borei pri haetz - Blessed are You... who created fruit of the trees!"
The father could not possibly allow the blessing to have been recited in vain. And so, he promptly handed the youngster the apple. The Rebbe used this story to illustrate the following point:
In our situation today, if the Jewish people begin now to rejoice in the Redemption, out of absolute trust that G-d will speedily send us Moshiach, this joy in itself will (as it were) compel our Father in heaven to fulfill His children's wish and to redeem them from exile.
Needless to say, the Rebbe was not suggesting the use of mystical incantations or the like to "force" the premature advent of the end of the exile. "We are simply speaking of serving G-d with exuberant joy," the Rebbe explained.
The month of Adar brings with it not only the injunction to increase in joy, but with every command we are also given the power and energy to fulfill that command.
So, right from the start of the month, let us increase in our happiness, do mitzvot with more enthusiasm, and rejoice NOW in the imminent Redemption.
These are the ordinances which you shall set before them (Ex. 21:1)
This section of the Torah comes immediately after the Revelation on Mount Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments. Yet what is enumerated here are not lofty principles pertaining to the relationship between G-d and man; they are very concrete laws governing man's relationship with his fellow man. We learn from this the lesson that "good manners are a prerequisite to Torah." Rabbi Mendel of Kotsk used to say: The same way that a book's preface informs the reader of the book's contents, a person's courtesy and manners indicate just how much Torah learning he has acquired.
Six years shall he serve, and in the seventh he shall go free (Ex. 21:2)
"Six years" symbolizes the six thousand years of the world's existence; "shall he serve" refers to our mission to learn Torah and perform mitzvot; "in the seventh" refers to the seventh millennium, when "he shall go free," when the Messianic Era shall reign on earth and G-dliness will no longer be hidden but revealed.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
For all manner of transgression...of which he can say, "this is it" (Ex. 22:80)
Pride is the root of all transgression. The essence of sin is when a person says of himself - "this is it" - "I am the most important thing in the whole world!"
(Rabbi Yisrael of Modzitz)
A woman once came to the Baal Shem Tov (BeShT) and begged him to bless her with a child. The Besht was unwilling at first, but when pressed, he finally assured her that within a year she would bear a son. A son was born to the woman and her husband and was a source of great joy to them.
When he was just two, the child suddenly died. The woman sadly returned to the Besht who told her, "Listen carefully to a story.
"A childless king once asked his wisest advisor how he could solve the dilemma of not having an heir.
"'No one can help you but the Jews,' said the advisor. 'You must tell the Jews that if, within a year, your wife does not give birth, they will be expelled from your kingdom. They will then pray that you beget a son.'
"The king issued the advisor's decree. The Jews gathered to pray, recite Psalms and fast. They entreated G-d to save them from this decree and their voices reached the heavens.
"A very lofty soul in heaven heard the outcry and told the Alm-ghty that he would be willing to be sent to the world below and live as the king's son. In this way he would save the Jewish people of that land.
"Within the year, the queen gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. At a young age the prince's genius was evident. Everything that he was taught he grasped immediately.
"One day, the prince told his father, 'I have learned all I can from the teachers in this kingdom. Find me a teacher with whom I can study something in which I can delight!'
"Soon after that, a wise and ancient looking scholar approached the king and offered to teach the prince. 'I have only one condition,' demanded the scholar. 'When I am alone in my study no one, not even the prince, is allowed to enter.' The King readily agreed, caring only to please his beloved son.
"The prince was enchanted with his new teacher. Day and night he studied with the scholar, always thirsting for more. The prince was only separated from his teacher while he slept, and at those times that his teacher insisted on being alone in his study.
"One day the prince succumbed to his curiosity and entered his teacher's quarters. He opened the study door and was astounded to see his teacher swaying back and forth, covered with a white and black cloth, and leather straps around his arm. He gasped and the teacher turned to see his shocked disciple. 'You were not to enter,' he said firmly. The prince just nodded mutely.
"'Now that you know my secret, I must leave the kingdom,' said the scholar sadly.
"'But I know nothing,' cried the prince, for he had never seen a Jew in talit and tefilin.
'"I am a Jew,' explained the scholar.
"'Then I too, will be a Jew,' said the prince.
"Try as he did, to dissuade the prince, the scholar was unsuccessful. Finally he agreed to teach the prince Torah. As soon as they began studying, the prince realized that he had found that which had seemed to elude him all these years. Years flew by, with the prince always at the scholar's side. He drank in the words of Torah, never tiring of it.
"'It is time for me to become a Jew,' said the prince, now a young man, to his teacher.
"'You could not remain prince if you were to become a Jew,' warned the scholar. 'You would have to move away from the king to a distant land where he will not find you. Is it not better for you to stay here?'
"The prince was adamant, and so they told the king that the prince needed to learn firsthand about his father's vast country. With the king's reluctant permission, the prince and scholar traveled away from the palace toward the border of the kingdom. The prince crossed the border, converted, and settled down to a life of studying the Torah.
"When the prince died, his soul ascended to the World Above and not a single count could be charged against him. What could be said about a soul who had had such tremendous sacrifice to descend to the world in order to save the Jews from a terrible decree, and who had rejected the royal crow to become a Jew?
"But then, one angel said, 'For his first two years he was nursed by a non-Jew.' It was decreed that this soul, being so lofty, would need to descend into this World once again and be nursed by a Jewish woman."
The Besht then looked at the woman. "You need not be sad that you merited, for two years, to raise this lofty soul."
It is incumbent to await the coming of Moshiach every single day, and all day long... It is not enough to believe in the coming of Moshiach, but each day one must await his coming.. Furthermore, it is not enough to await his coming every day, but it is to be in the manner of our prayer, "we await Your salvation all the day," that is, to await and expect it every day, and all day long, literally every moment!
(Chafetz Chaim al Hatorah)