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Even for those who need them, and however much we need them, car pools are inconvenient. Whether it's adults carpooling to work or parents carpooling kids to school, we always have to wait for someone. We have to drive out of our way. Then this one forgot his lunch or important paper and your kid is fighting with one of the other kids.
Whose turn is it to drive? You've got a doctor's appointment, but you don't want to switch with the driver from family A because he'll hold it against you and driver B has some other issue.
Car pools don't always produce tension, of course. But even if only on a minimum level, they're inconvenient. If we get sick (G-d forbid), arrangements have to be made. We may have to be at work by 8:45 a.m. sharp, but everyone else doesn't need to be at work until 9. On our own, we can make sure we get there on time. In a car pool, there's a tension.
We have to compromise. We have to consider others. We have to limit family conversations and be careful what's on the radio. Little considerations threaten to become major irritants.
Car pools have many advantages. We know that. They save gas, wear and tear on the car, money - everything that accrues from sharing resources. They can even start out as an arrangement between acquaintances, perhaps strangers, and end up being an understanding between friends.
Car pools have a single purpose and exist for only reason: to get everyone to the same destination at the same time. So we put up with the inconveniences, the idiosyncrasies and the irritations because the goal - getting there - is more important, individually and collectively.
Car pools can be seen as a microcosm of the Jewish people, of what Jewish life is all about. Judaism focuses on children. So much revolves around their schedules, not that of the adults.
But even an adult carpool contains a core of comparison: Judaism insists that we wait for every Jew. When it comes time for the Redemption, no Jew will be left behind. And so the scholars and the unlearned, the wealthy and the poor, the "big mitzva doers" and the mitzva strugglers, all have to adjust their schedules for each other. Because some mitzvot only the wealthy can do while others only the poor can do. Some only the strugglers can do while others are for the easy-street-it's-a-breeze mitzva doers...
In a car pool, we have to be considerate of those who are, not strangers, but not immediate family, either. That sensitivity, that paradigm of outreach parallels Judaism's demand that we concern ourselves with others. It's possible to car pool in silence, of course, be distracted by passing cars and momentary noise, or tune in to even more transient talk radio. But car pools, ultimately, can transport minds as well as bodies. It's the attention we pay to others and the sharing of the journey.
Car pools exist only to get everyone to the same destination on time, together. And we might say that's why Torah exists - to get everyone, all the Jewish people, indeed the whole world, to the same destination - Redemption - on time and together.
This week we read two Torah portions, Vayakel and Pekudei. The portion of Vayakel describes the speed and enthusiasm with which the Children of Israel fulfilled the commandment of building the Mishkan (Sanctuary). The men, women and children brought more donations than were required.
The commandment to build the Sanctuary was an atonement for the sin of the golden calf. The participation of all the Jews was necessary to build the Sanctuary as the sin of the golden calf affected the Jewish nation as a whole.
The sin of the golden calf was so great that an element of punishment for it exists in every misfortune which has befallen the Jews since. How, then could building the Sanctuary have atoned for such a transgression?
Moses Maimonides teaches that idolatry does not mean that one absolutely denies the existence of G-d. If one believes in a Supreme Being, yet maintains that there are other powers which control the world, that, too, is idolatry. Even more subtly: It is an idolatrous notion to believe that there is any other existence in this world besides G-dliness.
The complete opposite of and negation of idolatry is the belief in the Unity of G-d - the realization that "there is none except Him." This is the knowledge that not only are there no other powers or influences on the world, but that there is no other reality except for G-dliness. The world exists from moment to moment only because of the infinite power of the eternal G-d.
We can accustom ourselves to think in this manner by acting according to the commandment, "In all your ways shall you know Him." The expression of this commandment is in every detail of our lives; and that by our every thought, word and action we can attach ourselves to Him.
By fulfilling this commandment we can transform even a mundane activity into an act of worship. If, for instance, when we take a walk, we use the opportunity to appreciate the wonders of nature that G-d has made, we turn the stroll itself into something holy. We reveal His greatness and the holiness which surrounds us.
In this light we can see how the Sanctuary achieved atonement for the golden calf. The Sanctuary was the place where the Divine Presence was revealed in the physical world. When the Jews donated their possessions in order to build it, they transformed them into something holy. Their mundane possessions were elevated by becoming part of the Sanctuary, and the Jews acknowledged the unity of all matter in G-dliness. The physical realm has no less potential for holiness than does the spiritual realm. All reality is only G-dliness.
Our goal in life is to strive towards this realization, and to dedicate even our most inconsequential actions towards revealing the G-dliness hidden within.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
In Spite of Myself
by Tzvi Jacobs
The year was 1994, two weeks before Passover. Our youngest daughter, Mariasha, who had just turned two years, lay next to her mommy on the couch. Mushkie and Nechama were lying on the rug, coloring in their Passover Hagadas.
A week earlier, on the 27th day of Adar, the Lubavitcher Rebbe had suffered a second stroke.
I looked at my children and at my wife who had recently left her job as she was due to give birth soon. I felt that it would be self-centered to write to the Rebbe at this time, pleading, give me, give me, give me. But money was extremely tight and deep down in my soul, it was not for me or my family, it was G-d's desire that we work in this world and make a dwelling place for His presence.
So, at the beginning of Nisan, during my wife's ninth month, I wrote a letter to the Rebbe, requesting the customary blessing for an easy delivery and a healthy baby. I then added in embarrassment a request for a blessing for ample livelihood. I mailed the letter to the Rebbe's office at 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York.
A few days later, Roz Durkin of Arc Medical Personnel called me at my job at SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals. "Mr. Jacobs, a year ago you completed an application at our agency. There's a great opportunity at Sandoz that we think will be perfect for you."
Ms. Durkin told me about a temporary clerical position in the biostatistics department at Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, now known as Novartis. A year earlier I had done a 6-month temp job in the consumer products group at Sandoz, fielding complaints and writing letters to customers.
I had left Sandoz and took a temp job at SmithKline writing stability reports because I wanted to head towards scientific or medical writing. "Ms. Durkin, I don't want my career to go backwards."
Ms. Durkin was not swayed by my argument. "Granted, it's clerical work," she said, "but you'll be working with statisticians. What's more, because of your background, we talked them into paying you a decent hourly rate."
When she told me the amount, my heart sunk. "I was getting that much before my last pay raise. I need another 25% on top of that."
"Let me check with them to see if they're willing to go higher," Ms. Durkin said, refusing to give up so fast.
The next day, Ms. Durkin called. "Tzvi, they want to interview you. How does next Wednesday look?"
The Jewish calendar on my desk pulled my eyes straight to the day. Next Wednesday, 11th day of Nissan - the Rebbe's birthday! Oh, good, I'll get onto the Sandoz campus and, after the interview, visit my old buddies in the consumer products building, and perhaps give them handmade shmura matza. Helping assure that every Jew have shmura matza to eat at the Passover Seder was one of the Rebbe's campaigns. What better present to give the Rebbe on his birthday.
The following night, on Saturday night just after midnight, I drove Esther to the hospital. At 3:30 a.m. Chana, our precious little bundle of joy was born.
The next morning, I went to Sandoz for my interview. Dr. John Lambert, head of the biostatistics department, said that they were busy working on a new drug application for an improved version of Sandoz's blockbuster drug, Sandimmune, a life-saving drug that prevents rejection of organ transplants.
"It's chemical name is cyclosporine, right?" I asked.
"Yes, exactly," Dr. Lambert said. "I'm impressed that you know the name."
"Well, I just wrote a story that involved this drug."
"You just wrote about it?"
"Yes, a friend of my parents recently received a kidney transplant. The surgeon said that before Sandimmune the majority of transplants were rejected by the recipients."
"I'd love to read the story," Dr. Lambert said. "It's uncanny that you just wrote this story."
"Yes, it is. My mother pushed me to write it."
After meeting the chief statistician, Dr. Dar Shong Wong, and other key people in the department, Dr. Lambert brought up the topic of pay. "I understand that you want to make more than your current pay." He offered me an amount that was more than I was making.
"Sounds good," I said. "But frankly," I said, still feeling nonchalant about doing clerical work, "two more dollars an hour would be better. It's an agency job, so I have to pay for my own health insurance and so on."
After the interview, I drove to Building 701 and visited at least a dozen Jews that I knew in the building from the previous year and gave them shmura matza and the Rebbe's birthday issue of L'Chaim. Joe, a marketing maven, was especially happy to see me. "Tzvi, that matza you gave me last year was the hit of our Passover seder. What did you put in it? Everyone was drawn to it. They didn't stop eating it until every crumb was gone."
That afternoon I returned to my desk at SmithKline and received a call. "Tzvi, it's Roz Durkin. I have great news for you. You've got the job! And not only that, they're offering to pay you the amount you asked - the higher amount."
"Wow, thank G-d."
"You should know that's twice the amount that they were originally offering to pay someone. You must have an angel praying for you."
"Not an angel, a special rabbi, a very holy rabbi."
The Jewish community of Khabarovsk, Russia, will soon be welcoming a new couple. Rabbi Yisrael Noach and Yehudis Kaminetsky are moving to this Far East city as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. They will be strengthening the work of the emissaries who are already there.
The widely acclaimed Exodus multi-media production is being hosted this year by the Jewish Children's Museum in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. A time machine takes the audience back to Egypt, to the days when the Jews were slaves. Children visit Pharoah's palace, witness the ten plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea as well as the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. For more info call the JCM at (718) 467-0600 or visit www.jcm.museum
27 Teves, 5720 
Greetings and Blessings!
This is in reply to your letter of 22 Teves, in which you write that you are bothered by a stammer and that you have consulted a doctor but this did not help.
This is a little surprising, for specialists in this field have a variety of techniques for treatment, and they will no doubt also find one that will be suitable for you.
Let me add an essential point. This matter generally depends, at least to a great extent, on one's self-confidence and on the state of one's nerves. The classic counsel in any case, even when treatments are undertaken, is therefore to fortify oneself in the attribute of bitachon. This is the foundation of our faith - trust in G-d, Who is the Creator of the world and directs it, and Who focuses His supervision upon every single individual.
Moreover, He is the very essence of good. From this it follows, in the words of the "sweet singer of Israel," that "G-d is with me; I shall not fear." This rules out bashfulness in the presence of others, and [lends] a strong hope that G-d will guide the person in question along a good path before Him. And as it becomes increasingly engraved in one's understanding that one is standing before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, there will be a corresponding decrease in one's anxiety about what others will say about the manner of one's speech. Your speech will then show an automatic improvement, particularly when accompanied by treatment.
Another point: When you come to a word and doubt whether you will be able to articulate it properly, don't battle with yourself in an endeavor to say that word specifically: replace it by some other expression.
And since for everything one needs help from Above, it goes without saying that you should increase your diligence and assiduisness in Torah study and your conscientiousness in the fulfillment of its mitzvos - and "nothing stands in the way of the will."
With blessings for good news in all the above,
25 Shvat, 5715 
Greetings and Blessings!
This reply relates to your letter of 12 Shvat. There you write of the financial state of your family and of your difficulties in earning a living, particularly since you have to support other family members, and hence you ask whether the gates of Heaven have been closed (G-d forbid) and why the way of the worthless prospers.
There is surely no need to explain at length that the question of not only why the way of the worthless prospers, but even the way of the wicked, was already asked by Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) (see Berachos 7a). Now, since that time a few thousand years have passed. During this time the Jewish people have been following the path of the Torah and its commandments, and specifically for that reason our nation has survived. As it is written, "And you who cleave to the L-rd your G-d" - specifically for this reason and only for this reason - "are all alive today."
The same applies to every one of us, man or woman. If there are things that are achieved with difficulty, especially with regard to making a living, this is not (G-d forbid) because one observes the Torah and its commandments. Quite the contrary. By fortifying one's trust in G-d, Who "provides nourishment and sustenance for all," "with loving kindness and with mercy," one lessens these difficulties, and ultimately the state of one's livelihood also improves. The spiritual remedy to secure this is likewise an increase in one's Torah study and in one's observance of the mitzvos. As it is written, "If you walk in the ways of My statutes and observe My commandments...," then "I will grant [your rains in their season, and the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will yield their fruit]."
You no doubt know of the practice instituted by my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe - a daily reading from the Book of Tehillim [Psalms], as apportioned for the days of the month. From now on, at least, you should observe this practice, and may it be G-d's Will that this, too, will bring about a speedier improvement in your situation.
Why must men wear a head covering?
The Talmud relates that covering the head helps insure fear of Heaven. The Yiddish word "yarmulka" is reportedly derived from the two Aramaic words yirei malka - fear of the King. The Hebrew word kippa means "dome."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Following a description of various matters concerning the Sanctuary in the desert, our Torah portion discusses the observance of Shabbat.
As part of this discussion, we find the verse: "And the Children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant." There are two different qualities of Shabbat. One is symbolized by the first part of the verse, that the Jewish people shall keep Shabbat. In essence, Shabbat is intrinsically a holy day. Regardless of whether or not it is observed, it remains sanctified and separate from the rest of the week.
This would seem to leave little for us to do concerning Shabbat. If it is already holy, does it really matter if we observe it? In answer to this question we have the second part of our verse, "observing the Sabbath...." Through our observance of Shabbat - by lighting Shabbat candles, making kiddush, partaking of a Shabbat meal and resting (from creative work) - we actually enhance Shabbat.
Each one of us has the ability and opportunity to "do our part" to sanctify the Sabbath. With each Shabbat mitzva we observe, we bring an added holiness into this holy day.
It is not often that we have the opportunity to perform mitzvot whose benefit or purpose we can actually see. However, when it comes to lighting Shabbat candles, part of the commandment to "observe the Sabbath," we see the light the candles bring into our home. In addition to their physical light, the candles also bring with them a spiritual light, warmth and peace, which permeate the home and family.
And Moses gathered all the congregation of the Children of Israel together and said... "These are things which the L-rd commanded..." (Ex. 35:1)
This gathering took place on the day after Yom Kippur. It is natural that on Yom Kippur itself we are full of thoughts of peace, brotherhood and good will towards our fellow Jews. That is why Moses gathered the people together the very next day - to remind them that we must be united all the time, and not just one day a year.
Every Jew approaches a mitzva with his own personal thoughts and intentions, according to his intellect and level of understanding. Yet the physical performance of the mitzva is carried out in the same manner by all. Moses was able to assemble all the Jews together in true unity because the performance of mitzvot is common to all Jews, no matter what their other differences may be.
(Rebbe of Tshortkov)
And Moses blessed them (Ex. 39:43).
Moses said to them: May it be His will that the Divine Presence rest upon the work of your hands...
On the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day (Ex. 35:2)
Rabbi Bunim once said: "There is no other mitzva as all-encompassing as that of sukka. A person actually enters the mitzva with his whole body, his clothes, and even his shoes." Rabbi Shlomo Leib of Lentashna responded: "The mitzva of Shabbat is even greater. One need not lift a finger to bring it on; Shabbat arrives by itself. And, the holiness of Shabbat totally encompasses everyone and everything for more than 24 hours."
All the wise-hearted among you shall come, and make all that G-d has commanded. (Ex. 35:10)
When a person decides to do a mitzva, it is preferable to do it immediately, as the opportunity presents itself, and not procrastinate. Doing a mitzva with alacrity prevents all kinds of obstacles from arising to prevent the performance of the mitzva at a later time. That is why the verse says, "All the wise-hearted among you shall come" - one who is truly wise - "shall come" - without delay.
Although the Baal Shem Tov lived long after the terrors of the Spanish Inquisition, there were still Marranos in his day, and the punishment for their observance of mitzvot (commandments) remained death.
One Jew of Marrano descent, who succeeded in concealing his Torah observance for many years, was nevertheless discovered and brought to trial. Neither his high government position and connections nor the king's favor were able to free him from the deathly clutches of the Church. He was sentenced to public burning, the infamous auto-da-fe.
Many people, including the king himself, flocked to witness the execution. They crowded around the platform upon which the cruel sentence was about to be carried out.
Suddenly, a loud rumble drowned the voice reading the sentence, and the earth began to tremble. Chaos spread as an unsuspected earthquake sent the people fleeing for their lives. The accused man also fled, and the commotion that followed was great enough to allow him to elude his pursuers until, finally, he was able to cross the Spanish border.
He took up residence in another country and began to practice Torah and mitzvot openly, unafraid. The great miracle that saved his life, however, was a constant source of wonder and contemplation for the man.
"What is the nature of Divine Providence?" he asked many scholars. "Had the earthquake been scheduled from the time of creation to occur precisely at that moment to allow for my escape? Or, was the earthquake a natural phenomenon - and the miracle, that my execution was scheduled at precisely that time?"
Unsatisfied with the responses he received, the man sought out the Baal Shem Tov's opinion on the matter. He traveled to Mezibush and arrived at the tzadik's home just as he was preparing to leave for his morning prayers.
"Come, and we'll go to shul together," the Baal Shem Tov offered. As they walked, they came across a villager leading a wagon of hay toward the marketplace. Shortly afterward, they noticed a man trudging down the road, moaning and groaning about a toothache.
As the man passed them, he neared the hay wagon and eagerly thrust his hand into the stack. Grabbing a straw, he quickly put it into his mouth and picked at the painful tooth. Almost immediately, he expressed relief.
The Baal Shem Tov turned to the man accompanying him, "Now here is an act of Divine Providence! There is a particular straw-like herb called root which is a natural remedy for toothaches. As the man thrust his hand into the straw, he 'chanced' precisely upon that herb.
"It is not that the villager happened to be on the way to the market this day, and today the Alm-ghty planted the root among the hay to benefit the man in pain. Actually, from the beginning of Creation, He foresaw the events to come and planned all the details to coincide with each other.
"In your case as well, from the very beginning of creation, the Alm-ghty designated the earthquake to occur in precisely that place and hour, to save your life."
Reprinted from From My Father's Shabbos Table by Rabbi Yehuda Chitrik.
A birthday in general is connected not just with an individual's service, but with the redemption of all Jewry. Our Sages said "The son of David (Moshiach) will not come until all the souls in the 'guf' are ended," which Rashi interprets to mean "all the souls in that treasure store called 'guf.'" In other words, Moshiach will come when all the souls that are destined to be born are born - and therefore the birth of a Jew hastens the coming of Moshiach. The lesson then is the great importance of the birth of another Jewish child.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 20 Cheshvan, 5743)