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When Reb Pinchas Horowitz first became a disciple of the Maggid of Meseritch, the Maggid advised him to study with Reb Zusha of Anapoli.
Reb Pinchas went to Reb Zusha. Reb Zusha humbly explained that he could not understand why the Maggid would send anyone to study with him, but that he would be happy to join Reb Pinchas in his intellectual endeavors.
"What should we study?" Reb Pinchas asked.
"Whatever you are studying," Reb Zusha replied.
Reb Pinchas took out a volume of Talmud and began explaining the following passage. "When there are only nine people in the synagogue, there is an opinion that the ark of the synagogue can be counted to complete the quorum of ten necessary for prayer. The Talmud then asks: Is the ark a person? For no matter how holy the ark is, it is humans who are required to fulfill the quorum for prayer."
As Reb Pinchas stated this, Reb Zusha interrupted: "What does the Talmud mean: 'Is the ark a person?' Everyone knows the ark is an object."
Reb Pinchas was puzzled; the question was obviously rhetorical. Didn't his partner appreciate that?
Reb Zusha continued: "Maybe the intent is that a person can be an ark in which the Torah is contained, a veritable repository of knowledge, but unless he is a person, unless that knowledge is integrated with his humanity, there is a question if he can be counted among the community."
Reb Pinchas understood that this was the lesson the Maggid had wanted him to learn from Reb Zusha: not how to augment his knowledge, but how to use his knowledge to refine himself and change his character.
Judaism considers personal growth a lifelong task, 365 days a year for every year of our lives. Nevertheless, every year, a period of time is set aside when these efforts become our focus. This reflects the spiritual significance of Sefirat HaOmer, the 49-days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot.
The Hebrew word sefira means, "counting." Every night we count one of these 49 days. But sefira also means, "shining." During these 49 days, we should endeavor to make our personalities shine.
According to Jewish mystical tradition we have seven fundamental emotional qualities. These qualities combine with eachother to form the full range of human feeling. Seven times seven equals 49, the number of days mentioned above. This is not coincidental, for the cultivation of our spiritual personalities during these 49 days involves the refinement of our emotions, eliminating their coarseness and directing them to G-dliness. As we work to upgrade our emotional potential, we prepare ourselves to relive the experience of the giving of the Torah on the holiday of Shavuot.
The ultimate experience of personal refinement will come in the era of the Redemption, when "there will be neither envy nor competition...." For then the G-dly spark that is latent within every person will be revealed. At present, effort is necessary to appreciate the inner, spiritual core that exists within ourselves and within others. In the era of the Redemption it will be the way we naturally view things.
What can we do to hasten the coming of this era? Conduct ourselves at present in a manner that demonstrates our awareness of this inner G-dliness. When we show genuine love to another person, we are highlighting the G-dly spark that we both possess and are establishing a connection between the two. How more Messianic can one be?
From Keeping in Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos in English.
One of the laws pertaining to the Biblical affliction of leprosy (discussed in this week's Torah portion, Metzora), seems somewhat surprising.
If a person discovered an eruption, a bright spot, or a white hair indicative of the disease on part of his body, he was pronounced "impure" by the priest. If, however, the leprosy covered his entire body, he was pronounced pure. "[If] it is all turned white, he is pure," the Torah repeats.
How can it be that when the leprosy is confined to one area, the person is impure, yet once it has spread all over his body, he is pure? There are two possible explanations:
- The sole reason he is considered pure is because it is G-d's will. According to logic, the person whose leprosy covers all of his flesh should be impure; G-d, however, has decreed that he is pure.
- The law itself is logical. When the leprosy appears on only a part of a person's skin, it is obvious that he is suffering from some sort of malady. If it covers all of his skin, it is indicative of the individual's constitution and nature, not symptomatic of a disease.
The Talmud cites this law in connection to the concept of redemption, using the affliction of leprosy as a metaphor for sin. "The son of David [Moshiach] will not come until all authority has become heretical," i.e., when G-dlessness is officially sanctioned and widespread throughout the world.
Here we may ask the same question raised regarding leprosy: If the world will be entirely dark, how will it be possible for the light of Redemption to shine through? Why will the Redemption occur precisely when evil is so powerful that it has overcome the entire world?
Again, the above two explanations may be applied to solve our dilemma:
- There is no logic involved. Moshiach will come when he does only because G-d will have decreed it thus; the Redemption will occur independent of the world's condition. An all-powerful and eternal G-d can certainly bring Moshiach no matter how degraded and evil the world becomes.
- The fact that evil is ascendent throughout the entire world is proof that something unusual is taking place; were this not so, some pockets of good would certainly have remained. Rather, the absolute supremacy of evil indicates that all the negative forces have become externalized, as they have already been fully vanquished from within.
Thus, the phenomenon of "all authority has become heretical" is actually part of the world's purification, a process of separating good from evil that will ultimately culminate with Moshiach's revelation. At that time, the world will be sufficiently prepared for the light of Redemption.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe Vol. 32
Cooking for 50 every week? Chabad wives are up to the task
by Jill Suzanne Jacobs
Miriam Ferris' groceries cost about $300 a week - not including the fish and chicken she buys from the kosher butcher. The list includes such items as "20 lbs. of potatoes," "2 bags of string beans" and "3 cases of eggs."
And believe it or not, this isn't her Passover shopping. Though if you attend a normal Shabbat dinner at her house, you might think you are there for a Passover seder.
Three tables are set together end-to-end. Close to 30 people are crammed into a room. Plates and plates of hot food are served to grateful guests, some of whom who dropped in without even a moment's notice.
And you thought preparing for a Passover seder was difficult. Try doing this every week.
The wife of Berkeley's Chabad rabbi feeds a husband and 10 children three times a day. On Shabbat she feeds between 20 and 50 guests for the Friday night and Saturday afternoon meal.
Now imagine this: It is Thursday night and you know you have a bunch of guests coming over tomorrow night for dinner. You don't know their names, their ages or their eating preferences. Maybe some will be vegetarians. Maybe some of your guests will hate eggplant. Or be allergic to peanuts. You don't even know how many will show up. It could be 20 people. It could be 50. But you have to be ready when your loving spouse rolls in the door.
Enough to give you a nervous breakdown? Have a sudden desire to consult the MSDS to find out the lowest published toxic dose of Valium? Now imagine doing this every week.
Welcome to the life of a Chabad rebbetzin (rabbi's wife) who feeds the hungry Jewish masses week after week - not just at Passover.
Sitting in her whistle-clean kitchen in the swank Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco, Leah Potash doesn't seem to be showing the strain. Scents of brownies baking waft through the air. The bespectacled 26-year-old mother of four sips tea and smiles as she reflects on her work.
"People are always asking me how I do it. I guess it really is a lot," she says. "For the amount that I enjoy it, it doesn't seem as much to me as it seems to other people. When you love something, it doesn't feel as if you are carrying the burden the whole time."
But the petite rebbetzin and rabbi's daughter sure has plenty to carry. She buys flour in 50-pound bags and it lasts her three weeks. A 10-pound bag of sugar may last a couple of months. But a 20-pound bag of potatoes will only last a week. She has kosher chickens shipped up monthly from Los Angeles by the case.
Ferris also never knows how many people she is feeding until they walk in the door. How does she do it?
"You gotta roll with the punches," says Ferris. "And you just have to cook."
Her secret (besides hard work)? "I follow the science of freezerology," she says with a laugh.
The rebbetzin always has prepared food in the freezer that can be taken out and defrosted if need be. She keeps kosher deli meats in the freezer, and canned foods - such as gefilte fish - that can be opened and served in a pinch.
And in 24 years of serving as the rebbetzin of the Chabad House in Berkeley, only once did she have to break into the cholent - the traditional food eaten on Shabbat afternoon - on a Friday night.
Cooking for such a crowd in a domestic - as opposed to professional - kitchen does pose some challenges. In fact, Potash has been known to wash some of her larger pots in the bathtub because they won't fit in the kitchen sink.
And of course there have been some snafus. Like the time when Ferris burned a casserole. Her solution? She cut off the burned portion and called it "Smoked Romanian Surprise." No one was the wiser.
Potash has known some snafus of her own. Like the time she and her husband, Rabbi Gedalia Potash, found that the freezer storing the ice cream for their Shavuot ice cream party had been left ajar and the ice cream melted to soup. "We just poured it into the cones and gave it to the kids in bowls," she says. "What could we do?"
Another time, Potash and her husband were up to the wee hours of the night in their apartment dwelling "banging pots and pans" in preparation for Passover. The next day the two were given a talking-to by their neighbors about the noise they had made.
Right after Passover the two brought over some home-baked challah and a bottle of wine. "We thought that would go over better than matzah," Gedalia Potash jokes. "The challahs that Leah makes are so delicious it makes people turn religious overnight."
Sharing the warmth of Jewish life is part and parcel of the Chabad way of life - in particular for rabbis and their wives who choose to spend their lives as emissaries. Their door is always open, and they really mean it when they say you are invited for Shabbat dinner.
Feeding dozens of hungry Jews week after week has become "second nature," says Ferris. "It's not such a big deal to me."
"We chose this lifestyle," Potash said. "We love it."
Says Rabbi Yosef Levin of Chabad of Greater South Bay, "You are always invited. So when you call us to come for a Shabbat dinner, all you are doing is firming up the date."
Buy One Today!
The very last commandment in the Torah is for one to write a Torah scroll for him/herself. The Lubavitcher Rebbe highlighted this mitzva when he established the Sefer Torah Campaign over 20 years ago. For a nominal fee, one can "purchase" letters in a Torah scroll, thereby connecting with millions of Jews around the world. To date, over 6 million Jewish men, women and children have participated in this mitzva. For the special Children's Sefer Torah visit www.KidsTorah.org or call Tzivos Hashem at (718) 467-6630. Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center to find out how adults can participate in this special mitzva.
1st day of Rosh Chodesh Adar, 5712 
Greetings and Blessings!
Your letter ... reached me on time, but my reply has been delayed because of the yahrzeit (anniversary of the passing) of my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe - the preparations for that date, and the matters connected with it and arising out of it. May G-d help every one of us to fulfill his mission along the path that my saintly father-in-law pointed out and laid down. This also includes guidance along the path of Torah and mitzvos (commandments) itself, because even within that path itself, the Evil Inclination finds ways of weakening and hindering a person's endeavors to climb ever higher.
I was happy to read in your letter that you are firm in your trust in G-d, and I hope that you will soon be enabled to see that trust materialize in your business affairs.
One thing, however, I find surprising. Since you place your trust in G-d in questions of materiality and your livelihood, surely that trust should be firm when it comes to one's children and their conduct! After all, this is what really matters to a Jew, much more than material concerns. But in your case, when you come to that subject, you write that you console yourself with the thought that at least they are in a better state than some others, and so on.
On the phrase, bashamayim mima'al v'al ha'aretz mitachas - "in the Heavens above, and on the earth below" - there is a [popular] interpretation which is cited in many books and which you have no doubt heard: When it comes to matters of Heaven, i.e., Divine and holy matters, one should gaze upward towards those who are standing on a rung that is above one's own and try to climb up there; when it comes to earthly matters, one should lower one's glance and consider the predicament of those whose status is below one's own.
The latter perspective enables a man to become a sameiach bechelko - "one who is happy with his lot." And such a man is truly rich. As the Sages teach, "Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot."
Now, there is no need for me to emphasize that Lubavitch in general, and I personally, are not in the habit of offering pointless rebuke. The above lines, then, express a dual intent: (a) to contribute whatever I can to the strength of your trust that G-d will grant you a livelihood and sound health, and (b) to recapitulate what I spoke of when you were here - not to grow weary of speaking with your children concerning their conduct in matters of Torah and mitzvos. And "the words of the wise," especially when they are expressed "tranquilly, are heeded."
With a blessing that you write me good tidings,
1 Shvat, 5718 
Greetings and Blessings!
...You have no doubt heard the teaching of the Rebbe Maharash, the grandfather of my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe: "People say that if you can't make your way from below, you should climb over the top - but I hold that right from the outset you should leap over the top."
Now, this approach applies to the present subject. At first sight it would appear that manifest joy should wait until one's health improves in actual fact. However, in the spirit of the above teaching, it could be suggested that rejoicing over this improvement should be advanced ahead of time, even though the improvement is not yet manifest.
Indeed, this itself will hasten the process. As has been repeatedly cited in the name of the [earlier] Rebbes of Chabad, "Think positively, and things will be positive." And how much more does this assurance apply when one translates positive thoughts into joyful words and joyful actions. This is especially relevant to yourself, whose literary skills equip you to influence many people in this direction - and the reward of those who gladden people's hearts is well known (Taanis 22a).
[...] With blessings for good news,
Translated by Rabbi Uri Kaploun. Reprinted from In Good Hands, published by Sichos in English.
Why does a baby boy receive his name at his brit mila?
G-d gave Abraham his full name (i.e., changing his name from Abram to Abraham) when He said, "As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you." Thus we see that a name is given at the time when a covenant - in Hebrew, bris - is made. Also, the Torah tells us that Abraham named his son Isaac and then immediately afterward it relates: "And Abraham circumcised his son..."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week, on Sunday, will be the birthday of Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Rebbe of Lubavitch, known as the Rebbe Maharash.
In one of his many writings, the Rebbe Maharash quotes a Midrash on the sentiment of the Jewish people when G-d will send Moshiach:
"The Midrash on the Song of Songs states that when Moshiach comes, he will say to the Jewish people, 'In this month you will be redeemed.' But the Jews will protest that G-d told us we would be enslaved to the 70 nations [and we were not yet enslaved by all 70 nations].
"G-d will reply to them, 'One of you was exiled to the Barbary Coast, and one of you was exiled to Samatry, etc. So it is as if you were all enslaved to the 70 nations of the world. Therefore, in this month, you will be redeemed.'"
This Midrash touches a very tender spot. There will come a time when G-d is ready to send Moshiach and some Jews will protest that it's not the right time!
This will not be the first time that such an occurrence has taken place in Jewish history. For, commentators state that at the Exodus from Egypt, some of our brethren protested to G-d, "But You said we would be enslaved for 400 years, and we have only been here for 210 years!" G-d explained to them that because the servitude had been so difficult, the 210 years counted as 400.
Can you imagine? They were being worked to the bone by the Egyptians, and yet, there were some who preferred staying in Egypt!
Whether it was because we prefer the known, even if it is horrible, to the unknown, or simply because they had become complacent, they preferred Egypt to the Redemption.
It is time we stop making excuses for G-d and finding reasons for this exile. As the Rebbe said so many times, everything has already been done. Let us not place the blame for the long exile on a lack of unity, or mitzvot, or faith. Let us judge each other and the entire Jewish people meritoriously.
And let us cry out to G-d, "Ad Mosai - how long?"
He shall shave all his hair, his head and his beard and his eyebrows. (Lev. 14:9)
A person was afflicted with tzara'at for one of three reasons: haughtiness; slanderous talk or talebearing; and looking upon others begrudgingly. His purification, therefore, had to involve: shaving his head, where haughtiness comes from; shaving his beard because he didn't keep his mouth closed when necessary; shaving his eyebrows because he didn't look at people kindly.
When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put the plague of tzara'at in a house...(14:34)
The plague of tzara'at which effected a home was actually a blessing from G-d. The entire time that the Jews were in the desert, the Amorites hid their treasures in the walls of their homes. When the Jews conquered the land and took over the homes, they were forced to break down the walls when the plague hit, thereby finding the treasures.
This is the law concerning the metzoraleper (14:2).
Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel told his servant: "Go buy me something good from the market." He went and bought a tongue. Rabbi Shimon said: "Go buy me something bad from the market." The servant returned with another tongue. Said Rabbi Gamliel: "I told you to buy something good and something bad and you returned with the same thing. How is this possible?" Answered his servant, "From the tongue comes good and bad. When it is good there is nothing better than it, but when it is evil, there is nothing more evil than it."
The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Hacohen, 1838-1933) readily agreed when another prominent rabbi requested his help with a communal matter in another city in Poland. The participation of the renowned Chofetz Chaim was sure to add considerably to the success of the mission because of his high standing in the eyes of all his co-religionists.
In the course of their trip the two rabbis stopped at a roadside inn to partake of a meal. They were happy to eat at this establishment as a Jewish woman who was well respected for her high standards of kashrut ran it. The two rabbis were seated at a special table and accorded every mark of honor.
After they had finished the meal the proprietress came to their table to inquire how they had enjoyed the food.
The Chofetz Chaim smiled politely and replied: "It was very tasty, and I enjoyed it very much. Thank you."
The other rabbi answered: "The meal was very good, thank you. Only, if I might say, the soup might have used a bit more salt."
When the owner left the table the Chofetz Chaim turned to his companion, and in an anguished voice said:
"Unbelievable! All my life I have avoided speaking or listening to lashon hara (slander about a fellow Jew), and here I am, going on a trip to perform a mitzva (commandment), and I have been put into a situation of having to hear you speak lashon hara! I deeply regret my involvement in this mission, for it cannot be a true mitzva. If it were, such a terrible thing would never have happened to me!"
The other rabbi was shocked and upset by the Chofetz Chaim's reaction. To him it seemed to be a perfectly innocent remark. "What was so terrible about my comment? I only mentioned that a little salt would help the food, which was otherwise very good."
The Chofetz Chaim began to explain himself. "You certainly don't understand the power that words possess! Just see what a chain reaction your words have set off: I'm sure that the woman who owns the inn doesn't do her own cooking; she probably employs some poor person to do it, maybe even a widow who depends upon this job for her living.
"Because of your thoughtless comment the employee will be reprimanded for not adding enough salt to the food. She will try to defend herself before replying that she certainly did put in enough salt, which will be a lie. Then the owner will accuse her of lying, since she will certainly take your word over that of the poor cook. This exchange will lead to an argument and the owner will, in her anger, fire the poor cook, who will then have no income with which to support herself and her family.
"And just think how many sins have been caused by one off-handed remark: You spoke lashon hara and caused others to hear it; you caused the owner of the inn to repeat the lashon hara; the poor cook was prompted to tell a lie; the owner caused pain to a poor person; your remark caused an argument. All of these are violations of the Torah!"
The rabbi, who had listened closely to the Chofetz Chaim's explanation, replied respectfully: "Reb Yisrael Meir, I simply can't help but feel that you are overreacting to the whole incident. My few casual words couldn't have created all that damage. I think that your scenario just isn't realistic."
The Chofetz Chaim rose from his seat, still in an agitated state, and said: "If you don't believe me, then follow me into the kitchen and you will see with your own eyes what has happened!"
The two rabbis quietly entered the kitchen, and a sorry sight met their eyes. The proprietress was standing before an elderly woman and giving her a sharp tongue-lashing; while the woman stood there with tears streaming down her face. The shocked rabbi ran up to the cook and begged her to forgive him for all the pain she was suffering. He then turned to the owner of the inn and pleaded with her to forgive him and to forget that he had ever made a comment. He had never intended that it be taken so seriously.
The proprietress of the inn, who was really a kind person by nature, had never actually intended to dismiss her elderly employee and was happy to accede to the rabbi's request. She explained that she had merely wanted to impress upon the cook her responsibility to be more careful in the future. She assured the rabbi that the woman's job was secured and he had no grounds for worry.
The rabbi turned to the Chofetz Chaim with an understanding look. He had certainly acquired a new profound respect for the awesome power of words.
At the present, the all-embracing Unity of G-d is not overtly visible; accordingly, the created universe appears to be an independent entity that enjoys a self-sufficient existence. In the future, however, the all-embracing Unity of the Creator will be manifest for all to see: everyone will see how the universe is utterly nullified to the Divine light that flows into it and animates it.