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We all know the value of passwords these days, although passwords aren't always words. Sometimes they're numbers, or combinations of letters and numbers. However they're composed, though, passwords protect our data, safeguarding personal information and preventing intruders from gaining access. Passwords are electronic guardians.
But what happens if we forget our passwords? Then we're the ones who are locked out. We can't get into our bank account. We can't access that file with the information we need for tomorrow's report. We can't get into the website to post our latest thoughts. We can't play that game online. We can't even read our email.
Without our password, we're like the hacker or the thief. Indeed, there's no way to tell us apart, without the password.
What protected us, distinguished us, identified us, gave us exclusive entrance into "the world" (our world) became a barrier, locking us out of ourselves, frustrating and angering us, forcing us to hack into who we are.
But why do we forget our passwords? How do we let such valuable information slip from our minds? Often, of course, we don't forget the whole password, only part of it. Part of it we remember, but part we forget. Or we confuse our passwords, mixing them up. We may have two, three, a dozen - depending on how many places on line we shop or do our banking and bill-paying. But still, we make up passwords that have some connection to us. They come from our experiences and our memories. So how can we forget them?
The Torah and mitzvot (commandments) are spiritual data, the "bank account" and "websites" of our souls, so to speak. And we need to know how to gain access to those important and very private locations.
Saying a bracha (blessing) before eating is an example of a password that can help gain entry to the spirituality in a fruit or other food.
Regarding tzitzit, the Torah says "You will see them and remember all the commandment of the L-rd and you will do them. And you will not wander after your hearts and your eyes which you use to go astray."
Tzitzit - the fringes at the end of the a tallit - are a mnemonic password, with the numerical value of its letters, strings, and knots adding up to 613, the number of mitzvot.
The tzitzit serve as a visual password when we see them - and focus on the meaning they evoke, what they remind us to do - or not to do. If we mix up the messages, we risk being led astray by distracting sights.
And we can somehow confuse our passwords, by substituting our own values for those of the Torah, for example assuming that "social justice" can substitute for Shabbat or that prayer can take the place of helping our fellow man.
So remembering our spiritual passwords, and which one belongs where, can help us connect to our spiritual gateways and get us in to our most essential personal information.
In 1943, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn, of blessed memory, issued an urgent call to Chasidim to begin a massive campaign establishing additional religious institutions around the world. Many people could not understand why the Rebbe was initiating such a large-scale operation if, as the Rebbe had stated, we could hear the approaching footsteps of Moshiach. Would not such an undertaking constitute an enormous waste of effort if the Jewish people are to return to Israel with the coming of Moshiach?
By way of explanation, the Previous Rebbe referred to a teaching derived from this week's Torah portion, Beha'alotcha.
"At times, the cloud remained from evening till morning; and when the cloud was taken up in the morning, they journeyed forward. .. at the order of G-d they remained in the camp, and at the order of G-d they journeyed forward."
For forty years, the encampments of the Jewish people as they journeyed through the wilderness towards the land of Israel, were of varying duration.
They ranged from a short overnight stay to a nineteen year period in the same location. Yet, at each site, the Sanctuary was erected and offerings were brought.
Why was it necessary to expend such massive effort even for those encampments that were destined to last only a few hours?
Erecting the Sanctuary, just like the journeys themselves, was done solely according to G-d's command.
It therefore matters little whether the Sanctuary stood for many years on the same spot, or whether it was erected for just a few minutes.
The physical object used in the performance of a mitzva is significant solely because such is the will of G-d.
In this case, the mitzva to erect the Sanctuary, for whatever length of time G-d desired, is what imbued the labor involved in its erection with meaning.
The Jewish people, "believers, the children of believers," have faith in the coming of Moshiach and await his arrival each and every day.
Yet this fundamental belief in no way contradicts our efforts to build up and strengthen Jewish life and institutions while we are waiting. G-d wants us to take an active role in imbuing our surroundings with holiness no matter where the exile takes us, for this is His will and an integral part of Divine Plan.
We needn't worry that Moshiach's arrival will interrupt us in the first stages of whatever worthy project we are currently involved in; when Moshiach comes, we will fully understand the significance of all our service throughout the thousands of years of exile, even those that have not yet been completed.
Adapted from a talk of the Rebbe, 19 Kislev, 5717 (1957)
From Singapore with Love
by Michelle Elias
I was born and raised in Singapore. Jews began arriving in Singapore more than 150 years ago as a business community. These Jews were mainly Sephardim from Baghdad, Iraq. My great-grandparents were such businessmen and this is how my family came to live in Singapore.
Growing up, I attended public school as there were no Jewish schools in Singapore. By 23, I had graduated law school, completed the Bar Exam and was practicing as a family lawyer in one of the largest law firms in Singapore.
The extent of my Jewish education was Sunday school once a week, which ended when I became bat mitzva. I did not feel that I was lacking anything in my Jewish identity: I went to shul on Shabbat when I didn't have to work, observed Passover, kept some level of kosher and fasted on Yom Kippur. I always knew that I was Jewish and I was very proud of that.
In December 2004, I was having a discussion with one of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's emissaries in Singapore about religious observance in general. The issue of spirituality, being Jewish and what it meant, had been brewing at the back of my mind.
In the course of the conversation, I said, "I don't feel any less Jewish than you just because I drive to shul on Shabbat." He replied "That's probably true but you will never know what Shabbat is meant to feel like unless you keep it like I do". By the end of that conversation, I had agreed to keep Shabbat that week, mostly because it was convenient to do so as my office was to be closed for the weekend.
Keeping that first Shabbat was easier than I thought it would be, but it was nothing to shout about. I decided I would give it one more try the following week. Again, this was a matter of 'convenience' because of another long weekend.
After that second Shabbat, something awoke inside me. I realized I could not go back to a life of not keeping Shabbat. This started a process which slowly unraveled my life in Singapore and put it together again in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Keeping those first 2 Shabbats caused me to ask more questions into the deeper meaning of religious observance. As I learned more, I realized that Chasidic teachings were providing me with the 'why' behind the Judaism that I was raised with. I was raised with the 'how' - eat this, don't eat that, do this, don't do that, eat this on this day, avoid that on that day... and the list goes on.
The more I learned in the weeks after keeping Shabbat, the more I realized that there was so much I didn't know and wanted to learn. I took off six weeks of work to travel and re-evaluate my goals. One of my stops included 10 days of study at Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva.
A whole new world opened up for me at Yeshiva - I felt alive in a way I had never felt before. Most importantly, I was sitting in a classroom learning about something that had meaning, purpose and relevance to my life. I had never felt this way through four years of law school! It was in that classroom that I decided to take steps towards changing my life.
I returned to Singapore a few weeks later and by early May, informed my boss that I intended to leave my job and go to Yeshiva. My boss was also Jewish. At the end of the conversation, he said something which I will never forget: "As a lawyer I think you're making a big mistake. But as a Jew, I understand."
Did I think I was making a big mistake? Never. I regularly wrote to the Rebbe, asking for guidance and clarity on this issue and thank G-d I was confident in every step that I made. Was I nervous sometimes? Yes. I felt very insecure about leaving my life in Singapore behind. Sometimes I would stop and think "what am I doing? I'm leaving behind a career that I worked so hard to build, clients who need me, judges whose respect I have earned through hours of hard work and preparation of my cases".
But as soon as this type of thought entered my head, I would realize that all the gifts and blessings I had were only because G-d had given them to me. The time had come for me to give back, to learn more about G-d and His wisdom. And I wanted to learn about this through the wisdom and teachings of the Rebbe.
With a little apprehension, I said goodbye to a life of climbing the corporate ladder, billable hours and court victories. With help from G-d, the Rebbe and the support of my wonderful parents, I started my new life at Machon Chana of studying Torah and learning what it means to be a Jewish woman.
Despite four years of law school and five years as a family litigator, I was still struggling with reading simple Hebrew words. Despite hundreds of written submissions to Court that won me cases over the years, my Hebrew script was barely legible. It was a humbling experience.
My teachers at Machon Chana approach teaching with love and warmth, showing me that I have done something useful with my life, and more importantly, that I have the potential to do so much more when equipped with the right tools.
Many people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have asked me why have you chosen to live such a "restrictive" life? The truth is, its only in having boundaries that I have understood freedom. The key is transforming those "boundaries" into guidelines - and using those guidelines to lead a meaningful life according to the will of G-d. That is true freedom.
Machon Chana has taught me that living a life according to Torah is true beauty, and not a single day passes without me learning something new.
From a speech at the Lubavitch Women's Convention in NY.
Million Mitzvas Campaign
The Shul of Bal Harbor, Florida, has embarked on an historic endeavor to unite the Jewish people through the performance of one million mitzvot (commandments). Mitzvot make the world a holier place and prepare it for the coming of Moshiach. Each mitzva that we do creates a garment of G-dly protection that serves as an aura of holiness embracing the Jewish people. Every good deed begins with one small step. Choose an individual mitzva such as lighting Shabbat candles, reciting Shema, putting on tefilin, or a group mitzva such as joining with others for Torah study, visiting the sick or caring for the elderly. To participate in this extraordinary campaign please visit www.MillionMitzvahs.org or call 305-868-1411 ext. 7333.
Earning A Living
Translated from letters of the Rebbe
... Since in our world all things get better with time, you should not be overly concerned if your first job will be difficult or your salary will not be satisfactory, for this is but the beginning [of your job experience] and "All beginnings are difficult."
Even if you imagine that you are being taken advantage of, as your productivity warrants a better salary, still, bear in mind that this is but the beginning.
In the above matter, the teaching "A person is too close to himself [to be entirely objective]" also applies. You should therefore specifically seek the counsel of your good friends. After explaining to them the details and your reasoning, they will be able to offer you objective advice regarding your job.
Mikdash Melech, Vol. I, p. 236
You write that for the time being you have not had any job offers:
In light of that which is explained in Kuntres U'Mayon, man must make a receptacle [for obtaining his sustenance].
It is therefore inappropriate to wait for others to offer you a job; you are to go out on your own and actively seek a job, particularly since this [i.e., acquiring a job] is more important to you than to other individuals, i.e., those who may offer you a job.
Igros Kodesh, Vol. XIV, p. 417
In reply to your question as to what would be the best type of job for you to obtain:
Understandably, you should give priority to the type of job where you can best utilize your talents and knowledge.
Also, seek the counsel of your local good friends, as this will clarify to a greater extent the situation, potential jobs, etc.
Heichal Menachem, Vol. III, p. 179
... Regarding matters of earning a living - it should be according to the advice of discerning friends. This is in keeping with the verse, "Salvation lies in much counsel"; which is to say, that the individuals offering advice are to be wise and discerning so that they are capable of providing counsel. And "much counsel" means that there be at least two individuals providing advice, as the minimum of "much" is at least two.
Moreover, they are to be "friends" - individuals who seek your welfare, for which reason they will give your situation proper consideration and offer you sound advice.
Sefer HaSichos 5748, Vol. I, p. 240
It is regretful that you are finding it so difficult to accept the fact that you are having temporary difficulties in finding a job, although - unfortunately - such situations are quite common during present times.
We actually perceive that which is explained in the sacred books, that the more one increases his faith and trust in the Creator of the world, the One who conducts it with individual Divine Providence, the sooner will there come about an improvement in the situation, and the greater will be the improvement. The same is true with regard to your situation.
Igros Kodesh, Vol. XVI, p. 223
It would seem that once again you are worrying, and central to your worries is the concern about the possibility that, G-d forbid, you will not be able to earn a living.
Understandably, it is quite disconcerting that you should be so concerned; surely that which is stated in Torah in general and in Toras HaChassidus [the teachings of Chasidism] in particular about faith and trust in G-d should suffice for you not to worry.
(As is self-understood, this in no way contradicts the need for making a "receptacle" via natural means, as the verse says, "G-d shall bless you in all that you shall do." However, this must be done in a manner of "By the labor of your hands shall you eat," i.e., that your hands should labor, but not your head and heart.)
This is particularly so with an individual such as yourself, you who have beheld miracles with your own eyes, miracles that transpired with yourself.
Now, all of a sudden you begin to worry if the One who sustains and nourishes everyone, approximately one billion eight hundred million people, will be able to sustain you and your family in an honorable and ample manner.
It would be a misuse of precious time to go on at greater length about something so obvious.
Igros Kodesh, Vol. XII, p. 198
From "Eternal Joy" translated by Rabbi Sholom Ber Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
What is the Pidyon HaBen ceremony?
G-d told the Jewish people that their first-born sons must be dedicated to G-dly service. When the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf, G-d commanded that the Levites, who had not sinned, serve instead of the first-born sons. The details of the redemption of the first-born (pidyon haben) is in Num. 18: 15-16. The first-born son of the mother is redeemed on the 31st day after birth. At the Pidyon Haben ceremony, the father gives a Kohain five silver coins in lieu of his son. The son of a kohain or levi, or the son of the daughter of a kohain or levi is not redeemed. A festive meal follows the ceremony. If one was not redeemed as a baby, a man is responsible, after the age of bar mitzva, to redeem himself.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week on Shabbat we study the second chapter of Pirkei Avot. One of the first teachings that we read is from Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi, who said, "Reflect upon three things and you will not come to sin: Know what is above you--an Eye that sees, an Ear that hears, and all your deeds are recorded in a Book."
A deeper explanation of the above is that to keep oneself from transgressing, one must reflect on three things: the existence of G-d - who is Above; the all-seeing Eye and all-hearing Ear which makes us aware of Divine Providence - that G-d oversees everything; that everything is "written in the Book" which informs us that it is impossible that we will not be punished for any transgressions.
The Maggid of Mezritch rephrases just a few of Rabbi Yehuda's words and gives us the following inspiring comment. "Know that everything which is Above - is from you." Everything in this world is dependent on G-d Above. But in addition, teaches the Maggid, all the blessings that rain from Above are dependent on each individual's personal actions.
How can this be so? According to the Talmud, every person must consider the world as being totally balanced between good deeds and not good deeds. Through one deed a person can tip the scale to the side of good.
And if this equation is true for any deed, it is certainly even truer when it comes to deeds which foster love of our fellow-Jews and peace in the world at large. For, as our Sages have taught, the Torah was given to bring peace to the world - peace between one person and another and between the Creator and His creations.
The Rebbe emphasized numerous times of this concept that the world is in balance, particularly when speaking of the imminent arrival of Moshiach. Just as in general the world can be tipped to the side of good through one good deed, so, too, can the arrival of Moshiach be hastened and in fact actualized through one good deed.
This was the form of the menora: hammered work of gold, from its base to its flower it was hammered work; according to the form that the Lord had shown Moses, so did he construct the menora. (Num. 8:4)
"Beaten work of gold," explains Rashi, means that the menora was to be made of a single piece of gold, beaten or pounded with a hammer and other tools, until it assumed the proper shape. Likewise, a person who desires to transform himself into a "menora," to kindle his G-dly spark and be illuminated with the light of Torah, should also do the same to himself - striking away at his negative qualities and working on his character until he, too, assumes the proper form.
The base of the menora symbolizes the lowest level of Jews; the flowers, those on the highest spiritual plane. The Torah demands that the menora be made out of one piece of gold, just as the Jewish people is but one entity. Every Jew is incomplete by himself, without the rest of the Jewish nation, just as in the human body, the foot needs the head to function no less than the head requires the foot for mobility.
That there be no plague among the Children of Israel, when the Children of Israel approach the Sanctuary (Num. 8:19)
There are, unfortunately, those who only reach out to G-d after a misfortune has befallen them. Our aim should be, however, to approach G-d not only through suffering and sorrow, but with joy and happiness.
But the man Moses was very humble, more so than any man upon the face of the earth (Num. 12:3)
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi explained that Moses felt humble especially in comparison to our generation, the last generation before Moshiach. For, despite the extreme darkness that would reign immediately preceding the Final Redemption, Moses foresaw and was humbled by the self-sacrifice our generation would show to keep the Jewish faith alive even in the most difficult of circumstances.
(Sichat Purim, 5747)
The famous Chasidic rabbi, Reb Baruch, once asked his disciple, Rabbi Baruch Stuchiner, if he had as yet succeeded in locating proper accommodations in the town of Pshischa. The chasid replied that he had not yet found a place to stay. Reb Baruch responded: "One who does not 'take up space" will always be able to find a place wherever he goes."
In a far-off country lived a king who had, as his closest friend and advisor, the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community. Often, the king would call the rabbi to his palace and question him all about the Torah and Judaism. The rabbi answered all the king's questions patiently and wisely.
On day, the king called in his friend. "I have a question that has been bothering me for some time now. I have failed to find a satisfactory answer."
"Ask, your Highness," said the Rabbi, "and with G-d's help I will be able to answer."
"While studying your religion," began the king, "I have learned that one of your basic tenets is to believe in G-d who created the heavens and the earth. Now, my dear Rabbi," the king continued, "before we can believe that G-d created the world, we have to be sure that there is a G-d. What proof do we have that G-d created the world? Perhaps it came about by itself."
While the king posed these questions, he accidently brushed his elbow against a bottle of ink which was on his desk. The bottle turned over and the ink spilled out, blotting up the papers which were near the ink bottle and spilling on the king.
The king jumped up from his seat, excusing himself for being so careless, and left the room to change his clothes.
As soon as the king left the room, the rabbi quickly took the ink-filled papers off the king's desk and threw them away. The rabbi, who was also an artist, then took a clean sheet of paper and began drawing a picture of lofty mountains, tall trees, a river, and beautiful flower gardens. As soon as he finished drawing the picture, he placed it on the desk right next to the overturned ink bottle, making it appear as thought the ink had spilled on the paper.
Soon, the King returned to the room, and immediately noticed the beautiful drawing on his desk.
"What is this?" asked the king in surprise. "Who drew this beautiful scene?"
The rabbi smiled at the king and said, "Oh, when the ink spilled all over your desk it made this picture!"
"Come now," cried out the king, "certainly you are smarter than that. How could you say such a thing? Why, a magnificent drawing like this can not happen by itself. Surely someone drew this breathtaking landscape."
"Please come with me onto the balcony," offered the rabbi. Once outside, the rabbi began, "Your majesty, tell me, where did all of these tall trees come from? Who formed these high mountains? And look at the beautiful flowers in your gardens below, who made them?"
The king nodded, beginning to understand. The Rabbi continued, "Just a few moments ago, you yourself proclaimed that it would be foolish to say that anything came about by itself. Obviously, it was I who drew the picture you found on your desk in an attempt to prove that G-d created the whole world. For who or what, if not G-d, made the heavens, the sun, moon and stars? Who filled the deep oceans and formed the lofty mountains? The answer is as "black and white" as that drawing on your desk."
The king was impressed and satisfied with his friend's sagacious answer. For many years he continued to enjoy the rabbi's sharp wisdom and perception.
Moshiach will be a faithful shepherd of the Jewish people, caring for every Jew with a total commitment, so that not a simgle Jew will be lost.