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You've been away at camp for the whole summer, or in college out-of-town for a few years. Or maybe you're married with children of your own.Yet, you still reminisce about the home in which you grew up. You remember many of the antics you and your siblings or friends did there. You can point out the exact spot where you laid to rest your pet goldfish, turtle, or bird. You can even detect a faint scent of your family's favorite dinner as you walk through the kitchen.
Even if your family doesn't live in the house anymore, "just for old times' sake" you go back, or think of going back, for a visit. "This is where I used to live when I was your age," you tell your child who's sitting in the back seat of the car.
"Home is where the heart is," so the adage goes. "My heart is in the east, though I am in the west," writes Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, famous Jewish poet, scholar, and philosopher of the twelfth century.
Why was the rabbi pining for the east? In many parts of the world, due east is Jerusalem the holy city and the site of the first and second Holy Temples.
Go to the "Western Wall" in Jerusalem and you'll see where the Jewish heart really is. Known simply as "The Wall," "koisel," or "kotel" (Ashkenazic and Sefardic pronunciations of the Hebrew word for "wall"), Jews from the entire spectrum of life visit it when they come to Israel.
Even if Israel isn't at the top of your list of vacation plans for right now, when you do get to Israel, you will eventually go to the Wall. And more likely than not, you'll stand there with tears in your eyes, maybe even tucking a little note into the cracks and crevices of the ancient stones.
You will be standing there together with Jews who pray three times daily for Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. You will be standing with newly arrived immigrants, Israeli soldiers, chasidim, kibbutzniks and visitors from around the world. You might not even know that this wall is the last remnant of the Second Holy Temple, or for that matter, that there was a first Holy Temple, both of which were burnt to the ground on the Ninth of Av. But you will be there. Because your heart and your soul know that this is your home. And a homecoming is always sweet.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe said, "Though our bodies were sent into exile, our souls never were." The fire of the Jewish soul is eternal. It burns brighter and stronger than any physical fire that destroyed our Holy Temples. The soul is like a torch that leads the Jew, through the seemingly unending darkness, over the highest mountains and into the lowest valleys, through mazes of twisting roads and streets, until it finds its way home.
During the current three week period of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temples, go home - to your soul. Find the flame and fan it, together with friends and family. The "welcome mat" of the soul are good deeds, sincere prayer, exploring Jewish knowledge. Come in!
This week's Torah reading, Pinchas, contains a passage that sheds unique insight on the nature of Moses' leadership qualities. G-d tells Moses that the time has come for him to pass away. Moses' response is not to ask anything for himself or for his children. Instead, he asks G-d: "G-d, L-rd of spirits, appoint a man over the assembly." At the moment of truth, he shows no self concern. His attention is focused solely on the welfare of his people.
This is the fundamental quality that distinguishes a Jewish leader. In general, leadership involves identifying with ideals and principles that transcend one's own self. If all a person is selling is his own self, others will not identify with him so easily; for they are concerned with their own selves. Why should they nullify themselves before the other person?
Yes, they can be forced to accept authority or they can be bribed. But then, the person's authority will be dependent on the strength of the stick or the flavor of the carrot. The people will have no inner connection to him.
What will inspire a person to willingly accept the authority of another? A purpose which both the leader and the follower recognize as greater than his self. When the leader espouses and identifies with an ideal that gives his life greater meaning and direction, he will be able to share this ideal with people at large. For every person is ultimately looking for something more in life than the fulfillment of his personal desires.
A Jewish leader, a Moses, transcends himself to a greater degree. First of all, he is not concerned with his own personal objectives - even as an afterthought. Many leaders, though concerned with a purpose beyond themselves, are still looking for their own payoff. They bear in mind their own honor, wealth, or self-interest. A Moses is not looking for that.
But most of all, the purpose with which a worldly leader identifies is still somewhat intertwined with his own self, for ultimately, what is a leader looking for? To make the world a better place for all the people living here. Although he is concerned for others besides himself, his ultimate goal is how to make his own life better. He merely has the vision to appreciate that his own life cannot be consummately good until the lives of others are also improved.
A Moses, by contrast, is concerned with G-d's purpose, not man's. He wants to make the world a dwelling for Him, not merely a pleasant abode for mankind. Certainly, when G-d's dwelling is completed, it will also be very comfortable for man to live in, but that is not his purpose. He is concerned with G-d's objective, and the identification with that goal takes him beyond his personal self entirely and makes him the ultimate paradigm of leadership.
From Keeping in Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, published by Sichos In English
by Dovid Poltorak
I hold his trembling hand, which is unrecognizably soft. I remember holding this hand as a child, and it was a hard, tough hand; it was the hand of a military hero. But today my grandfather's hand is soft in mine. Today, the hand that led me through some the lessons of youth, gave me strength and pushed me along as I nervously pedaled and swerved on my first two-wheeler, holds my hand for strength.
He looks at me and repeats my name soothingly: "Dovid'l, Dovid'l..." He squeezes my hand with each repetition, as if trying to associate my feel with my name. He wants me to stay with him. As his awareness fades and he forgets so many things, my grandfather, may he be well, wants to know his grandson.
Those eyes, once the sharp eyes of the chief judge in Krasnodar, are now pale. They are eyes that look into the past and see visions of old, and are, on a bad day, unaware of their very surroundings. Today, those liquid eyes focus on me. I wonder if his eyes cut me out of my surroundings and place me instead in some childhood memory. Maybe he sees himself in me. Perhaps he is looking for himself in me, in which case I leave him wanting.
When Deidushka was my age he was a decorated war hero who had just lost both of his legs fighting the Nazi enemy. He was an accomplished and educated person. The very thought is sobering and inspiring: a twenty year double amputee veteran picking up the pieces, finishing his education, falling in love, getting married and becoming a Judge in his city. I can only imagine the opposition he faced, both from the outside and from within. He was opposed from the outside: a Jew living in one of the most notoriously anti-Semitic cities in Russia generally doesn't feel too welcomed as a person, never mind as an official. Imagine the internal opposition: the desperation a kid could feel when dealt the pain my grandfather suffered. Yet he persevered. And today, 60 years after he was the age I now am, he looks into my eyes, squeezes my hand and repeats in a soft and hollow voice, "Dovid'l, main Dovid'l."
He asks about my affairs with genuine interest. But he is headed somewhere, and I am aware of that as I answer and guide him to the question that is really weighing down on him. "Dovid'l," he asks in Russian, "do you get along with Moishe?" I reassure him that I do. When I was younger we'd fight as brothers usually do, but I dismiss all that as child-stuff. But Deidushka presses: "Are you sure you get along? Promise me you'll love him and be close to him the way brothers should be. Dovid'l, main Dovid'l..." I promise. He smiles and falls back into a contemplative silence. He then breaks the silence again and tells me, "Dovid, family is what you'll have forever. It's all you'll have forever. Love and appreciate your family!"
My grandfather embodies those words. Stripped of the honor of his youth and aware that his mind is fading, he grasps at one straw: his family.
I feel so small here, with him, my dear grandfather, looking at me for guidance. He wants me to help him move, to talk to him and to fill in the blanks in his memory. He wants me to teach him what I learn, and just be here for him. And I know I must. I know I can't tell him that his looking to me for inspiration is absurdly ironic. I need to be here for him. But I know that even in a time like this, maybe especially in a time like this, I see him as my heroic grandfather. I see his condition and I am inspired by his perseverance, and I am inspired by his dedication to his family. He is still my strong Deidushka, if not showing off his muscles and guiding me on my bike, he is teaching me with his spirit and his love
I hold his hand and tell him that Moshiach is going to come soon, and he'll be strong again. He sighs and smiles. "I'm ready for Moshiach," he says in Yiddish. I know that he is.
This handsomely bound volume is the first English translation of the authoritative 1981 Kapach edition of Rabbi Moses Maimonides' (Rambam) Sefer HaMitzvot ("Book of Commandments). It is arranged according to the second half of the yearly study schedule of the book (lessons 147-339) and annotated with sources and comments. In the appendices to this volume is a list of the 613 commandments, along with its corresponding lesson(s). Translated by Rabbi Berel Bell, published by Sichos In English.
Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit - Vol. 2
A guide to good health based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Follow the Lubavitcher Rebbe's prescription for health with this wide ranging collection of the Rebbe's letters and talks on maintaining physical well-being. Discover to what extent a doctor's advice should be followed. When should second opinions be sought? What about trying new and experimental treatments? Thousands of letters poured into the Rebbe's office, beseeching his opinion on the most pressing health matters. Translated by Rabbi Sholom Ber Wineberg, published by Sichos In English.
Bound Volumes of L'Chaim
A limited number of bound volumes of L'Chaim are available for sale. To find out which years are available call the Lubavitch Youth Organization office at (718) 778-6000.
Freely translated from a letter of the Rebbe addressed to "all campers in summer camps, everywhere," written three months before the Yom Kippur War.
I hope and pray that you are making the fullest use of the present summer days to gain new strength and strengthen your health - both the health of the body and the health of the soul, which are closely linked together. And since the health of the soul is bound up with the Torah, which is "our very life and the length of our days," and with its mitzvot, "by which the Jew lives," you are surely doing your utmost in regard to Torah study and the observance of the mitzvot; in which case you may be certain for the fulfillment of the promise - "Try hard, and you will succeed."
I wish to emphasize one point in particular, in connection with the forthcoming "Three Weeks." You are, no doubt, familiar with the events and significance of these days. The point is this:
I want you to consider carefully the special merit which Jewish children have, a privilege which affects our entire Jewish people, to which King David refers in the following words: "Out of the mouths of babes and infants You have ordained strength - oz...to still the enemy and avenger" - including also the enemy that has caused the "Three Weeks" and still seeks vengeance to this day. In other words, the way to vanquish and silence the enemy is through the study of the Torah, called "strength" (oz), by the mouths of young children. Indeed, so great is their power, that our Sages of blessed memory declare: "The whole world exists only by virtue of the breath of little Jewish children, whose breath is pure and free of sin," referring to children who have not yet reached the age of responsibility for wrongdoing, that is, boys and girls of pre-Bar/Bat Mitzva age.
In this connection it is necessary to bear in mind the words of our Prophet Isaiah (in the first chapter): "Zion will be redeemed through justice (mishpat) and her returnees through righteousness (tzedaka)." "Mishpat," here, means that through the study of the Torah and the observance of its mitzvot, especially the mitzva of tzedaka, the Redemption is brought closer. And tzedaka - in the light of what has been said in the beginning of this letter - includes both tzedaka for the body and tzedaka for the soul. Tzedaka for the body is, simply, giving tzedaka to a poor man, or putting money in a tzedaka box. Tzedaka for the soul is done by helping one's classmates and friends spiritually - that is, to encourage them in matters of Torah and mitzvot, through showing them a living example of how Jewish boys and girls should conduct themselves, and also by talking to them about these things.
Since it is my strong wish, and also great pleasure, to be your partner in this tzedaka activity, I have sent out instructions to give each and every one of you a token amount of money in the currency of your country, which is to be my participation in the said tzedaka campaign.
May G-d bless each and every one of you and grant you success in all the above, especially in your Torah learning and practice of tzedaka, in a steadily growing measure, so that even when you return home from camp and throughout the next school-year (may it be a good one for all of us) you will - with renewed vigor and in good health, in body as well as in soul - go from strength to strength in your study of Torah with diligence and devotion, and that your studies be translated into deeds - in the practice of mitzvot with beauty; and all this should be carried out with joy and gladness of heart.
And may we all very soon, together with all our Jewish brethren, merit the fulfillment of the prophecy that these days of the Three Weeks be transformed from sadness into gladness and joy.
With the true and complete Redemption through our righteous Moshiach, "who will reign from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth...and all the earth will be filled with G-d's Glory."
Why do we dip bread into salt before eating it?
All of the sacrifices were salted before they were offered on the altar of the Holy Temple. The table at which we eat is likened to an altar and we are reminded of this through dipping our bread in salt. Salt also reminds us that the poor should be guests at our table; Lot's wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt, repre-sented the epitome of Sodom's wickedness and inhospitality.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We presently find ourselves in the "Three Weeks" between the Fasts of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av.
What is the purpose of a fast? Fasting brings one to repentance. It is also, according to Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, the path by which we can weaken and even eradicate our desires and impulses toward that which is not good and proper.
Fasting, however, significantly weakens the body, making it difficult to do even that which we are supposed to do.
The Baal Shem Tov recognized that our bodies are not as strong as they were in times of old. He encouraged his followers not to abstain totally from eating or mortify their bodies. Rather, he broadened the term of fasting to include refraining from a "craving."
By holding ourselves back from gossiping or speaking ill of another person, for instance, we are "fasting." We are abstaining from a negative aspect of communication and are also training ourselves not to continue this bad habit.
If you are one who yells a lot, talking softly may be your form of "fasting." If you are very impatient by nature, taking the time to count to ten before blowing up (and then not blowing up) is an effective fast for you.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. When he stated that fasting is the method by which we can eradicate our bad traits, it was the Baal Shem Tov's definition of fasting that he encouraged.
This, of course, relates only to times that one wished to take upon himself a "personal fast." However, the public fast days, defined by the Torah or our sages, are fast days in the traditional sense. They are days when we abstain totally from all forms of food and drink.
May the Seventeenth of Tammuz be the last public fast day, and may we be privileged to celebrate the Ninth of Av all together in the Holy city of Jerusalem, may it speedily be rebuilt, NOW.
Let the L-rd, the G-d of all living souls, appoint a man over the congregation (Num. 27:16)
Rashi explains that Moses was asking G-d to appoint a leader who would be able to understand each person according to that person's needs. Moses referred to G-d as the "G-d of all living souls." This was to underline that the leader should be one who loves all Jews in an equal and fair manner, regardless of their fear of G-d, or position.
And the Children of Korach did not die (Num. 26:11)
They did not die, and in every generation Korach's "inheritors" - those who rebel against the Moses of that generation - are alive and well, continuing in his path.
The land shall be divided by lot (Num. 26:55)
In the land of Israel there are different kinds of areas: mountains, valleys, fields, orchards, etc. When one received his share in the mountains and another in a valley, or one received cornfields and another orchards, this division of the physical land of Israel reflected each one's individual relationship to the spiritual land of Israel. This means that everyone has something unique that relates specifically to him or her in his spiritual service.
Around the time Herod was rebuilding the Second Temple a man named Nikanor lived in the Land of Israel. When he heard about the magnificent restoration of the Holy Temple he wanted with all his heart to join in the great work and make his own contribution to G-d's House.
He decided that he would have two huge copper gates constructed to lead from the courtyard to the Holy Temple itself. At that time the city of Alexandria in Egypt was the center for copper work, and so Nikanor travelled to Egypt to commission and oversee the job. He was a man of means, and so after assessing the best craftsmen, he rented a studio and hired expert coppersmiths to design and execute the project.
The gates were of gigantic dimensions and the work was slow and painstaking. Finally the doors were completed, and Nikanor couldn't wait to see his beautiful gates become a part of the Holy Temple. He hired skilled porters to transport the gates to the port where a ship lay anchored and ready to sail back to the Holy Land.
At long last the gates were loaded aboard the ship and on their way to the Land of Israel. For the first few days everything went according to schedule, but suddenly the weather shifted and a terrible storm blew up. Enormous, angry waves crashed against the sides of the ship until it was filled with water and about to sink.
The sailors rushed to lighten the ship's load. The panicked captain ran to Nikanor, pleading, "You must agree to throw at least one of your gates overboard. They are the heaviest part of our cargo, and if we are to have a chance to survive, they must go."
Nikanor wouldn't hear of it. He clung to the doors with all of his strength. Soon, however, even he could see that his pro-tests were futile. As Nikanor watched in horror a few hefty seamen gathered on deck and cast one of the enormous doors overboard. The vessel was about to right itself, but the pitching of the waves continued unabated and the ship began to take water once again.
There was no choice. The sailors were about to throw the second gate overboard when Nikanor cried out in anguish, "If you throw this overboard, you will have to throw me, too! I will not be parted from it!" But the sailors seized the one remaining door and with all their might they cast it into the sea. At the very moment the door hit the waves, the sea quieted.
Nikanor scanned the glassy sea as far as his eyes could see. There, floating out on the smooth waters, was the gate, sparkling like gold in the sunlight. By some miracle it had not sunk into the deep, but was floating its way to the Holy Land. Nikanor couldn't contain his great happiness. The gate landed at the quay the same time the ship docked. A few days later the other door also made its way to the shores of Akko.
The two doors were transported with great celebration, to Jerusalem where they were installed in a place of honor, in the eastern wall opposite the Holy of Holies. The gateway which they occupied was given the name "The Gate of Nikanor."
Many years later when all of the gates of the Holy Temple were covered in gold, or exchanged for doors of solid gold, the Gates of Nikanor were left unchanged in memory of the great miracle accompanying their installation.
Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was a great sage who lived during the time of the Holy Temple. Rabbi Chanina lived a life of poverty, but even though he was poor, he wanted to donate a gift to the Holy Temple. What could he give, when he could barely feed his own family? One day Rabbi Chanina was standing by the roadside watching the other Jews bringing their sacrifices to the Temple. He began walking down the road, meditating on his dilemma. Suddenly he noticed, standing by the road, a huge boulder of an unusually beautiful shape and color. That gave him an idea. "Why, I could work this stone and polish it until it is a truly beautiful object. Then it will be a fitting gift for the Holy Temple."
He worked on the stone and when his job was completed, he looked around for porters to carry it to Jerusalem. But no one would carry it for the five small coins, which were the only money he possessed. Suddenly five men appeared from nowhere and immediately agreed to bring his stone to Jerusalem for the tiny sum of five coins.
In moments Rabbi Chanina stood in Jerusalem with his stone - the porters had disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. A miracle had occurred to enable the tzadik to make his gift to the Holy Temple. Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa donated his five coins to the fund for poor scholars and returned home a happy and fulfilled man.
Our Sages taught that the Holy Temple below is positioned opposite the Holy Temple on high."
(Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Mishpatim, sec. 18.)