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Anyone who's been in school knows the dangers of plagiarism and the severity of its consequences. We can readily understand the legal importance of such accuracy and such honesty. But would it ever occur to you that accurate quotation could change the world, for good?
In the sixth chapter of the Mishne known as Ethics of the Fathers, in the midst of a discussion about how one acquires Torah, a curious statement is made about quotations and transmission of learning. It says: "...whoever says a thing in the name of its author brings Redemption to the world, as it is stated, 'And Esther told the king in the name of Mordechai'." (As a result, Haman's plot was foiled and the Jewish people were saved.)
Why is saying something in the name of its author so powerful that it brings the Redemption?
To answer this, we have to understand something about the nature of teaching and scholarly invention. Now clearly if the teacher says to the student directly, "I'm telling you this," then the student should say, "I heard this from my teacher," or "my teacher told me this," or something similar.
And this sensitivity to faithful transmission stretches back, all the way back to the giving of the Torah. Maimonides, in the beginning of his Mishne Torah, lists the chain of tradition, from Moses to his own day. In a different context, even scholars in secular fields are very careful about their bibliographies, citing sources to set the context of their work.
So as long as we're in the reception-transmittal phase of learning, then, we have to identify the source, explicitly.
However, there is one exception: when the source is so obvious it doesn't have to be named. When Joshua taught Torah, for instance, it was clear to all who he learned from. Joshua didn't have to say, "I heard this from Moses," because it was obvious.
That obviousness applies not just to a well-known teacher-student relationship, but to a style. When the style itself obviously belongs to a certain school of thought, we automatically know its origin.
This explains how quoting something in the name of its author brings the Redemption. Because when a teaching is internalized, we don't need to quote the author. That is, when we have absorbed a teaching, made it our own, then, when we transmit it, even if the style belongs to us, everyone knows where it came from.
In practical terms, this is why the declaration "whoever says a thing in the name of its author brings Redemption to the world" occurs in the middle of a passage that talks about how to acquire Torah.
Who, after all, is the Author of Torah? G-d. And what is one way, indeed, the last and perhaps most important way, to acquire Torah? Quote it in the name of its Author.
But here, "quote it" doesn't mean simply declaring, "G-d said." It means absorbing Torah, making it our own, so that we become living Torahs ourselves, and living transmitters of Torah, so that all who see us will see that it's obvious who we learned from, who our Teacher is.
And by becoming living examples and living transmitters, we bring Redemption to the world.
Based on an explanation by Rabbi Levi Garelik of Likutei Sichot 36:180-186.
In the Torah portion Shoftim we find the verse, "For man is the tree of the field." What, though, is the connection between human beings and trees?
At first glance, there seems to be little in common between the two. Man is the crown of creation, the only being with the capacity of speech, whereas a tree is on a much lower level, even lower than an animal. Why, then, does the Torah equate us with mere trees?
The unique characteristic of a plant is its intimate connection with the ground, its source of life and sustenance. Although both animals and people also receive their sustenance from the earth (and indeed were even created from it), the relationship is less direct. Humans and animals are not bound to the earth by their roots and are free to move about. A plant, on the other hand, must always be connected to the ground; if it is uprooted, it will wither and die.
A tree expresses this concept even more. Bound to the earth, it must suffer the harsh punishment of the elements throughout the four seasons of the year, yet annually bears its fruit (unlike annuals, which live for only one season). A tree has such a strong connection to its source that even the changes in season do it no harm.
It is in this respect that man resembles the tree of the field. He, too, is unable to exist if cut off from his source of life. His soul requires a constant and continuous bond with the source of his existence. This intimate connection and relationship with G-d is the trait which man may learn from the trees and adopt and strengthen for himself.
The source of life for the Jew is the Torah, and he draws his strength and vitality from it. It is true that most Jews cannot spend their entire day engrossed in Torah study and must venture out into the world to "make a dwelling place for G-d down here below." Nevertheless, when a busy businessman dedicates a small amount of time in the morning and evening to learning Torah, the influence is felt throughout the day. We derive meaning and inspiration for the rest of the day from the time that was actually spent learning Torah.
One must always bear in mind that "man is the tree of the field" - he is always bound by his roots to his source of life. Even as one actively pursues a life of commerce, or whatever one's profession may be, he must strive to feel that intimate bond with his Creator. The Torah that is learned during those few moments will permeate one's entire life and create a Torah-true atmosphere.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Following the Rabbi's Prescription
by Steve Hyatt
Several years ago, as I sat in a soggy Suka in Wilmington, Delaware, I asked Rabbi Chuni Vogel if we could finish our meal inside his warm, dry, inviting home. As if it were yesterday, I remember him looking at me with a knowing smile and saying, "Shloma Yakov, no one ever said a mitzva had to be easy." Throughout the years, some easy and some more challenging, his words have echoed in my ears, giving me both solace and guidance as the adventure of my life has unfolded.
Recently, I went to see my personal physician about a persistent pain in my abdomen. After extensive tests we learned that I had a failing gallbladder and it needed to come out as soon as possible.
On the Saturday before the operation I sat around a table with many of my friends at Chabad of Northern Nevada. We had just finished making Kiddush and were discussing the weekly Torah portion with a visiting Yeshiva student, Yisroel Cutler of Houston, Texas. Yisroel was in Reno helping Rabbi Mendel Cunnin with a summer Bar Mitzva camp for several local residents.
During the course of the afternoon I asked the rabbi what my obligations were regarding reciting the three daily prayers after the operation. I wanted to make sure it would be okay if I kept the davening (praying) to a minimum until I recovered.
I had figured that Rabbi Cunin would open up an ancient book of Jewish law and show me the paragraph that dealt with illness and that I would be relieved of the responsibilities of reciting all of the prayers until I felt strong enough to fulfill the obligation.
As soon as the question left my lips I saw the same knowing smile appear on Rabbi Cunin's face that I had first seen on Rabbi Vogel's face in the soggy Suka. He waited a moment and then said "Steve, you could lie in bed two or three days and do as much davening as you feel up to, or you could wrap yourself in talit and tefilin and let the power and personal pleasure of davening help speed up your recovery!" Rabbi Cunin paused and then said, "By pushing yourself to do more than you think, you will recovery faster than you ever imagined. Never do more than you should but try and do more than you think you can." Translation: no one ever said a mitzva had to be easy but no one ever said it should hurt either.
The big day came and my doctors did a magnificent job. I went into the hospital that afternoon at 2:00 pm and I was home, snug in my own bed by 7:00 pm. I felt pretty good considering everything. Shortly after I got home I picked up my prayerbook and recited Maariv, the evening prayer. I was little light-headed but all in all it was a piece of kugel. I went to sleep with a contented smile on my face.
The next morning I felt very different. Everything hurt; I even thought that what little hair I still had on the top of my head ached. After several minutes it was apparent that the wonderful painkillers they had given me at the hospital had worn off. The last thing I wanted to do was get out of bed, put on my talis and tefilin and daven. So I just lay there. As I dozed in an out of consciousness, the words of both Rabbis Vogel and Cunin kept jarring me back to consciousness. "No one ever said a mitzva had to be easy. Wrap yourself in your talis and tefilin and let the power of davening speed up your recovery." Oy veh, even in your dreams these Chabad Rabbis are nothing if not persistent.
After another hour or so of struggling with my physical need to lie in bed like a stone, and my compelling desire to say the morning prayers, I slowly, ever so slowly, moved my legs to the side of the bed. It took a long time to get washed up and dressed and an even longer time to complete the davening. But when I was done, I had to admit I felt better. Later that day I said the afternoon and then the evening prayers. Every time I davened, I felt just a little bit better.
As the days went by, the davening got easier and my health improved. Wednesday morning I received a telephone call from my new friend Yisroel Cutler. He inquired about my health and then asked if I wanted to get together and study some Talmud. Considering I had never studied a single word of Talmud in my life, I was surprised when I heard myself say, "Sure, how does 2:30 p.m. tomorrow sound?"
We met at the Chabad House and settled down for what I thought would be an easy hour or so of discussion. Of course that comes from a guy who never studied Talmud before. The entire discussion revolved around not more than four sentences concerning what one can and cannot do when one finds abandoned grains left behind by the owner. Yisroel and I discussed, debated and argued about the myriad commentaries for almost two hours. Forgotten was the pain in my abdomen. Forgotten was the fuzzy vision. Forgotten was the continuing nausea. All were replaced by the joy and satisfaction of this stimulating discussion.
When I left the Chabad House I was a new person. I was reenergized. The Rabbis were right, no one ever said the effort had to be easy and sometimes the more demanding way produces the bigger reward.
By the time Shabbos rolled around I was almost my old self. As we sat around the table at the Kiddush, eating delicious cholent, I couldn't help but marvel at how lucky I was to find Chabad (or was it the other way around), oh so many years ago in Palm Springs, California. Coincidence, I think not!
Rabbi Chaim Ozer and Racheli Metal are moving to Las Vegas, Nevada where they will be doing youth programming at Chabad of Summerlin. Rabbi Menachem and Chana Shayna Gansburg are starting a new Chabad-Lubavitch Center in Toronto, Canada. Rabbi Elazar and Rivkah Bloom are moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where they will be involved in the Hillel Academy, under the auspices of Lubavitch of Wisconsin. Rabbi and Mrs. Yossi Mandel are moving to Everett, Washington where they will be opening a new Chabad-Lubavitch Center serving the Jewish communities of Snohomish County. Rabbi and Mrs. Mendy and Lewis are establishing a new Center in Old Tappan, New Jersey that will serve the Jewish communities of Old Tappan, Rockleigh, Northvale and Harrington Park. (As reported by shmais.com)
The Lewis' were appointed by Rabbi Mordechai Shain of Lubavitch on the Palisades.
The following letter is freely translated and adapted
22 Elul, 5703
... To conclude with a matter of immediate relevance: Our Sages noted that in the verse ohbuhctk ,ub,nu uvgrk aht [Ish L're-ayhu Umatanot L'evyonim - (as the Scroll of Esther states) a person gives food gifts to his friend and charity to the poor] "charity to the poor" serves as an acronym for the name Elul (kukt) indicating that in Elul, we should eagerly give to tzedakah [charity]. The Rambam writes (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 3:4) that "It is customary for the entire House of Israel to give profusely to charity from Rosh HaShanah until Yom Kippur more than throughout the year." If this applies to charity that endows a person with life in this world, it certainly applies to charity that endows a person with life in the World to Come, as reflected in the Mishnah (Bava Metzia 33a).
It is possible to explain that there is an added advantage to [giving] tzedakah that has spiritual intents over tzedakah which endows a person with life in this material world. With regard to the latter, at times, there may be drawbacks, because [at times], the poor who [receive the charity] are not worthy. As our Sages commented (Bava Basra 9b): "They were caused to blunder, because of people who were unfit, so that they would not receive reward." Certainly, this applies if the charity is used to sway young children away from the [Jewish] faith.
When, by contrast, the charity is used to endow people with the life of the World to Come, there are no possibilities of such shortcomings. How much more so does this apply when [the tzedakah is being used] for the education of children and the strengthening of the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos by adults?! In such instances, there is no suspicion that one will be teaching a student who possesses an unrefined character (Chullin 133a; in particular, it is possible to explain that this prohibition applies only when there is an alternative, as the Alter Rebbe writes in his Shulchan Aruch, Hilchos Talmud Torah, Kuntres Acharon, ch. 4, note 1).
May it be G-d's will that through "G-d, tzedakah is Yours," we - and the entire Jewish people - be inscribed for a good and sweet year.
I was happy to receive your drawings together with the letter from your kindergarten teacher...
In your drawings I saw little boys and girls, and trees and flowers...and I want to take this opportunity to tell you of the great love and affection that my father-in-law, the Rebbe, possessed towards all Jewish boys and girls, young and old - but especially towards the young. The Rebbe was concerned about their education and their well-being wherever they were, and in every boy and girl he saw a sapling that would one day grow to be a beautiful fruit-tree with delicious fruits.
However, this growth all depends on whether the boy or girl wants it and works for it - just as we see with a tree: When you plant a seed or a tender sapling, you have to protect it from weeds and from all kinds of damage, you have to water it etc., until it grows and becomes a tree, bearing good fruits.
It is the same with every boy and girl; G-d has said (through his prophet) that you are "...the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride," The Creator - may He be blessed - has planted within you a holy Neshama, a soul, which is actually a part of G-d above. You must protect this G-dly "seed" from weeds and from damage, which means from bad influences. You must supply it with life-giving water, and the only water is the life-giving Torah and its mitzvoth [commandments] which bring life to those who observe them.
If you do this, dear children, G-d will give you His blessing over and over, so that you will succeed in becoming "trees" bearing good and praiseworthy fruits, bringing joy to your parents and teachers, and bringing pride and glory to our people, the people of the Children of Israel...
Why is it customary to have our mezuzot and tefillin checked to see if they are still "kosher" in the month of Elul?
During Elul, the month preceding the Day of Judgement of Rosh Hashana, we examine all our mitzvot and rectify those with "defects." Thus, concerning tefilin and mezuzot, we have them examined and, if there are defects, have them corrected.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In keeping with the Rebbe's encouragement to fulfill the custom of studying Pirkei Avot - Ethics of the Fathers - on Shabbat afternoons throughout the summer months, I would like to present to you an explanation of the last teaching in the last chapter, which we study this week. The Rebbe explained this "mishne" at a talk he gave specially for graduates of Beth Rivkah girls' school and summer camp counselors.
"All that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory..." Everything in this world was created by G-d, therefore it is connected to Him - it is intrinsically G-dly. It is our responsibility to reveal the G-dliness within all of creation.
How is it possible, though, for us to see the connection between worldly objects and G-dliness? The answer is found in the above mishna itself.
Everything that exists was created by G-d, and He created it for His glory - with the ability to attest to and reveal its innate G-dliness. For, otherwise, why would G-d have even "given the time or energy" necessary to create it? And certainly, this is even more true considering that, as taught in Chasidut, G-d is constantly renewing the life-force of everything He created. He created the world in this manner, so that every creature feels it within his power to add to creation by revealing the G-dliness which is constantly reinvested into the world.
There is a beautiful, practical lesson that we can take from the above teaching. Everything that every Jew does must be in a manner of "He created solely for His glory," i.e., revealing and acknowledging the G-dliness in every aspect of the world. How do we do this? Through studying the Torah and performing mitzvot, and also, by seeing the "natural" miracles and miraculous miracles that we have all witnessed throughout our lives.
Judges and officers you must appoint for yourself in all your gates (Deut. 16:18)
"In each and every city," comments Rashi. The Talmud goes even further, explaining that "city" may also be understood to mean the individual person, who is called the "small city." In order for a person's Good Inclination to be victorious and to rule, one must have the assistance of "judges and officers." The "judge" part of a person's spiritual make-up first looks into the Code of Jewish Law to see if a certain act is permissible or not according to the Torah. If the Evil Inclination afterwards balks at fulfilling G-d's command, the "officers" come to the rescue to force the individual into compliance. "Man's Good Inclination must always be in a state of anger against the Evil Inclination," states the Talmud.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
You shall set a king over yourself (Deut. 17:15)
If appointing a king over the Jewish People is a mitzva (commandment) in the Torah, why then did Samuel the Prophet take the Jews to task when they demanded that he do so? The answer is that the Jews did not want an earthly king because G-d had so commanded; they clamored for a king out of a desire to imitate the nations around them.
According to two witnesses...a case shall be established (Deut. 19:15)
The word which the Torah uses here for "case" is "davar," which alludes to the "dibbur" (speech) of prayer. The "two witnesses" likewise stand for our love and awe of the Alm-ghty. The Torah teaches that our prayers must be uttered with this love and awe in order for them to be worthy and contain substance.
You shall be perfect with the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 18:12)
It is not all that difficult to appear to be perfect and whole to other people. That is why "with the L-rd your G-d" is specified - your uprightness and honesty should be genuine and not just for show.
(Rebbe R. Bunim)
On one of the Skuler Rebbe's visits to Reb Boruch of Medzibuzh, he told Reb Boruch the following story:
"Once I was sitting together with the Baal Shem Tov when two strangers entered the room. The more distinguished-looking of the two men approached the Besht and spoke: 'We have come to ask the advice of the tzadik,' he said. Then he continued with his story: 'I am the rabbi of a small town in this district and I have come to ask the Baal Shem Tov if I should make a match between my daughter and this man's son.'
"The Baal Shem Tov looked closely for a full minute at the speaker and then shifted his penetrating glance to the other man. Then he replied without hesitation, 'Why not?'
"The rabbi looked surprised at the response and began speaking rapidly and nervously, explaining his situation. 'You see, Rebbe, this man is a simple person, not at all learned - in fact, he had been water carrier when fortune smiled on him and he became a wealthy man. Then, he got it into his head that he wanted to make a match between his son and my daughter. Of course, he realized I would never entertain such a proposition so he approached my children's teacher with an offer: He would pay the teacher fifty rubles in advance if he would come to me every day and ask me to arrange the marriage between my daughter and the water carrier's son.'
"The Besht turned to the rich man and asked, 'Is all this true?'
"'Yes, Rabbi,' he replied. 'I knew that he wouldn't go for the idea right away, but I figured if he were asked every day for a few weeks, he would begin to think about it more seriously, and it might go through.'
"'Yes,' chimed in the rav, 'I can't get rid of this pest. Every day the teacher comes to me with the same story about the rich man's son, until I really can't stand it any more. Nothing will dissuade him, and so I finally agreed to come to you and accept whatever verdict that you give. If you say I should arrange the match, it's as good as done; if you say to forget it, he has agreed to leave me alone.'
"'All right, then,' replied the Besht, 'tell me, is this man a G-d-fearing person? Is the family known to be engaged in good deeds and charity? Are they honest, good people?'
"The rabbi could only answer in the affirmative to all the Besht's questions, for the rich man and his family were known to be fine, upstanding people and no one had ever had a bad word to say against them. 'If that's the case,' said the Besht, 'let's arrange the marriage now. There's no reason to delay.' They sealed the agreement and happy mazal-tovs were exchanged all around. The two men shook hands and seemed to be satisfied.
"When the men departed, the Besht turned to me, and said," 'That man would make a good matchmaker in the world of clowns.' He chuckled to himself and seemed to be amused at something I couldn't understand.
"I had no idea what he meant by that odd remark, but I intended to find out, so I left and followed the two men to the local inn where I knew they were staying. When I found the rabbi I related the Besht's statement to him in hopes of receiving some explanation which would illuminate the mysterious remark of the Besht.
"The rabbi listened incredulously and then with great excitement, cried out, 'Now I understand where I was in my dream! Let me explain. You see, not long ago I dreamed that I was traveling around in my district to receive payment from my congregants as I usually did, in the form of all sorts of farm produce. I arrived in one village and entered the study hall where I overheard a discussion which was taking place between the men seated around a long table. They were having a heated argument about some scholarly topic which, to me, seemed an easy question to resolve. I ventured to explain it in a simple fashion when suddenly I heard a loud voice from the back of the shul saying, "How dare this man offer an opinion in such matters? Why he's nothing but an ignoramus!"'
"'In the next part of my dream, I was in a different village where the same scene repeated itself. Then, I went to another village where it happened yet again. In each town I entered a study hall, overheard a learned dispute, and ventured my opinion, only to be derided and shamed.
"'In the last part of my dream, which was similar to all the others, an elderly rabbi approached me and said, "This ignoramus still doesn't want to marry his daughter to the son of the rich man?" I woke up completely upset and confused.
"'Now that you have told me the words of the Baal Shem Tov, I understand the meaning of these dreams. In the world of dreams I had been made sport of so that my pride would be broken and I would agree to the match between my daughter and the rich man's son. Now I understand that the marriage has been ordained in Heaven.'"
Regarding Moshiach, though the spirit of G-d will rest upon him and he will teach Torah to the Patriarchs and to Moses - he will have the ultimate humility and will study with simple people.
To bring about his arrival, a commensurate activity is required: the teaching of Torah to all, even the ignorant and simple. In addition, this must be done in a humble and selfless way - not for the gains to be had from teaching, but for the sake of the recipient. This brings closer the day when "my servant David will rule over them," may it be now.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, Sefer Ma'amarim Melukat 6:84)