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America's Super Bowl is upon us. Everything in the physical world, even the most mundane, at some level reflects a higher, spiritual reality. Is there anything that can bridge the gap between a secular activity like the Super Bowl (or for that matter, just a regular football game) and Judaism? In every football game, there's one time where everything changes, not only the strategy and the match-ups, but even the rules! That's the last two minutes of the game.
After the two-minute warning, the game changes. Coaches can no longer challenge a ruling, when the clock is stopped or started and other rules gets modified - just because the game has reached the two-minute warning.
Just the fact that there is a two-minute warning indicates how unique the time period is. Action stops, just like at the end of a quarter or at half-time. Both sides regroup.
And the pace changes - if the score is close. The team that's losing tries to hurry up on offense - the so-called two-minute offense. Quick passes. Get out of bounds to stop the clock. Use the time-outs wisely.
The team that's winning tries to slow things down. Make the other team waste a time-out.
And on defense the winning team tries to prevent the "big play," the long completion or the game-winner. Don't let them into field goal range.
The defense on the losing team tries to get off the field as fast as possible.
And therein lies a lesson for us all. For as we get closer to the times of Moshiach, as the "game" approaches the "two minute warning," the rules do indeed change, and our strategy changes as well.
Aspects of Judaism that might not have seemed as urgent 200 or 2,000 years ago, become more urgent. Hence we see an increase in recent years - an increase in Torah knowledge and study, an increase in mitzvot (commandment) observance, an increased concern for the welfare of others, an increased emphasis on love for a fellow Jew.
And in our personal lives, we have also reached the "two minute warning," a time of urgency.
But we have to ask ourselves: Are we playing defense or offense? Are we winning or losing?
Our opponent, of course, is our own yetzer hara (evil inclination). And in some games, we have the lead. So we need to slow down the pace when we're on offense - pay more attention to the details of the mitzva, spend a little more time asking questions at a Torah class to make sure we really understand it in depth, make sure that food product has a reliable kosher symbol.
In some cases, we're behind. We need to play a "hurry-up" offense. We need to grab mitzvot, whenever we can. We need increase the speed of our learning - get cd's for the car, study online. We need to get involved with Jewish activities - Purim programs, soup kitchens, visiting the sick, whatever's going on in the community.
Even on defense, we have to know "how much time" is left, whether or not we have to prevent an encroachment - to make sure that the evil inclination doesn't sneak in by pretense - give charity, but not like you intended. Or we may have to attack the evil inclination up front - confront quickly the attacks on our concentration in prayer, for instance.
Whatever the circumstances, though, we need to recognize that now, in the era of the footsteps of Moshiach, we have reached the spiritual two-minute warning.
After the miraculous Splitting of the Red Sea in this week's Torah portion, Beshalach, Moses leads the Jewish men in singing their praises of G-d, and Miriam, the prophetess, leads the women in their song of thanks.
The Torah tells us that the joy experienced by the women was far greater than that of the men. "And all the women went out...with tambourines and dances."
In fact, the Midrash relates that when the heavenly angels wanted to add their voices to the "Song of the Splitting of the Red Sea," G-d told them that they must wait until the women had finished.
The exile in Egypt was much harsher for the Jewish women than for their husbands. Of all Pharaoh's decrees against the Children of Israel, the most pitiless was the one that broke every Jewish mother's heart: "Every son that is born you shall throw into the river." The pain and suffering experienced by the Jewish women was more intense than the hardships the men were forced to endure, and when salvation came, the joy they felt was therefore greater as well.
The stories in the Torah teach us lessons which apply in all generations. Pharaoh's decrees against the Jewish people have appeared again and again, throughout history, in various forms. Their aim, however, has never changed. The Egyptian Pharaoh sought to kill Jewish babies by drowning them in the Nile; later despots sought to destroy Jewish souls in ways equally dangerous, although not always as obvious.
In our days, when most Jews, thank G-d, live in relative safety and security, the decrees of Pharaoh imperil the spiritual existence of the Jewish people. "Pharaoh" rears his head in the guise of popular culture and the winds of arbitrary and capricious conventional wisdom, which threaten to sever the Jewish people from the eternal and timeless values of the Torah. "Pharaoh" seeks to immerse and drown the minds of impressionable Jewish children in the waters of whatever is, at the moment, trendy and fashionable.
The threat is not all that different from the one faced in Egypt, because Jews cannot exist for long without their faith in G-d and the study of Torah. Jewish children need a solid Jewish education to ensure the continuation of our people.
Today, just as in Egypt, the main responsibility - to safeguard our greatest national treasure, our children, from negative influences - lies with the Jewish mother. Jewish women have, throughout the generations, been granted the power to set the proper tone in the home and make it a place where their children will flourish and grow up to be good Jews.
In this way Jewish women will see true satisfaction from their children and merit to sing G-d's praises at the Final Redemption, speedily in our days.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
by Mendel Abelsky (age 11)
My grandfather is my Jewish hero. In 1990 at the fall of Communism in Russia, the Lubavitcher Rebbe gave my grandfather a blessing to go to Kishinev, Moldova, to rebuild the Jewish community. The Rebbe added a unique blessing that my grandfather should be able to give blessings to other people. My grandfather at that time was not young.
My grandfather and grandmother were so happy living with their grandchildren in Israel, yet as soon as they got the blessing from the Rebbe, there were no questions to ask; they were going. I've heard the story recounted about the scene in the airport when they went off. All of the children and grandchildren had come and were crying as they hugged good-bye.
My grandfather immediately began to build and lift up the Jewish people living in Kishinev. My father was the only child not married when they left; he was there to help them in the first most trying years.
Saba (grandfather) is so careful in his observance of Torah and mitzvot. He is so respectful toward my savta (grandmother). I look up to him tremendously. In Kishinev everyone calls him Reb Zalman. Although he is close to 80-years-old, his strength is like an 18-year-old. Russian Jews of all ages come to him for help, and he is able to talk to them at the level they are at.
My grandfather is a soldier, a soldier of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and I feel so special that he is my grandfather. My father continues to help him until this day and we are so lucky to be part of it.
There are so many people who have become closer to their Jewish roots through my saba and savta. Many of them have since moved to Israel and America where it is easier to live fully Jewish lives. We have guests that come to our home and tell us about the changes that they have made in their lives, because of the holiness that they saw on the face of my grandfather.
Grandfather is the true meaning of the word hero: "someone respected for their courage or the noble values they uphold!"
by Maryana Kolpakchi
It wasn't such a long time ago, but for me it seems like ages. The phone rang, and a pleasant, accented voice asked me if I would like to come and light Shabbat candles. I was skeptical, but I answered, "Yes." What followed was my first meeting with Rebbetzin Leah Abelsky, the wife of Rabbi Zalman Abelsky, Chief Rabbi of Kishinev and Moldova.
It took a few weeks of coming and lighting Shabbat candles before I worked up the courage to ask her the thousand questions that filled my mind. With enormous patience she began to explain to me the basics of Judaism. A little while later, I started to attend Rebbetzin Leah's lectures, which begin with the Hebrew alef-bet. Her lectures are attended by a variety of women ranging from college students, to engineers, to pensioners. Rebbetzin Abelsky's tremendous pedagogical skills and experience are immediately obvious in her teaching style, which constantly engages the students' attention.
The most interesting part, obviously, is the discussion period which follows the lecture, since every conversation with Rebbetzin Leah teaches you not only the laws of the Torah, but is also spiced with words of wisdom about every topic from everyday challenges of life to the best recipes for gefilte fish. You keep on attending the class and before you know it, things are beginning to change: you meet new Jewish friends and little by little, a real Jewish community begins to develop.
The Rebbetzin takes a keen interest in the lives of every Jew in Kishinev, and she has her special way of communicating with each individual. With an old lady she speaks Yiddish; with the youth she speaks Russian; with Esther, a young student from a medical college in Roumania, she converses in fluent Roumanian. To watch Rebbetzin Leah feeding an old woman in the hospital, is to get a wordless lesson in the essence of kindness.
During her years in Kishinev, the Rebbetzin has amassed countless friends. They all know the address to find a sympathetic ear, some words of advice or help for their problems. All of their names are listed in the small book she always carries with her. This list is constantly changing as some people emigrate to Israel, to the United States or to some other corner of the world. Each time Rebbetzin Leah has to erase a name from her book, it registers a deep pang of concern in her heart, and her most sincere wishes for success follow each of them.
Rebbetzin Leah may justifiably be best known for her most remarkable project: her weekly Shabbat table. At the end of the week the cooking begins for the huge crowd of guests, which will participate in the Shabbat table. The guests crowd around the table until there's not even a tiny space, and even then they somehow find a crack of space. (Incidentally, Rebbetzin Leah's "cooking school" is another feature of the Moldovian Jewish community. Actually, to tell the truth, it's an "eating school"!) Probably at least half of the Kishinev Jewish community has joined the famous Shabbat table, not including the many guests from different places all over the world. The mix of people at her table is truly wondrous - all ages, all levels of education and experience, but all with one most basic thing in common: a Jewish soul. More than once I saw people thanking the Rebbetzin with tears rolling down their faces, because they had experienced something that had infused their lives with new meaning. The Rebbetzin detests compliments, and so she immediately turns the conversation to her dear grandchildren, whom she doesn't see often enough.
Although she may not have the opportunity to spoil her grandchildren as much as she would like to, she certainly spoils the entire Kishinev community, and for that we are all very grateful.
Rabbi Yonah and Rochel Goldberg are establishing a new Chabad Center in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. Rabbi Mordechai and Esty Groner are moving to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where they will head the Calgary division of the Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Chaim Shaul and Chavi Bruk will be arriving shortly in Bozeman, Montana, where they will establish Chabad-Lubavitch of Montana. Rabbi Mendel and Chai Cohen are directing the Chabad Mobile Kitchen in Los Angeles, California and the Ma'alot Chabad Center. Rabbi Shaya and Shayna Gopin moved to West Hartford, Connecticut to serve as directors of adult education for the greater Hartford area. Rabbi Mendel and Faige Slavaticki are directing the Chabad Israeli Programs in Chicago, Illinois.
Freely translated and adapted
Tuesday, 21 Shvat, 5704 
Greetings and blessings,
...Many concepts can also be learned from the festival of this month, [Shevat 15,] the New Year of the Trees. A person who pays attention to everything that occurs around him can add to his wisdom from every matter that happens, improving his relations with G-d and with his colleagues. This does not apply only to exceptional matters. Instead, even commonplace matters like a tree which grows can provide directives for a person's daily life.
To point out several:
Most members of the plant kingdom, and trees in particular, are composites of many elements. In general, [their components] can be placed in three categories:
- the roots;
- the body of the tree (its trunk, branches, and leaves), and
- its fruit ([which contains] the peel, the fruit itself, and its seeds).
The difference between them [can be explained as follows]:
The roots are hidden from an observer's sight, but they are the medium which provide the fundamental vitality for the tree. (The leaves do, however, enable the tree to absorb certain components from the air which are necessary for their existence and they acquire the heat from the sun's rays.) Moreover, it is the roots which enable the trees to stand firmly. If a tree's roots are strong, there is no fear that the stormiest winds will uproot it.
The body of the tree - This represents the major portion of the tree's structure. From time to time, the thickness of the branches and the number of leaves increases; through this, and in particular, from the trunk of the tree, we can discern the tree's age.
The ultimate purpose of the tree, however, is the production of fruit, for from the seeds [in the fruit] can be planted new trees for generation after generation.
A man is "a tree of the field." Thus there are certain particulars in which a person resembles a tree. This applies even with regard to his spiritual service. Here, too, there are three categories:
The roots - This corresponds to faith which connects a person the source of his vitality, the Creator, blessed be He. Although [the person] grows in the wisdom of the Torah and its mitzvos, his vitality is drawn down to him through his faith in G-d, His religion, and His Torah.
The trunk and body of the tree - This refers to the study of the Torah and the performance of the mitzvos and good deeds. These must constitute the majority of the structure and the largest quantity of a person's deeds and activities. Through the abundance of [his] mitzvos and his greatness in Torah, the years of a person's life can be recognized, i.e., a life full of content of wisdom and deed.
The fruit - A person's ultimate fulfillment comes when - in addition to fulfilling all of his individual responsibilities, he influences his colleagues and his surrounding environment, leading them toward fulfillment. His activities are "seeds" which sprout other trees (people) who have roots (the fundamentals of faith), a trunk and branches (Torah and good deeds), and which bear fruit (bring merit to others).
The lesson from the above: The source of a person and his root are pure faith. A weakness of faith endangers the maintenance of even a great person's spiritual life.
The majority of a person's structure must be the good deeds which continually increase from day to day.
The consummate perfection of a person, however, is bearing fruit, i.e., that he should influence others and enable them to merit to fulfill their mission and the purpose for their creation. In this manner, his efforts bear fruit and the fruit bears fruit, generation after generation. And all this merit is dependent on him.
With the blessing, "Immediately to teshuvah, immediately to Redemption,"
From I Will Write it in Their Hearts, translated by Rabbi Eli Touger, published by Sichos In English
What are some of the customs of Tu B'Shevat?
It is customary on Tu B'Shevat to eat fruits that grow in Israel, particularly the ones for which Israel has been praised: grapes, pomegranates, olives, dates, and figs. Some also have the custom to stay awake throughout the night and study all the Biblical, Talmudic and Kabbalistic sources related to the fruits of the Land.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The New Year for trees takes place this Shabbat on the 15th of Shevat (February 3).
Our Sages tell us that man is likened to a tree of the field. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya said: Anyone whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds...[is like] a tree whose branches are numerous but whose roots are few, and the wind comes and uproots it and turns it upside down...But anyone whose good deeds exceed his wisdom...[is like] a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are numerous, so that even if all the winds in the world were to come and blow against it, they could not move it from its place...in the year of drought it shall not worry, nor shall it cease from yielding fruit (Avot 3:17).
Our mitzvot are like roots that go deeper and deeper in to the earth, truly giving us not only stability but nourishment, as well. But, what, we might ask, is the "fruit" that a person bears? When he is involved with good deeds, his family, friends, co-workers, see the beauty of what he is doing and want to follow in his footsteps. They begin to act similarly and they, too, perform good deeds and establish strong roots with which to nourish their souls and bodies.
Let us hope that, by our own example, we can, indeed, influence our family and friends to perform deeds of great worth.
And you shall hold your peace (Ex. 14:14)
This command was directed against those Jews who wished to engage in prayer instead of actually proceeding into the sea. We learn from this that there are times when a Jew must close his prayer book, remove his tefilin, fold his talit and leave the synagogue - in order to save the thousands of Jews who are in danger of drowning in the sea of assimilation, "splitting the sea" and uncovering the light of the Jewish soul that exists within.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
See, the L-rd has given you the Shabbat (Ex. 16:29)
Some things are beyond man's ability to control, but the extent to which a person feels the sanctity of Shabbat is dependent on his own service. The more a Jew prepares and invests his efforts, the more the holiness of Shabbat is felt.
How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? (Ex. 10:3)
The nature of a Jew is such that even when he isn't submissive before G-d, his own lack of submission distresses him. In his heart of hearts, the Jew desires to be nullified before Him. Pharaoh, by contrast, was proud of his arrogance and not at all ashamed of it.
This month shall be to you the first of months (Ex. 12:2)
During the Sanctification of the New Moon we say, "David, King of Israel, is living and enduring." The rule of the House of David is likened to the moon: In the same way that the moon seems to disappear from the sky, yet everyone has faith in its eventual reappearance, so too will the Davidic dynasty ultimately be restored with the coming of Moshiach.
The Talmud states (Sukka 29a): "Israel reckons [the months] according to the moon; the nations of the world, according to the sun." Metaphorically, this means that the gentile nations flourish only when the "sun is shining," when things go well for them. As soon as the "sun" goes down, they cease to exist. But the Jewish people is able to flourish even in times of darkness, spreading the light of Torah and illuminating the gloom.
The Rebbe of Apta was accustomed to hearing many of the woes of his fellow Jews, and so, he was not surprised when Mottel burst into his shul with tears streaming down his face. "Rebbe, please help me," the distraught man cried out. "My daughter is getting older by the day, and I still can't raise enough money to provide her with a dowry."
The Rebbe asked how much he needed. "I need one thousand rubles. And you see, Rebbe," said the man as he turned his pockets inside out, "I have exactly one ruble to my name!"
"Well, my friend, one ruble is also something. My advice to you is to go out and with your one ruble, purchase the first piece of goods that comes your way. Surely, G-d will bless you and you will obtain all that you need."
Reb Mottel was confused by the Rebbe's answer, but he had faith in the word of the tzadik. He would see how the blessing would materialize.
Mottel began his long trek home, but when exhaustion overcame him, he decided to rest at an inn. Soon his attention was seized by a group of rowdy fellows seated near him. From their conversation he deduced that they were diamond merchants. Suddenly, one of them noticed him.
"Are you interested in buying something?" the merchant inquired.
"Yes, I am interested," he replied.
"Well, how much money do you want to spend?"
Reb Mottel squirmed in his seat. "One ruble," he replied.
The merchants burst into loud laughter. "One ruble!" It really was ridiculous. Then someone spoke up, "I have something to sell for one ruble!"
Reb Mottel was astounded. "That's wonderful, what is it?" he asked.
"My portion in the World to Come!" he blurted out. The assembled crew exploded with laughter. One of them ran to get paper and pen - this would be a "legal" sale. Soon the contract was drawn up. Both the buyer and the seller signed their names, and the witnesses affixed their names as well.
"All right, now give me your ruble," sputtered the merchant. Reb Mottel handed over the coin. The merchants' laughter filled the inn.
Just then, a woman entered the room. Approaching the merchants, she said to her husband, "Why are you laughing so hard?"
He could barely contain himself: "You see that beggar over there? I just got him for his last ruble! I sold him something totally worthless!"
"What did you sell him?" his wife asked.
"Ha! I sold him my portion in the World to Come!" he chortled happily. He would have continued, except for the look on his wife's face.
"What!" she cried. "You sold him the only thing of value that you own! Is nothing sacred to you? I will not live with a man who values nothing except money. You are vile and despicable! Give me a divorce!"
The merchant was shocked. Didn't she know that this sale was just a sham? He protested, but to no avail. His wife was perfectly serious.
Realizing that his little joke had gone too far, the merchant called over Reb Mottel. "My good man, I'm afraid our little 'bargain' is off. I'll give you back your ruble, and you'll give me back my paper."
But Reb Mottel just looked up at him and said, "I am very happy with my purchase. I have no intention of returning it."
The merchant was in a panic, "You know, I'll sweeten the pot for you.
I'll add a few rubles 'compensation' for the 'broken contract,' " he chuckled.
"No thanks," replied Mottel.
"Well, how much do you want for that silly piece of paper?" the merchant asked, his agitation growing.
"I won't settle for less than a thousand rubles!"
"What! Are you mad? For that sum, you can keep the stupid paper!"
But then the merchant's wife entered the fray. "I promise that if you don't buy that paper back, I will have a divorce this very day! I won't spend my life with a man who could sell his portion in the World to Come! I don't care if it costs you five thousand, or five million rubles! You get that paper back!"
Finally, the merchant realized he had no other choice. He gave 1,000 rubles to Reb Mottel who handed him the document. Reb Mottel then told the merchant's wife what had transpired and about the words of the Apter Rebbe. She was so impressed that she wanted to meet the Rebbe herself.
When ushered into the Rebbe's study she said, "I have one question.
Was my husband's portion in the World to Come worth only one ruble?"
The Rebbe responded, "Before he sold it, it wasn't even worth that much. But when he redeemed it by 'buying' the mitzva of dowering a bride, the value of his Future Life soared, for such a mitzva cannot be measured in money.
When the Children of Israel went through the Red Sea, they were able to clearly see G-d's presence. However, even this awesome experience cannot compare with the revelations of the Messianic Age. The Midrash (Shmot Raba) explains: At the parting of the Sea you said, "this" (zeh) once, but in the Messianic Age you will say "this" twice, as Isaiah prophecized (25:9), "You will say on that day, 'Behold this is my G-d. We have trusted Him and He has redeemed us; this is G-d Whom we have trusted, let us rejoice and be happy in His redemption.' "