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Sometimes we're reminded just how delicate we are. Little things, slightly off balance - and when we step back to reflect we realize just how thin the margin is.
It's a clich้ in sports, of course. "The game's a matter of inches." It doesn't matter which game - golf, baseball, tennis, football.
If we expect athletes to live on the edge, to dramatize the significance of the critical, yet usually unforeseen, moment, we don't think of our ordinary lives that way. Oh, true, there are some professions that demand fast reactions when that unexpected yet decisive moment occurs - police, firefighters, doctors, for instance - although even in so-called ordinary jobs there are events that, depending on how we act, alter the outcome, tip the balance. (Just ask anyone in sales - or even a plumber!)
Most of the time, though, we expect to live in quiet routine, with enough variety and innovation to keep us awake or motivated. And so there's a sense of indulgence, that there's time ahead, that ups and downs are just a cycle.
But then there are times...
Have you ever gone without eating for a while? The Jewish calendar has fast days.
Or maybe you're on a diet; maybe you got caught in an airport layover, flights delayed and no kosher food around; maybe you got so busy you just forgot to eat. Now you're not starving, but you definitely feel the effects of a "sugar low" - a bit lightheaded, a little queasy or nauseous, slightly more irritable, edgy or excited, paradoxically a kind of laziness or lethargy, a tinge of a headache perhaps, or just an anticipation of food and drink.
And then you eat a few cookies, drink a cup of orange juice, or eat some watermelon and instantly, though you're hungry and your body needs nourishment, instantly you're back to your old self.
Ever have a slight fever? An annoying hangnail or blister? Ever had a little cough or been affected by a passing whiff of smoke? Little things that set us off, that tip the scales and unbalance us.
At such moments - or rather, afterwards, when we've recovered our equilibrium - we realized how finely tuned, how delicate, and how fragile we are.
Judaism informs us that not only our bodies, but our minds and souls are fragile, in delicate balance, but also the whole world, all humanity, the environment (shall we talk about global warming?), the earth itself and indeed all of creation are weighed in a scale in stasis, perfectly balanced.
Further, Judaism teaches us that every moment is the critical moment. The game is always on, the inches (or centimeters) always in play, the margin for error always small - everything suspended as we make the next move, call out the next signal, decide on the next plan.
The delicate, the fragile, the equilibrium of the world - all depends on our next step, our next, act, our next word, our next thought.
The whole world hangs in the balance between good and evil, redemption and destruction, and our next act, our next word, our next thought can tip the scales, the delicate scales that balance the fragile existence of creation, toward good that will be eternal.
This week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, discusses the way in which the Jewish people entered into their covenant with G-d, and, by extension, the process by which a non-Jew is converted and becomes a member of the Jewish people: "And he [Moses] sent the young men of the Children of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to G-d... and he said, 'Behold the blood of the covenant which G-d has made with you.' "
According to Maimonides, three actions were necessary on the part of the Jews to enter into the covenant of the Torah - brit mila (circumcision), immersion in a proper mikva, and bringing an offering to G-d.
Since then, throughout the generations, a person who sincerely wished to become a Jew had to follow the same three steps. The final phase in the conversion process was the bringing of a sacrifice in the the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. But what happened after the Temple was destroyed? Haven't we continued to accept righteous converts, even though, obviously, offerings can no longer be brought? Don't we recite a special blessing three times daily for the "righteous converts" who have joined the Jewish people, often at great self-sacrifice, and enriched us?
After the destruction of Holy Temple it was determined by our Sages that circumcision and immersion were sufficient for conversion. But very soon, when Moshiach comes and the Third Holy Temple will be established, it will once again be necessary for converts to bring offerings as a prerequisite for becoming a Jew. Furthermore, converts who have already undergone the conversion process will also be required to bring offerings. Yet if this is so, why are converts considered full-fledged Jews today?
The answer lies in the concept of the offering itself. The bringing of an offering, a gift, is not a completion of the transformation from non-Jew to Jew, but rather serves to strengthen the relationship between the Jew and G-d, the relationship between the Father and His beloved son. The proselyte's circumcision and immersion allow him to enter into the Covenant of Abraham; the sacrifice he brings (the Hebrew word for which is "korban," from the root meaning "to draw near") reinforces and intensifies his connection to G-d.
When the Holy Temple stood and the Divine Presence was openly revealed, the inner connection between the Jewish people and G-d was likewise open and revealed. But because of our exile, it is far more difficult to feel the intimacy that was once taken for granted. Because of the darkness of the exile, even the most observant Jew must struggle to recapture that relationship. In such times, therefore, one may become a Jew without having brought an offering.
Yet, although converts will once again be required to bring offerings when the Holy Temple is rebuilt, this must not be interpreted as any lack on their part (indeed, converts will be permitted to partake of other sacrifices as any other Jew, even before their offering is brought). The reestablishment of the Temple will in no way, G-d forbid, minimize the holiness of any Jew, but rather, will serve to restore and make even stronger our inner bond with G-d.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 16.
The Guru Jew
by Miriam Karp
86th Street and Central Park West, Manhattan. 1972. Fast moving, hustling, crowds, taxis blaring. In the midst of all the frenetic action is an island of tranquility, as a crowd gathers around a skinny bearded young man, wrapped in a tablecloth, in lotus position, staring at his nose and radiating peace to the seekers who gravitate to him. A guru, a swami! Even hardened New Yorkers are bemused.
Back up a few years. Swami was not raised in a Himalayan enclave, but in a typical American Jewish home. His name wasn't exotic either, just Gil Locks, a nice Jewish boy. A stint in the U.S. Marines in Japan was the first chink in Gil's worldview of Western materialism. He was fascinated by martial arts and the Buddhist detachment, but headed for college and the road of business success upon returning to the States.
Soon Gil was living the American dream, with a designer home, luxury car and executive status. But the emptiness gnawed at him. "When I make even more money, will I have to buy a bigger house? Is this what I'm in the world for?"
He cashed out of the business and joined the Sixties' seekers for a deeper and encompassing truth. Hitchhiking through Northern California, seeking organic life in Mexico, he pushed beyond society's conventions and expectations. Gil ran into an elderly yogi who showed him "an amazing movie of her guru in India."
Gil was soon headed to the guru's ashram in India. He absorbed the Hindu teachings and devoted himself to reaching the spiritual heights the path promised. Years of deep meditation and extreme practices "brought me no joy, just a stronger desire to find the Eternal."
Over time he saw the gurus' discrepancies and perversions that contradicted their spiritual pretensions. He returned to America "where I spoke the language and could help someone."
Gil attracted other wandering souls. "They said they got a special feeling from me. Something radiated from me that elevated them to think about G-d." The free spirits followed the wind, and a feeling of guidance, which led them across the country to a bench outside Central Park. Gil sat to rest, and felt magnetized to the spot. Others gravitated to the mellow energy, and The New York Times reported on the "Central Park Guru Grooving on the Grass."
Fast forward a decade. Our intrepid idealist now resides in the Old City of Jerusalem, a short walk from the Kotel (the Western Wall), a passionate and devout Jew. How did this happen?
"I was meditating 23 hours a day. The highs were ecstatic and the lows were painful, with lows more frequent than the highs." Gil wondered, "Why have I been stuck all those years in my chair for the little bit of good I am doing?" He decided to "try the Jewish commandments."
Gil began with the commandment to put fringes on the garment corners. Purchasing yarn for tassels, Gil earnestly tied one on each corner, including his shirt collar, shirtsleeve, and top of his pants. Gil proceeded to try more mitzvot (commandments) with innocent devotion, and made his way to Jerusalem. Through the ensuing years of humorous and poignant adventures, Gil grew into the deep, grounded and true Torah spirituality.
Today, that intense devotion and drive to seek Oneness have found fertile ground. From his apartment in the ancient Old City, Gil goes to commune with his Creator at the sunrise minyan at the Western Wall. He shares his inspiration with students throughout the world, through his writing and website, thereisone.com. Innovative graphics illuminated with Chassidic teachings help illustrate the unity of G-d that brings all the multi-faceted creation into being. After many arduous years of struggling to find the Unity through the multiplicity of Eastern and Christian paths, Gil is especially attuned to this primal core of Judaism.
Gil has penned four books. He compiled a book on Gematria, the numeric mystical meaning of the words of the Torah, which was approved by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. His autobiography, Coming Back to Earth, is an entertaining recollection of his spiritual journey, especially informative for seekers ensconced or entranced by Eastern paths, as are his other works, Taming the Raging Mind and There is One.
Gil is well-known at the Kotel's Chabad tefilin booth. With humor, warmth and love, he helps thousands of Jews, tourists, seekers, cool Israelis, soldiers, visiting politicians, to try this mitzva. Making the experience personal and meaningful, he asks the person to "picture everyone in your family, one at a time. Try to picture them with light on their faces and smiling. Pray for their well-being, and for everyone you love. Pray for all of us. Don't forget our soldiers, Jews in dangerous places, and those in the hospitals hurting."
Sharing lessons learned the hard way, Gil gives hope and direction to many. "Why did I have to go through these long and torturous steps before I came home?" he muses. Though he usually describes his days wrapped in a tablecloth with his hair tied in a knot on his head with humor, "It was not really much fun to sit there in my hut, holding my hands clenched until they cracked and bled. Nor were those many months of having demons torture me times of great joy." But when called in desperation by a worried young man, whose Buddhist meditation started turning into voices and wrestling with evil forces, Gil could guide him as only one who knows the terrain can.
Rather than walk away from his past, its unique lessons are utilized to help others. Gil's mission now is to live up to what he has found to be the highest teaching of the Torah, encapsulated in the words of Rebbe Shmuel of Lubavitch. "One ought to know the route to the supernal chambers, though it is not necessary. All you need is to help your fellow with a complete heart, to take pleasure in doing another person a favor."
Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Holiday Consumer
Joining the ever-growing family of emissaries (shluchim) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe are three new young couples. Rabbi Yossi and Sara Geisinsky have moved to Coral Springs, Florida, to serve as Program and Youth directors for the Chabad-Lubavitch Center in that growing Jewish community. Rabbi Menachem and Chaya Rivkin established a new Chabad Center in Hillsboro, Oregon, to work with the predominantly Israeli community that has moved there to work for Intel. Rabbi Dovid and Shulamis Labkowski have moved to Oakland, California to open the Chabad of Oakland Jewish Center for the 60,000 Jews in the community.
Erev Shabbos Parshas Shekolim, 5726 
To All Participants in the "Evening With Lubavitch" in
G-d bless you -
Greeting and Blessing:
It is significant that the "Evening With Lubavitch" is taking place on Rosh Chodesh [the new month of] Adar. In olden days, when the Beis Hamikdosh [Holy Temple] was in existence, the first day of Adar was noted for the "Shekolim Call" which went out on that day, whereupon every Jew contributed a half-shekel [coin] to the Sanctuary chest which provided the public sacrifices on behalf of all the Jewish people.
The saintly Rebbe the "Tzemach Tzedek" (so named after his monumental Halachic [Jewish legal] work) - and this year marks the 100th anniversary of his demise - in discussing the Mitzvah [commandment] of Machtzis haShekel [contributing half a shekel] in one of his renowned Chassidic-philosophical works, offers some insights into this Mitzvah requiring no more and no less than half a shekel.
It indicates, he explains, that when a Jew makes a contribution toward a sacred cause, it is immediately matched by a similar benevolence from G-d to him, in accordance with the principle that human initiative acts like an impulse which calls forth a corresponding impulse from On High. The two, together, constitute the complete Shekel haKodesh ("holy shekel").
Moreover, though human endeavor must be voluntary and spontaneous, the assurance has been given that where there is a resolute intention, the person receives aid from On High to carry it to fruition in the fullest measure.
To be sure, the physical Sanctuary in Jerusalem was destroyed and the sacrificial service has since been interrupted. Nevertheless, in a spiritual sense the Sanctuary and all that was connected with it have never ceased; they exist in our daily experience and practice of the Torah teachings and Mitzvos. This is one of the aspects of our infinite Torah, which is in no way subject to the limitations of time and place.
The Mitzvah of the Half Shekel teaches us, among other things, that human effort, provided it is sincere and resolute, is "met halfway" by Divine Grace.
Thus, though the goal may, at first glance, seem too ambitious or even beyond reach, we are not limited to our own human resources, since our initial effort evokes a reciprocal "impulse" from On High which assures the attainment of even the "unattainable."
The Mitzvah of the Half-Shekel was originally related to the Beis Hamikdosh, where simple material objects were trans-formed into things of holiness, through dedication and sacrifice. Such is the unlimited power which the Creator vested in the Jew by means of the Torah and Mitzvos originating in the En Sof (Infinite).
Every Jew has the power to transform small and ordinary things of nature into values and categories which transcend nature - through living his daily life in accord with the will and command of G-d.
In this way the Jew fulfills his purpose in life and the ultimate destiny of Creation, namely, to make an abode for the Holy One here on earth, in fulfillment of the Divine command, "Let them make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them" (Exod. 25:8).
To the realization of this destiny of the individual Jew and of the Jewish people as a whole, the Lubavitch activities in all parts of the world are dedicated.
I take this opportunity to extend prayerful wishes to each and all participants in the "Evening With Lubavitch." May it be a source of lasting inspiration to you all, and an abiding influence towards the experience of a fuller, nobler, and, indeed, holier daily life, where the material "half-shekel" is balanced by its heavenly counterpart "in the scale of holiness" (b'Shekel haKodesh), ensuring a harmonious and truly happy life, materially and spiritually.
What is Shabbat Shekalim?
Shabbat Shekalim is named for the additional Torah portion read on this Sabbath regarding the command to contribute a half-shekel yearly for the purchase of the communal offerings. When the Sanctuary, and later the Holy Temple stood, the shekalim were due by the first day of Nissan. One month earlier, on the first of Adar, announcements were made so that everyone would give the half-shekel in the proper time. Thus, our Sages enacted that on the Shabbat immediately preceding Adar or on the Shabbat on which the first day of Adar fell, the passage about the shekalim call was to be read from the Torah. In our times, it is customary to give a half coin (for instance, in the United States a half-dollar) to charity on the eve of Purim as a remembrance of this special mitzva.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week's Torah portion, Mishpatim (meaning "statutes"), contains many precepts essential for living harmoniously with others. One of these statutes is "Keep yourself far from a lie."
An interesting anecdote relating to the mitzva of not lying is told about a wealthy chasid from Janowitz. In the course of introspection during the bedtime prayers, the chasid decided that whenever he said anything that resembled a lie he would donate 25 rubles to charity.
The chasid mentioned this undertaking to his children's tutor. "Then lie!" advised the tutor. "You will be providing money for the needy."
We do not know whether the tutor gave this advice in jest or earnestly. But we do know that when the tutor visited Reb Shmuel, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe reprimanded him for his advice.
In the Mishna, our Sages tell us, "A mitzva brings about a mitzva and a transgression brings about a transgression." According to one commentator, this teaching can be rephrased and shortened to read, "A mitzva brings about a mitzva and a transgression." How can this be possible?
At times we might do things which we know are not right. But we think that the "end justifies the means": If the store stays open on Shabbat, more money can be given to charity; if it is too far to walk to shul on Shabbat and we drive, well, at least we're going to shul. We begin to convince ourselves that what we're doing is actually a mitzva that will bring about another mitzva. But actually, it is a "mitzva" that brings a transgression.
May we only fill our lives with deeds that are truly mitzvot, bringing more and more mitzvot after them.
And these are the ordinances which you shall set before them (Ex. 21:1)
This section of the Torah comes immediately after the Revelation on Mount Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments. Yet what is enumerated here are not lofty principles pertaining to the relationship between G-d and man; they are very concrete laws governing man's relationship with his fellow man. We learn from this the lesson that "good manners are a prerequisite to Torah." Rabbi Mendel of Kotsk used to say: The same way that a book's preface informs the reader of the book's contents, a person's courtesy and manners indicate just how much Torah learning he has acquired.
Six years shall he serve, and in the seventh he shall go free (Ex. 21:2)
"Six years" symbolizes the six thousand years of the world's existence; "shall he serve" refers to our mission to learn Torah and perform mitzvot; "in the seventh" refers to the seventh millennium, when "he shall go free," when the Messianic Era shall reign on earth and G-dliness will no longer be hidden but revealed.
For all manner of transgression...of which he can say, "this is it" (Ex. 22:80)
Pride is the root of all transgression. The essence of sin is when a person says of himself - "this is it" - "I am the most important thing in the whole world!"
(Rabbi Yisrael of Modzitz)
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, l'chaims were poured, and happy mazal-tovs were exchanged all around. The two men shook hands and seemed to be satisfied with the arrangement.
"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.'"
On this Shabbat the month of Adar is blessed. This blessing is associated with Rosh Chodesh, the renewal of the moon. The renewal of the moon after its concealment is used as an analogy for the Redemption and the complete renewal of the Jewish people "who will in the future be renewed as [the moon] is renewed." This is particularly true in connection with Adar whose "mazal (source of influence) is healthy." Our Sages associate Adar with "joining one redemption (Purim) with another redemption (Passover)." May we merit the ultimate Redemption immediately... without any delay.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 27 Shevat, 5752-1992)