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by Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov
In the summer of 1963, a group of college students from the United Kingdom visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, and presented him with a number of questions. Their questions were primarily philosophical, and the students' agenda was to discern the Rebbe's opinion on various subjects.
Among their inquiries, they asked the Rebbe what he felt was the secret to the Jewish people keeping together and surviving for three thousand years.
The Rebbe's answer was very straightforward: it is the Torah and mitzvot (commandments) that have sustained us all these years. They have not changed, and have therefore enabled us, by following G-d's precepts, to persevere as well.
To many, this statement may, mistakenly, sound like the stereotypical Orthodox mantra: G-d gave us laws, and if we don't follow those rules we're doomed. However, upon further reflection, when actually considering these words, we discover that not only has it been true for the Jews throughout history, but it is in fact true and prevalent today as well.
With the baseball season approaching, let us use the national pastime as a metaphor. Imagine if George Steinbrenner (yes, I'm a New Yorker...) decided one day that he's changing the layout of Yankee Stadium. From this point on, in order to enhance his players' ability to score, he's reducing the distance between bases from 90 feet to 75 feet. One can imagine the uproar this would cause (not to mention the animosity it would add to the already detested Yankees).
But what's wrong with that? Mr. Steinbrenner hasn't changed the game much. He hasn't reduced the amount of bases, or the three-strikes-and-you're-out rule. All he did was make it easier for his players, as well as visiting players, to run the bases. The obvious answer is that in order for his team to be part of Major League Baseball, and for them to be allowed to compete with other teams, they must follow the strict guidelines that have been part of the game for so many years.
If they deviate, they may still consider themselves baseball players, but they will find themselves outside of the mainstream. And once that happens, there's nothing stopping them from changing more rules. Perhaps beginning with having 4-inning games, then 5-men lineups, until one day they may play by a time clock, divided to four periods; use a larger ball filled with air; wear jerseys and shorts; and instead of the goal being to hit the ball out of the park, their new objective will be to throw the ball through a hoop.
The Jewish nation is no different. In order for us to survive, we must stick to what works. For over 3,000 years the Torah and mitzvot have kept us going; additions, subtractions, or any changes, can only impair our existence as a people.
Of course, the correct approach to Judaism is not that of all-or-nothing. G-d appreciates every Mitzvah we perform, regardless of those we don't yet do. The challenge is to not be satisfied by what we've already accomplished. When behaving a certain way long enough, it becomes second nature and it is time to move on; it is time to challenge ourselves once again; time to see what more we can achieve. What was yesterday's great accomplishment, is today's status quo.
Rabbi Zalmanov is the director of Chabad of Northwest Indiana.
When two Torah portions are combined, such as occurs this week when Vayakel and Pekudei are read, the result is a single entity with a combined message for us in our daily lives. In fact, this week's Torah readings affords us a fundamental lesson in our service to G-d, for each portion illustrates a different aspect of that service.
"Vayakel - And you shall gather" points to the unification of all of the different entities in our diverse world, uniting within the domain of holiness. "Pekudei," by contrast, means "counting," and highlights how every entity possesses its own unique importance, for every creation has been given a unique nature with which it can serve G-d.
In particular, the message of Vayakel applies to the Jewish people, and alludes to their being gathered together to form a single, collective entity. Fulfilling the mitzva of "Love your fellow as yourself" is possible because all Jews share a single essence, their G-dly soul, which is truly "a part of G-d from above."
This mitzva is so important that even before beginning our daily prayers we make as formal declaration of accepting this commandment as the foundation upon which the day's activities will follow.
In simple terms, when a person sees another Jew, he should try to unite with him, because, in truth, they share a fundamental commonality. This applies not only to Jews in one's immediate community, but to all Jews, even those in the most remote corners of the world.
And when the distance is spiritual in nature, when another Jew doesn't not share one's level of Jewish observance, one should make sure to focus on the connection which is shared and not on the differences which superficially divide.
This approach, this thrust to unite with one's fellow Jews, will lead to the ultimate fulfillment of Vayakel, the ingathering of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. We need not even wait until Pekuday, when we read about the official census of the Jews that was taken thousands of years ago. On the contrary, after the coming of Moshiach, Jews will gather first in their ancient homeland, and afterwards, when all Jews will have left their present exile, the new census will be taken.
In fact, as we stand on the very threshold of the Messianic era, we have a foretaste of this ingathering, which is being experienced at present with the immigration of Jews from many countries to the Land of Israel.
Although there has always been a Jewish presence in Israel, there are far more Jews gathering there now than ever before, a fact that has attracted the attention of the entire world.
May our deeds hasten that day when the ingathering of all the dispersed Jewish people will be complete, when G-d will "sound the great shofar...and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land."
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The Game of Life
by Felice Schimmel
I am a senior at the Univeristy of Texas at Austin and the student president of Austin Chabad. As everyone already knows, football at Texas is life. This weekend was the last home game of the UT football season before I graduate and I did not attend. Instead I was cheering on a different side line.
I packed my bags and headed to Crown Heights, New York along with 500 other students from around the country. This weekend was the Chabad college campus Shabbaton. I stayed with a host family, Rabbi and Mrs. Yaakov and Itty Chazan and their family. Friday night was a special treat. After a traditional Shabbat dinner of Maztah ball soup, chicken, three types of kugle and desert, I sat around the table with a group of people with different Jewish backgrounds and smoozed.
Mrs. Chazan had prepared a few words of wisdom to share with us. The one lesson that she taught me was this, "The Rebbe says that there is nothing wrong with loving sports, in fact Jewish life is like a game. You have the ability to take the ball and run towards doing good. Some times your opponent, evil challenges you and even beats you, but it is your duty to get back up and try again." This to my surprise made more sense then many of my college professors. Even though I did not find out the score until after Shabbat I felt that I had won.
The over all experience can not really be put into words but as the Austin Chabad motto goes, "Chabad is the home that brings you home." This special weekend reunited me with old friends who to me are family. Coming to Crown Heights taught me that we are all one big Jewish family that sings the same tune weather we are super observant or not.
A Soul in Crown Heights
by Jacob Tarica-Lechter
As a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I know very well how hard it is to find and hold onto spiritual inspiration. The majority of people in this academic environment look largely to the scientific method for truth, and therefore do not appreciate acts of faith or the wisdom of Jewish teachings. Most of the time, I feel I must keep secret some of the morals and values that I have decided to incorporate into my life in order to succeed in this world.
For the last two years, for instance, I have wrapped tefilin almost every day. But when I wake up in the morning, I lock my door and whisper the Shema so that my roommates don't hear me. So many times, I am afraid of being ridiculed for practicing a tradition and a truth that I so greatly appreciate. My personal struggle, therefore, has become, "How can I live my life as a student of Jewish beliefs, while at the same time carrying credibility with my Jewish friends who so ardently disagree with me?"
In an effort to try to answer this question, last November, I went to Crown Heights to experience the Chasidic culture for three days. Over the past five years, I've built strong relationships with Lubavitchers and have grown to admire their ability to love their fellow Jew. From the Shmotkin and Schapiro families in Milwaukee to the Matusof family in Madison, to one of my dearest friends, Rabbi Yisroel Wilhelm and his family in Boulder, Colo., I have been surrounded by mensches. They not only live the teachings of the Torah, but also dedicate their lives to helping others uplift their neshamas, their souls. Because each one lives a totally Jewish life, it only made sense for me to observe the home base of their movement.
Although admittedly such an experience would push me out of my comfort zone, with an open mind and searching soul, I walked into Chicago's Midway Airport with nine other students to begin the journey. Just after sunrise, we sat down in the terminal and waited for our plane. I saw Rabbi Matusof, who directs the Chabad House at the University of Wisconsin, deeply engaged in prayer while wrapped in his tefilin.
Never in my entire life have I dared to wrap tefilin publicly, unless a rabbi spotted me out and did it for me. This time, though, it was different. I decided that, as small an act as it was, this was the time for me to prove to myself that I'm proud to be Jewish. For the first time in my life, I wrapped tefilin in front of people that I did not know. Better yet, it was in an airport, where hundreds, if not thousands, of people were walking around. Within the first five hours of the trip to Crown Heights, I was squarely facing my personal challenges.
This one act opened me up to an ease of internal acceptance that made the rest of the weekend phenomenal. I got to spend time with learned rabbis and students for 72 hours. We sang, danced and celebrated the simple fact that we were together. Matisyahu, the Chasidic reggae superstar, made appearances on Friday and Saturday. We were content to be in Crown Heights together, and the change in culture did not bother us. Everyone felt connected to the same purpose, and that purpose was simply finding ways to exercise our long neglected Jewish souls.
Chasidic discourse teaches that man's relationship to G-d is like a child's relationship to his father. The father loves each individual child with the same amount of passion; so too does G-d love each person equally. When we were together in Crown Heights, there was no disconnect between the Chasid and college student. Everyone was united as one, happy to share in Shabbat.
The experience inspired me to feel proud of my identity all the time, in so many ways. I no longer separate myself from my Jewish identity because of my secular environment; instead, I try to work with my environment in order to connect more closely to my neshama, hopefully becoming an example for friends and family.
Gifts to Treasure
When the Rabinovich family arrives in America, each child brings a special gift from their grandparents back in Russia. Eleven-year-old Moshele uses his gift to help him adjust to being Jewish out on the North Dakota prairie. Twelve-year-old Raizel uses her gift to remind her to act more grown up, even when there are animals in the beds, chickens reluctant to give up their eggs, and dangerous blizzards. And nine-year-old Chaya? She can't even figure out what the gift is supposed to be. This newest book in the "fun-to-read" series from HaChai Publishing is written by Tehilla Greenberger and illustrated by Eli Toron.
Freely translated and adapted
Motzoei Shabbos Kodesh, Mevorchim Chodesh Nissan, Parshas HaChodesh, 25 Adar, 5742 
To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel, Everywhere, G-d bless you all!
Greeting and Blessing:
After Purim, we turn our attention to the preparations for Pesach [Passover]...
Our Sages of blessed memory connect the redemption of Purim with the redemption of Pesach, although the two deliverances were quite different. Yet the two also have certain features in common. One of them is the emphatic imperative to remember and observe these days to all posterity. Thus, in regard to Pesach the Torah declares (in Parshas HaChodesh): "And this day shall be unto you for a remembrance... unto your generations." Similarly, in regard to Purim it is written: "And these days shall be remembered and done in every generation and generation. "
It has often been emphasized that a remembrance in Torah, as in Jewish life in general, is not meant for the purpose of merely recalling an important event that happened in the past. Rather, the real purpose is to derive specific practical lessons for today and tomorrow.
We will focus here on one of the important points, common to Pesach and Purim.
The Passover sacrifice required that every man individually take a lamb (or kid) for an offering, for himself and his household. In complying with this Mitzva (commandment), each person, each family, each chavurah (group) acted as a separate entity, distinct from the whole Jewish people - each a world in itself. But at the same time they were all unified within "the whole congregation of Israel" which had received the same Divine commandment, to carry out the same Mitzva, at the same time, in the same manner, as emphasized in the verse: "The whole assembly of the congregation of Israel," all unified in the performance of a Mitzva that is connected with the Exodus from Egypt, when all Jews came out together triumphantly as one nation from the first exile, which is also the harbinger of the ultimate and complete redemption from the present and last exile.
Similarly it is underscored in the Megilah [Scroll of Esther], which tells the story of the Miracle and redemption of Purim, that even when Jews are in exile, "scattered and dispersed among the nations," - every Jew a world unto himself - they remain, nevertheless, "one people" and "their laws (of the Torah, their way of life) are different from those of all other nations."
And also in the observance of Purim there is a similarity to the Passover sacrifice, as noted above, requiring that every Jew, individually, hear the reading of the Megilah, send portions (mishlo'ach monos) "a man to his friend", and give "gifts to the poor", etc. But the intent (soul) of these Mitzvoth is to bring closer and unify all these individuals ("a man," and "his friend," "the poor") as well as - "young and old, infants and women" - so that everyone can see that they are one people, whose unity is emphasized also earlier in the Megilah, as the first step toward the Redemption: "Go assemble together all the Jews."
It is in this way that we achieve (while still in exile) the position that "For the Jews there is light, joy, gladness, and honor."[...]
There is a practical instruction that follows from the above that should permeate every detail of the daily life of every Jew, man and woman:
Every Jew is a complete world in himself and has a G-d given task from the Creator-of-man; a task that has to be carried out in the fullest measure according to the capacities that have been given him. This task has to be carried out by each person himself, individually, without relying on someone else, or on the community, to carry out his task for him.
On the other hand, he must know that he is a part of the one people, composed of millions and millions of Jews (may their numbers increase), a nation blessed "as the stars of heaven for multitude."
In a deeper sense, moreover, it is a one people that is composed of all generations of Jews, from the time the Torah was given to the end of time.
It is clear, therefore, that every individual's task is an integral part of the whole community of Israel; and the good of the community outweighs personal considerations and personal interests.
It also follows that when a Jew acts for the benefit of the community, for the good of the one people that embraces all generations, he draws strength from the inexhaustible wellspring of the eternal people, and he is bound to succeed in this effort, and thereby also in all in his personal affairs, both material and spiritual...
What are some customs associated wtih moving into a new dwelling?
It is a Jewish custom to hold a festive meal and rejoice at a "dedication of the house," i.e., to hold a housewarming. According to Chasidic teachings, inviting friends to one's new home to celebrate at a gathering at which Torah thoughts are expounded, will be beneficial both materially and spiritually.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In a talk on this Shabbat twenty years ago, the Rebbe spoke about the connection between the two Torah portions, the special additional Torah reading and the upcoming Rosh Chodesh (beginning of the new month) of Nissan:
"Every year Parshas HaChodesh is read on the Shabbos preceding (or on Shabbos) Rosh Chodesh Nissan. The weekly Torah portion varies, however, from year to year. This year, two portions are read together, Vayakel and Pekudei. Both of them speak about the actual construction of the Tabernacle in the desert. This is also the idea of Rosh Chodesh Nissan, for that was the day on which the Tabernacle was constructed. We therefore see Rosh Chodesh Nissan stressed both in the weekly portion and in the special portion, Parshas HaChodesh.
"The main point, however, is not merely to discuss the Torah, but to derive practical lessons in how to improve our actions. Action in this physical realm is so important that it was actually the reason for the creation of this physical world - that G-d should have a dwelling place in a lowly realm.
"The practical lesson to be derived lies in the fact that Rosh Chodesh Nissan is the time for redemption....
"This is therefore the time to make a tumult regarding the redemption. This involves two points: a) that the time for Moshiach has certainly arrived, and b) that this redemption must be in the literal, physical sense, not merely a spiritual one.
"Some people might wonder: if after speaking so frequently about this people still haven't changed their attitude and behavior, what purpose is there in continuing to speak about it!
"The answer lies in the legal ruling of the Rambam that even through a single act, one could bring Moshiach. In light of this, and especially since his arrival involves pikuach nefesh, everything possible must be done to hasten his coming."
May the Rebbe's words, taken to heart, bring the long-awaited Redemption.
And on the menora itself were four cups, shaped like almond blossoms, with its knobs and flowers (Exodus 37:20)
According to Maimonides' detailed drawings, the 22 cups of the menora were "upside down," that is, the wider, open part of the cup was on the bottom, while the closed, narrower part was at the top. The windows of the Holy Temple were similarly inverted - narrower on the inside and wider on the outside. Why? The function of the menora was to illuminate - not just its immediate surroundings, but the entire world. Light did not filter in from without; rather, light spread from the Temple outward. A regular cup is a vessel for drinking; an inverted cup pours its contents out for others - hence the symbolism of the menora's cups.
(Likutei Sichot Vol. 21)
All the work of the Sanctuary of the Tent of Meeting was finished, and the children of Israel did all that G-d commanded Moses (Ex. 39:32)
Once the Sanctuary was completed, sacrifices could then be brought to serve as atonement for sins. Nonetheless, the Jewish people continued to keep all the Torah's commandments, even as they brought their offerings.
(Rabbi Shlomo Kluger)
And Moses blessed them (Ex. 39:43)
What was Moses' blessing? "May it be G-d's will that the Divine Presence rest on the work of your hands. "In other words, holiness and G-dliness must be brought into all aspects of a Jew's life - not just his spiritual relationship with G-d, but even his business dealings with his fellow man.
After 12 long years, his exile of penury was finally over. Forced by debt to leave his family and his small inn, the Jew had worked in a distant town as a teacher of young boys, a melamed. Now, having painfully amassed 900 rubles, he was anxious to return home and resume his life.
Being a chasid, the melamed first stopped in Berdichev, to secure the blessing of his rebbe, the great tzadik, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. After prayers, the tzadik greeted the melamed warmly, and then suddenly turned to him and said, "If you would like, I will give you three words of advice. But for each, you must pay well. The first will cost you 300 rubles. The melamed was surprised by the rebbe's request, but isn't it written, "Words of Torah are better than gold"? He laid the money on the table.
"When a man doesn't know which way to turn, eh should always go to the right!" the rebbe said. "For the next word of advice, you must pay another 300 rubles."
The melamed experienced a tremor of shock at these words. What was the meaning of this costly advice? And now, another 300! But he couldn't refuse his rebbe, and so, he counted out the money.
"An old husband with a young wife is half a death," said Reb Levi Yitzchak. "And if you wish to hear the last word, you must pay the same amount once again."
This final demand left the poor melamed paralyzed. His years of struggle, his long awaited home-coming. With trembling fingers he opened his purse and spilled the contents on the table. But his sadness soon dissipated and was replaced by a strange feeling of joy. Come what may, he had obeyed his beloved rebbe.
"Remember, my son, to believe only what you see with your own eyes. This is my final advice. Now, go in peace."
The bewildered chasid began wandering the surrounding streets, when he heard the cry, "Catch the thieves. There's a price on their heads! Have they gone to the right or the left?" the pursuants asked the melamed.
After only a moment of hesitation, the melamed spoke up, "To the right!"
Later that afternoon, the melamed had 600 rubles in hand - his share of the reward for catching the thieves. Happily, he headed for home, but as it was nightfall, he decided to stay the night at an inn. The elderly innkeeper was about to admit him when a young woman appeared and sternly turned him away, saying, "We have no room, go elsewhere!"
"An old man with a young wife," the melamud thought to himself and he resolved to take his rest huddled in the courtyard of the inn. Around midnight, he was startled by a wagon from which alighted two men, one carrying a glinting sword.
Emboldened by his rebbe's words, the melamed yelled, "Murderers, murderers, catch them!" The inn was roused, and the would-be killers fled into the darkness. The grateful old man, who had suspected a plot, rewarded the melamed with 300 rubles.
There was nothing left to do but to continue on his way. He arrived in his old town to find it unchanged. However, no one recognized him, so profoundly had his years of hardship altered his features. His inquiries about the innkeeper who disappeared many years ago brought knowing looks from the townsfolk. "Yes," said one man, "we remember him. A fine family, but, sad to say, his wife has gone off the straight path."
That night the melamed stood outside his house. In the pale moonlight he saw a young man stealthily enter the house. Hours later he left as secretly as he had come. And if it weren't for the echo of his Rebbe's words, he would have left his home again, but this time, forever.
The following day he returned, laden with gifts, and was greeted with a welcome he had pictured in his imagination so many times. Only now, his heart was wracked with pain.
When he and his wife were finally alone, the melamed turned to her and said, "The whole town is talking. Why, I have even seen with my own eyes..."
"Stop!" his wife pleaded. "Have you forgotten our youngest son? Didn't you notice that he is not here? The Duke seized him years ago as security on our loan. All of my weeping and begging were to no avail. But we have been blessed with a good child. Each night he comes to me, and I teach him a little bit - some Torah, some blessings. Very little, but he knows he is a Jew."
The melamed wept in wonder and awe at all that had transpired. For it was wonder enough, thought the melamed, that my Rebbe had the vision to see how the events would unfold, but he had had the wisdom to see into my heart. For had he not demanded so dear a price for his words, I would not have been able to follow his advice. But the greatest wonder of all is that G-d enabled me, a simple Jew, to give up my entire fortune when I would have more easily surrendered my very life.
In the Book of Exodus (38:21) we read: "These are the accounts of the Sanctuary (Mishkan), the Sanctuary of the testimony."
Our Sages said that G-d did not take the Holy Temple from the Jewish people permanently, but is holding it as a mashkon ("collateral" - a play on words with "mishkan") which will one day be returned. Furthermore, the repetition of the word "Sanctuary" in the above quoted verse alludes to the two Temples that would be destroyed before Moshiach establishes the Third and Eternal Holy Temple, speedily in our day.
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Mishpatim, 5752)