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by Rabbi Bentzion Milecki
Great actors who win coveted prizes, the Oscars, the Logies, the Golden Globes, win because in their acting they are able to portray accurately and faithfully the characters they represent. Indeed, the truly great actors speak of actually become their characters, at least for the duration of the filming.
And yet when you ask some of these people about the really important issues of the day - whether politics, or ethical dilemmas - they often give trite answers lacking any depth whatsoever.
And you wonder - heh, in a film, he portrayed the President of the United States, and he did such a great job of acting the part; she played Queen Elizabeth I and won awards; he played a doctor in the midst of an ethical dilemma with all the angst and the pathos that the character required.
And yet in real life - they have nothing to say?
Are they for real?
The answer is that we are talking about very ordinary people - but when they act, they achieve levels of greatness, even grandeur that eludes them in their private lives.
In their acting, they give vent to elements of themselves, which under normal circumstances they themselves are unaware that they possess.
And then you understand what our Sages mean when they say: "A person's heart is drawn after his actions."If you act in a particular way, it is only a matter of time that you feel that way - as long as you keep on acting.
As they say - "Fake it until you make it!" Or as a wise woman once put it "Be real until you feel!"
Everyone of us needs to create a vision of what we would like to be.
We don't mean your career, we don't mean your house, we don't mean your social circle. These are merely what you have.
We are talking about you. Your values, your humanity, your conduct, and of course your Jewishness.
And we need to live that vision. We need to ask ourselves, "if I am this vision of myself, what would I be thinking, saying, doing right now?"
Not what would I do - but would that visionary me do. We need to step out of ourselves. To act bigger than we are at this moment.
For a person to say: "this is who I am and that's all there is to it" is so small, so petty.
What is this that you are afraid of leaving?
What is a person other than the sum-total of his experiences and perceptions?
Are your experiences so wide, are your perceptions so accurate, have you invested so much in where you are - that you don't want to give it up?
Or perhaps, just perhaps, the reason that you don't wish to leave the puny you - is because it's easier to simply stagnate?
As a wise man once said: Most people fail not because they have placed the bar too high, but because they have not placed it high enough!
Sometimes they are even happy to dream - and then to fall asleep.
We need to move back to idealizing and acting out those idealizations.
Rabbi Milecki is the rabbi of South Head Synagogue, in Sydney, Australia.
This week we read two Torah portions, Behar and Bechukotai. The name Behar means literally "on the mountain." The Midrash relates that when G-d wanted to reveal His holy Torah to the Jewish people, all the mountains in the world vied for the privilege. Each mountain in turn came before G-d and boasted of its superiority and beauty, yet it was precisely Mount Sinai - a small and unassuming mountain that refused to boast - upon which G-d chose to give the Torah.
Neither the mountains' impressive height, prime location or other physical characteristics were taken into consideration. Not only did these features not convince G-d, as it were, to choose them, but their boasting had the opposite effect. For the Torah could only be given in a place where side issues were irrelevant; the Torah was revealed purely for its own sake.
The giving of the Torah on humble Mount Sinai contains a lesson for all of us in how a Jew is supposed to observe G-d's commandments. Personal considerations and motivations, no matter how valid or convincing, are not the real reason we perform mitzvot. Rather, a Jew fulfills the Torah's commandments solely because such is the will of G-d.
Nor do we perform mitzvot because of their reward, despite the fact that the Torah promises ample dividends for our compliance. True, we will be more than compensated, but the true reason a Jew obeys G-d's will is only because He wants us to.
Some Jews may wish to observe the commandments in order to merit the Garden of Eden, but this too, is only a secondary issue. Observing mitzvot (commandments) brings delight to the spirit, refines our character attributes and purifies the soul, but the desire to obtain these personal benefits is not the Jew's genuine motivation.
As Jews we are obligated to emulate the example of Mount Sinai, the only proper "vessel" for containing the Torah. Our motivation and intent in heeding G-d's word must be unadulterated by thoughts of personal gain or advantage. For the true reason we serve G-d and obey His mitzvot is solely for the sake of serving Him.
In fact, had G-d commanded us to perform actions which would not be rewarded, we would carry out His will with the same joy, enthusiasm and vitality with which we observe the Torah commandments, solely because He wants us to!
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Volume 1
Games People Pray
By Miriam Karp
A mere drop in the big ocean of humanity, Jewish people are disproportionately represented in expanding the frontiers of science and humanities. Being only .22% of the world's population, we have received 22% of the coveted Nobel Prizes. This year Professor Robert (Yisrael) J. Aumann won the Nobel Prize in economics, for advancing the understanding of conflict through game theory.
Replete with pomp and circumstance, lavish opulence and strict protocol, the ceremony is always held on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death. Last year December 10 fell on Saturday and Aumann, like Agnon in 1966, faced the challenge of remaining true to his Jewish values while participating in the august honor.
The ceremony is held at night, but there is a requisite Saturday morning dress rehearsal. Choosing tallit over tux, Aumann prayed at the Chabad House, and was feted with a kiddush by the Israeli ambassador and Stockholm's Jewish community.
Later that week the professor lectured at Handel University in Gothenburg, and was further feted at a special dinner catered by Chabad. As the short winter afternoon drew to a close, the celebrity left his audience for the Mincha prayer, leading the afternoon prayers in a conference room with Chabad Rabbi Alexander Namdar.
The menu of the grand banquet for 1,300 guests in Stockholm's City Hall is always a closely guarded secret until the day of the dinner; suspense and interest mount in the weeks leading up to the gala. But this year the chefs had to reveal the top-secret menu to Stockholm's kosher caterer to create kosher delicacies similar to the main menu.
Dr. David Rosen, Dr. Aumann's son in law, described the feast: "The Kosher table settings of brand new gilded heavy silver, fresh from the kiln china and recently blown gold-stemmed crystal stood ready. Conversation flowed with fine kosher wines and special kosher old pale liquors. The Swedish menu of rare snow-grouse-breast covered in reindeer meat was NOT served to us. Our kosher contingent enjoyed a less gamy fare of goose covered in fillet of beef. That tasty texture was relished along with whole blanched green snow beans and northern forest champignons in espagnole roux."
In addition to kosher food and Shabbat observance, other challenges were overcome. The de rigueur tails and trousers with braids had to first be checked for sha'atnez, the Biblically prohibited mixture of linen and wool. Since there is no sha'atenez lab in Sweden, the garment was flown to Israel to be examined. The forbidden sha'atenez was indeed found in the tails, and replaced by an expert.
Professor Aumann's 35 family members were the largest cheering section, quite visible by their distinctive dress. The men wore knitted kippot, while the women sported colorful head coverings. It was an emotional moment as Sweden's King Gustaf presented the prize to the 75 year - old scholar, who rose to accept his award in a white kippa that matched his flowing white beard and formal shirt.
Prof. Aumann's toast at the Nobel Banquet opened with the Jewish blessing:
"Baruch Atah Ado-nai Elo-kainu Melech HaOlam HaTov v'HaMativ; Your Royal Highness, we have, over the years, participated in the scientific enterprise - studied and taught; preserved, and pushed forward the boundaries of knowledge.
"We have participated in the human enterprise and raised families. And I have participated in realizing a 2000-year old dream - the return of my people to Jerusalem, its homeland.
"This recognition is not only for us, but for all game theory, in Israel and in the world - teachers, students, colleagues, and co-workers... I offer my thanks to these, to the Nobel Foundation and the Nobel Committee, to our magnificent hosts, the country of Sweden, and to G-d, Who Is good and does good."
The inspiring words and the sight of the good professor surrounded by his four children (a fifth son was killed in Operation Peace for Galilee in 1982), their spouses and 19 grandchildren and great-grandchildren expressed Jewish endurance and continuity, as this noble scholar honored Jewish ideals and traditions, and was graciously accommodated by the Swedish royal court and the Nobel Academy.
Reprinted with permission from the Jewish Holiday Consumer.
Thirteen Principles of Faith
The Thirteen Principles of Faith addresses key issues of Jewish faith. Based on the teachings of Moses Maimonides, it covers concepts such as: Proof that the Torah was given at Sinai; The accuracy of the Oral Tradition; Why are there so many Rabbinic disputes; How contradictory truths can co-exist; How halacha, the will of G-d, can be fathomed by human beings; Why the Torah will never be replaced. Changes to the Torah in the Messianic Era. The scholarship is profound and thorough, yet the arrangement of the material is well-organized into easily understandable lessons following a logical sequence of issues and concepts implicit in the basic principles, to present a user-friendly text from which both scholar and layman will benefit greatly. The insertion of invaluable insights from Chassidic sources, and in particular from the vast treasure of the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, provide a truly original work. Available from Judaica stores or the publisher at www.kolmenachem.com.
2 Sivan, 5709 
Greetings and blessings,
I was happy to read your letter about the powerful and positive impression the description - in the Memoirs [of the (previous) Lubavitcher Rebbe] - of Benyamin Wolf and the other hidden tzaddikim [righteous] made on the Jews in your shul [synagogue].
You should have pointed out two lessons in particular that every one of us - and they - should learn from these stories:
- With regard to others: Whenever we meet another Jew, we must always remember that even though he appears to be a very simple person, and even perhaps on a lower level, i.e., that he is not dutiful in his observance and the like, we can never be sure of who he is in truth and what his inner dimensions are. For there were always - and there are today - hidden tzaddikim among the Jewish people: many, many more than 36 [I.e., there is a common tradition that there are always 36 hidden tzaddikim in the world at any one time upon whose merit the world relies.] of them. Therefore we have to look upon [every person] in a favorable light, being careful regarding his honor, and trying to do him a favor to whatever degree possible.
- With regard to oneself: Each one of us has hidden potentials, which - were he only to have a strong desire to use them - will enable him, with G-d's help, to reach the highest peaks. For when a Jew connects himself to G-d Who is infinite through the Torah and its mitzvos [commandments], he has the potential to break through all limitations. In this context, our Sages say: "A person is obligated to say: 'When will my deeds reach the deeds of my forefathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.'"
How are your studies - both your own and those with others - proceeding? You no doubt participate in a communal study session?
I conclude with a wish for the upcoming Shavuos holiday: that we all receive the Torah with happiness and inner feeling; that it be a Torah of life for us. It should not be a Torah which we honor and we keep, but regard as distant so that it will not disturb our everyday life. Instead, it should be a Torah that directs us with regard to our - and everyone's - life.
With blessings for a happy holiday,
In the third month, on this day," 5710
[1 Sivan, 1950]
...According to the interpretation of Megaleh Amukos, at the beginning of Parshas Emor, the four qualities mentioned in Avos 5:20 are associated with four aspects of our Divine service:
"Bold as a leopard" is associated with Torah study (based on Beitzah 25b);
"Light as an eagle," which is characterized by mercy, with love;
"Swift as a deer" with mitzvos (the performance of commandments) (see Berachos 6b); and
"Courageous as a lion," with fear (yirah, Hebrew for "fear," shares the same letters as aryeh, "lion").
These four aspects refer to the four letters of the name [of G-d] Havayah (see Zohar III, p. 123b; Tanya, the beginning of ch. 44).
Behold, the lower level of fear is a gate to ascend all these rungs and serves as a foundation for them (see Zohar I, p. 8a; Kuntres HaAvodah, ch. 2). And the higher rung of fear is the ultimate goal of all Divine service, as stated (see Devut. 6:24; Tanya, the conclusion of ch. 23 ).
From "I Will Write It In Their Hearts," translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos In English
What is Shabbat Mevarchim?
The Sabbath that precedes the new Jewish month is known as "Shabbat Mevarchim," - the Sabbath when we bless [the new month]. A special prayer, known as "Birkat haChodesh - blessing the new month" is said on Shabbat morning, after the Haftorah reading. In this prayer, we beseech G-d to grant us the Redemption, and to renew for all life, peace, joy, happiness, salvation and consolation.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we bless the new month of Sivan, the month in which the holiday of Shavuot falls. In addition, we read two Torah portions, the second one beginning with G-d's words, "If you follow in my statutes..." These words can be directly related to the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, the festival on which we celebrate receiving the Torah.
Interestingly, the Talmud interprets the first word, "If" ("im" in Hebrew) as a plea, an appeal, as it were, from G-d for us to follow the mitzvot which he has commanded us.
But, the Talmud also tells us, that G-d never imposes unreasonable or impossible obligations upon His creatures. Therefore, not only is G-d beseeching us to keep His Torah, he is also conferring upon us the ability to follow and uphold all of the Torah's commandments.
For us, this year, the lesson is clear. In preparation for receiving the Torah on Shavuot, we are assured by G-d (as we are every year and, in fact, each day) that we have the strength and ability to observe the Torah that we will be receiving.
But drawing on that G-d-given ability can, of course, be a very difficult job. So, to give us incentive, G-d promises us a reward, too: "I will give your rains in their season." This is both a material and spiritual reward: for rain connotes blessing in material matters and also refers to the Torah which we will learn when Moshiach comes.
May each and every one of us merit to draw on the strength and ability G-d has promised us, to allow us to fulfill our fullest potential. Then we will truly be prepared to receive the Torah anew on Shavuot and ultimately learn Torah together with Moshiach.
There were ten generations from Noah to Abraham to indicate how great is His patience...until Abraham our father came and received the reward of all of them (Ethics, 5:2)
The generations before Noah had no redeeming virtues whatsoever. They "repeatedly angered G-d" and lived in constant friction, conflict and discord. In contrast, although the generations before Abraham also "repeatedly angered G-d," they at least shared a kindred spirit and treated each other with love. But although their conduct generated reward, they themselves were unfit to receive it. Because Abraham, unlike Noah, sought to influence the people around him for good, he "received the reward" of all the comradely deeds of the generations that preceded him.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. III)
A 20-year-old should pursue a living (Ethics, 5:22)
The first 20 years of a man's life should be largely devoted to toiling in Torah (beginning at age five): five years dedicated to Scripture, five years entirely Mishna, and five years devoted to Talmud. This method of learning is not designed to have an effect on the world, as such, but rather on the person himself, so that he will develop properly. From the age of 20, a man's duty is to be a "soldier." He must go to war to conquer the world and make it a fitting dwelling place for G-d by fulfilling the mitzvot.
(Biurim L'Pirkei Avot)
The world was created by means of ten [Divine] utterances (Ethics, 5:1)
According to the principles of Torah numerology, five represents a level of G-dliness above all limitation, while ten reflects the structure of our finite, material world. The intent of this chapter of Ethics of the Fathers is to reveal the G-dliness which transcends all limitations within the context of our material existence.
(Sefer HaSichot 5751, Vol. II)
The Jewish Ghetto of Prague was suddenly stricken by a terrible sickness, which spread throughout the homes of the ghetto. The young children lost their appetite, grew pale and weak, and suffered from high fever.
All the medicines known to the doctors in the ghetto did not help. The poor children suffered terribly, and a few of them passed away. Rabbi Loewe, the holy Rabbi of Prague, ordered a two day fast and continuous prayers to plead for help and forgiveness.
"No doubt, we have brought this disaster upon ourselves with our failure to fulfill His Divine commands to the best of our ability. Perhaps, if we pray from the bottom of our hearts, G-d will reveal to us the cause of this trouble, and t he means of curing our sick children. G-d always prepares the cure before He sends the illness."
All the Jewish men and women of Prague fasted and prayed. But nothing happened and no sign from heaven came to indicate that their prayers and fasting had been answered.
It was past midnight, and Rabbi Loewe's mind kept wandering back to the terrible tragedy that had befallen his own community, and for which there seemed no help in sight. It was a long, long time since he had made use of the "Golem" he had created and formed out of clay with the help of the Sacred Name. But now, as he kept pondering the serious situation that had already cost young lives, he finally decided to call on the Golem.
The Golem appeared and obediently awaited his master's command. Rabbi Loewe said to him: "A dreadful disease has struck our children, and no doctor has been able to help us. Go out among the creatures of the earth and ask as to who knows what cure there is."
With a heavy sigh, Rabbi Loewe returned to his prayers. If there was any cure, G-d would certainly reveal it to the Golem, who received his very life and power from the Divine Name. After what seemed like a long time, the obedient Golem reappeared before Rabbi Loewe.
"Have you brought me the cure?" the Rabbi asked anxiously. "I scoured the heavens and earth until I came to the spirit of heat which causes the fever of man to rise. When I asked him why he was creating all this sorrow for the people of our community, he replied; 'I have been ordered to do so by the angel of G-d. It is not up to me to question G-d's providence. But I advise you to check the mezuzot of the houses of the community. For, wherever the name of G-d protects the Jewish house properly, the children are safe.'"
"Why, I should have thought of that myself," Rabbi Loewe reproached himself. The Rabbi sent for all the members of the Rabbinical Court and told them: "Go quickly and see if there is anything wrong with the mezuzot of the stricken houses." They returned with their report: "We have found that the mezuzot of all these houses had been written by Rabbi Moshe Sofer, but strangely enough, there is a faded letter in the Divine Name in each of them!"
"Rabbi Moshe Sofer, of blessed memory, was the holiest man of our entire community. Why should his mezuzot have faded. There could only be one explanation. We must investigate whether there is any blame on the community concerning Reb Moshe, or his family, or his grave. Something must be at fault, or else his mezuzot would not have faded."
Early the next morning the Rabbi himself went to the home of Reb Moshe. It was quite obvious that utter poverty was the lot of its occupants. Everything needed repair. Rabbi Loewe pledged himself on the spot to make up for all this neglect of one of the community's most faithful and holy servants.
He knocked at the door, and a weak voice answered: "Who is there?"
After he had identified himself, Rabbi Loewe entered the dark, cold, bare room. In one corner, on a sack of straw sat the widow; on a sack in the other corner were two of the Sofer's three children. "Aren't you supposed to get a weekly pension from the community?" Rabbi Loewe asked the widow.
"I got the pension the first two months. Ever since then I have not received a penny. We are living from the little my oldest boy earns by collecting rags and selling them to the junk dealer."
Within a short while the family was provided with food, clothing and whatever else they needed. Then Rabbi Loewe called the members of the council together. It was found that the sexton who was supposed to deliver the pension to the widow had kept it for himself, knowing that the woman would not complain.
In the meantime, all the mezuzot were repaired, and the mysterious disease, which had ravished the children of the Prague ghetto, stopped as suddenly as it had come. No doctor knew how and why. But Rabbi Loewe knew. He made sure that the injustice to the widow and children was fully made good. He also ordered that all the mezuzot of all Jewish homes be checked regularly, at last once a year.
"May He who performed miracles for our ancestors and redeemed them from slavery to freedom, speedily redeem us and gather our dispersed people from the four corners of the earth, uniting all Israel; and let us say, Amen.
(From the prayer said when blessing the new month)