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We all know the power of song. When we hear a moving song, whether of sadness or joy, it alters our mood. And depending on our feelings, we will seek out a particular song. Indeed, when happy we will spontaneously break out in song. It's as if we literally cannot contain ourselves, and must break out of our limitations.
Let's analyze the two movements, the two ways songs affect - or express - our emotions. The first elevates us. Such a song expresses a longing, a desire, a compulsion to get beyond ourselves. Often such songs are simple - melodies, tunes, wordless refrains. There is a sweetness about them.
Even when there are words, they speak of another, of an absorption of the self in something higher, of an abandonment of ego, the material, of a removal of physical limitations and a realization of the spiritual.
Many Chasidic nigunim (wordless tunes) express this longing of the soul. Jewish songs with words also emphasizes the emotional power of positive, uplifting music; the artists combine words of Psalms, verses from the Torah, or allusions to them, with soul-stirring melodies.
And this leads inevitably to the second type of song. Here there is a bitterness, a recognition that we are not yet united with G-dliness, that we still reside - must reside - in the physical world. These are songs set, for example to the words of Psalm 42: "As the hart cries out in thirst for the springs of water, so does my soul cry out in thirst for You, O G-d. My soul thirsts for G-d, for the living Almighty; when will I come and appear before G-d?"
If one type of song expresses a desire for closeness, a longing for negation of the self in an ecstatic inclusion of the soul within G-dliness, the other recognizes the distance between ourselves and G-d, how immersed in the mundane we truly are, how much the physical demands from us.
But as we all know, we do not remain mired in the bitterness, the sense of distance. Indeed, the anguish itself evokes the longing; the acknowledgment that we are not yet united, our souls are not yet elevated somehow elicits the joy that we can, and ultimately will, experience an attachment to and revelation of G-dliness. We become inspired, and that inspiration inspires us further until...
The song cycle reflects the rhythms of time, the moments and movements of the year.
Further, this emotional cycle of ascent and descent and further ascent has a parallel in the soul's journey, and its Divine Service. In Hebrew it is called ratzo v'shov - a transcendent elevation and an imminent return. It embodies a fundamental concept, namely that every descent leads to a higher ascent; indeed, the higher ascent cannot be achieved without the descent.
Just as our songs cycle through the bittersweet, from songs of loss and separation to songs of joy and union, so the Jewish people have cycled through stages of occlusion and revelation, of ignorance and knowledge, of exile and redemption. In each mini-cycle the energy of descent fuels a a greater ascent. And ultimately, our songs of loss and separation will energize the ultimate song of joy and union, a celebration of the final Redemption, as it says in Psalms: "Then our mouths will be filled with laughter, and our tongue with joyous song."
This week's Torah portion, Pinchas, details the manner in which the land of Israel was to be apportioned between the Twelve Tribes. The Torah states: "According to the mouth of the lot shall the inheritance of each be divided."
The lot determined which section of the Land of Israel each tribe would inhabit. It was not a rational process, but a method of dividing the land in which no logical reasoning was apparent. According to Chasidic philosophy, the physical plane of existence is a reflection of its higher spiritual source. It follows, therefore, that just as the division of the Land of Israel was accomplished by means of a lot, so too are certain aspects of a Jew's spiritual service determined in a super-rational manner.
To explain: Every Jew is obligated to keep all of the Torah's mitzvot (commandments). However, certain commandments are more pertinent to some individuals than to others. We are told of various Sages of long ago who were especially scrupulous in their performance of one mitzva (commandment). Of course, being righteous people, they observed all the Torah's commandments. But one mitzva was more personally relevant than all the rest. How do we explain this?
That a particular mitzva has special significance for a given individual is not something that can be explained rationally; the person himself doesn't necessarily perceive that this is so, either. In truth, it is a matter that transcends intellectual understanding, just like the process of choosing by lot. Indeed, the particular mitzva that is most relevant to each of us is determined from Above.
The Jew's function in life is to be especially careful in that one area, and to observe that mitzva to the best of his ability. The simplest way to determine which mitzva is the most vital to us personally is by examining the relative ease or difficulty we encounter in observing it. As a general rule, the mitzva we find the most difficult to fulfill is the one that is most imperative on a personal level. In fact, the hardship we experience is proof of this, as the evil inclination, recognizing the mitzva's special significance, will spare no effort in trying to deter us. The machinations of the evil inclination increase in direct proportion to the mitzva's importance.
The lesson to be learned is tremendous. Whenever we find it exceptionally difficult to do a certain mitzva, or it seems that the effort required of us is greater than that required of other people, it is forbidden to throw up our hands in defeat. On the contrary, we must try even harder in that one area, as it is most relevant to us personally. Indeed, the mitzva for which we must overcome the greatest number of obstacles is the one which can be said to have fallen to our lot.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 2
A Zalman Moment
by Gitel Rochel Shagalov
This Shabbat, the 21st of Tammuz, marks the first yartzeit of my father-in-law, Rabbi Shneur Zalman Shagalov. Self-sacrifice for Reb Zalman, as he was affectionately known, was a way of life. In 1937, when he was only five years old, the Communist regime arrested and executed his father, Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon Shagalov for his "anti-government" actions of teaching Torah to Jewish children and for being a mohel (ritual circumciser) and shochet (ritual slaughterer). His widow, Rebbetzin Maryashe Garelik Shagalov, who passed away this year at age 106, continued to raise Reb Zalman and his five siblings alone, with a strong Chasidic upbringing under the most difficult conditions.
Throughout his life, Reb Zalman was actively devoted to helping Jewish refugees from the Former Soviet Union and was personally responsible for thousands of children and adults undergoing brit mila (circumcision). Till the last day of his life, Reb Zalman continued to help Russian immigrants, whether it was shoes, pots and pans to make a kosher kitchen, a family's rent, enrolling the children in Jewish schools, making peace between husband and wife, or a warm smile and encouragement. If food or clothing was needed for families who were too embarrassed to go themselves to receive a public donation, Reb Zalman would stand in line for them for as long as necessary. He did everything in a quiet way without making a big fuss.
Reb Zalman is best known for his warm smile and his tremendous love of his fellow Jew, which he did with the utmost genuine humility and simplicity. He always greeted everyone he met, Jew and non-Jew, with a smile and loving concern. During shiva (week of mourning), many people said that they felt they had lost their best friend. Even the UPS driver came upstairs with tears in his eyes, telling us that the night before, every time he tried to fall asleep, he saw Reb Zalman's face and smile and he missed him very much. He recalled the previous winter when Reb Zalman at age 74 offered to help him push his UPS truck when it got stuck in the snow.
Shortly before he passed away, while walking to shul, Reb Zalman spotted a young man who had grown up in a religious home but who had become disconnected from the Torah way of life. He called the boy's name and waved for him to come over to him. The boy waved back saying, "Old man, if you want to talk to me, you can come over here." Reb Zalman crossed the street with a warm smile and put his arms around the boy, gave him a big kiss, and lovingly told him, "You could be my son!" The boy came to Reb Zalman's funeral wearing a yarmulke on his head, something he had not done for a long time, and told the family that Reb Zalman's hug and kiss had put him back on the Torah path.
When Reb Zalman's five-year-old granddaughter, Michal was asked what she missed most about her grandfather, she summed it up for all who knew him when she said, "The way he loves me!" One day during the shiva I was in the grocery store. As I waited in line, ahead of me were two young brothers who were buying groceries for their family. Their groceries cost $42.86, but as the boys only had $40, they asked the cashier to put $2.86 on their family's credit account. The cashier said, "I can't put any money on this account because it's already over the limit." The boys pleaded with her but the cashier, who was new, just repeated, "I can't do it. Your account is over the limit!" Finally she called the manager over and he extended the family's credit.
I paid for my groceries and left the store thoughtfully. I knew that I had just missed an important moment, what we now call, "The Zalman Moment." I was wrapped up in my own little world while I was waiting in line, but as I left the store, I realized that if Reb Zalman had been standing where I was standing, he would have tuned into the moment of their need and quietly paid the cashier the amount that they were short, without any fuss. I felt so bad about missing that "Zalman Moment," that I decided to return to the store. I spoke to the manager and told him that I wanted to put money on the family's account so that they would no longer be over the limit. The manager looked at me strangely for a moment and then his face lit up. He said, "No, you don't understand. The family doesn't have trouble paying the bill; they were just out of town and haven't had a chance to come in and take care of it and my cashier who is new didn't know what to do. May you merit to do more mitzvot!"
As I returned home with the groceries, I had another "Zalman Moment."
I passed by one of the ladies on the corner who asks for charity. Instead of just handing her a quarter and rushing on, I paused and held her hand for a moment as I gave her the coin and a blessing. Tears came to her eyes and a big smile as she blessed me also.
When I came into the house, I told the family about my "Zalman Moments" - how my perception was starting to change and deepen as I look at the world the way that I imagine Zalman sees it - looking outward at other's pain and then doing something to lessen their pain.
Our daughter Chaya Sara left for California soon after that, and she called us from the airport all excited. "I just had a Zalman Moment!" she said, "I was paying for something in one of the airport shops. When the cashier routinely said, 'Hi, how are you today?' I answered her, 'I'm fine. How are you?' and then I waited for her to answer. Her face lit up with the biggest smile as she realized somebody really wanted to know about her day."
If after reading this you, too, have a "Zalman Moment," please share it with us at email@example.com. Gitel Rochel (Rae Ekman) Shagalov can be reached via her website www.holysparks.com
A new Chabad House is opening in Gloucester County, New Jersey, under the directorship of Rabbi Avi and Mina Richler. Rabbi Yossi and Rivky Shuchat will be arriving soon in Sydney, Australia, to serve at the South Head Shul. Rabbi Dovid and Chanie Altein have just moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where they will direct Friendship Circle as well as other activities. Rabbi Zalmy and Esther Rader will be arriving soon in Mont-Royal, Canada where their efforts will focus on adult education. Rabbi and Mrs. Mendy Atal have come on board at the Chabad Center of Tel Aviv to establish programs especially for French-speaking Jews in that city. Rabbi Zev and Ariela Johnson recently moved to the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas, to expand the Chabad on Campus work taking place at that university.
Iyar 20, 5712 
To the [National] Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education: I am gratified to learn, periodically, of the growth and development of your activities. I trust that this growth is both in quantity as well as in quality.
Obviously, one hour a week of released time for religious instruction does not give an adequate education by far. The release hour should be considered as a stimulant for both the children and their parents, to the end that the children should be induced to seek an adequate religious Jewish education in Yeshivot, Talmud Torahs, etc. I am glad to note that you are working along these lines, and I wish you great success in this, too. Yours is a youth organization dedicated to Jewish youth.
Youth has special qualities of untapped reserves of energy and enthusiasm. In addition, being still on the threshold of life, youth has a greater measure of goodness and purity, not having had too much contact with the negative aspects of life. All these qualities of youth are extremely important in all youth activities, especially with regard to the education of growing children Youth responds more readily to youth, as it is more readily influenced intuitively than through the medium of reason. Consequently, the character, feeling and idealistic approach of the instructors and teachers is a decisive factor in the children's education.
I wish you to use all your youthful energies in this most important cause in human life - the upbringing of a new generation on firm and proper foundations.
I send you my prayerful wishes and blessing that your enthusiasm and efforts be crowned with unqualified success.
I want to remind you of the words of my saintly father-in-law, the founder of your movement, to the effect that although the "religious hour" is primarily for the benefit of the children attending same, there is at the same time an additional purpose for the benefit of the men and women instructors, since their work in the release hour program elevates them spiritually and morally, and leads them on the road to perfection.
I should like to extend this thought also in relation to the supporters of the movement, who will undoubtedly derive personal inspiration from their association with this holy work. Paraphrasing a saying of our Sages, I may say that as much as they help the movement, the movement helps them even more, aiding them in elevating themselves on a higher spiritual plane. It gives them also an opportunity to transform quantity into quality, for by their generosity in both money and effort, they enable the movement not only to increase the number of children in the program, but also to enlarge and extend its curricular activities.
In addition, it is most certain that their work of so noble a cause will bring them, and all theirs, Divine blessings in abundant measure, both materially and spiritually.
Why is it customary to give charity before praying on weekdays?
To dispel whatever may hamper the acceptability of one's prayers, charity should be given before praying. Thus we find that before praying Rabbi Eliezer would give a pauper a coin, in the spirit of the verse, "With tzedek - righteousness - (like tzedaka - charity) shall I behold Your countenance." For accusatory voices On High adjudge whether a worshipper is indeed worthy of entering the heavenly palace of the King of Kings in prayer. Yet "charity rescues..." and "charity elevates a nation..." Also, by giving a poor man charity before prayer and thereby giving him life, one's prayers come alive.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We find ourselves now in the "Three Weeks," the period of time between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av (the 9th of Av), which presents us with a unique quandary on Shabbat:
On the one hand, these Sabbaths occur during a period of lamentation over the destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile of the Jewish people. At the same time, the Torah forbids mourning on Shabbat.
What's a Jew to do? Rejoice even more on these Sabbaths than on a "regular" Shabbat, lest they be tainted by the sadness of the mourning period.
Shabbat is likened to the Messianic era, which is called "the day that is entirely Shabbat." In the Days of Moshiach, the very concept of exile will cease to exist. The emotion of sadness is thus altogether inappropriate on Shabbat, and it's a great mitzva to be happy. But why do we have to rejoice even more than usual? Why isn't the usual measure of joy sufficient?
The answer lies in the following principle: The purpose of exile is to bring us to a higher spiritual level than before. If the process of exile and redemption were only intended to restore us to a previous level, it would serve no useful function.
When Moshiach comes, an entirely new light will illuminate the world. This light will be so intense and brilliant that it will negate the very possibility of future exiles. In truth, the Sabbaths of the Three Weeks are a semblance of the Messianic era, which is why an additional measure of joy is required. By infusing us with the power to transform even the Three Weeks into a joyful time, they are a forerunner to the future revelation that will negate all exile and sadness forever, may it happen immediately.
Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and drawing them near to the Torah. (Ethics 1:12)
The Hebrew word used for people here is briyot - literally, "creatures." The term "human being" (ben adam) is used to stress a person's humanity and his relationship to Adam, father of all mankind. The term "Children of Israel" is used to emphasize the significance of being a Jew. The term "creatures," as explained by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, refers to those who have no other virtues. Their only merit, as it were, is to have been created by G-d. These Jews, too, are worthy of our love.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Hillel used to say: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" (Ethics 1:14)
It is up to the individual to better himself and improve his behavior through his own hard work. No one else can do this for him; only he can achieve his own perfection. Yet no matter how high a level is reached, a person must never become to self-satisfied. "What am I" one should ask, "How may I further improve?" Finally, the observance of mitzvot should never be postponed until a later date. If negative character flaws are not corrected in one's youth, it is far more difficult to change in later years, when bad habits have already become ingrained.
Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua; Joshua [passed it on] to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; the Prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly. (Ethics 1:1)
Why does the Mishna state "from Sinai," instead of "from G-d"? Saying "Sinai" underscores two important character traits. On the one hand, Sinai is a mountain, reminding us to stand tall in the face of all challenges. Nevertheless, Mount Sinai is "lower than all the mountains," emphasizing that this pride must be tempered by humility.
(Sichot Kodesh Shemini, 5731)
One time a case was brought to judgment before Reb Levi Yitzchak. A young and inexperienced broker who lived in Berditchev had the idea that if a certain business in Berditchev merged with one located in a neighboring town, each would have a much greater profit.
Because he was unfamiliar with the world of business and virtually unknown, he turned for help to a more experienced broker who also lived in Berditchev.
The young man proposed that in exchange for the older man's help, the two would divide the profit equally. The experienced broker agreed. He successfully arranged the deal, and when the transaction was completed, collected the profit.
The trouble began when the experienced broker refused to divide the money as he had promised. There was no choice but to go to court. Reb Levi Yitzchak heard the case and ordered the man to give the other fellow his fair share of the profits. The case was closed and the two departed, but as time passed it became obvious that the older man still refused to abide by the ruling of the rabbi. The young man had no recourse but to return to Reb Levi Yitzchak with his complaint.
When Reb Levi Yitzchak heard what had transpired he immediately dispatched an emissary to the broker, who repeated the words of the rabbi: "My dear sir, you should be aware that I too am a broker with quite a bit of experience under my belt. I, in fact, act as a broker between the Jewish people and their Father in heaven. In this capacity, I transport the merits of the Jews to G-d, and in return, I receive my sustenance and many blessings from Him.
"As I occupied myself with these matters, I realized that here was an excellent opportunity to make a very good deal. Amongst the Jews I saw three types of products for which they had absolutely no use: intentional sins, unintentional sins, and sins which occurred because they were ignorant that the Torah considered them sinful.
"I saw that in Heaven they also had three kinds of products for which they had no use: forgiveness, absolution and annulment. And I said to myself, what a good idea it would be if the Jews and Heaven were to exchange products! I went and presented my ideas to the Heavenly Court and they were quite pleased to accept my proposition. But before the deal was finalized, they suggested that I first speak to the other partner in the transaction, the Jewish people.
"So, I went to the Jews, but it was more difficult to sell my idea to them. They convinced me to try for a greater commitment from the Heavenly Court.
"They wanted three additional things - children, health and livelihood - to be added to the package. I went back to the Heavenly Court with their request, and the new terms were granted.
"The deal was signed and sealed. I was then asked by the Heavenly Court what I wanted as my reward for completing this transaction. I replied that as far as the Jews were concerned, I didn't want any reward; as for G-d, I trusted completely that He would pay me whatever is my due.
"At that point G-d said to me, 'Levi Yitzchak, I will give you a special reward: the additional terms the Jews added to the original contract, namely, children, health and livelihood. I hereby place these in your hands, to distribute or revoke at will.'
"I therefore tell you that if you fulfill the ruling of my court at once, it will go well with you, but if you continue to refuse, I will act according to the law of the Torah that was put into my hands."
The broker listened to the rabbi's message, but thought the entire episode was just a jest. He went home that night and laughingly repeated the story to his wife.
Imagine Reb Levi Yitzchak trying to pressure him to incurring such an enormous financial loss with such a ridiculous story!
He had no sooner finished speaking when he was suddenly afflicted with a high fever. Moaning and groaning in pain he tossed from side to side, unable to find comfort.
The best doctors were called in; no expense was spared, but nothing helped. Finally, the patient was given up for lost.
With his last ounce of strength, the man summoned his wife. "Take a purse of money to Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and beg him to have mercy on me."
The hysterical woman ran weeping and pleading to the rabbi. She gave him the money, accurate to the last penny. "Please, have mercy on my husband. He's dying," she cried.
Needless to say, as soon as the debt was paid, Reb Levi Yitzchak prayed for the man's recovery. The broker's body returned to full health, and as far as his soul was concerned, that too was much healthier for the experience.
The prophet (Zechariah 9:9) states Moshiach will be "A poor man, riding on a donkey." In Hebrew, the word "chamor" - "donkey," is related to "chumriyut," meaning "materiality." Three "famous" donkeys mentioned in the Bible - the donkey of Abraham, of Moses, and of Moshiach - allude to three successive stages in the subordination and refinement of the materiality of the body and the materiality of the world. The light of Moshiach will be revealed through the very chamor/chumriyut itself: materiality will become so refined that it in itself will reveal the light of holiness in the world.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shmot, 5749 - 1989)