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It Once Happened
Video-conferencing used to be high tech, expensive, big business only. The rest of us had to rely on telephones. The Internet revolutionized personal communications in many ways. It started with usergroups and bulletin boards, precursors to chat rooms, then discussion groups and blogs. But these weren't real time. They were electronic letters.
What really made texting take off, though, was Instant Messenger™ (IM) and its variants. But most of us talk faster than we type. So the computer wizards found a way of incorporating first audio, then video into the IM™ system. Video-conferencing for the rest of us.
Of course, you have to buy a camera and hook it up - unless you have a Mac, which has the camera built-in. What a great way to see the children or spouse when traveling, or the grandkids that live in another city.
A virtual vidphone!
Still, it all depends on the routers, ISPs and the whole world-wide web, ethernet/wifi thing. If the electron packets get blocked, there's no picture, and you can't see the wife or kids.
If that happens, you have to diagnose the problem, find out if it's hardware - processing speed, software (outdated program), internet service provider, or who knows what else.
For that, there's a diagnostic tool, at least on the Mac, called a Connection Doctor. This program tells you what's going on inside so you can identify the problem.
There's an obvious parallel to our spiritual communications.
At first, we are "texting" messages to the Divine. There's a lapse between transmission, reception and response. And the communication itself lacks the immediacy of the visual; we have room for doubt, because we don't see it, we don't experience G-dliness directly
As we become more spiritually mature, we might hear "G-dliness" - 'hear' in the sense of understanding, of intellectual comprehension.
Still, we do not yet "see" G-dliness. It takes time - deep study of Torah, Talmud, Jewish thought, Chasidut; Jewish meditation; concentration in prayer - before we can see - directly experience G-dliness. And even so, our vision is screened, so to speak; we see not G-dliness Itself, but a transmitted replication of it.
Yet it is precisely at this level, when we have refined ourselves, when we have the delicate awareness of the G-dliness that exists within and energizes the world, that we may not get a "connection," so to speak. That is, when Judaism is most active in our lives, when we feel most Jewish, at that point, we may not perceive G-d's Presence. We may feel, in fact, disconnected, as if talking to a spiritually void.
Here, then, we need a spiritual "Connection Doctor," a way of determining what's clogging the spiritual byways, the channels through which our soul's "packets" travel. Only then, we can get our "signals" to the "router."
That "Connection Doctor" can be found readily in the teachings of the Rebbe, his talks, discourses and letters. The Rebbe, as the spiritual leader, the Moses, of our generation, has already provided us with the diagnostics, the tools to repair our connections, to perceive G-dliness.
How so? Moshiach will come, as the Baal Shem Tov related, when the teachings of Chasidut have spread forth. And the essence of Chasidut can be found nowadays in the teachings of the Rebbe. Thus, through studying the Rebbe's teachings, when the final Redemption occurs, we will fulfill the prophet's assurance that "all flesh will see G-dliness."
The Sabbaths during the "Three Weeks" (the time between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av), contain a unique dimension: They are within the period of lamentation over the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people. Yet it is forbidden to mourn on Shabbat, and on the contrary, we are commanded to rejoice.
In truth, these special Sabbaths express the true good that is hidden within the exile. Seen superficially, the exile is only a negative phenomenon - painful and without merit. On a deeper level, however, the exile contains a higher purpose, one that is only goodness and light - the Final Redemption with Moshiach. In fact, in the era of Moshiach, those days that were marked by the Jewish people as days of mourning will be transformed into days of rejoicing.
This principle - that what we now perceive as cause for grief will ultimately be shown to be only good - is reflected in the dual nature of these three Sabbaths.
This duality is further expressed in this week's two Torah portions, Matot and Masei.
In the Torah, the Jewish people are sometimes referred to as "shevatim" and sometimes as "matot," both of which are generally translated as "tribes."
Literally "rods" or "staffs," there is one important distinction between the two terms: although both signify a branch that has been cut from a tree, a "shevet" still retains its moisture and suppleness, whereas a "mateh" has already dried out and is therefore stronger and inflexible.
These two appellations allude to the Jewish soul's journey in this physical world.
Torn from its G-dly Source, the soul is "cut off" from its roots, as it were. Sometimes it manages to retain its original Divine "moisture," yet other times it is so estranged from its G-dly Source that it appears to have "dried out" completely. "Masei" ("Journeys") too, alludes to the soul's descent from the highest spiritual planes to this world, including the lowliest descent of all into the exile. And yet, the purpose of this descent is none other than ascent, thus the strong rod has a certain advantage over the flexible tree branch.
Matot and Masei remind us of the true essence of the exile, which is the great ascent and revelation of G-dliness that will be revealed precisely from within.
A Jew must always remember that the true purpose of the soul's sojourn in the physical world, as well as the Jewish people's travails in exile, is solely in order to reach the G-dliness of the Messianic era. This awareness in itself gives us the strength to overcome all difficulties and to fulfill G-d's will in the most trying of circumstances, leading all of Creation to its ultimate perfection with Moshiach.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 28
Jews in Jail
The following letters were written to the Prisons Department of the Lubavitch Youth Organization and were published in their bulletin to Jewish prisoners "Reaching Out."
I received your warm letter plus the pamphlet. Rabbi, I am blessed in so many ways. Each day in the morning when I open my eyes, I thank G-d for allowing me to see another beautiful day. Even if we have a lot of obstacles during each day, here I am having the wonderful opportunity to don the tefilin. Although I still can't do it every day. I am able to do it three times each week and hope they will allow six days a week.
Moshe, Gulf Corr Institution, Wesahitchka, FL Greetings and thank you from my heart. The tallit and the Gutnick Chumash arrived via Rabbi Book. I was overwhelmed! It is always a time of joy when our rabbi visits, he personifies the whole Jewish people and faith, and by his presence he makes it quite clear that our brethren who are bound and subjugated are not forgotten.
I have already used the talit in prayer. It brings back memories of another place and time, when an old and physically broken man told a few young Jewish boys that when we cloak ourselves in a talit, we not only obey a commandment, but that it may become our own private tent from which to daven.
In the meantime, another Jew here did offer to me the great mitzva of loaning his tefilin to me, so I am now using talit and tefilin.
Moshe, Mule Creek State Prison, Ione, CA
Although I came from Russia, I was only ten years old, so now I read only English. Therefore, please send me an English Siddur (prayerbook). We have no restrictions on books, hard or soft cover is fine.
I think they send me to this private prison from NY where, I live, because they thought I was a detainee. I am a US citizen and if you can help to bring me back to a normal place, I would appreciate it. The food in this private prison is terrible. I have not seen fresh vegetables since I arrived. I lost 20 pounds in three months. The commissary here is very limited and all they have is junk food and nothing healthy.
Because I am diabetic, I need to test my blood and it should be done at least once a week. Here if I am luck they will do it once a month. I hear that 60 people have died here in the last 12 months. Last month a guy hung himself in his unit. They give new clothing to inmates only if you have been here for one year. People are walking around in rags.
I have never seen anything like this in my life. It's like what I read in the books about how the Nazis treated people in the concentration camps. Am I in the 21st century in America?
Sergio, Rivers Corr Institute, Winton NC
I wanted to thank you so much for the Code of Jewish Law Vol. II. I was reading it a whole night; I could not stop. I was very excited to get so much information and to learn so many things that I have searched for a very long time. Thank you so much.
Today we faced a problem which was like a knife into our hearts. We were in the chapel to meet the rabbi and looked into the library and realized that after inventory they removed most of our religious books. We asked the chaplain in the presence of our rabbi why the most important books, such as a Torah, and Tanach (the Bible) and others were removed.
The chaplain said it was a new law that came from Congress about the amount of books each religion can have. It seems that the people who compiled the list of what was to remain were totally ignorant of the Jewish religion. The chaplain denied that the Torah or Tananch were in the inventory in the first place, when we, all the Jewish sisters know that they were there.
We explained to the chaplain that we needed the books for Sabbath services but the chaplain left and didn't respond to our concerns. He left all fifteen of us with only 8 [prayer] books, 3 books for Rosh Hashana and 5 for Yom Kippur. What about books for every Shabbat and what about the Tanach? It seemed almost like the chaplain was very happy to remove whatever we need for our Sabbath services, with the excuse that it was mandated by Congress.
Victoria, Federal CI, Tallahassee, FL
The new Religious Diet started at our facility last Sunday. For the first time in 15 years, I expect to have a decent kosher diet. Thank you for everything you are doing for us prisoners. David, Federal Corr Center, Petersburg VA I received from Rabbi Book our chaplain the Tallit that you sent him for me. It is such a beautiful tallit. I cannot thank you enough for all you have done for me, Rabbi. I now have the tallit to wear with my tefilin. It fits perfect.
I seems that my courage to walk the yard wearing my yarmulke and tzitzit, and being so open about being a Jew and not receiving any harm, has given some other Jews here the courage to "come out," admit to being Jewish. They are asking Rabbi Book to include them in receiving the kosher meals we started getting here. They too want to practice our religion, thank G-d.
I have sent them some of the literature you send me and also I have told them that I will do anything in order to help them as they strive towards a Torah lifestyle.
Thank you for the tallit and yarmulke and for all you do for Jews in need. How lost we would be without you. We love you and your entire Reaching Out team, for the love you give us.
David, CA State Prison, Represa CA
New Chabad on Campus
At a recent convention of shluchim (emissaries) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on college campuses, Mr. George Rohr announced that the Rohr Foundation would help establish over the next three years another nine Chabad Houses on Campus. This will bring the number of centers on campus in the US to 100 and over 130 world-wide. The locations include the University of Illinois at Chicago; the University of California at S. Monica; Reed College in Portland, Ore.; Texas A&M University; the University of West Virginia; Temple University in Philadelphia; the College of New Jersey; Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.; and the University of Leeds in England. In addition, new couples joined established Chabad Houses on Campus at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of California at Berkeley.
15th of Tammuz, 5723 
To the Annual Convention of the Rabbinical Alliance of America -
...I hope that the convention agenda will include items which can be practically and expeditiously implemented to take full advantage of the opportune moment now at hand. An opportunity stemming from the spiritual reawakening now exciting large segments of our people, and particularly our youth.
Those who are sincerely concerned with the development and future of our youth, are cognizant of the fact that this spiritual ardor is caused in part by a realization of the shallowness and emptiness of philosophies alien to traditional Jewish thinking, and inability of these foreign ideas to cope with the problems of our times. Many who are imbued with this new spiritual eagerness lack definitive purpose and direction; others have a somewhat greater understanding of their religious experiences and have acquired an awareness of their bonds with the foundations of traditional Judaism. In both cases, the spiritual resurgence has created a situation whereby large segments of our people are once more amenable and responsive to being guided along the true and righteous path - the way of Torah and Mitzvos [commandments].
Unfortunately, the opportunity has not been duly exploited and far too many are still groping in the darkness lacking proper direction and influence, proper leadership and guidance to proceed along the path of G-d, and especially lacking knowledge of the course of action one should pursue in his daily life.
The problem is of particular importance when it concerns our youth for they instinctively respond with zeal and determination to ideas which are novel to them. They are unafraid to alter the course of their lives if they believe that which is being offered to them is the unadulterated truth.
More particularly, the attention should be focused on the young boys and girls of school age about whom the Torah instructs: "You shall teach your children diligently" This commandment is recited in our daily prayers in the first paragraph of the Shema which is bound up with the recognition and submission to the yoke of heaven. This verse is then repeated in the second paragraph of the Shema to stress the importance of giving the children a Jewish education in general and especially - the study of Torah which is the most important "of all the good deeds."
It is incumbent to exert every effort so that each and every Jewish child should study in an all-day Yeshivah or when this is not feasible, that every Jewish child should attend a Hebrew all-day school. But although this is the aim, we must recognize the fact that far too many Jewish children do not study Torah all day or do they even attend Hebrew all-day schools. A vast number attend public schools and to these children we must also turn our attention for we must not despair nor may we neglect them. The circumstances requires that a supreme effort be made to preserve the spark of Jewishness in each child so that it will not be extinguished, G-d forbid. At the very least, these children should recite a "proper prayer" each day so that the "name of G-d will be fluent on their lips."
It goes without saying that this is not the ultimate objective, for as stated above, the ideal situation would be for all and every Jewish child to study in a Yeshivah. But since this is not yet achieved, we must not make light of having the children in the public schools at least recite a proper prayer. While the performance of the Mitzvah of "proper prayer" is only a minimum, it must not be disregarded. Especially as there are some people who are waging a battle against the mere mention of G-d's name in the public schools and thus, regardless of their intentions, creating an appalling Chillul Hashem [desecration of G-d's name].
It is superfluous to emphasize again and again that what is referred to here, is a nondenominational prayer. And to insure that the nondenominational aspect is heeded in all the schools. Bible-reading in Public schools should be ruled out to prevent introduction of religious subjects nonacceptable to many.
The following precedent established by the saintly Baal Shem Tov will serve to discard the wrong stand of some misguided people, as well as those who oppose the mention of G-d's name in the public schools, supposedly, in deference to the Shulchan Aruch!
One of the Baal Shem Tov's "holy tasks" was to use every opportunity to cause people, men, women and children, to bless G-d's name. He would ask them how they are, so that they would reply: "Thank G-d", etc. My father-in-law of sainted memory, emphasized that the Baal Shem Tov would do so not only in the synagogue and at home, but also in the street and stores, and places of work; at every time and every place....
May you achieve success in your endeavors to enhance the position of Torah and Mitzvos in the daily life, each in your community. And in matters of holiness there is always room for improvement, for their source is the Infinite, blessed be He.
May the Almighty grant that you act with the fitting warmth and inner joy in the conviction that you are in the service of G-d, and may others learn from you and follow your example.
With esteem and blessing for abundant success,
The Talmud states: Three things come unawares, namely, Moshiach, a found object, and a scorpion. (Sanhedrin 97a) This teaching does not mean that a person should not (G-d forbid) think about the Redemption and anticipate its coming. It means that though his reason sees no possibility for Redemption, a Jew persists with an intense belief that transcends his reason. This meaning springs directly from the Hebrew idiom b'hesech hada'at (here translated "unawares"), which literally means "with one's reason set aside."
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. X, p. 171)
What is the Shemona Esrei prayer?
The Shemona Esrei prayer is the central prayer in the three daily services. "Shemona Esrei" means eighteen and the prayer was called thus, because when it was compiled by the Men of the Great Assembly (around 428 b.c.e.) it had 18 blessings. An additional nineteenth blessing concerning slanderers was added by Rabbi Gamliel II toward the end of the first century. The Shemona Esrei is also referred to as the Amida - meaning "standing," because it is recited while standing.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we bless the new month of Menachem Av. On the first day of Menachem Av, the mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple increases (until it culminates with the Fast Day of Tisha B'Av).
However, there is a mitzva (commandment) in the Torah to always be joyous. How does one integrate the ideas of mourning and rejoicing? The Lubavitcher Rebbe discussed this exact topic in a gathering and said:
"Simcha (joy) is a fundamental element necessary in the performance of all the Mitzvos. Each and every mitzva provides an opportunity for a Jew to connect and relate to G-d's essence. The realization that this opportunity exists generates true Simcha in the performance of all the Mitzvos. "In addition, however, since simcha must be internalized (to the point where the joy brings the individual to sing, dance, move his entire body, his hands and his feet), an attempt should be made to tie the observance of Torah and mitzvot to objects that naturally produce simcha. For that reason, though there were ample spiritual and philosophical reasons for simcha on the Jewish holidays, rather than rely on these influences, the Torah commanded that every Jew bring peace offerings (that were eaten later by him and his family), and drink wine on the festivals. The Talmud explains this principle, saying 'Real simcha is enjoyed when feasting on sacrificial meat. Real simcha is enjoyed when drinking wine.'
"Similarly, though Torah study in general produces Simcha, it is necessary to find an object of study which itself naturally produces simcha. Hence, in these three weeks which are associated with the destruction of the Temple and also the Messianic redemption, it is appropriate to learn texts which concern themselves with the Redemption and likewise with the structure and measurements of the Temple. The study of these texts (and the realization of the dearness of the Messianic Redemption which will result) will evoke genuine simcha. The fusion of the study of Torah and performance of the mitzvot with the quality of Simcha will hasten the coming of Moshiach and the re-entry of the Jewish people into the land of Israel."
Rabban Gamliel used to say: "Make His will your will, so that He may fulfill your will as though it were His will. Set aside your will for His will, so that He may set aside the will of others before your will." (Ethics 2:4)
This teaching conveys a fundamental lesson: Each of us has the ability to remake G-d's will, as it were, to arouse a new desire on His part. To apply this principle: A person might think that since it is G-d's will that we are in exile, we should resign ourselves to the situation. Nothing is further from the truth. G-d is anxiously waiting for us to arouse a new will on His part. He is waiting for us to motivate Him to bring the Redemption.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshas Masei, 5744)
Hillel Said: "...Do not condemn your fellowman until you have stood in his place. (Ethics 2:4)
One should never criticize his fellowman until he establishes a commonalty with him. Even when a person's conduct seems worthy of reproof, one should not talk to him with a condescending attitude. By focusing instead on the essential connection which all men share, we can nurture the positive qualities in others and enable them to surface.
(Sichot Kodesh, Parshas Vayakhel, 5752)
He also saw a skull floating on the water. He said to it: "Because you drowned others, they drowned you; and ultimately those who drowned you will themselves be drowned." (Ethics 2:6)
This refers to Pharaoh's skull, who was drowned in punishment for having Jewish boys drowned in the Nile. When Hillel saw Pharaoh's skull, he realized that this was an extraordinary phenomenon and contemplated it. Why did G-d cause this to happen? The fact that Hillel learned a lesson from the skull and shared it with others enabled the skull to come to eternal rest after thousands of years of drifting on the waters. This is why "he said to it." Hillel made his statement for the skull's benefit. Once the skull had communicated its lesson, it had fulfilled its purpose and could rest.
(Sichot Parshat Emor, 5744)
During the period of Roman rule in the land of Israel, the great Sage Rabbi Abahu was the leader of his generation. He was respected not only by his fellow Jews, but by the Roman rulers, including the emperor himself. Rabbi Abahu often the invited guest and valued advisor of the Roman emperor. Whenever he would enter the royal palace, singers would be stationed at the entrance to laud his praises in song.
Rabbi Abahu had every reason to hold himself in high regard, but, in fact, he is remembered for his extreme humility.
A very handsome and wealthy man, he was so self-effacing that it is written that it was hard to find his like, even in that generation of tremendous Torah giants. A number of instances are noted in the Talmud which illustrate his remarkable traits.
At that time, it was customary for the Sages to address the masses with the aid of an interpreter. Rabbi Abahu would speak in a terse, abbreviated Hebrew, and his interpreter would expound on the ideas in great detail, simplifying them so that the thoughts were accessible to all.
One day Rabbi Abahu's wife and the wife of the interpreter had an argument. In the heat of the angry exchange the interpreter's wife blurted out, "What does my husband need your husband for?! He's just as great a scholar any day, and he is perfectly capable of teaching Torah without your husband's paltry contribution!"
Rabbi Abahu's wife was shocked and deeply insulted, for her husband was known as one of the outstanding Sages of the era. Not wanting to argue further, she walked away without replying, but she was seething inside. That night Abahu noticed that his wife was not her usual self. "What is wrong?" he asked her. She told him the whole story of her encounter with the interpreter's wife, sure he would be upset at the woman's rude and coarse remarks. Perhaps he might even want to hire a different interpreter. "Is that a reason to be so upset?" he asked her. "And even if she was speaking the truth, her husband and I both have the same goal. We are both teaching, not for our own honor, but for the honor of Heaven." Rabbi Abahu was so great that his own personal honor had no meaning to him.
Once, it was necessary to choose a new Rosh Yeshiva (spiritual leader and chief instructor of the Torah academy) for the great yeshiva in Caesaria. On account of his great scholarship and remarkable personal qualities, the Sages wanted to appoint Rabbi Abahu but he refused the honor, suggesting instead Rabbi Abba, a poverty-stricken sage who lived in the city of Acre. Rabbi Abahu hoped that with the appointment to the honored position of Rosh Yeshiva, the poor man's financial hardships would be lifted. In making his recommendation Rabbi Abahu said, "Rabbi Abba is the most humble man I know. I cannot even compare to such a man!"
It happened once that Rabbi Abahu and Rabbi Chiya bar Abba were visiting the same town. Every evening they would meet to discuss Torah thoughts, and afterward Rabbi Chiya would walk Rabbi Abahu home, as an indication of respect. That Shabbat they decided to deliver their discourses at different study halls.
Rabbi Abahu spoke about Aggada, the stories of the Torah, while his colleague spoke about Jewish law. Many people attended both lectures, but when they heard that Rabbi Abahu was speaking about Aggada, they left Rabbi Chiya and swarmed to hear Rabbi Abahu. When Rabbi Chiya realized what had happened, he was crestfallen.
Word of Rabbi Chiya's reaction reached Rabbi Abahu and he at once set out to the lodging of his colleague. "The people came to my lecture only for one reason, and I will illustrate it with a story," began Rabbi Abahu. "Once, two peddlers came to the same town. One was selling precious stones, while the other was selling all sorts of household miscellany. The second man had so many customers he couldn't keep up with the demand, while the man selling the precious stones sold nothing. Was it because his wares were unworthy? No, the deficiency was entirely on the part of the customers. Not only did they lack the money to purchase jewels, they didn't even have an understanding of the value of gems. Common household items were all they knew about.
"You and I have come to a town where there are very few learned people. The majority find it easier to listen to the stories of the Aggada (without even realizing that they understand very little of them). So, you see, it isn't that they prefer my discourse to that of my learned colleague, they just find the topic more compatible with their unsophisticated level of understanding." After Rabbi Abahu spoke to him in this consoling manner, Rabbi Chiya felt somewhat better, but Rabbi Abahu sensed that he remained unconvinced. As a further indication of his esteem, Rabbi Abahu changed the usual order and accompanied Rabbi Chiya to his residence, to show the great honor in which he held him.