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Syms, a clothing chain with stores from the East Coast to the Mid-West, has an interesting motto: "An educated consumer is our best customer." Newspaper and radio ads proudly proclaim the store's motto, as do the name tags of cashiers and salespeople - known as "educators."
When you're shopping in Syms, or any store for that matter, if you're knowledgeable - you know brand names, what comprises good quality, what is a "good price" - you're more likely to be able to make an excellent choice than if you come in without any prior information.
For some, shopping - whether it includes an obsession with finding "bargains" or just a delight in filling one's closets and home with beautiful possessions - is almost a full-time pursuit. For others, it is a hobby, while for still others it is pure drudgery - only to be done when absolutely necessary.
And yet, no matter in which category you place yourself, an educated consumer is still the best customer.
All of the above can be said about Judaism. Though, of course, we are not advocating here "shopping around," yet, in order to be a truly educated consumer of Judaism, one must be properly educated.
When is the proper time to become a full-fledged "Educated Jewish Consumer?" In the typical Jewish fashion, let's answer a question with a question. "When do you start shopping for a child? Certainly not when the child is already five or ten, after all, what would the child wear for its first years? Most parents start preparing for the imminent arrival of their children even before the child is born - looking at cribs, considering strollers, moseying into the children's department - sometimes even as soon as they find out that they'll be adding a bundle of joy to their family.
And that's when a child's Jewish education should start. Even before it's born, with the parents concerning themselves with the environment and atmosphere in which he or she will be raised, playmates the child will have, opportunities for Jewish education, Jewish experiences, Jewish celebrations.
What about those of us who are children in matters of Jewish education?
When and how do we start becoming an educated consumer? Maybe it's best to consider a Jewish shopping spree. First, go through all your closets, all those nooks and crannies of preconceived notions and narrowness and throw out stuff that's "unfashionable" in the Jewish sense. Then, you're ready to shop around, first for an "educator" - a friend or mentor who will be open, honest and patient with you as you will be with him/her. Let the educator lead the way in your shopping spree, understanding full well that he/she has more expertise in these matters. Lastly, be willing to make just as much of an investment in your new Jewish wardrobe and decor as you did previously in other aspects of your life.
Don't forget to let your friends know when you come upon any great bargains. They'll appreciate it and so will you.
On this Shabbat we bless the new month of Elul, a particularly auspicious month that possesses a unique dimension. For during this month, G-d is especially close to us and we are granted an extraordinary capacity for teshuva - "return."
As every Torah portion has particular relevance for the time of year in which it is read, let us examine the connection between the month of Elul and the Torah portion which we read this Shabbat.
Our portion begins with the words, "See! This day I give to you a blessing and a curse." Every word in this verse contains an allusion to the special nature of the service of the month of Elul, and the Divine assistance we are given to fulfill it.
"See!": The first thing a Jew must do is to open his eyes. Our sense of sight affords a much more definitive verification of facts than does our sense of hearing; when a person sees something with his own eyes he cannot be dissuaded. A Jew's G-dly service must be performed with this same level of absolute confidence and conviction.
But how are we, mere human beings living in a physical world, supposed to attain this level? G-d provides the answer in the next word of the verse:
"I" ("Anochi"): The word "Anochi" relates to the Essence of G-d, an aspect of G-dliness that is higher than Names. The reason we are able to achieve these lofty spiritual heights is because the power to do so is derived from this highest of Sources. The Torah continues:
"Give": G-d gives us this Divine assistance according to the principle of "He who gives, gives generously"; His gifts are bestowed willingly and in great abundance.
"To you" ("Lifneichem"): This word is related to the Hebrew word "penimiyut," meaning "inside" and "within." The special boost we receive from G-d during Elul is not superficial, but involves the sum and substance of the Jew and enables him to connect with G-d on the deepest level.
"This day": Lest anyone think that this Divine assistance is granted only once, the Torah tells us that G-d's help is ongoing, enabling us to serve G-d with renewed strength every day of the month.
And how are we to properly utilize this added dimension in our service?
"A blessing and a curse": This refers to the observance of the Torah's positive commandments and the avoidance of its prohibitions.
Directing our added capacity for returning to our source in these two directions will result in a good and sweet new year and a favorable inscription in the Book of Life.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 2
Thank You Camp Emunah
by Jill Lerner
When I sent Chana to camp this summer, I did so with great trepidation. After all, she had a horrific year at school and was known as a very hard-tohandle child. Why would she be any different at camp? I was direct and forthright with the camp as I explained Chana's history and experiences over the past few years. The director listened patiently and told me to have the school's principal and Chana's teachers call her before she would permit Chana to enter the camp.
A week passed, then two, then three. No one called. After a month, I tentatively called the camp director, knowing that her requirement went unfulfilled. I told her that I knew no one called, and no one was likely to call, probably because they had nothing good to say. I apologized for taking up her time, and said I understood that, because I could not persuade the school personnel to call, Chana could not be admitted to camp.
At this point I dreaded disappointing Chana again, as her self-esteem was at an all-time low due to the school situation and the effect the constant negativity was having in our home. Though I believed Chana to be an intelligent, inherently good girl with a sweet nature, whatever was going on at school was devastating. I was told repeatedly that Chana was disruptive, uncooperative, and downright chutzpadik. Sadly, I fell into the trap of reiterating the school's rhetoric at home, causing a severe strain in my relationship with my only child.
Amazingly, the camp director said she would accept Chana, anyway! I could not believe it when her words came over the phone. This person was willing to give Chana the chance she wanted so much. I was overjoyed! Chana was ecstatic! Chana assured me that she would succeed in camp and behave just fine. I hoped she was right.
Trying to be upbeat, I drove Chana to the camp. The atmosphere there was charged with excitement and anticipation. The energy of the surroundings of opening day allowed me to forget for a moment my pessimistic viewpoint. Chana, on the other hand, wanted to jump right into the commotion! She and I had just begun opening her duffle bags when she saw some girls jumping on a trampoline outside the bunkhouse, and ran right over to join the fun. I was awed that Chana was already eagerly participating in activities. This reassurance, though beneficial, was barely an inkling of what was to come.
Back home, I found myself jumping every time the telephone rang. Over the past school year I had been called to pick Chana up immediately several times in the middle of the day because she would have a tantrum. By the time I would arrive, Chana would be perfectly calm and back in class. This history set the stage for being a nervous wreck at each ring of the telephone. I thought, if it happened at school, why would it not happen at camp?
I suppose I should have known that things were quite different at camp. After all, the academic stressors were absent, the schedule more relaxed, the environment peaceful. But the real difference was the way the camp was run, and by whom. Sure, the counselors were young and some rather inexperienced. This could present a problem if it were not for the outstanding adults who truly were in control every step of the way. I briefly spoke to Chana's counselors before departing, and they seemed appropriately concerned yet capable of handling whatever might arise.
On my way out, I stopped to see the camp nurse to drop off Chana's medical form. I had no idea at the time what a remarkable woman the nurse is; she even gave me her phone number, telling me that I was welcome (yes, welcome!) to call to hear how Chana was doing. I drove off feeling secure in the knowledge that the staff seemed capable of dealing with the campers whoever they were and with whatever issues may arise. Undeniably, my initial impressions were quite positive.
A day passed with no phone calls from the camp. I was cautiously happy. The next day I called the nurse, who informed me that Chana appeared happy and content. I continued to call every day for the first week, and received only good reports. "What was happening?" I thought. Once the nurse said that Chana seems to not only be adjusting but thriving! Surely the nurse was not talking about my child! Where did the trouble go? Where was the anguish? The call to pick her up immediately? Could the camp be oblivious to Chana's tantrums?
No, there was no trouble, or anguish, or tantrums. No, I did not need to pick her up immediately. Yes, she was doing just fine.
My gratitude to G-d knew no bounds. I truly felt as though I was witnessing a miracle. Though there was no explanation, the changes were real and steady as concrete. When Chana finally called, it was not with the predicted misery or request to come home, but to tell me she had been selected as "Camper of the Week" and "Tznius Queen"! Was this the same "disruptive" child of just a few short weeks earlier?
On visiting day I joyfully entered the campgrounds! After spending a lovely day with Chana and witnessing first-hand the happy, contented, enthusiastic child I had been hearing about, I got to meet the directors to whom I wished to express my utmost thanks for the superb job they were doing. I needed to inform them of the metamorphosis that was taking place in their midst. When one director heard my story, she actually expressed gratefulness for having been able to be a part of this wonderful occasion.
Thankfully, the camp personnel possess the ability to see the individual child with her strengths and needs and work with her on her level to achieve a spectacular end result.
This summer has been a life changing, eyeopening event for both my daughter and me. I hope that Chana, burgeoned by the summer success, will continue to make strides with pride and understanding of her innate goodness and self-worth. I, as her parent, must see to it that she is provided with the elements she needs to grow up healthy in mind and body. The lessons I learned from my daughter's camp experience have been truly empowering. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Camp Emunah, for setting us on the right path.
Healthy In Body, Mind and Spirit
A guide to good health based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. A wide-ranging collection of letters and talks on maintaining mental well-being. Among the topics are mental health, conquering anxiety, healing through meditation and more. Benefit from the wealth of the Rebbes wisdom on this ever important topic. Translated by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
continued from previous issue
All the above, as mentioned earlier, applies equally to the "eternal edifice" of marriage:
For with regard to our nation, the Jewish People, one need not search long and hard in order to know what are its true foundations, foundations that enable it to exist as an "eternal edifice," both with regard to the nation as a whole as well as to its individual members.
Furthermore, the Jewish people are rich in experiences of individuals who throughout the generations experimented with different lifestyles - and here too, the spectrum ranges from one extreme to the other.
When one peruses the history of the Jewish people, and surely if one does not satisfy himself with mere perusal but contemplates the matter properly, one reaches the following inescapable conclusion:
Whenever Jews throughout history, from the time of Sinai until the present, strayed from the tried and true path of Torah and mitzvos (commandments), one of the following two things happened after a short period of time:
Either they returned to their roots and their Jewish path of life - the path of the "Torah of Life" - ... or if they continued living not in accordance with the Torah and its mitzvos, they ultimately were assimilated and absorbed within the gentile nations....
May it be G-d's will that the marriage of your daughter take place in a good and auspicious hour in all details and aspects, and may they build their house in Israel on the foundations of Torah and mitzvos - an everlasting edifice, blessed simultaneously both materially and spiritually.
From a letter written in 1963
It has come to my attention that a number of suggestions had been made to you with regard to a shidduch, but for any number of reasons you rejected them all.
Quite understandably, one cannot comment from a distance with regard to a particular suggestion, but I take the liberty of making the following general remarks:
Marriage is the most important event in the life of a man or woman; it leaves an indelible imprint on one's entire life. Consequently, such a decision requires considerable deliberation and cannot be done in haste.
Nonetheless, regarding all events that transpire in a person's life, be they large or small, it is impossible to take into account all the eventual particulars and details, each and every possible permutation.
After all, a human being is extremely limited; it is impossible for him to conceptualize all the eventualities of each and every aspect and detail and their possible consequences.
Thus, to a certain extent, it is necessary for a person to utilize his faith and trust in G-d, that He will see the matter through in a goodly manner in all its many details.
The same is so with regard to a shidduch: It is literally impossible to find something entirely perfect, and it is impossible to calculate how matters will come to pass to their absolute finality. If the most important matters are in order, then quite often it is proper to overlook minor matters that don't seem to be in order. This is especially so, since one may only be imagining that they are not in order, when in truth they are quite fine as well.
... In general, with regard to a shidduch, emphasis should be placed on that which is most crucial - that it be in harmony with the verse, "A woman who fears G-d, she is to be praised." We are not to occupy ourselves with "signs" and omens, such as those about which you write.
The primary channel and vessel for receiving Divine blessing is through conducting oneself on a daily basis in consonance with the directives of our Torah, the "Torah of Life," and by performing its commandments, concerning which the verse states, "you shall live by them."
From Eternal Joy, translated by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
Why do we stand during the "Shemona Esrei" prayer?
The Shemona Esrei (also known as Amida - or "standing") is said while standing because in the times of the Temple the priest stood while performing the service. Also, standing serves to differentiate people from animals. When saying the Shemona Esrei with the proper concentration, we hope to appear before G-d like angels. Therefore, we stand with both feet together, as if we have only one foot, because the angels are described as appearing onelegged.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In Isaiah's prophetic descriptions about what life will be like in the Messianic Era, the prophet describes what changes will take place in the animal kingdom: "The wolf will live with the sheep and the leopard with a goat."
How, then, will the wild beasts nourish themselves in the Messianic Era if they don't prey on tame animals?
We find the answer in Isaiah's very next statement: "The lion, like cattle, will eat straw." The lion and leopard will eat grass and hay, just like the cow and sheep!
We see then, that in the animal kingdom, the changes will not be in behavior alone, but that the actual nature of the wild animals will change and they will no longer be predators. They will become tame and herbivors.
Maimonides comments that Isaiah's words are allegorical and mean that the Jews, commonly associated with sheep, will dwell peacefully with their enemies. In this spirit, Maimonides states, "Don't let it enter your mind that in the Messianic Era anything from the regular way of the world will stop, or that there will be any changes in the creation, but the world will continue according to its nature."
However, in a letter to the Jews of Yemen, Maimonides adds that since G-d did not declare that these words are allegorical, they could come into being exactly as Isaiah prophesied.
How can we bring these two diverse opinions together? According to our Sages, a wolf and a leopard living peacefully with a lamb and a goat are not really a miraculous change in nature. Rather, it is going "back to Eden" - back to life as it was in the Garden of Eden before Adam's and Eve's sin!
When creating the world, G-d created animals in pairs, one male and one female of each kind. Had animals been predatory when first created, some species would have been wiped out entirely! It was only after the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge, when evil came into the world, that animal nature changed and some animals became predatory. In the Messianic Era, we will live in a true Garden of Eden, as the world was and was always meant to be.
May each one of us use our G-d-given talents to hasten the advent of that fulfilling, unique and eternal era, NOW.
"Whoever occupies himself with [the study of] Torah for its own sake... others derive from him the benefit of counsel (Ethics 6:1)
This refers to the ability to advise others in worldly matters. The study of Torah will develop a person's powers of understanding to the extent that he will appreciate the proper course of action in worldly matters as well. Thus on one hand, a person who devotes himself to Torah will be above all worldly pursuits. Simultaneously, however, he will find success for himself and others even on the worldly plane.
(Likkutei Sichot, Vol. XVII)
Each and every day a Heavenly Voice goes forth from Mount Choreb (6:2)
Our souls exist on several planes simultaneously. This Heavenly Voice reverberates, and is "heard" by our souls as they exist in the spiritual realms. And this causes our souls as they are enclothed within our bodies to be aroused to teshuva - return.
(Likkutei Sichot, Vol. IX)
Children are pleasing for the righteous and pleasing for the world (6:8)
In an extended sense, the term "children" refers to one's students - in many ways the ultimate influence on one's environment. For through students (who themselves become teachers), the truths one shares become ingrained both in the present and in the future.
(Sichot Shabbat Parshat Bamidbar, 5740)
All that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory (6:11)
Moreover, to express G-dliness is not merely one of the purposes served by these entities; it is the sole reason for their existence. Therefore a person should not shy away from worldly involvement. On the contrary, in whatever he does and wherever he finds himself, he should seek to find a means of honoring Gd. For example, new developments in technology and communications need not be ignored, or used only for commercial enterprise. The real purpose of their existence is that they be employed to express G-d's honor.
(Sichot Shabbat Parshat Nitzavim, 5728; Parshas Balak, 5741)
After the passing of his mother Devorah Leah, Menachem Mendel, who was to become the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the Tzemach Tzedek, was raised by his grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman. They formed a special bond, a relationship so strong that it was able to extend even beyond the bounds of space and time. For even after his passing, Rabbi Shneur Zalman revealed himself to his grandson in order to help him resolve certain difficult problems in halacha or other aspects of Torah study.
This phenonmenon occurred so regularly that the Tzemach Tzedek came to expect his grandfather to appear to him whenever he had the need of his guidance. Once, he was dealing with a difficult and perplexing problem and he had a strong desire for the help of his grandfather. Whereas usually Rabbi Shneur Zalman would be revealed to him, this time, try as he may, his grandfather failed to come. Several days passed and the Tzemach Tzedek again tried to reach Rabbi Shneur Zalman. He davened and meditated in the prescribed manner, but he was not rewarded with success. When, after waiting for a few days he failed to perceive the spirit of his grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek attempted to bring down the holy soul by means of various Kabbalistic methods. When even these strenuous efforts failed and he was deeply disappointed, he couldn't understand why the Shneur Zalman would not appear to him anymore.
One day, soon after these events, the Tzemach Tzedek went to the synagogue in Lubavitch to daven shacharis. He took his talit and placed it over his head in preparation for Shacharis. Suddenly, in rushed the butcher of the town. He ran over to the Tzemach Tzedek and said: "Please forgive me for interrupting you, but you know, this is market day and all the local farmers have brought their livestock into town to sell. Since many of my customers have not yet paid me, I don't have any money to buy animals, and unless I can buy them now, I won't have any livelihood this week, and the townspeople won't have any meat. Please, lend me the money just for one week, and I'll be able to repay you on the next market day."
The Tzemach Tzedek looked up at the butcher, "My friend, please don't worry. Of course, you know I trust you completely, and I would be very happy to lend you whatever you need. But, you see, I have already put on my talis and begun my preparations for the morning prayer. I would like to finish my prayers, and then when I am done in two or three hours, I will go right home and get the money for you."
The butcher was relieved, but at the same time he was also disappointed, for the market was in full swing now, and who knew what kind of animals would be left when the Tzemach Tzedek finished his prayers in a couple of hours. Still, the butcher had no choice, so he thanked the Tzemach Tzedek, and made his way home, intending to return to the shul after the morning service.
The Tzemach Tzedek was about to wrap himself in the voluminous folds of his talit, when he suddenly realized what a mistake he had made. Why, how could the butcher wait several hours to purchase his animals! In that space of time it was possible that all the choice cows and sheep would be bought already and he would have lost his livelihood for an entire week. He quickly took off his talit and lay it on the table. Then he rushed out of the shul and headed for his house. His amazed household looked on as he wordlesly ran through the door, took his purse and losing no time, left again. He quickly made his way to the home of the butcher. The butcher was surprised to see the Rabbi standing at his door, money in hand. The man happily rushed out to the market and was able to complete all of his business successfully, purchasing good quality animals to supply the town of Lubavitch with meat. The Tzemach Tzedek returned to shul ready to daven with an easy heart, happy in the knowledge that he had helped the butcher in that crucial hour.
The Tzemach Tzedek picked up his talit, intending to resume where he had left off, when he suddenly perceived quite near him, the spirit of his grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman. Rabbi Shneur Zalman spoke to him, saying, "My son, know that the mitzva (commandment) which you just performed by helping a fellow Jew is even greater than your most elevated prayers. In the Upper Worlds as well as in the Lower Worlds the mitzva of love of one's fellow Jew is precious." In the merit of this great mitzva the Tzemach Tzedek was again graced by his grandfather's spiritual presence.
The Tzemach Tzedek once told his son, Reb Shmuel (known as the Rebbe Maharash), this story and concluded: For helping someone in his livelihood, even to earn just 70 kopeks on a calf, all the gates to Heaven are open for him." Years later, the Rebbe Maharash told this to his son, the Rebbe Rashab and added, "One really should know the specific route to Heaven, but actually it is not crucial. You only need the main thing - to help another wholeheartedly with sensitivity, to take pleasure in doing a kindness to another."
The Sages and the prophets did not long for the Messianic era so that they may rule over the whole world or dominate the heathens, nor to be exalted by the nations, nor in order that they may eat, drink and be merry; but only to be free [for involvement] with the Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to oppress and disturb them, so that they may merit the life of the World-to-Come, as we explained in the Laws of Repentance.
(Mishna Torah of Maimonides, Laws of Kings)