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We've all experienced traffic jams. You know, you're driving along, traffic is heavy but smooth, plenty of space between you and the car in front, and then, suddenly, inexplicably, traffic slows, brake lights flick on, traffic crawls, then comes to a dead stop.
Now, there are times when there's a reason for a traffic jam: construction, an accident, G-d forbid, a bridge - even a poorly designed merge of four lanes into two. But many times a traffic jam occurs for no apparent reason. You're zipping along at 60 m.p.h. (ok, 65) and then, from nowhere, the cascade of red brake lights, traffic grinds to a halt, you inch along, stop-and-go, accelerate and decelerate, for maybe a mile. And then, the traffic jam clears up and you're speeding along again. It started for no reason and ended for no reason.
Actually, scientists have discovered a reason, and they call it a "shockwave jam." It works like a shockwave, only backwards. What happens is this: one driver slows down, perhaps to switch lanes, perhaps to avoid someone else switching lanes, perhaps because his mind wandered - whatever the reason. When Driver A slows down, the driver behind him (or her) also slows down, and then the next one, and so on. Even if Driver A slows down just a little, it's enough to break the flow and start the "shockwave jam cascade."
The traffic jam occurs because the slowing cars cluster. And, like a shockwave in reverse, it ripples backward, so that even as one car emerges from the jam in front, another enters the shockwave at the back, and becomes part of the traffic jam.
Ironically, one solution is to lower the speed limit, at least during rush hour. The peaks and valleys of a single driver - one person slowing down then speeding up - can create the "shockwave jam." But, ironically, a slightly lowered speed limit (around 45 m.p.h. for the rush hour stretch) helps maintain a steady flow, avoiding the peaks and valleys, and preventing the shockwave.
The lessons, as we travel down the highway of life, are clear.
First, of course, the Jewish road is the highway of Torah and mitzvot (commandments). So an individual "slowing down" in mitzvot, letting the mind wander from mitzvot coming up so that he has to slow down to do them - affects not only his own journey, but that of everyone behind him - all the Jewish people depending on us to do our part, to travel the road of Judaism.
And there's another point: True, a shockwave starts with a sudden, even if slight, deceleration. But that deceleration itself may be caused by a sudden, albeit slight, acceleration. In other words, the constant, consistent maintenance of one's learning and observance is more effective, for us and others, than short, temporary, but disruptive bursts of inspiration.
A daily mitzva - saying "Modeh Ani"(thanking G-d for being alive) in the morning, for instance, gets us to the destination faster and more efficiently than speeding into a holiday, only to have to slow down, hit the brakes and cause a traffic jam afterwards.
Our Sages understood that we can cause a "shockwave jam" when they declared that all Jews are responsible one for another. The actions of one sends out a ripple effect, a shockwave, that influences the spiritual (and physical) journey of all other Jews. If this is true in the negative, if a slight tap on our spiritual brakes, so to speak, can not just slow down, but halt not just our progress, but that of all those behind us (spiritually and temporally), how much more so is this true in the positive: by maintaining a steady flow, by being part of the forward motion of the 'traffic' - the Torah learning and mitzva observance - we help keep the Jewish people moving steadily forward, to the ultimate destination of Redemption and the coming of Moshiach.
This week's Torah portion, Kedoshim, contains a command that has achieved great fame. "Love your neighbor as yourself." To the average person, this command has overtones of a pious sermon utterly detached from reality. For, an obvious question arises: "How can one be expected to love a person despite his obvious shortcomings?"
A non-Jew once approached the famous Hillel and expressed his desire to convert to Judaism. "Teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot," he demanded. The wise Hillel replied: "Don't do to others what is hateful to yourself. This is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary. Now go and study!"
Hillel chose to express the precept of brotherly love in the negative form: "Don't do to others what is hateful to yourself." Why did he not teach him this command in the simple positive form as it is stated in the Torah, "Love your neighbor as yourself?"
Hillel, in his profound wisdom, chose to express this command in a way which would explain and clarify the precept:
It is widely accepted that "Love is blind," and the blindest of all love is self-love. Every man is well aware of the faults of his character. He knows of his own shortcomings better than another person; yet so strong is his self-love that it smothers this awareness and does not let him feel the extent of his deficiencies in character. He is thereby able to find excuses for all his improper actions.
What is our most common reaction when someone else notices our faults and brings them to our attention? We are angered, not because his observation is untrue (we know all too well that he has noticed a real and true defect) but because we perceive that this fault has made an unfavorable impression upon him, and he does not lightly dismiss the shortcoming. In other words, he has removed the blindfold of our self-affection, forcing us to be aware of the full extent of our shortcomings a result which we find truly hateful.
Says Hillel, "If you find this removal of the blindfold of self-love hateful when it is done to you, then don't do it to others!" Let your love extend to your fellow too. When you observe his faults, dismiss them lightly and "make nothing" of them, just as you do your own.
From "A Thought for the Week," Detroit. Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Time Out for Torah
by Yedida Wolfe
From a speech at a Family Weekend of Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva
When I lost my job on the 87th floor of Tower 1 of the World Trade Center, just eight weeks before 9/11, I was devastated. My husband and I had recently signed a lease in a doorman building on the Upper West Side, and I was wondering how we would manage without my paycheck. I had no idea that I would be able to see the good in a challenging situation so clearly or so soon. (When I had lost my job, my rebbetzin had said, "It's a blessing.")
Before I got married, my husband's rabbi had suggested that I spend some time seriously pursuing Torah study, especially as my husband had spent significant time in yeshiva. But I did not want to take time from my busy career and I also did not want to be "brainwashed" by those in his community. I wanted to take things at my own pace.
Until then, I felt that I had done pretty well by myself and with a little guidance from friends. Though I had not been raised in an Orthodox home, I was now keeping kosher and Shabbat and more. I had sought learning material from my friend's brother who was a rabbi, I studied with my friend's sister and I attended classes whenever my busy schedule allowed.
After losing my job, I haphazardly and unsuccessfully searching for a new job. And then I decided to take the plunge and attend yeshiva. My experience at Machon Chana Women's yeshiva inspired me to embrace the changes that were occurring in my life: I was recently married, pregnant, and saved from a grave disaster. Torah study provided a spiritual context to these events and opened my mind to Chasidic philosophy. Rather than overwhelming my sense of self or squelching my individuality, I found a community of women and mentors who were busy learning about traditional Judaism while integrating the information with their individual identities and professions or pursuits.
The learning was intense. The students, most of whom were younger than me, were already fluent in the rhythms of the learning. They could read Hebrew easily and follow the lectures about Chasidic philosophy with ease. But I found myself catching on quickly. I was learning to read the cryptic Rashi script, to gain insight into Jewish history through the book of Joshua, and to learn about the Chasidic dimension where exploring the nature of G-d is achievable, practical and understandable. The classes were challenging and interesting - with primary sources, and inviting deep analysis. I was not expecting my intellectual side to be as challenged, given my Ivy League background. The teachers did not fail to surprise me by bringing divergent opinions and logic - true philosophical theories and ways of questioning that were fascinating.
But where was the brain washing? I expected that the rabbis and teachers would question me at any moment if I considered myself to be Lubavitcher chasid. But their focus was totally on gaining knowledge; where I went was up to me. I also thought that the rabbis or students would pressure me to move to Crown Heights. Instead they encouraged us to continue doing what was right for us as a new family, to stay where we were comfortable. The supportive and informative atmosphere encouraged my marriage and gave me space to absorb the information at my own pace, growing both spiritually and growing up in my new marriage.
Another surprising and very attractive aspect of attending Machon Chana was the wealth of opportunities for self-expression within traditional Judaism. Where I was coming from, there was a certain part of me that felt behind my peers who had grown up going to yeshiva. Here, I found women who were experiencing such similar feelings and challenges in terms of balancing their new religious lives with their whole identities. We became a community and sounding board for each other which has continued until today.
I would take my notes back to Manhattan and share my learning with our guests and my husband. The inspiration and knowledge I gained enhanced our Shabbat table, inspired me to press on and stay positive while I was not working and to continue to delve into this adventure that was both keeping me afloat through all the surprises as well as offering practical ideas about how to move forward in personal and spiritual growth.
Yet another surprise was the eagerness and acceptance the faculty and students expressed about wanting to jumpstart my career again as a quickly as possible. The advisors recognized that I am a person who thrives on working, leading, being involved and that housework, however necessary and even holy, was not my forte. I have been able to discuss the challenges and trials of building a large family - I am an only child - while achieving my career goals. Despite the fact that I expected sighs about ruining my children by going back to work, I have found support - both in terms of friends helping when a babysitter did not come through as well as encouragement regarding my goals. I guess the biggest effect of Machon Chana on my life, is introducing me to the power of Chabad philosophy and providing the tools to integrate it into my life in a way that has enhanced my family life as well as my career.
Rina's Rainy Day
Every time Rina makes plans for her day, all kinds of things seem to get in the way. But instead of complaining she knows what to say. "Gam Zu L'Tova, I trust this is good, G-d makes things happen the way that they should!" Delightful rhyming text written by Chani Altein and illustrated by Jerry Blackman. Published by HaChai Publishing.
15th of Tammuz, 5746 (1986)
... The connection between medicine and Jewish law is found in Torah itself, as our Sages, of blessed memory, declare: "Torah brings healing to the world."
This in no way implies that Torah [which itself brings healing] negates medicine in any way; on the contrary, the Torah establishes that in matters of health, one should consult a doctor and obey his instructions.
Understandably, at the same time [that a person uses the services of a doctor,] the person is to remember that G-d is the true Healer, and the doctor is no more than an agent of G-d, the "Healer of all flesh and Performer of wonders."
There are two fundamental approaches to medicine: a) healing through finding a cure; b) preventive medicine.
The first approach involves active intervention when a health problem is brought to the attention of a doctor, while the second approach - and this has become increasingly prevalent in modern times - strives to achieve the maximum degree of public health by seeking to prevent ailments through inoculations, proper public and private hygiene, a nutritional diet, and by other ways and measures.
It goes without saying that while there is no escaping the need to be healed when one is already ill, preventive medicine is the ideal. Long range, it surely is the most desirable, any way you look at it, including cost, not to mention [its role in] preventing illness and suffering, may G-d protect us.
Additionally, preventive medicine does not require the kind of resources needed to perform extreme measures such as surgery, something that is sometimes unfortunately necessary when healing someone with an existing condition.
In order for preventive medicine to be most beneficial, it requires that one commence prevention at the earliest possible age, beginning with vaccinations, brushing one's teeth to prevent cavities, a balanced diet, and so on.
With regard to Jewish children, preventive medicine also includes scrupulous observance of the laws of kosher food and drink, as it is known how this matter affects the Jewish child's spiritual and physical development. ...
21 Kislev, 5719 (1958)
In reply to your letter of the 18th of Kislev in which you describe the health of your children, and you conclude with a question regarding whether the children should receive a type of food whose kashrus is somewhat in doubt, in order that this food enhance their appetites:
Scrupulous observance of kashrus (as explained in many places) is important not only for the proper observance of the kashrus commandment, but also because each and every morsel of food that a person eats is transformed into his flesh and blood, thereby binding the soul and the body.
The kashrus and refinement of foods have an effect on the character and moral fiber of the person who eats them. Thus, every enhancement in the degree of a food's kashrus, refinement and purity, must also be recognized as an added enhancement to the quality, caliber and refinement of the individual's character and moral fiber.
If this is so regarding adults, how much more so with regard to children whose characters are in the process of being formed. The direction one takes in their formative process is thus of utmost importance.
In light of the above, my opinion [and reply to your question] is obvious:
Since we are not dealing with a life-threatening situation - G-d forbid - and it is only a matter of increasing your children's appetites and strengthening them, you should not diminish the level of kashrus of their foods.
Surely other means and methods can be found to strengthen their appetites and make them healthier - and not to the detriment of proper observance of kashrus.
From Healthy in Body, Mind and Soul, compiled and translated by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
What are the ten sefirot that are often spoken about in Kabala and that we mention when counting the Omer?
The following are the ten sefirot, or Divine emanations, which are also the source of the ten powers of the soul: Chachma - wisdom; bina - understanding; da'at - knowledge; chesed - kindness, grace or benevolence; gevura - might, power or severity; tiferet - beauty; netzach - endurance or victory; hod - splendor or majesty; yesod - foundation; malchut - sovereignty.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we commence the cycle of study of Ethics of the Fathers on Shabbat afternoon, beginning with Chapter One of the Mishna, whose opening lines express a fundamental and axiomatic concept in Judaism:
"Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly."
Why is it important for us to know this chain of transmission? To teach us that the Torah we have in our possession today is the very same Torah that was revealed to Moses thousands of years ago. And, as links in the ongoing chain of tradition, it is our duty as Jewish parents to transmit the Torah to our children.
The Torah has an infinite number of facets. Some parts are narrative, others are legal codes, while other sections are allegorical. The Five Books of Moses, Mishna, Talmud, Midrashim, Shulchan Aruch, Chasidut - all are part and parcel of the G-dly body of knowledge we call Torah.
Some parts of the Torah were meant to be written down; others were transmitted orally until the proper time came to put them into writing. (This is one reason why the non-Jewish "Bible" bears little resemblance to the Torah; ignorance of the Oral Tradition has led to many false interpretations and absurdities over the millennia!)
At Sinai, Moses received the entirety of Torah with all its potential for extrapolation, "even that which the scholar would innovate in the future." An halachic decision rendered today is Torah, revealed to man according to a Divinely-inspired "timetable" of revelation. This process will reach its culmination in the Messianic era, when Moshiach will teach the world a new and deeper dimension of Torah, as it states in Isaiah 51:4: "For Torah shall proceed from Me, and I will make My judgment suddenly for a light of the people."
May it happen at once.
And you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am G-d (Lev. 19:18)
This verse may also be read: "And you shall love your neighbor" - "as you are yourself." G-d holds us to the same standards by which we judge other people. If we show love for our fellow Jews, G-d will show the same love for us.
Because the Jewish people were exiled from their land on account of their causeless hatred for one another, the antidote which will bring the Redemption is an overabundance of brotherly love and harmony. As we find ourselves on the very threshold of the Messianic Era, when the greatest love between all Jews will be felt, the time has come for a new phase in our relations with one another: We must strive to "taste" beforehand, while still in exile, the wonderful atmosphere which will reign then. This, in itself, will hasten Moshiach's arrival.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Speak to all the congregation of the Children of Israel and say: You shall be holy (Lev. 19:2)
Rashi, the great Torah commentator, notes that this portion was said at a time when all the Jews were assembled together. During the last century, the proponents of the Enlightenment originated the phrase, "Be a Jew at home and a person in the street." Rashi's comment, however, teaches that a Jew must never be ashamed of his Jewishness nor try to conceal it, for at all times we are proud members of the holy Jewish nation and must conduct ourselves according to G-d's instructions.
And when you come into the land (Lev. 19:23)
Certain commandments only pertain to the land of Israel, and are not applicable outside of its borders. Despite the admonition of the Tzemach Tzedek - the third Lubavitcher Rebbe - to "make here the land of Israel," we should not feel that it is acceptable to languish in exile for even one minute more than necessary. Our goal remains the physical land of Israel and the ushering in of the Messianic era through the coming of Moshiach.
"Where will we be staying?" Reb Yeshaya Berlin asked Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch (known as the Rebbe Maharash, fourth leader of Chabad, whose birthday is this Wednesday, 2 Iyar) upon their arrival in Paris.
"At the Alexander Hotel," the Rebbe replied. The Chasidim accompanying the Rebbe on this special trip were surprised. The Alexander Hotel was famous as one of the most luxurious establishments in the city. Members of royalty and other high-ranking dignitaries were its usual guests. "Common" people, no matter how wealthy, never dreamt of crossing its threshold. Yet this was where the Rebbe wished to stay.
The Rebbe then told the Chasidim that he would do the talking, as none of the other members of his entourage spoke French. In fact, the Rebbe Maharash was fluent in many foreign languages, among them Russian, French and Latin. He was also extremely well read in a wide range of subjects and disciplines, in addition to his outstanding scholarship in both the revealed and esoteric aspects of Torah.
At the front desk of the hotel the Rebbe announced that he was interested in reserving a suite of rooms. "There are several suites available at present," the clerk replied, "at a cost of 200 francs per night." It was an almost unimaginable sum of money in those days.
But the Rebbe wasn't satisfied. "Perhaps you have something better?" he inquired. "I wish to stay on the same floor as the game room," the Rebbe insisted. The clerk consulted the register for a moment. "You're in luck," he told the Rebbe. "There's an empty suite next door to the casino." He then quoted a price far higher than 200 francs. The Rebbe asked to reserve three rooms - one for himself, two for the rest of his entourage - but the Chasidim were in no financial position to stay at the Alexander, and found lodging elsewhere.
The Rebbe went up to his quarters and remained there for several hours. In the meantime, the Chasidim came back from their hotel and waited outside the Rebbe's room.
The Rebbe's face was very serious when he eventually opened the door. Much to everyone's astonishment, he then strode purposefully over to the hotel's gambling casino and went inside.
Needless to say, the players at the gaming tables were unaccustomed to guests of the Rebbe's stature joining them in their pursuits. Eyebrows were raised throughout the hall. Trailing after him, the Chasidim were just as baffled as the gamblers. But, from long experience they knew that Rabbi Shmuel certainly had his reasons.
At one of the tables sat a young Jewish man, engrossed in a game of cards. In front of him was a goblet of wine, from which he sipped every now and then. The Rebbe walked over and sat down next to him.
For the first few minutes the Rebbe said nothing and the man continued playing. Then the Rebbe suddenly stretched out his arm and placed a hand on the young man's shoulder. "Young man," the Rebbe said, "it is forbidden to drink the wine of gentiles."
The Rebbe paused a moment to let his words sink in. "Non-kosher wine dulls the mind and the heart," he continued, adding the admonition, "Be a Jew." Without further ado the Rebbe stood up, wished him a good night and left the casino.
The Rebbe Maharash was clearly very agitated. Reb Yeshaya Berlin later commented that he never saw the Rebbe in such an emotional state.
A few hours later the young Jewish man was seen making inquiries as to the whereabouts of the gentleman who had spoken to him in the casino. The Chasidim rushed over to show him where the Rebbe was staying, and he was admitted.
The private conversation that ensued lasted several hours. The next morning, the Rebbe Maharash left the hotel.
"It has been many generations since such a pure soul has come down to earth," the Rebbe later explained, referring to the young man. "Unfortunately, it had fallen into the depths of kelipa [the forces of evil]."
Whatever was discussed, the encounter proved to be a turning point in the young man's life. No longer estranged from Judaism, he returned to full observance of Torah and mitzvot soon afterward. Today, his descendants are G-d fearing, religious Jews.
This was the extent of the Rebbe Maharash's love for his fellow Jew, even one he had never met before.
Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch once asked his father, the Tzemach Tzedek, about the year 5608 (1848) which had been described as a particularly probable time for the long-awaited Redemption: "How could it be that Moshiach has not arrived?" The Tzemach Tzedek replied: "But Likutei Torah was published!" (I.e., since this was a significant step in the dissemination of the wellsprings of the Baal Shem Tov, it could be understood as a spiritual step in the direction of the Redemption. "Yes," answered Rabbi Shmuel, "but we want and need Moshiach simply and literally, here in this physical world."