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Perhaps you've heard about fantasy leagues? They're all the rage among sports fans. Baseball, football, basketball - almost any sport. If you can't get enough of the real thing - if the newspaper sports section, 24-hour sports stations, internet sites, blogs, etc. - if that's not enough, there's always a fantasy league.
What is a "fantasy league" and how does it work? A fantasy league works in parallel with a real sports league. There's a player's draft, you can trade players, and you win or lose. At the start of the "season," you draft players from actual teams, regardless of the team they're on. There are restrictions, usually having to do with the positions the players have on their teams. So, for example, you could draft a third baseman from the White Sox, a shortstop from the Yankees, a pitcher from the Dodgers, and so on. Each player gets points based on performance. So if your third baseman gets three hits and your shortstop a home run, and your pitcher so many strike-outs, that's x number of points for your "team," even though the players on it may in reality have been playing against each other.
The fantasy league player whose team has the most points at the end of the "season" wins - sometimes money, sometimes just bragging rights.
It's a way to play armchair coach and armchair general manager, another way to identify with the sport and yes, it's a competition. It's a role playing game, where the participants step into a world somewhat of their making and somewhat in their control.
Judaism has its own "fantasy league." Only instead of baseball players and football players, the "players" are rabbis. And instead of getting "points" for hits or runs or touchdowns, they get "points" for a good point - an argument well made or a question well-asked.
Let's see how the "fantasy league" of Judaism works. The Torah makes an apparently simple statement, say, that a law applies "in all your habitations." But then questions arise. Rabbi Akiva explains it one way; but another authority, quoted elsewhere in the Talmud, raises an objection. Then Rashi, who lived hundreds of years after Rabbi Akiva, joins the conversation, explaining how the objection isn't a real objection. Rashi just scored some "points."
And so it goes. The dialogues, debates and conversations of our Sages cross time and space, as if they were all "playing" at the same time. True, Maimonides says this, which seems to refute..., but if we remember that the Baal Shem Tov said...
In other words, we approach Jewish learning as if the Sages from different generations and different conditions are constantly interacting. And the scholars of today are welcome to join.
Who are these scholars? You - any Jew who studies Torah and asks questions and wonders what Rav Ashi would say to the Alter Rebbe. We don't have to be "superstars" to play in this fantasy league. But it has an advantage over the sports and other fantasy leagues: you don't have to sit on the sidelines and fantasize as you watch others play. You can - and should - participate!
Throughout the thousands of years of Jewish history, countless men, women and children have willingly given up their lives rather than deny their Jewishness. Not only scholars and learned Jews went to the auto-da-fe with the "Shema" on their lips; simple and untutored Jews also chose to die sanctifying G-d's name without hesitation.
This irrational willingness to give up one's life for the sake of G-d seems odd in light of the dictum which states that "nothing can stand in the way of repentance." With the sword at their throats, who could have faulted our ancestors had they agreed to bow down to whatever idol worship was being forced upon them? Why didn't they save their lives by uttering some meaningless phrase or performing some other seemingly insignificant gesture demanded by their tormentors? Could they not have later fully repented and returned to G-d?
This question may be answered by understanding the special nature of the Jewish soul and the relationship it enjoys with G-d. That inner spark of Jewishness, described in Chasidut as "an actual part of G-d above," exists on a plane above time and space. It cannot bear to be severed from its Source for even a moment; the threat of separation from G-d is always utter and absolute. The willingness to give up one's life rather than lose that connection is a consequence of the soul's very nature.
This concept is well illustrated in this week's Torah portion, Bamidbar, in which G-d commands that a census be taken of the Jews. Rashi, the great Torah commentator, notes that because of the great love G-d has for His people, "He counts them at every moment."
This comment must be interpreted beyond its literal meaning, for since the exodus from Egypt, there have only been nine censuses of our people. The tenth census will be taken after the Final Redemption. What then, does it mean that G-d counts the Jews "at every moment"?
The act of counting reduces the objects being counted to their common denominator; both great and small are counted as one. The common denominator among all Jews, without regard for educational status, societal standing or wealth, is the Jewish soul, which exists in every Jew to the same extent and renders all Jews equal.
G-d unceasingly "counts" His children and holds each of them dear, all the time. This love is so overwhelming that the Jew cannot endure being cut off from it for even a moment, even with the knowledge that his later repentance has the power to restore the relationship to what it had been. It is G-d's perpetual "counting" of His children which reveals the innate power of the Jewish soul.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
For the past 20 years or so, I have travelled extensively around the world, sharing Chasidic teachings and music with my fellow Jews. on every flight to or from Israel, I always take my tefilin and walk down the aisles asking the other passengers if they want to do the commandment of putting them on.
There are always some passengers who agree to do so, and sometimes the numbers reach into the thirties!
But last week when I flew to Johannesburg, South Africa, from Israel, I was seriously considering not asking anyone.
The reason is that some ten months ago I had also flown to South Africa and it was the first time that everyone I asked to put on tefilin both to and from Israel said that they were not Jewish!
This was such an unnerving experience that I figured that this time I would be "normal" like everyone else and simply mind my own business.
Suddenly it became so clear and obvious to me that this business of butting into people's lives with tefilin was ridiculous. It disturbed their privacy, made me look like a fool and took me away from my opportunity to study Torah. In fact, the more I thought about it I realized that no one in their right mind would comply anyway: if they were religious they didn't need me. And if they weren't... why would they agree to do a complicated ritual .... in public no less!
Not only that ... I was tired, there was turbulence every half hour, people were tired, or they were eating, or wanted to be with their families, or were watching the movie etc. etc.
Suddenly I said to myself, "Stop it!" I thought to myself, "All those negative things are certainly obstacles. But you can't use them for excuses!" I thought a bit more and concluded, "And what should a chasid do when confronted with obstacles? Overcome them with ... joy !"
I don't know how, but it worked! I opened the overhead compartment, took out my tefilin, walked to the beginning of the aisle, bent over, held out my tefilin and asked the first man if he wanted to put them on.
His answer was, "Certainly not!"
"Ah!" I thought to myself "Another obstacle! More joy needed."
So, undaunted, I asked the person behind him who was watching us, but as soon as I said the first word and held out the tefilin he held up both hands like stop signs and said "Not Jewish! I'm not Jewish!"
Encouraged by my dismal failures I preceded to a heavy, muscular fellow with a shaved head, perhaps in his forties who looked a bit like a professional wrestler.
I held out the tefilin and asked him if he was interested. But he just stared at me. I thought that maybe he's not Jewish so I asked him. But he just kept staring. He didn't even blink. I repeated both questions in Hebrew. "Tefilin? Yehudi?" He nodded his head slightly but just kept staring.
Usually I would have just moved on but my decision to overcome obstacles through joy wouldn't let me. I forced a smile, imagined that this is my best friend, took his hand, raised it and cautiously began to slip the straps on.
Finally, he took over, made the blessing, said the "Shema" prayer from the page I gave him and did the rest on his own.
I left him alone for a few moments and when I helped him remove the tefilin he said quietly to me, "We'll talk later."
Across the aisle sat a young fellow with a big smile on his face who said "Now me! Right? Wow! The last time I put on tefilin was years ago at my Bar Mitzva."
Then, after he finished there was an older man who noted that he hadn't put on Tefilin for fifty years (his wife kept saying ... 'Fifty? Fifty? Try sixty!). When he finished I noticed that the "wrestler" was motioning that he wanted to talk.
As I approached, I noticed that he was crying.
"You have to excuse me for crying" he said shaking my hand. "But when I see how you care for others and don't seem to care about yourself ... and you do it with such joy... well, it makes me think what am I doing?" He blew his nose a few times and continued.
"You know what? I just decided, I'm going to buy a pair of tefilin for myself and start putting them on! I used to do it 10, 20 years ago, but I stopped. I'm going to do it again! You know what? I'm going to do it!"
He shook my hand warmly and and I went on to put tefilin on four more people.
If it wouldn't have been for my decision to not be "normal" (get discouraged by the past or nervous about the future) it would have been a normal flight... with nothing to get happy about!
Rabbi Tuvia Bolton is a popular teacher, musician and storyteller. He is co-director and a senior lecturer at Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim in Kfar Chabad, Israel. Reprinted from ohrtmimim.org
Rabbi Avi and Mina Richler recently moved to Sewell, New Jersey, where they have established Chabad of Gloucester County serving the needs of students at Rowan University as well as Jews throughout Gloucester County. Rabbi Shmuly and Adina Altein will be arriving soon in Winnipeg, Canada, where they will direct the Jewish Learning Center and develop programming for young families. Rabbi Eli and Chaya Schlanger moved recently to Bondi Beach, Australia, where they will be providing Jewish adult education and community programming for local families. Rabbi Yehoshua and Miri Kaminetzky have taken up residence in Serbia where they will serve the 3,200 Jewish residence of that country. The Jewish community in Serbia dates back to the times of the Roman Empire.
25th of Iyar, 5712 
Rabbi S. Carlebach,
Recently you brought to my attention a letter addressed to you by ------, a student at Colgate University, Hamilton, New York. In this letter the writer professes to be a true scientific thinker and an unbeliever in the supernatural; he also asserts that all facts seem to be in contradiction to the existence of G-d, professes to be a "liberal Jew," etc., etc.
Not knowing the background of this student, nor the field of science in which he specializes, I cannot deal with the subject in detail, especially in the course of a letter.
There are, however, several general observations that I can make, which the said student has apparently overlooked, and which he would do well to consider carefully:
- Science does not come with foregone conclusions and beliefs with the idea of reconciling and adjusting facts to these beliefs. Rather the opposite, it deals with facts, then formulates opinions and conclusions. To approach a subject with one's mind made up beforehand is not true scientific thinking but a contradiction to it.
- Science requires that no conclusion can be valid before a thorough study and research was made on the subject. The question therefore presents itself: How much time and effort had the above-mentioned writer devoted to the study of religion to justify his conclusions on the subject?
- A fact is considered any event or phenomenon testified to by witnesses, especially where the evidence is identical and comes from witnesses of varied interests, education, social background, age, etc. Where there is such evidence, it is accepted as a fact which is undeniable even if it does not agree with a scientific theory. This is the accepted practice in science even where there are several reliable witnesses and certainly scores of them, hundreds and thousands.
:The Divine Revelation at Mount Sinai was a fact witnessed by millions of people, all of whom reported it to its minutest detail, accurately, for the whole people of Israel stood at Mount Sinai and witnessed it.
We know that this is a fact because millions of Jews in our day accept it as such, because they received it as such from their own parents, and these millions in turn received the evidence from the previous generation, and so on, in an uninterrupted chain of transmitted evidence from millions to millions of witnesses, generation after generation, back to the original millions of witnesses who saw the event with their own eyes.
Among these original witnesses there were many who were initiated in the sciences of those days (viz. Egypt), many achievements of which are still baffling nowadays; among them were philosophers and thinkers, as well as ignorant and uneducated persons, women and children of all ages. Yet all of them reported the event and phenomena connected with it without contradiction to one another.
Such a fact is certainly indisputable. I do not believe that there is another fact which can match it for evidence and accuracy.
To deny such a fact is anything but scientific; it is the very opposite of science.
Parenthetically, it is unfortunate that this basic difference between the Jewish religion and those of others is so little known, for the Jewish religion is the only one that is not based on a single founder or a few, but is based on the Divine Revelation witnessed by all the people, numbering several millions.
This answers also ------'s statement that "the acceptance of the Torah as being the only truth is dangerous" since "its authors were only men... and as men they could not have been infallible."
Jews accept the Torah precisely because it was given by G-d, not by man, and it was given in the presence of millions of people who had seen it and heard it with their own eyes and ears. That is why the Torah is the absolute truth, for G-d is absolute.
I am enclosing an extra copy, should you wish to forward it to your correspondent.
Why do we use a simple, round ring during the wedding ceremony?
The shape of the ring signifies that just as a circle has no beginning and no end, so may the devotion and love of the new couple for each other be never ending. Some even have the custom to have any engraving (such as 14k) polished off so that the ring is completely smooth.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we bless the new month of Sivan. The theme of the month of Sivan is intertwined with the main festival of the month, Shavuot.
On the first day of Sivan the Children of Israel encamped in the wilderness of Sinai ready to receive the Torah. Concerning this the Torah states, "And Israel encamped there..." using the singular form of the verb "encamped" regarding which our Sages teach us that this means that the people were like one person with one heart.
Though many other times when the Jews made camp there was strife and contention, when they encamped to receive the Torah they were totally united.
Thus, it is clear that one of the pre-requisites for receiving the Torah - and every year at this time we prepare to receive the Torah once again - is to enhance and foster unity amongst the Jewish people.
The "easy way" to become more united with other Jews is to follow two essential teachings of our Sages: "Love your fellow as yourself; Judge every person favorably."
Where is the place to start? The place to start is with ourselves and our own families. This, of course, doesn't mean that we have to perfect these relationships before we can extend the teachings to others, but it is certainly the correct place to start as "charity begins at home."
If we keep these fundamental teachings in mind we will certainly foster Jewish unity in our own little world which will ultimately impact on the entire world.
In the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting (Num. 1:1)
All of the Divine utterances that were said during the Jews' first year in the desert, before the Sanctuary was erected, are described as having been said "at Mount Sinai." However, once the Sanctuary was built, the Torah uses the words "in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting," since the sanctuary was now the place where the Divine Presence rested.
The Levites shall keep charge of the Sanctuary of Testimony (Num. 1:53)
The Levites, whose job it was to "guard" the Sanctuary and the Holy Temple, were counted in the census from the age of one month. But how can a one-month-old infant possibly "keep the charge of the Sanctuary of Testimony"? "Guarding" the holiness of the Sanctuary refers to spiritual guardianship, not physical protection. The Levites served not by virtue of their physical prowess or outstanding bravery, but because of their high spiritual stature, something that even a small baby had already inherited.
Every man by his own flag, by the ensigns of their family division (Num. 2:2)
Each flag bore the symbol of a different tribe: Reuben, the form of a man; Yehuda, a lion; Ephraim, an ox; Dan, an eagle.
And the charge of the Children of Israel (Num. 3:8)
The function of the Levites, to "guard the honor of G-d," also serves to protect the Jewish people as a whole, as it states, "G-d is your guardian, G-d is your shadow." Why a shadow? Because G-d conducts Himself with man in the very same manner as He is served...
Rabbi Meir of Premishlan was a great tzadik (righteous person) whose holiness was acknowledged by Jews from far and wide who sought advice and blessings from him.
One day a woman was admitted into his study. As soon as she set eyes on the tzadik she burst into tears. "What is troubling you?" Reb Meir asked. The sobbing woman could barely speak, but she managed to get out the words, "Rebbe, I have no children; please give me your blessing."
The Rebbe was full of compassion for the woman's pain and he replied to her, "May it be G-d's will that your request be fulfilled."
Armed with the holy man's blessing, the woman confidently went home and waited for his words to be realized. Not a year had passed by when Rabbi Meir received a letter from a distant city from a person he did not know.
When he read the letter and removed the papers contained in the envelope, he was shocked to find a bank note for the tremendous sum of three hundred rubles.
The letter read: "My wife has just given birth to a child thanks to the Rebbe's blessing. I beg the Rebbe to accept this gift in gratitude."
Far from being pleased, Rabbi Meir's distress was apparent, as he extended his hand to put the bank note on the far side of the table as if he wanted to remain as distant from it as possible. Then he called his sons to come to him at once to discuss an important matter.
When they arrived, he brought them into his room and pointed to the letter: "Today I received a letter which is brimming full of errors and falsehoods. For one thing, it refers to me as a holy man, a tzadik, and that is patently false. Secondly, the entire premise of the letter is false, for this man credits me with the birth of his son. How ridiculous! What do I have to do with such lofty matters as birth and death? Am I a tzadik that I have control over these things? I have therefore decided to return the money to him at once."
His sons were shocked. The eldest spoke first. "Father, we are very poor. Perhaps G-d has taken pity on us and decided to end our poverty through this man. Maybe it would be wrong and ungrateful of us not to make good use of it." Everyone agreed.
Only the Rebbe staunchly maintained that the money must be returned to the misguided sender.
They turned the matter over this way and that, but it became clear that no consensus could be reached. The family decided to bring their dilemma to a rabbinical court. The judges listened to both sides of the case and then reached their decision: The Rebbe should keep the money. It was true that Reb Meir was such a modest man that he denied being a tzadik whose blessings could have helped the childless woman, but the woman and her husband obviously thought differently. In their estimation it was the Rebbe's prayers that brought about the birth of their child, and they gave the money purely as a gift from their hearts. Therefore, it was perfectly fine to keep the gift.
The Rebbe and his sons left the rooms of the rabbinical court in very different moods. The sons were satisfied that their opinion had been upheld by the judges. The terrible poverty in which they lived would be alleviated at least for a time. Their father, however, was brought no peace by the decision. For although the rabbinical court had ruled that he was completely justified in keeping the money, his own heart was uneasy. He decided to take the problem to his wife, the rebbetzin.
As his life's companion and a woman whose vision was always clear, she would be the final arbiter of this case, for he trusted her judgment completely.
The Rebbe and his sons entered the house and asked the rebbetzin to come and sit with them; they had something of great importance to discuss with her. When the family was seated around the table, the Rebbe filled her in on all the details of the problem, leaving out nothing, but stressing his own unease with the reason for receiving the gift.
Her sons, on the other hand, stressed how much easier their lives would be now, since G-d had clearly wanted to help them out of their troubles by sending them this money.
She listened wordlessly to both sides and then turned to her husband. "My dear husband, all your life you have guarded yourself from even tasting food that had a question about its kosher status. Even when you discovered that it was a hundred percent kosher you refrained from eating it, because its permissibility had been in question. Now we are faced with the same situation, the only difference being that the question is on the kosher status of money and not on food. Why should you act any differently now?"
Rabbi Meir smiled at her. He stood up, walked into his room, took the bank note and put it into an envelope which he addressed to the sender. That very day it was deposited in the post and the hearts of the tzadik and tzadeket were content.
In the time of the Redemption the number of the children of Israel will be like the sand of the sea shore, which can neither be measured nor counted.
(Hosea 2:1 - Haftara of Parshat Bamidbar)