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While there are many things to enjoy about summer, now that it's almost over (at least in the northern hemisphere) most of us will admit that the increase in bug activity isn't one of them. One of the most annoying of all insects is, of course, the mosquito.
And during the summer, mosquitoes seem to be everywhere. If you're in the country, they swarm; if you're in the city, they find their way through the traffic and smog to bite just you in just that out of reach place.
Now, we're not going to give you a lecture about how everything G-d created He created for a purpose, and even the mosquito exists for a reason as part of the Divine Plan. That's all true, but we're not going to talk about that. Rather, we're going to look at what a mosquito does and see what we can learn from it.
If you were asked what a mosquito does, you'd probably say it bites and it annoys. Through their bites, mosquitoes can transmit many diseases. The mosquito breaks the skin, draws blood, and injects micro-organisms through its saliva, which keeps the blood flowing.
In other words, a small breach in the protective "fence" of the skin, potentially leads, through a minimal loss of blood, to disease.
The analogy is clear: A small break in our commitment to and involvement in Judaism, can drain a small amount of our energy, our enthusiasm. While taking just a little life out of our Jewish studies, or mitzva observance (being a bit lazy about a mitzva may not seem like much), it can, in the course of time, have a detrimental effect - creating doubts where none exist, engendering a growing indifference to participation in things Jewish, etc.
Even if we manage to chase the mosquito away before it bites us, though, it still irritates, annoys and distracts us. In fact, one way we can tell if we're really focusing on something is how easily or quickly a buzzing mosquito gets our attention - how soon do we feel it on our hand or leg?
And that's another lesson, of course: in some ways it's easier to ignore the big distractions than the little irritants. But those little irritants, those slight diversions from focusing on the mitzva at hand, can, of course lead to much greater consequences. (Imagine a golfer about to hit the winning putt, suddenly distracted by a buzzing mosquito!)
There are a lot of "mosquitoes" in our lives - nagging questions, someone who sings the prayer off-key or not with the same tune - distractions and itchy bites. We have to apply the right "insect repellent" - a focus on the positive in our lives, and an emphasis on the mitzvot we can do. And if a mosquito does get through, we shouldn't help the poison it injects to spread by rubbing or scratching - we should shift our attention back to the Jewish experience we are currently involved with, ignoring the negative sensation, which will then disappear of its own accord - much like evil will dissipate of its own accord with the coming of Moshiach.
This week's Torah portion opens with an unusual expression: "Eikev ("if" or "because") you listen to these laws..." Instead of the more common word "im" to denote "if," the Torah uses the word "eikev," which means "heel."
According to the Torah commentator, Rashi, eikev alludes to the "simple mitzvot (commandments) usually trampled underfoot" - those mitzvot whose importance is sometimes denigrated.
Rashi's explanation is based on a Midrash which states: "These are the simple commandments that people are not always careful to keep; they toss them under their heels."
The Midrash is not referring to a person who considers these mitzvot to be trivial, G-d forbid, or who scorns them intentionally. Rather, the Midrash refers to a Jew who accepts that these mitzvot must be observed and who endeavors to keep them, yet keeps postponing their observance until they are "tossed under the heel."
Such a person is likely to divide G-d's commandments into categories, according to what he perceives as importance.
To him, the "important" mitzvot are the "head" and must take priority. "Let me first observe the 'important' mitzvot perfectly," he says "then I'll start with the others." The simplest mitzvot are left for last. According to this way of thinking, the Jew does not demand of himself a level of conduct that is "within the letter of the law" until he considers himself to have mastered the "important" mitzvot.
What is the consequence of such an outlook? When this person is asked to love every single Jew - including those he does not know personally - he replies, "How can you ask that of me? It's hard for me to love people I do know! How can you expect me to extend it to Jews I've never met?"
When pressed to observe mitzvot even more scrupulously than is required he replies, "No! There's got to be a certain sequence in observing mitzvot. Demanding that I do more than the basics is like asking me to walk in the street barefoot while wearing a beautiful tie around my neck! You've got to start at the beginning and work your way up."
While these arguments may sound logical at face value, they are nothing but the counsel of the evil inclination.
In truth, the foundation of a Jew's G-dly service is his faith; it is predicated on the acceptance of the yoke of heaven, not on intellectual arguments or rationalizations.
The function of the mitzvot is to connect us to G-d. Every mitzva that a Jew observes strengthens his bond with G-d, regardless of whether it is an "important" commandment or a "simple" one, i.e., related to the "head" or to the "heel."
If any mitzva allows us to draw nearer to G-d and unite with Him, why not do it immediately?
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 19
Two Special Safed Nights
by Rikvah Cylich
The night drifted into Safed, Israel, as it always does, silently and softly. But this time, there was a faint whisper of something more. Walking the shadowed cobblestone alleyways, you could almost hear the soundless call to journey the ancient city's mystical pathways. But then again it was a typical Safed night.
Earlier that day, among the various visitors to Ascent of Safed, was a young Russian couple, Anya and Moshe Gaifman, who had just moved from the United States. Anya had been a professor at Boston University and Moshe had been a researcher at a university in Moscow. When I met them, I was taken by Anna's glowing smile and the couple's genuine happiness.
Later that evening, one of the rabbis discovered that Anya and Moshe were newly-married. They were in the first week after the wedding. It is customary to celebrate for an entire week with a festive meal each night (or day) culminating in the recital of the special Sheva Brachot - Seven Blessings - for a new couple.
The Gaifmans told us that they hadn't planned to have Sheva Brachot. Their wedding had taken place on 16 Tammuz, the day preceding the fast day that inaugurates the three week period of mourning for the destroyed Holy Temples in Jerusalem. They erroneously thought that since the Three Weeks are a mourning period, not even Sheva Brachot are permitted.
A hasty meeting of the Ascent staff was convened to figure out how to organize Sheva Brachot; we needed a minyan, tables set, food, guests, wine and lots of simcha - rejoicing.
A quick headcount of male guests at Ascent that night left us short of a minyan. Someone ran out to grab some students studying at the local Chabad yeshiva, while others busied themselves with setting up the tables in the garden-courtyard. By the time the guests arrived, the tables were piled with dips, crackers, salad, cakes, cookies, wine, drinks and centerpieces.
There was singing and dancing on both sides of the partition and everyone joined in the beautiful commandment of rejoicing with bride and groom.
In just 18 minutes, a seemingly mundane Wednesday night was transformed into a festive occasion charged with excitement, goodness and boundless positive energy. All who participated couldn't help but marvel and be humbled by being part of such an awesome and special happening. When Moshe stood up and said a few heartfelt words, Anna's smile grew even wider.
Looking back, the Sheva Brachot was exactly what the 'Three Weeks" is about. As one of the teacher's at Ascent, Rabbi Kaye explained in his speech that night, these three weeks may mark the tragic period of national mourning for the Jewish people, but we are promised that when the Holy Temple is rebuilt these days will be revealed as days of true joy as they were always intended to be since the creation of time itself. In the spirit of this reality, we make a point of revealing the essence of this period by looking for ways to legitimately create and take part in joyful occasions during this time.
A little less than three weeks later was Tisha B'Av, the day of national mourning and sorrow over the destruction of the Holy Temples. I know Ascent as a place of buoyancy and light, smiles and laughter, warmth and heart. Which is why I couldn't imagine spending Tisha B'Av at Ascent.
But time doesn't stop, even in Safed. And so as the 8th of Av gradually sunk behind the Meron Mountains in a haze of color, guests and staff were sitting shoeless on the cold stone dining room floor eating boiled eggs and ashes as dozens of generations had done before us.
As we made our way down the deserted city center of Safed to the synagogue for the reading of Lamentations, we could all sense the absence of Safed's characteristic charm and a melancholy taking its place. And while Lamentations was read with its haunting melodies of mourning and grief, we slowly felt the same transition take place within ourselves.
Returning to Ascent, everyone awkwardly took their places on the cold floor. We were all a bit confused about what to do next. After all, isn't Tisha B'Av a 2,000-year-old tradition? What does an absent ancient Temple have to do with us?
After an unnerving silence somebody voiced the above sentiments that we discovered we all shared. "How can we grieve over the loss of something we never personally had to start?"
Granted we can go through the motions: fast, wear non-leather shoes, sit in low chairs or on the floor. But are we really required to feel worse than after last week's mishap when we dented the car?
"I don't know about you," someone said, "but I find it easier to connect to more recent tragedies of our people, like the Holocaust...."
Or the Intifada... the disengagement... the Lebanon war.... In other words, the bitter exile.
"What about our personal exiles, the daily struggle with uncertainty and doubt; the search for spirituality and truth, and all worldliness which challenges it," someone else pointed out.
That was it! The absence of the Temple translated into the lack of revelation and the concealment of greater goodness. Whereas in Temple-time G-d's presence was obvious, in exile we constantly struggle to uncover His omnipresence in our daily lives.
And that's when it hit us. We felt as cold and hard inside as the stone floor we were sitting on. Our wills to keep searching were as charred and burnt as the ashes we had dipped our eggs into. The absence of the Temple is what we suffer with every day in the actuality of G-dly concealment.
We spoke late into the night while we shared the painful reality of our personal exiles. As we said the familiar refrain from the end of Lamentations, its message resonated deep within us: "Restore us to You, O L-rd, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old ."
Rabbi Sholom Ber and Chaya Elishevitz moved to Bellevue, Washington, where they are focusing on adult education for the community at large as well as the Jewish employees at Microsoft. Rabbi Shlomo and Chani Silverman have opened a new Chabad on Campus at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Rabbi and Mrs. Shlomo Torenheim have moved to Ust-Kamenogorst in Kazakhstan on the border of Russia.
Chabad-Lubavitch of Houston, Texas has dedicated a magnificent new Chabad Campus. When completed, the center will include a synagogue, library, study-hall, Sunday School and mikva.
Purim-Koton, 5719 
Sholom uBrocho [Peace and Blessing]:
I duly received your letter, and this is in reply to your questions:
- Whether you should insist on having the Chuppah [wedding canopy] 'outside.'
No doubt you mean having the Chuppah under the sky, which is the important thing, and this can often be done inside, since many halls have a retractable, or removable, roof so that the Chuppah can indeed be under the sky.
I trust you will not have to 'insist' very much but that this will be readily acceptable, for having the Chuppah under the sky is something which is connected with Mazzel. In as much as the question concerns marriage, which makes the foundation for the everlasting edifice (Binyan adei-ad) for a happy home, surely everything should be done to fulfill all the aspects which are connected with Mazzel at the time of the Chuppah, and this is one of them, as is stated in many holy books.
- On the matter of disagreement regarding furniture.
Generally speaking, in matters connected with the house furniture and furnishing and the like, the matters which our Sages call the 'mundane' aspects, one should consider the wishes of the future housewife. At the same time, it is clearly a matter of good sense not to get involved in debts which may be difficult to meet afterwards, all the more so as you have to undertake mortgage obligations, etc., as you write.
- With regard conduct becoming a Yeshivah Bochur [student], etc.
The thing to keep in mind is that your conduct is bound to have an immediate influence on the conduct of your entire home, especially that of your wife, the Akeres Habayis [the foundation of the home]. The father and husband sets the tone for the others to follow. In practice, when one tries to emulate someone else, even with the utmost effort, it rarely comes up to the full 100%. Therefore, it is necessary so to conduct oneself, that after making allowances the copy not fall too short of the original, so that al least the minimum requirement of the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] (even without Hiddurim [enhancements]) would be fulfilled.
This should be your guiding principle also, and even more so, in your meeting with other people, especially in your teaching position, and general standing in the congregation and community.
Referring specifically to the question of going to certain places of amusement, in view of the fact (in addition to the above considerations) that you have told your fiancée that you will discontinue this, you should bear in mind that if you do not practice as you preach, it will not only display a weakness on your part in matters of Yiras Shomaim [fear of heaven], but your fiancée will consider it a precedent to further concessions and liberties in this direction.
- You ask my advice as to how to ensure mutual peace and harmony in married life.
As you know, the Torah is the key to it, as it is written, "Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace." In matters of the Torah pleasantness should be coupled with firmness, especially in such fundamental aspects of marriage as Taharas Hamishpocho [the laws of Family Purity], and all other things of Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] which the Torah requires with the utmost stringency. Yet, it is this very stringent observance that ensures the pleasantness and peace of married life, while capitulation or concession even 'temporarily' in these matters, 'in the interests of peace,' can only have lasting contrary effects.
Nowadays, environment and the people one mixes with, have a considerable effect on one's personal conduct and the conduct of the home. Therefore, one should always seek the company and environment of only such real friends as have a beneficial and encouraging influence in all matters of Torah and Mitzvoth, and introduce your fiancée into a similar environment.
Now that the nights are getting longer are there any special customs?
Our Sages have taught that from the 15th of Av, as the nights grow longer, one should increase his study of Torah. One who studies Torah by "lamp-light" at night is considered as if he helped rebuild the Holy Temple. While the Holy Temple lies in ruins the world exists through the merit of Torah study which replaces the services of the altar.Thus, studying by lamp-light is as if the wood on the altar were shedding the light.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This past Thursday was the 20th of the Hebrew month of Av. This date is the yartzeit (anniversary of the passing) of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the saintly father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
In a letter that Reb Levi Yitzchak wrote to his son, he emphasized the concept of faith in every little "dot and crown" of our G-d-given Torah, whereby each detail complements and perfects the others:
"Do not imagine that the process of argument and debate as engaged in by the Sages of the Mishna and Talmud and those who followed... falls into the category of regular human intellectual pursuit. No, it is not that at all... Rather, each of the Sages perceived the Torah's wisdom as it exists Above, according to the source of his soul and his individual portion in Torah, whether in Jewish law or Aggadita.
"There is absolutely no doubt that everything in both the Oral and Written Torah, and in all the holy books written by the sages and tzadikim (righteous people), who studied Torah for its own sake... everything was said by G-d Himself, in that particular and exact wording."
Reb Levi Yitzchak's spoken words were not ephemeral sounds, his written words were not mere ink on paper. The understanding that every dot and crown of Torah are true and holy were his blood and bones. He lived with the realization of the importance of every aspect of Torah and had utter self-sacrifice for the compliance to Torah's every detail and nuance.
May we learn from his teachings and example and may his memory be a blessing for us.
And [He] will bless the fruit of your womb, and the fruit of your land, your grain, and your wine, and your oil (Deut. 7:13)
The Torah specifically mentions grain, wine and oil, for they are the mainstay of man's sustenance.
Then your heart will be lifted up (Deut. 8:14)
Humility is not enumerated among the Torah's 613 commandments; if being humble were considered a mitzva, many Jews would rush to observe it in the most beautiful manner possible, with the end result being pride in just how humble they are!
(The Baal Shem Tov)
With 70 persons...as the stars of the heaven for multitude (Deut. 10:22)
This verse begins and ends with the Hebrew letter beit, alluding to Jacob's exhortation to his children that they remain attached and devoted to their households ("beit" means "house" in Hebrew) and not assimilate amongst the Egyptians; it is for this reason that the Jews are known as "Beit Yaakov- the House of Jacob."
And you turn aside, and serve other gods (Deut. 11:16)
The Baal Shem Tov taught: As soon as a Jew "turns aside," i.e., moves away from his attachment to G-d, he is automatically considered to be "serving other gods," engaged in idol worship. For the Jew, there is no middle ground. Either he is connected to G-d, or connected to the pleasures of this world.
The Russian czar, Nicholas the First, was a ruthless anti-Semite. He decreed that Jewish boys should be drafted into military service at a tender age so as to tear them away from their Jewish faith as well as from their family and, eventually, to turn them into Christians.
They were forcibly taken away from their parents and sent to distant villages to live among Christian peasants. Then they were drafted into the army to serve for 25 years!
Czar Nicholas would sometimes disguise himself as a civilian and move among the people to hear what they might be saying about him.
Once, in his disguise, the czar entered a bar where peasants and soldiers were sitting and drinking. He sat next to a soldier who offered him a drink. When the czar finished his drink and put the empty glass down on the table, the soldier slapped him on the back.
"What did you hit me for?" protested the czar.
"Don't you know you should never leave your glass empty? You must immediately refill it!" retorted the soldier.
The czar refilled his glass, drank it, and the soldier repeated this performance until they emptied the entire bottle. As if they had not already drunk more than enough, the soldier breezily ordered another bottle, although he had paid for the first with the last of his money. When the bar owner demanded full payment, the soldier offered his sword as a "pledge" until he could bring the money to settle the bill.
The czar and the soldier left the bar, swaying drunkenly. The czar, however, was not too drunk to notice what the soldier had done, and he asked him in what regiment he was serving. The two then went their separate ways.
The following day, the commander of the regiment received word that the czar was coming on an official tour of inspection. The soldier, who had parted with his sword the previous day, could not possibly redeem his "pledge" in time for the czar's inspection. What could he do now?
Suddenly he had an idea. He carved out a sword from a piece of wood and fitted it into the sheath, hoping that the czar would not notice.
The czar went riding majestically among the rows of soldiers. They all stood at attention, their arms raised in salute. The czar stopped in front of the soldier with whom he had been drinking the previous day, and the poor soldier's heart trebled. But the czar addressed himself to the soldier next to him saying, "Look at your uniform! Is that the best you could do?"
The poor fellow was flabbergasted! There was nothing wrong with his uniform, but who dared argue with the czar? The czar turned to his "drinking companion" and shouted, "Draw your sword and chop off his head!"
The soldier with the wooden sword was in quite a predicament. Disobeying the czar meant death. On the other hand, if he drew his sword, the czar would see that the sword was just a piece of wood. As these thoughts flashed through his mind, they were followed by an ingenious idea.
"Your Majesty," began the soldier, "I am ready to carry out your order, as you feel my friend is guilty. But if he deserves to be spared, I ask G-d to save him by turning my sword into wood." He quickly drew his sword and, to everyone's astonishment, there in his hand was a wooden sword!
"Very well," said the czar. "I will pardon your friend. As for you, I promote you to the rank of officer."
The czar was impressed with the soldier's brilliance, and was determined to avail himself of his genius. He received promotion after promotion until he finally became a member of the czar's prestigious bodyguard.
One day, the czar began to discuss religion with him and asked, "Do you truly believe in G-d, and do you attend church regularly?"
"Your Majesty, I believe in G-d, but I do not go to church. I am a Jew."
"A Jew?" exclaimed the czar. "I thought you were a Christian. Become a Christian and I will make you a general. You will be my friend. The czarina and I will be your godparents and you will lack neither honor nor riches."
The soldier was taken aback at the czar's offer. He had, in truth, been torn away from his family and faith at a very young age. Yet he had never entertained the thought of changing his religion.
The czar, seeing his hesitation, began to urge him to accept his offer while, at the same time, hinting that things would go badly for him if he refused. So, somewhat reluctantly, the soldier decided to say "yes" to the czar, though in his heart he meant to remain a Jew.
Everything was arranged, and the czar, czarina and the soldier set out for Kiev where the bishop would carry out the conversion. The soldier sat in the royal carriage, lost in thought. How could he ever have even thought of becoming a Christian? A Jew he was born, and a Jew he would die.
As the royal carriage was crossing a bridge over the river in the center of the city, the soldier suddenly jumped out. With the words of the Shema on his lips, he flung himself into the water. His body quickly disappeared.
Everyone looked on in horror. Sadly, they turned back. The czar, in particular, had become attached to this Jewish soldier, and he began to think deeply about the whole matter. If these Jewish soldiers could feel so strongly about their Judaism, his plan to "Russify" them was obviously a failure, and there was no point in continuing it. Thus, the sacrifice of this martyr was, after all, not in vain, for soon thereafter the czar rescinded his cruel decree.
When the (Previous) Lubavitcher Rebbe proclaimed: "L'alter l'teshuva, l'alter l'Geula" (immediately to repentance, immediately to Redemption), he did so with great publicity; everyone knew that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was speaking very strongly about Moshiach's coming. Once, two Jews were riding the subway train, and they passed the station near the Rebbe's house. Said one to the other: "This is where the Lubavitcher Rebbe lives!" "And who are the Lubavitchers?" asked his companion. The first responded: "They are the 'wild ones,' Jews who actually believe in Moshiach!"
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 1953)