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It's part of our nature: we love songs. Songs reflect our moods, they create our moods. Songs express our thoughts, our feelings, our dreams and our ideals. Song brings us together in a way no other media can. Whether it's the combination of voice and instrument, whether it's the multi-form interplay - words and music - have you ever heard the music of a favorite song, without the words? If you don't start adding, immediately, the words, it sounds off. And even if it's in a different tempo or style, we fill in the blanks. And often the lyrics of a sensational, powerful song are just banal without the melody.
And of course songs come in many different styles and genres: folk, jazz, pop, rock and roll, classic - you need a musicologist to list them all. There are protest songs, folk songs, ballads, love songs, patriotic songs, nonsense songs, and - again, you'd need an expert in music history, or theory, to tell you all the types. And even they'd probably leave some out.
You can tell a lot about a person by looking at his or her iTunes library. Even more by checking out the playlists - how they organize the songs in their lives, what type of music or singer they favor, etc. In fact, you could probably draw a pretty good picture of their personality simply by surveying their music.
The same can be said of a people, or a nation. So let's take a look at what Jews listen to - as Jews. We're not talking about Jewish versions of a Broadway play or whatever. What we're talking about are songs that, no matter the genre or style, when people hear them they say, "Oh, that's a Jewish song."
We can leave out cantorial music, because of course synagogue music is Jewish. No, we want to look at the "popular" stuff. They all have one thing in common: The content - verses from Torah, or Psalms, or some other Biblical (or even Rabbinic) text. Even the English songs, when not translations, are reworking of Biblical motifs.
So even when the melody, or tune, is contemporary, fits a "modern beat," the message is timeless. Jewish songs expresses the essential nature of the Jewish soul - a longing for G-d's Presence, a celebration of tradition (Shabbat, a wedding), expressions of Jewish identity (Am Yisrael Chai), a recasting of prayer as song, an informal approach to verses from Psalms and the Torah so that they become familiar, echo in the mind and flow from the tongue - even if we don't know Hebrew, these words become who we are, how we express ourselves.
And of course, the yearning for Moshiach.
Jews sing songs that no other nation sings, in a way no other nation sings.
Jewish songs - really Jewish songs - express not only the unquenchable desire for an encounter with G-d, they evoke, illustrate, and yes, anticipate how we will feel when the "whole world will be filled with knowledge of G-dliness."
So, sing! Sing a song to the King. Sing a new song. Sing a song of ascents!
And, to paraphrase, Sing Jewish.
This week's Torah portion, Beshalach, speaks about the perpetual battle the Jewish people was commanded to wage against Amalek. "Because G-d has sworn by His throne, that the L-rd will have war with Amalek from generation to generation."
The Targum of Yonatan ben Uziel (a translation of the Bible into Aramaic, the Jewish vernacular of ancient times) explains that the war against Amalek will end only when Moshiach comes and ushers in the Messianic age.
Nowadays we do not know the physical identity of Amalek; only Moshiach will be able to correctly distinguish between who is, and who is not, one of his descendants. Thus, at present, we are unable to fulfill the mitzva (commandment) in the literal sense.
Nonetheless, the commandment to "blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" is still incumbent on us today, albeit in the spiritual sense.
"Amalek," in terms of our spiritual service of G-d, is symbolic of coldness and apathy for all that is holy. Of Amalek it is said, "He cooled you off" - i.e., the physical Amalek dampened Israel's eagerness and enthusiasm for the Torah they were about to receive at Sinai following the exodus from Egypt; the spiritual Amalek lurks in the recesses of our hearts.
G-dliness and holiness are warm and filled with life and vitality; apathy and indifference are cool and unresponsive.
"All right," the spiritual Amalek whispers in our ears, "you want to observe the Torah's commandments? Fine! Every Jew should do so. But why be all excited about it? It's not as if you're doing something new, something you've never done before. Every day you learn Torah, every day you recite your prayers. What's the big deal?" In this way (as well as in many other subtle ones) Amalek attempts to cool off the Jew's innate ardor and natural affinity for holiness. His aim is to blind him to the true reality: that a Jew's performance of a mitzva is the single most significant act that can ever be accomplished in this world, one which affects his entire being forever and ever.
The crafty Amalek is ever vigilant and resourceful when it comes to tricking a Jew into adopting a ho-hum attitude towards sanctity and G-dliness.
How are we to fight this incursion of coldness? By responding with warmth and emotion, consciously resisting Amalek's attempt to cloud our eyes to the truth.
Furthermore, waging war against Amalek in the spiritual sense serves to prepare us for the era in which we will be able to do so in the physical sense - the age of our Righteous Moshiach, may it commence immediately.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 2)
Euphoria in Emporia
by Dr. David Lazerson
I run an experiential, hands-on music program at the Quest Center in Hollywood, Florida for students with profound special needs, including autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, medically fragile conditions, and other challenges. The Quest Center is part of the Broward County public schools.
Unbeknownst to me, my district superintendent, principal and fellow teachers had nominated me to be inducted in the National Teachers Hall of Fame (NTHF). When I was informed that I had been selected, I had to confess that, up to that point, I had never even heard of a Teachers Hall of Fame.
A few days after I was notified that I had been selected, I received an email from the NTHF, located in Emporia, Kansas. The jam-packed schedule of events would include media sessions and interviews, roundtable discussion groups, meeting with various educational leaders and dignitaries, local tours, dinner receptions, and it would all culminate with the Friday evening official induction ceremony. They stated that if there were any issues at all, I shouldn't hesitate to contact them. I emailed them back with my two issues: Shabbat and kosher food. This was followed by a quick, one word response: "Huh?"
The induction ceremony was scheduled to end around 9:00 p.m.; it would already be Shabbat. My wife Gittel and I searched online, and finally found a cute Bed & Breakfast a mere half mile away from Emporia State College, the venue for the event. Since this place was considerably more expensive than the hotel, we offered to pay the difference. The NTHF would hear nothing of the sort. "We'll put you up at the Bed & Breakfast. It's our pleasure!"
But they were just getting warmed up. Within days, the kosher food issue was settled as well. The NTHF would bring in all the goodies, including all the special foods for Shabbat, from Kansas City. How could we refuse?
With these details taken care of, I could now focus on the real tasks at hand and prepare for this major event. Being elected to the NTHF automatically puts one in a position of being a spokesperson for education. I would also be going as a national representative for special education. I needed to be clear headed about where I stood on the important issues facing America today. I would be asked, on national radio and TV, my opinions on all sorts of education-related issues, everything from No Child Left Behind, to why so many new teachers simply pack up and leave the field. Plus, and here was a critical factor, I would be wearing a kipa on my head. Thus, I would be representing not only my field of special education but also the Jewish people. It was a unique opportunity to make a real Kiddush H-shem (sanctification of G-d's name) - if all went well, of course.
To keep things flowing smoothly, whenever the inductees spoke for the media, we spoke in alphabetical order. My last name, Lazerson, put me fourth out of the five inductees. So I was surprised when at our ceremony rehearsal (rehearsing for the Friday evening event which would end at 9 p.m.), they had me speak first. "I don't want to rock the boat here," I protested.
"No," they insisted. "We don't want you to have any problems with the Sabbath and using a microphone!"
Thursday morning, in our first responsibility as a group, the NTHF had us meet with over 150 high school students from across the state of Kansas. They were all thinking of becoming teachers and wanted to interview us. Several of the students wanted to know what my kipa symbolized and many, to my surprise, asked for my autograph. I couldn't help but feel pride for my profession. Here were high school teens asking for an autograph - not from a professional football or baseball player, not from a rock 'n roll star, not from a handsome face of the screen... but from a teacher. Suddenly I felt inside, yes, there is hope for America.
The events of the next two days were intense, busy, and lots of fun for us. At the actual induction ceremony, I spoke long before Shabbat began.
I ended my talk with that famous line from the Talmud: I learned a lot from my teacher. More from my colleagues. But most from my students. Despite facing incredible difficulties and challenges day-in/day-out, they almost always have a smile on their faces. They teach us to love and to give and to appreciate the "small" things in life - the stuff we so often take for granted, which, of course, are really the big things.
The real surprise came later that Friday evening. Gittel went back to our B&B to light candles, then walked back to meet me at the ceremony. As Shabbat came in with the setting sun, the induction ceremony came to a close. Now it was party time! The reception would be held over at the hotel. The other inductees did their best to convince us to go.
"You sure we can't kidnap you? You know, just push you two into the open back seat of the car? Please!" They motioned to a waiting car with the back door open.
We had to graciously decline as we started to walk to our nearby lodging. My parents had come, as well as some friends from Miami, and our host family as well, so we had a good group for Shabbat dinner. About 40 minutes later, five or six carloads of people pulled up in front of the B&B. It was a loud, rowdy group and at first I thought it was some sort of college frat group.
Then they came under the porch lights. It was the entire reception group! All the inductees and their families. The university and school dignitaries. The media people. The NTHF people.
"We all decided," someone yelled, "if Laz can't come to the party, the party comes to Laz!"
We had tears in our eyes and simply couldn't believe it.
That night, we sat and answered questions... about kosher, Judaism, Shabbat. We told our guests about the seven laws of Noah for non-Jews. It was a magical Shabbat in Emporia. One that taught me the lessons of reaching out, of teaching and of helping others. And that the really important things in life are not measured or counted in dollars, but in matters of the human soul.
Excerpted from an article that appeared in the N'Shei Newsletter. To read the entire article or more about Dr. Laz, visit drlaz.com
A new Chabad House opened in the "Dutch neighborhood" in Rechovot, Israel. It is under the directorship of Rabbi and Mrs. Moshe Taverdovitz.
The Chabad House in Sri Lanka, which opened three years ago under the directorship of Rabbi Mendi and Talia Crombie, has a new home. The new facility will include a synagogue, guest room, library, kosher restaurant, classrooms and eventually a mikva.
A new Chabad House opened in the Carnegie area of Melbourne, Australia. The Chabad House will be under the directorship of Rabbi Zalman Shimon and Michal Gutnick.
Freely translated and adapted
16 Sivan, 5719 (1959)
You write of your state of mind - that you find it difficult to make decisions on any matter and remain in constant doubt as to whether you are acting correctly and so on.
In view of your upbringing, of which you write, there is certainly no need for me to emphasize the subject of Divine providence, a fundamental principle in our faith and in our Torah, "the Torah of Life."
The meaning of this concept, hashgachah pratis [Divine providence], is straightforward - that G-d, Who created and directs the world, watches over every man and woman, not only in public matters but also in his private affairs.
This concept enables us to understand the principle of trusting in the One Who conducts the world and Who is the Essence of Goodness, for accordingly, everything is also for the good, plainly and simply.
Every believer's mind, too, understands that the first direct result of this trust is that there is no worry and no confusion. For when a person is weighing in his mind what he should decide and how he should act, at that time, too, G-d is watching over him and helping him, helping all those who desire what is good and upright.
When one conducts himself according to the directives of the Torah, this is the good path, and such conduct in itself helps a person to proceed with all his affairs in a way that is good for him.
As in all matters of faith, the above-mentioned principle likewise requires neither intellectual arguments nor profound and complex philosophical proofs. For every individual of the Children of Israel, man or woman, senses in his soul that he truly has faith - even when he is not thinking about whether this principle is correct or whether it is a rational imperative.
As the Sages affirm, all Jews are "believers, sons of believers." This means that the faith that is within them, both in their own right and as a heritage from their forebears who were believers, and all the spiritual properties [such as faith and love and fear of G-d] that became theirs in their own right and also as a heritage - this faith and these spiritual properties are supremely strong within them all. This is self-explanatory.
I hope that these lines of mine, limited as they are in quantity, will suffice to rouse your thoughts and guide you toward the truest and innermost point within your own self - that in your innermost soul you most definitely trust that G-d watches over you.
All you need to do is bring forth this thought from within your soul to your day-to-day life. After all, "There is nothing that stands in the way of the will."
As was said above, the way to accomplish this is not by profound intellectual debate, but by relying on your inner feeling that you place your trust in G-d - not by seeking out doubts, nor by creating problematic queries that are not at all problematic and in fact do not trouble you.
Averting your attention from all of this will no doubt help you rid yourself easily of all the confusing factors that have been spoken of.
It would be advisable that before the morning prayers on weekdays, a few times a week, you set aside a few cents to be donated for tzedakah (charity) - preferably on Mondays and Thursdays and on the eve of Shabbos. And it goes without saying that such an undertaking should be made without a formal vow.
With blessings for a strengthening of your bitachon [trust] and for good news regarding all the above,
From Healthy in Body, Mind and Soul, compiled by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
Let them eat fruit!
On Tu B'Shevat (Monday, Feb. 9 this year), it is customary to partake generously of fruits, and in particular, the species of fruit for which the Land of Israel is blessed - wheat, barley, grapes, pomegranates, figs, olives, and dates... similarly, it is customary to eat carobs on Tu B'Shvat.
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Shabbat is called Shabbat Shira, "the Sabbath of Song."
It is the Shabbat on which we read the Torah portion of Beshalach, which describes the splitting of the Red Sea and the song of praise to G-d sung by the men (led by Moshe), and the song of praise sung by the women (led by Miriam).
Our Sages explain that the Jewish people are destined to sing ten songs. Nine songs have already been sung by the Jewish people as a whole; in the Era of the Redemption, we will sing the tenth song, "a new song."
The first nine songs are referred to as "shira," the feminine form of the word "song," while the "new song" of the Era of the Redemption is referred to as "shir," the masculine form of the word.
All the previous songs refer to the efforts of the Jewish people (the feminine dimension) to ascend to a higher spiritual level and to elevate their environment. In contrast, the song of the Era of the Redemption will be a song of revelation from Above (the masculine dimension).
According to the commentary Me'am Lo'ez, there is another difference between the nine songs sung in exile and the tenth song of the Redemption.
In the past, no one sang a song until after the miracle had occurred. The song was never sung in advance, even when a miracle was anticipated.
In the Messianic Era, however, people will sing because of a future miracle; it is therefore called a "new song" - an entirely new concept. Our faith will be so strong that we will sing even before the miracle occurs.
As the Rebbe said in a talk one year on Shabbat Shira, "Soon we will merit the singing of the 'new song,' the song of Redemption, a song of unity and oneness.
Indeed, a foretaste of the happiness and joy which will accompany that song can be experienced at present. The confidence that the Redemption is an immediate reality should produce joy and happiness."
And Israel saw the great power which the L-rd had shown on the Egyptians...and they believed in G-d (Ex. 14:31)
Even though the Jewish people had witnessed many wonders and miracles firsthand they still needed to have faith in G-d. For faith is on a higher level than sight; indeed, it enables a person to see more than the physical eye can ever observe.
And they believed in G-d (Ex. 14:31)
The Hebrew word for faith, emuna, has a dual meaning. Etymologically, it is related to the word meaning to train or accustom oneself, and also to the word for power and strength. However, these two meanings are interrelated. In the merit of emuna, i.e., by virtue of the strength and certitude of the G-dly soul, a Jew is able to overcome the downward pull of the animal soul and ascend from one spiritual level to the next, till he merits the very highest revelations of G-dliness. Indeed, the Jewish people merited to sing the "Song of the Sea" solely because of their emuna.
(Sefer HaMaamarim 5680)
I will put none of the diseases upon you which I brought on the Egyptians; I am the L-rd Who heals you (Ex. 15:26)
A "house doctor" who isn't paid according to how many visits he makes has a vested interest in keeping his patients well. Rather than curing people once they're ill, his whole aim is to keep them healthy in the first place. Similarly, G-d is our "in-house doctor" Who has given us the Torah for our spiritual health. When we follow His "prescription" by observing the commandments, it prevents all kinds of spiritual maladies.
Tu B'Shevat, the Rosh Hashana of the Trees, is a holiday replete with praises - praise of the Land of Israel and her celebrated fruits, and praise of G-d, Who gave His chosen land from which his eyes never turn, to His children for an eternal inheritance. Israel, the focus of the Jewish people's longing and desire, is "a land of wheat and barley and vines and fig trees and pomegranates, and a land of olive trees and [date] honey."
On this day, when the land is renewed in its ability to produce, the Jewish people rejoice. And when the land yields its treasures to her children, they eat and praise their Father in Heaven Who bequeathed them such delicacies.
It is related by Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai that the Twelve Tribes were allotted parcels of land according to their own distinct attributes, to the extent that the fruits of one tribe differed in flavor from those of a brother tribe.
The Midrash relates the following story illustrating that teaching:
Once it happened that the people of the town of Ludkia were greatly in need of oil. They appointed one man to go and procure it for them, telling him: "Go and get for us oil in the amount of one hundred times ten thousand."
The man went on his way, inquiring of everyone he met where he could buy such a tremendous amount of oil.
His first stop was in Jerusalem, where he came into the market.
Amidst the noise of merchants hawking their wares and shoppers haggling over prices he announced boldly, "I need oil in the amount of one hundred times ten thousand." He was told to go to the town of Tzor, where someone might be able to help him.
Upon hearing of this promising location, the emissary of Ludkia gathered his humble provisions and set out in the direction of Tzor.
When he arrived there, the man went to the market and once more called out: "I need to buy oil in the amount of one hundred times ten thousand." But no one in Tzor had such a large quantity of oil.
They suggested, though, that he travel yet further, to the town of Gush Chalav.
Arriving in Gush Chalav, the man once more went to the market and made his announcement. He was told to go to the home of a certain resident of that town. With praises to G-d and the hope that his mission would soon be completed, the man went to the address he had been given.
"The master of the house is not home now, he is tending to his olive trees," was the response the emissary from Ludkia received upon inquiring after the owner.
Undaunted, the emissary went out into the olive fields in search of the prospective oil merchant. Finally, he located the man and told him, "I am in need of oil in the amount of one hundred times ten thousand."
The man was not in the least bit fazed by the emissary's request for such a tremendous amount of oil. Calmly and evenly he answered the emissary, "Please wait for me until I am finished with my work in the olive groves."
When the man had finished with the olive trees, he carefully collected all of his tools and returned home together with the prospective buyer. Yet the man seemed so unassuming in appearance.
The emissary wondered, "Could it really be possible that this man with whom I am now walking, who was himself just tending the olive grove, could supply so vast an amount of oil? I fear I have made this trip for no reason, for surely I am the object of someone's joke."
The emissary's thoughts began to change, though, when the two men reached the home of the olive grove owner. For, when they entered the house, a maidservant brought pitchers of heated water for her master to wash his hands and feet. Then she brought out a solid gold container filled with oil into which he immersed his hands and feet, in keeping with the verse, "'And he dips his foot in oil."
In no time, deliciously prepared food was laid on the table and they ate and drank.
"If you will come with me," said the man to the emissary, "I will gladly measure out the oil for you now." The emissary followed and watched in amazement as he measured out oil worth one hundred times ten thousand.
Turning to the buyer, the grove-owner asked, "Do you want more oil?"
The man was astounded, and replied, "I have no more money."
"No matter," he was informed. "I will be happy to measure out the oil and accompany you to your town where I can collect the extra money." And with that, the man again measured oil, this time for another eighteen times ten thousand.
It is said that the buyer used every available mule and camel to transport the fabulous volume of oil to his home town, where he received an enthusiastic welcome from his fellow townspeople. His remarks to them were the following:
"Give your praise only to this person, for all the credit is his. Also, I am in debt to him for the sum of eighteen times ten thousand! It is said, 'Some appear to be rich and are paupers, while others appear poor, yet are exceedingly rich.'"
And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow every tree for food, whose leaf shall not wither, neither shall the fruit thereof fail; it shall bring forth new fruit every month, because the waters thereof issue out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for food, and the leaf thereof for healing.