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We all admire a great performance - whether athletic or artistic, or in any field, for that matter. And we know it takes a combination of talent and hard work to achieve any level of success. Yet when we hear tales of the schedules or routines of these performers, we often react with amusement or skepticism. A pitcher throws exactly a hundred extra pitches after practice, and maybe has a "ritual" of retying his shoes before he starts. A musician listens to the "Moonlight Sonata" before sitting down to compose, which he does daily from nine to twelve. Similar stories of writers, who put themselves on a clock, not allowing any interruptions, are legendary. And they also have their routines - the coffee cup just so, the picture moved two inches - whatever.
What many of us find odd, perhaps, is the devotion not just to practice - that we get - but to a highly rigid schedule. That kind of discipline often astounds, and perhaps intimidates us. And yet, we also have rigid schedules - when we must be at work, when we have dinner, etc. It's just that those who excel make their practice or work time as inflexible as the rest of us do personal routines.
Gary Kasparov, perhaps the greatest chess player ever, explains the power of this devotion to discipline, to a regimen that allows no exceptions: "If discipline sounds dull, or even impossible in today's fast-paced world, you should take a moment to consider how you might benefit from targeting just a few small areas of your life for effi-ciency... If you spend fifteen minutes a day studying openings, in a year you'll be a stronger chess player."
What Kasparov says about chess applies to every endeavor. Set aside even a few minutes every day - but be consistent and persistent - set those minutes aside at the same time every day, and the cumulative effect will surely astound you.
But this principle is imbedded in Jewish thought. In fact, we thought of it first. Or, more accurately, the great sage Shammai. For the first chapter of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) records an aphorism of his: make your Torah constant. (We should note that here we've tried to keep the imperative rhythm of the original, but that the Hebrew word we've translated "constant" also implies consistent, set, fixed, etc. - that is, your Torah study should be a regular, inviolate part of your daily schedule.)
We know that a consistent, persistent routine produces positive results. "All" it requires is discipline. But in that "all," what apparent difficulties lie! We all know how hard it is to stay disciplined, right?
Well, yes and no. And that's the point of Shammai's aphorism. If regular, fixed Torah study is just something we do, then it too becomes automatic. The alarm rings, we get out of bed and automatically go through a morning routine.
The point is that we live by routine. We succeed through discipline. And we will surprise ourselves if we follow Shammai's dictum, and make the time and duration of our learning a set immutable part of our daily routine.
Try it. Pick five or ten minutes during the day. Then, every day, at that very same time, study a little Torah, for instance, the day's section of the Torah reading (with the basic commentary of Rashi). You'll find it's the very dullness of the discipline that yields the best results.
In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Shemini, we read about the dedication of the Sanctuary: "And Moses said, 'This is the thing which the L-rd commanded you to do; and the glory of the L-rd will appear to you.' " In Chronicles II, the Torah provides a similar description of the dedication of the Holy Temple built by King Solomon: "And when all the people of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the L-rd upon the house, they bowed with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and prostrated themselves and praised the L-rd, saying: For He is good; for His loving kindness endures forever."
When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem the Jewish people bowed down to G-d in the literal sense, "with their faces to the ground upon the pavement." But the concept of spiritual prostration or nullification before G-d exists even now, in the Divine service of each and every Jew.
In fact, there are three levels of prostration:
The highest level is when a person sees the "fire" and the "glory of the L-rd," and as a natural consequence, willingly bows down and nullifies himself. The person is so attuned to holiness that he can actually "see" it; his awareness of G-d is so overpowering that it arouses the strong desire to worship Him.
But what happens if a person's soul is not particularly illuminated by G-dly revelation? What if he doesn't see or feel the "glory of the L-rd," and the underlying G-dliness of creation is hidden by the coarseness of the material world? In this instance, the person must force himself to bow down and be submissive. In other words, he serves G-d out of a sense of coercion, but against his natural inclination.
In general, this is the difference between the times of the Holy Temple and the exile. When the Holy Temple was in existence, the Divine Presence was openly revealed. The pilgrimage to Jerusalem was performed not only "to be seen" but "to see" the G-dly light that illuminated visibly.
By contrast, during the exile G-dliness is concealed. We cannot see the open miracles that were commonplace when the Temple stood. Accordingly, it is impossible to reach the level of prostration that comes from "seeing," and a certain measure of coercion is necessary.
There is, however, a third example of prostration, which starts with coercion and leads to a heightened perception of G-dliness. When a Jew forces himself to serve G-d, he gradually gains the ability to feel holiness, even if he couldn't in the very beginning. This will ultimately result in a Divine service that is enthusiastic. For whenever a Jew takes the first step and makes the effort, he will discover that deep inside, he wanted to serve G-d all along...
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Vol. 27
These People Love Us A Lot
by Steve Hyatt
I had heard of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, since first discovering Chabad in 1983. Throughout the years scores of Chabad rabbis had shared stories about their lives and events in this unique Jewish community. Based on their vivid stories I envisioned the hustle and bustle of life in this tiny enclave and always promised myself that someday I would see what the "fuss" was all about. I just never imagined it would take me 26 years to get there.
In February of 2009 I was invited to the wedding of my friend Rabbi Meir Perelstein and his kalla (bride) Chanie Tarlow. As much as I wanted to be there, economic challenges caused me to hesitate. I asked my Rabbi, Mendel Cunin, what I should do. His response was swift and without hesitation: "Steve, eliminate the excuses and simply push ahead."
Armed with his sage advice and the emotional support of my wife I accepted the invitation and made the appropriate arrangements. Shortly after Rabbi Cunin informed me that he'd taken his own advice and had decided to join me. So together we set off on a grand adventure. We designed an itinerary that brought us to Crown Heights for a total of 36 hours that were destined to be the most enlightening and inspiring of my Jewish life.
Upon arriving in New York, our first stop was at the "Ohel," the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I am not sure what I expected but I was overcome with a feeling of peace, love and contentment there. We wrote requests for guidance and blessings and placed them at the Ohel. We proceeded to Crown Heights and spent a wonderful evening sharing a delicious meal with the rabbi's sister and her husband. After a good night's sleep I met the rabbi at the main Chabad shul, known to most simply as "770."
Upon entering this historic facility I felt like I had been hit with a jolt of spiritual electricity. Surrounded by hundreds of men praying, studying and discussing the issues of the day, I felt plugged into the holiness that permeates every cell of the building. During the course of the day we visited the Rebbe's office and his library, we saw the Chabad online school that enables children of the Rebbe's shluchim (emissaries) world-wide who live in cities where there is no Jewish school to be home-schooled, we found our way to the Shmura matza bakery where Passover matzos are prepared from start to finish in a scant 18 minutes. It was an intimate tour of this precious community that will remain emblazoned in my mind's eye forever.
Toward the end of the day it was time for the wedding. At 4:30 sharp the rabbi and I met at the Oholei Torah Ballroom where the celebration was to take place. I watched in wonder as Meir recited from memory a Chasidic discourse written by the fifth Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe explaining the different levels of the connection of man and wife, as well as the direct connection between G-d and Israel, and how both concepts unite as the bride and groom are wed.
At the conclusion of his recitation Meir's father and father-in-law tenderly took him by the arms and started a procession that led to the women's side of the room. As we slowly made our way to the kalla the gentlemen in attendance set the mood as they quietly hummed a stirring Chasidic melody. When we arrived in front of the kalla, Meir gently placed a veil on her head. The simple, tender moment brought tears to my eyes as I witnessed this ancient testimony to love, modesty and family purity. As a group we made our way to 770 and the actual wedding ceremony took place outside under the chupa (wedding canopy). I was mesmerized as the bride walked around her future husband seven times. I was captivated as family members and friends read the Seven Blessings and I cheered as the groom broke a glass under his foot, reminding all of the destruction of the Holy Temple.
As the groom and his bride entered 770 to break their wedding day fast, the rest of us walked back to the hall to await their return. In this traditional setting the room is separated by a mechitza, or short wall. The men celebrate on one side and the women on the other. After a delicious dinner the musician revved up his keyboard and the wedding hall exploded into a sea of joyful dancing. Even I, a 54 year old Connecticut-born Yankee, couldn't resist the urge to jump into the frenetic activity on the dance floor. Before I knew what I was doing I was surrounded by an energetic mass of young and older men who exuded joy and love as they joined hands and celebrated with the groom.
When the evening came to a close I was both energized and exhausted. I had never felt so alive, so Jewish, and so happy in my entire life! This was what they meant by "L'Chaim," to life!
Several hours later the rabbi and I took off for the West coast. As I sat in my seat staring out the window I couldn't help but wonder how these rabbis and their families could possibly leave Crown Heights, how they could give up that little bit of heaven on earth, that center of vibrant, pulsating Jewish life, to live in distant lands like Siberia, Thailand and Reno. Communities where there is little if any kosher food, Jewish schools, or close friends or family. Somewhere over Iowa it occurred to me that these Shluchim must love their fellow Jews much more than we could ever possibly imagine.
After spending a mere 36 hours in Crown Heights I now possessed a clarity of vision I never knew existed. I'd seen, tasted, felt and participated in the activities of a thriving, energized, living, breathing Jewish community. It made me truly appreciate the personal sacrifices the Cunins have made for my community, motivating me to do even more to ensure that "The Biggest Little City in the World" appreciates and supports them and their efforts like never before. L'Chaim!
Rabbi Tzvi and Shana Dechter will be arriving soon in Lighthouse Point, Florida, where they will establish a new Chabad House serving the Jewish residents in East Deerfield Beach, East Pompano Beach, and Hillsboro Beach. Rabbi Yossi and Chanie Hecht are also headed to the sunshine state to establish Chabad-Lubavitch of Marion County in Ocala, Florida.
New Soup Kitchen
Zhitomir, Ukraine, recently dedicated the "Fellowship House," a soup kitchen to aid the local Jewish community. This facility joins the previously established Children's Home that caters to orphans and children from impoverished and single-parent families.
27th of Teveth, 5721 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter and enclosures.
It is explained in many places in Chasidus, beginning with the Tanya, about the negative aspects of all forms of sadness, depression, despondency, etc. It is also clear from experience that these attitudes belong to the bag of tricks of the Yetzer Hora [evil inclination] in order to distract the Jew from serving G-d. To achieve this end the Yetzer Hora sometimes even clothes itself in the mantle of piety.
The true test, however, is what the results are, whether these attitudes bring about an improvement in, and a fuller measure of Torah and Mitzvos [commandments], or the reverse. This should be easy to determine.
On the other hand we have been assured that "He who is determined to purify himself receives Divine help." The road to purity and holiness, however, is one that should be trodden step by step, and by gradual and steady advancement.
Needless to say, the idea of your continuing at the Yeshivah for some time is the right one. As for the question how and what to write to your parents, I suggest that you consult with Rabbi Joseph Weinberg, who knows them personally, and who could give you some useful suggestions.
Hoping to hear good news from you in all above,
Chanukah 5722 
Blessing and Greeting:
I am in receipt of your letter, and I hasten my reply as requested, and because time is of the essence in this case.
You write that you would like to use some of the published Nigunim [Chasidic melodies] of Chabad at your forthcoming marriage and ask my opinion about it.
My reply is as follows: There could be an advantage, or otherwise, in using these Nigunim depending on the circumstances (a) or (b).
If - as is expected of every Jewish girl and boy who are about to be married the marriage is entered into with a firm resolution to establish a truly Jewish home, on the foundation of the Torah and Mitzvoth, and likewise, or course, the preparations before the wedding are also as they should, with observance of the laws and regulations of Taharas Hamishpocho [the laws of Family Purity] (which an observant rabbi has no doubt explained to you), and the Chuppah [wedding canopy] and Kiddushin [sanctification of the marriage] is carried out by an Orthodox rabbi, etc. - then the use of the Lubavitcher Nigunim would not only be appropriate, but also desirable and auspicious. For a Nigun is closely linked with the soul of its author and those who have used it on sacred occasions (which is also the reason for the above-mentioned condition that everything connected with the wedding should be in according to the Torah, since the Torah was their whole life and ideal).
On the other hand, if, G-d forbid, there is a deficiency in the above conditions From the viewpoint of the Torah and Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], the inference is obvious. However, I do not wish to dwell on this, since I feel certain that, judging by your letter, everything is in accordance with the Torah and Shulchan Aruch, and moreover, that there is a constant effort to advance in all matters of Torah and Mitzvoth, in accordance with the principle that all things of holiness should be on the ascendancy, as also indicated by the message of the Chanukah lights which are kindled in increasing number.
On the basis of this firm belief, I extend to you and your Chosson [groom] my prayerful wishes that the marriage take place in a happy and auspicious hour and that you should both build a Binyan adei ad [everlasting ediface].
With the blessing of Mazal Tov.
Study Ethics of the Fathers
Each Shabbat afternoon beginning after Passover, it is customary to study a chapter of the Mishna known as Pirkei Avot - Ethics of the Fathers. Some have the custom of continuing through Shavuot while other continue through the summer months until Rosh Hashana. The Lubavitcher Rebbe emphasized the importance of not only reciting the chapters but actually studying them. Recommended books for this study include, In the Paths of Our Fathers translated from the Rebbe's talks (sichosinenglish.com), Pirkei Avot in the Light of Chasidut, and Pirkei Avot - Ethics of the Fathers in memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivky Holtzberg (kehotonline.com).
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
In chapter one of Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, that we study this week on Shabbat afternoon, we read, "Hillel said, 'Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures, and bringing them near to the Torah.' "
Our Sages were very careful about each word they wrote. Would it not have been sufficient for Rabbi Hillel to have said, "Love peace and pursue peace" and leave mention of Aaron out? There must be something that we can learn from the fact that Aaron was mentioned as the one who loved and pursued peace.
Who was Aaron? He was the High Priest, the one who served in the Holy of Holies. Because of his exalted position he could have totally separated himself from the rest of the people. Yet, he purposely involved himself in the day-to-day activities of the Jewish nation. So much so that even when two Jews, or even a husband and wife, were fighting he spoke to them and encouraged them to make peace. Thus, we are enjoined to be students of Aaron and learn this wonderful characteristic from him.
In addition, to love and pursue peace is a positive commandment, as the Talmud teaches, "Anyone who strengthens an argument or dispute commits a transgression." Thus, we are to behave like Aaron, who would say, "sholom" - hello - peace - even to an evil person. Through this he was able to bring the person closer to the Torah
May we all take to heart this lesson of Rabbi Hillel as exemplified by Aaron.
The Torah Portion Shemini
The Torah portion of Shemini begins with the most sublime and elevated service on the eighth day of preparation for the Tabernacle, and ends with the prohibition against eating crawling insects, something which goes against human nature. From this we learn that even one who stands on the highest level of spirituality and observance is not protected against spiritual downfall, G-d forbid, and must serve G-d with the same measure of acceptance of the yoke of heaven as others.
Wine or strong drink you shall not drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you go into the Sanctuary of Meeting (Lev. 10:8,9)
The service in the Holy Temple was performed according to a schedule whereby each kohen (priest) knew in advance when he was to serve. The kohen was forbidden to drink wine or liquor just prior to this time so that his mind would be clear when he performed the holy service. This applies today as well, for we eagerly anticipate the re-establishment of the Holy Temple at any moment, at which time the kohanim will be required to commence their service immediately. According to Jewish law, intoxication may be dissipated in one of two ways - either by going to sleep, or by waiting for a period of 18-24 minutes to elapse. This proves that Moshiach may arrive and the Holy Temple may be rebuilt in less than 24 minutes!
To distinguish between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten (Lev. 11:47)
In Hebrew, this verse begins and ends with the letter lamed, (the numerical value of which is 60 when added together), alluding to the Jewish legal principle of nullification in 60 parts (i.e., if a drop of non-kosher food inadvertently falls into a pot of kosher food, the mixture is permitted if the volume of kosher food is 60 times as great as the non-kosher).
Two wealthy men were friends and lived in the same city. Each one had a daughter of marriageable age. Both daughters married yeshiva students who continued their Torah studies after the wedding, supported by their fathers-in-law. One groom was widely recognized as a great genius; the other was a more simple fellow, yet G-d-fearing and pious. The father-in-law of the ordinary groom was very jealous of his friend's more brilliant son-in-law.
One day, as the more learned of the two young men was studying in the synagogue, an obviously distraught man walked in. He opened the holy ark and began to weep. He had come to say good-bye, as it were, before drowning himself in the river. He was at the end of his rope and saw no way out except suicide, he mumbled through his tears.
Having overheard the man's words, the scholar rushed over to convince him that such a step was wrong. "Please tell me the problem."
"I am the treasurer of a communal fund in a certain town," the man answered. "I am responsible for large sums of money, yet I was gullible enough to be taken in by unscrupulous people. When they approached me for a loan I agreed, and gave them all the money in my charge. They immediately absconded. The date has already come and gone, and there is no way I can repay the loan. I see no alternative but suicide," he cried.
"You must put these thought from your mind at once!" the young scholar replied, attempting to calm him down. "Do not worry about anything - I will give you the money. G-d forbid you should entertain such a notion!" The grateful man accepted the kind offer and was mollified.
The scholar, however, had no money; he had made the promise to save the man's life. Where would he get such a sum of money? His father-in-law certainly wouldn't give it to him. An idea formed in his head: He would go to his father-in-law's friend and appeal to him for money, without, of course, revealing why he needed it. Surely he wouldn't turn down his request.
The "friend" saw this as a perfect opportunity to "get even" with his colleague. "I will give you the money," he said, "on one condition: You must wear this long coat (he indicated an old, ragged article of clothing) through the streets of the city." His intent was to humiliate the young scholar: people would see him wearing the torn and filthy garment and assume he had lost his mind.
The young man agreed and the two shook hands. The son-in-law raced back to the synagogue and gave the money to the man whose life he thus saved. Now it was time for him to keep his part of the deal. He donned the despicable garment and paraded through the city as he had promised.
The reaction was predictable. Just as the rich man had intended, everyone assumed that the young man had become unhinged. When he arrived home his in-laws angrily demanded an explanation, but he remained silent, further validating their fear that he was mentally unstable. After several weeks of otherwise "normal" behavior, however, they saw that they had been mistaken. The incident was eventually forgotten.
Meanwhile, the rich man who had perpetrated the disgrace on an innocent person gradually lost his wealth. Day by day his assets shriveled till he was forced to sell his household belongings in order to feed his family. Among the other items he sold was the old, torn coat.
The garment was purchased by a poor tailor, who laundered it carefully, patched it up, and fashioned a set of tachrichim (funeral shrouds), to be used after his death. As the garment was slightly too short, the tailor took a piece of fabric from another source and made an alteration to lengthen it.
Many years passed. The tailor eventually died and was buried in the tachrichim he had prepared for himself. A few days after the burial the tailor appeared to his son in a dream, asking him to open the fresh grave and remove the small piece of cloth he had once used to lengthen his garment. It was imperative he do this, the father explained, as it was only due to this small bit of fabric that the destructive angels were able to cause him harm.
When the son awoke he went straight to the rabbi and related his dream. "If your father appears again, tell him to come to me," the rabbi instructed. That night the son had the same dream. In it, he told his father what the rabbi had said. The tailor then appeared to the rabbi and repeated his request, exacting a promise from him to remove the offending cloth. After the deed was done, the deceased appeared once more to the rabbi and thanked him.
The rabbi was perplexed by the entire incident. He began to wonder about the significance of the cloth, and made inquiries about the tailor's funeral garments. Where had he purchased them, and to whom did they previously belong? After much effort he succeeded in uncovering the story of the brilliant son-in-law and the good deed he had done at the expense of his own honor. The garment possessed a special measure of holiness, for through it, the great mitzva (commandment) of saving a Jewish life had been accomplished, accompanied by great self-sacrifice. In this merit, it had the ability to protect its wearer from all harm.
The opening Mishna of Ethics of the Fathers states: "All Israel have a share in the World to Come, as it is stated [Isaiah 60:21], 'And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the Land forever. [They are] the branch of My planting, the work of My hands in which to take pride.' (Sanhedrin 10:1)" Within the Talmudic writings, there are two interpretations of the phrase "the World to Come": 1. the Garden of Eden - the spiritual realm of souls, the afterlife; 2. The Era of the Resurrection. In this Mishna, the term refers to the Era of the Resurrection.
(In the Paths of Our Fathers)