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"A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey and a rod for the fool" Proverbs (26:3) states. At first glance, the meaning seems obvious: in order to control or guide a horse, a donkey or a fool, one needs a whip, bridle or rod, respectively. That is, to stir a horse, to make it run fast (think of races), one needs to "whip" the horse. A donkey, being more stubborn than a horse, requires a bridle, or more specifically, the bit in its mouth, which is a more forceful means of control.
And the fool, being a fool, won't listen to reason. Words of advice won't keep a fool from doing foolish or even harmful things. So, more forceful means must be employed.
But there's more to the saying than the obvious meaning. There's an inner dimension, one that applies to each of us. Chasidic teachings explain that at one level, and at some time or another, we are all a horse, or a donkey, or a fool. And the statement in Proverbs tells us how to deal with that aspect of our personalities.
The horse represents physicality. What's the characteristic of a horse? It eats, it runs, and it doesn't look up. The "horse" within us knows only the material side of life. Give it a little grass, a field to walk in, and it's satisfied.
Once in a while, the "horse" within us will exert itself, canter, maybe run to stretch its muscles. But to really move, to strain itself to achieve something - something more than another bag of oats - for that the horse needs to be "whipped." That is, we have to force the material side to run after spirituality, and to look up to the heavens.
The donkey represents stubbornness, the stubbornness of desire. It does what it wants, when it wants. And, it wants what it wants. If a donkey doesn't get what it desires, it will stubbornly refuse to move - to do anything - until it gets what it wants.
The donkey recalls the famous saying of the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad: What is forbidden is of course forbidden. But what is permitted, is also not necessary. In other words, just because we're allowed to do something doesn't mean that we have to do it, that we should do it, or even that it's good for us.
So the donkey - the stubborn "I want" of our personality - requires a bridle, which is a form of restraint. Our desires must be restrained, our stubbornness "reined in," and our tongues refrained from the constant "but" and the relentless "I want."
The fool: If the horse represents our focus on physical needs and the donkey represents our focus on our emotional desires, the fool represents our intellectual limitations. What makes a fool a fool? His being close-minded, his refusing to acknowledge the truth, his "refutation" of facts before his eyes.
But where does such foolishness come from? Surely it must come from a kind of arrogance, because when someone recognizes they're being foolish, they stop acting like a fool, admit their ignorance, and acknowledge the truth.
So the only recourse against a fool is the rod. The rod is not just for hitting; the rod symbolizes leadership, authority. In other words, the way to deal with the fool within ourselves is to recognize our intellectual limitations and acknowledge there is a Higher Authority. G-dliness, as expressed in the Torah and Jewish law, must rule over our pretensions to mystical wisdom and spiritual understanding.
The horse, the donkey, the fool - there's some of each in all of us, and Chasidic teachings teach us how to deal with, and transform, them all.
In this week's Torah portion of Beshalach we read, "Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea." Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, explains: "He brought them against their will." Moses had to actually force the Children of Israel to leave the shores of the Red Sea and continue their journey to Mount Sinai.
The Jewish people did not want to leave because they were busy collecting the gold and silver that had washed up on shore. The Egyptians had adorned their horses with silver and gold ornaments and precious gems. When they drowned, these ornaments were found by the Jews and gathered up.
The Jews were totally engrossed in collecting their spoils and did not want to move on. Even when Moses told them to go they refused to listen. In the end, Moses had to force them to depart.
The behavior of the Jewish people seems surprising and difficult to understand. When the Jews left Egypt, they were already in possession of great wealth. The Talmud relates that each and every Jew departed with 90 donkeys laden with gold and silver!
How is it possible that after experiencing the Divine revelation and miracles at the Sea they could have been interested in anything as mundane as gold and silver? But most importantly, the Jewish people knew that the sole purpose of their exodus from Egypt was the giving of Torah. How could they have been willing to delay it for the sake of personal gain?
To explain: The Jews' behavior was not motivated by a desire for wealth, but by a burning desire to fulfill G-d's command.
Before leaving Egypt the Jewish people had been commanded to deplete the riches of Egypt, as it states, "And each man shall ask of his neighbor...vessels of silver and vessels of gold...and you shall plunder Egypt." G-d had commanded them to empty Egypt of its wealth. The Jews obeyed G-d and took with them silver and gold.
After the splitting of the Red Sea, however, they saw that there was still much to be obtained. They realized that they had not completely "emptied" Egypt. So eager were they to fulfill G-d's command to perfection that they began to collect the silver and gold that washed up on shore, without regard for anything else.
It was precisely because they had witnessed the revelation of G-d at the splitting of the Red Sea that the Jews wished to fulfill G-d's will in a perfect manner. Their desire to do so was so great that Moses had to force them to stop. The Jewish people didn't want the Egyptians' gold and silver for themselves; their sole intent was to fulfill G-d's command to the best of their ability.
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichot, Vol. 21
The Gift of Life
by Michael Wilensky
The rabbis of the Chicago Mitzva Campaign visit Jewish patients in a number of Chicagoland hospitals on a weekly basis. In addition, they are always on-call in cases of emergency. Such was one occasion one late Thursday evening several years ago. Rabbi Aron Wolf received a call from the chaplain's office of a local hospital. "The family of a Jewish patient are asking for a rabbi to come and say some prayers," he was told. "The patient had a stroke and the doctors are saying she doesn't have much time left."
Rabbi Wolf quickly made his way to the hospital and found the patient to be unresponsive, the last vestiges of her life apparently lingering by sole virtue of the unremitting work of a life support machine. Her family looked on as she lay in her bed at death's door, having gathered together to be with her during her last moments on earth. The atmosphere in the room was muted and somber; the family was resigned to the prospect of the patient's inevitable passing.
After reciting some appropriate prayers, Rabbi Wolf spoke with the head of the family and heard the doctor's prognosis. The doctor had said that the patient was in a vegetative state and without any hope of recovery whatsoever. In view of this opinion and of the doctor's resultant recommendation, the family was now preparing to remove life support from the patient, allowing her to expire.
Rabbi Wolf sat at length with the family and discussed the situation from the perspective of Jewish law. They talked about the infinite value of the gift of human life, which derives from G-d as the ultimate source and only provider of this gift. Rabbi Wolf drew the family's attention to the inherent fallibility of human knowledge and judgment. He encouraged the family not to intervene by removing the life support machine, but to at least give the patient a little more time. Have faith in G-d and leave the decision to Him, he advised. Although they were reluctant at first, the family agreed to leave the patient on her life support machine, and to reconsider the circumstances a few days later.
The next day, Friday, saw Rabbi Wolf return to the same hospital to make his regular weekly visits to the Jewish patients. He passed by the room of the patient he had met the night before, hoping to see a little improvement in her condition. Imagine his complete astonishment and joy upon beholding the spectacle of the formerly unresponsive patient sitting up in her bed, casually enjoying her lunch!
Rabbi Wolf spoke with the patient, sharing her profound gratitude and relief. Together they expressed prayerful thanks to G-d for restoring to her the gift of life. And what was the response from the medical establishment to this miraculous turn of events? "Yes," a nurse wryly conceded to Rabbi Wolf, "She had quite a turnaround last night, didn't she?"
The miraculous turnaround that the patient experienced gave the family a new awareness and appreciation for G-d, the giver of life and the issuer of the commandments and Jewish law. It is a precious gift indeed to experience such a material example of the literal fulfillment of the daily refrain recited in our evening prayers: "For they (the Torah and commandments) are our life and the length of our days..."
One day in the middle of a particularly harsh Chicago winter, Rabbi Wolf received a call from a local hospital, requesting that he visit an elderly Jewish gentleman. The man was in his 90s and struggling with very poor health. Now the hospital doctors were saying it was just a matter of time.
When Rabbi Wolf arrived at the hospital the patient was not responding. The rabbi stood at bedside saying the shema and various chapters of Psalms. He then spoke with the patient's son, who had come from out of town and had been eagerly waiting to speak with him. A granddaughter was there as well. The son mentioned to Rabbi Wolf that in the past couple of days his ailing father had requested to have a Bar Mitzva. When the son asked what he meant by that, his father replied that he wanted to put on tefilin.
The man had never put on tefilin in his entire life. But, facing the imminent prospect of passing on, his Jewish soul stimulated his interest in putting on tefilin.
Seeing that it was already dark and since tefilin can only be worn during daylight, Rabbi Wolf suggested that he return the following day. By the time morning arrived the elderly patient was flitting in and out of responsiveness.
That morning there was a severe blizzard that will be long remembered by Chicago residents. But as difficult as Rabbi Wolf's drive to the hospital was, it could not compare to the discomfort of the patient as he struggled to accomplish his mission of becoming a Bar Mitzva. Although lifting his arm and head to put on the tefilin was an extremely slow and arduous task, he endured with determination.
After the patient managed to put on the tefilin and recite the first part of Shema with Rabbi Wolf, the rabbi led the little group in singing "mazal tov," as the frail and ailing gentleman's glowing smile of appreciation filled the sterile hospital room. It would be difficult to adequately describe the emotion of this touching scene and the moved reaction of the nurses and doctor who stood by, watching.
As the day wore on the patient's condition deteriorated further. At one point during the afternoon the man recovered his faculties long enough to tell his son, "I am now a Bar Mitzva." Those were his final words; he passed away shortly thereafter.
Dear Tree is a beautiful look at the unique relationship between a little boy and his favorite tree. By thinking of what every tree needs in order to thrive and grow, the boy figures out exactly what to wish for his own special tree in the coming year. And so begin his hopeful words, "Dear Tree." Written by Doba Rivka Weber, illustrated by Phyliss Saroff, and published by Hachai Publishing.
From correspondense of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
16 Shevat, 5723 
I trust that all of you, delegates and members of the various branches convening today, come imbued with a goodly measure of inspiration drawn from the two very recent auspicious days of this month, the yahrtzeit [anniversary of the passing] of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of saintly memory, on the 10th of the month, and of the New Year for trees, which was yesterday.
Among the topics discussed at the farbrengens [Chasidic gatherings] on both these occasions occurring within one week was the affinity between these two notable days, and how their instructive messages are related.
The Torah likens a human being to a tree, and the tzaddik [righteous person] to a flourishing date palm.
Moreover, in a remarkable statement in the Talmud our Sages declare that a tzaddik lives on forever, "for just as his seed is alive, so too is he alive."
It is noteworthy that the word "seed" is used here rather than "descendants," "children," or "disciples," though all these are included in the word "seed."
In choosing the word "seed" in this connection, our Sages conveyed to us the specific image and ideas which this word brings to mind:
The wonderful process of growth, which transforms a tiny seed into a multiple reproduction of the same, be it an earful of grain, or in the case of a fruit-seed, a fruit-bearing tree; the care which the growth process requires, and how a little extra care at an early stage is multiplied in the final product; the fact that the more advanced and more highly developed the fruit, the longer it takes to grow and ripen, so that grain, for example, takes but a few months to reproduce itself, while it takes fruit-bearing trees many years to mature, etc.
All these principles apply in a very practical way in the performance of our daily service of G-d, which, of course, embraces our entire daily life, since it is our duty to serve G-d in all our ways...
15 Shevat, 5736 
I was pleased to be informed of the arrangements for the forthcoming Convention, and send you prayerful wishes for success in every respect.
...The analogy between the cultivation of trees and the raising of children is well known from our sacred books of Mussar [moral teachings] and Chassidus [Chasidic philosophy], based on the verse, "Man is like a tree."
As even a little extra care given to a young seedling is greatly amplified and richly rewarded when the tree matures, and can make all the difference, so too is extra care in the chinuch [Jewish education] of a young child. This, after all, is the crucial period in a child's formative years, when the mother at home shares in the responsibility with the teacher at school.
To carry the analogy further, a tree attains fulfillment when it produces good fruit. Furthermore, good fruit...is not merely good in itself (as a food, or as an object of a mitzvah [commandment] such as an esrog [citron], for example) - but also contains the seeds to produce new trees and fruits after its kind, to the end of time.
Moreover, the new trees and fruits are of no direct benefit to the original tree, and may be far removed from it in time and place. Nevertheless, because they are the result of the original tree which behaved as it should, they are all credited to the original tree.
This is how every Jewish boy and girl should be raised and educated: Certainly to bring forth fruit, at the very least, but this is not enough, for their fruits - their good influence - must be ultimately felt to the end of the world and to the end of time.
Such an achievement seems rather a lot to expect of a limited human being. But actually it is well within reach, since a Jew operates with a Divine soul, a part of G-d-liness Above, and operates with Torah and mitzvos [commandments] given by G-d.
Furthermore, he does this in a world which, though grossly material, is precisely the place where G-d desires to have His abode. With such a combination of favorable factors, the results can and should be without limit.
It is hoped that the Convention will make use of the above points as guidelines for intensified activity in all its programs and objectives, always bearing in mind that the "essential thing is the deed."
Again, wishing you success to carry out the above with Chassidic vitality and joy, and in happy personal circumstances, both materially and spiritually.
Let them eat kasha!
This Shabbat is known as "Shabbat Shira." On this day it is customary to eat kasha - buckwheat groats. Some also have the custom of putting kasha or bread crumbs out for the birds before Shabbat so that they, too, can partake. This custom stems from the Midrash that says that during the crossing of the Red Sea, trees miraculously grew instantaneously and the birds plucked fruit from them and fed them to the Jewish people.
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
"The righteous person shall flourish like the date palm..." wrote King David in Psalms. A righteous person is compared to a date palm as it bears exceptional fruit. Dates are one of the seven species for which the Land of Israel is praised. The Torah describes the Land of Israel as "a land of wheat, barley, vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olives that produce oil and honey (dates)." This Shabbat, we will be celebrating Tu B'Shevat - the "New Year" of trees - thus, it is fitting to briefly discuss these seven types of produce and how they connect with our spiritual service:
Wheat: Our Sages described wheat as "food for humans," an allusion to that aspect of our existence that makes us human - the G-dly soul. Like actual food, our G-dly soul's mission must be assimilated into the totality of our being.
Barley: Barley is described as "food for animals." It refers to the elevation of the animal soul.
Grapes: Grapes are used to produce wine, which "gladdens G-d and people."
Figs: The Torah relates that figs were used to make the first garments worn by Adam. Later, G-d gave man "garments of leather" ("ohr" spelled with the letter "ayin"), which Rabbi Meir in the Talmud refers to as "garments of light" (spelled with an "alef"). From this we learn that a Jew's service must involve spreading G-dly light.
Pomegranates: We must always remember that every Jew is "as filled with mitzvot as a pomegranate is filled with seeds."
Olives: Olives are bitter. A Jew's life should be characterized by sweetness, but in times of introspection he must come to a state of bitterness when evaluating his spiritual achievements.
Dates: Dates refer to the Torah's mystical dimensions, the study of which strengthens the inner dimensions of the Jewish soul.
Through developing our spiritual potential that relates to all these qualities, and spreading these concepts to others, we will merit to proceed to the Land of Israel with Moshiach, where we will "partake of its produce and be sated with its goodness."
The Children of Israel went out of the land of Egypt armed (Ex. 13:18)
Nowhere in the Torah does it state that the Jews used weapons to defend themselves against the Egyptians. All we are told is that "the Children of Israel cried out to G-d." This teaches us that the Jewish people left Egypt armed with their traditional "weapon" of choice: their prayers and supplications to G-d.
(The Chozeh of Lublin)
And he made ready his chariot (Ex. 14:6)
Pharaoh was so intent on pursuing the Jews that he readied his horse and chariot himself, even though it was considered beneath him to attend to such mundane matters. He was so consumed by the desire to bring the Jewish slaves back that he was willing to forgo his honor as a king. Pharaoh realized that without the Jews he would no longer have any political power in Egypt; in fact, his authority was derived from subjugating and oppressing them, thereby bolstering his standing among his own people. Unfortunately, this has also been the tactic of other anti-Semitic leaders throughout history.
And they were very fearful, and the Children of Israel cried out (Ex. 14:10)
The reason the Children of Israel cried out was the fact that "they were fearful." It disturbed them greatly that they were afraid of the mortal Egyptians, rather than only of G-d.
The people quarreled with Moses and said, "Give us water" (Ex. 17:2)
Why was it considered a sin to have asked for water? What else could the Jews in the desert have been expected to do when their supply ran out? However, the Torah states, "And there was no water for the people to drink, and the people quarreled with Moses"; only later are we informed "and the people thirsted there for water." From this we learn that they started arguing with Moses even before they became thirsty.
Reb Aryeh, a Chasid of the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism), had been appointed by the authorities as "burgomaster" of his town. As chief magistrate and official record keeper for the government, Reb Aryeh was responsible for keeping track of all marriages, births and deaths (G-d forbid) in the Jewish community, entering them in a special register.
It happened once that a local gentile converted to Judaism. This was a grave offense in those times and in that place. Anyone even remotely suspected of having helped in the conversion process was subject to stiff penalties. This being so, Reb Aryeh was asked to conveniently "forget" to record the name of a certain Jew who had just died. The convert, who was approximately the same age as the deceased, would be given the dead man's papers and assume his identity.
It was a clever plan, and it might have worked if not for the informer who brought the plot to light. The burgomaster was caught and a trial date was set. Reb Aryeh was in grave danger. Being a true Chasid, he went to the Alter Rebbe and explained his predicament. The Rebbe advised him to postpone the trial, and it was rescheduled for a later date.
When the second trial date rolled around Reb Aryeh returned to the Alter Rebbe. Again, the Rebbe advised him to defer it. This happened several times, until finally Reb Aryeh was unable to push it off any longer. At long last the burgomaster would be tried for his "crime." The Chasid begged the Alter Rebbe to save him.
Oddly enough, the Alter Rebbe responded by inviting Reb Aryeh to his grandchild's wedding, which was about to take place in the town of Zlobin. It was a union between two rabbinical dynasties: The Alter Rebbe's grandchild was marrying the grandchild of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. "Why don't you come and present your problem to Reb Levi Yitzchak?" the Alter Rebbe suggested. "I'm sure that he can help you."
Reb Aryeh traveled to Zlobin, but getting in to the see Reb Levi Yitzchak was very difficult, as thousands of other people had arrived with the same idea. Unwilling to give up, Reb Aryeh decided to come back in the middle of the night and stand outside Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's door. The following morning he would be first in line.
That night, Reb Aryeh positioned himself outside Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's room and peeked inside. What a strange sight met his eyes! On one side of the bed of the tzadik (righteous person) stood a gabbai (synagogue official) with a volume of Mishna; on the other side stood a second gabbai with the holy Zohar. Both men were reading aloud - at the same time - while Reb Levi Yitzchak appeared to be sleeping. Yet when one gabbai mispronounced a word, the tzadik turned and protested, "Nu! Nu!" This continued for some two hours, after which Rabbi Levi Yitzchak arose from his "nap" and Reb Aryeh was allowed to enter.
The first thing Reb Levi Yitzchak asked Reb Aryeh was who had sent him. "My Rebbe," the Chasid replied.
"And who might that be?"
"The Alter Rebbe," Reb Aryeh answered.
"Ah, him!" Reb Levi Yitzchak exclaimed. "My in-law is your Rebbe? Such a tzadik and scholar, such a holy man of G-d!" He continued in this vein for some time, praising the Alter Rebbe to the skies. "So tell me," he said fondly, "what can I do for you?"
Reb Aryeh explained that he was the burgomaster of his hometown. "A burgomaster?" the tzadik repeated after him. "What does that mean?"
The Chasid described his various duties and responsibilities.
"You mean to say that a Jew is in charge of the whole town?" Rabbi Levi Yitzchak asked, duly impressed. "How can that be?"
"To tell you the truth," Reb Aryeh replied, "the only reason I took the job was that the Alter Rebbe urged me to do so."
"Ho!" the tzadik declared emphatically. "My in-law - the sage, the saint, the learned scholar, the righteous one - guided you to take this position. In that case you have nothing to worry about. G-d will surely help and guard you from all harm."
Reb Aryeh went back to the Alter Rebbe and related his conversation with Reb Levi Yitzchak. "So what do you think?" the Alter Rebbe asked. "Did I give you good advice?" He then repeated the question. "I gave you good advice, didn't I?"
On the day before the trial was due to begin, a fire broke out in the courthouse. All the important documents in the building were completely burned - including the official indictment against Reb Aryeh. With no other record the case was dropped, and that was the end of the accusation.
In their description of the Days of Moshiach, our Sages discuss at length about the material good that we can expect in the Future to Come. For example, regarding trees it states: "It bears fruit on the day that it is planted" (Torat Kohanim, B'Chukotai 26:4). As well, "The [actual] Land of Israel in the future will produce cakes and fine silk clothes"