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Did you ever do a double-take when you were in a store and you noticed a mannequin that looked alive? Or maybe you were in a wax museum and sat down next to a person only to find out that it was a wax figure.
In either case, what gives the mannequin or the wax figure away is the lack of even a small, slight, almost imperceptible movement. It could be the blink of an eye or the ever-so-faint rise and fall of the chest. Or maybe a nose twitch. But it is always some kind of movement all the same.
Movement is a dead giveaway for the existence of life. Which is one of the reasons why, according to Jewish teachings, people are called "movers" whereas angels are called "stationery."
A person moves, stretches, bends, reaches, climbs, falls.
A person moves both physically and hopefully - and more importantly - spiritually.
The noun "mover" when applied to people as compared to angels is specifically referring to spiritual matters. And it is in spiritual matters as well that a person stretches, bends, reaches, climbs and sometimes falls, but gets up again to climb once more.
Just as physical movement is a sure sign of life, spiritual movement is a true indication of the vitality of the soul.
How do you move your soul? Simply by making an even small, slight, almost imperceptible move.
By learning Torah concepts that stretch you. By reaching out to another person with love and compassion. By bending your will to G-d's will. By climbing, one step at a time, through the mitzvot. By falling once in a while, but then by getting up again.
Torah study (and Torah as used here is not confined to the Five Books of Moses but encompasses all areas of Jewish teachings) is limitless. It is full of joy and life and movement and excitement and mind-expanding concepts.
Mitzvot (commandments), as well, give us a chance to move. With mitzvot we cleave to G-d, we connect to another Jew, we help shoulder a friend's burden, we laugh and sing and dance.
A Midrash relates that when the dove was created she complained to G-d, "It is not fair. I am so small and I have no way of outrunning my many pursuers who would like to capture me."
So G-d added wings to the delicate body of the dove.
But once more the dove objected. "These wings are so heavy. Now I certainly have no way of escaping my predators." G-d taught the dove that the wings are not a burden but can be used to fly.
Torah and mitzvot are not lifeless weight that we have to shlepp along but rather are wings to help us access heights otherwise unattainable. They can help us reach higher and higher. They can help us grow. They help us move in the most graceful, exhilarating way possible.
The name of this week's Torah reading, Naso means "Lift Up." It is always read either imme-diately before or after Shavuot, highlighting how the Torah enables a person to elevate himself. It gives him the potential to rise above mortal understanding and to relate to G-d on His terms.
There is, however, an implicit difficulty in such a concept: Generally, when we speak of transcending our personal identity, this usually connotes letting go of our individuality; conforming to a G-d-given code of conduct and thus abdicating our individual wills and personalities.
This is not Judaism's approach. Judaism teaches a person how to lift his self above himself: to conduct himself in a G-dly manner, not by forgetting about who he is and what potentials he has been given, but by using those potentials for a G-dly purpose.
This fusion of individual effort and Divine direction is reflected in the concluding passages of this week's Torah reading which describe the sacrifices brought by the leaders of the tribes. Each leader brought an identical offering: the same number of animals, the same measure of incense, the silver bowls of the same size, and yet the account of the offerings is repeated verbatim for each leader.
The commentaries pose a question. The Torah is careful never to use an extra word or even an extra letter. Why then does it repeat the entire passage 12 times? It could have stated the passage once and then said: "These same offerings were brought by each tribal leader."
The commentaries explain that the Torah is teaching that the sacrifices of the leaders were indeed different. Although they brought the same items, each one had a different intent. Each one saw the sacrifices as representative of the Divine service destined for his particular tribe. When bringing these offerings, he was expressing the particular mission and nature of his ancestral heritage. The deed was the same; the spiritual commitment differed from leader to leader.
These concepts apply to every one of us. We are all going to put on similar tefilin, light similar Shabbat candles, and keep all the other universally applicable laws of the Torah. This does not, however, imply sheep-like conformity. Instead, it opens up a broad channel for each person to serve G-d, but rather than doing it according to the whims of our fancy, we will do it on G-d's terms.
If we were to follow our own inspiration, one person might decide to serve G-d through meditative prayer, another through deeds of kindness, and a third, through contemplating the oneness found in nature. Every person's approach would be different. Each person would be relating to G-d as he or she desires. The very beauty in that approach, however, implies a drawback, because since it is "as he or she desires," an enormous amount of subjectivity is involved. Ultimately, the "as he or she desires" is not necessarily as G-d desires.
When, by contrast, a person is observing the Torah and its mitzvot (commandments), he is doing what G-d wants. Nevertheless, within that framework, he has unlimited room for self-expression, for the intent and the mode of observance are left to his choice and his initiative. Again, the same deed can mean many different things to many different people.
From Keeping in Touch adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi E. Touger, published by Sichos In English.
Hitting the Jackpot
by Marc Dykler
Our community in Ville s. Laurent, Quebec, Canada, hit the proverbial jackpot when Rabbi Schneur and Leah Silberstein arrived about nine years ago. This young couple's enthusiasm and determination have made the name "Chabad" known to all in the Jewish community in Ville s. Laurent, whether religious or not, and have changed many lives with their dedication to Jewish life and all that it entails.
My family is one of the many that Rabbi Schneur and Leah have touched. They influenced our children first by earning their trust and utmost respect. It is heartwarming as a parent to see the positive influence Schneur has had on our son, and Leah on our daughter. Although I am personally still not as religious as I could be, the rabbi reminds me that I am "a work in progress."
So if the Silbersteins have been with us for nearly nine years, why do I choose to write about them now? I write in order to celebrate a very special addition to our community. Chaya Mushka is her name, and she is our Rabbi and Rebbetzin's first child, born on the second day of Passover this year. Chaya Mushka is special not only to her family, but to our entire community, a community that has privately and publicly joined our Rabbi and Rebbetzin in prayers for a child.
Chabad of Ville s. Laurent is full of vibrant energy. It emanates from the Silbersteins' excitement of sharing Torah with those of us who are just beginning to discover it, or those of us have strayed from it. In a short period of time, they have taught us the value of the Torah and have instilled in us an interest to learn more. Their classes attract a diverse group of interested individuals, each learning at his or her own pace and ability, but always shown the same patience and encouragement. Every Jewish holiday is celebrated at our Chabad House. The celebrations attract throngs of people, regardless of age or gender.
A number of families who have become involved with our community live quite a distance from the Chabad House. To make it more convenient for them to participate in Shabbat services, Rabbi Schneur opened a second location two months ago. Every Shabbat morning, oblivious of the weather, Rabbi Schneur walks to the other location, while his father, a distinguished rabbi himself, leads our Shabbat services in the original location.
As if all this is not enough to keep them busy, the Silbersteins have for many years been the chaplains for those Jewish individuals who find themselves on the wrong side of prison walls. They ensure that they get kosher food, proper learning tools, and that every holiday is celebrated according to our traditions.
All of their projects, programs, classes and undertakings are done in the same non-judgmental, supportive and encouraging manner.
Here, too, the Silbersteins have been a positive influence on their community, instilling in those of us who are reluctant and more judgmental, to accept all Jews as equals.
What do they do in their "spare time." Well, Leah is a teacher at the Beth Rivkah School, where she is loved by all the young girls fortunate to have her as their teachers. And Rabbi Schneur makes it a priority to visit the less mobile senior citizens who need assistance with putting on tefilin, or to just be there and lend a friendly ear.
The Silbersteins run a summer camp and winter camp in coordination with a nearby Chabad Center. The attendance at these camps has increased by leaps and bounds from one season to the next. Families that hesitated to send their children there, in favor of more mainstream camps, now have only accolades for the way Rabbi Schneur and Leah run the Chabad camp and the values instilled in their children.
It is a refreshing sight, to see so many young children from such diverse levels of religious observance playing together. These children then get their parents and extended families involved in Chabad, a fact we notice when suddenly, on a Shabbat, an entire family will walk into Chabad for their first time, eagerly led by a young child.
There are many young families in our synagogue who at first were hesitant about how their lack of religious knowledge or observance would be seen, not realizing that Chabad welcomes all Jews with open arms.
It is a testament to their commitment and positive influence that allows fellow Jews to listen to Schneur and Leah, and lead us in discovering or re-discovering our history, traditions and Jewish soul.
It is with much appreciation to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who instructed his Chabad Army to go out and find Jews in every corner of the world and encourage their return to Torah and Judaism that all these wonderful things are happening.
My wife and I are grateful for the Silbersteins' sincere and unwavering care they have for every Jew, for their dedication to our community, for their friendship.
And we are grateful to G-d for bringing this wonderful couple their precious little Chaya Mushka.
Saying Mazel Tov?
Modern medical wisdom recognizes that good health depends on a patient's emotional state and mental attitude. For centuries, it has been customary for Jewish women to adorn both the birthing room and the cradle with Psalm 121 (Shir Lama'alot). The Psalm states our declaration of dependence upon the Creator for our safety and well-being, and His commitment to guard us at all times. To get a color print of the Psalm call LEFJME at (718) 756-5700 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
10 Sivan, 5712 (1952)
There is a statement in the Midrash to the effect that "If anyone tells you there is science among certain non-Jews, you may believe it; but if one tells you there is Torah among them, do not believe it."
This terse statement contains an indication of the radical difference between general science and the Jewish religion which, to be sure, is also a profound science, though "partly" in the realm of the unfathomable.
The cardinal difference is this: Science, in general, has two weak points: First, it is based on certain postulates which science cannot substantiate or prove satisfactorily and which, consequently, may be accepted, rejected, or substituted by contrary postulates. In other words, the entire structure of science rests at bottom, on unscientific principles, or, better, on premises which cannot be scientifically substantiated.
Second, science in substance, is a theory declaring that if there is Cause A, there must follow Effect B, and if Effect B is to be prevented, Cause A must first be eliminated (that is assuming the postulates in question to be true). In other words, science can never tell us, "Do this," or "Do not do that." It can only maintain that if we desire to attain B, we must first accomplish A; and if B is undesirable, then A should be avoided.
That science is subject to the above-mentioned two limitations is understandable, science being the product of the human intellect; for since man's abilities are limited, he cannot devise anything absolute. This explains weakness one. As for weakness number two, inasmuch as all men enjoy equal rights, science cannot a priori dictate any course of human conduct. The most it can do in this respect is to predict, on the basis of the experience and knowledge at its command, that a certain chain of reactions or effects is likely to follow from a given cause. Here men of science enjoy a certain advantage over the less experienced or initiated.
The said two weaknesses of science make the cardinal superiority of the Torah plainly evident. The very word "Torah" - meaning teaching, instruction - indicates it. For the ultimate purpose of the Torah is not to increase man's knowledge per se, but to instruct him to conduct his life to the fullest advantage of himself and the community at large. As a matter of course it provides all the knowledge necessary for the attainment of this ultimate purpose.
Inasmuch as the Torah is not the product of man, but is Divinely revealed at Sinai, a fact that is substantiated by undeniable multiple evidence which must be fully accepted even on scientific grounds - i.e., being given by G-d the Absolute, its foundations are likewise absolute truths, not mere suppositions. Furthermore, since G-d is the Creator of the universe and of mankind, He is not limited to the process of cause and effect, but stipulates a positive and absolute system of human conduct, of definite do's and definite don'ts.
That is why the Torah is called Toras Emes - the Law of Truth - for its teachings are absolute and its foundations are not postulates, but absolute truths, hence its consequences must also be absolute truths.
It is also called Toras Chaim - the Law of Life - to show that it is not just a science whose application is arbitrary, but a system of obligatory daily living.
This is why the dissemination of the Torah is so vital. For, in the final analysis, the important thing is not the amount of knowledge man acquires for its own sake. The important thing is to ensure that man acts consistently in the best interests of himself and society. Otherwise, he gropes in darkness, confused by conflicting ideas and theories around him and perplexed also by conflicting emotions and instincts within him, inherent in all human beings.
Torah is the answer to all these questions.
MICHAEL means, "Who is like G-d?" Michael is mentioned in the book of Daniel (12:1) as prince of the angels, the chief messenger of G-d.
MICHAL also means "Who is like G-d?" was the daughter of the first king, Saul, and wife of his successor, King David.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Shabbat adds an element of completion to the days of the previous week. Therefore, this Shabbat is the completion of the holiday of Shavuot, the holiday which celebrates the giving of our holy Torah.
We also see a connection between this week 's Torah portion, Naso, and the holiday of Shavuot. The word "Naso" means "to lift up," and the Torah portion begins with the commandment to "lift up the heads." The Rebbe explains that this alludes to the ability of Torah study to elevate our intellectual faculties, and also that the act of fulfilling the mitzvot can be further elevated through Torah study.
How should we approach our Torah study?
The Torah, itself, states, "On this day, the children of Israel came to Mount Sinai." It should have said "on that day." But using the phrase "on this day" teaches us that we regard the Torah as if it were just given to us "on this day," that we should learn Torah with joy and enthusiasm, as if we have just received it.
The giving of the Torah is also connected to this week's chapter of Pirkei Avot, which begins, "Moses received the Torah from Sinai and conveyed it..." This verse teaches us how the Torah was first brought down to this world and continues to be passed from one generation to the next.
The chapter then goes on to state how the Torah continually influences the world at large, with the verse, "The world stands on three things, on Torah, on Divine Service, and on deeds of kindness." The ultimate purpose of the world is to make it a dwelling place for G-d. It is through these three things - Torah study, serving G-d, and acts of kindness - that this will occur.
We hope and pray that we will soon be blessed with the coming of Moshiach, who will lead us into a world that is truly a dwelling place for G-d.
When a man or a woman pronounce the special vow of a nazir...to abstain from wine and strong drink...no razor shall pass over his head...he shall not come near a dead body... all the days of his abstinence is he holy to G-d (Num. 6:2-8)
The laws of a Nazarite teach us a most significant principle about our belief in the coming of Moshiach: Torah law decrees that if one declares on a weekday, "I undertake to become a Nazarite on the day that Moshiach will come," he is bound by it from that very moment. This clearly shows that Moshiach can arrive at any moment, as we say in our daily prayers, "Every day we hope for Your salvation."
The L-rd bless you and guard you. The L-rd make His countenance shine upon you and be gracious to you. The L-rd turn his countenance toward you and grant you peace (Num. 6:24-26)
The priestly blessing is in the singular tense, directed to each and every individual Jew. For the most important blessing they can receive is unity, that they join together as one person with one heart.
This special blessing was uttered by the priests in the Holy Temple and continues to be invoked by kohanim in synagogues today, but with one significant difference: In the Holy Temple, the kohanim would actually pronounce G-d's ineffable Name, indicative of the sublime level of holiness that was brought down by their blessing, whereas today we are forbidden to do so. When Moshiach comes kohanim will return to their former practice, at which time the power of the blessing itself will be even greater than during the time of the Holy Temple.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Mishpatim, 5752-1992)
Rabbi Meir of Premishlan was a great tzadik (righteous individual) whose holiness was acknowledged by Jews from far and wide who sought advice and blessings from him.
One day a woman was admitted into his study. As soon as she set eyes on the Rebbe she burst into tears. "What is troubling you?" Reb Meir asked. The sobbing woman could barely speak, but she managed to get out the words, "Rebbe, I have no children; please give me your blessing."
The Rebbe was full of compassion for the woman's pain and he replied to her, "May it be G-d's will that your request be fulfilled."
Armed with the holy man's blessing, the woman confidently went home and waited for his words to be realized. Not a year had passed when Rabbi Meir received a letter from a distant city from a person he did not know.
When he read the letter and removed the papers contained in the envelope, he was shocked to find a bank note for the tremendous sum of 300 rubles. The letter read: "My wife has just given birth to a child thanks to the Rebbe's blessing. I beg the Rebbe to accept this gift in gratitude."
Far from being pleased, Rabbi Meir's distress was apparent, as he extended his hand to put the bank note on the far side of the table as if he wanted to remain as distant from it as possible. Then he called his sons to come to him at once to discuss an important matter.
When they arrived, he brought them into his room and pointed to the letter: "Today I received a letter which is brimming with errors and falsehoods. For one thing, it refers to me as a holy man and that is patently false. Secondly, the entire premise of the letter is false, for this man credits me with the birth of his son. How ridiculous! What do I have to do with such lofty matters as birth and death? Am I a holy man that I have control over these things? I have therefore decided to return the money to him at once."
His sons were shocked. The eldest spoke first. "Father, we are very poor. Perhaps G-d has taken pity on us and decided to end our poverty through this man. Maybe it would be wrong and ungrateful of us not to make good use of it."
Everyone agreed. Only the Rebbe staunchly maintained that the money must be returned to the misguided sender.
They turned the matter over this way and that, but it became clear that no consensus could be reached. The family decided to bring their dilemma to a rabbinical court, a beit din. The judges listened to both sides of the case and then reached their decision: The Rebbe should keep the money. It was true that Rebbe Meir was such a modest man that he denied being a tzadik whose blessings could have helped the childless woman, but the woman and her husband obviously thought differently. In their estimation it was the Rebbe's prayers that brought about the birth of their child, and they gave the money purely as a gift from their hearts. Therefore, it was perfectly fine to keep the gift.
The Rebbe and his sons left the rooms of the beit din in very different moods. The sons were satisfied that their opinion had been upheld by the judges. The terrible poverty in which they lived would be alleviated at least for a time. Their father, however, was brought no peace by the decision. For although the rabbinical court had ruled that he was completely justified in keeping the money, his own heart was uneasy. He decided to take the problem to his wife, the Rebbetzin. As his life's companion and a woman whose vision was always clear, she would be the final arbiter of this case, for he trusted her judgment completely.
The Rebbe and his sons entered the house and asked the Rebbetzin to come and sit with them; they had something of great importance to discuss with her. When the family was seated around the table, the Rebbe filled her in on all the details of the problem, leaving out nothing, but stressing his own unease with the reason for receiving the gift.
Her sons, on the other hand, stressed how much easier their lives would be now, since G-d had clearly wanted to help them out of their troubles by sending them this money.
She listened wordlessly to both sides and then turned to her husband. "My dear husband, all your life you have guarded yourself from even tasting food that had a question about its kosher status. Even when you discovered that it was 100% kosher you refrained from eating it, because its permissibility had been in question. Now we are faced with the same situation, the only difference being that the question is on the permissibility of money and not on food. Why should you act any differently now?"
Rabbi Meir smiled at her. He stood up, walked into his room, took the bank note and put it into an envelope which he addressed to the sender. That very day it was deposited in the post and the hearts of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin were content.
When you look out at the ocean, you see only water. Even though you know that beneath the surface there is a vast ocean bed and myriads of creatures, you see nothing but water. So too, a person looking out at the world in the Era of Moshiach - what will he see? Only the "water" that covers everything - the knowledge of G-d
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 11 Nissan, 1985)