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Hopefully by the time you read this, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will be contained. But even if it has been contained, it has created an environmental and economic disaster of epic proportions.
As scientists study the long-term effects, engineers work to stop the river of oil, and politicians debate policy or assign blame. In keeping with the Baal Shem Tov's teaching that everything a Jew encounters contains a lesson in Divine service, we can try to learn something from this disaster. In addition, there is also the principal that from the negative one can learn, or deduce, the positive. So it is here.
What are the facts of the physical disaster? A well was drilled into the earth's core, the very source of our world, as it were, to bring oil to the surface - through the depths of the ocean - for people to use, and to provide energy. Improper or insufficient safety measures were in place, and the controlled, orderly flow became a chaotic disaster.
On a spiritual level, Torah in general and Chasidic teachings in particular, are referred to as wellsprings. We know that oil is compared to wisdom - true, the Sages mean olive oil, but for our analogy here we may extend the metaphor slightly, since petroleum oil is used to produce energy, and that is used for light.
We also know that the level of G-dly Knowledge that will fill the earth in the times of Moshiach is compared to the "water covering the ocean." Chasidut explains the meaning of the prophetic statement: just as there is life in the ocean, but that life is hidden in the waters, entirely immersed in it, so too ocean life, though individually identifiable, is immersed in and has no separate existence from the water that surrounds it.
Our task on Earth is to extract the energy and light-producing oil - Torah, Divine Wisdom, specifically, Chasidut - from the depths and make it available literally everywhere. If we "extract" that Divine Wisdom properly then we will operate in an "environmentally safe" manner, spiritually speaking. G-dliness will surround us; we will be immersed in it.
But if we are not careful, if we don't take the proper precautions when studying Torah, especially Chasidut - then there will be a break in the pipeline, so to speak. What are those precautions? Studying with humility, learning from a teacher, learning according to the structure of Torah from Sinai, understanding that the spiritual and mystical must be rooted in practical mitzvot (commandment) observance, in the order that Torah decrees.
We can do more than pray for an end to the Gulf oil crisis. Our spiritual actions have an impact, even in the physical world. We can help fix a broken pipeline by making sure our spiritual one is secure.
This week's Torah portion, Beha'alotcha, opens with the words "When you light the lamps."
Aaron the kohen (priest) was commanded to kindle the menora in the Sanctuary every day. The menora was required to burn at all times, as the Torah states, "To cause a light to burn perpetually."
Just as Aaron lit the menora in the Sanctuary, so is every Jew required to illuminate his home and surroundings with the Torah's holy light.
Aaron was a kohen, but so too is every member of the Jewish people, as it is written, "You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests." The giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai transformed every Jew into a "kohen."
The menora stood in the Sanctuary (and later in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem). Similarly, every Jewish home is a "Sanctuary" to G-d. The verse "I shall dwell in their midst" means that G-d dwells within each and every Jew; hence, every Jewish home is an abode for the Divine Presence.
The light that Aaron kindled was "perpetual"; so too must the light in every Jewish home be always shining. The Torah's light of holiness must burn night and day, and pervade all corners of a Jewish residence.
All Jews, and especially Jewish children, have the power to imbue their homes with holiness. How is this accomplished? By expressing an awareness of G-d every moment of the day.
As soon as a Jew opens his eyes in the morning he says "Modeh Ani" ("I give thanks to You"); whenever he eats he recites the proper blessings both before and after. Throughout the day he conducts himself according to the Torah's laws, and at night he says the "Shema" ("Hear O Israel") before going to sleep.
The Torah and its mitzvot (commandments) are likened to light: "A mitzva is a candle, and the Torah is light." Indeed, the Torah and its commandments are the medium through which the Jew is able to illuminate the "Sanctuary" in his home.
Lighting the menora is also associated with the Final Redemption with Moshiach:
The menora that stood in the Sanctuary and the Holy Temple was composed of seven lights, as it states, "The seven lamps shall give light."
When Moshiach comes, the Jews who are dispersed around the world will return to Israel in seven paths, as is written in the Book of Isaiah, "And [G-d] shall wave His hand upon the river...and smite it into seven streams."
Thus, disseminating the light of Torah and mitzvot in our own homes serves to hasten Moshiach's coming with the Final Redemption, may it happen at once.
Adapted from Volume 23 of Likutei Sichot
by Mushky Levitansky (age 11)
Since 2004 when we came to Sumy, Ukraine, as the Rebbe's emissaries, my mother and I have gone to women's homes to light Shabbat candles with them on Fridays.
One time, when I was seven, we went to the home of a woman whom we were told was paralyzed. With her name and the address of her apartment building written on a paper, as well as candles, matches and fresh challah that we had baked, we ordered a taxi to take us to her home.
We left a little later than we had intended and as we were travelling, my mother realized that the location was farther than we had thought.
When we came to the elderly woman's building, the taxi driver said he would wait for us and drive us back. We walked up to the 5th floor, found the apartment and knocked on the door. It was the wrong apartment! We knocked on a few more doors but the woman we had come to visit was apparently not on that floor.
My mother called my father who said he would ring us back with the correct information. After a few minutes, we decided we couldn't wait any longer. We were worried that if we didn't leave now, we might not make it home before Shabbat. We started going downstairs. When we were almost at the bottom, my father called. The woman's apartment was on the seventh floor. My mother looked at her watch. "We don't have time. We're going to have to come back a different week." Then she changed her mind. "Because I'm nervous about the time, a woman won't light Shabbat candles?! Come Mushky, were going back upstairs!"
We raced up the stairs, and this time found the right apartment. The woman was so grateful when we lit Shabbat candles with her. We excused ourselves and ran down the steps and out to the waiting taxi. My mother did not yet speak Russian but she did know a word that would help now. She told the taxi driver: "Bistra! Bistra! (Fast! Fast!)" And did he drive fast!
Suddenly, when we came to a large intersection, the car stopped; it had run out of gas! The driver quickly got out and pushed the car to the side of the road. My mother looked at her watch and called my father. "We will not make it home in time to light Shabbat candles so please light on our behalf at home," my mother told my father. My father speaks Russian fluently so she asked him to tell the taxi driver that because the Jewish Sabbath was starting soon and we are not allowed to carry outside on Shabbat, we would leave everything in the taxi and he should bring it to our house.
"I just ran out of gas. They will be home in half an hour, no worries!" the driver told my father. My father explained that it would soon be the Jewish Sabbath and we were not allowed to be in the taxi once the Sabbath started.
Suddenly, my mother realized that she was holding the bag of candles that my father had prepared for us to take that afternoon. Of course, my father had put in some extra candles "just in case" we would meet someone else in the apartment building who was Jewish. My mother opened the bag and counted the candles. There were exactly enough candles for her to light the number she always lights - one for every family member - as well as one for me to light. My mother was touched by the Divine Providence at work here; G-d was looking out for us!
My mother took the phone back from the driver (who was still trying to convince my father that he would bring us home) and told my father, "We have exactly the right number of candles with us!" My mother gave the cell phone back to the taxi driver and we walked onto the sidewalk with our candles and matches.
Meanwhile we put the candles down on the side walk and I lit my one candle. I covered my eyes and said the blessing. My mother set out the other five candles. She lit them, covered her eyes and said the blessing. We noticed that many people had been watching us as we lit candles. We stood for a few minutes to look at the burning candles and then we started walking home. We looked back at the burning candles and saw that the people who had been waiting to cross the street came over to see the candles.
As we walked home, my mother said, "Who knows why we needed to light candles for Shabbat in exactly that spot? Maybe there were souls who were waiting for us to make a blessing there? Maybe the ground had never, since its creation, had a holy word recited on it? Perhaps one of the pedestrians or someone watching from the window of a building saw us and was reminded that he or she is a Jew." The reason we had to light candles there we may never know, but what was very clear to us was that G-d wanted us to light candles Friday afternoon on that street in Sumy, Ukraine, and He had even made sure that we had enough candles!
We walked for almost an hour. As we finally neared our street (it was very dark by then), the street light suddenly turned on - for us! G-d was watching us the whole time and making it easier for us to do what He wanted.
When we came home my father told us that the taxi driver had come to our house and brought my mother's purse! My father told the driver to take out of my mother's wallet whatever we owed." Before he left, the driver turned to my father and asked: "What kind of religion do you have that is so important to you that you will even trust a total stranger with your purse and cell phone and money?" The driver was very moved!
This article is dedicated to Mushky's grandfather, Rabbi Avrohom Levitansky, obm, whose third yartzeit was Sunday, 10 Sivan. It was with Rabbi Levitansky's encouragement and guidance that Mushky began, at age three, to go each Friday before Shabbat to light candles with women and girls from all walks of life.
In honor of Shavuot, 900 17-inch children's Torahs were distributed to the public school children who attend the Released Time Program under the auspices of NCFJE. Since its inception in 1941, the NCFJE's Released Time Program has reached more than a quarter of a million Jewish children in New York City, Rockland County, Long Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New England, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California. In New York state, Released Time classes are held on Wednesdays. Thus, hundreds of the instructors, Lubavitcher yeshiva students, walked for up to two hours, to be able to teach their classes this past week as Wednesday was the Shavuot holiday.
10th of Sivan, 5712 
I trust that the Festival of Shavuoth, the Season of Our Receiving the Torah, gave you welcome opportunities to reflect upon the profoundness of the Torah and what its dissemination means to Jews in particular and to humanity at large.
I trust also that there were moments of particular inspiration in recalling the various thoughts which you and I had been privileged to hear from my father-in-law of sainted memory.
It has been my custom to convey to you a thought apropos of the festival, and I am taking the liberty of doing so again.
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 that 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 in 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 Divinely revealed at Sinai, a fact which 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 supposition.
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 consequence 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. To insure that man acts consistently in the best interests of himself and society, or else grope 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 - this is the question, and the Torah is the answer.
May we all, you and myself included among the rest of our people, be receptive to the Divine influences emanating from the Torah and mitzvoth [commandments], in the true spirit of Shavuoth, the festival of our Receiving the Torah from G-d at Sinai.
TUVIYA means "G-d is good." In Zecharia (6:10) he is mentioned as one of the Babylonian Exiles who returned to the land of Israel.
TAMAR means "palm tree," a plant which is known for being upright and graceful. Tamar was a descendant of Shem, Noah's most righteous son. She married Judah (Genesis chap. 38), and had two sons, Zerach and Peretz - ancestor of the House of David.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The 28th day of Sivan (this year June 10), is the anniversary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's arrival on American soil in 1941.
The Rebbe and Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka's escape from German-occupied France was fraught with danger. The only possible route at the time was to travel by ship to Portugal, cross over the border with Spain, then from Barcelona continue on to the United States.
The Nazis, may their name be erased forever, fired at every passing ship, and the Rebbe's vessel came under attack several times. When the ship finally sailed into the New York harbor it was truly a miracle that it had safely navigated the seas.
For reasons of ill health, the Previous Rebbe was not able to personally greet his daughter and son-in-law. Instead, he appointed a delegation consisting of four prominent Chabad Rabbis to serve as his emissaries. On the night before the ship was due to arrive the Previous Rebbe summoned them and said, "I will reveal to you who my son-in-law is: Every night he recites Tikun Chatzot; he knows the Babylonian Talmud by heart with the commentaries of the Ran, the Rosh and the Rif; the Jerusalem Talmud and its commentaries; the writings of Maimonides and Likutei Torah. Now go out and welcome him!"
The actual reunion between the Rebbe and Previous Rebbe would not take place for another three days, and the Previous Rebbe requested that he see his son-in-law and daughter separately. The Rebbe later explained why: "[The reason] was that my father-in-law was a man of profound feeling; one can imagine the intense emotion it would have caused had we gone to see him immediately, and together. Chasidut demands that the head rule over the heart; thus, despite his pain, he waited several days until seeing us."
So began a new chapter in the dissemination of Torah and mitzvot and another step forward toward Moshiach.
When you light the lamps (Num. 8:2)
"Do not think," G-d said to Moses, "that I am commanding you to kindle these lamps because I need their illumination. Rather, the purpose is to give the Jewish people merit if they fulfill My instructions diligently. As reward for lighting these lamps before Me, I will provide you with a Great Light in the World to Come.
And Aaron did so (Num. 8:3)
As the great commentator Rashi explains, "This is to give credit to Aaron, who did not deviate [from what he was commanded to do]." Indeed, it is commendable when teachers and educators live up to the same high standards they expect their students to uphold. When a teacher's personal life is in consonance with what he preaches, his influence on his students is that much greater, and his words are accepted without undue effort.
Then set forward the standard of the camp of the children of Dan, the rear guard of all the camps (Num. 10:25)
Rabbi Michel of Zhlotzov used to begin his prayers very late in the day. He offered an explanation: When the Jewish people traveled through the desert the tribe of Dan was last, behind all the others. Their job was to pick up and return all the lost items that their brethren had dropped along the way. On the spiritual level, their function was to elevate all the prayers that had been uttered without the proper intentions. I am just following their example.
This story is a first-hand account by a survivor of World War II.
"I was lying in a ravine, by the side of a railroad embankment, in the dead of night. All my bones ached. I had just escaped from the train carrying hundreds of my brethren to the death camp of Auschwitz. The rattling sounds of the train were dying in the distance.
"I had been stunned by the fall, and I don't know how long I had been lying in the ravine. When I regained consciousness and realized that no bones were broken, I thanked G-d for being alive. Raising my head a little I looked around. Hundreds of yards away, along the track, I saw the silhouette of a Nazi guard on duty, clearly outlined between me and the woods. A large field lay between me and the woods. I had to get there before dawn. Already the stars were fading.
"Cautiously I began to creep towards the woods. Every movement was agony. At last I found myself among the trees, and could breathe with relief. The trees would give me shelter. Under a cluster of low fir trees I lay myself down in hiding. With a prayer of gratitude to the Almighty on my lips, I fell asleep.
"I woke up in the advanced hours of the morning. Very cautiously I stole a glimpse around. There was neither sight nor sound of man or beast. I should have preferred the latter, anyway. Suddenly I felt very hungry. For three days I had had no food or water. The pangs of hunger became unbearable. I thought I would die in agony if I did not get some food soon.
"I got out of my hiding place and for a moment I stood, not very steadily, inhaling the fresh morning air. I knew that I was yet far from free. I would be hunted like an animal or die of starvation. The woods which had seemed so friendly, seemed friendly no longer. Fir and pines and nothing else, not even a berry or a blade of grass.
"I started walking. In the distance I saw a farmhouse. Would I find a human being who would take pity on me? I decided to chance it. I knocked softly on the door. When it opened I saw a peasant woman stare at me. Then I felt my blood curdle. For over her shoulder appeared the face of a Nazi in uniform.
"I turned and fled, but it was too late. A loud shout of 'Halt!' sent the chills down my spine. I collapsed like a bundle of straw.
"The Nazi kicked me viciously. 'Get up, Jew!' he yelled. 'Come on, Jew, step lively, march!'
"I was now marching back to the woods, with the Nazi following a few paces behind. As I walked I recited the 'Aleinu' prayer:
It is our duty to praise the L-rd of all things, To ascribe greatness to Him Who formed the world in the beginning Since He has not made us like the nations of other lands, And has not placed us like families of the earth...
"A serene calmness began to descend upon me. I was not afraid to die.
"'Halt!' came the order. 'About face!'
"I turned around. For a moment the Nazi paused. If he expected me to fall on my knees begging for my life, he was going to be disappointed.
"'Dig!' roared the Nazi.
"I was wondering what I was to dig with.
"'Dig!' he roared again.
"I dropped on my knees and began to dig with my fingers. The soft earth yielded freely. At last my grave was ready.
"Then he order me to strip. I took off my boots, and began to take off my clothes. When I reached my tzitzit I stopped.
"'Strip!' roared the Nazi, hoarse with rage.
"'No!' I said defiantly. 'I want to die with this garment on me.'
"The Nazi drew his pistol and aimed. I closed my eyes and whispered the 'Shema,' and waited for the shot, but it didn't come. I opened my eyes.
"The Nazi was still aiming. His hand was not very steady. 'What is this, and what are you whispering?' He asked, pointing to my tzizit.
"'These are my sacred witnesses,' I said, 'and they will accompany my soul to the Heavenly Court and bear witness before the Almighty how I met my death. They will demand retribution for my innocent blood, and the blood of my innocent brothers.'
"The Nazi hesitated. His cruel face became visibly worried. He was thinking - something he had not done since he had joined the Nazi youth.
"'Suddenly he roared, 'Scram! To the devil with you! Run before I change my mind!'
"I stood still. My feet seemed glued to the ground. 'Run, idiot,' I was saying to myself, but still I could not move. I just stood there, my eyes wide open, staring at the Nazi.
"Suddenly, he turned and fled..."
From Talks and Tales
Now is a time when we must light up the candles of the Jewish people in this era of exile. The cumulative legacy of all the positive activity of the previous generations is granted us; now all that is necessary is to kindle the flame and make sure that it "rises up on its own accord." Our generation has the potential to elevate the service of all the previous generations. We will be the last generation of exile, and the first generation of the Redemption, and in this way, bring redemption to all the Jews of the previous generations.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 19 Sivan, 5751-1991)