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Items that always seems to be available at garage and yard sales throughout the summer, or at any other time of year, are golf clubs. Whether the avid adolescent golfer is away at college or beyond, or Dad never really took to the new pastime, or Mom has perfected her stroke and game to the point where she needs better clubs, golf clubs can easily be purchased for the neophyte golfer.
In keeping with the Baal Shem Tov's teaching that we can learn something to enhance our lives spiritually from everything we see and hear, even if you've only tried your skill with clubs and balls at the local mini-golf, there's a lot that can be learned from this mellow sport.
"Hold the club firmly with both hands," a seasoned golf expert will tell any newcomer to the game. Applied to Jewish living, this means that our approach to Torah study and mitzva (commandment) performance has to be firm, not wishy-washy or laissez faire. In addition, Torah teaches that "the right hand brings close and the left hand pushes away." Thus, we should have a "hands-on" approach to Judaism of bringing into our lives that which is beneficial and positive while push-ing away the harmful or negative.
In real golf (as opposed to mini-golf, where people sometimes skip a hole if there is a long wait and then come back to it) you must complete all 18 holes as established by the course. Similarly, a set course has been established for us by the Torah, beginning with our daily routine and encompassing our entire lives.
When we get up in the morning, we train ourselves that our first conscious thought is to thank G-d for giving us another day of life. Throughout the day we have a sequence of activities and mitzvot up until the time we go to bed. (Bed is preceded by the Shema, which includes a declaration that we forgive all those who might have wronged us, after which we entrust our soul to G-d's safekeeping). Just as our day is ordered and sequential, so is our week, month, year, and entire the Jewish life-cycle.
To truly hone our living skills (unlike puttering around on a mini-golf course and dodging the rules) we must follow the established progression of the Torah. And though the mitzvot are "written in stone" (at least the Ten Commandments), Judaism allows for, acknowledges and even encourages individual expression and personal preferences within the established guidelines.
Any golfer worth his tee will inform you that one of the main guidelines of the game is to keep your eye on the ball. In the big golf game of life, the ball is the goal. As long as we keep our eyes on the goal and know where we're going, it's hard to get off track.
Jewish teachings have always explained that our goal is the Redemption, at which time Moshiach will lead the Jewish people out of exile. No one knows which tiny mitzva-tap on the ball of exile will gently drop us into the final hole (numbered 18 perhaps for "chai-life," for after the Redemption we will experience life as G-d truly intended it to be). It might be your kind word, or his extra charity, or her heartfelt prayer, or my Shabbat candles. If each one of us tries our best, then certainly, very soon, we will get the ultimate hole in one.
Moses, Aaron and the Elders stood weeping with despair, not knowing what to do. Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Shimon, had openly brought Kozbi, a Midianite woman, into his tent. Since the Giving of the Torah, the Jewish people had been forbidden to marry or have relations with Midianites. Witnessing this scene, together with the Jewish leaders stood Pinchas, one of Aaron's grandsons.
Pinchas saw that the leaders were silent, yet he did not hesitate. Courageously he reminded Moses of the law which the latter seemed to have forgotten - that under these circumstances, one who is "jealous" of G-d's honor may execute the offender. Moses replied, "You are the one who has remembered and reminded us of the law. You be the one to carry out the verdict." Pinchas entered Zimri's tent and slew him together with Kozbi. Pinchas had stemmed the tide of immorality and idol-worship, which had become rampant in the Jewish camp. As a result, Pinchas earned a great spiritual reward for averting G-d's anger against His people.
Pinchas was not only junior to the leaders in age but also in Torah learning. Yet, when Torah-law demanded action, Pinchas did not indulge in rationalization; he did not say "there must be a good reason why Moses, Aaron and the Elders - who surely know Torah better than I - are silent." No! Respectfully, yet boldly, Pinchas spoke up. Then, he took decisive action with great self-sacrifice - and saved Israel. G-d had caused Moses to forget the law, providing Pinchas with the opportunity to act and earn G-d's reward of the priesthood.
To know is to do: If one becomes aware of a teaching that he can implement, of a mitzva (commandment) he can do, let him do so. If one witnesses an action that needs to be corrected, let him speak up, let him act. If he sees that the accepted leaders are silent and inactive, let him realize that this may have happened in order that he should earn a special Divine reward.
In this week's portion, named Pinchas, we learn of Pinchas' reward. For in the Alm-ghty's plan for the universe, each individual has certain mitzvot and opportunities for Jewish action that are destined to be presented to him - and to no one else - for fulfillment. If, therefore, one notices that no one is taking action in a situation that he has come across, this may be because it is his mitzva, for him alone to fulfill.
From A Thought for the Week - Detroit. Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
She Is Pure!
by Miriam Karp
I took a deep breath to gain composure. I followed the four women.
Early that Wednesday morning we had taken side-roads for our 30 minute drive, avoiding rush hour traffic, coming together to do a special mitzva (commandment).
I entered the refrigerated room. There she lay. Everyone else faded into the background.
I recognized Rachel by her bulky shape, as I had once visited the elderly woman in one of her many hospitalizations during her months of decline.
As the women wheeled her into the preparation room, I followed, a bit nervously.
For several years I had been thinking about taking part in this mitzva of tahara - purification - preparing a Jewish body for burial.
I had been touched and intrigued since I first learned of this mitzva. But, busy for many years with young children and their 24/7 demands, I didn't feel physically or emotionally available.
In recent years, I started to feel ready, and somewhat obligated to participate. Obligated in the sense that a tahara is a sacred ritual, performed with care by Jews the world over. Some unknown tahara team had prepared my grandparents and in-laws, may they rest in peace. In our small community, I knew that every set of willing hands counts.
"Alehem hashalom, may they rest in peace."
A small but important part of preparation necessary to will allow the soul to rest in peace, is to prepare the body through a purification process established by Jewish law and tradition.
The rituals are all done with the utmost dignity, privacy and respect. They are focused on purity and simplicity, each step infused with deep Kabbalistic meaning;
I knew all this. In my head. But still, could I do it?
The group leader, Naama, a brisk and efficient woman, helped dispel my initial discomfort by referring to Rachel as "her." "Bring her over here. Hold up her head."
This a real woman, a she, a person. And we have a job to do.
Yes, we respect her, and we feel for her. Watching my experienced partners' faces, for a cue in this new universe, I feel humbled, I feel relieved. Humbled by their ability to roll up their sleeves, take stock of the situation, and figure out the best way to proceed, with earnest and everyday kind of caring. Relieved to see signs of compassion and distress at some of the signs of suffering Rachel must have endured these last few months. Though they were more experience than me, it was hard for them too. They each took a breath and continued.
The first glance at Rachel was hard. The first touch was hard.
Holding back, watching with my hands folded, I knew jumping in would be the best. So as they turned her to wash her back, I held her hand to keep it from falling over.
I helped more and more, as we proceeded, following the others' spoken and intuited guidance. As we gently washed her body, a body that had lived and loved and borne children, it became almost like bathing a totally dependent infant, as we hovered protectively around.
As three of the women poured buckets of "living" rain water in a non-broken sequence from head to toe, they said, "Tahora hee - she is pure." They said this over and over in almost a chant, rhythmically, asserting, defining.
We gently patted her dry. We dressed her in tachrichim (burial shrouds). Then Ruth brushed her hair. I watched the wet, grey-white hair spring into soft, fine curls. This tender act was touching, like giving a small child that mother's touch.
Finally, we gently lowered her into the casket. We sprinkled soil from the Land of Israel on her and in the casket. We asked her forgiveness if we did anything to offend her during the tahara and then, in English, we wished her a speedy journey to the World to Come. We placed the cover on the casket and e wheeled her back to wait for the next step of her journey.
Was it profound, quiet, hushed, spiritual? Yes and no.
It was surprisingly prosaic. Earthy. Even ordinary.
Stepping out of that quiet room into windows, daylight, time, schedules, we collected our purses and cell phones, and stepped back into our day, a sunny summer one.
Chatting about this and that on the way home, Malka asked me, "So, how was it for you?"
"It was ok," I said, with a quiet smile.
I felt buoyed throughout the day. Catching up on the phone with my daughter, a new mother, I told her, "I did my first tahara."
She gasped. "Really?"
But, it wasn't a gasp of horror, and not of an "Oh wow!" envious of a mystical high. It was an ordinary, extraordinary thing to do. In that sense, a very Jewish thing to do.
Rachel's image flitted though my mind once or twice. Not morbid. Just like a friend I was glad to have helped.
The next morning I said "Modeh Ani," the prayer upon awakening thanking G-d for returning our souls to us, with a fuller moment of gratefulness. Rachel was in her place in G-d's universe, and I was thankful to be here, in mine; chaotic, imperfect, struggle-filled as it may be.
New Torah Scrolls
The Beit Menachem Synagogue in S. Petersburg, Russia, completed a Torah scroll, the third scroll for the synagogue in the past three years. Two Torah scrolls were welcomed to the Lake Success Chabad, in the village of Lake Success, Long Island, New York. One of the Torahs was just completed and the other Torah is over 500 years old. Chabad of Guatemala celebrated the completion of a new Torah scroll with joyous singing and dancing. A Torah scroll that was restored in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, was presented to the Jewish community of Sumy, Ukraine, for their use. A new Torah scroll was welcomed at the Chabad House of Kansas City, Missouri, in honor of 40 years of the regional headquarters of Chabad in Missouri and Kansas.
5 Tammuz, 5743 
continued from previous issue
It may be asked, if it is a "release" for the soul [when it passes on and returns to its heavenly source, unencumbered by the physical body], why has the Torah prescribed periods of mourning, etc.
But there is really no contradiction.
The Torah recognizes the natural feeling of grief that is felt by the loss of a near and dear one, whose passing leaves a void in the family, and the physical presence and contact of the beloved one will be sorely missed.
So, the Torah has prescribed the proper periods of mourning to give vent to these feelings and to make it easier to regain the proper equilibrium and adjustment.
However, to allow oneself to be carried away by these feelings beyond the limits set by the Torah - in addition to it being a disservice to oneself and those around, as well as to the neshama [soul], as mentioned above, would mean that one is more concerned with one's own feelings than with the feelings of the dear neshama that has risen to new spiritual heights of eternal happiness.
Thus, paradoxically, the overextended feeling of grief, which is due to the great love for the departed one, actually causes pain to the loved one, since the neshama continues to take an interest in the dear ones left behind, sees what is going on (even better than before), rejoices with them in their joys, etc.
One thing the departed soul can no longer do, and that is, the actual fulfillment of the mitzvos [commandments], which can be carried out only jointly by the soul and body together in this material world. But this, too, can at least partly be overcome when those left behind do a little more mitzvos and good deeds - in honor and for the benefit of the dear neshama.
More could be said on the subject, but I trust the above will suffice to help you discover within you the strength that G-d has given you, not only to overcome this crisis, but also to go from strength to strength in your everyday life and activities in full accord with the Torah.
In your case there is an added G-d-given capacity, having been blessed with lovely children, long may they live, with a strong feeling of motherly responsibility to raise each and every one of them to a life of Torah, chupah [marriage] and good deeds, with even greater attention and care than before, and in this, as in all good things, there is always room for improvement.
Now to conclude with a blessing, may G-d grant you much Yiddishe nachas [Jewish pride] from each and every one of your children, raising them to Torah, chupah and good deeds in good health and peace of mind, and in comfortable circumstances.
P.S. I do not know if you were aware of it when writing your letter on the 3rd of Tammuz. But it is significant that you wrote the letter on the anniversary of the beginning of the geula [redemption] of my father-in-law of saintly memory - an auspicious time for geula from all distractions and anxieties, to serve Hashem [G-d] wholeheartedly and with joy.
PINCHAS means "mouth of a snake." Pinchas was the grandson of Aaron (Exodus 6:25) and a Priest. Another famous Pinchas was Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair who was a great scholar.
PENINA means "pearl" or "coral." Penina was the second wife of Elkana (I Samuel 1:2). Elkana was the father of Samuel the prophet by his first wife, Chana.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Seventeenth of Tammuz, observed this past Tuesday (corresponding this year to June 29) began the three-week period known as "Bein Hametzarim," literally "Between the Straits." It is a time of mourning when no weddings are scheduled and we refrain from listening to music.
At this time, when the loss of "G-d's Chosen House" is more keenly felt, it is customary to increase our learning about the Holy Temple. In the Written Torah, this involves studying Chapters 40-43 in the Book of Ezekiel, and in the Oral Torah (the Talmud), Tractates Tamid and Midot. Maimonides' "Laws of the Temple" are also studied during this period.
The Midrash relates that "The Holy One, Blessed Be He said: The study of it [the Temple] is as great as its building... Let them busy themselves studying the Temple's form, and I will consider it as if they are actively involved in its erection." Similarly, in a discussion of the sacrifices, the Talmud relates: "He who studies the laws of the sin-offering is considered as if he has offered one."
Studying the laws of the Holy Temple thus allows us to actively participate in rebuilding it, even during the exile.
It is also desirable to give extra charity during the Three Weeks, as it states, "Great is charity, for it brings the Redemption nigh."
In such a way Biblical prophecy will be realized: "Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and those that return to her with righteousness (literally 'charity')," for it is through "judgment" - the study of the Torah's laws - that Jerusalem will be redeemed, and the Jewish people will return to the Holy Land, in the merit of their charity.
Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned My anger away from the people of Israel, while he was zealous for My sake among them (Num. 25:11)
In enumerating Pinchas' praise, the first thing the Torah mentions is that he acted "among them." In Judaism, true zealousness for G-d does not mean withdrawing from society and becoming a recluse, but expressing it on the communal level.
(Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz)
And G-d said...take the sum of all the congregation of the Children of Israel from twenty years and upward (Num. 26:1,2)
The Midrash explains that the Jewish people are counted in nine places in Scripture; the tenth and final census will be taken in the Messianic Era. This will be done either by Moshiach, according to the Aramaic translation and commentary of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel, or by G-d Himself, according to the Midrash.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Chukat 5750)
Who may go out before them, and who may go in before them, and who may lead them out, and who may bring them in (Num. 27:17)
A true Jewish leader is one who does not alter his opinions according to popular demand. Only a leader of such stature has the power to "lead the Jewish people out" of all difficulties, and "bring them in" to the realm of holiness.
The Talmud illustrates the bounty of the Land of Israel with the tale of various sages who enjoyed the wonderful fruits of the land said to be flowing with milk and honey. Once the scholar Rami ben Yechezkel was visiting Bnei Brak and came upon an orchard of fig trees. It was the height of their season and the trees were heavy with fruit which fell to the ground oozing their delectable syrup. As he watched, a flock of goats which was grazing nearby was attracted by the smell, and began eating the fallen fruits. He noticed that the goats were full to bursting with milk, with dripped from their udders, and Rami ben Yechezkel exclaimed, "See, how this is truly a land which flows with milk and honey! Here are the words of Torah so clearly seen!"
The Talmud further tells of the time Rav Yehuda of Saskin asked his son to go to their attic and bring him some dried figs which were stored in a barrel. The boy went up to the attic, but when he put his hand into the barrel, he felt only a thick, sticky substance. "Father," he called, "I cannot find the figs. It seems there is only something sticky and wet in the barrel."
His father replied, "Put your hand further into the barrel. What you are feeling is the fig honey. The figs are deeper in the barrel." His son did as he was told, and lo and behold, he found huge, soft figs, so rich in honey, that they dripped with thick, sweet syrup.
In one more illustration of the wonder of the fruits of the Land of Israel, Rav Yossi of Tzippori once asked his son to bring him some olives which were kept in a barrel. The son went as his father asked, but he couldn't even get to the container, for the floor was slippery with the shiny olive oil which had spilled onto the floor. The olives of that time were so full of oil that the oil flowed out of the barrel in which the fruits were being stored. The blessings which were so apparent in those days have not been seen since, but in the time of Moshiach, these wonders will be common once again, only in a much greater measure.
Rabbi Chaim Vital came to Safed to study with the Holy Ari. The Ari took him to the banks of the Kineret, where he filled up a cup and gave him water to drink.
"This water comes from the well of Miriam, the water which sustained the Jews through their travels in the desert. It has special powers and drinking it will enable you to learn Kabala and absorb it."
And it was true that Chaim Vital was given the ability to learn the holy, mystical secrets of the Kabala and master that knowledge.
In his autobiographical work, Shem Hagedolim, the Chida (Rabbi Yosef David Azulai) writes that during the lifetime of the Ari, Jerusalem had a gentile governor. This man wanted to solve the water problem of the city. He studied the ancient history of the city and discovered that during his war with Sancherib, King Hezekia had stopped up the Gichon spring, which flowed from the Holy Temple and provided water for the entire city. This he had done to prevent the enemy forces from gaining control over the water resources.
The gentile governor called all of his advisors and charged them with finding a way to clear the spring. Finally, they suggested that Chaim Vital be called. He was known to be a saintly rabbi and he would be able to release the waters.
Rabbi Chaim didn't want to obey the governor, who had commanded him on pain of death. And so, through the use of holy names and prayer, he transported himself out of the Land of Israel and far away to Damascus. That night, the Holy Ari appeared to him in a dream. "It is very tragic that you disobeyed the governor, for you had a chance to repair King Hezekia's error. It was wrong of him to close up the spring of Gichon, and you could have remedied his mistake. If you had heeded his words, you would have hastened the Redemption."
Rabbi Chaim was crestfallen. "Should I return to Jerusalem now and do as the governor ordered?" But the Ari replied, "The chance has passed; it is too late for now."
Once a great sage was visiting the court of a famous Rebbe. In his honor, a special bottle of wine from the Land of Israel was brought to the table. This wine was used sparingly, and only for great occasions, since it was a rarity to obtain wine from the Holy Land.
Everyone looked forward to a small taste of this unique wine, but when it was served, the sage refused to partake of it, opting to drink instead the simple local wine. Everyone was surprised at his reaction and questioned him about his refusal to partake of the special wine.
The guest was reticent, but when pressed for an answer he replied, "I am no expert on wine; in fact, I know nothing about the relative merit of different types and varieties of wine. I am afraid that if I taste the wine from the Land of Israel I will not be able to sense its true value, and therefore, I will sin against the Holy Land, insult its fruits. That is why I prefer to drink only the simple wine of this land."
The Torah portion of Pinchas describes the division of the Land of Israel, stating: "Among these, the land will be divided.... To a larger tribe, you shall give a greater inheritance. To a smaller tribe, you shall give a lesser inheritance.... Nevertheless, you must divide the land by lot." Three approaches to the division of the land are mentioned: a) inheritance, b) division based on reason ("To a greater [tribe]..."), c) division by lots. This division of the land can be interpreted as an allusion to the division of the land in time of Moshiach.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 21 Tammuz, 5750-1990)