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If you're a sports fan, you have an idea how much work goes into preparing for a game. Those amazing feats of athleticism, those magic moves - they don't just happen. The quarterback, about to be sacked, throws a 25-yard pass into the end-zone, between two defenders and with "pinpoint accuracy" to a wide receiver who makes a "desperate" last second leap to snag the ball.
The count is 3-2, runners on first and second. The batter's a percentage hitter. What's the right pitch? What should the batter expect? A fast ball? A curve? The ball comes in low at the knees and...
A hit? A strikeout?
Fast break. Pick and roll. A perfect putt from fifteen feet out.
Yes, in any successful, inspiring athletic performance, there's luck, skill and talent.
There's also practice.How many times do the quarterback and receiver practice that kind of throw? How many times did the point guard go through the drill with his forwards? How many times...
Practice, practice, and practice. The building of "muscle memory."
But it takes more than practice on the field. It takes hours of film study. Hours and hours. When in the fourth quarter of the Superbowl, the defensive back times his break just so, stepping in front of the receiver for an interception, it's because he's spent many, many hours studying technique, tendencies and timing.
For the modern athlete, film study is as important, sometimes more important, than on-the-field practice.
For a Jew, the "game," the time when we contend with the opposing team, is prayer. That's when our competition with our animalistic nature is most intense, when, through the words of prayer, we try to connect with our Divine source, to reveal our spiritual essence so that it illuminates and penetrates all aspects of our being, actually transforming our character, our attributes, our nature. Prayer is the time to refine ourselves.
As with other "games" or "competitions," prayer requires practice. One "practices" prayer by learning how to read Hebrew, understanding what the words mean, working on one's concentration so that whatever language one uses, there's a focus on the meaning words and to Whom we are praying. We practice for prayer by how we approach prayer, not just our mindset, but how we pronounce the words, or sing them.
But prayer has it's "film study" as well. An athlete does his or her "film study" to understand the plays or positions. It's the mental part of practice. Prayer's "film study" is the study of Chasidic teachings. Studying Chasidic philosophy - especially before praying, if possible - creates insights. It lets us see the deep inner connections. Studying Chasidut sets the stage for the "aha!" moment of prayer - perhaps the sense of inspiration or emotional elevation, but more importantly the opening of the self to refinement.
Studying Chasidut - the "film study" of prayer - not only reveals the mystical dimension of prayer, it shows us how to internalize that mystical dimension, absorb and assimilate it so that the spiritual innate within us actually does transform us.
This week's Torah portion, Masei, contains the commandment to set aside Cities of Refuge for a person who killed another unintentionally.
In the world at large, one of the most common forms of punishment is imprisonment. Why do most societies use imprisonment? When they consider a lawbreaker to be dangerous, they isolate him from society, so that he will not cause any further harm. It's true, his freedoms are deprived, but this is viewed as an unavoidable way of protecting the public interest.
The Cities of Refuge are not imprisonment. The Torah never desires to sacrifice any individual, even one who has committed a crime. Indeed, the entire concept of punishment in the Torah is to motivate and enable the person to correct the sin he committed. Punishment by imprisonment is therefore out of the question, because the transgressor is deprived of his freedom to choose his path in life. Every moment of a person's life should be dedicated to serving G-d in the fullest way possible. Since imprisonment prevents that, it is not countenanced by the Torah.
When a person who kills accidentally is forced to flee to one of the Cities of Refuge, his punishment is exile. Torah Law requires that in that city he be provided with all his needs, both physical and spiritual. What is he lacking? Nothing, but everything, because he is separated from his home and from those who love him. He lives, using all of his potentials, but in a different and more positive manner. In this way, he atones for his sin.
Sin causes harm. Metaphorically, it can be equated with killing a person, for in a spiritual sense, with every sin, a person separates himself from his essential G-dly core, the source of his vitality. Nevertheless, it is an "accidental murder," because the person is unaware of how he is causing this separation. As our Sages say: "No man sins unless a spirit of folly enters him." For if he was conscious of the spiritual separation caused by his deeds, he would never have thought of committing them.
How does he atone? By going to exile. In a spiritual sense, this refers to the Torah, as our Sages state: "The Torah affords refuge." The Torah gives a person an opportunity to reorient himself and find an expression for all of his energies in a manner that aligns his spiritual core with G-d's intent. And in this way, one finds atonement.
The concept of cities of refuge features prominently with regard to our people's redemption. Moses was commanded to have the Jews set aside nine cities of refuge: three in the Land of Israel proper, three, in Transjordan (which is also part of our Holy Land), and three in the lands of three nations that were not conquered in Biblical times. Maimonides cites this commandment as a proof of the redemption. For "this command was never fulfilled and surely, G-d did not give this command in vain." Hence, we can assume that it will be fulfilled in the Messianic era.
But what purpose will these cities serve in that era? At that time G-d will "cause the spirit of impurity to depart from the earth," so why will there be a need for cities of refuge at all, and even more than existed previously?
This question can be answered by a Talmudic story of Rabbi Yishmael who inadvertently committed a sin, after which he recorded in his notebook, "When the Temple is rebuilt, I will bring a succulent sin offering." Similarly, the cities of refuge in the Messianic age will serve as an asylum for those who killed inadvertently in the previous era.
From Keeping In Touch by Rabbi Eli Touger
Maybe It's A Small World After All
by Bronislaus B. Kush
From a child's perspective, the world can seem like a pretty big place to live in.
Monica Freund Kaufman's fifth-graders at the Yeshiva Academy recently learned, however, that the globe might be a bit smaller than they thought.
The seven pupils this spring began a pen-pal campaign and sent care packages to American soldiers of Jewish descent serving in Afghanistan.
To their surprise, one of the servicemen who wrote back - Capt. Moshe Lans, the Army chaplain serving at Camp Marmal - actually had attended the Newton Square Yeshiva.
"I really believe that it was a case of divine intervention," said Yeshiva Rabbi Mendel Fogelman of the correspondence from Capt. Lans. "Nothing happens by itself. God has a hand in everything."
In letters to Ms. Kaufman and Shaina Fogelman, the rabbi's daughter, Capt. Lans described his experiences as a Yeshiva student and his responsibilities as a chaplain.
"Most of us in Leominster were unobservant but I believe today (that) all of us who went to school in Worcester have a deep love for the Rebbe and Judaism," wrote Capt. Lans, a Leominster native who now lives in Texas.
Ms. Kaufman said she wanted to teach her students how to properly write a letter and thought the pen-pal campaign was a good way to do it.
She said the students hooked up with the soldiers at Camp Marmal, which houses a combat aviation brigade, through the Jewish War Veterans of America.
In his correspondence, Capt. Lans said he feels "very connected to the school" and can still fondly remember the Torah lessons taught by the teachers. He said he particularly recalled Morah Gita, his pre-school teacher.
Rabbi Mendel Fogelman said he remembers car pooling a handful of students from Leominster about 30 years ago, including Capt. Lans.
"Today's Jewish service members could not exist without the love and support of our fellow countrymen like you," said Cap. Lans in a letter to Ms. Kaufman. "Thank you for becoming a teacher and having a profound impact on raising fine young mentchlich yidden [Jews]."
Capt. Lans told Shaina a chaplain's duties include ensuring that every soldier has what is needed in order to worship his or her religion and added that he is available to help counsel servicemen.
"I am always looking to see how their spirits are holding up in the war. ... Are they happy or sad?" he wrote.
Capt. Lans said his wife, Laurie, is in the U.S. Navy and is also stationed in Afghanistan.
He noted that the couple publishes a weekly Jewish newsletter and he added the Yeshiva to the publication's email distribution list.
In their letters to the soldiers, the children said they shared various aspects of their lives.
Shaina Fogelman talked about her grandfather (Rabbi Hershel Fogelman) establishing the local Yeshiva while 11 year-old Mendel Schaeffer said he talked about his family.
"It was really cool," said Zalman Lipschitz of the pen-pal effort.
Capt. Lans passed out the students letters at the Passover seder.
The other students participating in the project are Zeesy Phillips, Nechami Kimelman, Devora Fogelman, and Moishi Green.
The students hope to send another package to the soldiers later in the school year. They paid for the first package by collecting recyclable bottles.
Reprinted with permission from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette
New Torah Scrolls Dedicated
Fifteen years of Chabad in Ocean City, Maryland, was celebrated with the completion and welcoming of three (!) new Torah scrolls to the Chabad Center. A new Torah scroll was completed at Chabad of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and dedicated in memory of Rabbi Tzvi Yosef Kotlarsky. The writing of a new Torah was undertaken after Chabad's two Torah scrolls were stolen. They Torahs were miraculously found and restored to the synagogue and the new Torah will be joining them in their rightful place. Chabad of Raanana, Israel, celebrated its 25th anniversary with the dedication of a new Torah scroll donated by the Golan family in memory of their parents. A new Torah was completed and welcomed to the Neve Menachem Synagogue in Chatzor Haglilit, Israel. The Smolensk Jewish community marked the historic event of welcoming a Torah scroll to their newly renovated Jewish Community Center in Smolensk, Russia. The Chabad House in Varna, Bulgaria, celebrated its first Torah dedication with guests attending from throughout the former Soviet Union.
Rabbi Aryeh and Etty Schwartz have been appointed directors of Community Development for Chabad of Southwest Broward, Florida. Their work will include educational and social services, Hebrew school, Bat Mitzva Club, Friendship Circle and adult education.Rabbi Avremi and Chani Lapine are moving to Colombia, Missouri, where they will establish a new Chabad House at the University of Missouri. Rabbi Chezky and Dobie Thaler will be arriving soon in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where they will establish a new Chabad House at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Rabbi Dov and Mussie Levertov are moving to Phoenix, Arizona, to direct CTEEN and other teen programs.
21 Marcheshvan, 5711 (1951)
It gave me pleasure to hear that you have begun to involve yourself in the subject of Family Purity, which as a result of our many transgressions has been so neglected and abandoned; moreover as a result of misplaced embarrassment there are pious, G-d fearing Jews who are ashamed to talk about this.
How true are the words of my father-in-law that the evil inclination is called "the smart one," because it clothes itself in gar-ments that suit each individual respectively, to make him lose his sensibilities.
As he said in the name of his father, the Rebbe Rashab: "The evil inclination is called the animal soul, not because it is necessarily a senseless animal, but because oft times it is a fox, the most shrewd of animals, and one needs great wisdom to understand its tricks. And sometimes it clothes itself in the guise of a righteous, upright, humble person of sterling character. In each individual the animal soul is in accordance with his specific essence."
Thus we see clearly in the case at hand, being that the characteristic of shame is one of the three characteristics of the Jewish people who are compassionate, bashful and kind.
The evil inclination makes use of this trait to hold back vital talk that affects the happiness of husband and wife and their children thereafter until the end of time....
7 Marcheshvan, 5721 (1961)
In answer to your letter in which you write of the relationship between husband and wife, etc., and fitting with the ruling of our Sages about making peace between husband and wife which is from those things that a person reaps the fruits in this world, and the principle remains for the world to come, it is understood that all effort is worthwhile.
It is also understood that in matters such as this it is not possible to set rules because it depends on the personality traits of the husband and the wife, as well as the condition of the environment in which they find themselves.
However, it is certain that every person has the possibility to exert influence in this matter, with proper thought and consideration for the appropriate method that suits this particular person....
It should not be at all difficult to discuss this with heartfelt feelings, since the subject applies to them directly and to the future generations of their children.
The common factor that is beneficial to all cases such as this is along the lines of what is brought down in Avos d'Reb Noson, chapter 12, about the conduct of Aaron, lover of peace...
If the occupation of the above mentioned couple permits, it is sensible to say that a trip for several weeks of vacation, spent together in a manner of a second "honeymoon" would rectify the entire situation.
28 Menachem Av, 5711 (1951)
.... As I have told you several times, and I repeat again, that you must put the greatest possible efforts into the matter of peace in your home - between you and your wife - as my saintly father-in-law has agreed to your marriage...
The saying of our Sages that "A woman's tears are readily found" is well known. Therefore, it is incumbent upon you to be the forebearer, particularly in worldly matters.
If our Sages have expounded on the great virtue of peace in the home at all times, how much more so is it on the eve of Shabbat - and we, including all of Israel, are now past midday on Shabbat ever - the end of the Diaspora is close at hand as is the coming of our righteous Moshiach.
It is understood that the greatest concealment (of G-dliness) prevails in relationship to (lack of) peace in the home.
It is known how great peace is, and the ways of the entire Torah are ways and pathways of tranquility and peace; particularly during this last exile which came about as a result of lack of peace.
With the approach of the end of the Exile, the resistance of the forces opposed to holiness increase so as to hold back peace in the world at large and specifically between husband and wife here below who reflect their spiritual counterparts Above.
However, "the load is according to the camel," and certainly the ability to withstand the challenge is given to you.
MEIR means "one who brightens" or "shines" (from the Hebrew word "ohr" meaning "light"). Rabbi Meir was a leading second-century Talmudic scholar, one of the most brilliant of Rabbi Akiva's students. A variant spelling is Meyer.
MERAV means "contender" or "to increase." Merav was the eldest daughter of King Saul and his wife Achinoam, and the sister of Michal (I Samuel 14:49).
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is the first day of the month of Av. With the beginning of Av, the three week mourning period over the destruction of the Temple intensifies.
The first of Av was also the day on which Aaron, the High Priest and brother of Moses, passed away.
Concerning his passing, the Torah tells us that "All of the house of Israel wept for Aaron for 30 days." But only the men wept for Moses and not the women. Why was this? Because Aaron had made peace between a man and his wife, and between a person and his friend, so all of the Jewish people mourned him.
Certainly it is Divine Providence that Aaron, who was known as a "pursuer of peace," passed away just on the day when, hundreds of years later, we would be intensifying our mourning over the destruction of the Temple? His life's work, evident even at his passing and how he was mourned, teaches us how to remedy the reason for which the Temple was destroyed.
Our Sages tell us that the first Temple was destroyed because the Jews indulged in idolatry, adultery and murder. The second Temple was destroyed through the sin of causeless hatred. We see, then, that hatred and divisiveness among Jews is equal to idolatry, adultery and murder.
We have much to learn from Aaron and his passing. But, most importantly, we must learn to emulate the wonderful example he showed us, that of doing everything in our power to bring peace and harmony amongst our fellow Jews. When this happens, we will no longer mourn the passing of Aaron, nor the destruction of the Holy Temples, for we will all be united, together as one, in the Third and Everlasting Holy Temple, NOW!
These are the journeys of the Israelites (Num. 33:1)
Each of the 42 travels of the Jewish people can be found, in each and every detail, in a person's life, starting with the day he is born until the day he dies.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
Aaron the Priest went up onto Mount Hor at the command of G-d and died there...in the fifth month on the first of the month. (Num. 33:38)
Our Sages said that "the death of the righteous is equal to the burning of G-d's house [the Holy Temple]." The "fifth month" is the month of Av, the month during which the Holy Temple was burned and destroyed. An even more essential connection between Aaron's death and the burning of the Temple is as follows: The Second Temple, in particular, was destroyed because of unmotivated hatred. The remedy for unmotivated hatred is unmotivated love, which was exemplified by Aaron. Aaron "loved peace, pursued peace, loved all creatures and brought them closer to the Torah."
And you shall not render unclean the land which you inhabit, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the L-rd dwell in the midst of the children of Israel (Num. 35:34)
Not only does G-d's Divine Presence accompany the Jewish people throughout the exile, but G-d Himself, as it were, goes into exile with them, sharing the suffering of the Children of Israel. Because of G-d's great love for His children, He does not abandon them even when they are exiled because of misdeeds. When Moshiach comes, the Divine Presence, no less than the Jews, will also be redeemed from exile.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Our Sages elucidated: When the Jews were exiled to Edom (Rome, the West), G-d's presence went with them. This also occurs on the personal level within the soul of every Jew. When a person commits a sin and causes his soul to go into its individual, private exile, G-d still accompanies him. The G-dly spark present in every Jewish soul is also dragged down with the sin.
Millions of shining pin dots of lights spotted the black sky, and not a rustle or breath of sound was heard as Rabbi Avraham Halevi Bruchim made his nightly rounds through the narrow, winding streets of Safed.
Every night, without fail, Rabbi Avraham walked up and down the streets calling to the sleeping inhabitants: "Awake, awake, Jews; Awake Reb Yaakov! Get up, Reb Yitzchak!" calling each by his name until sleep was shaken away and they rose to address the Creator of the Universe.
According to custom, it was time to begin praying the "Tikun Chatzot" - the midnight supplication prayers; the sleeping scholars of the city must be roused from their slumber.
It was time to remember the Holy Temple, and plead with the Master of the Universe to remember His children and fulfill His promise to rebuild the Holy Temple.
The age-old custom of praying for the Holy Temple was maintained with great devotion in Safed, and the scholars who lived there never overslept thanks to the dedication of Reb Avraham Halevi.
He persistently called the people of Safed to their prayer and study until the many study halls were filled and the voices of the Jews blended into a melodious spiritual symphony of prayer and study spiraling through the starry skies in a crescendo which reached all the way up to the Celestial throne.
The holy Arizal, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the famed Kabbalist, lived at this time and knew the tzadik Reb Avraham Halevi very well.
Once, the Arizal came to Reb Avraham with very grave tidings: "It has been disclosed to me that your life is coming to its end. All the years allotted to you have passed. However, I see one possibility for you to live. If you travel to Jerusalem and pour out your heart in prayer at the Western Wall, G-d may look favorably upon your prayer. If you are granted a vision of the Shechina, the Divine Presence, it will be a sign that your petition has been accepted and you will live another 22 years."
Rabbi Avraham Halevi immediately did as the Ari had instructed him.
He travelled to Jerusalem and prepared himself to storm the Heavens by fasting for three full days and nights.
When he finally reached his destination, he was ready. The prayer rose from the depths of his soul and he wept and begged the Al-mighty to spare his life.
When he lifted his eyes to gaze at the Wall, he saw a vision of the Shechina, the G-dly Presence and the glory of what he saw cause him to fall upon his face on the stones. He wept from the great and turbulent emotion until he fainted.
In his unconscious state he dreamt that the Shechina again appeared to him and said, "My son Avraham, take comfort, for there is hope for your future. Your sons will return to their borders, for I will return the captives from their exiles, and I Myself will comfort them."
Rabbi Avraham awoke from his faint in elevated spirits, filled with joy.
He returned to Safed and resumed his activities there.
One day the Ari met him on the street. "I see by looking at your face that you had success in Jerusalem and that you did see the Shechina. You will surely live another 22 years."
The prediction of the Ari was realized. Rabbi Avraham lived 22 more years, bringing many Jews to prayer and repentance.
A full 22 years after this event occurred, he passed away to his eternal reward.
The Ari said of him that he was a reincarnation of the Prophet Jeremiah, who also called his fellow Jews to repentance before the destruction of the First Holy Temple.
The Prophet Isaiah prophecized: "I shall bring your seed from the east, and gather you in from the west; I shall say to the north, 'Give forth!' and to the south, 'Keep not back!' " (Isaiah 43:5-6). The north signifies the source of evil in the universe, as in Jeremia (1:14) "From out of the north shall the evil break forth." Yet when Moshiach comes, even the "north" will be transfigured, and will cooperate in the redemption and ingathering of the exiled Jewish people.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. IV, p. 1065)