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Sticky Notes. You see them everywhere: Refrigerators, desks, desktops, dashboards, kitchen counters, walls, books, on clothes, on the phone, in your pocket-book or wallet.
What's on these ubiquitous sticky notes? Nothing and everything. Some are used as placeholders, reminders, memory joggers, mnemonic aids, prompts. Sticky notes are a way to bookmark our lives.
Some contain the briefest information. A phone number. A web address. An email. A date.
Some are for lists: Hair cut @ 3, Kids @ Hebrew School til 4; Shabbat Shopping - challah, candles, chumus, wine; Need batteries and cord. Sticky notes are the shorthand of our lives.
Some become mini-dissertations. Ideas for stories. Quotes we want to remember. Recipes. Notes from a lecture. Lengthy references and citations.
And we've even got sticky notes for the computer, more stuff to crowd the desktop.
How many sticky notes do we write, place or jot on, and then lose, forget or can't read?
What are the sticky notes of our Jewish lives?
Sometimes we encounter a Torah thought for a brief moment. Something to think about. A reminder that jogs our minds. The refrain from a song that we learned in Hebrew school that evokes a fond memory. We hear about an act of dedication - preserving a post-Holocaust cemetery or synagogue - that reminds us of the timeless significance of being a Jew. An aphorism that touches our hearts. A Torah story that strengthens our resolve.
Sometimes our Jewish sticky note is a list: a grocery list or a to-do list of mitzvot: Rosh Hashana is coming: apples & honey, charitable donations, get mezuzas checked. Check out kosher: look for kosher symbols on labels, modify recipes, call local Chabad to learn more.
And sometimes our Jewish sticky note is a dissertation: We sign up for a weekly class, some in-depth study of Talmud or Chasidic philosophy. And of course we take notes. We become heavily involved in an important project, such as planning the community Chanuka event. And of course we take notes. How do we reach the unaffiliated? Do we have enough candles and menoras for those who need them? We commit to a higher level of observance. We learn about the Laws of Jewish Family life. And of course we take notes.
Just as in our everyday lives, where we need reminders, lists and references - all accessible through sticky notes because they're made with a "reusable pressure sensitive adhesive" - so, too, in our spiritual lives. We need reminders, lists and references. Judaism "sticks" to us because Torah is reusable - it's eternal; Torah is pressure-sensitive - it responds to the slightest touch, for if we put a little finger under the boulder blocking our spiritual path, G-d will, assist us and remove the barrier completely; and Torah is adhesive - it's rooted to our souls and cleaves to our very essence.
This week's Torah reading, Shoftim, contains the commandment: "By the mouth of two witnesses or three witnesses shall he who deserves death be put to death." Our Sages learned from this that a minimum of two witnesses is required to impose capital punishment or flogging. Even if a person admits his crime, it is considered insufficient evidence for these forms of punishment.
Maimonides explains: "It is a textual decree that the Jewish court cannot put a person to death or flog him as a result of his confession. Two witnesses are necessary to do so." This law applies only to capital punishment and flogging; when it comes to financial matters, a person's word is decisive, and "admission is worth a hundred witnesses."
Maimonides characterized this law as "a textual decree," but other commentators have added a possible explanation: A human being, they maintain, may be master over his wealth and property, but he can never be the ultimate master over his body. Because money is subject to his control, his word carries weight; because the body does not really belong to him, he does not have the right to inflict harm.
A person's body and soul are not really his; they are only lent to him by G-d as collateral. In fact, we are obligated to take care of our bodies throughout our entire lives. Jewish law states that "An individual is not permitted to hurt his body." For the body he inhabits isn't really his; it belongs to G-d. And what right does one have to damage something that doesn't belong to him?
Of course, it is also true that everything in the whole world belongs to G-d, as it states in the Torah, "The earth and everything within it is the L-rd's." Even a person's money isn't ultimately his, as it states elsewhere, "The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine."
But if everything is really G-d's, what is the difference between a person's money and his body?
The answer lies in the degree of control G-d allows us. Yes, everything belongs to Him, but He permits us to decide what to do with our money. By contrast, the body is purely collateral, and we cannot do whatever we want with it. It is simply not in our power to self-impose capital punishment.
At the same time G-d allows us a certain autonomy over money, we must also recognize that He alone controls reality. The story is told about a chasid who wrote at the end of his balance book: "There is nothing but Him."
In fact, "there is nothing but Him" expresses the true reality, which everyone will come to perceive in the Messianic era, may it commence at once.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 34
A Life's Mission
by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
The following story, which I heard recently, took place in New York.
The phone rang one evening in the home of an observant Jewish family with sad news. The matriarch of the family, a woman in her 90s who had been living in a home for the aged, passed away quietly in her sleep.
The next of kin met with the home's management, funeral arrangements were made, and the next day family and friends gathered to pay their last respects and bring their beloved relative and friend to her final rest.
The first few days of shiva (the seven days of mourning) were very busy. The house was filled with visitors and those who were not able to come called, sent cards or emails. But on the third day they received a strange phone call.
One of the adult grandchildren answered the phone. The voice on the other end was an elderly woman. "Hello! Is everything all right? Are your mother or father there? What do you mean who is it? Don't you recognize your grandmother's voice? Let me talk to your father. Why hasn't anyone come to visit me for the past three days?"
The son got on the phone and....hesitantly asked, "Mom, is it you?"
"Of course it is!" She replied, "Why doesn't anyone come to visit me? Is everything all right?"
Mom was alive! He burst out crying and turned to everyone else "She's on the phone... She's alive!"
He told her they were on their way to visit her and in no time they were by her side explaining that there had obviously been a terrible mistake.
And then suddenly it dawned on them. They had made a funeral and buried someone. Who was that someone? And who were her relatives?
Moments later they were in the office of the director of the facility. Within a short time the mystery was solved.
In the same facility there was another resident with the same name as their mother and grandmother. Both were holocaust survivors, both were in their 90s and both were very similar in build. The director assured them that this had never happened before. The director apologized profusely. Of course they would pay for the funeral, lost pay, etc. And then he set to finding the relatives of the deceased woman.
After a short investigation they discovered that she had only one relative; a son who lived not far away. The director asked the family if they would be willing to deliver the bitter news. He reasoned that the son would most likely be shocked, upset and angry that he had missed his own mother's funeral. They could calm him down by assuring him that she had been given the utmost honor and respect and that everything had been done according to Jewish law.
When the son picked up the phone and heard that they were calling from the nursing home and that they would like to visit him, he cut them short: "Get to the point," he said. "If you're calling to say Mom died, you don't need to come all the way here. Just cremate her and send me the bill."
The family on the other end was shocked. They had never experienced such callousness! Such a lack of feeling for another person, let alone a relative. And not just any relative but a mother!
After they got over their shock, they asked if they could come speak to him anyway and he agreed. A half hour later they were sitting in his home trying to explain to him that cremation is forbidden according to Jewish law and that there must be a proper Jewish burial. They spoke about the resurrection of the dead in the Messianic Era and the importance of treating a Jewish body that housed a precious soul with respect.
The son would hear nothing of it. On principle he opposed burial. Cremation is realistic! All this about souls, G-d, Judaism, the resurrection of the dead, was nonsense.
They saw they were getting nowhere and told him the truth: His mother had died several days ago. By mistake they were told it was their own mother. Every detail of a proper Jewish burial was accorded her: her body was 'watched' from her passing until her burial and someone recited Psalms next to her the entire time. She was ritually washed, dressed in simple shrouds and buried in a plain pine coffin. They had said kaddish for her soul three times each day.
"What!?" he cried out, his tough exterior crumbling. "Buried? Mom was buried?"
The son had a stunned look on his face. Suddenly he burst out crying and covered his eyes with his hands. "Mom was buried," he mumbled repeatedly. Eventually he calmed down. In a quiet voice he told the following:
"My mother was a holocaust survivor. Her entire family, as well as my father and his entire family, were killed by the Nazis. I was just a young child when we moved to America. After everything that happened to her, my mom still believed in G-d, she was even religious!
"As a teenager I rebelled. I was not interested in being different from everyone around me. I dropped Judaism. I steered clear of anything to do with G-d and spirituality.
"We used to have big arguments. I told her there is no such thing as G-d or an afterlife or souls and when I die I'm going to be cremated. And if I have my way, that's what I'll do with her body when she dies, too. Maybe it sounds cruel, but it was my way of trying to shock her into leaving behind all of her 'bubbe mayses' and superstitions, and live in the real world. I even legally arranged to have her cremated.
"Whenever the topic would come up, I would confidently tell her, 'Pray to G-d. If He exists, then He'll see to it that you get a Jewish burial with all the trimmings.' I was 100% sure what the outcome would be.
"Now I see I was wrong! All this time she was right! Do you understand? G-d listened to her prayers! She was right!" He began weeping anew.
The son agreed sit shiva for her in the house of the previous "mourners" and to begin learning about Judaism.
The Divine Prism
The Divine Prism presents a varied range of insights into the weekly Torah readings from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. This first volume in the series is on Devarim (Deuteronomy). The insights empower and train the reader to think creatively and in that way discover insights that enable him to see how the Torah`s eternal truths can be applied in and in that way, enrich his day-to-day experience. Published by Heichel Menachem, translated from the Hebrew by Rabbis Eliyahu Touger and Sholom Ber Wineberg.
In the Month of Elul
Chodesh Horachamim [the month of mercy], 5733
To the Boys and to the Girls
Participants in the Tzedoko [charity] Campaign
G-d bless you
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleased to be informed that you fulfilled my request to act as my agents in the Mitzvah [commandment] of Tzedoko [charity] connecting it with a word of Torah, and adding to it your own Tzedoko.
Needless to say, in every case of doing a Mitzvah there is no place for a "Thank you" from a human being, since doing the Mitzvah in fulfillment of G-d's will is itself the greatest reward and truest happiness, and as our Sages of blessed memory declared: "The Reward of a Mitzvah is the Mitzvah itself."
However, it is in order to express thanks for acting as my agents in this joint effort and for this I say: Thank you very much to each and every one of you.
I also take this opportunity, as we have entered the month of Elul, to remind you of the special significance of the month, the Month of Divine Grace in preparation for Rosh Hashonoh and for the entire coming year, may it be a good one for all of us.
The Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] explains the special significance of this month by means of the well-known parable of a "King in the field;"
"When a King approaches the city of his royal residence the people of the city go out to welcome the king in the field. Then everyone who wishes is permitted to come and greet the king and he receives everybody graciously and with a smiling face. But after he enters his Royal Palace special permission is required to see the king and this also is the privilege of a chosen few."
This, then, is the significance of the whole month of Elul, when the King of Kings, the Holy One Blessed be He, makes known that He is "in the field" and everyone - man, woman, boy and girl can come to Him without difficulties, or special introductions.
But - one may ask - what is the meaning of approaching the King in the field, since G-d has no likeness of a body, nor a body and as the Torah warns, "You have not seen any image (of G-d)?"
Therefore the Alter Rebbe goes on to explain that this approach has to do with prayer, for prayer in general and in the days of Elul in particular is an occasion concerning which is written, "May G-d cause His face to shine upon thee" - face to face - the person praying standing directly in the presence of the King, as in the parable above.
And the Alter Rebbe adds, that in order that such closeness be truly meaningful in a lasting and tangible way, it must be followed by actual study of Torah, by Tzedoko and Good Deeds.
May G-d grant that each and every one of you should go from strength to strength in all matters of Goodness and Holiness, Torah and Mitzvos, and be a source of pride and true Nachas [pride] to your parents and teachers, and may you make fullest use of the auspicious days of this month and be inscribed for a good and sweet year materially and spiritually.
With the blessing of kesivo vechasima tovah [may you be written and sealed for good],
MISHAEL means "borrowed." Mishael was an uncle of Moses (Exodus 6:22). A later Mishael (Daniel 1:6) was a contemporary of Daniel the prophet. He was amongst the four young men brought into Nebuchadnezzer"s palace when the Jews were exiled to Babylon. According to the Talmud, Mishael was completely righteous.
MARA means bitterness. In the book of Ruth, Naomi said: "Do not call me Naomi [which means pleasant] but Mara [bitterness] for the L-rd has sent me a bitter lot." (Ruth 1:20)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
What is teshuva, and how does it work? How can a single turn in the right direction "erase the slate" and eradicate years of ingrained behavior?
Chasidic philosophy explains this by comparing the Jew's relationship with G-d to a fire, based on the verse "For the L-rd your G-d is a consuming fire." In the same way a physical fire requires certain conditions in order to burn, so too does the Jew's connection to G-d depend on several conditions in order to thrive.
A physical flame must meet two requirements in order to be sustained: it must be given a sufficient amount of material to burn, and avoid any substances that can extinguish it. A fire that isn't fed or is doused with water will eventually sputter and go out.
Likewise, there are two requirements for nurturing the spiritual "flame" that symbolizes the Jew's relationship with G-d: It must have sufficient "food" to sustain it (Torah study and the performance of positive mitzvot), and avoid any substances that can extinguish it (those things that the Torah has forbidden).
When a Jew observes positive mitzvot and is careful not to transgress the Torah's prohibitions, his "flame" flourishes and burns brightly. If he is lax about meeting the flame's requirements, the fire will sputter and grow dim.
When a person does teshuva, he is merely "re-igniting" a flame that wasn't properly tended. To do so, he must bring a fire from another source, one that has never been allowed to go out. This fire, which is completely impervious to being extinguished, exists in the innermost recesses of every Jew's heart. Like the flint rock that can always give off a spark after years of being submerged in water, the potential for a "fiery" and all-consuming relationship with G-d always exists.
When a Jew sincerely regrets his distance from G-d and contemplates his innate love for Him, he accesses this inner and eternal "fire." Teshuva, then, is the "match" that can rekindle even the tiniest flame, and cause it to burst into a giant conflagration.
Justice, justice you shall follow (Deut. 16:20)
Contrary to popular opinion, the end never justifies the means, no matter how noble or virtuous. Even the pursuit of justice must be carried out in a just and honest manner.
(Rebbe Reb Bunim)
For man is like a tree of the field (Deut. 20:19)
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism, once remarked to a Torah scholar during his first private audience: "The Torah states, 'For man is like a tree of the field.' A tree that does not bear fruit is a barren tree. A person can be fluent in the entire Talmud and still be 'barren,' G-d forbid. A Jew must produce 'fruit.' For what benefit is there in your learning and Divine service if you do not bear 'fruit' - if you do not cause your light to shine upon another Jew?"
You shall prepare the way... that every slayer may flee there (Deut. 19:3)
Rashi explains that at each intersection was a sign directing "refuge, refuge." Cities of Refuge were established to save from revenge those who unintentionally killed another. Each of us must stand at the crossroads, wherever Jews are found, to point them to the path of Torah. Torah is the spiritual refuge from the "blood avenger," the evil inclination, that causes us to sin and prosecutes us. The Rabbis say in the Talmud (Makkot 10): "The words of Torah are a refuge."
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. II)
The great Maharal of Prague became famous throughout the Jewish world for his wealth of Torah knowledge and saintliness. His father-in-law, R. Shmuel Reich, had close contacts with royalty. The ruler of Prague at that time was Ferdinand I.
Shmuel Reich was a favorite of his, because of his intelligence and great ability. This aroused much jealousy and hate among the courtiers, who could not bear to see a Jew attain so high a position.
King Ferdinand was a devout Catholic, and if, at first, this did not influence him against his friendship to Shmuel Reich, there came a time when the king's mind, too, was poisoned against Jews.
In the year 1556, the Catholics in Rome experienced their "victory" over the Jews by publicly burning their treasures of literature, their precious books. When this inquisition triumphed, its spirit spread even into the court of King Ferdinand in Prague.
The king announced to the leaders of the Jewish community that he could no longer afford them his protection. It was therefore in their own interests to leave Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia.
Shmuel Reich knew that the courtiers were vulnerable to accepting bribes, and he was willing to give away his entire fortune to save the Jews from being driven out of their homes. However, when he discussed this idea with his brilliant son-in-law, the Maharal, the latter advised against such a plan, fearing it would provoke similar measures elsewhere.
At that time, Prince Ferdinand of Bohemia, the son of the king, paid a visit to Prince Johann of Moravia. They were both deeply interested in astronomy and came upon a problem which seemed unsolvable. The two made a bet that the first to find the solution to the problem within six months would become the "spiritual master" of the other, who would become his "spiritual slave."
After the bet had been made, Prince Ferdinand visited some properties of his which were managed by a Jew, Moshe Yitzchak Sobel. In the course of their conversation, the prince mentioned the bet.
"I understand that you have discussed the problem with your scholars, but have you approached Jewish scholars?"
The prince scoffed at the suggestion. "What do Jews know about such subjects? All they can do is wail about the destruction of their Holy Temple and dream about some miraculous redemption," he retorted contemptuously.
Moshe Yitzchak Sobel had known the prince since he was a child, and so he took the opportunity to speak to him frankly: "You have a completely erroneous conception of Jews, and of course the fault lies with the one who has been responsible for your training. If you wish to hear the opinion of a great scholar, why, you have one right nearby, in the person of the Rabbi of Prague. There is not a science of which he has not the most expert knowledge!" exclaimed Moshe Yitzchak.
"If you really believe that the Rabbi of Prague can solve my problem, then bring him to me," said the prince. "But arrange the matter secretly. It must not become known that Ferdinand has need to resort to such a low people as the Jews to help solve a scientific problem. I would be a complete laughingstock."
Although the prince uttered these words in a friendly tone, Moshe Yitzchak was deeply hurt. He spoke at great length to the prince, refuting his appraisal of the Jewish people. Moshe Yitzchak's words made a profound impression upon Prince Ferdinand. He had known for some time of the palace intrigues against the Jews at the hands of the priests, but his father, the king, was helpless to combat their incitement.
A few days later, the prince called Moshe Yitzchak and asked him to arrange that the Maharal visit the palace. The Maharal agreed to visit the prince and at their meeting the prince told of the problem which no one had been able to solve. To the great delight and surprise of the prince, the Maharal wrote out the solution without hesitation! The prince wanted to reward the Maharal. But the Maharal declined, saying that it is an accepted custom among Jews, since the time of Moses, to impart knowledge to others without remuneration, the only exception being when people did this as a means of earning their living.
The prince took a great liking to this remarkable Jew who seemed to know so much about every conceivable subject. The Maharal stayed about a week at the castle, or rather at the house of Moshe Yitzchak Sobel, visiting the prince at the castle every day and spending several hours discussing all sorts of scientific matters with him.
The prince took the opportunity of learning all he could about Jews, their mode of living, their belief and faith, their history, etc. The prince was astonished at the great breadth of knowledge displayed by the Maharal. "How is it that you know so much about natural science?" he once asked the Maharal. The Maharal explained to him that actually all these sciences can be learned in our Torah, and in order to be a good Jew, one has to study them all. He further explained to the prince that it was a Jewish tradition to hand down, from generation to generation, the Torah and everything connected with it.
Adapted from Memoirs of the Previous Rebbe
The Talmud lists a number of signs for the approaching redemption and concludes that the most manifest sign is when "You, mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit..." (Ezekiel 36:8) To be like the trees of the field, that "the shoots taken from you will be like unto you," to blossom and cause a chain-reaction of self perpetuating fruits of Torah and mitzvot (commandments) in oneself and others, is an assured way to bring about the speedy coming of Moshiach.
(From Living with Moshiach, by J.I. Schochet)