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by Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks
Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth. From his remarks at the banquet of the Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries
Throughout Jewish history there were great leaders. But I know of no precedent for one who transformed, visibly and substantively, every single Jewish community in the world - including many parts of the world that never had a Jewish community before.
It was 1968. I was a sophomore at Cambridge University. I had already encountered Chabad. They were among the very first to go out to university campuses and I was one of the very first beneficiaries. I came to America to meet great rabbis of the day. Every single rabbi that I met said, "You must meet the Rebbe!"
Eventually the moment came when I was ushered into the Rebbe's study. I asked him all my intellectual, philosophical questions; he gave intellectual, philosophical answers.
And then he did what no one else had done. He did a role reversal. He started asking me questions. How many Jewish students are in Cambridge? How many get involved in Jewish life? What are you doing to bring other people in?
I'd come to ask a few simple questions, and suddenly the Rebbe was challenging me!
I answered the Rebbe, "In the situation in which I find myself..." - and the Rebbe did something which I think was quite unusual for him, he actually stopped me in mid-sentence. He said, "Nobody finds themselves in a situation; you put yourself in a situation. And if you put yourself in that situation, you can put yourself in another situation."
That moment changed my life. Here I was, a nobody from nowhere, and here was one of the greatest leaders in the Jewish world challenging me not to accept the situation, but to change it. And that was when I realized what I have said many times since: That the world was wrong. When they thought that the most important fact about the Rebbe was that here was a man with thousands of followers, they missed the most important fact: That a good leader creates followers, but a great leader creates leaders. That's what the Rebbe did for me and for thousands of others.
There was a point when the Rebbe developed a very interesting campaign - the Seven Noachide Laws campaign - to reach out not just to Jews, but also to non-Jews.
I realized that in my new position as Chief Rabbi I could do just that. So I started broadcasting on the BBC, on radio, on television, writing for the national press. I wrote books read my non-Jews as well as Jews and the effect was absolutely extraordinary. The more I spoke the more they wanted to hear. The more I wrote the more they wanted to read.
That experience showed me not only the wisdom, the vast foresight of the Rebbe in understanding that the world was ready to hear a Jewish message. It taught me something else as well.
Non-Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism. And non-Jews are embarrassed by Jews who are embarrassed by Judaism.
The Rebbe taught us how to fulfill the verse, "Let all nations see that the name of G-d is called upon you." Let all the world see we are never ashamed to stand tall as Jews.
The Jewish nation had to wage war on two separate occasions as it left Egypt and made its way to receive the Torah on Mount Sinai. The first war was against Pharaoh and his soldiers, and the second was the war against the Amalekites. This week's Torah portion, Beshalach, gives us an account of these two battles and illustrates the different reactions the Jews had to these two adversaries.
When the Jews were threatened by Pharaoh, they were commanded, "G-d will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace." But later, when attacked by Amalek, G-d enjoined them, "Go out and fight Amalek." Why was there a different attitude towards these two enemies?
The two nations posed different threats. Pharaoh presented a physical threat to Jewish existence, whereas Amalek posed a spiritual danger. The Jewish People were instructed to entrust their physical safety to G-d, but it was necessary that they themselves take action against Amalek's spiritual onslaught.
Pharaoh's pursuing army did not directly challenge the Jews' relationship with G-d and their beliefs. In this instance, G-d took their defense upon Himself, saying, "and you shall hold your peace" - just leave things to Me. G-d proved to the Jews that military might and victory is not what distinguishes Jews from all other nations.
Amalek, however, symbolizes a totally different sort of war. Amalek only dared to attack the Jewish People after they had passed through the Red Sea and were on their way to receive the Torah. It was precisely at that juncture that Amalek tried to intercept them. The Torah uses the words, Amalek "met you (korcha) on the way" - from the Hebrew word "k'rirut," meaning coldness. Amalek came and cooled off the enthusiasm the Jewish people had for holiness, at a time when they were at the apex of spirituality. Against such a threat the Jews had to retaliate themselves, and immediately.
Whenever anything, anyone, or any power prevents Jews from learning Torah or performing mitzvot, we cannot wait for G-d to come to our aid. All steps must be taken, including the prospect of waging physical war, to ensure that Jews be able to continue learning and maintain their Jewish way of life without hindrance.
The struggle against Amalek is of such importance that we are reminded of what they did to us every day in our prayers. The lesson we draw from this week's Torah portion is that in the battle against Amalek there can be no compromise. We each have our own personal, internal "Amalek," the evil inclination, which stands ever ready to deter us from the right path by cooling off our ardor, enthusiasm, and the love of G-d that burns within the heart of every Jew. To combat him we must remember how to deal with this old enemy - to take an immediate stand, and to once and for all banish Amalek with any means at our disposal. Only after he is vanquished can we continue on our way to Mount Sinai.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
by Moshe Shiffman
Moshe Shiffman has been a lawyer since 1979. He specializes in a wide range of civil actions, negotiations, civil and criminal litigation, and corporate licensing. He also served as a judge on the disciplinary court of the law licensing office. Currently he is honorary consul to Austria, and is a certified arbitrator who is involved in community affairs in Eilat and beyond.
The scene is the Far East, India, the first night of Sukkot. I crowd in together with the younger generation in the Chabad House sukka. There are hundreds of backpackers here. For most of them, this is the trip they take after their army service and for me too, this is my "after the army" trip with a delay of about 40 years.
Lively singing, words of Torah, and fascinating stories are the main course. It is an intense evening run by Meir and Mendel, two young Chabad emissaries from the Lubavitcher yeshiva in Brooklyn. From the very start it is apparent, though not fully understood, the power that lies in being a shaliach (emissary) of the Rebbe. And I haven't said anything about the Rebbe, who provides the power.
Actually, without a Chabad House, this wonderful trip may not have gotten off the ground. I am celebrating my 60th birthday. I am here alone for a month and a half. I left behind my wife, children, my busy high pressure law firm, and a home in the early stages of construction. A month and a half! (Just changing my court schedule and meetings took a month and a half).
How did I arrange it? I simply (it's interesting how something so complicated can be so simple) looked around on the Internet and found out where there are active Chabad Houses. I opened a map of the Chabad Houses in India and then I plotted my mid-life trip. As I said, it was simple.
Chabad Houses and travel plans worked in perfect sync, and now I am sitting and contemplating this massive undertaking which is a Chabad House. It entails renting a space, getting manpower, bringing a Torah scroll, kosher food, learning a new language, fund-raising. All this is done without any solid financial backing, and I have yet to mention the glowing faces, the hugs, the love and more.
Is it simple? It depends on who you ask. If you were to ask me, it's insanely complicated, but if you ask Meir and Mendel it's simple.
Not enough people understand what shlichut (being on a mission [of the Rebbe]), real shlichut, is about. We are always looking for the bottom line, profit margins, results that fit our goals. Sometimes we are better than that and we help more; sometimes less and sometimes more. But it's all with a reason, with an agenda of some sort.
The shliach of the Rebbe, on the other hand, doesn't play by these rules. He is a simple channel, clean and hollow, who transmits the blessing, the message, Torah, to someone else. He has no agenda; he is a pipeline with no desires of his own.
If you were to ask him what he really wants, he would say - to be in 770 with my friends and my studies, with all the familiar comforts. However: 1) Nobody asks, and 2) if asked, a genuine Chabad Chasid would say: Here I am, ready to be sent wherever you send me.
What self-negation! The "I" is nullified to shlichus, to the one who sends him. There is no "I." The existence of an "I" is only as a tool in the service of an idea, a person, a tzadik, G-d and His people Israel.
It's not normal, it's not ordinary. But this is the way it is when there is an inflamed, impassioned heart, ablaze with such a lofty light. You are connected to the source, to the sender, to shlichut.
There are no friends? In 770 there are. No family? The Jewish people are your family to whom you spread love of a fellow Jew, love for Torah and love for G-d, in whatever corner of the world they are in.
Is it hard? Maybe, but that isn't on the list of considerations and concerns of the shliach. (The missile is fueled up, the ignition sequence is fired, and off it goes). The fire burns constantly.
There is no time for yourself. You need to run to the coffee houses where Israelis congregate and show them you are here and available. You think India is spirituality? One minute, it might look that way, but we are here to show you that there is a more accessible option, very accessible.
You see sadhus, idols, swamis, ashrams, bells, candles, bangles, lots of gold and lots of orange. Looks good to you? It attracts you because a Jew by nature seeks the spirit and not just the material.
Here we are, shluchim of the Rebbe, with the black hat, tzitzit (fringes), a suit, available in every place, wherever a Jew is likely to be.
Here we are. We haven't changed our appearance. We look just as we do in 770 and when we stood jammed together to listen to the Rebbe. It's the same uniform, the same doctrine, the same Torah; it's just that it's all deeper. Shlichut isn't something that comes out in the wash; time does not vanquish it. By definition, it is connected with the sender, to the message.
Rishikesh, India, is a city full, and I mean full, of idols. These young fellows go around looking for the wayward sons and invite them to come back home. They don't look like standard Israelis; they don't look like wayward youth. They look like Jews. And whoever looks at them, their work, sweat, supreme efforts, lack of shame, along with the luminous and welcoming Chabad face which is so different and special - must perforce, look at our Father in heaven.
The sense of responsibility for every Jew, no matter what his current status may be, is constantly felt. What more is needed? More tefilin, another shake of the lulav and etrog, another invitation for a Shabbat meal, another trip to the coffee houses or the "smokehouses" where there sit beautiful, pure, Jewish souls that are a bit confused and shrouded in mind-altering smoke.
I have been a round for a while and I must say that from the perspective of years, organization, operational form, even public relations and franchise expansion - Chabad Houses are a phenomenon that will be written about in books. It will be studied by every self-respecting financial or commercial organization, not to mention educational institutions.
A fire shall burn and not be extinguished or dimmed; amazingly, it will grow and grow until the coming of Moshiach!
Where is the Rebbe? I declare (taking full responsibility for the statement) that he is here! I don't want to argue and I certainly don't want to offend other people and their views, but this is the picture - more Chabad Houses, more shluchim, another point on the map, another person putting on tefilin, another blessing, and a little bit of learning of Chasidut. Another smile and another Jew drawn out of the filth; it's all done with a smile, with unflagging energy. Whoa, what a sweat of holiness. Shlichus!
As for me, I look, write, talk, jabber, praise, extol. An old man in contrast with these young shluchim, who could be my children and who have accomplished so much until this point, not to mention what will be in the future... Yasher ko'ach and long live the Rebbe who sent you. May all your hopes be realized and ours as well.
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine
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From an audience that a group of teenager students had with the Rebbe in 1963.
Student: What is your opinion of the Jews of today, compared to those of long ago?
Rebbe: In my opinion you are very lucky in relation to the Jews of thousands of years ago. When a Jew was asked the reason why his behavior was different from all the people around him, he had no history to persuade people that he was right, for the Jewish people were only years or generations old. But now, after 3,000 years of history in many different countries and conditions, 99% of these times under non-beneficial conditions, though no trace remains of the people who oppressed them - Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans, Greeks. The Jews survived all their oppressions, including Hitler's.
You can't come with a ready-made theory, and you must study history and see where it points. The power to survive oppression is not something accidental, because they have the same history for over 3,000 years. All of recorded human history is only 4,000 - 5,000 years, no longer. And for 3,000 of 5,000 years a single unusual phenomenon has occurred. A people who was always persecuted and a minority, always survived its oppressors who were many times bigger. If you study books to see what their behavior was you can answer the question of why we are different, why we seclude ourselves without assimilating.
Student: Do you think that the Jewish people will always be a minority?
Rebbe: They probably will in the future also. But this doesn't bother me. If we compare vegetable life to inorganic, the inorganic is more abundant, and vegetable life is more so than animal life and animal life more than humans.
Nevertheless, we do not expect humans to be more in number than the animals, vegetables and inorganic matter. The important factor is, who directs things: if the human is kind and peaceful, or like an animal, a vegetable or an inorganic thing.
One more point: Many circles today devote too much time to discussions. We live in an era when people need actions and deeds. It is the same as if there is an emergency, there is no time to discuss all the possibilities and how to counteract them, if necessary. We must take all measures that are possible, from a day or a decade or a year before.
Our era has many emergency cases. And if every one of us has time - and ample time - and discusses all the possibilities and tries to innovate, and postpones doing something until then, it will take many years, and decades, and I don't know if it's right to do this.
Maybe it is more rational to use the measures and merits, virtues and treatments used 100 and 500 and 1,000 years ago, to strengthen things around us. Then we could take the time for proper research. In other words, it is not in order to experiment, we must first keep the patient alive.
Student: What has kept the Jews together, and has caused the Jews to last all these years?
Rebbe: According to the approach of science to all historic events, we must study history and find out the common points and denominators that have not changed. If for 3,000 years we withstood all the persecution and all the pogroms and all pressures, then there must be something special during all these 3,000 years. For if there were a stop for a certain period, then the Jewish people could not possibly have overcome the persecution and pogroms during the period when the common point was not present.
If we study Jewish history, we see that all things change, the language, the territory, the government, the clothing, the culture and the outside world. Here we speak English; in Russia the Jews speak Russian; in the land of Israel, Hebrew. The same differences existed 1,000 years ago also, and the only unchanged thing in all these years is the commandments, the precepts we perform in daily life.
The Tefilin have not changed all these 3,000 years. The same goes for Shabbos and the Dietary Laws. We have the same Torah as 1,000 and 2,000 and 2,500 years ago.
At all times certain groups and individuals deviated from the course. Some of these groups were mighty, but no trace was left of them five or six generations after their activity. Forty days after the giving of the Torah a mighty group made the Golden Calf. During the time of the Temple there were idol worshippers, as during the Second Temple. In Spain, at the time of the Inquisition, there was a mighty influential circle. Strictly from a point of historical research, we must accept the facts even if we don't understand them: the common point has been the practical Mitzvos.
Student: What will the Jews achieve when Moshiach comes?
Rebbe: What must we do to accelerate his coming?
Rebbe: To be as much prepared as possible for the order of things after he comes, when there will be justice and peace, we must fulfill the instructions to us and to those around us, in Torah, Prophets and Scriptures. Every act must be in accordance with these instructions, and we must influence others. When you do this, you will do your share to accelerate his coming.
Student: Do you believe that Moshiach will come within the next fifty years?
Rebbe: Much sooner! Don't postpone it for so long!
Many people feel unable to accept the idea of Moshiach. They cannot understand with human reason how Moshiach can come and transform the order of things around us, to the extent that all basic aspects of our lives will be different. This notion would be expected to exist many generations ago.
However in our times, so many changes take place in a day, or even in an hour or minute, that this is not difficult to accept [that Moshiach could arrive and change the world]. And maybe even more, not only is it acceptable but it can be believed. If someone makes a momentous discovery or invention he can change things quickly.
To put it more bluntly: If tomorrow morning a more powerful weapon than any other country possesses should be invented, it gives its inventor the power to dictate. He doesn't have to be afraid he cannot be counterattacked. He can dictate to all governments, and demand certain behaviors and certain rules in their countries and governments. They have no choice: they must accept his conditions, for it is now possible for him to destroy a large section of the earth even without an army on his side.
In other words, if a mighty intellectual should dictate instructions to millions around him, this does not need a miracle, through some electronics or the like. So, if you must understand Messiah in physical terms, he may be great even in electronics and power.
Representative: This is very interesting, understanding the idea of Messiah as a natural concept. You usually hear of Messiah in terms of the supernatural.
Rebbe: I also believe in Messiah as supernatural. But people today find it hard to understand the supernatural. Maybe by understanding it in these terms, this will prepare the way for them to prepare themselves before he comes, and they will save Moshiach the job.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Friday is Yud Shevat (corresponding to February 3 this year). It is the day in 1950 when the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn passed on.
The Chasidic discourse that the Previous Rebbe prepared for publication on Yud Shevat, 1950 (in honor of his grandmother's yartzeit), begins "Basi L'Gani - Come into My garden." Each year on Yud Shevat, from 1951 on (when the Lubavitcher Rebbe officially accepted the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch), the Rebbe would deeply expound on one of the chapters of the discourse.
The theme of a "garden" is especially pertinent to Yud Shevat this year as it occurs on Friday, the day that concludes the previous week and joins together the upcoming week which contains within it Tu B'Shevat - the New Year of Trees.
Trees and tzadikim bear a strong connection. In the book of Proverbs by King Solomon, it states, "The fruit of the righteous is a Tree of Life."
Although the Torah is referred to as the "Tree of Life," the Midrash Yalkut Shimoni explains that an actual Tree of Life stands in the center of the Garden of Eden with its branches covering the entire garden and it contains "five hundred thousand varieties of fruit all differing in appearance and taste."
According to Kabalist Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg, "The Tree of Life was planted in the center of the Garden of Eden, which symbolizes the garden of the souls of Israel from which sprouts the soul of Moshiach, a tzadik who represents the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life serves as a symbol for Moshiach, the descendent of King David, about whom it is said (Zechariah 6:l2), 'Behold, a man, his name is Tzemach and from the space underneath him he will grow (yitzmach).'"
In Psalm 92 we read, "A tzaddik will blossom like a date-palm tree, like a cedar tree he will prosper" The Baal Shem Tov explains that there are two kinds of tzadikim, those who are like a date-palm tree and those like a cedar. The unique qualities of a cedar are that it is very tall and strong. However, it does not bear fruit. A date-palm, on the other hand, bears fruit, that is, has an affect on and benefits others. This is the kind of tzadik that the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism, enjoined his successors to be - a tzadik who has an affect on others. This is the tzadik par excellence that the Rebbe embodies, as can be gleaned from the remarks of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on page 1 and the comments of Moshe Shiff, Esq. on page 2 of this special issue dedicated to celebrating 62 years of the Rebbe's leadership.
May we all merit that on this Yud Shevat, we truly "Come into the Garden" with the revelation of our righteous Moshiach NOW!
G-d did not lead them the way through the land of the Philistines, because it was near (Ex. 13:17)
The Jewish people were led on a roundabout way to the Promised Land to afford their future descendants the strength to overcome and succeed even when the path is rocky and full of obstacles. (Sefat Emet)
And the people believed in G-d, and in Moses, His servant (Ex. 14:31)
"A person who believes in the leader of the generation has faith in 'He Who Uttered and the world was brought into being.' Every single Jew, regardless of his spiritual attainments, must cleave to the Moses who exists in every generation, for through him he cleaves to G-d Himself. (Likutei Torah)
And Moses said to Yehoshua [Joshua], choose for us men...and Moses and Aaron and Chur went up to the top of the hill (Ex. 17:9)
Why was it necessary to assemble an entire team consisting of Moses, Yehoshua, Aaron and Chur to fight Amalek? The Jewish people had not been behaving properly, and this is why they were attacked by Amalek. Indeed, the very name of the location where the attack occurred, Refidim, is related to the Hebrew word "pirud," disunity. At that time, the Jews were fighting amongst themselves and also rebelling against G-d. The first letters of the names Aaron, Chur, Yehoshua and Moses form the word "achim," brothers. Moses' call to the Jewish people was that if they would act as brothers and live in harmony, united in Torah study and observance of mitzvot (commandments), Amalek would never be able to penetrate the Jewish camp.
As told by Rabbi Laibl Groner of the Rebbe's secretariat.
A young couple in Israel had been married for a number of years but had not yet been blessed with children. Friends of theirs who were Lubavitcher Chasidism suggested that they travel to New York and come to "Sunday dollars."(Every Sunday the Rebbe received thousands of people who came to ask his advice or blessing. The Rebbe gave each person a dollar, or its equivalent, to be given to the charity of their choice.)
The couple travelled to the Rebbe. That Sunday, when they approached the Rebbe, even before they were able to say anything, the Rebbe gave the husband four dollars and then gave the wife four dollars after which he blessed them, "B'surot tovot," (good news).
Over the course of a number of years, the couple was blessed with three children. After the birth of their third child, five years passed before the woman became pregnant again. In the interim, the family had moved from Israel to Toronto and had become involved with Chabad in that city.
Late in the woman's pregnancy, complications arose and the doctor determined that the pregnancy would have to be terminated. The doctor said he could give them a week to think about it as they seemed reluctant to abort.
On Shabbat, the family attended services at the Chabad House. The rabbi spoke after the Torah reading. He interspersed his words of Torah with miracle stories of the Rebbe.
Suddenly, the woman remembered her encounter with the Rebbe years earlier at "Sunday Dollars." She excitedly called out her husband before the Shabbat prayers recommenced. "Do you remember when we went to the Rebbe for a blessing for children? The Rebbe gave both of us four dollars and said 'B'surot tovot.' Four dollars means that we are to have four children!" she said with certainty.
After Shabbat, the woman contacted the doctor with their decision. "We are going ahead with this pregnancy. We are not going to abort."
The woman wrote a letter to the Rebbe informing him of their decision and asking for a blessing for herself and her unborn child. The pregnancy continued and the woman gave birth in a normal delivery to a healthy child.
This story took place in 2006. A Lubavitcher Chasid was giving a weekly class in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. The curriculum is based on Likutei Sichot ("Collected Talks") of the Rebbe. After hearing that the Rebbe encouraged the retelling of miracle stories of the Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbes, the Chasid resolved to tell a story of the Rebbe at each class.
The next week, the Chasid told a story about Rabbi Moshe Wolfson. Rabbi Wolfson is the mashgiach ruchani (spiritual dean) of Mesivta Torah Vodaath and rabbi of Beis Medrash Emunas Yisrael in Brooklyn.
The Chasid began: "Once Rabbi Wolfson was diagnosed with a blocked artery. The attending doctor said that normally he would recommend a stent. But because of the rabbi's weakened state, he could not wholeheartedly recommend the procedure. He would leave the decision up to the rabbi.
"Rabbi Wolfson chose not to do the operation. He decided that each night he would recite the verse from Psalms (51:12), 'Lev Tahor - G-d, create for me a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me.' He prayed to G-d that in the merit of reciting this verse, he would not need the operation.
"After a number of days passed Rabbi Wolfson chided himself: 'I always ask the Rebbe questions, why didn't I ask him this, as well?'
"The following Sunday, Rabbi Wolfson came 'Sunday Dollars.' Before Rabbi Wolfson had a chance to say anything, the Rebbe said, 'In the merit of you saying the verse "lev tahor" each night you won't need the operation.' And of course, Rabbi Wolfson didn't need the operation."
It was midnight when the Chasid finished giving the class and began the drive home to Crown Heights. As he drove, he saw a Jewish man looking for a ride. The man was from Israel but was staying in Boro Park. Although Boro Park was totally out of the way, the Chasid decided to take the man anyway.
The Chasid mentioned something about the Rebbe and the passenger asked, "You're a Lubavitcher Chasid?" When the driver answered "yes," the passenger started to make derogatory remarks about the Rebbe. The Chasid didn't respond but instead offered, "Let me tell you a story that I just told in the class that I gave." He repeated the story about Rabbi Wolfson.
"I can't believe Rabbi Wolfson has a connection to Lubavitch and the Rebbe! I am praying in his shul in the morning. I'll ask him if this story is true. Give me your number and I'll call you after I speak to Rabbi Wolfson!"
The next afternoon, the Chasid received a call from the passenger. He sounded extremely agitated. "Rabbi Wolfson told me that the story is very true. He called the Rebbe a gaon olam (universally accepted scholar), tzadik (righteous person), kadosh v'tahor (holy and pure) and more. He said that he had other miracles from the Rebbe, and he told me stories about miracles of the Rebbe with other people as well! What can I do to rectify my mistake?"
"Add teachings from the Rebbe into the classes that you give. No one even has to know that they are the Rebbe's insights."
The man readily agreed to the suggestion. He also told the Chasid about his brother. "He is the dean of a yeshiva and I will make sure that he, too, knows who the Rebbe is, changes his ways and rectifies his mistakes.
"The Tzaddik (righteous person) will sprout forth like a date palm." (Psalms 92:13) Why does the date palm allude to the Tzaddik? This tells you that just as the date palm appears beautiful, and all its fruit are sweet and good, so is the son of David (Moshiach) pleasant in appearance, and all his deeds are sweet and good before Hashem.