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Imagine walking along the sidewalk in your city and suddenly seeing what you think is a deadly snake. Your reaction is shock, then fear, then relief when you realize it's just a twisted stick, a piece of wood. Now imagine walking in a forest where you know from first-hand accounts that deadly snakes live. As you walk along, you see twisted sticks on the ground. Each time you see a branch on the ground, you're filled with fear, until you identify it as just a piece of wood.
Now let's imagine one more thing: The next day you're walking that same city sidewalk and even though you know you didn't see a deadly snake yesterday, yet still you anticipate - you fear - seeing that snake today. Why? Because you thought you saw it yesterday.
Would we not say this is an unreasonable fear, while imagining that every stick in the woods might be a deadly snake is a reasonable fear?
What if there's a news report that a deadly snake escaped from the zoo and was seen in your neighborhood? Is being afraid of every piece of wood on the ground then a reasonable fear?
At a basic level, fear is a necessary survival mechanism. The ability to recognize and respond to danger (flight, fight or freeze) helps us survive in the physical world. And, as we shall see, it helps us survive spiritually.
But so many of our fears are false fears or unreasonable fears. When we fear things we can't control - whether of natural or human origin - that's an unreasonable fear. In fact, we often create fear from perils we believe are real - ghosts of our feelings - but have little basis in current reality or from past experiences taken out of context. (Being careful of deadly snakes sitting on rocks makes sense in the forest. It doesn't make sense in a city, though there are rocks there, too.)
In fact, harboring and generating such fears can actually endanger us, because spending time and energy with false fears, with fear beyond our control, with unreasonable fear, distracts us from "clear and present danger" and drains our ability to respond to real threats that we can actually do something about.
There are two spiritual lessons in all this, two things we can learn that apply to our Divine Service, our task of transforming the world. First, we know that we can exaggerate a reasonable concern into an unreasonable fear, turning some issue - political, economic, personal - from a matter of discussion and debate into paranoia. (And of course the unscrupulous exploit that tendency.)
We can also reverse the process, by focusing our energy and imagination on the positive, on the transformative acts of goodness and kindness within our grasp and within our power. This accords with a Chasidic saying, from the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, "Think good, and it will be good." One explanation of this: We can create the reality we imagine, for our actions follow our thoughts.
The second lesson has to do with fear itself. We know we should fear G-d; we should also fear only G-d. The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe was arrested by the Communists in 1927 because he insisted on teaching Judaism and supporting Jewish institutions. The Communists tried to frighten him as they had many others, by threatening to shoot him. His response: "That 'toy' can frighten a person who has many gods but only one world. But for me there are many worlds but only one G-d."
Ultimately, the only fear, the reasonable fear, is Fear of G-d.
In this week's Torah portion, Ki Tisa, Moses descends from Mount Sinai holding the Tablets containing the Ten Commandments he received from G-d. "The Tablets were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d, inscribed on both their sides."
Written on two magnificent stones of sapphire were the Ten Commandments, miraculously visible from both sides. Yet they were not to last for long.
"And Moses became angry...and he broke them at the foot of the mountain... And G-d said to Moses, 'Hew yourself tablets of stone like the first.'"
In connection to the Tablets, the Torah speaks of three distinct stages:
- The original Tablets: Moses descends from Mount Sinai, where he had spent the previous forty days and forty nights, with the Tablets in hand;
- The breaking of the Tablets: Moses witnesses the sin of the Children of Israel with the Golden Calf and breaks the Tablets in anger;
- The second Tablets: The Jews repent of their sin. Moses goes back up the mountain for an additional forty days and nights, to return with a second set of Tablets.
The first and second sets of Tablets were not identical. The first set was written by G-d; the second set was inscribed by Moses under G-d's direction.
Yet curiously, the second set of Tablets was superior to the first in one important respect, as explained in Chasidic philosophy.
The breaking of the Tablets and their subsequent replacement is an example of "a descent for the sake of an ascent."
Every descent, every failure, can lead the individual to an even higher spiritual level.
According to this principle, the second set of Tablets was clearly superior to the first, for it came after the Jews' descent into idolatry and their ensuing return to G-d.
Symbolically, the three stages of the Tablets parallel the annals of the Jewish people and their progression throughout history:
The first stage (the original Tablets) spans the years between the Revelation on Mount Sinai until the destruction of the Second Holy Temple.
The second stage (the breaking of the Tablets) refers to the forced exile of the Jews from their land and the spiritual degradation endured for almost 2,000 years.
The third and final stage, the era on whose threshold we now stand, is the Messianic Era, at which time the spirituality of the entire world will be elevated to unprecedented heights, an ascent made possible only by the bitter darkness of the exile.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
And It Was Turned Around
by Dr. David Lazerson
My wife Gittel and I were going to Denmark for the "iJew" weekend sponsored by the Chabad House of Copenhagen. Figuring the kosher scene there left something to be desired, my e-mail to Rabbi Yitzi Lowenthal was short and sweet: "Is there anything we can bring you from Miami? How's a chocolate melt-away for dessert sound?"
Rabbi Yitzi responded quickly. "Some warm sunshine and some goodies for the Shabbaton and upcoming Purim celebration. We need 400 hamentashen and 150 chocolate chip cookies."
How does one get 550 pieces of delicious goodies past security of a foreign country? "Denmark is different," Rabbi Yitzi assured me. "They won't even check you. Besides, you're coming to do some big mitzvot for the Jewish community of Copenhagen. The Danish people are righteous gentiles. They saved almost all the Jews of Denmark during the war. They're not going to give you trouble over hamentashen!"
I'd be speaking several times over Shabbat, giving a parent workshop on Sunday as well as another talk on my work in race relations, and putting on a concert to conclude the entire program. The special weekend would also include talks from Arthur Avnon, the Israeli ambassador to Denmark, Rabbi Bent Lexner, the chief rabbi of Denmark, and Edwin Shuker, who has some fascinating stories about his escape from Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power.
It was the weekend before Purim and the theme from the Megila of "v'nahafoch hu" seemed to come to life. These two Hebrew words mean "and it was turned around." Just when things seemed so gloomy and worrisome for the Jews of ancient Persia, the situation changed from one extreme to the other and they emerged totally victorious over Haman and all their enemies.
The events of Purim may have occurred long ago but they somehow came to life that weekend in Copenhagen. Rabbi Yitzi explained that the Chabad House used to be a headquarters for the Nazis. The tall, very Danish-looking building now housed a hyper-actively busy kosher kitchen, a Jewish library, a synagogue with Torahs, and a large social hall for Jewish events, discussions, and homemade Shabbat meals. In addition, several Jewish students rented apartments in the Chabad House building. It seemed as if the place was in action almost 24 hours a day.
As we drove from the airport to the Chabad House, Rabbi Yitzi shared with us how the Danes saved most of their Jewish fellow citizens during the war, ferrying them in boats to Sweden. All this done in the still of the night, just days before the Nazis would deport those who remained.
"Denmark is a very interesting place," Rabbi Yitzi told us. "The Danes are a hearty bunch and it's very family-oriented here." I wasn't sure what he meant but found out throughout our five-days.
There were Jews as well as gentiles who had come from all over the world to participate in this weekend of Jewish Learning. At my table there were people from Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Israel, Bulgaria - and Miami! And that was just one of eight tables!
After my talk was over Friday night, Gittel and I went for a walk. It was almost midnight and what we saw was astounding. We bundled up like Eskimos, but what's a bit of frigid air to the Danes? They were out doing what they usually do - bike riding! To our astonishment, there were lots of people riding even at that late hour.
I couldn't help but marvel, knowing that if this were my hometown of Buffalo, New York, you'd have had to look hard to find even one lone soul out and about on such a dark, cold night.
The Weekend of Jewish Learning concluded with a late afternoon concert. As I picked up my guitar to entertain the large crowed gathered at the Chabad House, I couldn't help but marvel.
The room was filled with all these people who had come to learn and be inspired about Judaism and Torah. We sang and danced to my rather unusual blend of Jewish themes in various genres - rock, reggae, rap, even bluegrass - in the very building that had been used by the Nazis to plan their evil against us and humanity as a whole.
And yet, just a few generations later, the building is ours. They were defeated, their hoped-for "Thousand Year Reich" reduced to rubble, and here we were, thriving, growing, involved in positive endeavors and, in that irrepressible style of Chabad, doing it all with true joy.
Monday was our "day-off." There were many options to explore Copenhagen. We decided that when in Denmark, do as the Danes do: ride bikes. While we knew full well how to ride - in fact, we bike in Florida - we were total greenhorns when it came to the rules of the road in Copenhagen.
As I kind of zigzagged about, stopping here and there, even sticking my feet out to the side in utter joy, I finally realized that the hundreds of bell rings and whistles I was hearing were meant for yours truly, who came way too close to causing massive bike pile-ups throughout the city.
Later that day we stopped off at a natural juice place and just when we were settling in, the owner announced that it was 6 p.m. - closing time. I gave him a "huh?" kind of look. Pretty much the entire city, except for some restaurants and pubs, shuts down comes six o'clock.
I later asked a random store owner about this and he explained, "We work all day and the kids are at school all day, so at the very least we spend our evenings and weekends together. Time goes by too fast. Who can go through life and not get to know their own family?"
Good question indeed. I've worked with at-risk individuals for over three decades and much of what I see can be attributed to poor dynamics among family members. Maybe it's time we took some lessons from the Danes and started closing our businesses early and spending real quality time together.
David Lazerson, or "Dr. Laz," is a renowned educator, author, musician and conflict resolution specialist. He currently directs an award-winning music/drama therapy program for special-needs students in the Broward County public schools. He was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame in 2008.
A new Torah scroll was recently welcomed to Chabad of the North Coast, in Umhlanga, South Africa. It was dedicated in memory of Steven Lutz. A new Torah scroll, written in memory of Nosson Deitsch, was welcomed to Chabad of Brandon, Florida. The Chabad House in Johannesburg, South Africa, welcomed a new Torah in honor of 40 years of Chabad in South Africa and Rabbi Mendel and Mashi Lipskar. A Torah scroll was recently rededicated - after being repaired - in Krefeld, Germany. The Torah had been bought from a Hungarian Jew who had saved it from the Nazis and had been donated to the synagogue in 1982 in memory of Eliyahu ben Meir HaCohen.
27 Shevat 5723 
Greeting and Blessing:
Your letter of January 14th reached me with considerable delay. You posed a number of questions regarding our Torah and mitzvoth [commandments], faith and traditions, etc.
Needless to say, it is difficult to discuss adequately in a letter such questions as you raise. Since you write that you had occasion to spend time with Lubavitcher students, I trust you discussed with them some of these questions, and perhaps may have another opportunity to discuss them further. However, inasmuch as you have raised these questions, I will attempt to answer them briefly.
continued in next issue
- How can one be certain of the authority of the Tanach [Bible] in all its particulars? The answer to this is based on common sense, and if one approaches the question open-mindedly and without prejudice, one must come to this conclusion. To put it very briefly, and going back from our present generation to preceding generations, we have before us the text of the Tanach as it was transmitted from one generation to the other by hundreds of thousands of parents of different backgrounds to their children. Even during the times of the greatest persecutions, and even after the destruction of the Beth Hamikdash [Holy Temple], there always survived hundreds and thousands of Jews who preserved the text of the Tanach and the traditions, so that the chain has never been broken.
Now, assume that someone would come today and wish to add a new chapter or a new section to the Tanach, declaring this new addition to be of the same antiquity and validity as the other parts of the Tanach, it is clear that no one will accept it on the grounds of the simple question: if this is truly a part of the Tanach, how is it that we have not had it before? The same would apply to any question as to the dating of any particular section of the Tanach, which itself contains a record of the prophecies beginning from Moshe Rabbenu [Moses] to the latest prophets Zecharia, Haggai and Malachi.
- You mention, in passing, certain theories by certain Bible critics. But, as you know, it is not a case where these people have a different tradition from ours, going back to all those ancient generations, but it is rather a case where this one or that one has come out with new theories or hypotheses which are not only speculative, but have been shown to be unscientific as well as illogical. For, according to them, it would be a case where thousands upon thousands of Jews have at one point or another suddenly changed their views and attitudes toward the Tanach in radical ways. With all the arguments about superstitions or mass psychoses, etc., such radical changes by hundreds of thousands of people of different backgrounds in different parts of the world, etc., are simply very farfetched and most illogical.
Furthermore, there is a basic difference between our Jewish tradition and those of other faiths, such as Christianity or Islam. For, whereas in the latter cases the traditions go back to one individual or a limited number of individuals, our traditions go back to a revelation which was experienced by a whole people at once, so that at no time did we have to place our trust in the veracity of one, or a few, individuals.
- You mention the existence of other ancient codes among other ancient peoples, which are in many respects similar to the laws of our Torah.
I do not see what difference or contradiction this can have to the authenticity of the Torah. The point is that when a similarity of ideas is found between two peoples, it is necessary to ascertain which one derives from the other. More important still is not so much the similarity as the difference.
Thus, you mention Mesopotamia, and presumably you have in mind the code of Hamurabi. A careful comparison will show at once that the similarities are only superficial, but the differences are basic. For the Code of Hamurabi is permeated with a spirit of extraordinary cruelty, as for example in regard to the penalties for theft, etc., and the same is true of other similar codes, whereas the underlying principles of the laws of the Torah are uniquely merciful. However, the essential thing is, as mentioned earlier, that there is no proof whatever that the laws of the Torah have been derived from other ancient codes.
In this connection, you also mention the similarity of the custom found in the Torah as well as in ancient Mesopotamia that when a wife could bear no children to her husband she could take her maidservant and give her to her husband for a wife, with a view of adopting the children, etc. Here again, I do not see what difficulty this similarity of custom presents. For, even today, you may find similarity of customs between the most observant Jew and his non-Jewish neighbors as long as it is not in conflict with the Torah. For, to be authentically Jewish, it is not absolutely necessary to reject every possible similarity of custom or habit which might prevail in the society, but rather to bring in a spirit of holiness into a custom or practice which is otherwise not in conflict with the Torah.
The prophet Ezekiel (622-570 b.c.e.) was one of the greatest leaders of the Babylonian exile period. Born of a priestly family in Jerusalem, he was amongst the first of the exiles to Babylonia by King Nebuchadnezzar. Ezekiel prophesied the destruction of the First Temple and promised his brethren that they would return to the Holy Land. Perhaps his most famous prophecy is that of the Valley of Dry Bones, when he saw that the piles of dried bones rose and were vivified by G-d. In this way, he reassured his fellow Jews that Israel would enjoy new life and glory after the destruction.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The day after the merry festival of Purim is known as Shushan Purim (this year, Friday, March 9). Let us take a moment to understand the significance of Shushan Purim.
The celebration of this holiday was instituted in connection with the Land of Israel. Our Sages decreed that Shushan Purim be celebrated in those cities that were surrounded by walls at the time of Joshua's conquest of the Land of Israel. In this manner, they paid respect to the Holy Land, giving its walled cities the honor given to Shushan even though they had been destroyed by the time of the Purim miracle.
However, the holiday's name is connected with a city in the Diaspora - the capital city of Ahasuerus, king of Persia (and thus the capital of the entire civilized world at that time).
The use of the name Shushan expresses the completion of the Jews' mission to refine the material environment of the world. There are several levels in the fulfillment of this task; for example, the transformation of mundane objects into articles of holiness. On a deeper level, this involves the transformation into holiness of precisely those elements which previously opposed holiness.
Shushan Purim shows how Ahasuerus,'s capital city was transformed into a positive influence, indeed, an influence so great that it is connected with the celebration of Purim in the walled cities of Israel.
May we use all of the extra spiritual energy given to us on Shushan Purim to transform the mundane into the holy and that which opposes holiness into holiness, until the whole world is transformed into a dwelling place for G-d in the Messianic Era.
And the Children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations (l'doroteihem) (Ex. 31:16)
The word "l'doroteihem" is written without a vav, and thus can also be read "l'diratam," "in their homes." On Shabbat, the Jewish home is entirely transformed. When a Jew's house is ready for Shabbat - when his table is set, and the Shabbat candles illuminate the atmosphere - the Divine Presence rests upon it.
The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel (Ex. 30:15)
"The rich shall not give more" is a mitzva that many wealthy people are very meticulous in keeping. In fact, it is rare to find one who has ever transgressed.
(Derashot El Ami)
The above verse can also be interpreted to mean "the rich will not be increased, and the poor will not be lessened." The wealthy person must realize that he will not increase his fortune by being miserly. Similarly, a poor person will not become poorer if he gives to charity.
Aaron called out and said, A feast unto the L-rd is tomorrow (Ex. 32:5)
How could Aaron, who was extremely righteous, have lied by referring to the making of the Golden Calf as "a feast unto the L-rd"? Actually, we see that his words were prophetic, as the day on which the Golden Calf was made (and the Tablets of the Law subsequently broken by Moses) was the 17th of Tamuz: Although in our times that date is observed by fasting, when Moshiach comes it will be transformed into "a time of joy and gladness, and a cheerful feast to the house of Judah" (Zechariah 8:19).
(Maayana Shel Torah)
One Friday afternoon a stranger appeared on the doorstep of the famous tzadik, Reb Yitzchak Isaac of Vitebsk, asking him to arrange a "din Torah" (a session of the Jewish court). It was already after midday and Reb Yitzchak Isaac was about to go to the bathhouse in preparation for the holy Sabbath. "Must the matter be attended to right now?" he asked the visitor. "Can't it wait until Sunday morning?"
"I am a melamed," answered the man. "I teach little children from early in the morning until late at night, with a short break in the middle of the day for lunch. On Friday I teach only until noon. Today is the only opportunity I have to come to you!" he pleaded.
"But where is the other party in the lawsuit?" the Reb Yitzchak Isaac.
"He is already here," the man answered. "I wish to bring a lawsuit against the Master of the Universe."
Reb Yitzchak Isaac went back inside and put on the fur hat he wore only on Shabbat, holidays and other solemn occasions. He sat on his judicial chair and prepared himself to hear the case. "You, obviously, are the plaintiff. Please state your complaints," he said.
The melamed got straight to the point. "Our Sages teach in the Talmud that there are three partners in the creation of man," he began. "My wife and I have a daughter who has, thank G-d, reached marriageable age, but we do not have enough money to find her a proper match. The third partner, however, has unlimited funds, but He refuses to part with His wealth. That is the essence of my grievance," the man concluded.
Reb Yitzchak Isaac shut his eyes and thought the matter over. After a few minutes of reflection he pronounced his judgment. "You are right," he told the man. "You have won the case." The thankful melamed went home to prepare for Shabbat.
The following Sunday, when the melamed returned home during his lunch break, he found an elaborate carriage with several footmen waiting in front of his house. His concerns were somewhat allayed when he learned why they had come: On the same block where the melamed and his family dwelled lived a gentile boy who had recently been employed in the landowner's household. For almost a month the landowner's wife had suffered from a terrible toothache. None of the dentists they brought to her had been successful in alleviating her pain. When the servant boy saw the woman's suffering, he mentioned to the landowner that there was Jewish woman on his block who was able to "whisper" a toothache away (a popular folk remedy at the time). He suggested that the melamed's wife be brought to the great estate to attempt a cure.
At first the landowner just laughed at the boy's absurd suggestion, but after exhausting every other alternative he agreed to send for the Jewish woman. The melamed's wife was summoned to the great mansion.
The landowner's wife was beside herself in agony. Her cries and moans were pitiful to hear. After a short rest from the long journey the melamed's wife was brought to the suffering woman and asked to perform her cure. She "whispered" over the affected teeth and the painful toothache was miraculously gone.
The landowner and his wife were extremely grateful to the Jewish woman who had brought relief to their entire household. They asked her what she would accept as payment. "My husband is a teacher of small children," the woman answered. "His salary does not even begin to pay our many expenses. Our oldest daughter is of marriageable age, but we haven't the money with which to make a wedding."
"How much money would you need to marry her off?" asked the landowner.
"Five hundred rubles for the dowry, 300 for food, and another 200 for the wedding celebration," the woman said.
Without another word, the landowner gratefully paid the astonished woman the entire sum. And when, as an afterthought, the melamed's wife mentioned that she was also in need of pillows and linens, the landowner instructed his servants to fill his entire carriage with household furnishings and other gifts as tokens of his deep appreciation.
In such a manner was Reb Yitzchak Isaac's verdict carried out.
In Psalm 122, we recite: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; those who love you [Jerusalem] will be serene." These are the words that Jews must utter in in exile. We must pray to G-d for the peace of Jerusalem, which will be attained with the ingathering of the exiles, for there will not be peace as long as the uncircumcised and the Ishmaelites war over the city.
(Radak on Tehillim)