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Statistics and probability can be funny things. They can sometimes reveal patterns that seem counter-intuitive - against common sense. They can show us behaviors - of things in nature like earthquakes, of words, of populations, of people - that seem strange, at least at first glance.
Take for instance "the long tail," also known as the "power law." The normal distribution is what's commonly known as a "Bell Curve." For whatever you're trying to measure, the "Bell Curve" says that there will be some exceptional occurrences at one end, a movement to a larger mass in the middle, and then a smaller group at the other end, about the same number as the first extreme. For example, if we look at everyone who throws a baseball, the number of excellent pitchers is very few, the number of adequate pitchers - the mass in the middle - is large - and the number of really lousy pitchers is also very few. It looks like a hill or mound.
But a "long tail" distribution looks different and has a a different paradigm. A "long tail" distribution looks like, well, a long tail. Actually, it looks like an "L" thickened at the point the two lines meet. The phrase "long tail" came from an essay that noted the distribution of weblogs: a handful had a lot of links, but the "long tail" - the vast majority - only had a a few links. But cumulatively, the "long tail" had an equal or greater number of connections.
In a business model - or any distribution model - the 'bell curve' vs. 'long tail' can be summarized as 'sell a lot of a few items' vs. 'sell a few of a lot of items.' Both can work, of course.
While Judaism has some "bell curve" mitzvot (commandments) - best sellers, like Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashana, for instance - the general approach is to create a 'long tail' - or a long trail - of mitzvot. Each mitzva in itself may not "sell" for much (seem to carry much spiritual weight), but cumulatively a whole lot of mitzvot are worth as much, if not more, as one big one.
Take tzedaka (charity), for example. Giving a dollar a day, or even just a few coins, may not seem like much. It's certainly not the same as writing a big check. And yet it is the "doing a lot of a little" that achieves the greatest spiritual profit.
We can understand this better by looking at a verse in Isaiah, the Talmud's commentary, and the explanation of Rabbi Shneur Zalman (founder of Chabad Chasidism) on their commentary.
"And he garbed himself with tzedaka as a coat of mail, and a helmet of salvation on his head" (Isaiah 59:17). The Talmud: "Just as with chain mail each scale adds up to form a large mail, so it is with charity; each coin adds up to a large amount" (Bava Batra 9a). Rabbi Shneur Zalman: "This means, just as the mail is made of scales over gaps, and these shield against any arrow entering through the gaps, so it with the act of charity." (Igeret HaKodesh 3)
Since in many ways tzedaka is the paradigmatic mitzva, what applies to tzedaka applies to mitzvot in general - even a little goes a long way.
In the previous Torah portions of Teruma and Tetzaveh, G-d commanded Moses to build the Mishkan (Sanctuary) and make all its vessels. This week, in Vayakel and Pekudei, G-d's command is transmitted to the Jewish people and carried out in full.
Without exception, everyone participated in the building of the Sanctuary. Jews from all walks of life, men and women, rich and poor, all contributed as much as they were able.
Their contributions, however, were not equal in value. As no specific amount was required, some donated less and some donated more, according to their individual inclination and financial ability. Thus there were contributions of gold and silver and contributions of oil and wood, if that was all a person was capable of donating.
Significantly, the type of contribution a Jew offered had nothing to do with his connection to the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary belonged to every Jew in equal measure: the rich man whose donation was extremely valuable, and the poor man whose donation was more humble. Every Jew was connected to the Sanctuary to the same degree. "Both the one who gives more and the one who gives less; provided that he do so for the sake of heaven."
Although the individual contributions may have varied, the intention behind the offering was always the same. All Jews wanted to build the House of G-d; all Jews thus shared equally in its construction.
Moses emphasized this equality among Jews, regardless of their donations, when he said, "See I have called by name Betzalel the son of Uri, the son of Chur, of the tribe of Yehudah...and Oholiav the son of Achisamach, of the tribe of Dan...He has filled them with wisdom of heart...of those who do any work, and of those who design artistic work." Betzalel and Oholiav were both in charge of all the artisans who worked on the Sanctuary.
Betzalel came from a very well-connected family. The grandson of Miriam, his tribe of Judah was one of the most prestigious. Oholiav, by contrast, was not distinguished by his lineage. A grandson of one of the maidservants, his tribe of Dan occupied a much lower rung on the social ladder.
And yet, both men were appointed to oversee the holy work, as it states, "Betzalel and Oholiav, and all those filled with wisdom of heart...did all kinds of work for the service of the Sanctuary."
In building the Sanctuary all Jews are equal. It makes no difference if one is rich or poor, a descendent of the most exalted parentage or a child of the simplest people. The only qualifier is that the Jew's heart be directed toward heaven!
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 26
A Jewish Marine
by Chava Tombosky
Revolution has become a common theme in society today, where governments are murdering civilians by the masses or enforcing unjust restrictions on its citizens, forcing lay people to take significant courageous action.
In contrast, the United States is a blessed democratic nation, whose military spends much of its resources protecting the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of its people as well as citizens of other countries.
Let's take a focused look at one of our own American military heroes of today.
Dave Rosner is a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, with a serious unassuming demeanor that projects a surprising wit once he opens his mouth. Sporting stylistic Woody Allen glasses, it's hard to decide whether he is incredibly brilliant, super bad, sort of dorky or all three. What is most interesting about Dave is that he is not only a Marine who has served in Iraq, but he is a born actor, inspirational speaker, writer, and comedian. Throw in the fact he's Jewish, and you have a very refreshing "Mazal Tov Cocktail" as Dave likes to tout. Although a lanky, skinny guy, he definitely reminds us never to judge a book by its cover.
Raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Dave grew up with a deep feeling towards Judaism. When asked why Dave decided to become observant he explained that although his family did not follow many of the Jewish holidays, he clearly remembers Passover as a recurring holiday where the whole family got together. It wasn't until later, after Dave got older, when he experienced Israel for the first time in his early 20s that he realized the richness that Judaism had to offer his life.
After he served in the the Persian Gulf War, he went to Israel and met two modern orthodox people and fit in with them quite well. "I had no idea what (modern orthodox) meant, cause they seemed normal to me." On his very first Shabbat in Israel while studying Hebrew in an ulpan at Hebrew University, Dave saw a different sort of Israel than he was expecting. He experienced Friday night services at the Kotel (Western Wall) and Shabbat dinner on Mount Scopus overlooking Jerusalem. He was surprised that he had never experienced spirituality quite like this before. "I was moved, angry, and sad all at the same time. Thinking to myself, how did I not know about this stuff'?" He could recall listening to those tunes and feeling stirred by the singing (even though he got kicked out of chorus in 7th grade for purposely singing off key, a trait he attributes to his nudnick nature). Dave has always been hugely connected to song and melody. His favorite adage from the founder of Chabad Chasidism, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, has inspired him to work on learning how to lead services, "The words is the pen of the heart, but melody is the pen of the soul."
It was Israel that made him realize that he had a new path and a new mission as a Jew. When he came back to America, it didn't take him very long to find a Chabad House where he could recreate his own Israel experience here in the United States.
Although Dave had dreams of becoming a stunt man as a kid, it was the military that became his first calling. He jokes, "When I was a kid, I went to military boarding high school, its a great place to send your kids if you hate them....I was always attracted to the military, my lack of structure as a kid probably contributed to that. I'm still a bit of a slob, getting up early isn't my favorite, but becoming a Marine changes you from the inside out because there is an attitude you carry. When I came back from officer candidate school, I felt like the biggest, baddest, toughest guy, like I could eat fire, lift cars, it made you believe nothing is impossible... Marines solve problems, and take charge."
Dave not only specializes in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for his nation, he specializes in inspiring people through laughter. He's performed for Chabad Houses all over the United States, Canada, and Australia as well as for the United States Marine Corps to encourage Marines to use their veteran's benefits and seek mental health counseling if needed. He went back to Iraq and Kuwait as a civilian on a stand-up comedy tour for the troops, "One of the most meaningful things I have ever done."
Dave reminds us that change is truly from within by thoughts, speech and action. Knowing when to use strength and kindness. And that "...freedom allows us to do what we are supposed to do as human beings, to bring light to the mundane and physical life we live in."
When asked what was next for him, Dave said in between pull ups - "I'm working toward having my own talk show, something relevant, funny, and that highlights the good in the world- a Conan meets Oprah."
Dave's purpose is to fight for his country, and work in the entertainment industry and on his entrepreneurial projects. He's been approached by a literary agent and publisher to write a dark-humored political memoir and was the lead in the award-winning artsy film Bert's Plan that has been on the film festival circuit. The film lead him to be currently cast in a supporting role in a feature film with Elliott Gould. A screenwriter as well as a film and television producer, this is one Marine who's not afraid to use his head.
Dave is not only driven, but he is clearly connected to his mission. Whether his mission is on the stage, in uniform or praying with a minyan, Dave is tapping into his strengths and gifts from within and changing the world one funny joke at a time. Dave's story reminds us that we each have our own inner soul that we can miraculously strengthen by allowing our uniqueness and our Jewish faith to be our extraordinary guide.
To read more of Chava's articles visit www.chavatombosky.com or catch them at huffingtonpost.com. Dave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lubavitch of Edgeware in London, England, recently acquired a new property at 228 Hale Lane. The 2,000 square-foot property is right next to the current Lubavitch Centre and will allow for a much-needed expansion of the Lubavitch Centre. Chabad serving NYU dedicated and opened 7,800-square-foot space they bought a year and a half ago at 353 Bowery in Lower Manhattan, New York. The two-floor lofty space - which includes a 2,000 square-foot events hall, library, kitchen, classrooms and office space - has exposed beams and floor-to-ceiling windows. The walls, made from Jerusalem stone, add a touch of warmth and tradition.
Continued for previous issue, from a letter dated 27 Shevat 5723 
- You ask, granted, that the Torah is accepted as being of Divine origin, how is it possible to be certain of the validity of the Oral Law, and of the traditional interpretation of the Torah?
This question is also not difficult to answer. Inasmuch as you are a university student, I will give you an example from science. As you know, modern science has made all sorts of discoveries and opened new fields, such as electronics, etc., which are based on the science of mathematics, the basic principles of which have been known thousands of years ago, as is well known and admitted. Needless to say, the mathematicians of old had no idea or conception of electronics, but there is no contradiction here, but only the application of old principles and methods of deduction to new fields or branches of science.
Similarly in regard to the Torah. For the Torah, too, already contains the methods and principles whereby it is to be interpreted. Therefore, the traditional interpretation of the Torah is already contained in the Torah itself, and it is nothing but a continuation of the written Torah itself, so that only both together constitute one living organism.
In this case, too, we can apply the argument, from common sense, as mentioned above. For it is unthinkable to assume that at any particular time there arose a new school of thought which claimed to give a new interpretation to the Torah which was in conflict with the accepted traditions of the past. No one would accept such a radical change, and certainly it could not be accepted by the whole Jewish people. For it is not case where a particular professor is studying with a group of students, but the study and interpretation of the Torah has been going on in numerous yeshivoth and academies, all of which presented a remarkable degree of unanimity.
To be sure, we find difference of opinion in the Mishnah and Gemara, but the important thing is the resulting decisions, which became unanimous in the Halachah [Jewish law]. Thus we also find in the Torah itself a difference of opinion, on occasion, between Moshe Rabbenu [Moses our teacher] and other Jews, but it is the final outcome of such differences that is important. So we also find a difference of opinion between the first Jew, Abraham, and his wife, Sarah, in which case there was a Divine directive that Abraham was to follow Sarah's opinion. Therefore, the integrity of the whole tradition and Oral Law is in no way challenged by the differences of opinion which are mentioned in the Talmud, which are in themselves methods of deductions to arrive at the final decision, or Psak Din.
I trust you know the dictum that the important thing is not the discussion but the deed. Therefore, my intention in writing you by the above is not for the purpose of discussion, but in an effort to remove the confusion which seems to bother you, and seems to interfere with your duties as a Jew, to live up in your daily life to the Jewish way of life, the way of the Torah, which is called Toras Chaim, the law of Life, and all the mitzvoth [commandments] whereby Jews live a full life worthy of its name. It is only a matter of will and determination, and we have been assured that he who is determined to purify himself a little by his personal effort receives a great deal of aid from On High.
Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi
Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (Judah the Prince) was the son of the Nasi Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel II, a descendant of King David. He occupies a singular position in Jewish history. A remarkable scholar, teacher, and communal leader, his crowning achievement was the compilation of the Mishna, the basic work of Jewish scholarship which formed the basis of the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch. His court was extremely lavish, but the extravagance was only to preserve the honor of the patriarchate in the eyes of the Romans. He was known to have lived abstemiously, devoting all his energy to Torah and communal welfare.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat a second Torah scroll is taken out of the ark and Parshat Para, a special chapter enumerating the laws of the red heifer, is read. The ashes of the red heifer (of which only nine have ever existed) have the power to remove the spiritual impurity that is caused by contact with a dead body. The tenth and final red heifer will be prepared by Moshiach, who will purify the Jewish people in the Messianic era.
The mitzva of the red heifer is a prime example of a "chok" - an "illogical" commandment that completely transcends human understanding. While the person upon whom the ashes were sprinkled was purified, the one who performed the ritual was rendered unclean. The mitzva of the red heifer has long been derided by the non-Jewish world for its inconsistencies. The Evil Inclination wants Jews, too, to feel uncomfortable about it. But like other commandments in this category, it reminds us that the basis for our observing Torah and mitzvot is not how much of Judaism we can understand and "agree" with. A Jew's faith in G-d is higher than the limitations of the human mind.
Of course, as human beings blessed with intellect we are obligated to study Torah and comprehend it to the best of our ability. Faith and intellect are two sides of the same coin, each one complementing the other and making us complete. But the bottom line is that the Torah is Divine, and we can't expect to understand everything.
The mitzva of the red heifer thus contains an important lesson: G-d promised us Moshiach; it doesn't matter if it makes "sense," or if there are skeptics who ridicule our belief. In the same way our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of their faith, so too must we remain strong until the Final Redemption with Moshiach is a reality.
May it happen at once.
And every one who is wise-hearted among you shall come, and do all that G-d has commanded (Ex. 35:10)
Commenting on this verse, the Vilna Gaon would quote the Book of Proverbs: "The wise in heart will heed commandments, but a prattling fool will come to ruin." The wise man does a mitzva as soon as it presents itself, before any obstacles can arise. The "prattling fool" discusses it endlessly and puts it off, until it remains undone...
Every one with a willing heart brought earrings and nose rings, and rings, and bracelets, every article of gold (Ex. 35:22)
Earrings: Jewish parents must listen to the Torah's directives concerning the Jewish education of their children. They should also overhear their children's conversations with their friends, in order to guide them properly. Nose rings: Parents should develop a keen sense of "smell" to make sure their children's playmates are appropriate. Rings: Parents must be able to "point" their children in the right direction. Bracelets: In addition to explaining things in a pleasant manner, parents must also stand firm (symbolized by the arm) when it comes to Jewish education. The child should always feel that this is his parents' priority.
And Moses saw all the work... and Moses blessed them (Ex. 39:43)
According to the Midrash, what Moses saw was all the angels that had been created by the Jewish people's fulfillment of G-d's command to bring contributions for the Sanctuary, as it states: "He who does one commandment acquires one advocate." Moses thus understood that the mitzva had been done with sincerity and pure intent, "and he blessed them"
When Aryeh, the son of the famous Torah giant Rabbi Yaakov Yehoshua (author of the work Pnei Yehoshua) reached marriageable age, his parents were overwhelmed with offers from numerous matchmakers. It was only natural, as a bridegroom from such a distinguished family was a real catch.
Everyone, of course, assumed that Aryeh was a Torah scholar in his own right. But in fact, such was not the case. The son of the famous scholar was not intellectually inclined, and that was putting it mildly. The young Aryeh was very far removed from the world of Torah study and erudition.
Aryeh was a simple boy who had not been blessed with any particular aptitudes or talents. Nonetheless, he was an amiable fellow who was well-liked by all who knew him. In truth, it wasn't easy being the son of a famous rabbi. Aryeh often found himself in unpleasant situations when people tried to engage him in scholarly discussions; the only way he could extricate himself was by changing the subject.
As a child, Aryeh had shown great promise. Many people remembered how the young boy had demonstrated a surprising diligence and capacity for concentration. But something had obviously happened as he grew older. No one ever saw him studying, and his knowledge seemed to be quite limited.
But the matchmakers would not be deterred. All of the finest families competed for Aryeh as a son-in-law, although no one scrutinized the young man himself. With such a prestigious father, they figured, why even bother?
Eventually one of the matchmakers' offers was accepted, and the girl's father, a wealthy Torah scholar in his own right, was overjoyed.
A few days before the wedding the bridegroom's family set out for the girl's town, where the ceremony was scheduled to take place. All of the town's important personages came out to welcome them, led by the girl's father. It wasn't every day that such an important guest graced their village, let alone married into one of their own families.
After the usual exchange of pleasantries the prospective father-in-law turned to Aryeh and brought up a certain topic in Torah, wishing to hear his thoughts on the subject. It did not take long to discover that the young man had no idea what he was talking about. He was as far from being a Torah scholar as east is from west.
The father was horrified. It was unthinkable to allow his daughter to marry a young man who could barely read. The wedding was immediately called off, and the situation was terribly embarrassing for all involved. The Pnei Yehoshua and his son set out on the road for home, deeply distressed and mortified by their humiliating experience.
On the way home they stopped in Berzan, where they were greeted warmly by Rabbi Yechiel Michel Halperin, the rabbi of the city. The rabbi was delighted to open his home to such a distinguished figure and his son. But he could not help noticing that his guests seemed troubled. When he asked them what the matter was, the whole sad tale came pouring out. The Pnei Yehoshua let out a deep sigh.
Rabbi Yechiel Michel looked closely at the despondent Aryeh. There was something more about the young man than met the eye.
"I have a daughter named Rachel," Rabbi Yechiel Michel said suddenly. "She is a G-d-fearing and pious young woman. I would be very honored if you agreed to a match with your Aryeh."
The unexpected offer was immediately accepted. Overnight, the dark cloud that had hung over their heads was gone.
The wedding took place amidst great festivity and celebration, and the young couple set up household in Berzan. In truth, many of the townsfolk shook their heads in wonder at the strange match. They just couldn't understand why their rabbi had allowed his daughter to marry such a simple fellow.
But as time passed, it ceased to be a topic for conversation. Then one day, Aryeh went to the synagogue for the afternoon service and found it in an uproar. Everyone was involved in a heated argument over a certain point in Torah.
"What happened? What's going on?" Aryeh asked, but no one bothered to respond. There was no point; it didn't even pay to explain it. Finally, Aryeh found someone who told him that that morning, the rabbi had posed a very deep and complicated question during his daily Torah lesson. No one was able to come up with an answer.
When Aryeh heard what the question was he was surprised. "Why, that's simple!" he said, and without further ado uttered a few words that quickly solved the problem.
It was so silent in the study hall that you could have heard a pin drop. Everyone was astonished by the simplicity and brilliance of the answer, let alone by the fact that it had come from Aryeh.
Once his secret was out there was nothing Aryeh could do about it, although at first he regretted it deeply. Quite unintentionally, he had revealed himself as the great Torah scholar he really was. With the passage of time he was appointed head of the local yeshiva, and later achieved renown with the publication of his magnum opus, Pnei Aryeh.
When the Sanctuary in the desert was constructed, all of its components were fashioned under Betzalel's direction. And yet, Betzalel's name is associated only with the ark: "And Betzalel made the ark" (Ex. 37:1) Why? At different times in history, all of the other vessels were also fashioned by other people (i.e., for the First and Second Holy Temples; they will also be made for the Third Holy Temple when it is reestablished). However, there has always been only one ark, made by Betzalel. Although hidden away after the destruction, in the future it will be revealed.