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Well, not really, though of course I would like you to read it. There are very few things in life that we must do. My father taught me that.
Still, we encounter this urgent message - or a variation of it - all the time. Sometimes the email, or snailmail, really is worthwhile. Sometimes we're glad we read whatever it was the sender found so urgent. We learned something, we saved some money, we improved a relationship, we improved ourselves. Often, though, the "must read" is a waste of our time. Oh, the sender found it worthwhile, maybe inspirational, perhaps transformative. But for us - eh. Not so much.
And then there's the "must read" that's not only silly, but stupid - or downright offensive. What gets into some people?
It's such a simple phrase: "You Must Read This." Only four words. Yet it tells us a lot about how we think, what we want. And it tells us a lot about what those who use it think, what they want.
The phrase itself is a marketing tool, obviously. It's a way to get our attention in a crowded field, where there are all kinds of distractions and things crying for consideration. If we listen to advertisers, they have a similar set of phrases. They can't say, "you must read this" - well, they can, if they're promoting a book, but usually the radio folk want you to listen, to not change channels. (Anyone remember, "Don't touch that dial"?) Visual attention-getters probably also have catch-shots, pictures that elicit a visceral turn-to.
Things we're hard-wired to respond to don't always hold our attention for more than the reflex response. Once the conscious mind takes over, tacky tricks get glided over. We don't necessarily take the next step, from the equivalent of "You Must Read This" to reading (as opposed to glancing over) and then to acting on what we've read. It's like the original telephone ring-tone. It was meant to jar us; it was designed to subliminally force us to stop whatever we were doing and answer it. But once past the initial reflex response, it's not so hard to ignore the telephone ringing - not if we're doing something else equally or more important.
We're constantly confronted with the "You Must Read This" test and challenge, in various forms. To what urgent calls for attention "must" - or at least, should we respond?
In this regard there's a telling story about Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad, and his son and successor, Rabbi DovBer. At one time they shared a house. Rabbi Shneur Zalman lived on the first floor, Rabbi DovBer lived on the second floor. Rabbi DovBer was known for his great powers of concentration. When involved in study, prayer or meditation he could reach a state where he was unaware of his surroundings.
One night both Rabbi Shneur Zalman and Rabbi DovBer were up late studying, each in his respective office. Rabbi DovBer's infant son began to cry. Rabbi Shneur Zalman heard, interrupted his studies, calmed the child, then returned to his learning. The next morning he told his son what had happened, concluding, "Delving into the secrets of Torah is a wonderful thing. But we must never be so involved in our own endeavors that we forget our responsibilities to others. We must always be able to hear the cry of a child."
This is the test and the challenge: Is "You must read this" a distraction from our Jewish observance or the cry of a child?
Read more at davidybkaufmann.blogspot.com
This Shabbat we read two Torah portions, Behar and Bechukotai which is the final portion in the book of Vayikra (Leviticus). Bechukotai begins with the Divine promise: "If you will walk in My statutes, and keep My mitzvot (commandments) and do them" - then G-d will bestow many blessings, including rain at the right time, ample produce, security and peace.
One might wonder: Should we be fulfilling the mitzvot for the sake of material rewards or for their own sake - because G-d commanded them?
Among the many answers to this question, Maimonides gives the following answer: The mitzvot must, indeed, be fulfilled unconditionally and without regard for reward. However, there are inevitably various distractions and difficulties connected with daily life that makes it harder to fulfill the mitzvot. When these distractions are minimized, it is much easier to carry out the mitzvot fully and completely. But when material circumstances are not quite so satisfactory, though the same performance of the mitzvot is expected, it requires a greater effort. For it is obviously harder to concentrate on Torah and mitzvot when one has to overcome outside pressures.
G-d's promise of material rewards is not meant to provide reason for keeping the Torah and mitzvot. But it is a promise that where there is a firm resolve to walk in G-d's ways and keep His mitzvot, He will make it easier by providing all material needs and reducing outside pressures to a minimum.
The book of Leviticus, which we complete this Shabbat, is also known as Torat Kohanim (the Laws of the Priests) and the Book of Sacrifices.
Jews, as a people, and individually, are expected to behave like kohanim (priests), as G-d has declared: "And you should be unto Me a Kingdom of Kohanim." Just as the kohen has been selected to dedicate himself to the Divine Service - and not only for his own sake, but also for the whole Jewish people - so has every Jew been chosen to serve G-d, with a responsibility also for his entire environment.
To serve G-d does not mean to withdraw from the world; it rather means to serve G-d within this world and together with this world. The beginning of this G-dly service is in one's own home-life, by conducting it in such a way that G-d's Presence should dwell in it, as it is written: "They shall make Me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them."
This is accomplished by a way of life exemplified by the sacrifices of old. The service of the sacrifices consisted in taking things from one's possession - a lamb, flour, oil, wine, salt, etc. - and consecrating them.
This is the way a Jewish home should be conducted; every detail of one's life should be consecrated to G-d. How is this accomplished? By bringing spirituality into our daily lives and our homes through charity and good deeds, communicating with G-d, and Jewish education. And then the Divine Presence dwells there, and it is a home blessed by G-d, materially and spiritually.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Chabad Cancun: Just Like Family
by Kristen Tywan
It's ironic that after growing up so close to the large Jewish community in Skokie, Illinois, that I would finally get my Jewish education from a Hasidic Rabbi in Cancun, Mexico. The Jewish community that I stumbled across in Cancun is an oasis of familiarity for Jews in Mexico. Rabbi Mendel Druk and his wife Rebbetzin Rachel offer an opportunity for their fellow Jews to reconnect with their faith and heritage by bringing them closer to each other and to G-d.
My first experience with Judaism in Cancun was a brief sighting of a man in a black suit, large brimmed black hat, and a full red beard at one of the local grocery stores. This man was Rabbi Mendel, the leader of the Chabad Jewish organization in Cancun. This sighting would not have made me stop in my tracks, as it did, if I was in my native Chicago, where ultra-Orthodox Jews frequently occupy the sidewalks. It occurred, however, in a Mexican resort town.
Chabad of Cancun is in the B2B Hotel. Located off the main tourist strip, every time I have ascended to the first floor of banquet space, I have been greeted by the inviting sights and sounds of children laughing and playfully chasing after one another.
To the left of the elevators is the room where Friday service is held. After services you can follow the children. They will guide you to the home of the Chabad community in Cancun. It is a long room that changes day to day, depending on the occasion. A typical Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat "(Welcoming the Sabbath)" dinner hosts a long banquet table meticulously set. Other days, I have seen the room scattered with Jewish themed children's books and toys after Rachel's youth education class. I have also witnessed it filled with the mouth watering scents of Jalepeño, Garlic, Chocolate Chip, and Cinnamon Challah with all the tools and ingredients for making it, at a Monday night women's group.
The one thing that never changes about the Chabad center is its feeling of permanence. It is like a home. My first experience walking into the hotel to attend services was like a covert mission. Once I found my way, I sat and observed the entire service and dined with the group without ever being recognized as an outsider by the Rabbi. The reason for this is that the table at Chabad Cancun is just as transient as the city itself. As my observations continued, I noticed that I was one of the few constants in the ever evolving world of Chabad Cancun.
This first visit clearly defined what I was to expect from the rest of my experiences with visiting Jews over the course of my study. That night I dined with Jews from France, the United States, Mexico, Canada, Israel, Morocco, Argentina, and a visiting Rabbi and his wife from Brazil. There were clear ethnic and linguistic differences. French, Spanish, and Portuguese were among the guests native tongues and Hebrew and English became the universal languages at the table. These strangers came together with each other and the permanent members, at the guidance of Rabbi Mendel and Rachel, as if they had known one another all their lives.
The diversity of the permanent group rivals that of the group's weekly visitors. I frequently observed a young couple from Canada with their infant child that I could see shared a personal relationship with the Rabbi and his wife. I also witnessed Luis, a Mexican Jew, and his wife and young adult daughters frequent the Chabad Cancun services and often sponsored the meals. Ari, one of the groups most devoted members, is originally from Ohio although he does have Mexican heritage and speaks Spanish. He is of retirement age and acts as a proud uncle to Rachel and Mendel's two young children.
The permanent members share a sense of togetherness that outshines the unity of any other group of expats I have encountered in Cancun. This is a group that finds pleasure and humor in their differences, such as cracking jokes about the tastier food of Sephardic Jews and friendly debates over the proper Hebrew pronunciation of certain words. Just like a family, it seems easy for them to overlook what makes them different from one another because of their more solid connection to what makes them the same.
Every Friday evening, after services, everyone dines together in the Chabad Cancun community center. Rachel Druk prepares a host of salads, dips, meat and rice dishes, vegetarian fare, and desserts for her guests to enjoy.
Rabbi Mendel and his wife offer more than a tasty meal. I have participated in a Jewish women's circle hosted by Rachel. Rachel also provides Jewish education for the Jewish children in Cancun. The Rabbi hosts Torah study and also serves as a family counselor, although he tells me that he is no psychiatrist and only provides guidance when approached. The center also offers a Hebrew school, and over 20 classes each week for adults. Additionally, the center hosts large Jewish holiday celebrations for hundreds of resident and visiting Jews from all over the world.
The Druks have dreams of a mikva, permanent synagogue, kosher restaurant, and kosher store; all things that I believe Cancun's tourist industry would greatly benefit from.
I had the opportunity to celebrate Simchat Torah with the members of Chabad Cancun. During this occasion, the Rabbi told a story of a Hasidic Rabbi in Auschwitz who was beaten on the holiday some 60 years ago. He was left for dead in the barracks, and when the other Jews came back after their day of labor, they were shocked to not only find him alive, but dancing in a circle. He told them that they should never stop dancing. This story illustrates what I have found to be Hasidism. Even in the most adverse circumstances, they never stop singing and bringing a deeper sense of spirituality to their fellow Jews.
This is an excerpt from the research paper Ms. Tywan wrote at Pennsylvania State University.
Tanya is the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy written by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism. In 1984, the Lubavitcher Rebbe started a campaign to print Tanyas wherever Jews are found. The 6,001st edition was printed last month in Israel, in the area of Elijah the Prophet's cave in the Carmel Mountains of Haifa, Israel. The 6002nd edition was printed last week in by the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Center of Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Continued from previous issue, from a letter dated 29 Tammuz 5713 
Regarding tzimtzum ["contraction" of worlds]. You do not specify what aspects of it are not clear to you. But inasmuch as you mention the [book] Derech Mitzvosecho, you will surely find a great deal on the subject, as indicated in the index, and in my notes at the end.
An illustration can be found in the following: Imagine a mathematician engaged in the highest departments of math, who is to instruct a beginner in the four arithmetical fundamentals (addition, subtraction, etc.). Inasmuch as the mathematician has spent his life in higher mathematics, it would require a tremendous effort on his part to take his mind off the higher analytical studies, in order to concentrate on instructing the beginner in the elementary arithmetical rules. It would also require special efforts on his part to find the suitable terms and ways and means to make his instruction simple enough for the beginner to understand, for to him the simple rules and terms which he is to convey to the beginner are a gross approximation which does not convey the profound science of mathematics.
The difficulty arises not from the fact that the advance mathematician does not know the elementary rules of arithmetic, but in the fact that in the profound analytical studies, the elementary arithmetical rules are completely "submerged." The transition, therefore, from the most sublime to the most elementary, even in the human being, where there is no distinction between infinite and finite, but only a distinction of degree, requires a withdrawal, as a "contraction" of "forces"; how much more so in the case of creation yesh me'ayin ["something from nothing"], or in the transition of the "light" before the tzimtzum to the "light" after the tzimtzum.
Regarding the Four Worlds, which you regard not as actual worlds, but different levels attainable by a person, it is not so. They are actual worlds, but not in the sense of being in different localities, but they penetrate each other, so that the Jew, even during life on this earth of soul in a body, can, through appropriate efforts, attain life in the world of spiritual asiya, in the world of yetzira, and even higher still.
By way of illustration: When we observe a second person with any of our senses (sight, hearing, etc.) we notice and see him as a complex of physical phenomena. This immediate sense perception is then analyzed by us intellectually, when we realize that each physical phenomenon has a corresponding spiritual and psychological movement in the heart or brain.
E.g., when we see a person put on tefillin, we are immediately aware of the movement of one hand in regard to the other, but intellectually we understand that behind that movement there is a will, and knowledge of the mitzvah [commandment]. And on closer reflection we understand that behind that movement there is a will, and a knowledge of the mitzvah, and that these inner aspects motivate the outer physical movements. Thus we conclude that there exists a second "man" - a complex of spiritual phenomena, which is the cause of and which permeates the "physical complex." And as in the case of the human being, the microcosm ("small world"), so we can get an idea of the macrocosm ("big world").
For further reference see Likutei Torah Devorim (Biur) Sois Osis, 49a. There is also a letter from my father-in-law, of sainted memory, on the subject of the Four Worlds, which is to be found in copy among the yeshiva students.
With regard to what you call the "hierarchy" of the worlds, we may refer to the illustration mentioned earlier concerning the influence of the "inner" human world on his outer phenomena, showing the action of cause and effect. It should be added that, as often happens, the effect subsequently reacts upon the cause, as we see, for example, in the case of prayer, where the very reciting of the words fans the inner inspiration and warmth to a greater degree. In a similar way is the action and counteraction of the worlds reciprocal, where the lower worlds receive influence from the upper worlds, but in return also contribute light to the higher worlds.
In the index of Derech Mitzvosecho, as well as in the index of Sefer Hamaamorim 5710, etc., you will surely find further elaboration on the above subjects from different angles.
Wishing you hatzlocho [success] in understanding the teachings of Chassidus, which chiefly depends upon the student himself, as it is written: It is not removed from thee . . . but very nigh unto thee (Deut. 30:11, 14).
Chanoch lived during the lifetime of Adam, and according to our Sages, it was Chanoch who buried Adam. In Genesis we read: "Chanoch walked with G-d." (5:24) The Zohar states that Chanoch had a special book containing many secrets of wisdom. This book, together with a book of Adam's and a book of Abraham's, were passed on to Jacob. The Midrash says that Chanoch walked together with the angels in the Garden of Eden for 300 years.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Continuing the practice of studying Ethics of the Fathers on Shabbat afternoons, this week we focus on Chapter Five:
"There were ten generations from Adam to Noah," we learn in the second Mishna, "to indicate how great is His patience; for all those generations repeatedly angered Him, until He brought upon them the waters of the Flood. There were ten generations from Noah to Abraham, to indicate how great is His patience, for all those generations repeatedly angered Him, until Abraham our father came and received the reward of them all."
The first ten generations were different from the second ten in how they "repeatedly angered Him." There are two types of evil in the world: evil so completely bad that the only way to overcome it is through total destruction, and evil that can be transformed into good, because it contains a spark of goodness.
We see this reflected in the wars that the Jewish people waged against their enemies in ancient times. They were permitted to derive benefit from some spoils of war, but other items had to be destroyed outright. In one instance it was a positive mitzva to transform into something holy an object that had belonged to the realm of unholiness, yet in the other it was a positive mitzva to obliterate it.
The evil perpetrated by the first ten generations was absolute. For this reason, G-d erased them from the earth with the Flood.
The evil of the next ten generations, however, was of the kind that can be elevated into good. Abraham was able to correct the failings of the previous ten generations, and thus merited the reward of all of them.
Goodness lasts forever, but evil has no true existence. Every good deed we do is added to the previous ones, accumulating from generation to generation. We therefore have the greatest merit of any generation since the world was created, and will thus merit to see this mighty storehouse of good speedily revealed with the coming of Moshiach.
"Behar" - literally, "on the mountain" - is symbolic of growth, increase and ascending upward. "Bechukotai" - literally, "in My statutes" - comes from the word meaning "engraving" or "carving," symbolic of permanence and regularity, things not subject to change. The fact that these two Torah portions are read together teaches us the necessity of combining both these attributes: We must never become complacent about our religious observance and must always strive upward; at the same time, our spiritual growth must be constant and permanent.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
If you walk in My statutes (Lev. 26:3)
The Baal Shem Tov taught that a person must never become settled in his habits and fixed in his ways, for G-d's laws are meant to be "walked in." The service of G-d should never be static, but should lead us to higher and higher levels of sanctity.
(Keter Shem Tov)
I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and my covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember (Lev. 26:42)
The Patriarchs are not mentioned in chronological order in this verse, but rather in the order of the attributes and eras they personified. After the Torah was given, the Jews entered the era of Torah, personified by Jacob who was the pillar of Torah. When the Holy Temple was built they entered the era of "service" and Isaac embodied the attribute of service. And these last generations of the era before Moshiach are connected to Abraham who was the epitome of lovingkindness. The Baal Shem Tov explained that now, in the final era before Moshiach, emphasis must be placed on deeds of kindness to hasten the redemption.
(Rabbi Ben Tzion of Bobov)
Great was the plight of the Jews who lived under the rule of the Romans after the destruction of the Second Temple. The Roman government constantly persecuted the poor, defenseless, defeated people. Despite all of this, however, the Romans did not succeed in breaking the strong spirit of the Jewish nation.
At that time, the greatest Jewish leaders of that period were Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Joshua, and Rabban Gamliel. They went to Rome to plead for an easing of the cruel decrees against the innocent Jews. In the meantime, however, a decree had gone out to the effect that, within thirty days, no Jews were to be found in the whole Roman Empire. This meant nothing less than the end, G-d forbid, of the entire Jewish nation, for Rome then ruled over almost the entire known world! The Jews were doomed, for where could they hope to escape to in so short a time?
Like all their fellow Romans of that time, the Roman senators were idol-worshippers. There happened to be amongst them one notable exception, a man who believed in the one G-d. This particular senator was known to greatly admire the Jews, and counted many Jews amongst his closest friends and associates.
When word reached him of this terrible new decree against the Jews, he lost no time in hurrying to Rabban Gamliel to inform him about it. Rabban Gamliel and his colleagues were thrown into a state of despair! Rome ruled the world, and it was impossible for hundreds of thousands of men, women and children to suddenly find refuge in some far-off land!
"Don't worry," the senator comforted them. "Yours' is a great G-d and surely Your G-d will surely not forsake you. You still have thirty days before the decree can be put into effect, and G-d can bring about your salvation in a mere blink of an eye!"
The days and the weeks passed unremarkably, and there were but five days left before the decree against the Jews would become law. The senator and his wife worried constantly about the fate of their friends, but could not devise a plan of action to save them. One day they were sitting at home talking about the dreadful situation of the Jews, when the senator sadly remarked to his wife, "I feel so ashamed to be part of a people that can do such wicked things to the innocent and defenseless Jews."
His wife was silent for a while, then, in a serious tone she spoke slowly and deliberately, "Are you sure there is nothing that can be done to save our friends?"
"There is only way that they can be saved at this late stage. If a senator were to suddenly die, the decree would be annulled. For, as you know, according to Roman law, when a senator dies all laws passed within the past 30 days become null and void."
Five days later, on the thirtieth day, the senator and his wife were again sitting in their home discussing the decree against the Jews and what could possibly be done to help them.
"Today is the thirtieth and last day," the senator said to his wife in a tone of despair. "This is terrible! I wish I knew what to do to help them!"
"If you really mean what you are saying," said his wife, "there is something you can do. I know what I would do in your place to show the world that there is still at least one man left in Rome who possesses a conscience and a feeling of decency and respect for his fellow human beings." After she had uttered those momentous words, she cast a sad and poignant glance at the beautiful ring on her husband's finger.
The senator understood immediately what his wife meant. The center of this very special ring had a tiny hidden compartment. Inside this compartment was a fatal poison. Without further thought, the senator bid a sad farewell to his lifelong partner, put the ring to his lips and within seconds, death froze a smile of satisfaction on his noble face. Because of the supreme self-sacrifice of this noble friend, the decree against the Jews was immediately nullified.
When the Tannaim heard of the death of the Roman senator, they hurried to comfort his widow. They praised the nobility and greatness of her distinguished husband, who gave up his life in order to save the Jewish people. He had willingly made the ultimate sacrifice and no words could convey their gratitude.
"We would have been proud, indeed, to have counted your husband as one of our own," they concluded.
"You may now know that you have, in truth, every right to be proud of him, for he was in his beliefs, in every respect, one of you," the widow answered.
Adapted from Talks and Talesn
Women are given prominence over the men for, before giving the Torah, G-d approached the women first. This is because women are "the essence of the home." Women have the unique nature necessary to shape the personalities of their family members, particularly young children. A woman teaches with all her heart, life and energy, and also with the sensitivity that make her listeners more receptive. Thus, it is through Jewish women that the Torah has been communicated to the Jewish people throughout the generations, including the generation of the redemption.
(The Rebbe to the Lubavitch Women and Girl's Convention, 28 Iyar, 5751-1991)