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by Chava Tombosky
It is said that the Jewish calendar is like a cyclical, rotating sphere. As we circulate through time, on every holiday we experience the same original energies permeating the present as were in the past. The momentous occasion of the original holiday happens again. This year is no different. As we enter Shavuot, we can be sure the energies we have available to us are the same as they were 3334 years ago.
Shavuot also marks the passing of the revolutionist, philosopher, lobbyist, and righteous spiritual leader, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem, otherwise known to the world as "The Baal Shem Tov."
It is the Baal Shem Tov who realized that the world was ready for the secrets of the Torah that had otherwise been kept for the elite scholars of the Jewish community to be revealed in volume. He is also known to the world as the very first Chasidic Master.
Society has spent eons trying to determine the secret to a happy life. Even the constitution of the United States claims that every person has the right "to the pursuit of happi-ness." But with the failing economy, divorce rates up by 50%, and growing numbers of the population taking anti-depressants, there is a very real question at hand: What can we do differently that will help us attain the pursuit of happiness we have all been promised?
The Baal Shem Tov was a wise man. He understood the secret to true self-discovery. He also understood that happiness is an inside job and that it takes a lifetime commitment of self-refinement and self-evaluation to achieve everlasting happiness. There is no quick fix, but if we find the time to evaluate what is working and what is not working in our lives, then we can learn the art of how to have healthier relationships, happier lives, and meaningful existences.
Shavuot marks the birth of the Torah, the blueprint of our lives that is meant to teach us the secrets to this quest. However, I have met many who have been exposed to the Torah as a set of laws that can feel constricting and have claimed to hinder their own self-expression. Self-expression is a vital tool into self- discovery. The reason why I love studying Chasidic mysticism so much is because it gives sage and articulate wisdom. It guides us to tap into our own individuality while not betraying our personal goals as human beings to pursue happiness without sacrificing relationships, our Higher Power, our work or our art. It is the wisdom that gives us the light we need to maintain balance and serenity in an ever-confusing world. It is the secret to self-discovery.
On Shavuot as we celebrate a time when humanity was graced with life's blueprint, we can be sure the spirit of Chasidic revelation will grace our world as it did over 250 years ago. May we merit to experience Judaism as it was intended, with the pursuit of self-discovery and happiness. May we have a very meaningful Shavuot, indeed.
As for me, I plan on spending Shavuot pursuing my happiness with a whopping slice of cheese cake followed by a good lesson on the principles of Chasidic philosophy that I am hoping will infuse me with so much inspiration, the cheesecake calories won't even count.
From www.chavatombosky.com. For more on Chasidic self-discovery visit Chava's two favorite websites:meaningfullife.com and yeshiva.net.
The Torah portion of Bamidbar is always read before the holiday of Shavuot, and is therefore considered part of our preparation for receiving the Torah.
It is an established rule that the name of a particular Torah portion alludes to its content. What, then, does "Bamidbar," which literally means "In the wilderness" (as well as the continuation of the verse, "of Sinai"), have to do with Shavuot?
"Wilderness" would seem to imply a very undesirable situation, an uninhabited wasteland in which nothing grows. Likewise, "Sinai" is related to the word "sina," meaning hatred, as our Sages explained, "Hatred descended into the world because of it." How, then, can these two seemingly negative concepts prepare us for the Giving of the Torah?
The answer is revealed when we consider the conditions that are necessary and conducive to Torah study. The main preparation consists of emptying the mind of worldly matters, to prevent any distractions. A person who wants to learn Torah should be completely detached from anything that might disturb his concentration.
This detachment should be not only from mundane affairs, but also from other topics within Torah that are unrelated to the subject at hand. Of course, all aspects of the Torah are interrelated, and the ultimate goal is to turn one's knowledge into practical action and to teach others. However, this is only the second step and not the first.
This optimal approach to learning Torah is alluded to in the word "wilderness." A wilderness is isolated and devoid of people, a place where there is nothing to divert one's attention. When a Jew studies Torah, he should feel as if there is nothing else in the world besides himself and the Torah, as our Sages said: "A person who does not make himself into an 'unclaimed wilderness' cannot acquire the Torah's wisdom."
Moreover, an element of "hatred" is also required as a preparation for learning Torah. A person should feel so removed from mundane matters that he simply cannot bear anything that interferes with the Torah's light.
When a Jew prepares himself in such a manner, he is guaranteed that his learning will be successful. He will then be able to go out into the world and apply his knowledge, transforming it into "a dwelling place for G-d."
For indeed, the ultimate objective is not to "hate" the world, and not even to nullify its negative aspects, but to actually transform them into good by revealing their inherent G-dliness.
Adapted from Vol. 3 of Torat Menachem Hitva'aduyot 5750
A Letter in the Torah
Since the writing of the first Childrens Torah Scroll in 1981 at the instruction of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, four Torahs have been completed. The fifth Children's Sefer Torah will be concluded this summer on Wednesday, August 8/Av 20, 5772, at the Tzemach Tzedek Shul in the Old City of Jerusalem and at the Western Wall. A total of 1,684,641 Jewish children under the age of Bar and Bat Mitzva from around the world have each acquired a letter in these special Torahs or Jewish unity. The fifth Torah is currently being written, with thousands more acquiring letters each month in the sixth Torah.
This story happened four years ago:
Schneider (now Cohen) Children's Hospital in Long Island, New York. Absolute silence reigned in the hospital corridors. Doctors and nurses quickly passed through them on their way from one place to another, busy and occupied with their work. Only one pair of parents stayed sitting in their place, on a small bench next to the operating theater. These parents wore an expression of high pressure and helplessness. A heart-rending sigh was heard from time to time as they prayed silently, appealing for Heavenly mercy.
Their beloved son was currently lying on the operating table, behind the sealed doors, undergoing heart surgery. His parents waited with bated breath for the moment when the operating surgeon would come out and tell them what they wanted to hear: "To life and not to..." Their feelings of worry gnawed away at them relentlessly.
A while later the worried parents were called to speak to the surgeon. They jumped up and ran down to his office, all the while praying silently and hoping for good news.
They closed the door behind them, sat down, and looked at the surgeon's expression. Maybe they would see the answer for themselves. The surgeon's serious expression only added to their tension. The parents' hearts beat faster, with a growing sense of fear.
"Your child is now in the recovery room," the surgeon announced in an indefinable tone. "From the point of view of his heart, the operation was successful. But," and here the surgeon lowered his voice, "I regret to inform you that during the operation we hit the respiratory nerve and it was damaged."
"This means that from the child's point of view, in the worst case he will be left in a vegetative state," the doctor announced.
A moment later, however, he added, "It is possible that after a while he may rally and start to breathe on his own, without any apparatus, but he will not be able to speak. It is also possible that in a few years, his power of speech will return, but he will remain disabled forever and he will need constant medical supervision."
The parents were completely shocked. They turned pale and they began to tremble before collapsing on the spot. They could not even respond to such terrible news.
A while later, when they understood what the surgeon had said the parents burst into heartrending sobs. They wept for their beloved little boy who would be handicapped forever.
By Divine Providence, a Chabad chasid present at the hospital heard the parents' cries and wails, realizing that they were completely heartbroken. He approached them and tried to raise their spirits, offering them words of support in their hour of need.
The chasid suggested that they should buy their son a letter in the Children's Sefer Torah as a protection and a blessing. He told them about the merit of having a letter in the Sefer Torah, the power that a Jew receives from it, and the amazing connection between the Jew and the Holy One that is forged through the Torah.
The parents were encouraged by his words, and then and there they purchased a letter in this special Sefer Torah for their little boy.
A few hours went by, and the little boy who was going to have a limited, sad life, slowly opened his eyes. The medical staff was very excited, and they called the worried parents, telling them to come and see the miracle for themselves. As the minutes passed, the little boy continued to show more signs of life and recovery. He had come back to life.
As time went on, it did not look as if he had any problems with his respiratory nerve. He was functioning as normal. He even spoke like anyone else, though he was quieter and his voice was weak. But the physician's bleak prognosis did not come about. The little boy was a child like any other... he began to smile again, to play, and he grew into a fine, healthy Jew.
The withered "vegetable" came back to life. The special letter saved his life. The Rebbe's directive restored his soul.
To acquire a letter in the Sixth Children's Torah visit www.kidstorah.org, or write to Children's Sefer Torah, P.O.Box 8, Kfar Chabad, 60840 Israel or call 972-3-9607-358
Each year on the festival of Shavuot we relive the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people by G-d at Mount Sinai by hearing the Ten Commandments read in the synagogue from a Torah scroll. It is a special mitzva (commandment) for every man, woman and child to be in the synagogue on Shavuot to hear the Torah reading. This year, the Torah reading that tells of the giving of the Torah will be read on the first day of Shavuot, Sunday, May 27, in synagogues around the world. Many Chabad-Lubavitch Centers sponsor "ice cream" parties (in keeping with the ancient tradition of eating dairy products on Shavuot) for the young and the young at heart. To find out about the closest Shavuot ice cream party call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
Rabbi Menachem and Adina Landa have arrived in Novato, California, where they have established Chabad of Novato.
Rabbi Heshy and Shiffy Dubrowski will be arriving soon in Tampa, Florida, to work with youth at Chabad Lubavitch of Tampa Bay.
2 Sivan, 5711 
With the approach of Shavuos, the festival of our Receiving the Torah, I want to send you a brief message, although I am greatly overburdened with work. This ought to indicate to you how highly I value the work of your group for advancement in both the knowledge of Torah and the practice of its precepts.
Being G-d given, the Torah has infinite aspects. The purpose of this message is to point out to you one of the most important aspects of the Torah.
To many the Torah may be a means to gain reward and avoid punishment. Others consider the Torah a guide to good living. I will give you my view after a brief introduction.
The world is a creation by G-d. As such, it can have no common denominator with its Creator. This cannot be amplified here, for lack of space, but it should be sufficiently clear anyway.
This world consists of a variety of creatures, which are generally classified into "Four Kingdoms": mineral, vegetation, animal and mankind.
Taking the highest individual of the highest group of the four mentioned above, i.e. the most intelligent of all men, there can be nothing in common between him, a created and limited being, and G-d, the Infinite, the Creator. No analogy can even be found in the relative difference between the lowest of the lowest "Kingdom" and the highest of the highest, for both are created things.
However, in His infinite goodness, G-d gave us a possibility of approach and communion with Him. G-d showed us the way how a finite, created being can reach beyond his inherent limitations, and commune with G-d the Infinite.
Obviously, only the Creator Himself knows the way and means that lead to Him, and the Creator Himself knows the capacity of His creatures in using such ways and means.
Herein lies one of the most important aspects of the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] to us. They provide the ways and means whereby we may reach a plane above and beyond our status as created things. Clearly, this plane is incomparably above the highest perfection which a man can attain within his own created (hence, limited) sphere.
From this point of view, it will no longer appear strange that the Torah and Mitzvos find expression in such simple, material and physical aspects as the dietary laws, and the like.
For our intellect is also created, and therefore limited with the boundaries of creation, beyond which it has no access. Consequently it cannot know the ways and means that lead beyond those bounds.
The Torah, on the other hand, is the bond that unites the created with the Creator, as it is written, "and you that cleave to G-d, your G-d, are all living this day."
To the Creator, all created things, the most corporeal, as well as the most spiritual, are equally removed. Hence, the question, "What relationship can a material object have with G-d?" has no more validity than if it referred to the most spiritual thing in its relationship to G-d.
But the Creator gave us a possibility to rise, not only within our created bounds, but beyond, toward the Infinite, and He desired that this possibility be open to the widest strata of humanity. Consequently, He had conditioned this possibility upon ways and means which are accessible to all, namely the Torah and Mitzvos.
From this point of view it is also clear that no sacrifice can be too great in adhering to the Torah and Mitzvos, for all sacrifices are within the limits of creation, whereas the Torah and Mitzvos offer an opportunity to rise beyond such limits, as mentioned above.
It is also clear that no person has the right to renounce this Divine opportunity by professing indifference toward reward and punishment. Such views are but the product of a limited intellect which has no right to jeopardize the very essence of the soul, for the latter, being a "spark of the Divine," is above the intellect and any arguments it can produce, to deter him from the utmost perfection which he is able to attain.
I wish each and every one of you and your respective families an enjoyable and inspiring Yom Tov [holiday] with lasting effects throughout the year.
Ruth was a Moabite princess who married Machlon, one of the sons of Elimelech after his family left the Land of Israel to settle in Moav during a great famine. After her husband died, Ruth chose to follow her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel and to remain a true adherent of the Torah. (As described in Ruth's words to Naomi, "Where you go I will go; where you lodge I will lodge; your people are my people, and your G-d is my G-d." Ruth married the Torah Sage, Boaz, and bore his child, Oved, who was the grandfather of King David and an ancestor of Moshiach. We read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week on 6 and 7 Sivan (corresponding to Sunday, May 27 and Monday, May 28 this year) we will be celebrating Shavuot, the holiday on which we commemorate the giving of our Torah.
Each year, when we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot, we are receiving the Torah as if it were new. Therefore, we should approach our Jewish education in the same way. We must realize anew that the Torah is the purpose of Creation, and renew our dedication to grow Jewishly. When a Jew concentrates wholeheartedly on his Torah study to the point that nothing else exists for him while he is thus engaged, he becomes one with the Torah, a single indivisible, united entity.
This emphasis on Torah study is also related to this week's Torah portion, which describes the census taken of the Jews.
The Torah counts 600,000 Jewish souls, which correspond to the 600,000 letters in the Torah. Despite this multiplicity, both the Torah and the Jewish people are a single indivisible entity. The one people are connected to One G-d through His one Torah. This is the ultimate expression of G-d's love for the Jewish people.
Just as the Torah has the power to transform an uninhabitable place to a place compatible with life, so too does every Jew have the power to change the world around him by turning away from evil and doing good. When a Jew is involved in Torah study, he transforms the negative around him into positive.
On this holiday of Shavuot, while rejoicing in the precious gift of our holy Torah, let us pray fervently and ask G-d to send us Moshiach, so that we may all be able to learn Torah in a world completely transformed into a place of holiness.
You shall take a count of the Congregation of Israel (Num. 1:2)
When a count is taken, no distinctions are made between what is being counted. The great and the small are both equal, each having the value of one. The Torah portion of Bamidbar is always read on the Shabbat before Shavuot, the holiday on which the Torah was actually given on Mount Sinai, for all Jews stand equal on that day. Our Sages said that if even one Jew had been missing, the Torah would never have been given!
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Why wasn't the Torah given to the Jewish people in Israel, their final destination after having left the land of Egypt? If G-d had chosen one location in Israel to give His Torah, it would have caused bad feelings and contention among the twelve tribes, for each would have wanted the Torah to be given in their portion of the land. G-d therefore chose a wilderness, belonging to no one, as the site at which to give His Torah.
(Midrash Lekach Tov)
On a Mountain
Why was the Torah given on a mountain? The difference between level ground and a mountain is not qualitative; both are made of dust and earth. A mountain is just more of that earth collected and heaped up into a larger mass. The fact that the Torah was given on a mountain teaches us that a Jew's purpose in life is to take that earth - physical matter and corporeality - elevate it, and transform it into holiness.
It was the custom of Reb Chaim of Sanz, the Sanzer Rebbe, to deliver a public discourse at the afternoon meal on Shavuot. This much anticipated event was attended by hundreds of his Chasidim who traveled to spend the holiday with their Rebbe and hear his holy words.
One year all were assembled as usual, but to their surprise and disappointment, the Rebbe failed to appear, retiring to his room instead. The Chasidim were worried and began to speculate as to why the Rebbe had departed from his usual custom.
The Rebbe's attendants passed through the murmuring crowd and motioned to several of the wealthier Chasidim to enter into the Rebbe's study. Honored and humbled to have been singled out, they listened carefully to Reb Chaim's words. "I am old and I don't have the strength to address the entire congregation as I have in previous years. And so, I have asked you to come and I will speak only to you, very briefly, about an important matter. It is urgent that I have 2,000 rubles to marry off a poor bride. I am entrusting you the matter to organize this between yourselves. I expect the sum to be pledged by the end of the holiday. I am waiting to hear from you. Come to me as soon as the money has been amassed."
In no time flat the Rebbe's attendants came to inform him that the matter was taken care of. The wealthy Chasidim had arranged to contribute the entire sum among themselves, and the money would be presented to the Rebbe at the close of the holiday. Reb Chaim was overjoyed with the manner in which his plea had been received by his Chasidim. He cried out, "This Shavuot I certainly have delivered my most successful sermon!"
The two famous rabbis, Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg and Reb Pinchas of Frankfurt were brothers, the sons of the Rabbi of Tchortkov, Reb Tzvi Hirsh Halevi Horowitz. Even as small children they were known as prodigies.
When they were quite young their father took over the duty of teaching them Torah. It was a challenging job and he taught them as quickly and as much as their brilliant minds could absorb. When they were both below ten years old, they were already studying the Talmud with several commentaries.
As part of their schedule, they would study the laws pertaining to the next approaching holiday. And so, when Chanuka ended, their father began the study of the tractate Megilla in preparation for Purim. Having completed it by Purim, they began studying the tractate dealing with the laws of Passover, which they finished right on target; the day before Passover.
Shmelke, the elder of the two boys then said to his father, "Now we have to begin studying the tractate Shevuot if we want to finish it by the time Shavuot comes along."
"Do you think that Shevuot deals with the laws of the holiday?" asked their father smiling, for that was not the case.
"No," replied the boy. "I know it deals with the laws of oaths, but I have a reason why we should study it now. On that first Shavuot when the torah was given after the Exodus from Egypt, all the Jews took an oath at Mount Sinai to keep the commandments of the Torah. That promise has been binding ever since. I want to learn the laws of oaths so I can understand how important it is to keep a promise and how serious it is to break one. I figured out that there are 49 double pages of this tractate and 49 days between Passover and Shavuot, and if we learn a double-page every day, we will finish in time for Shavuot.
Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh was pleased by his son's erudite reasoning and he happily agreed to learn according to his suggestion.
By the time Lag B'Omer had arrived (the 33rd day of the Omer), they had reached a section in the tractate which mentioned a law in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Little Shmelke jumped up from the table excitedly: "See how wonderful! This is the day of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's passing, the 33rd day of the Omer, and here his name is mentioned. Not only that, but it says '...and they laughed in the land of Israel,' and everyone knows that it's a custom to make a big celebration in Israel on this day!" The father and sons finished exactly as they had calculated, although they had to study a double-page every day.
The following year when Passover had passed, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh asked his sons what they wished to learn in preparation for Shavuot. This time the younger child, Pinchas, answered: "I think we should begin the tractates of Ketubot (marriage contracts) and Kiddushin (the laws of marriages)."
Questioned his father, "What do they have to do with Shavuot?"
"That's easy. On Shavuot, G-d took the Jewish people to be His - it was like a wedding - and said the words, `I have betrothed you to Me forever.' You taught us that G-d held Mount Sinai over our heads like a marriage canopy. The holy words of the Torah were like our marriage contract, and He gave us a gift as well - the Oral Torah. That is why I think we should learn the laws of marriage contracts and betrothals - so we will know that the `wedding' of Israel and G-d was a valid one and that both G-d and the Jews are obligated to fulfill all the points of the contract."
Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh couldn't help beaming with pride from his son's well-reasoned words. The three scholars learned the two tractates in record speed, finishing two double pages a day until, 49 days later, they celebrated both the holiday of Shavuot and the successful completion of their studies.
And I will betroth you to Me forever, and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness and with justice and with loving-kindness and with mercy. And I will betroth you to Me with faith, and you shall know the Lord.
(Hosea 2 21-22)