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"It's a game of inches." "Missed me by that much." "Close only counts in horseshoes." We have many expressions and cliches that point out the importance of the little things. Success or failure often turns on focus - not just a split section recognition, but an awareness of where to focus.
When musicians rehearse a song they've done a thousand times, a song they can play in their sleep, it becomes clear how important the details are: they'll go over a note or a pause multiple times, until it's at just the right length and pitch. How many of us are expert enough to detect the difference in a performance or a recording?
Teachers run into this problem all the time with students. It's not just that students fade-out or day-dream. It's that students can get sloppy about the little things. Who cares where the comma goes? Well, there's the story of the panda in the restaurant. If it eats, shoots and leaves, call the police; if it eats shoots and leaves, call the grocery store. (Are "shoots and leaves" nouns or verbs?) How often do students get simple directions wrong - name in the upper left hand corner, not the bottom of the page - because they don't pay attention?
Yet when they start out, students are all about details. Watch a group of kindergarten kids doing an art project. Everything has to be just right. Their questions are all about the details. The slightest deviation raises a firestorm. And babies are really into minutiae - just watch one play with a piece of paper she found on the floor.
"It's all in the fine print." Somehow we've come to not just ignore the details, but to distrust them. The contractor puts in a cabinet, and covers up the quarter inch gap with an extra layer of putty. The credit card company puts the details in a hard-to-read font to obscure how unfair the terms are.
I suspect details have gone down the drain in part because of multi-tasking. We think we can do multiple things at once. For some things, we can - the things that don't require much attention, the things that aren't important to relationships.
The multi-tasking theory of life coincides with what used to be called rudeness, and probably now is just lack of awareness - lack of focus. Call-waiting - it seems convenient, but it interferes with interaction - the doctor's attention shifts; the multi-tasking, call-waiting approach to life - glossing over details - deteriorates relationships.
Paying attention to the details is hard. We get metaphorically dirty. Details mess things up, but they're the nitty-gritty. That's why when it counts, we go into detail.
And that's why Judaism has so many details, pays so much attention to the minutiae, the fine points. The details of halacha - Jewish law - are not trivial; they're essential.
For when it comes to a relationship, no detail is too small. In fact, a relationship is all about the little things. So, too, our relationship with G-d depends upon the details. It's how we get close. It's how we get things right. Yes, it matters if we light candles 18 minutes, not 17, before sunset. Yes, it matters if we use the meat spoon or the milk fork. Yes, the particular words of prayer matter.
Details define our relationships - with each other, and with G-d. Where are the details of your life?
Read more at davidybkaufmann.blogspot.com
In this week's portion, Nasso, we read about the census of the tribe of Levi that was conducted in the desert by the sons of Gershon and Merari. This tally was made only once, in the second year after the Exodus. In the spiritual sense, however, the concept behind reckoning the number of Levites has eternal significance for every Jew, in all times and places. For, even if an event took place only once in history, or the Torah speaks about something that no longer exists in the physical sense, it is still relevant to us at the present time.
Following the sin of the 12 spies, G-d decreed that the Jewish people would have to wait 40 years before entering Israel. The spies' sin was that they did not want to enter Israel; their punishment was not being allowed to do so. In truth, the Jewish people could have waited out their punishment anywhere outside the borders of Israel. But as it turned out, the 40 years were spent wandering through the desert.
There is great significance in the Jewish people's having wandered through a desert. A desert is a place uninhabited by people. It is desolate and uncultivated. The presence of the Jewish people transformed the empty wilderness into "home" for a great multitude. Its stark desolation was also relieved by the grass and trees that sprouted wherever they went, thanks to the well that accompanied them in the merit of Miriam. The desert, a place incompatible with human life, was transformed in to a place that could support it.
Though this happened thousands of years ago, it has practical significance for us today. For every Jew is obligated to transform his desert-like surroundings into "cultivated land."
it sometimes happens that a Jew may look around and discover that he is indeed in a "desert." He may feel himself alone in the world, overwhelmed by a sense of being different. Nonetheless, we are not permitted to simply leave, to run away and look for a better place to live. Like our forefathers, we must turn our surroundings into habitable land. This is accomplished by studying and sharing Torah, and bringing everyone we meet under its influence.
Another "desert" may be a personal, spiritual one. For, if we have not properly sown our environment with good deeds, our inner garden is uncultivated. Yet, we always have the power to change! As we read in this week's Torah portion, it was only upon attainment of the age of 30 that a Levite became eligible to carry the Sanctuary's components. Similarly, if any Jew sincerely resolves to serve G-d properly, regardless of age or past conduct, he will be given the strength from Above to purify himself and amend his ways.
In this manner, both one's personal "desert" and the world at large will be transformed into a flourishing "cultivated land."
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 13
Simplest Solutions are Best
by Izzy Kalman, Nationally Certified School Psychologist
I am a lover of simple solutions. While we tend to think that solutions are difficult, this is usually wrong. It is problems that are difficult. Usually when we find a solution that works, it turns out to be something very simple.
Several years ago, a man in the audience of my Anger Control Made Easy seminar in Manhattan stood out to me like a sore thumb. He sported a long gray beard and wore a white shirt, black suit and the particular style of black hat that comprise the unofficial uniform of Chabad Chassidim.
I was, in fact, very surprised that a Lubavitcher Chassid would attend my secular seminar. I was even more surprised to see that this man wanted to stay afterwards to talk to me. He introduced himself as Avraham Frank, and he wanted more advice on how to apply my teachings in his work. We ended up keeping up sporadic phone contact ever since.
Mr. Frank told me about a mission he had taken upon himself. On his own time and expense, he'd been promoting a school program called A Moment of Silence. He tries to convince schools to implement a minute or two of silence every morning. This is not a new idea. There are several states in the U.S. that have mandated A Moment of Silence for schools. But Mr. Frank's version has a particular twist to it. The students are requested to discuss with their parents what they should be contemplating during the moment of silence in school. As I will be discussing shortly, this may make all the difference.
Mr. Frank told me the results have been amazing. I was initially skeptical, but when I looked at dozens of letters from kids and the video testimonials from teachers, principals and parents, I was greatly impressed - and curious.
Mr. Frank explained that he promotes the program because the late Lubavitcher Rebbe had expressed the desire to see all schools implementing A Moment of Silence.
Regardless of one's religious beliefs or lack of such, when a man like the Lubavitcher Rebbe makes a recommendation for society, it would be smart to give it consideration. In addition to being a Jewish scholar, Rabbi Schneerson was a true genius and a profoundly wise man - and wisdom is the solution to life's problems.
So I gave A Moment of Silence some consideration and for the past year or so, have been mentioning it in my monthly Bullies to Buddies newsletters. As a result, many schools throughout the world have adopted A Moment of Silence and they love the results.
Why does A Moment of Silence work? I will do my best to offer some explanations.
One, it is a powerful experience. If you have ever participated in a memorial service in which everyone is silent for a minute or two, you probably know what it is like. Time seems to pass more slowly, as everyone is united in a communal ceremony of thoughtful silence.
Two, it promotes self-control. It is not easy to be silent and still for a full minute or two, and the younger the child is, the more difficult it is. So when children practice silence for a minute or two every school day, they attain self-control that can be available to them at any time.
Three, when the Moment of Silence is conducted at the beginning of the school day, it sets the mood for the rest of the day.
Four, it can serve as a form of meditation for kids. The benefits of meditation have already been well established by scientific research.
And the fifth factor I will present is the one that has to do with the particular component Rabbi Schneerson added: instructing kids to discuss with their parents what they should think about. This factor is perhaps the one most crucial for the success of the program.
Students are largely in a moral/spiritual limbo. Their home lives revolve around homework and electronic devices, schools are college prep factories, and parents are expected to pay the bills, drive the kids around, bring them to play dates, make sure they do their homework, etc.
And that is where the Lubavitcher Rebbe's brilliance comes in. With his version of the Moment of Silence, schools can restore to parents their rightful role as the moral/spiritual authorities for their children. The schools are in essence declaring to students, "Your parents are the ones you need to look to for meaning in life."
It only takes minutes, but the children need to discuss with their parents what they should be thinking about during the powerful Moment of Silence in school. The kids are now expected to look up to their parents as their moral/spiritual authorities. But consider also what it does for the parents' self-esteem when the school officially recognizes them as moral/spiritual authorities! And, in order to help their children think of topics for Moment of Silence contemplation, the parents need to think about it as well! And because parents care about their children more than anyone else, they tend to take their role in A Moment of Silence seriously.
This simple activity completely avoids problems of conflicts between school and parent over values because the parents are relied on for the values - as they should be. The values can be religious or secular. And if the kids prefer to spend their Moment of Silence fantasizing about pleasures, thinking about how their parents' values are wrong, or thinking about nothing at all, that is fine, too. No one knows the better.
Regardless of what any individual child is thinking during A Moment of Silence, the majority are thinking positive things, and doing so at the same time. Children are less likely to behave badly when they have begun the day together silently contemplating, each in their own way, how to improve their lives and the world. It should not be surprising that A Moment of Silence is profoundly powerful and is almost universally loved by the parents, staff and students of the schools that practice it seriously.
This article was condensed from the Psychology Today blog. Read the entire article at Mr. Kalman's website, bullies2buddies.com. Learn more about A moment of Silence at momentofsilence.info
Rabbi Nathan and Urit Zuckerman have moved to Berlin, Germany, where they will open the Chabad House for Israelis in the city. Rabbi Ephraim and Mushky Zimmerman recently moved to Oro Valley, Arizona, to establish a new Chabad House there. Rabbi Leibel and Musie Kesselman are moving to Greenville, South Carolina, where they will establish Chabad of the Upstate region. Rabbi Yisroel and Mushkie Raskin are joining Chabad of Melbourne CBD (Central Business District) as program directors. Rabbi and Mrs. Menachem Gliss are joining Chabad of Dimona, Israel, where they will focus on the neighborhoods of Chachmei Yisrael, Neve Choresh, and Har Nof.
27 Elul 5717 
Blessing and Greeting:
I was pleased to receive your letter of September 17th, and was particularly gratified with its contents, that you are well and happy, and gradually taking over your routine activities.
There is a well-known saying to the effect that making a good start sets off a good chain of reaction for continued success. This is especially true in marriage, which begins a new life. Therefore it is important to start it off well, to ensure continued happiness and contentment. May G-d help that this be so in your case.
Most important of all is to start the new life in a way that corresponds with the teachings of our Torah, the Law of Life, and then the going is much easier than one anticipated.
This brings me to the next point. You write that you do not want to use the expression of "promise to do," but would rather use the expression "to try to do," as you are afraid to commit yourself, lest you would find it difficult to live up to your promise. Experience has shown that when a person makes a promise to do something, this very promise gives him the strength to carry it out without hesitation, and with greater ease. Whereas, when one does not commit himself, promising only "to try," or "to do one's best," then, when the matter comes up, and there is temptation not to do it, he is more likely to fail, saying to himself that, after all, he did not promise to do it, but only "to try," and therefore he is not breaking his word, and his conscience doesn't bother him. That is why I think that you should be determined to observe the laws, etc., and, knowing that you have made a promise to do so, will give you not only greater strength, but also peace of mind, as it would eliminate all doubts and hesitations.
Needless to say, if the things in question were impossible to carry out, there would be no room for making a promise. However, in this case, where it concerns the practical observance of the Divine Commandments, given by G-d, the Creator, Who knows also the abilities of the human beings, it is certain that He would not have commanded to do anything which is beyond one's power to do, for G-d is the Essence of Goodness, and does not impose a greater obligation that one is capable to fulfill. Moreover, the laws that He commanded are not for His sake, inasmuch as G-d is not deficient of anything, but they are for the good of the observer.
You will recall what I said to you when you were here that, in regard to the practical precepts, the less one debates with himself, but, rather, fulfills them with simple faith in G-d, the easier and the more natural life is, and the more harmony and happiness it brings. For one of the essential aspects of the Torah is to serve G-d with joy. Such service is carried out, not only through the act of fulfillment of a certain precept, such as putting on tefillin, or the lighting of candles, etc., but every action, word, and thought, which are dedicated to G-d with a spirit of joy of being able to serve the Creator, brings additional light in one's world, and in the world at large....
Although you do not mention it, I trust that you duly received my two previous letters. As for your question with regard to using certain expressions, you may, of course, use the expression that best describes your thoughts and feelings, and also in any language you find most convenient.
Yitro (Jethro) was the father of Tzipora, Moses's wife. He was a priest in the country of Midian. According to the commentator Rashi on the verse, "And Yitro heard all that G-d had done ... " (Exodus 18:1), Yitro had seven names: Reu'el, Yeter, Yitro, Chovav, Chever, Keini and Puti'el. The Torah portion that contains the historic event of the Ten Commandments is named, "Yitro."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week we return to Chapter 1 of Ethics of the Fathers: "Antigonus of Socho...used to say: Do not be like servants who serve their master for the sake of receiving a reward, but rather be like servants who serve their master without the intent of receiving a reward; and let the fear of Heaven be upon you."
Loving G-d and fearing G-d are "only" two of the 613 mitzvot. But fulfilling them properly affects the quality and even the practical observance of all of the Torah's commandments.
As explained in the Tanya, "Love [of G-d] is the root of all the 248 positive commands, all originating in it" and "fear is the root of the 365 prohibitive commands, fearing to rebel against the Supreme King of kings."
What prompts a person to act: cold, rational intelligence, or emotion? The Torah teaches that intellect, no matter how high the level of understanding one has attained, may not necessarily be reflected in behavior. By contrast, love and awe of G-d are the only true motivations that can compel a Jew to Torah observance.
"A mitzva performed without the proper intent is like a body without a soul," wrote the Arizal. Love and awe of G-d give our performance of mitzvot their vitality and "staying power." Yes, a Jew can do a mitzva by rote, simply to fulfill his obligation, but the mitzva won't be "alive."
There are many different levels of love and fear. A person may refrain from sin because he's afraid of being punished, or afraid of the damage it would do to his soul. Then there's a higher level of awe that is closer to embarrassment, shame at the thought of going against G-d's will.
As for love, a Jew may be prompted to do a mitzva because of its spiritual or physical benefits. A higher level is when one realizes that even the greatest reward is only a token, and that "one cannot truly cleave to Him except through the fulfillment" of His mitzvot.
May we all attain "a love that is completely independent" of all self-interest, and serve G-d with the best and purest of our emotions.
So shall you bless the Children of Israel (Num. 6:23)
The Torah's commandment to the kohanim (priests) was not meant as a command to bless the Jewish people but as an instruction how, i.e., in such and such a manner shall you bless them. For kohanim are by nature loving and giving; there was no need to order them to bless, merely to tell them what form it should take.
(Rabbi Avraham Mordechai of Gur)
Before the kohanim recite the priestly blessing they say, "Who has sanctified us through His mitzvot and commanded us to bless His people Israel with love." On the most literal level this means that the kohanim are to bestow their blessing out of a sense of love for their fellow Jew. Yet on a deeper level it expresses the intent that the benediction bring the Jewish people to love one another, rendering them a suitable vessel for G-d's beneficence.
(Ta'amei HaMinhagim b'shem Torat Chaim)
Four of the wagons and eight of the oxen he gave to the sons of Merari (Num. 7:8)
These wagons had to carry an enormously heavy load of materials for the Sanctuary: huge planks, bolts, pillars, tent pegs, etc. Why, then, were there only four wagons? Why wasn't the weight distributed on several more? The answer is that if everything could be loaded onto four wagons, no more were required. Every single object in the world must be used to its full potential, as "G-d has created nothing superfluous in His world."
And he who offered his offering the first day was Nachshon, the son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah (Num. 7:12)
The order in which the leaders of the Twelve Tribes brought their sacrifices teaches the proper order of our Divine service: First came the tribe of Judah, from the Hebrew word meaning "to thank." This is symbolic of the first step in worshipping G-d, humility and acceptance of the yoke of Heaven. Next came the tribe of Issachar, whom the Torah describes as "men of understanding." This alludes to the second step, the study of Torah. The third tribe to make its offering was Zevulun, about whom it states, "Rejoice Zevulun, in your going out." This is symbolic of the third step, the practical performance of mitzvot.
(Addendum to Ohr HaTorah))
The following story was recorded by the Chasid, Reb Dov Zev who witnessed the events with his own eyes.
More than 100 years ago there lived a Chasid by the name of Reb Chaim Yehoshua. He had lived to the ripe age of 87, but although he was not ill, he had a feeling that his days were drawing to a close. He summoned the elders of the town to his bedside and in addition, a visiting emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Reb Dov Zev.
"I have an important request to make of you," he said, "but before I do, I want to tell you about something that happened to me many years ago. Many years ago, I spent Chanuka at the court of the Tzemach Tzedek (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe). During the course of the holiday, he spoke about the self-sacrifice of the Maccabees in sanctifying the Name of G-d. The words of the Rebbe made an enormous impression on me.
"After the holiday ended I returned to our farm. Our father, who was a Chasid of the Alter Rebbe and the Mittler Rebbe after him had instilled in his children a particular devotion to the mitzva of hospitality, so when two frozen strangers appeared on our doorstep one cold snowy night, we, of course, invited them in and served them a warm, hearty meal.
"I had retired to my own room when I heard the faintest whining sound. I thought it was a cat and I listened carefully, straining my ears to make out its source. As I followed the sound, it became obvious that it was not a cat, but a child who was crying. I approached the spot from where the cry came and to my utter shock, there in the wagon of the two strangers lay two small children, one sleeping and the other crying, both tied hand and foot. I knew at once that they were victims of kidnappers, or "khappers," as they were known at the time. For then was the height of the terror of child-kidnapping for the Czar's army. The unfortunates were stolen from the bosom of their families, never to be seen again, to serve in the army for twenty years and more.
"I took the two into my home and fed them and put them into a warm bed. My brother confronted the kidnappers and in a frenzy of anger threatened to give them a beating they would never forget. They, for their part, feigned innocence. No, they were the wronged ones, they claimed. They concocted a story about the children being mentally ill and being taken to a famous doctor, but when they saw that we wouldn't buy their ridiculous story, they disappeared as fast as their horses could gallop.
"When my brother next visited the Rebbe, he blessed us all and told us to hide the children for a full year before returning them to their families, and this we did. The event inspired in me a great desire to continue in this mitzva of redeeming captives, and for a large part of every year I traveled to different parts of the region, seeking out these children, who were called Cantonists, and saving them.
"I continued this work for seven years, until I fell into a trap and almost lost my life. I traveled to the Rebbe and he gave me a blessing for long life and promised me that when it came my time to leave this world, I would be 'with him in his abode.' And this leads me to tell you why I have summoned all of you here today. I feel sure that my life is about to end, and I am asking you to gather a minyan at my grave side and say these words, 'Reb Menachem Mendel, son-in-law of Reb Dov Ber and grandson of Reb Shneur Zalman! Your servant Chaim Yehoshua ben Esther is dead. Before his passing, he appointed us to inform you of this and to remind you that you promised him, that because of his mitzva of ransoming captives, he would be with you, in your abode.' "
The Chasidim agreed to carry out his wish, and the following day, Reb Chaim Yehoshua recited Shema Yisrael, and returned his soul to its Maker. That same day, a minyan surrounded his grave and said the words he had requested of them, reminding the Rebbe of his promise of long ago.
A person who states, "I will become a nazir on the day the son of David will come," must observe the nazir rites forever." For every day might well be the day when, "the son of David comes." This implies that the revelation of "the new [dimension of the] Torah which will emerge from Me," should not be considered as an event of the future, but rather as a present and immediate matter.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 13 Sivan, 5751-1991)