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Two enemies face each other on the battlefield. One hums a merry tune as he takes a few practice sweeps with his sword before engaging his foe.
The other is clearly down-hearted, barely placing one foot before the other as he approaches the opponent.
Who will win?
One does not need to know the record or the weight of each participant. The one whose spirit is high will carry the day.
What is true in battle is true in sports and in our spiritual lives as well.
Chasidic teachings place major emphasis on the importance of joy. And especially now that we are entering the month of Adar, when we are enjoined to "increase in joy" this topic, behavior, mindset, approach, is of worth considering.
Based on the Biblical verse, "Since you did not serve G-d with joy and gladness of heart... you shall serve your enemies," it is explained that depression and sadness are the root of all evil.
Often, "serving G-d with joy" is merely a question of counting our blessings, of acknowledging the benevolence of our Creator in providing for all His creations.
At other times, however, happiness does not come easily.
The secret to joy, when things are not going so well, is faith. Faith means the conviction that "the Source of all good can only do good," that everything that happens is part of a Divine plan.
The Talmud describes several personalities throughout history who saw the good in everything.
Rabbi Akiva, for example, saw a fox run across the Temple Mount after the destruction, and laughed while his companions cried.
He was able to comfort the other Sages by explaining that once the prophecy of destruction had been fulfilled, the prophecy of the rebuilding of the Third Temple would certainly also occur.
A Chasidic motto is: "Think good and it will be good."
This is not a guidebook for ostriches on how to bury one's head in the sand. Much more than blind optimism, it is the belief that a trusting and positive approach actually creates a brighter future.
If a doctor tells a patient's family, "Only two months left," the belief of the family, and the patient, that things will get better can be eroded and actually decrease the patient's life. Conversely, a positive attitude has been shown to add years to the life of a person.
In fact, the Torah frowns on doctors who predict the years allotted their patients. To quote the Talmud, "The doctor has been given license to heal" - and only to heal.
Not only as regards the specifics of one individual's life, but in the life span of the world itself, this forward-looking and optimistic sense prevails.
Judaism teaches that in the end, all will be well. Death and evil will be eliminated; war, jealousy, and hatred will cease; and the knowledge of G-d will fill the entire world. This long-awaited time is indeed imminent.
This knowledge should inspire joy. After all, our joy is an expression of our faith. And the faith this joy represents will make that reality even a bit closer.
One of the commandments contained in this week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, is "If you will lend money to any of My people." Lending money to a poor person is considered a mitzva (commandment).
According to our Sages, G-d performs all of the same mitzvot He commands the Jewish people to observe. "He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel." The Torah's "statutes" and "judgments" are G-d's statutes and judgments! Thus, G-d too observes the mitzva of "lending money to the poor," as it were.
Let us examine exactly what is involved in the transaction of a loan:
A loan consists of one person giving money to another, even though he is not obligated to do so. The money is a gift; the borrower does not give anything in exchange. Nonetheless, the person on the receiving end of the transaction is obliged to eventually repay the giver.
The Holy One, Blessed Be He, observes all of the Torah's commandments. G-d's "loan" to us, however, consists of the strengths and abilities He endows us with to succeed in our daily lives.
These gifts are not measured, nor does G-d grant them only to the deserving, just as monetary loans are not made solely to those in dire need. And yet, they are still "loans" and must therefore be repaid. But how do we repay our debt? By utilizing our strengths and abilities to carry out our Divinely-appointed mission in life, observing G-d's "statutes" and "judgments" in fulfillment of His will.
The second half of the above commandment reads "You shall not be a creditor to him, nor shall you lay upon him interest." It is forbidden for a lender to pressure the borrower into repaying his loan. He may neither ask for his money nor cause him distress. If the loan has not yet been repaid it is obvious that the borrower does not have the money to do so. In fact, the lender may not even show himself to the borrower, that he not be made to feel any embarrassment or shame.
G-d also observes the prohibition against being a creditor. G-d could easily demand payment by punishing His children and inflicting pain and suffering, but He does not. For it is forbidden for a creditor to cause sorrow to those who are in his debt. Instead, G-d acts toward the Jewish people with kindness and mercy, granting them all manner of revealed and open goodness.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 1
From Darkness to Light
by Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin
I'll never forget the day I was sitting in class at United Lubavitch Yeshiva. I must have been 14, 15 years old and my English teacher, George Landberg, put down his chalk and interrupted the lecture. He was a fine teacher; usually he liked to talk to us about all sorts of linguistic things, like onomatopoeia in poems or characters in fiction. That day, however, he told us an amazing story that was not fiction, but pure fact. A real miracle had occurred to real people himself and his tragically blind son, Daniel.
This story began in 1973 in New York, when Daniel Landberg was born with normal eyesight. According to state law, however, all newborns must have their eyes treated with a one-percent silver nitrate solution while still in the hospital, as a prophylactic against eye infection. A nurse's assistant who was inexperienced and incompetent came on duty, and a tragic mix-up occurred. She reached for a stick of silver nitrite of the sort intended for cleaning the umbilical cord. This solution is 70 times stronger than the 1% intended for opthalmological use and is highly corrosive. Both of Daniel's eyes were burned by the chemical, his skin scarred, and his eyelashes gone. Worst of all, he was blinded.
For three weeks, Daniel's parents kept him in the hospital, receiving antibiotic treatments and getting tests from one specialist after another in an attempt to cure him. None of them believed that Daniel's sight could return. To make matters worse, each was more callous than the next in their treatment of the Landbergs themselves. Why was this couple even bothering? It was clear the child would forever be blind.
A window of hope opened when one Dr. Hornblass took up their case but not quite in the way the Landbergs had expected. Dr. Hornblass was an opthamologist who two years prior had returned from Vietnam, was an expert in chemical burns and, what's more, an observant Jew. Dr. Hornblass applied himself to Daniel's case with a prognosis for healing that others had ignored. He wrote to the Center for Disease Control in Washington and obtained their permission to use steroids on Daniel that had not yet been approved. He also took a more personal interest in Daniel's healing, suggesting Jewish channels of healing. In particular, he shared with the couple how a healing from G-d had occurred for him, personally. His own father had suffered a heart attack, and the prognosis was very bad. A religious man, he wrote to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and asked for a blessing. He received one, and within a week, his father was cured. "Might not the Landbergs do the same?" urged the doctor.
The means to implement Dr. Hornblass's suggestion were actually close at hand. George already had a connection to Lubavitch, having worked at ULY for ten years; what's more, his principal, Rabbi Mendel Tenenbaum, had access to the Rebbe. Mr. Landberg asked Rabbi Tenenbaum to approach the Rebbe. In no time he was face-to-face with the Rebbe in private audience, beseeching him on Daniel's behalf. The Rebbe gave his blessing.
One week later, the Landbergs got a call from Dr. Hornblass in the hospital, "I'm witnessing a miracle," he told them, "I'm watching all the conjunctiva and stain ooze out of his eyes. I dare say I'm confident that his vision will return!" Indeed, within a short time, Daniel was no longer blind.
The Rebbe didn't exact any payment or thanks, but Rabbi Tenenbaum pursued Mr. Landberg. "You owe us," he asserted. "Now you must put on tefilin every day!"
At first, Mr. Landberg was a bit stunned; he didn't have the mitzva (commandment) of tefilin anywhere on his personal spiritual radar; it was completely unfamiliar to him. But he was a good father, and he saw an inkling of what Rabbi Tenenbaum was after. No matter how skeptical he was, he observed. The road to medically ensure Daniel's newfound sight was a long and often hard one, but through it all, every day, George Landberg laid tefilin.
When Daniel was only six months old, he developed cysts on his cornea. Daniel was scheduled for surgery, but Dr. Hornblass had strong feelings against it. The child had so many steroids in his system, he felt anesthesia would be risky. He delayed the surgery. Then one night, Daniel rubbed his eyes in his sleep and broke the cysts. No surgery was necessary.
When Daniel was ten, a different sort of cyst developed on his eyelid. It would affect the shape of his cornea and hence required surgery. When the surgeons went in to remove the cyst, they also removed a great deal of scar tissue on the underside of his eyelid, further relieving the pressure on his cornea and improving his vision.
Years and years have passed. Today Daniel is in his forties. Daniel's vision isn't perfect, but it is amazingly good, and all he has remaining is a scar on the cornea of his right eye. He drives a car, coaches high school football, and has a child of his own. What's more, Daniel himself lays tefilin every day and is passing his connection to the mitzva on to his young son. He knows, without question, that health and tefilin go together.
"We do feel it was all miraculous," Rita Landberg, Daniel's mom, concludes. "There was this special blessing. It was miraculous that we found Dr. Hornblass and that we had a connection to Rabbi Tenenbaum, and that he, in turn, got a private audience with the Rebbe. Tefilin will always be intertwined with Daniel's wellbeing. There is no doubt that his health is directly connected to the mitzva."
Thus, it was my English fiction teacher who taught me a Torah fact. When we observe the mitzvot assiduously, carefully, and without fail, we ourselves bring down enough power to transform darkness, quite literally, into light.
From the forthcoming book by Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin.
This past month marked 200 years since the passing of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism and author of the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy - Tanya. In honor of this occasion, special editions of Tanya were printed world-wide. Some of the locations included: Goodyear, Arizona; Kiryat Gat, Israel; Gippsland, Australia; Weston, Florida; Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway; Augusta, Georgia; Ariel, Israel. In 1984, the Lubavitcher Rebbe initiated a campaign to print the Tanya in locations throughout the world, stating: "As part of the dissemination of Chasidic teachings, editions of Tanya should be printed in every place that has a Jewish population. This will lend extra enthusiasm to the study of Tanya by all Jews, the preparation to the Messianic era." To date the Tanya has been printed in over 6,000 locations.
Erev Shabbos Kodesh, Yud Shevat, 5734 
Blessing and Greeting:
I was pleased to be informed of the forthcoming Twelfth Annual Midwinter Convention, which is to take place during the weekend of Shabbos Parshas Mishpotim.
In accordance with the well-known adage of the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman], founder of Chabad Chasidism] to the effect that "a Jew should live with the time," that is to say, in the spirit of the current weekly Torah portion, and also on the basis of the Baal Shem Tov's [founder of general Chasidism] teaching about the significance of a name being related to the inner essence and vitality of a person or thing,
One can, upon reflection, discover a profound message in the portion of Mishpotim and in its very name; a message which is pertinent to the convention and its main theme.
The highlight of Mishpotim is to be found in its concluding keynote, which summarizes the proper approach to all G-d's commandments on the principles of Naaseh v'Nishmah [we will do and (then) we will understand], namely that Naaseh - the actual doing and fulfillment of the Mitzvoth [commandments] - must come before v'Nishma - intellectual comprehension.
In light of the above, the contents of the Sidra coming under the heading Mishpotim, seem to be in contradiction to the principle of Naaseh v'Nishma, as will be seen from the following:
It is well know that the Mitzvoth are generally classified into three categories: Chukkim, Eidos and Mishpotim.
Chukkim [statutes] are the Mitzvoth which are purely religion in the sense that they have not been given a "rational" explanation.
Eidos [testimonials] are the Mitzvoth which are "testimonies," recalling and testifying to certain events, such as Yetzias Mitzraim [the exodus from Egypt], etc.
Mishpotim [judgments] are those Mitzvoth which are "understandable" by human reason, such as laws of social justice, ethics and morality.
Thus, according to the principle of Naaseh v'Nishma, mentioned above, one would have expected that the first Torah portion that follows Mattan Torah [the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai] would deal with statutes, rather than judgments, and should have been named accordingly.
The explanation, however, is that a Jew is expected to attain such a high degree of perfection, where his entire life is based on an absolute obedience to G-d's Will, so that his fulfillment even for the so-called "rational" Mitzvoth, the Mishpotim, is motivated solely by his desire to fulfill G-d's Will, and not by his own "approval" or consent. In other words, the highest expression of Naaseh v'Nishma is to be found precisely in the Mishpotim, the validity of which is not in human reason, but in the fact that they have been ordained by G-d, from Sinai, just like all other Mitzvoth of the Torah.
If there may have been a time in the past, when the need of the Divine origin of the laws of morality and ethics (Mishpotim) in the Torah had to be explained, no such proof is necessary in our day and age, especially after we have seen the total bankruptcy of man-invented ideologies and systems, and when the Prophetic outcry against those who "misrepresent darkness for light and bitterness for sweet" is so much in place.
It is for this reason also that the Ten Commandments, including such "understandable" laws as "thou shalt not steal," etc., are preceded by "I am G-d, thy G-d."
At the same time, though, the principle of Naaseh v'Nishmah must apply to all Mitzvoth, it does not, of course, exclude the human intellect from participating in Torah and Mitzvoth. On the contrary, the human intellect and its thinking powers must be engaged in Torah and permeated with Torah.
It must not, however, be the arbiter in matters of Torah and Mitvoth. Indeed, it must recognize its limitations and subordinate itself to Naaseh, and in this way the intellect itself is refined and deepened, and can play its full role.
In all this, the Jewish woman has a dominant place in Jewish life. The Jewish housewife and mother is the Akeres Habayis, the foundation of the Jewish home and a pillar of Chinuch [Jewish education], the basis of the Jewish family, as has often been emphasized before....
The Ibn Ezra, Rabbi Abraham ben Meir Ibn Ezra, surpassed all of his contemporaries in Torah scholarship, art and secular knowledge. His influence upon Torah study in Italy, Southern France and England was greater than that of any other Jewish figure. Born in Toledo, Spain, in approximately 1092, he travelled throughout Europe, Africa and Asia but returned to Spain before his passing at the age of 75. Although he wrote important works on Hebrew grammar, philosophy and poetry, his most significant contribution was his commentary on most of the books of the Bible.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is "Shabbat Shekalim," when we read about the mitzva of the "half-shekel" the Jews were commanded to give as atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. The half-shekalim were used to bring the communal offerings on behalf of the entire Jewish people. Every person had to give the same amount, "ten gera," which was the equivalent of half of "a holy shekel."
It didn't matter if a Jew was rich or poor - everyone was required to give a half-shekel, and in fact, it was forbidden to give more. For the Jewish people and G-d are one entity; without G-d, they are only half of a single whole.
According to Chasidic philosophy, the "ten gera" are an allusion to the ten powers of the soul. The mitzva teaches that our ten soul powers are only "half a shekel," and that in order to be a complete entity, one must join together with another Jew.
The half-shekels were used to conduct a census of the Jewish people. A census emphasizes the unique importance of every individual. At the same time, it also underscores the fact that every Jew's true existence is bound up with his fellow man's. It is only when a Jew fulfills the commandment to "Love your fellow man as yourself" that he can reach his own individual fulfillment and potential.
This is one of the reasons Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, placed the declaration, "Behold, I accept upon myself the fulfillment of the mitzva, 'Love your fellow man as yourself,' " at the very beginning of the prayer book. Indeed, this principle should be the foundation of all our daily activities.
When Moshiach comes, the communal sacrifices will again be purchased from the half-shekels we will give. Yet even now we can still perform a service representative of the half-shekel - giving to tzedaka (charity). When we recognize the fundamental unity we share with others, it prompts us to increase our donations to tzedaka and give generously.
May all our efforts hasten the rebuilding of the Holy Temple with Moshiach, immediately and at once.
They gazed at G-d and they ate and drank (Exod. 24:11)
There is a connection between the spiritual delight of seeing G-d and the physical acts of eating and drinking. The Torah is telling us that before eating and drinking at home or outside of the home, we should make sure that we are in a G-dly environment, and that the establishment is a truly kosher one.
When you lend money to My people, the poor among you (Exod. 22:24)
The words "among you" seem to be superfluous. The Hebrew word for "among you" is "imach", which also means "with you." Sometimes a person might establish an amount of money that he will give to a particular charity, and even if his wealth increases, the amount he gives remains the same. The Torah is telling us that when we are enriched, the poor should be enriched with us.
(Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg)
He who strikes a man, so that he dies (Ex. 21:11)
The numerical value of the Hebrew letters of the words "he who strikes a man" and "a man who strikes" (Lev. 24:17) is the same as the letters of the name "Esau." Violence and murder are the attributes of Esau, and not Jacob.
If you lend money to My people, to the poor with you, you shall not be demanding (Ex. 22:24)
A group of Chasidim once came to the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek and heard him explain how great a mitzva it is to lend money to another Jew. The Chasidim, who were not very educated but were extremely pious, decided to lend money to each other just to fulfill the mitzva, even though none of them was particularly needy. On their next visit to Lubavitch the Rebbe remarked that he could hardly recognize them, as their faces were illuminated by a great light. The "mystery" was solved when they related what they had done...
By the year 1843 word of the disputes in the Jewish community had reached the Czar's court. An order was issued that representatives be chosen to appear in Petersburg, where a commission, headed by the minister Count Uvarov would meet to decide which "brand" of Judaism was correct.
Each group selected a representative: The Chasidim of White Russia chose Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch; the Polish Chasidim, Reb Israel Halperin of Berdichev; the Mitnagdim chose Rabbi Yitzchak of Volozhin; the Maskilim chose to represent their viewpoint, Bezalel Stern, who was the director of the Jewish school in Odessa. Other Jewish dignitaries had been invited, but declined. Every delegate was permitted to bring an advisor; the Lubavitcher Rebbe brought his son, Reb Yehuda Leib.
When the meeting had convened, Count Uvarov explained that it was not the intention of the Czar to overturn or annul any Jewish law or custom, merely to elucidate and clarify matters.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel was accorded due respect by the ministers, and he successfully answered all the questions that were put to him, which devolved mainly on matters of Chasidut and Kabala.
One of the questions asked of all of the representatives was, "What is the purpose of studying Chasidut and Kabala?"
Bezalel Stern replied that the study was totally unnecessary. Rabbi Yitzchak of Volozhin made no reply at all. When it came the turn of Rabbi Menachem Mendel and Reb Yisroel Halperin, they answered that this study is indispensable to all Jews.
On Friday afternoon, Count Uvarov made an announcement: "The question of the study of Kabala and Chasidut will be decided according to Torah, that is, according to the majority opinion. Since Stern and I hold that it is not necessary and Yitzchak holds his peace, which indicates that he is also against it, and only Schneersohn and Halperin are in favor, I rule that this study be abolished!"
Rabbi Menachem Mendel stood up and with a bitter cry emanating from his heart declared, "Whatever may happen, the study of Kabala and Chasidut cannot be abolished!"
Count Uvarov was beside himself with fury. "Arrest him!" he barked at his guards, and they immediately led the Rebbe from the room. Count Uvarov paced like an enraged tiger, while the other members of the commission looked on in horror.
The time came to recite the afternoon service, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel began chanting the Mincha service aloud, to the melody composed by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe. Count Uvarov stopped pacing, transfixed by the beautiful tune.
"What is it he's saying?" he inquired of the members of the commission.
"He is praying the afternoon service," was the reply. And they explained that he was reciting a most profound passage taken from the Kabala, the very thing on which the dispute centered. Count Uvarov listened intently to the entire service. When the Rebbe had finished praying, Uvarov opened the door and said, "Schneersohn, you are freed !"
The Rebbe then reentered the room and joined his fellow delegates. Then Uvarov turned to the Rebbe and said: "Perhaps we can figure out another way of deciding the outcome of this question. Let us say that since Yitzchak remains silent, that means he favors the study of Kabala and Chasidut. In that case, you have the majority."
With that, the holy Sabbath was ushered in and passed in peace. The final session of the commission was scheduled to convene after the Sabbath.
That day arrived and everyone sat waiting for the meeting to begin - all except Rabbi Menachem Mendel. Bezalel Stern grew impatient and decided to take a walk in the park until the Rebbe arrived. On the way to the meeting the Rebbe suddenly turned to his son and said, "Let's walk through the park."
There, of course, they met Stern. The Rebbe approached him and took him by the hand. "It is written in the holy Talmud, 'Rabbi Judah the Prince wept and said, that there are those who can attain the World to Come in an hour.' Now the time has come that you have been given by Divine Providence, the chance to gain the World to Come. You only need to tell the commission that the study of Kabbala and Chasidut is indispensable."
The words of the Rebbe hit their mark in the heart of Stern, and when it came time for him to speak, he spoke in favor of the study of Kabbala and Chasidut. Hearing him, Rabbi Yitzchak also agreed. And so, with a majority vote, the commission decided in favor of the Chasidim, and with that decision, closed its session.
According to Maimonides, we learn the positive mitzva of praying to G-d from the verse in this week's portion, "You shall serve G-d" (Ex. 23:25)."Service" refers to "the service of the heart," i.e., prayer. During the exile our prayers take the place of the sacrifices that were offered in the Holy Temple. However, when the Temple stood, only kohanim (priests) were allowed to actually bring the sacrifices; Levites and Israelites were prohibited from doing so. Thus the exile has a certain advantage over the time when the Holy Temple is in existence, for at that time every Jew can fulfill the role of the greatest kohen just by calling upon our Father in heaven.