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Isn't it wonderful that so many services are automated these days? You can pay bills, check balances, make purchases, etc., etc., etc., by computer or automated phone systems and never have to hear a busy signal or be put on hold.
There's only one problem with all of this computerization and automation: When you need to speak to a real, live, breathing, thinking (?!) person, you usually have to wait indefinitely on the phone. "Please hold for our next available representative" has become the all-too-familiar refrain to many who call businesses, especially services and utilities, for help.
If you've had one of these frustrating experiences in the recent past (and who hasn't?), you'll be happy to know that there's no waiting or holding when it comes to getting through to G-d.
Each and every person, from the youngest child to the most senior citizen, has equal access to the Big Boss. And it's as simple as can be, because you don't need any special equipment, nor do you need to call during "business hours." Every hour is a business hour for G-d and the only thing you need to get through is the desire to communicate with the Creator.
Another plus is that fame, position, success, and power have never made G-d unapproachable. And you won't be pushed off on some underling... you can always go directly to G-d.
One might wonder how so many billions of people can have such a personal relationship with G-d, but, as Jewish teachings explain, the matter is only dependent on each individual. Your ability to communicate with your Creator, to relate to your Divine Parent, to be intimate with your Beloved, depends on you and your desire.
This does not mean that the relationship is one-sided, though. For, when we work even slightly on our rapport with G-d, G-d responds infinitely, as Jewish teachings explain that G-d tells us, "Open for Me a space the size of the eye of a needle and I will open for you a space that an elephant can go through."
Lastly, there's nothing impersonal about our Divine relationship. Not excluding the fixed prayers that we say daily, we can and do turn to G-d for all our needs, great and small, in words that come from the heart, in the language of our choice, at the time we feel appropriate.
And even those fixed prayers, when studied and understood on a myriad of levels, can attain personal and subjective significance.
There is, however, one very major matter, concerning which G-d has made us "hold the line."
We have been holding, for the past two thousand years, for the commencement of the Redemption. It's time to stop being so patient and show G-d what we're really made of. It's time we take advantage of our very personal relationship with G-d, and during our own private communication as well as during the fixed prayers, we demand of G-d that He make good on his ancient promise to finally bring peace, harmony, health, prosperity, and G-dly light to a world that is so desperately in need of Moshiach. Surely if we are sincere we will not have to be put "on hold" much longer.
"And every offering of all the holy things...which they bring to the kohen, shall be his," states the Torah in this week's portion, Nasso. the great Torah commentator Rashi explains, "This refers to bikurim (first fruits)."
The very first fruits to ripen are to be brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and given to the kohen (priest), as his due.
Agricultural produce does not grow by itself. In order to produce those fruits a Jew must toil countless hours painstakingly plowing, sowing and tending his fields. Yet instead of enjoying for himself the first tangible results of his labor, the Torah demands that they be brought to Jerusalem and presented to a total stranger!
We learn from this that the very first and best of whatever a person possesses should be used for the purpose of tzedaka (charity).
Many people don't find it too difficult to accept this principle when it comes to supporting religious institutions. They give willingly when asked to contribute to a synagogue or yeshiva.
But a strange thing occurs when it comes to giving tzedaka to a needy individual: "Why should I part with my hard-earned money to support him?" the Evil Inclination prompts us. "Why should his needs come before mine? Why must I part with the very best? Is not second best good enough? Better I should take care of myself first, and only afterward help others with whatever is left over."
We learn, however, from the mitzva of bikurim, that such is not the Jewish way. We are commanded to give the first fruits to the kohen, an individual, for his own personal use. Only after this is done are we permitted to derive benefit from the blessings G-d has given us.
Significantly, the Torah commands us to bring the first fruits to the Holy Temple, "the house of the L-rd your G-d" in Jerusalem before presenting them to the kohen. A Jew must first understand that whatever wealth is granted him from Above is not truly his, despite the labor he may have invested to amass it.
When a Jew realizes that everything, in reality, belongs to G-d, the protests of the Evil Inclination are silenced, and it is far easier to part with the "first fruits" of one's earnings even for another individual.
When a Jew acts in this manner, he can be assured of the blessing that Rashi speaks of in the verse that follows: "He who gives the kohen 'the gifts that are coming to him ... shall be blessed with great wealth.' "
Based on Likutei Sichot, Vol. VIII
Tuning In To Teens
by Arlene Hisiger
It is no secret that the teenage years can be quite challenging. Today, this is truer than ever. The typical high school student faces added responsibilities and pressures. Whether it is striving for excellence in grades, sports, extracurricular activities or just good old peer pressure, the life of a teen is packed. Against this backdrop, Jewish growth is not always high on the teen to-do list.
Five years ago, Rabbi Yitzi and Rishi Hein settled in Pittsford, a Rochester, New York suburb, to open a new community Chabad center with a special emphasis on programming for Rochester area Jewish youth.
Armed with many years of youth-related service the exuberantly energetic 20- something Hein couple possess just the right mix of earnestness, knowledge, and approachability guaranteed to appeal to even the most challenging of youthful audiences.
The couple's foray into the field of teen programs began with social programs such as Bat Mitzvah Club, sushi-making and The Friendship Circle, a mentoring program that matches teenagers with special needs children. All the teen programs acquaint teens with Jewish values in a fun and meaningful way.
A couple of years ago, Rabbi Hein looked into a custom- crafted teen educational series designed by the Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), the educational arm of Chabad Lubavitch. "I saw what the JLI for Teens series was accomplishing in other Jewish communities around the world," he said, "so I thought, 'why not try it here in Rochester?'"
Yet the rabbi still had a nagging worry. "Initially, I was a little skeptical that teens would want to study more," he admitted. "I mean, as noble as the idea might sound, maybe this type of program would not be a priority for them given their overcommitted schedules."
In the end, Rabbi Hein realized his fears were unfounded. Alex Hollenberg, a senior at Pittsford Sutherland High School, described the impetus for his attendance at the teen JLI study program, "This class is important to me," he said, "because I get to learn about Jewish values and how they relate to real-world situations. I learn about things I wouldn't have otherwise learned had I not attended the class. For instance, the Ten Commandments teach us both not to steal and not to kill; so are you allowed to steal to save a life?"
"It amazes me how legitimately busy these kids are," said Rabbi Hein, "they're striving for academic excellence and involved in sports. Yet their level of interest in participating in a forum to discuss these issues in a deep way blew my mind." Over the course of eight weeks, during the recent bleak winter months of October through December, some fifteen boys and girls spanning the gamut of Jewish affiliation, ranging in age from 14-18 years old and from all corners of the metropolitan area, gathered on Sunday evenings in the new Chabad Center of Pittsford to wrestle with Jewish law as it pertains to modern life.
The aim of the series titled Life on the Line: You Make the Call is, according to the informational flyer, to "discover a different way of navigating through life's tough decisions." With the help of textbooks, videos and interactive Power Point presentations, participants were encouraged to voice their opinions regarding the case studies examined during each of the course modules. With intriguing module titles such as Heroes and Hoodlums, Your Money or My Life, and Last Man Standing, the students grappled with moral choices such as: Whose life is more valuable - yours or your friend's? Is it morally acceptable to save one's own life by killing another person? Is it permissible to steal or damage someone else's private property to save oneself from danger? To place these conflicts within a Jewish framework, the students delved into a wealth of Jewish sources, from the Talmud to the present day, to learn the Jewish approach to these modernday dilemmas.
Helen Kaufman, a Pittsford Sutherland High School junior, stressed the importance of discussing modern issues within a Jewish context. "I think it's really important," she said, "to learn about what your religion believes regarding these issues." Sixteen year old Michael Seluanov, a junior at Honeoye Falls High School, underscored a greater appreciation for the worth of life as the most important take away message from the JLI teen sessions. "It really helped me understand the worth of life, within a Jewish context and Jewish values. You don't often find classes like these," he said. His parents, Vera and Andrei, were greatly impressed with the program as well and were pleased to see how motivated Michael was to attend.
"For us, this course was exactly right," Vera said. "We missed the window of opportunity for Jewish education for him when he was younger." Andrei shared that the family had been looking for a good Jewish studies program, expressly for teenagers, for quite some time. "Michael was very motivated to attend the classes because the discussions were relevant - real-life situations. He will definitely go to the next level."
Reprinted from The Chabad Times, Rochester, N.Y.
New Torah and Center
The Jewish community in Tomsk, Russia, welcomed a new Torah scroll and celebrated the ground-breaking for a new Jewish educational campus. The Torah was brought into the beautiful, newly renovated historic Tomsk Synagogue.
Warsaw, Poland, celebrated the opening of a new mikva in the city center. The mikva, the second opened by Chabad-Lubavitch in that city, was donated by Sigmund Rolat, one of the founders of the Museum of Jewish History of Polish Jews.
Chabad of the East Valley in Chandler, Arizona, recently opened the Pollack Chabad Center for Jewish Life. The 15,900-square-foot facility includes a sanctuary that seats up to 450 people, offices, classrooms, a kitchen and a gift shop. Future plans include a mikva.
Erev [eve of] Shavuos, 5734 (1974)
To All Boy Students and To All Girl Students
G-d bless you!
Greetings and Blessings:
Summer vacation is approaching, and no doubt you are all looking forward to making the most of it. I would like to make a suggestion to you in this connection.
The summer recess is meant to give you an opportunity to strengthen your health of body and soul, which, of course, go hand in hand together. For Jewish boys and girls to be truly healthy means, first of all, to have a healthy Neshomo (soul). And a Jewish soul derives its health from the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments], which are "our life and the length of our days," as we say in our prayers.
Needless to say, life and health must be continuous, and one cannot take a "vacation" from them.
The Torah and mitzvot are to the Jewish soul what breathing and nourishment are to the body. A healthy person seldom thinks about the vital necessity of breathing and food. However, on certain occasions one becomes acutely aware of these things. For example, when one swims under water and holds his breath, then comes up and feels the urge to fill his lungs with fresh air. Or, after a fast-day, when the body has been temporarily weakened from lack of food and drink - one immediately feels the invigorating effect of food and drink.
Now, during the school year, when a great deal of time that could be spent in studying the Torah and doing Mitzvos is taken up with other unavoidable occupations, such as the study of English and arithmetic, etc., the soul gets somewhat undernourished. At such times, your soul "holds its breath," so to speak, which makes it more eager to get back to Torah and Mitzvos whenever time is available.
Comes the summer recess, and your soul can now breathe more freely and more fully, for you are then released from those other unavoidable studies and occupations.
Thus, the summer vacation gives you an opportunity to apply yourselves to Torah study and Torah activities with the utmost eagerness and enthusiasm - not only to make good use of your free time, but also to make up for lost time during the past school period, and, what is not less important, to give your soul a chance to fortify herself and "take a deep breath" for the school period ahead.
As a matter of fact, the summer vacation seems to be so well planned for this purpose, for it is a time when you can devote yourselves to Torah study and Torah activities in particularly agreeable circumstances: in a relaxed frame of mind and in pleasant natural surrounding of sunshine and fresh air.
Moreover, it comes soon after the Festival of Shavuos, the Season of Receiving Our Torah at Sinai.
As you know, this Festival comes after the days and weeks of Counting the Omer, in memory of the eager anticipation of our ancestors, from the day after they left Egypt until receiving this greatest Divine gift - the Torah and Mitzvos - seven weeks later. This should provide an added measure of inspiration to last through each and every day of the summer vacation and, indeed, through the year.
I urge you, dear children, to make the most of your summer vacation in light of all that has been said above. Think about it, and put it into effect - in the fullest measure, and G-d will surely bless you with a happy and healthy summer, happy and healthy both spiritually and physically.
Ruth was a descendant of the prophetess Miriam. She lived in Bethlehem together with her husband Elimelch adn sons Machlon and Kilyon. During a famine in the Holy Land she did not want to leave but felt it proper to follow her husband to Moab. There, her sons married the princesses Ruth and Orpa. Upon the passing of her husband and sons she returned to Israel and Ruth returned with her, becoming a righteous convert and the ancestress of King David and the eternal Jewish monarcy which will be re-established with the coming of Moshiach.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Summer is a great time for kids. Without the pressures of school, children have the opportunity to spend their summer vacation in enjoyable and educational pursuits. The summer schedule is particularly suitable for children to grow spiritually, by attending a day or overnight camp with a vibrant, exciting and Torah-true Jewish atmosphere.
Each year, without exception, as the summer approached, the Rebbe would emphasize the importance of Jewish children attending Jewish camps. The amount that a child can learn in the summer, unencumbered by the pursuit of reading, writing and arithmetic, goes far beyond what he can accomplish at any other time of year. And, as this knowledge is being imparted in an atmosphere of fun and excitement, in an environment totally saturated with Jewish pride, it remains with a child long after the summer months are over.
It's still not too late to enroll your child in a Jewish camp. And it's certainly not too late to facilitate other children attending a Jewish camp if you do not have camp-age kids. By calling your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center, or visiting chabad.org, you can find out about a summer camp experience for someone you know, the benefit of which will last a lifetime.
By the way, adults, too, should take advantage of the more relaxed atmosphere of summer to revitalize and nourish themselves Jewishly. Try a Jewish retreat or even just a weekly Torah class to enhance your Jewish pride and knowledge.
And may this summer be our last one in exile and our first in the Era of the Redemption.
This is the service of the families of the sons of Gershon... their charge shall be under the supervision of Itamar, son of Aaron the priest (Numbers 4:28)
The name "Gershon" is derived from the word meaning "to expel," alluding to the expulsion of evil. "Itamar" is related to the word for speech, alluding to words of Torah. The juxtaposition of the two names teaches that speaking words of Torah severs evil from good and expels it.
Then shall they confess their sin which they have committed (Num. 5:7)
Why is the commandment to confess one's sins, the very foundation of the concept of teshuva (repentance), mentioned in connection with stealing? Because all sins contain an element of theft: G-d grants a person life and endows him with strength in order to carry out His will. If he misuses these gifts he is, in essence, stealing from G-d...
The L-rd make His face shine unto you (Num. 6:25)
G-d's "face," as it were, is symbolic of His innermost will and love; "unto you" implies the Jewish people and the realm of holiness. Although everything in the world is sustained by G-d, things which are not holy receive a lesser vitality that emanates from a more external aspect of the Divine Will. An analogy: When the king throws a banquet for his royal ministers, even the household servants get to enjoy the leftovers. Nonetheless, the servants' enjoyment is secondary; the king's main intent is to please his guests.
Rabbi Leib Sarah's was a man who never rested. How could he when there were always so many mitzvot which demanded his attention? Neither the sweltering heat nor the frozen winds prevented him from trudging along the paths of towns and villages. His mission was to collect funds to sustain hidden tzadikim and ransom Jews held captive by rapacious landlords.
Reb Leib Sarah's was well acquainted with the whereabouts of the many beneficent Jews who never refused to contribute for these holy causes. On one of his many trips through the countryside near Berdichev, Reb Leib Sarah's happened to meet a young man who made his living buying and selling spices.
"Young man, I have a very urgent need for 500 rubles," Reb Leib Sarah's said. The tzadik was well known, and although the young merchant had earmarked the money for purchasing merchandise, he didn't hesitate for a moment. He handed over the entire sum (which also happened to be all the money he had) and accepted in exchange a promissory note stating the date on which the loan would come due.
Reb Leib Sarah's instructed the young man to sell whatever merchandise remained in his possession and he went on his way to accomplish the holy mission which awaited him. As for the young merchant, since he had no more money, he had nothing to do in Berdichev. The only problem was what to tell his wife who was patiently waiting for the new merchandise for their shop.
The young man had no choice but to return, but he hesitated telling her the truth. So he decided on a likely story; he told her that he had failed to find the proper merchandise, and that he would make the trip again a few weeks hence. That seemed to satisfy her, but the young man looked forward anxiously to the date when the loan would be repaid and he could resume his business.
Finally the due date arrived and the young man stood in his shop waiting on customers. A man he had never seen before walked in and bought a large quantity of spices. He paid the entire bill and departed, but as soon as he was out of sight, the young man noticed that the customer had left a wallet on the counter. He dashed outside, but the man was nowhere to be seen.
"Oh well," he thought, "I will probably meet him at the afternoon prayers." So, he took the wallet with him - certain that he would encounter the owner - but the stranger was not in the synagogue.
The young man had just finished his prayers when he heard a familiar voice behind him ask, "Have you received your payment yet?" He looked and there was Reb Leib Sarah's.
"No, I haven't received it yet," the young man replied. Reb Leib Sarah's seemed surprised, but he said nothing and they parted.
When the young man went home he decided to open the wallet and count the money. To his surprise, it contained exactly the sum he was owed, and since this was the day on which the money was due, he began to think that this was indeed his payment.
He ran back to the shul to find Reb Leib Sarah's and tell him about the payment. The tzadik was waiting for him, and was very pleased with the character of the young man. He had not even mentioned the tardiness of the payment when they had first spoken in the shul, and then the merchant had so swiftly come to tell him of the payment. He decided to reward the generous and good- hearted young man.
"Young man," the tzadik said, "you may make a request of me, and if I am able, I will fulfill it."
The young man didn't have to think for a moment. He instantly blurted out his desire: "I would love to see one of the 36 hidden tzadikim who sustain the world."
"That is not easy, but I shall fulfill my promise," answered Reb Leib Sarah's. The young man was brimming with happiness at the prospect of actually seeing one of these holy men with his own eyes. The long and arduous journey was nothing to him, and when he entered the remote little town, his joy could not be contained.
"Go to that street and enter the third house. There, sitting on the floor, you will see a man holding a needle and thread. Ask him to patch up your coat. As he works, you will be able to gaze into his face."
The merchant found the house, knocked and was ushered in. There, on the floor, sat an old man holding a needle and thread as if sewing something. "Could you please mend my coat?" the merchant asked the old man.
The tzadik took the garment into hands unaccustomed to sewing and laboriously began to stitch the garment. Meanwhile the young merchant thirstily drank in the shining features of the holy man.
When the repair was finished, the merchant paid with a whole ruble and took his leave. Returning to Reb Leib Sarah's, the young man was still under the spell of what he had witnessed.
The experience of having seen the holy face of the tzadik illuminated the life of the young merchant. And because he merited to see such holiness, he was given the strength to continue his selfless love of his fellow Jews all the rest of his life.
The renewal that will be brought about in the world at large in the Era of the Redemption is alluded to in the Torah portion of Nasso. This portion describes the journeys of the Sanctuary in the desert, and also the construction of the Sanctuary. Significantly, the Sanctuary was constructed in a desert, a place unfit for human habitation. Thus constructing the Sanctuary in such a place alludes to the transformation of the lowest aspects of this world into a dwelling for Him. In an ultimate sense, this will be revealed in the Era of the Redemption, when the entire world, not only the Holy Temple, will be revealed as a dwelling for G-d. For "on that day, G-d will be One and His Name One."
(The Rebbe, parshat Nasso, 5751-1991)