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Every metropolitan city has its own unique character and flavor. S. Francisco, for instance, is known for its trolley cars, winding roads, fog and the Golden Gate Bridge. New York City, the Big Apple, is considered the home of fashion, theaters, museums and high-society. It is also infamous for its dirty streets and sidewalks, more like the discarded core of the apple rather than the shiny piece of fruit itself.
Children drop candy wrappers, drivers throw trash out the window and home owners and apartment dwellers alike leave old appliances on the sidewalk - on the specified day, of course!
The Talmud tells the following story, quite appropriate for a discussion on litter:
A man was clearing the stones and rocks from his field. They were disturbing the growth of his produce. But, rather than disposing of the stones in a suitable area, he just did what was easiest for him: he threw them out onto the path in front of his property.
Passing by one day, as the landowner was clearing his field, was an old man who called out: "Oy, you fool! What are you doing? Why are you throwing stones from a place that isn't yours onto a place that is yours?!"
The landowner stopped his work for a moment and looked at who was speaking to him. Then he laughed and said, "You are the fool! What are you saying? The opposite is true. I am throwing stones from my land onto public property!"
The old man shook his head and passed by. Throughout the rest of the day, the fieldowner would remember the conversation of earlier in the day and break out in laughter. As he continued clearing his field and throwing stones onto the path, he thought of the stupidity of that passerby.
Not too long afterward, the landowner found himself burdened with a huge debt. In order to pay it, he had to sell his field after which he had to hire himself out as a laborer.
One day, as he was walking home from work, he began reminiscing about the good old days. Since he was not concentrating on the path in front of him, he tripped over a rock in the path and landed flat on his face! He just about managed to lift his bruised and aching body from the ground when he looked up and noticed where he was.
"Why, I'm right in front of my old fields," the once-proud landowner said aloud. And the stone that I just tripped over is undoubtedly one of the stones I threw out to clear my field so long ago! How right that old man was. This field from which I threw out stones is truly not mine any longer! And the path onto which I threw the stones belongs to me as it belongs to every person who passes over it. I myself caused this accident!"
We don't expect that anyone will trip over a candy wrapper, a receipt or any other item of refuse unthinkingly tossed onto the sidewalk rather than into a proper waste receptacle. We wouldn't dream of littering in our house, or letting guests or their children do so either. We should consider the whole of the great outdoors our home. For, truly, it is.
The Torah portion Shelach recounts the familiar story of the spies who were sent by Moses to investigate the land of Canaan prior to its Divinely-ordained conquest. Although each spy was personally chosen by Moses and each was quite familiar with G-d's promise, ten of the 12 defied the Alm-ghty's will and told the people that the land was unconquerable. Even further, their fear of the Canaanites was so profound, the Talmud tells us, they said: "The inhabitants are stronger than Him" - even the Almighty could not conquer them!
How could the spies possibly make such a statement? These were men of faith and understanding; they were righteous men and wise men. What is the source of an error of this magnitude?
There is a classic parable which describes the process of becoming lost. One doesn't suddenly find himself in the depths of the dark, trackless forest. Instead, one deviates from the familiar, broad highway only a step at a time. Gradually and imperceptibly, one strays farther and farther from the road until one ends up in the forest. This is what happened to the spies: they started out as wise and righteous princes of their tribes, who knew the will and power of the Almighty, and they ended as "rebels."
What was the original step - the original hair-breadth of their error?
According to Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad, their first imperceptible error consisted of an unwillingness to become involved in the mundane world. In the desert, they were well isolated from the world of hardships - they "had it made." A miracle fed them (manna), a miracle gave them water (Miriam's well), a miracle provided them with clothing, and miraculous clouds hid them from their enemies. But once in Canaan, their very first task would be to wage war - an effort which wasted time and energy - even if the Almighty miraculously prevented serious casualties and bloodshed. This time and effort could better be devoted to the study of Torah.
Moreover, once the war was won, they would be required to plow and sow and tend vineyards. Quite understandably, the spies hesitated to leave the desert in order to enter the material world. In the desert they could devote all of their time and energy to Torah.
By distinction, Moses (who reflected Divine will) insisted that the Jews leave the desert and settle in the Land of Israel. The ultimate aim and fulfillment of Torah is deed! The culmination of Torah is its actualization and implementation in the real world. It is not sufficient to become involved in Torah theory. On the contrary, the land of Canaan with its 31 different cultures (all alien to Torah) had to be actually, practically conquered to make it a Holy Land - to integrate theory and practice into a unified entity.
This minor error of the spies - their adherence to a philosophy which divorced theory from practice and the spiritual from the material, was their first wrong step; other steps followed until their reasoning became so perverted that they came to make the absurd statement that "The inhabitants are stronger than Him."
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Every Time I Smile
by Rabbi Uriel Vigler
For the fourth year in a row our community has banded together to bring a group of wounded IDF soldiers and victims of terror on an exciting ten-day trip to New York City that we call "B'Lev Echad - With One Heart." Our goal is to temporarily relieve their suffering, and we plan a packed schedule with the best New York has to offer. Year after year, these brave warriors never cease to amaze and inspire me.
As we roamed Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, simply chatting and enjoying a relaxed afternoon, I spent some time one-on-one with Nati Hatzkor.
Nati shared his story with me. In the weeks preceding Operation Cast-Lead many rockets were launched at the South of Israel. Nati had gone out to meet up with his friend Lior. It had been a long time since they'd seen each other, but as they began to walk along, catching up, the siren sounded, indicating that rockets had been launched in their direction.
Nati and Lior did not have enough time to reach the shelter, and a when the rocket hit they were badly wounded. Both had shrapnel in their bodies; neither could move. Nati was very seriously injured - he lost his right leg, and his left leg was badly shattered.
After a lengthy period of hospitalization, Nati began rehabilitation (which he still continues to attend). He now uses a prosthetic leg, and a wheelchair, to get around.
Nati told me that the pain he still suffers on an ongoing basis is simply indescribable. He experiences phantom pain in his amputated leg - something we cannot even begin to imagine.
But then Nati told me something absolutely astounding. "Even though I am in so much pain all the time," he said, "I am determined to put on a smile and truly feel happy. If I'm upset, or angry, or depressed, that's a victory for my enemies - the cowardly Arab terrorists who tried to finish me off. But every time I smile, I feel victorious."
Wow. What a remarkable attitude!
Nati is a powerhouse of positive thinking in the face of adversity. While most of us cannot begin to compare ourselves to him, we can certainly take note of his attitude and try to emulate it in our own lives.
We all have problems; some bigger, some smaller, but no one is problem-free. Perhaps we're struggling on the home-front or dissatisfied professionally. Maybe we're lonely and wondering if we're destined to be alone forever. When we're feeling down, let's think of Nati and his overwhelmingly positive outlook on life. If he can feel cheerful despite his almost constant pain, we can certainly try to do the same.
Chasidic thought teaches us that despite the pain and suffering, G-d is still with us. He is with us in our joy, and He is with us in our suffering.
It's our job to fight the suffering, and fight all evil, head on. "Simcha poretz geder," - "Happiness breaches boundaries," is a popular Chasidic teaching which Nati exemplifies. Let's do the same.
On Friday I accompanied the group to the Ohel, the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Queens. The entire group felt moved by the experience at the Ohel. It was an opportunity for each of us to pray intensely, pouring out our hearts for everything we need.
I noticed that Dror Z., in particular, was exceptionally emotional and I found a moment to quietly and gently enquire what he had prayed for at the Ohel. "I prayed for the sick people in my family to have a speedy recovery, and I prayed for the wellbeing of my friends," he said.
"What about you?" I asked. "Did you pray for yourself?"
To my surprise, he answered, "I'm ok. They really need the prayers."
I thought about it. I knew Dror's story well.
Dror served in the Nachshon Battalion and was severely wounded on duty in Tulkarm in December of 2005. There had been warnings of possible attacks during Chanuka, especially in crowded places, and the IDF was being particularly careful at the checkpoints.
Dror was at a checkpoint when a Palestinian taxi arrived. It looked suspicious so the commanding officer asked the passengers to get out. One man wore a bulky coat which he was asked to remove. Instead, he detonated the explosives he had hidden under it and the officer was killed instantly. Dror was severely wounded. His feet had been hit directly and he had to undergo multiple surgeries over the next few years. He spent years in hospital and rehabilitation, but thanks to the efforts of his unit, dozens of families and children were spared from the attack.
As a result of his injuries, Dror suffers from severe and excruciating pain on a daily basis. Yet here he was, at the Ohel, with the opportunity to pour out his soul to G-d, and ask for a speedy recovery, and what does he do? He doesn't think of himself and prays for others instead!
If we follow Dror's example, and put other's needs before our own, we will be well on our way to once more becoming a nation that is "Like one person with one heart," and G-d will usher in the era of redemption where suffering and pain will cease, and all will be instantly healed.
Rabbi Vigler and his wife Shevy direct Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side in New York . From Rabbi Vigler's blog at chabadic.com
New Mitzva Tank
The new 34 ft Mitzva Tank from the Chabad Israeli Center of Miami, Florida, draws a crowd wherever it goes. The tank goes through the Miami, North Miami Beach, and Aventura regions, shopping centers and areas popular with Israelis. In addition to specifically encouraging the mitzvot (commandments) of Tefilin, Mezuza, Shabbat candles and acquiring a letter in a Torah scroll, the Mitzvah Tank hosts a growing library as well as classes and services.
Redesigned Mitzva Cable Car
The Mitzvah Cable Car of Chabad of S. Francisco, California, was recently redesigned by Marc Lumer. It travels around the streets of S. Francisco encouraging people to board and perform an "act of goodness and kindness" and or a mitzva. There is a daily afternoon minyan on board and it is also available for Jewish History Tours.
Continuation of lettter from last week which began: ... In reply to your question as to what should be the Jewish attitude towards the matter of "religious dialogue" which has been advocated in certain Jewish and non-Jewish circles.
...While we must not give up a single Jewish soul which happens to be in danger of straying from the path of Torah and Mitzvos, and certainly in danger of intermarriage, or assimilation, G-d forbid, and we must spare no effort in trying to save that Jew or Jewess, even if it involves a lengthy "dialogue" with him or her, we must just as resolutely reject any such dialogue with a non-Jew, for the reasons mentioned, and also because we have no interest in his conversion to our faith.
To be sure, we have obligations to our society at large. We must contribute our share to the common weal, help to maintain and raise the standards of morality and ethics, and to encourage the non-Jew to observe the "Seven Precepts of the Children of Noah" in all their ramifications. But to accomplish these objectives, there is no need for us whatsoever to have any religious dialogues with non-Jews, nor any interfaith activities in the form of religious discussions, interchange of pulpits, and the like.
Finally, I wish to stress the following points: -
In most polemics, debates, dialogues and the like, the usual outcome is not a rapprochement of minds and hearts; rather do they evoke an impulse of rivalry and the desire to score a point, or gain a victory over the opponent by any means. This is usually the case even in non-religious polemics, and certainly very much so in religious debates, inasmuch as the subject matter touches one's inner soul; and even more so where religious zealots are concerned.
Hence, if the purpose of the "dialogue" is rapprochement, it is doomed from the start, and often even brings the opposite results.
Where one party to the dialogue is committed to proselytizing, and the other is not, it is clear that the dialogue will be used by the first to accomplish its purpose, and the "dialogue" will in effect become a "monologue."
Looking at the question from a practical standpoint, perhaps the most important point is that the effort expended on such "dialogues" is, to say the least, a waste we can ill afford. For, every individual has only limited resources of time, energy, and influence, while every right-thinking person must feel a sense of responsibility to accomplish something in behalf of the community in which he lives. Experience has shown that the benefits, if any, from all such "dialogues" in terms of a better understanding among men of different faiths and races, have been hardly discernible. But certain it is that the energies thus expended have been at the expense of vital areas of Yiddishkeit, where there is a crying need for strengthening the Jewish faith and practices within our own ranks, especially among the younger generation.
There are, of course, some well-meaning, but misguided individuals, who see in interfaith and dialogue an avenue of lofty goals and ideals deserving of their utmost efforts. But there are also those who encourage them in their misconceptions, thus abetting the misdirection and misplacement of energies and resources, sorely needed elsewhere, namely, and to repeat, in the spreading among our youths a deeper knowledge of the Torah, Toras Chaim [the Torah of Life], which, as the name indicates, is the true guide in the daily life of the Jew, at all times, and in all places. For the Torah's truths are eternal, having been given by the Eternal, the Creator of man, and the Master and Ruler of the World, at all times and all places. It is a tragic irony, that precisely in this day and age, and in this country, where we have been blessed with freedom of worship, and do not face persecution and constant peril for every observance as in certain less fortunate countries, yet so many of our younger generation are lost to us daily by the default, negligence and misdirection of the leaders who should know better.
It is high time to replace interfaith with inner-faith, and concentrate on dialogue with our own misguided youth, as well as to our shame - with the adults, so as to fan their slumbering embers of faith and to illuminate their lives with the Pillar of Light and the Pillar of Fire of the Torah.
Tzefania was one of the 12 "minor prophets" whose words were quoted in the Bible. He lived at the same time as the prophets Jeremiah and Chulda. In the chain of transmitting the Oral tradition, Tzefania received the Oral Torah from Habakuk and transmitted it to Jeremiah. In the morning prayers, a verse from Tzefania is recited daily: " 'At that time I will bring you in, and at that time I will gather you, for I will make you into a good name and praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I return your captives before your eyes,' said G-d. " (3:20)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we read the Torah portion of Shelach, in which we learn about the spies who Moshe sent to explore the land of Israel before the Jews would enter it. This was not a commandment from G-d, but a choice left to Moshe's discretion. We learn this from the words of the Torah portion, "shelach lecha - send for you," according to your own discretion.
The Rebbe explains that the spies' mission described in the Torah portion can be compared to the soul's descent into the material world.
The mission of a Jewish soul is to descend into this world enclothed in a physical body in order to make this world a dwelling place for G-d. In order for the soul to fulfill its mission, it must "explore the land," to figure out the nature of the service that must be carried out and which conflicts and difficulties will arise, and what is the best way to transform the land into a dwelling for G-d.
This mission, like the sending of the spies, is left up to man's discretion. Indeed, G-d allows for the possibility of an error in both cases, because in order to make this world into a dwelling place for G-d, a person must act upon his or her own initiative, based on his or her own decision.
The act of the spiritual soul coming down to this physical world and elevating it to a higher spiritual plane by making it a dwelling place for G-d is the perfect synthesis of material and spiritual. We recently celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, in which we commemorate the giving of the Torah. The act of bringing the very holy Torah into this world made it possible to fuse together the spiritual and the physical. May we imminently experience the ultimate fusion of the two in the Messianic Era.
This land is very, very good... only rebel not against the L-rd (Num. 14:7-9)
The Land of Israel is unique, for it simultaneously embodies two opposites: On the one hand, its sanctity enables the individual to reach levels of holiness not attainable anywhere else in the world. Yet at the same time, if a person allows his evil inclination to rule, he will become even more degraded than if he lived elsewhere.
(Rabbi Moshe Tzvi of Savran)
If the L-rd delights in us, then He will bring us into this land (Num. 14:8)
Another way to interpret this verse is "If the L-rd's desire is within us" - if the desire and will to cleave to G-d is truly in our hearts, then "He will bring us into this land" - raise us up and cause us to be successful.
(The Admor of Modzhitz)
Pardon, I beg you, the iniquity of this people (Num. 14:19)
When Moses prayed to G-d to forgive the Jews for making the Golden Calf, he cited the merit of their righteous forefathers. In fact, Moses believed that this merit would stand them in good stead regardless of their sin. But when the spies spoke ill of the Holy Land and rejected the land of the Patriarchs, Moses refrained from mentioning it.
In the year 1812 Napoleon stood at the pinnacle of his career. He had successfully swept through Europe and his conquests were the conversation of kings and peasants alike. Finally, his campaign led him to the gates of Russia and the vast, primal giant lay before him. In Russia he would meet a double foe, the huge armies of the Czar and perhaps, a more dangerous and formidable enemy, the vicious frigid winds and snows.
Opinions of the Emperor were divided: the so-called "enlightened" Jews looked forward to his victory with high hopes for the emancipation of the Jews. The Torah-faithful looked with fear and suspicion upon the man who was regarded as a danger to the survival of their way of life.
In his sweep eastward, Napoleon passed through the town of Volozhin where the tzadik (righteous person) Reb Chaim lived. The town was deserted, the wealthy gentile inhabitants having fled before the approaching troops. Only the Jews remained. Napoleon sent his officers through the town to locate and appropriate lodgings.
Since the finer houses were tightly locked and barred, they made their way into the Jewish quarter. One of the officers spotted a light in one of the buildings, which, unbeknownst to him, was a study hall. When he entered, he saw a man sitting by the light of a candle, leaning over a large tome, deeply engrossed in his studies.
The officer addressed the man in German: "We have heard very amazing things about the rabbi of your town. The Emperor Napoleon wishes to meet him."
"Reb Chaim is here, sitting before your Excellency," replied Reb Chaim. "However, I do not perform any wonders, I merely spend my time studying our Torah."
The soldier listened politely, but then answered in a stern tone, "Remain here until the Emperor summons you, or else you will pay the consequences."
Not long after, Reb Chaim was escorted to the house where Napoleon had set up command. The Emperor entered and engaged Reb Chaim in conversation: "I do not believe that you are any kind of a miracle worker, but I do believe that you are a man of rare wisdom and insight. On that basis I would like to have your opinion as to how my campaign in Russia will end. What will be the result of my advance into Russia?"
Napoleon could see in Reb Chaim's eyes a distinct unwillingness to respond. Who could know the wrath that could fall upon him? Napoleon reassured him: "Please, speak your mind freely, without fear."
Reb Chaim looked at the Emperor and replied, "Your Majesty, we Jews fear only G-d, for it is His hand that directs the entire world, even the ways of worldly kings. I will answer your question with a story: There was once a nobleman who traveled on a journey in a great carriage pulled by four strong horses.
Suddenly, one of the horses fell in the mud. In his desperate effort to stand, he pulled the other horses down into the mud, and with them, the carriage, driver, and passengers.
"A moment later a peasant farmer happened by in his cart pulled by three skinny horses. When these horses saw the other horses struggling and neighing in the deep mud, they panicked and would have also slipped into the mire, but the farmer quickly whipped them and they righted themselves.
"The nobleman had been watching the whole scene and he cried from his carriage, 'Why is it that your skinny nags pulled your wagon out of the mud, whereas my strong horses are unable to pull out my carriage?'
"'If your Excellency will forgive my asking, where did you get your horses?'
"'Why these are the finest horses money can buy. One is an Arabian, one is a Persian, one is a pedigreed Hungarian and the fourth is from a famous Russian stable.'
"'Well, that explains it. You see, your horses all come from a different part of the world and don't feel any connection to one another. My horses, on the other hand, are just plain horses. But they come from the same family and the same stable, so they're like brothers. When I whip one, the others jump to his side.'
"Sire," continued Reb Chaim, "your army is great and vast, composed of soldiers from many different lands. Princes and kings from the world over have joined your forces. The Tzar's army is nothing by comparison. They lack the weaponry, the fine uniforms and training your soldiers have. The difference is that they are all from one people and one land and their loyalty is entirely to the Czar and the Motherland."
Reb Chaim had made his point in the gentlest, but clearest way. Napoleon had new food for thought, but the thoughts were disconcerting. The truth of Reb Chaim's words were soon borne out in the terrible, humiliating defeat which Napoleon's troops suffered in Russia, a defeat from which the Emperor never recovered.
In our present time, we are not experiencing persecution, G-d forbid, and we are living in prosperity and affluence. This can sometimes be an even greater trial and test - will we remain loyal to G-d even when living in physical comfort? However, the fact that in the time of "the footsteps of Moshiach" our Divine service is more difficult, proves that we were empowered and have the ability to overcome all obstacles, because G-d does not make unreasonable demands of His creations. Because of our tenacity in fulfilling G-d's will even though our spiritual awareness is very limited, we will merit the immediate redemption.
(Sefer HaMaamarim-Kuntreisim vol 1)