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Shadows are awesome. As children, we chased our shadows or played shadow games where the point was to step on the other kids' shadows while making sure that they didn't step on ours.
As adults we learned that shadows can help us get our bearings even without a compass. Whether we're lost or simply trying to figure out which way is east (the direction toward which Jews to the west of Jerusalem traditionally stand in prayer), shadows can point us in the proper position.
Spiritual shadows are also awesome.
King David, in Psalms, taught that "G-d is your shadow at your right hand." The Baal Shem Tov explains this to mean that G-d has implanted a spiritual dynamic into the universe: Just as the movement of a person's body is reflected and magnified by the shadow, every step of our conduct in this world likewise arouses spiritual forces of incomparable power.
If we're outside on a sunny day, it's clear to us that every movement we make is accompanied by the movement of our shadow. Similarly, every positive action we take, every negative action we resist, every mitzva we do, creates spiritual energy which we could best imagine as "shadows."
Like "regular" shadows, spiritual shadows have no corporeality. Although we may see the reflection of a mitzva (light from a Shabbat candle, a charity box filling up with coins and eventually used to purchase food for a poor person), we don't see, nor can we touch, the spiritual reflection and energy created by that act.
Spiritual shadows are also greatly magnified in comparison with the energy or effort expended in performing the mitzva. What better example of this assertion can there be than Maimonides' statement that a small deed can tip one's personal "scale" and the global scale, bringing redemption to the entire world.
A distinction, however, between ordinary shadows and spiritual shadows is that our conduct is always producing spiritual shadows, even in the dark of night or the absence of light. For, ultimately, the mitzvot we do create their own spiritual light which generates the shadow.
Every Jew can not only magnify his shadow but can even cast a giant shadow through bringing more Jewish learning and living into his life. In the 60's movie "Cast a Giant Shadow," American-born West Point graduate David "Micky" Marcus (who was one of the first generals of the fledgling Israeli army) asserts, "Life isn't a spectator sport, you've got to get involved."
You don't create shadows, ordinary or spiritual, by sitting around and talking about it. "Action is the main thing" Judaism teaches. Get involved. Don't be afraid of your own shadow!
The prophecy of Bilaam, contained in this week's Torah portion, Balak, concerns the End of Days - the Messianic era. Based on the verses of Bilaam's prophecy, Maimonides rules that a person who does not believe in the coming of Moshiach denies the entire Torah. Believing in Moshiach and actively anticipating his arrival is a fundamental principle in Judaism incumbent upon all Jews.
The prophecy of Bilaam foretold of two anointed kings. The first was King David, who delivered the Jewish people from their enemies; the second is Moshiach, a descendant of King David, who will redeem the Jewish people from our present exile. Some of the verses of Bilaam's prophecy pertain to King David, while others pertain to King Moshiach.
Significantly, both King David and King Moshiach are referred to as "Moshiach which means "the annointed one."
The knowledge of the existence of a prior Moshiach makes our belief in the arrival of the final Moshiach that much stronger.
Our faith is further reinforced by the fact that Bilaam's prophecy was said about both Moshiach's. For just as the first part of his prophecy was fulfilled in its entirety, so too are we assured that the second part will ultimately be fulfilled, and King Moshiach will usher in the Messianic era.
In reference to King David, Bilaam declared, "A star shall step forth out of Jacob." Concerning King Moshiach, he foretold, "and a scepter shall arise out of Israel." Israel and Jacob are both names for the Jewish people. Jacob (Yaakov) is related to the Hebrew word for heel, eikev; Israel (Yisrael) comes from s'rara, meaning authority and rule.
In this we see the superiority of Moshiach over King David, for the name Israel expresses a more noble quality than the name Jacob. Indeed, in the Messianic era, the Jews will be known as "Israel."
Concerning King David, Bilaam said, "He will smite the corners of Moav." King David subdued the Moabite people and ruled over them. Moshiach, however, will rule over all the nations of the world, as it is written, "He will break down all the sons of Seth." In the Messianic era, the Jewish people will be ascendant over all other nations and peoples.
Bilaam continued: "Seir shall also be an inheritance." An inheritance is something which is passed on from one person to another, without conflict or the need to wage war.
Similarly, in the Messianic era, the gentile nations will be pleased to help the Jewish people and will willingly participate in the worship of the one G-d, as Maimonides writes, "[Moshiach] will amend the entire world, to serve G-d together...All will call on the name of G-d in unison."
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 18
The Chabad Family
The letter below was received by Rabbi Aaron and Rivkah Slonim, founders and directors of the Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life at Binghamton University, New York.
Dear Rabbi and Rivky,
The Merriam-Webster dictionary has many definitions of love. While all are accurate, it is the 4th entry that is the most applicable to Chabad: "unselfish, loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another."
I recently started vacation in Southeast Asia after three years of service in the Israeli Defense Forces. My friends and I (also American IDF volunteers) spent this past Shabbat at Chabad in Bangkok. We were with Rabbi Nehemya and his wife Nehama, and another 150 or so Jews, many of who were Israelis but from other parts of the world as well.
It has been eight years since I've reported to my non-Jewish friends concerning this phenomenon of a Chabad House. That first challenging instance in my freshman year at Binghamton University was not unlike my second experience this past Saturday night on Skype with friends back in the States: I explained that there's this place where you go for meals.
Like a restaurant?
No, you go there for our special Friday night dinner.
Okay, but you have to pay?
No, you just show up.
Then I try and explain, and at the end of the explanation there's a sentence that goes something like, "So you mean that there's a place where you can just go and eat meals and stay over and use the internet and watch TV and have coffee and get travel advice for your vacation - FOR FREE?"
It doesn't make sense to begin to get into the details of classes, and lectures, and tours, etc., that Chabad does out here in Bangkok.
Chabad on Campus - particularly with you two at Binghamton - is a community within a community, a family that gets to grow and mature together throughout four years of college.
Chabad abroad, in my experience, contains that family element but in a less mature sense as most people are just passing through. However it serves as an embassy that we Jews have automatic access to as citizens of the Jewish travelling community. Better than an embassy, an embassy that serves food and generates a vibrant and colorful Shabbat atmosphere two stories above the less-than-holy goings-on of the streets of downtown Bangkok.
Ahavat Yisrael (love for every Jew) is an unusually powerful love. By merit of being Jewish I have a passport qualifying me for the care and guidance of other Jews who care for me simply because I am a member of their extended family.
I spent the past three years living in Israel so I hadn't felt the need for such a place. The army is kosher, the synagogue is in walking distance and my group of Anglo and Israeli friends is community enough to substitute whatever family cushion I am missing. But the moment that the safety-net of an established community, stable and reliable, is no longer available, there is Chabad and like-minded Jews who will hold fast to that guiding principle, "All Jews are responsible for one another."
The idea that we are responsible for one another cannot be appreciated enough and no one understands this as much as you - the couples who dedicate their lives to sharing warmth and Judaism for no reason other than their indiscriminate love of the Jewish People.
For four weeks I have been travelling non-stop, enjoying scuba diving, hiking, elephant riding, kayaking, etc., without ever pausing to catch my breath. I have been sharing boats and buses and fares with strangers of all types, each face serving only as a temporary smile, a momentary source of comfort.
But last Friday night, sitting and eating next to strangers with familiar sounding names like Mizrahi, Goldsthein and Shushan - as well as Rabbi Nehemya and Nehama - reminded me that I belong to a sustained and supportive community. It was a throwback to my Binghamton days when there was room for a community, when life was a little more reasonably paced, when Chabad became my family in the absence of blood relatives. More than a throwback, it was a real reminder that support exists beyond home, beyond college, beyond Israel - it exists anywhere in the world where a Jew can senselessly love his fellow Jew.
Chabad Houses worldwide spread the message of commitment to our faith and remind those of us who bend the borders of our Diaspora that an embassy is always available, a compass that points home when we tire or lose our way.
David, class of 2008
Rabbi Meir and Yehudis Hecht have joined the other shluchim (emissaries) of the Rebbe at the Tannenbaum Chabad House at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois.
Kosher in Milan
Chabad of Milan, Italy, is opening the first ever kosher soup kitchen in Italy. The soup kitchen will be located in the Merkos school and will provide free take-away meals to the needy. The canteen will be aimed at needy Jews but also will serve non-Jews in need.
Saying Mazel Tov
For centuries, it has been customary for Jewish women to adorn the birthing room and the cradle with Psalm 121. The Psalm states our dependence on G-d for our safety and well-being, and His commitment to guard us at all times. For a color print of the Psalm call LEFJME at (718) 756-5700, e-mail email@example.com, or visit www.LchaimWeekly.org/general/art/shir-lamaalot.jpg.
2nd of Tammuz, 5715 
Sholom uBrocho [Peace and Blessing]:
After the prolonged interval, I was pleased to receive your letter, though I have been receiving your regards through Rabbi S-.
I was especially pleased to learn from your letter that even when business was not all that could be desired for a while, you have maintained your Tzedoko [charity] at somewhat more than "Maaser," [10%, i.e., the commandment to tithe of earnings for charity] which showed that your faith in G-d did not weaken, and G-d does not remain in debt and rewards generously, so that before long one can see that one's faith was justified.
Since you have again been elected to a prominent communal position, I trust that you are using all your influence both in a wider circle, as well as among your relatives and friends, to strengthen their faith and confidence in G-d and feel certain that all G-d does is for the good.
You mention in your letter that an opportunity has presented itself to you for a good transaction with the Ministry of Supply, but you find yourself hard pressed for cash.
Based on the saying of our Sages (Bobo Basro, 15b) that money from a G-d-fearing man brings Hatzlocho [success], I am enclosing a check for $18.00 from one of the funds established by my father-in-law of saintly memory and still under his care, to be applied in your business for Hatzlocho.
I was very gratified to read in your letter that the new Mikvah [ritualarium] is making good progress, for Taharas haMishpocho [the laws of Family Purity] is the foundation of our people and a condition of the Redemption, as it is written "And I will sprinkle on you pure water" (Ezekiel 36:5), and explained also in the Brayso, end of Sotah. From which one can appreciate the great Zechus [merit] of those who are active in this cause...
Wishing you success in your business and to use the money on healthy and happy things.
16th of Shevat, 5716 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter of January 17... I was gratified to read that last year was thank G-d, a good year for you and was a considerable improvement on the previous year. I hope you will be strong in your faith that the Alm-ghty will help you also in the future, and that business will continue to improve steadily. May G-d help that you live up to the saying of the old Rabbi, Baal HaTanya [author of the Tanya, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism], that G-d gives the Jew material things and the Jew converts the material into spiritual.
With reference to the amount of tzedokah, I have already written to you before that one should try to give (a little) more than Maaser.
May G-d give you much Yiddish nachas [Jewish pride] from all the members of your family.
With reference to the question of age in the matter of the shidduch [match, i.e. prospective spouse] of your brother, you probably know the adage that a person's age is not judged by the birth certificate, but one is as old as one feels. Similarly, in this case, if the person in question is generally more youthful than her age, the difference should not be a handicap. Needless to say, it depends on whether your brother is attracted to her. However, mutual attraction must often be cultivated.
12th of Sivan, 5717 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter of May 30th, and I was pleased to read in it that you so quickly saw the fulfillment of G-d's promise, "Test me now herewith, saith our G-d... if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing more than enough." (Malachi 3:10). Thus, your pledge of £500 to Kfar Chabad, has been returned to you many fold. It is a pity that you did not pledge more, so that the benefit would have been so much greater. I trust, however, that this will be a lesson for the future, to remember how trust in G-d is well rewarded.
With reference to what you write about your worries that after a period of five years there will not be any business, you probably are aware that there are many merchants who know of the saying of the Sages, "He who increases his worldly possessions, increases worry," nevertheless, they are trying to increase their worldly goods, taking a chance at increasing thereby their "headaches." I assume that you are no exception. I mention this so that you will not take too much to heart the "headaches" of business, since they are the effect of "increasing wealth." As long as you will keep the channels and vessels open to receive G-d's blessings, these channels and vessels being all matters connected with the Torah and Mitzvoth, G-d will surely send you His blessings...
With blessing in all the above,
Tzipora was the daughter of Yitro, a Midianite priest. Moses saved Tzipora and her six sisters from rival shepherds. However, Yitro suspected that Moses, a foreigner, was up to no good and imprisoned him for 10 years. During this time Tzipora sustained him. When Yitro offered Tzipora as a wife to any man who could uproot the saphire staff he had planted in his garden, Moses removed the staff and was given Tzipora as a wife. Tzipora purified her father's house from all idolatry. They had two sons, Eliezer and Gershom.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Tuesday, the 17th of Tammuz, is a fast day. It commemorates, among other things, the beginning of the destruction of the second Holy Temple. It also begins the three-week mourning period for the destruction of both Holy Temples.
Our prophets declared that in the future, the fast days will be transformed into festival days of rejoicing and happiness. The nature of that happiness will surpass even that of the traditional holidays, for it will be rejoicing that was preceded by sorrow. Just as light that was preceded by darkness is more appreciated, so, too, is rejoicing which was preceded by sorrow.
When will all of this take place, this transformation of sorrow into rejoicing and darkness into light? This will happen in the Messianic Era.
Turning darkness into light or sorrow into joy is intimately related to the state of exile in which we now find ourselves. Our Sages taught that "Every descent is for the purpose of an ascent."
One might wonder, though, couldn't All Powerful G-d have arranged things in such a way that we could have had a tremendous "ascent" without having had to endure the descent of the sufferings of this prolonged exile?
The purpose of a descent is to allow us to reach a much higher level than we could possibly have reached had we just climbed in a natural manner.
When faced with adversity or challenge, a person draws on inner strengths he didn't even know existed, in order to successfully accomplish his goal. We've all heard stories about a parent lifting a car off of a small child trapped under it, G-d forbid. In a normal situation the parent doesn't have the ability to lift thousands of pounds. But, because of the disaster, the parent is able to muster strength to achieve his goal.
The same holds true with the challenges of exile. Through them we will reach even higher than we could have under normal circumstances, thereby refining ourselves. By overcoming our challenges, we become more receptive and better able to receive the G-dly revelations of the Messianic Era.
What this people will do to your people in the end of days (Num. 24:14)
The Torah tells us that right before Moshiach's arrival there will be those who will want to turn "this people" into "your (Balak's) people"--for Jews to adopt the ways and practices of the non-Jewish nations.
The L-rd, his G-d, is with him (23:21)
A Jew is never alone. Wherever he goes and wherever he stands, the L-rd his G-d is with him.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
And Balak the son of Tzipor saw all that the Jews did to the Emorites (Num. 22:2)
He saw what the Jews did to the Emorites, but he did not see what the Emorites had done to the Jews. This is the way of the Nations of the World. They only see what the Jews are doing to the non-Jews, but the deeds of the non-Jews that led to the reactions of the Jews, these they do not see.
He has not seen any wrong in Jacob, nor has he seen any evil in Israel; the L-rd his G-d is with him, and the glory of the King dwells with him (Num. 23:21)
Only one who "sees no wrong in Jacob" or "evil in Israel," who does not try to find fault with his fellow Jew and always judges him favorably, will merit that "the L-rd his G-d is with him, and the glory of the King dwells with him."
(Rabbi Chaim of Szanz)
What an honor! The innkeeper felt it almost a holy trust that the Baal Shem Tov stayed at his inn whenever he visited the area. A special room was prepared and was always ready in case the tzadik chanced to drop in.
And so, when it happened that the Baal Shem Tov arrived and made his way to "his" room, the innkeeper was curious to find that the door to the room was locked from within.
The innkeeper knocked on the door and it opened to reveal the slight figure of the gentile servant boy, Piotr who had taken a few solitary moments of rest inside. Perceiving the innkeeper's annoyance, the Baal Shem Tov admonished him. "Don't punish the boy. One day he will come to your aid when you need it the most."
The Baal Shem Tov turned to the frightened child and said, "What is your heart's desire?" He replied, "I want to become educated and I want to have beautiful clothing to wear." "It will be exactly as you wish," replied the tzadik, and he mounted his carriage and left the inn.
The boy began attending school and his bright mind quickly grasped whatever was offered to him. He returned to the inn and became chief bookkeeper for all the innkeeper's properties.
One day his obvious intelligence caught the attention of a traveling aristocrat. The aristocrat offered the innkeeper a handsome sum to part with the young servant, and after consulting with Piotr, the innkeeper agreed.
To his great delight Piotr was again enrolled in school and he completed his studies with honors. The nobleman loved him and took him into his home saying, "I was not blessed with children and I want to adopt you as my own nephew."
Piotr succeeded in everything he undertook, and was popular with everyone. After a time, his master died and all his possessions passed to Piotr, who was considered to be his only relative.
It was then that it entered Piotr's mind to pay a visit to the Jewish innkeeper who had given him his start in life. But when he arrived at his former home, he found strangers in the inn.
"Where is the former innkeeper?" he inquired. The new proprietor told him the whole sad story, how after the young gentile servant boy had left, the innkeeper's fortunes had turned and he had eventually lost everything and was living as a beggar in a nearby town.
Piotr's heart was touched and he traveled to that town and sent out an announcement that he would be distributing alms to all the poor. The poor gathered outside his lodgings and he gave each person a few coins. When he came to his former master, he asked him to relate his life story. The Jew obliged and only after he had completed his tale, did Piotr reveal his identity.
The Jew was overwhelmed at the young man's appearance and his obvious success. "Please allow me to bring you to my estate. I will provide you with a good living and you will want for nothing."
The Jew was reluctant, but after some coaxing, he finally accepted. Piotr decided that he would build an inn and give it to the Jew to manage. When construction was completed, he would send for him. For now, he paid up all the man's debts and left him a sum with which to live.
It so happened that just at that time a robbery occurred in the town. With his new-found "wealth," the Jew became the prime suspect. He was arrested and thrown into jail where he languished for several weeks.
When the inn was completed, Piotr came back to get the Jew, but he was in prison! Losing no time, he went to the authorities, and attesting to the honesty of his old employer, obtained the man's release.
Settled on the estate, the Jew and his family were happy as could be, but that happiness was not to last. The jealous peasants couldn't stand seeing a Jew in the young master's favor. Together with the local priest, they cooked up a sure scheme.
One night a woman crept into the courtyard of the inn and laid a small bundle under the shrubs. Piotr, who was just leaving the inn, watched silently in the darkness.
The next day chaos broke out at the inn. The priest, the peasant and the police all converged on the inn and in no time, the Jew was led away in chains having been accused of killing the baby that was in the bundle under the shrubs. The trial would be swift and the sentence would surely be death.
Again, Piotr arrived and was able to have the Jew released, but this time just until the day of the trial. The Jew took advantage of this freedom to run to the Baal Shem Tov, begging his blessing.
"Didn't I tell you that the young boy would help you in your time of need? Go back and don't worry."
The day of the trial arrived and Piotr was ready. Acting as defense, he summoned the peasant woman to the stand. The ignorant woman was no match for him, and weeping copiously, she confessed her guilt. Then the judge took over, questioning the scheming priest. With no way out, he confessed to masterminding the plot and was sentenced to death by hanging. Thus, were the words of the Baal Shem Tov realized yet again.
In this week's Torah portion we read, "A star shoots out of Jacob and a scepter rises out of Israel" (Num. 24:17) Although one passage in the Jerusalem Talmud states that this verse refers to Moshiach, another interprets it as referring to every Jew. This seeming contradiction is resolved by the Baal Shem Tov, who said that every Jew contains within him a spark of the soul of Moshiach. Furthermore, this spark is more than just a latent aspect; every Jew is able to bring that spark out into the open, bringing about the actual manifestation of Moshiach by means of Torah and mitzvot (commandments), which effect a purification and refinement of the physical world. This will be achieved in macrocosm with the coming of Moshiach, who will reveal the world's goodness and holiness.