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July 4th, the United States of America Independence Day, seems like a good time to talk about barbecues!
Does anyone use old-fashioned grills anymore? You know, the kind they used in the "olden days" before gas grills became the standard mode of barbecuing. To barbecue you took out the grill, charcoal briquets, lighter fluid, matches, long-handled tongs and spatula, and Dad cooked supper for a change rather than Mom.
Did Dad ever teach you how to set up the charcoal so that it would heat efficiently and quickly? "First, you pour the coals into the grill," he advised.
"Then, you move around the coals until you've made them into a mountain - now don't wipe the black dust on your clean clothes. Douse it with enough lighter fluid to get a good fire going, but not so much that the food will taste like lighter fluid.
"Make sure to stand with your back to the wind so that when you light it the smoke and flames won't go toward you. Check it in a little while, and when you see the edges of the coals getting white you take a long stick and spread out the coals evenly on the bottom of the grill. If you do it too soon, though, the coals won't have the fire burning inside and they'll go out."
If you followed Dad's advice you made a pretty good barbecue. To get things moving even more quickly. you also know to carefully add a little more lighter fluid once the coals "looked" like they were out and all the coals were aflame once again.
When the Jewish people were given the Torah on Mount Sinai, all of the souls of all the Jews who would ever live were there. Cold and lifeless like charcoal until then, as one united mountain of souls we were doused with a revelation of G-d and an intrinsic understanding of our mission in this world that has lasted through the millennia.
The fire that was set alight within each and every coal/soul never goes out. At times, the flame is hidden. Occasionally, the heat itself is also not felt, covered as it is by so much dust and ash.
Like the coals in the barbecue that aren't spread out until they have a fire burning within, G-d did not scatter us to every continent in the world until the flames in our souls were ignited. Our small acts - mitzvot (commandments) - are what enable the smoldering flame to glow and radiate warmth to others. They keep us connected, despite distance, to all other Jews and to our Source. Each time we do a mitzva we connect with our Creator and the Jewish People.
As we are in the midst of the Three Week Period of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple and the numerous disasters that befell the Jewish People, poke and prod the fire within your soul by uniting with other Jews. Unite by lighting Shabbat candles or encouraging another woman or girl to light them, by giving extra charity, by praying for the end of exile and the beginning of the Redemption, by attending a class (at this time in particular on topics that relate to the Holy Temple). These are all mitzvot that we are told actually hasten the Redemption. May that long awaited time commence now!
This week's Torah portion, Pinchas, discusses how the land of Israel was apportioned among the tribes: "The land will be divided for an inheritance...to the large tribe you will give the more inheritance, and to the small you will give the less inheritance... nevertheless, through the lot the land will be divided."
From these verses we see that the land of Israel was divided up in two distinct ways: first, according to the logical, particular needs of each tribe, and second, according to lot.
The Book of Joshua mentions yet another method by which it was determined where each tribe dwelt -- "according to the word of G-d."
The High Priest, through his gift of prophecy, would consult the miraculous Urim and Tumim on his breastplate to ascertain the portion of each tribe.
Interestingly, each of these three methods yielded exactly the same result!
For the inheritance of each tribe, and by extension, every Jew, is Divinely determined and carries deep spiritual significance.
Each way of apportioning the land, therefore, whether logically acceptable to the rational mind or supernatural, was but one means of determining the underlying absolute truth.
But if all three methods led to the same outcome, why does the Torah conclude that "nevertheless, through the lot shall the land be divided"?
The answer lies in the fact that these words refer not only to the first apportionment of land in the time of Moses, but to the division of the land among the entire Jewish people that will take place in the Messianic Era, when all Jews will return to the Holy Land.
At that time, may it come speedily, the land will be divided solely according to Divinely-ascertained lot, and not according to any other method.
The underlying principle behind the terms "inheritance" and "apportionment" is that a Jew can take a plot of ground that was formerly pagan and elevate it into "the land upon which the eyes of G-d perpetually gaze."
The power to make such a transformation can come only from G-d, as He is the only One capable of effecting such a radical change. Indeed, according to human logic and understanding, such a transformation would be impossible!
Thousands of years ago, the first division of land was carried out in a manner in which G-d's supernatural Will was clothed in human understanding.
In the Messianic Era, the G-dliness hidden within all of creation will be uncovered, obvious to the human eye; there will be no need to resort to our limited understanding to arrive at ultimate truth.
At that time, therefore, the land of Israel will be apportioned solely according to Divine lot.
Adapted from a talk of the Rebbe, Parshat Balak, 5751-1991
by Tzvi Jacobs
It was 1999 and internet commerce was in its infancy. Six years earlier, I had received a blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe to publish a collection of my stories. I decided it was worth it for me to try to find a printer for my book on-line. I filled out a form and listed the specifications. During the next four weeks, I received quotes from six printing houses in the United States and one in Canada. The best price came from Canada.
I called the Canadian print house. The cover thickness, the paper, the binding, everything sounded top quality - and the American dollar could buy more in Canada. Canada was the place to print. "What do I do next?"
"There's also shipping," the man said with a flat voice. " $1400."
"$1400! You're kidding, aren't you?" I asked.
"We're in Winnipeg. It's 1260 miles from here to your door in Morristown, New Jersey."
I waited but no other bids came in from Canada. Maybe there was a printer in Canada a bit closer, like around Montreal, I wondered. I knew one person in Montreal, Rabbi Ronnie Fine, the Rebbe's emissary in Queen Mary, Montreal.
"Do you know anyone who owns a printing house?" I asked.
"Sorry, I can't help you there," Rabbi Fine said. "Actually, there's a printing agent. He handles some of our printing jobs. His name is also Jacobs, Lorne Jacobs. Maybe you're related."
"I doubt it, our name was originally Karesh. Is Lorne Jacobs involved in your Chabad House?"
"No. He politely says that he's not interested. But he makes sure the jobs are high quality and he gets us good prices. I'll give you his number."
Even though it was a Sunday morning, I left a brief message on Mr. Jacobs answering machine. That afternoon I received a call from a man with a distinctive Canadian English accent. "I understand that you want to print a 200-page hardcover book with library binding and a four-color book jacket, and-"
I was confused. I hadn't left those details on his answering machine this morning.
"I haven't checked today's messages yet," said Mr. Jacobs.
Now I was really confused. "So how do you know all those details?" I asked.
"I picked up this information from the internet a few weeks ago and then misplaced it. A few minutes ago I opened a folder and there it was. Hold on." Lorne played my message. "This is too uncanny! And we share the same last name. Quite a coincidence."
"Right, but nothing happens by accident, it's all orchestrated to the most minute detail by One Above! In fact, that's the theme of every story in my book."
I emailed the file of the book to Lorne. He called back two days later. "You know, it's your fault that I overslept this morning and missed an appointment," Lorne said with the voice of a teacher scolding a student. (He later told me that he was a retired college chemistry teacher.)
"Because of me?"
"Yes, I started reading your stories last night and Rhona, my wife, heard me laughing and crying. So she read the next story out loud and I read the next one. We couldn't go to sleep until we finished the book. I've read a lot of books - you're an excellent story teller."
"Thank you, but believe me, you should see my first drafts. My wife tears them up. Speaking of which, she wants to know when can we go to print?"
"Hold on. I see that you have never printed a book. Do you have an ISBN number? You need a barcode. And what's going to go on the inside flaps of your back jacket, and on the book cover itself...."
Lorne and I spoke almost every evening. He re-read the stories and asked questions about Divine Providence, do you really believe that G-d wrote the Bible and that the world was created in six days, don't you believe in evolution, if G-d is in charge why the Holocaust, are Jews better than Gentiles... The questions didn't end.
"If you're going to put so much effort and money into this book," Lorne said, "it has to look first class. I know you have no money to hire a professional typesetter. Let me see what I can do."
Day after day, story after story, Lorne tweaked every story, nearly every line of the book. The book became a labor of love and a journey to discover his own Jewish roots. One mitzva (commandment) at a time, Lorne and Rhona made their kitchen kosher, lit Shabbat candles and said the Kiddush prayer on a glass of wine, studied Torah and Chasidic teachings, until they blossomed into fully-observant Jews.
Lorne oversaw every step of the publishing and printing of the hardcover edition of my book From the Heavens to the Heart. He found even a better price than the Winnipeg printer and shipping was two-thirds less. And when the inside flaps of the full color book jacket didn't fold exactly right, Lorne made sure all 3000 copies were reprinted. "A book with the Rebbe's blessing must be perfect," Lorne said.
These days, if you visit Chabad Queen Mary in Montreal on Shabbat, listen out for a voice that resonates with authority: "Please turn to page 200 and rise for Aleinu." That man with the smile - that's Shimon Leib - Lorne - Jacobs, Rabbi Fine's right hand man.
Tzvi Jacobs lives with his family in Monsey, New York and works as a medical writer at Purdue Pharmaceuticals. In his spare time, Tzvi writes stories. The kindle version of From the Heavens to the Heart can be found at: amzn.com/B00CM2RWQE
Kol Menachem just released the Schottenstein Edition Tehillim. It contains an exceptionally lucid, flowing translation adorned with fascinating insights culled from over 200 traditional commentaries. A special feature is the inspirational commentaries from the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Tehillim which have never been published before in English. Typography by an award-winning designer.
The Siddur (Prayerbook)
The recently released Siddur Illuminated by Chassidus has a new translation of the prayerbook and nearly 300 pages of Chasidic commentary to the words of the weekday morning prayers. The commentaries have been deftly and comprehensively researched, compiled, translated, and made readable to English-speaking audiences. Published jointly by Sichos in English and Kehot Publication Society.
12th of Nissan, 5739 
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 9th of Adar, which reached me with considerable delay. May G-d grant the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good.
...With reference to your writing "I do not 'hold' by a Rebbe now. My allegiance is to the Yiddishkeit [Judaism] with which I grew up," etc. - of course, what is expected of you, as of every Jew, is that the daily life and conduct should be in accordance with the Torah, Toras Chaim [the Torah of life], and this is the very essence of Yiddishkeit. However, inasmuch as the Torah is described as "longer than the earth and wider than the sea," it is normal that no individual, however proficient he is in Torah and Mitzvos [commandments], and however educated he is, isolates himself from others, from whom he can learn a better and deeper understanding of Torah, at any rate, in those areas where he has not yet attained the highest level. This is the function of a Rebbe, a teacher and instructor who have in their sphere of learning devoted more time and attained a higher level of knowledge, etc.
Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, 5730 
My dear Assaf:
I was pleased to receive you letter, but I was very much surprised at the question you asked.
You wrote: "I want to know if Hashem [G-d] really exists." I will answer it this way: Suppose you were walking in the streets and saw a skyscraper. Would you ask, "Is there someone who made it?" And if this is so with a building of a number of floors what will you say about the whole world, with the sun, moon and stars, oceans and mountains and woods and all the creatures on land and in the seas and so on?
Your other question was, if you daven the rest of the year, will you get a trumpet?
Since you are a thoughtful boy I will again answer it with an illustration: Suppose you were invited to the White House and the President of the United States received you with pleasure and asked you what kind of a present would you like? Would you ask him for a candy? Perhaps you know the story of King Solomon, who was only 12 years old when he became King of all the Jewish people, after his father, King David. G-d appeared to him in a dream and asked him, "What shall I give you?" And all he asked for was a wise and understanding heart! And G-d gave him that as well as everything any person could wish for.
I trust you are learning Hashem's Torah with devotion and diligence and conduct yourself the way Hashem wants you to as befitting for a Jewish boy, a son of Abraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov the fathers of our people.
16 Adar, 5712 
... You seem to be disturbed because you feel that you have not attained the proper level in Torah and Mitzvos and cannot see the tachles [purpose] etc., which makes you downhearted.
Leaving the details of your complaints aside, I wish to make several observations:
- A feeling of dissatisfaction with one's self is a good sign, for it indicates vitality and an urge to rise and improve one's self, which is accomplished in a two-way method: withdrawal from the present state, and turning to a higher level (see Sichah [talk] of my father-in-law of sainted memory, Pesach 5694).
- If the urge to improve one's self leads to downheartedness and inertia, then it is the work of the Yetzer Hora [evil inclination], whose job it is to use every means to prevent the Jew from carrying out good intentions connected with Torah and Mitzvos.
The false and misleading voice of the Yetzer Hora should be stifled and ignored. Besides, as the Baal Hatanya [author of the Tanya, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] states (Ch. 25), even one single good deed creates an everlasting bond and communion with G-d (ibid., at length). Thus, a feeling of despondency is not only out of place, but is a stumbling block in the worship of G-d, as is more fully explained in the above and subsequent chapters of Tanya.
- With regard to understanding, or lack of understanding, of the tachles, the important thing required of the Jew is contained in the words of the Torah: "For the thing is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart (and the tachles is) to do it." Understanding is, generally, the second step. The first step is the practice of the Mitzvos....
My prayerful wish to you, as you conclude your letter, is that the next one coming from you will be more cheerful.
Yonatan (Jonathan, or in the Ashkenazic Hebrew pronunciation Yonasan, also called Yehonatan in Hebrew) was the son of the first Jewish king, Saul. Yonatan and David (who succeeded Saul, and whose descendants became the kings of Israel for all eterntiy) were best friends. Yonatan protected David when Saul was trying to kill David by helping him escape. The deep friendship between Yonatan and David, according to our Sages, epitomizes a love that is not dependent on any selfish end. (Ethics 5:15). Yonatan was killed with his father and two brothers in a battle with the Philistines.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We are currently in the period of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem known as the "Three Weeks." It began this past Tuesday on the 17th of Tammuz and continues through the 9th of Av - "Tisha B'Av" (June 25 - July 16, this year).
If, G-d forbid, Moshiach has not come by Tisha B'Av, we will read the book of Lamentations (Eicha) on that day. In Lamentations it says, "Come and sing in the night." Chassidic interpretation explains this to mean that during the "night" of exile one can come and sing; despite the fact that it is dark.
The beauty and specialness of the Jewish people is that we can find reasons to "sing" in the night. While the whole world is enveloped in total darkness, we find a reason to sing.
What exactly is that reason? We view the darkness of night, the darkness which surrounds us, as if it were a tunnel. At the end of every tunnel, no matter how long, there is a light shining bright. And it is because of the fact that we are surrounded by the darkness of the tunnel that we can see the brightness of the light at the end. We realize, too, the darker the tunnel, the closer we are to the light at the end.
When the redemption and Moshiach will come, these days are going to be filled with the light of joy and happiness and glory. This is what we are waiting for, what we are hoping for. This is the reason we can and must sing and dance in the night. After all, we are already at the end of the tunnel.
...Appoint a man over the community who will go out before them (Num. 27:16-17)
Appoint a man whose soul "will go out" in love of every Jew. The most important trait of a Jewish leader is that he should have self- sacrifice for every Jew.
(Rabbi Yitzchak of Varka)
And the children of Korach did not die (Num. 26:11)
They did not die, and in every generation Korach's "inheritors" - those who rebel against the Moses of that generation - are alive and well, continuing in his path.
My sacrifice...you shall keep to offer to Me in its season (Num. 28:2)
Keeping something, as in "you shall keep," implies waiting for or anticipating something. Thus, are we able to keep the commandments of the sacrifices even in exile, after the Holy Temple has been destroyed. We "keep" the laws associated with the Holy Temple by anticipating its rebuilding. Through our great longing for the Temple, we have a part in the sacrifices that were brought in those times.
From Yetzer, the family of the Yitzrites; from Shilem, the family of the Shilemites (Deut. 26:49)
Our Sages said: "A person is led in the direction he wishes to go." If a person wants to indulge his "yetzer," his evil inclination, he will not be prevented from doing so. But if he truly strives for wholeness (from the same Hebrew root as "Shilem") and purity, G-d will help him achieve his goal.
(Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlatchov)
When the stranger entered the little synagogue, the regulars were curious - who was he and why had he come to their town. But he was in a great hurry and so, he was relieved to see a quorum of men already assembled, ready to begin the morning prayers. There was no rabbi there, and not wanting to wait, the stranger ascended the bima. The "regulars" were surprised and offended that this unknown man presumed to lead the prayers. After all, who was this fellow, who didn't even have the courtesy to wait a few minutes for the rabbi or the president of the congregation?
The stranger had already begun the morning service when the president arrived. Seeing a stranger at the bima, he rushed up to him and said, "What a chutzpa! Who do you think you are to begin the prayers before the rabbi or I have arrived!" And he continued berating the man in this fashion.
The stranger, however, just kept silent. But his refusal to respond infuriated the president even more and he blurted out, "Don't you see who's speaking to you?"
Finally the stranger replied in a quiet voice, "You also do not see to whom you are speaking."
No sooner had those words been uttered than everything went dark before the president's eyes. He rushed to a doctor, then to a specialist - to several specialists - but no one could find a cause for his sudden blindness. He tried every treatment that was suggested to him, but nothing proved a cure.
Then, it dawned upon him: when had his blindness begun? After he had angry words with the stranger in the shul. Undoubtedly he had offended a hidden tzadik with his words, and this was the consequence of his anger.
In despair, he decided to travel to the Baal Shem Tov. He had heard about this great tzadik; maybe he could help.
"Rebbe, I have heard that you can perform miracles. I have been blind since I angered a certain hidden tzadik. My problem is that I don't know who he is or where I can find him."
The Baal Shem Tov replied, "The man is my disciple, Reb Yaakov Koppel, and you sinned against him with your angry speech. Go to him and beg his forgiveness. If he forgives you, your blindness will be cured."
The man indeed traveled to Reb Yaakov, who accepted his apology. His sight returned as quickly as it had vanished.
The morning prayers had just ended. The Baal Shem Tov, who was an esteemed visitor in the town, was about to wash his hands before partaking of a meal, when a distraught woman approached him. She had waited throughout the whole service and could contain herself no longer.
"Rebbe! My husband has been missing for a very long time. I have done everything I can think of to try to find him, but I have no idea where he went. What will happen to me? Please, Rebbe, help me find him," the woman wept.
The Baal Shem Tov stood there, his washing cup poised to pour water on his hands in preparation for the blessing on bread, but instead of continuing, he stopped and responded to the woman.
"You will find your husband in the city of M."
Infused with new hope, the woman departed. But the rabbi of the city, who had heard a great deal about the Baal Shem Tov, had been watching the exchange. Now he had what seemed to him to be a serious question of Jewish law.
"I beg your pardon," began the rabbi, "I was watching your exchange with the woman, and it seems to me that you were saying words of prophecy to her. If that was true, I think you were required to have washed your hands before speaking."
The Baal Shem Tov responded to the rabbi with a question: "If you saw chickens suddenly fluttering about your table set with expensive glassware, what would your reaction be? I think you would automatically reach out to chase them away."
The rabbi acquiesced, but he clearly was not following the Baal Shem Tov's logic.
"I did what came naturally to me," the Baal Shem Tov continued. "I saw standing before me a woman who was in utter despair almost to the breaking point. I knew where her husband was. Do you imagine that I should have continued washing my hands while she stood suffering before my eyes?"
From The Complete Story of Shavuot by Nisan Mindel, published by Kehot Publications
In this week's Torah portion we read, "G-d said...'take the sum of all the congregation of the Children of Israel from 20 years and upward.' " (Num. 26:1,2) The Midrash explains that the Jewish people have been counted nine times; the tenth and final census will be taken in the Messianic Era. This will be done either by Moshiach - according to the Aramaic translation and commentary of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel, or by G-d Himself - according to the Midrash.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbat Chukat 5750)