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Games using stones or rocks as the playing pieces, such as Mancala and Five Stones have been around for a few thousand years.
But did you know that pet rocks were the rage in the 70s? And why not? You could take your pet rock anywhere and not have to worry about it disturbing anyone. There weren't any expenses involved once you'd purchased your pet rock-no food, no kitty litter, no license, just you and your pet rock. And, even better than a virtual pet, you could forget about your pet rock for weeks or even months, and it would still be there for you when you decided to renew the relationship.
There was only one drawback with pet rocks. They never responded to their owners' outpouring of love and attention. Pet rocks simply had hearts of stone!
Perhaps, though, in the Pet Rock Era, we were the ones with hearts of stone. Perhaps the pet rocks, and any rocks for that matter, did respond but we just didn't hear them!
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the Previous Rebbe, taught: "Walking in the street one must think words of Torah. When someone goes about not occupied with Torah words, then the stone he treads on exclaims: 'Clod! How dare you trample on me! How are you any higher than I am?'"
In the Messianic Era, however, we will have no such problems of not being able to hear these declarations. The Prophet Habukuk said concerning that time: "A stone in the wall will cry out and a beam from the tree will respond." Chasidic philosophy explains that this means that although at present, inert creations are mute and though trodden upon remain silent, in the Messianic Era they will speak. For, at that time, the G-dly energy within everything will be revealed and actualized. Then, a rock or stone in the ground will cry out: "If a person was walking along without thinking or speaking words of Torah, why did he trample upon me?"
Chasidut goes on to explain that this patch of earth had been waiting for millennia, ever since the Six Days of Creation, for its special moment. All types of living beings have been treading upon it all this time, but it is waiting for someone to walk on it while discussing Torah. If they do not say words of Torah, the earth will protest: "You too are just like an animal."
The Midrash explains that in the Messianic Era, stones in walls and house beams will also no longer be mute. They will reveal all that they heard and saw.
At first glance this might seem a bit far-fetched. However, one need not look any further than forensic science to realize how credible the above scenario truly is.
At the scene of a crime, detectives may dust for fingerprints. Even the cleanest fingers leave traces. The fingerprints are there but we don't see them. At least not until the environment is changed which allows the fingerprints to be revealed.
Similarly, our actions - good or otherwise - leave spiritual prints, so to speak. Though we can't see them, they are there. Today, a fingerprint on an object "talks" when dusted with a special powder. In the Messianic Era, the prints left on rocks, beams and walls will talk as the G-dly energy within everything is revealed. May it take place immediately.
This week, we read two portions from the Torah, Matot and Masei. In the opening verses of Matot, we encounter the laws of making and annulling a vow. Whereas a person cannot release himself from his pledges, in certain cases, others can do it for him.
Masei begins with an account of the 42 journeys by which the Israelites left Egypt and came to the borders of the Chosen Land. The opening verse, however, suggests that all 42 of the journeys were an exodus from Egypt; whereas in fact only the first journey was, when the Jews literally left the land. To understand this seeming contradiction, we must recognize that Egypt is not only a place but also a state of mind. "Mitzrayim," the Hebrew word for Egypt, also means "confinement"; which is an obvious contrast with the land of Israel, which is called the "good and spacious land."
In fact, the entire time that the Israelites were not in their Land, they were in confinement; each journey was, in reality, leaving the "confinement" of Egypt. Yesterday's freedom can be confining today. A servant who is allowed to start work at 5:00 a.m. rather than 4:00 a.m. feels a sense of freedom. Tomorrow, however, or the next day, when he becomes used to the later hour, he will consider 5:00 a.m. to be early.
The Torah portions of Matot and Masei are always read during the period of the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av. They are set in this time of bitter confinement, between the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem (the 17th of Tammuz) and the Temple's destruction (the 9th of Av, 70 CE).
The significance of this timing, especially that of Masei, is that these portions convey to us, at a time when we most need reminding of it, the concept of "destroying in order to rebuild." Destruction may be for the sake of replacing a building with a better and stronger one. The Baal Shem Tov taught that salvation is not something which simply follows trouble: it is an implicit component of it. Just as the portion of Masei combines two conflicting concepts; here, too, we find the fusion of two opposites - destroying and rebuilding, affliction and salvation - which comes only when we leave the confinements of human reasoning and journey towards the all-encompassing expanses of faith. At this level, everything is drawn into our faith.
Seen from the eyes of a son, punishment is an evil. In the eyes of his father, it is for his son's own good. Our goal is to see history through the eyes of G-d. And by so doing we are able to turn G-d's hidden mercy into open kindness, and change the darkness of exile into the light of the Time to Come.
From Torah Studies by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
What Happens When We Fall?
by Dina Hurwitz
Ten years ago, I was in Israel for my sister's wedding. While I was there, I went to the Dead Sea.
Walking into the Dead Sea, I am waiting for the magic. Nothing happens. All of a sudden, I lose my balance and begin to fall. At that very moment the miracle strikes. G-d catches me and I float, not just float, but can't sink if I tried. The miracles G-d put in nature are the most mind blowing. I remember thinking at that time that if all I leave here with is this lesson it would be enough. We think we are in control, and the minute we realize that we are not, G-d catches us.
Many years pass, and every once in a while I remember how incredible it felt to be caught, then forget again. Until now. A month ago, my best friend, my rock, my husband was diagnosed with ALS. The illusion of control was lost completely.
My husband the singer, storyteller, jokester, could not speak clearly anymore. Everything changed in an instant. Priorities took on a completely different flavor. Dreams needed to be turned into reality. All the "if onlys" had to happen now. Now is all we know.
Just as our family lost our footing we were caught by hundreds of brothers and sisters, many of whom we have never met. The love that we have been showered with at this time can only be described as G-d catching us and cradling us through His thousands of representatives on His beautiful earth.
As difficult as this time in our lives is, that is nothing compared to how beautiful it is. The amount of joy, love, support, and unity we have been privileged to experience makes me think I understand why G-d created this world. What good He felt His creations can accomplish, and for what. We've never done anything that comes close to deserving this, yet here it is.
We have been blessed (understatement) to find out who catches us when we fall. In other words, we cannot fall, there is a beautiful net of love surrounding us.
Last week was our son Eli Chaim's Bar Mitzva. We had many celebrations in many different locations with many different people. I have never witnessed more kindness, love, joy, unity and faith. Some by friends, some by family, and some by strangers who are now friends and family - all by Your children.
For whatever reason, You have chosen my husband and our family to be a magnet to bring people together. I can understand a small part of it. My husband has always been the happiest person I know, and that hasn't changed one bit. His joy and faith and love for all people has inspired many people and continues to do so. Our children, thanks to You, are remarkable. They are strong and trust in You that You will take care of all of us.
We feel a closeness to You that we have never felt before, and we are grateful that You let us know it in little messages that You are listening and watching over us. It is comforting knowing You are with us. Thousands of people have taken upon themselves to say extra prayers or do extra mitzvot (commandments) in the merit of my husband. The world is changing for the better. There is so much goodness and beauty all around. If I can see it from my little corner, I cannot begin to imagine what it must look like to You.
I feel as if I am experiencing a taste of Moshiach. The brotherhood, love, joy, faith and hope was touchable. How blessed we are that You have showered Your kindness and miracles on us. I just have one question. What else are You waiting for if not this?
The past month and a half have been quite challenging. All of the excitement of the Bar Mitzva are wonderful memories, family has gone home, and we are trying to get back to normal. Actually, we are trying to figure out what normal is right now. As of now there is no known cure for ALS, but there are many clinical trials and research that G-d willing will bring a cure.
So we wait, we pray, we hope, and we cry (or maybe that's just me). Some days are good days. The kids are happy, Yitzi is feeling well, an atmosphere of joy and excitement permeates our home. We know people around the world are doing extra mitzvot on Yitzi's behalf and many are praying for us. We can feel a miracle just around the corner. I love these days and cherish them. I even answer my phone on happy days.
Some days are downright bad days. The fear is so all consuming I cannot breath. It is like ice has begun to form deep in my soul and is spreading from there outward. Just waiting, frozen in my grief while the one I love continues to get harder to understand. Sometimes for a second, I forget. He looks the same, still has the same smile and twinkle in his eyes, and then he tells me he is going to record his words, so in the future he can communicate with his own voice through a computer. I am surprised that the tears do not come out frozen.
These days are followed by shame. Shame that I do not have enough faith and belief in G-d. Shame that although I know the Rebbe is rooting for us and guarding us from above, I am still terrified. Shame that people think I'm a lot stronger then I am. I know G-d makes miracles all of the time, some cloaked in nature and others quite obvious. I also know that not every person gets one. That is what turns my heart to ice.
Most of my days fall somewhere between these two. Moments of joy and hope, and moments of fear and dread, and of course hours of laundry.
Then the sun comes out again, and I remember a family trip to Big Bear Lake. After watching the kids play in the lake for two days, I decided to jump in. I was fully dressed, and jumped into the lake, while my husband stood on the dock laughing at me. The water was incredible and very refreshing until my legs got caught in my long skirt and I started to panic. My husband very calmly said, "put your legs straight down." The water was so shallow that my head and shoulders were completely out of the water. Aside from feeling foolish, I learned a very valuable lesson: it is possible to drown in three feet of water.
Right now, I am standing in murky water, where the bottom is not visible to my eye. That does not mean it is not right under my feet, but I surely won't find it in my state of panic. I think G-d does this purposefully, to see how we behave, and what we reflect, when we recognize our vulnerabilities. Do we look for help, or drown in our own panic in three feet of water.
Every day we wake up with the belief that today is the day Moshiach will come. The next day we have the absolute same belief, for thousands of years.
Every day I wake up thinking today a miracle will occur. At the end of the day I feel a little less certain, yet the next morning I will wake up with the same belief.
Lubavitch of Indiana, in Indianapolis, recently broke ground for a brand new 13,000 square foot state-of-the-art Chabad Center for Jewish Life. The new facility will have synagogue, social hall, kitchen, classrooms and offices. In the N'urim neighborhood of Rishon Letzion, Israel, a ground-breaking took place for a new Chabad Center. The building is being designed to look like Lubavitch World Headquarters, "770" Eastern Parkway, in Brooklyn, New York.
The city commission approved the Mesivta of Coral Springs, Florida to lease a property for the boys' Yeshiva High School. Formerly an animal hospital, the Mesivta will be moving in before the start of the upcoming school year. The school first opened in 2008 on the campus of the Coral Springs Chabad Lubavitch Center but quickly outgrew the available space there.
18th of Tammuz, 5714 
Sholom U'Brocho [Peace and Blessing]:
I have received your letter of June 13th, in which, after a brief biographical outline of yourself, you present your problem, namely that you recently became aware of a feeling of apathy and indifference to the religious rites and practices, due to a perplexing doubt as to the authenticity of the Jewish Tradition, by which you undoubtedly mean the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments], and you wonder how their authenticity may logically be proved.
I hope this is indeed the only difficulty which has weakened your observance of the practical precepts in daily life; in most cases the true reason is the desire to make it easy for oneself and avoid a "burden"; one later seeks to justify this attitude on philosophical grounds. If this is the case the problem is more complicated. In the hope that you belong to the minority, I will briefly state here the logical basis of the Truth that the Torah and Mitzvos were given to us Jews by Divine Revelation.
This is not very difficult to prove, since the proof is the same as all other evidence that we have of historic events in past generations, only much more forcefully and convincingly.
By way of illustration: if you are asked, how do you know that there existed such a person as Maimonides, whom you mention in your letter, you would surely reply that you are certain about his existence from the books he has written. Although Rambam (Maimonides) lived some 800 years ago, his works now in print have been reprinted from earlier editions, and those from earlier ones still, uninterruptedly, going back to the very manuscript which Rambam wrote in his own hand. This is considered sufficient proof even in the face of discrepancies or contradictions from one book of Rambam to another. Such contradictions do not demolish the above proof; rather efforts are made to reconcile them, in the certainty that both have been written by the same author.
The same kind of proof substantiates any historic past, which we ourselves have not witnessed, and all normal people accept them without question, except those who for some reason are interested in falsification.
In many cases the authenticity of an historic event is based on the evidence of a limited group of people, where there is room to suspect that the witnesses were, perhaps, not quite disinterested. Nonetheless, because there is nothing to compel us to be suspicious, and especially if we can check the evidence and counter-check it, it is accepted as a fact.
From the above point of view, any doubts you may have about the authenticity of the Jewish Tradition should be quickly dispelled.
Millions of Jews have always known and still know that G-d is the author of the Torah Shebiksav (written Torah) and the Torah Shebe'al Peh, (oral tradition) which He gave to His people Israel not only to study but to observe in practice in daily life. The Al-mighty made it a condition of the existence and welfare of our people as a whole, and of the true happiness of every individual member of our nation.
How do these millions of individuals know, and how did they know in the past, that the Torah is true? Simply because they have it on the evidence of their fathers, millions of Jews that preceded them, and these in turn from their fathers, and so on, uninterruptedly back to the millions of Jews (if we include women and children, and those above and below the age range of the 600,000 male adults) who witnessed the Divine Revelation at Sinai. Throughout all these generations, the very same content has been traditionally handed down, not by a single group, but by a people of many millions, of different mentalities, walks of life, interests, under the most varying circumstances, places and times, etc. etc. Such evidence cannot be disputed.
It is difficult, in the course of a letter, to elaborate, but I am sure that even the brief above analysis should dispel any of your doubts (if indeed you had any serious doubts) as to the authenticity of our Tradition. I trust you will from now on not permit anything to weaken your observance of the Mitzvos, whose very observance of itself illumines the mind and soul more than any philosophic book can ever do. I shall be glad to hear good news from you, and I wish you success.
Elisha the prophet, was the disciple of Elijah. When Elijah went to Heaven alive in a fiery chariot, Elisha merited to see the miraculous event occur. Elisha performed 16 miracles, among them: splitting the Jordan; purifying the waters around Jericho; filling the vessels of the widow of Obadiah with oil; blessing the Shunemite woman with a son and restoring him to life when he died. Elisha had so many disciples that special quarters were built to house them in Samaria. He prophesied for over 65 years, fulfilling his mission fearlessly as had Elijah.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
One of the special haftorahs of the "Three Weeks" is an excerpt from the Book of Jeremiah in which the prophet relates how G-d instructed him to foretell of the destruction of the Holy Temple.
Jeremiah lived in a time when many Jews were attracted to paganism; his function as a prophet was to arouse them to repentance. Fearful of undertaking such a responsibility, G-d encouraged Jeremiah with the following words: "Before I formed you in the belly I knew you; and before you came out of the womb I sanctified you, and I ordained you a prophet to the nations." When Jeremiah countered that he was only a "child," G-d replied, "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to save you."
In essence, Jeremiah's mission is the mission of every Jewish soul, which is forced to abandon its G-dly Source and descend into the physical world. The soul becomes frightened at the prospect; how can it possibly contend with all the difficulties it will encounter?
G-d immediately reassures the soul and tells her not to be afraid: "Before I formed you in the belly I knew you." Every Jew has a Divine soul, "a veritable part of G-d Above" that transcends the physical world and the difficulties of the exile. Moreover, "before you came out of the womb I sanctified you": every Jew is prepared ahead of time by having been taught the entire Torah before he was born.
This, however, is not enough to assuage the soul's fears. "But I am only a child!" it counters. "From where will I get the strength to be a prophet to the nations?" i.e., to refine and elevate the physical plane of reality?
"Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to save you," G-d promises. In addition to the innate powers you acquired in the womb, I will give you special strengths and abilities to be able to fulfill your mission successfully.
May we immediately merit to attain the ultimate goal of all of our Divine service, the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption.
He must not break his word; he must do all that he expressed verbally (Num. 30:3)
When a person is faithful to his every utterance and lives up to his word, he merits that G-d will "do all that he expressed verbally," as the saying goes: "The righteous man decrees, and the Holy One fulfills it."
These are the journeys of the Children of Israel (Num. 33:1)
Moses documented all the journeys of the Children of Israel through the desert; this record then became part and parcel of the Torah. Similarly, all the wanderings and misfortunes of the Jewish people during the present exile are being recorded; when Moshiach comes, they will constitute a book from which all will learn.
(Rabbi David of Lelov)
Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes... "when a man utters an oath" (Num. 30:2-3)
The word used here for tribes is "matot," which is a derivative of the word for "staff," denoting strength and firmness. In order to fulfill an oath, which means separating oneself and refraining from things which the Torah otherwise permits, we need the strength of a staff.
He shall not profane his words; everything that leaves his mouth he shall do (Num. 30:3).
Whoever is careful never to profane his words, and is particular to fulfill his commitments, to him is the verse applied, "Everything which leaves his mouth he shall do." That is, "He"- G-d will fulfill his every blessing and utterance. "The righteous decree and the Alm-ghty fulfills."
Many of the vessels which were used in the First and Second Holy Temples were those made under the supervision of Moses when the Jews constructed the Sanctuary in the desert. Others were made by King Solomon, who built the First Holy Temple.
The ark, which stood in the Holy of Holies and housed the Tablets (of the Ten Commandments), in the First Temple was absent from the Second Temple. King Solomon knew, by way of prophecy, that both Temples were destined to be destroyed, and he constructed a hiding place for the Ark deep in the foundations of the Temple. It was there that King Yoshiyahu concealed the Ark and there it awaits the rebuilding of the Third Holy Temple.
When the Ark was in the Holy of Holies, it took up no physical space. That is to say, although the entire area of the Holy of Holies measured 20 cubits, the space on each side of the Ark was 10 cubits.
During the time the Jews wandered through the desert, sparks would shoot out from the poles of the Ark, destroying poisonous snakes and scorpions which lurked before it.
When the Jews entered the Holy Land and were about to cross the Jordan River, the water parted at the feet of the kohanim (priests) who were bearing the Ark and the entire Jewish people passed on dry ground. Not until the kohanim reached the other bank did the river begin to flow again.
On the two sides of the Ark were the keruvim (cherubs). These were two figures in the form of angels with the faces of children, a boy and a girl, with wings that extended over the Ark. There were also miracles associated with the keruvim. When the Jewish people conducted themselves according to the will of G-d, the two figures faced one another, but when G-d was displeased with His people, they turned in opposite directions. In addition, when G-d spoke to Moses in the Holy of Holies, the voice seemed to emanate from between the two angelic figures.
The golden Menora, or candelabra, which stood in the Holy Temple was made of one solid block of gold, but was intricately decorated. Each night it was kindled with pure olive oil, and it burned throughout the night. Many miracles occurred in connection with its lighting. For instance, one of its lights did not go out, even though all the other lights which contained the same amount of oil went out. At times, this light, when lit on Rosh Hashana, did not go out until just prior to the following Rosh Hashana.
Another of the articles in the Temple was the Shulchan, the Table, upon which were laid the 12 show-breads that were the spiritual source of bounty and blessing for the Jewish people. These challot were arranged on the Table every Shabbat when the challot from the previous week were removed. One of the miracles was that when they were replaced with fresh ones the following week, they were still warm. The Table which Moses made was also used in the First Temple.
The Altar on which the incense was burned was placed between the Menora and the Shulchan, and incense was burned on it twice a day. The Altar, which was made of acacia wood plated with gold, was also miraculous, for although it was burned with fire for many years, it was never scorched or damaged by the heat.
It is related in the Midrash that when Moses questioned how it could be that the wood would not be burned by the fire, G-d replied that the nature of Divine fire is unlike that of earthly fire, for although it burns, it does not consume.
There were many other vessels used in the Temples. The Kiyor, the Wash-basin which was used for washing the hands and feet of the kohanim, was made from the mirrors of the women who used them to beautify themselves while in Egyptian bondage in order to cheer their downtrodden husbands. This act was valued so highly by G-d, that Moses was commanded to construct the basin from the copper, even though it isn't a precious metal.
The Temple service was conducted with enormous grandeur. The kohanim used 93 types of gold and silver vessels in their service, in addition to many beautiful and varied musical instruments which the Levites used to produce their exquisite music.
During the destruction of the First Temple, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar plundered the wealth of the Temple and took all the vessels to Babylonia. When he had the effrontery to exhibit and use them in a great feast, he met his death the same night.
When the Babylonian exiles returned to rebuild the land under Zerubavel, King Cyrus released 5,400 vessels to be returned to the Temple.
Then, when Titus destroyed the Second Temple, the vessels were again looted and, this time, brought to Rome. We await the day when they are returned to their rightful place in the Third Holy Temple, and may that day come immediately.
The theme of the Shabbat that blesses the new month of Av is to transmit a very lofty blessing that will have the power to transform the negative aspects of Av into a time of joy and festivity. This concept is encapsulated in the special word used when announcing the new month, for we refer to the new month as "Menachem Av," "menachem" for the "comforter." When blessing the new month, we ask that it should be "for deliverance and for consolation." This "deliverance" refers to the true and complete redemption, while the "consolation" refers to the consolation of Zion and Jerusalem. The Shabbat that blesses Menachem Av radiates the awesome power of converting destruction to redemption.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, parshiot Matot-Masei, 1987)