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Though most of the world operates on a metric system for weight, liquid, cubic, square and linear measurements, the United States continues to use a system still known as the English system, despite the fact that the English switched to metric decades ago. Years back, it was expected that Americans would gradually wean themselves off English and switch to metric; thus products produced in the U.S., even those not manufactured for export, carry both the metric and English measurements. Goods imported into the U.S. from Israel and Europe carry both metric and English designations. But for most American schoolchildren, their only familiarity with the metric system is the knowledge that soft drinks come in one, two or three liter bottles.
There is, however, another system of measurement, linear at least. And it is called the "Jewish yardstick."
The Jewish yardstick is simple to use, and it doesn't interfere with any other system of weight, liquid, cubic, square, or linear measurement.
The rules for using the Jewish yardstick are as follow: When measuring up your neighbor, friend, co-worker, relative or any stranger, judge him leniently and favorably. When measuring yourself and your accomplishments, be stringent.
In Chasidic terminology one would say: Look at another with the "right eye" - with kindness; look at yourself with the "left eye" - with strictness or discipline.
Such an approach is based on the commandment to "Love your fellow as yourself." Just as a per-son's intrinsic self-love allows him to overlook his own faults, so too, must we overlook another's faults.
In regard to our personal conduct, we strive to both push away the negative and to do good. When relating to another individual, however, the Jewish yardstick's method is to channel our energies solely into the positive path - "Do good."
Although there may be times when someone's conduct warrants reproof, before criticizing - even before giving "positive criticism" - we should question ourselves as to whether we are fit to be the one to administer it. Furthermore, if reproof must be given, it should be offered gently, which will obviously enable it to be accepted more readily than harsh speech. Moreover, such words should be spoken only on select occasions.
The old saying, "Spare the rod and spoil the child," is a derivation of the Biblical verse, "One who spares the rod hates his son." Judaism indicates that rebuke and reprimand are not only important, but at times, essential. However, admonishment may be given only when the relationship between two individuals is like that between a father and son: To give rebuke, one must love the other person just as a father loves his child; additionally, the difference in level between the two people must be as radical as that between a father and a son. Needless to say, this does not apply in most cases.
Why is all this true? Because the ultimate value of every Jew is immeasurable.
This week's Torah portion, R'ei, opens with a verse that establishes a foundation of the Jewish religion - free choice. G-d says to the Jewish people, "Look, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, that you will hearken to G-d's commandments...; and the curse, if you will not hearken to G-d's commandments..." (Deut. 11:26-28)
Why did G-d create the world so as to necessitate blessings and curses? Why did G-d create something to stand in the way of good, to make it difficult for us to do what is appropriate and right?
Evil alternatives and negative opportunities exist to allow for free choice. If there was only good in this world - no chance for a person to behave in a questionable manner - a person could not freely choose to do good; he would be forced to do good for lack of alternatives, by default. In order to have options, there have to be at least two different routes. Then, a person can use the power of free choice given to him by G-d to choose the correct path.
Freedom to choose one path of action over another is a fundamental principle of Judaism. It is at the very core of the advantages of a human over other created beings. Other creatures do not have this option of free choice; their actions are based on natural instincts and environmental training. Only man has such an advantage.
The concept of reward and punishment revolves around free choice. If there is no choice, there is no room for reward and punishment. A person can only receive a reward for his good deeds because he has freedom of choice.
It is therefore understood that the existence of the opportunity to do "bad" is not to make a person evil, but the opposite. Wrong exists only to allow a person to choose right.
The opportunity to do that which is not good, therefore, wasn't created to prevent a person from accomplishing what he needs to. In fact, it is to push the person toward the correct path, a path to be traveled on in the midst of freedom of choice and desire.
Knowing that "bad" exists only to encourage us toward the good, also gives us the ability and strength not to be intimidated or overwhelmed by it.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Sparks Into Flames
Vicky Blitshtein's speech at the 2013 CTeen Shabbaton
Hello, my name is Vicky Blitshtein. I'm 17 and live in Plano, Texas. I'm here today to tell you about my journey through Chabad, CTeen, and Judaism.
Growing up, I was never super religious. My parents were born and raised in Russia where they didn't have much access to their religion. Therefore I never knew much about Judaism.
I went to Chabad of Dallas as a child, and when I was seven, my parents found out about Camp Gan Israel in Plano (a suburb of Dallas). They registered me for camp. Walking into Chabad of Plano, where the camp was held, I didn't know what to expect. But I never imagined how those first few steps through the doors of Chabad of Plano would lead me here today and change my life forever.
Every day and year in "Gan Izzy" Plano was a new adventure, whether it was exciting activities, fun trips, learning about Judaism in general, mitzvas like tzedaka (charity), tzniut (modesty), etc., or the absolutely incredible new group of counselors from New York who flew in every year. Though I only spent six weeks out of the year with them, they became some of my absolute best friends. I loved it!
When I turned 13, I was old enough to be a junior counselor. With growing trust from the rabbis and rebbitzons I took on more duties at Chabad. On Thursday evenings, you could find me with the rebbetzins cooking Shabbat dinners, Saturday mornings I was helping run kids programs during Shabbat services, Saturday nights I was working on Hebrew school and Mitzvah Club activities. Sunday mornings I was busy with my "class" of the rabbis' and rebbetzins' 15 children ranging between ages 6 months to 9 years old.
I became known as the "official" Chabad baby-sitter, summer and winter camp counselor, childhood learning and programming volunteer and leader, and Sunday school teacher. I spend countless hours at Chabad but it never feels like work.
I get asked a lot, "Vicky why do you spend so much time at Chabad?" I never had a definite answer; it was always just "I don't know - I love it!" But when writing this speech, I realized why I love it so much. I'm helping people; that's what I love to do. Knowing that I am helping people learn and grow in their Judaism means so much to me. Spreading the learning and growth to each individual who I may not even know, and impacting them in such a way, is so much more rewarding then anything else I could be doing in my free time. Which again is why I am here...
Growing like wild fire, the Chabad Teen Network is spreading Judaism and friendship to Jewish teens across the world. It is unifying us not only as a common generation, but THE generation - the next generation of Jews who hold the power to change the world.
In Plano we have a CTeen group of about 20 teens which started when I entered high school. We have many meaningful Shabbat dinners, Sunday programs and community service work. With each program that passes, both our faith and friendships grow stronger and stronger.
Since the 9th grade, I have wanted to come to this Shabbaton, but it wasn't easy convincing my parents who thought I was "too young." Five weeks ago, one of my dearest camp counselors and friends, Itty Barber, sent me a message about how I could win a trip to New York for this year's CTeen Shabbaton. I was extremely excited. I cleared it with my parents, who were, surprisingly, very willing to let me come.
It was the middle of week six of the contest giveaways when Itty messaged me. I got everyone at school involved as well as my friends and family. I came in third place. But I wasn't ready to give up so quickly.
Week seven's mission was to get friends on the CTeen Facebook Wall. This time, my sister Stephanie gave it a shot and won!
Before week 8 we all got word that six more tickets were donated. I was eager to get going! Sunday I tried and lost by one. But that didn't stop me! Tuesday I wrote on every white board at my school. Even my teachers encouraged everyone to post on my behalf. Tuesday night at 9 p.m. I was the happiest person in the world!! I had won and would be spending my birthday weekend, at the CTeen Shabbaton, in New York!
Announcing that I had won, CTeens' Facebook picture of the day was "Never Give Up" with the explanation: "You tried once, came in 3rd place. You tried again, and came in 2nd. You never gave up until you reached your goal. Thank you Vicky for showing us what it means, 'If you try hard you will succeed.' (Megilla, 6b)" Though no one at CTeen knew me, they saw the work I had put into what I wanted and where it got me. This achievement, of others seeing how hard I tried for a goal, was one of the proudest moments of my life. That moment sparked yet another flame within me, a flame we can all feel through accomplishments in CTeen and the greater community.
I would like to pass on my tiny inner sparks that have grown into achievements, and let them ignite your flames. Even if it is something small - any little change you can make in your Jewish communities - I highly encourage you to do it. Be the change you want to see in the world. Become the outstanding leaders I know you can become!
Rabbi Mendy and Sarah Rimler will be arriving in Tempe, Arizona, before the start of the school year at the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at ASU. There are more than 4,000 Jewish students at Arizona State University. Rabbi and Mrs. Boruch Farber are moving to Neve Daniel, Gush Etzion, Israel. They will be bolstering the work of the Chabad Center that is already in existence there. Rabbi Shimon and Mushkie Galperin have just moved to Solon, Ohio to serve as Youth Directors at the Chabad Jewish Center of Solon. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok and Miriam Bryna Shuchat will soon be moving to Las Vegas, Nevada. They are establishing Chabad of Eastside Las Vegas and serving as rabbi and rebbetzin at the Or Bamidbar Chabad Synagogue.
A new Chabad Center was dedicated in Burgas, Bulgaria, a year after a terrorist attack took the lives of five Israeli tourists. A new Torah scroll was welcomed to the Center, which will be open during the tourist season.
15th of Av, 5720 
Greeting and Blessing:
After the very long interval, I received your letter of the 12th of Menachem Av, in addition to the telephone message, to which you received my reply. May G-d grant that you have good news to report about all the things which you mentioned in your letter.
You can well understand my reaction to your writing that you have done "very little" in your secular studies lately. Without entering upon a discussion concerning the matter itself, the fact is that where there is a sincere effort to do a thing efficiently and attain the objective fully, one finds later the opportunity to utilize these efforts in many ways. Above all, time is one of the most precious gifts which G-d has given to the human being, and which should be used to the fullest advantage, inasmuch as the loss of time cannot be retrieved. Although I can well understand the reasons which you mention, which prevented you from making better use of your time, nevertheless knowing you, knowing also the encouragement that your wife surely gives you, you ought to find the ways of overcoming all difficulties. Our Sages said, "One should not bewail the past," for the important thing is to concentrate on the future.
May G-d grant that you will fulfill the precept "Know Him in all your ways," thus putting to good advantage also your secular studies in the service of G-d. I need hardly point out to you the teachings of Chassidus on the subject from the Baal Shem Tov, whose 200th anniversary of the completion of his life's work we are observing this year, of the Old Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism], and of my father-in-law of saintly memory. I refer you, particularly, to the Maamar [Chasidic discourse] b'laylo ha'hu, Purim 5700, end of par. 4.
You do not mention anything about your studies of the Torah, both Nigleh and Chassidus, though I trust that you not only have regular study periods, but that you also make efforts to increase them.
Hoping to hear good news from you in all above, and wishing you especially a successful year in connection with your forthcoming birthday,
27th of Teveth, 5721 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter and enclosures.
It is explained in many places in Chasidus, beginning with the Tanya [the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy], about the negative aspects of all forms of sadness, depression, despondency, etc. It is also clear from experience that these attitudes belong to the bag of tricks of the Yetzer Hora [evil inclination] in order to distract the Jew from serving G-d. To achieve this end the Yetzer Hora sometimes even clothes itself in the mantle of piety.
The true test, however, is what the results are, whether these attitudes actually bring about an improvement in, and a fuller measure of Torah and Mitzvos, or the reverse. This should be easy to determine.
On the other hand we have been assured that "He who is determined to purify himself receives Divine help." The road to purity and holiness, however, is one that should be trodden step by step, and by gradual and steady advancement.
Needless to say, the idea of your continuing at the Yeshivah for some time is the right one. As for the question how and what to write to your parents, I suggest that you consult with Rabbi Joseph Wineberg, who knows them personally, and who could give you some useful suggestions.
Hoping to hear good news from you in all above,
Onkelos was a famous Roman proselyte, the nephew of the Roman emperor Hadrian, who became acquainted with Judaism through Jewish scholars who travelled to and from Rome. He settled in the Holy Land, where he became a disciple of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya. Onkelos is most famous for his Targum, the Aramaic translation of the Torah. He feared that during the Babylonian exile many Jews had forgotten Hebrew, since they had become accustomed to using Aramaic and other dialects.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
There is a famous story from the Midrash that relates to this week's Torah portion.
A very pious land-owner was punctilious about following the Torah's commandment to give one-tenth of his produce to the priests. When this righteous Jew saw his end approaching, he called his son and heir over to him and cautioned, "The Almighty has always been generous with us. I have always given 100 of our 1000 bushels to the priests. You must make sure to do the same."
That year, at harvest-time, the son followed his father's wishes. He gave 100 of the 1000 bushels as the tithe. The following year, however, he decided to "save" a little, and gave only 90 bushels. The next year, strangely enough, the fields only produced 900 bushels. Having incurred such a tremendous loss, the son decided to only give 80 bushels that year. And, low and behold, the following year the fields only produced 800 bushels.
Year after year, this scene repeated itself, until the once lush and prosperous fields were only producing 100 bushels. The son had still not gotten the message. His friends and relatives tried to intervene. They went to visit the son dressed in festive clothes, bringing along food and wine.
"We have come to celebrate your good fortune," they said.
"You mock me and my change of fate," he told them angrily.
"No," they contradicted him. "We have come to celebrate your elevated state," they said somewhat sarcastically. "You see, in the past, your father gave 10% of his produce, 100 bushels, to the priests, and the rest remained for him. Now, it seems that G-d has elevated you to the status of priest. He is giving you the 100 bushels and keeping the rest for Himself."
No one ever became poor from giving charity. By giving charity we are assured that G-d's blessings will also be bestowed upon us generously.
You are the children of the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 14:1)
Just as the child is drawn down from the brain of the father, so are the souls of the Jewish people drawn down from G-d's Supernal wisdom. However, the connection between the Jew and G-d is even loftier than that between an earthly father and son, for G-d's wisdom is not a separate entity from Him, but "He and His wisdom are one."
See! This day I place before you a blessing (Deut. 11:26)
The blessing in this verse does not refer to anything specific; rather, it is a comprehensive statement which includes all the blessings G-d confers on every Jew. First and foremost, therefore, it refers to the ultimate blessing of all - the complete Redemption through Moshiach. By using the emphatic "See!" the Torah stresses that the Messianic Redemption is not something theoretical or academic, but rather something that will be evident with our eyes of flesh - and this very day!
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Re'eh, 5751)
Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse (Deut. 11:26)
"Behold" is in the singular tense, addressed to each of us as individuals. Whenever a Jew is faced with a decision and must choose the right path to follow, it doesn't matter what other people are doing. In fact, the majority is usually on the wrong track...
And if...you are unable to carry it, because the place is too far from you (Deut. 14:24)
If a Jew perceives his Jewishness as a burden, as a heavy yoke he is forced to bear, it is a sure sign that he has strayed "too far" from G-d. A believing Jew who fears G-d does not consider his Judaism an encumbrance.
Reb Zusha had gone to visit his teacher and Rebbe, the holy tzadik Reb Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch. After a fulfilling stay, drinking in his teacher's wisdom, Reb Zusha prepared to take his leave. When he went into his Rebbe's study for a parting word, he mentioned to Reb Dov Ber that he needed to marry off his daughter. Now, Reb Zusha was as poor as could be, and to marry off a child required a considerable sum. Reb Dov Ber immediately took a sum of three hundred rubles and pressed it into his disciple's hand, wishing him mazal tov, and sending him happily on his way.
Reb Zusha was greatly relieved. Now, his wife and daughter would be at ease. Although he had taken money, which was not his habit or desire, it was a necessary thing, he thought to himself.
The trip home took Reb Zusha through many towns and villages, and as he passed through one tiny Jewish village he was startled by the sound of bitter weeping coming from a small hut. The other villagers were going about their business, and he stopped one and asked, "Who is that crying?"
"That is a poor widow who was about to marry off her daughter. But on the way to the chupa she lost the entire dowry. Now, the wedding is off because the groom and his family refuse to go on with it without the dowry. And how will she ever amass three hundred rubles again?"
Reb Zusha's tender soul was pained for the poor woman. Then he suddenly realized that three hundred rubles was exactly what he had with him. He walked up to the door of the hut and knocked. "My good woman, I think I may have found your money!" Her eyes widened in disbelief. "Can you tell me if this money had any distinguishing marks?" asked Reb Zusha.
"Why yes," she replied. "The money was in a packet of two fifties, and ten twenties, and it was tied with a red string."
"Yes, that's exactly what I found!" replied Reb Zusha. "I will go to the inn and get the money and bring it right back."
Reb Zusha ran to the inn and changed his money for the denominations the widow had described. Then he tied the bills together with a red string and ran back to the widow's hut. By the time he returned the little village was buzzing with the good news. The girl had changed into her bridal dress, and the neighbors were bustling about preparing the wedding feast. As Reb Zusha presented the widow with the money, he said, "I am keeping one 20 ruble note for my trouble."
She looked at him as if he was speaking a foreign language. The others who had overheard the remark stood with their mouths open. "What!" screamed the widow. "How can you rob a poor widow of 20 rubles! And after you have just performed a most wonderful and holy mitzva (commandment)!" The others converged around Reb Zusha screaming and yelling, "Thief! Stealing a widow's money! For shame!"
Reb Zusha, however, refused to budge. He clung to the 20 rubles as if to dear life. "This money is mine as a reward, and for my troubles!"
Relatives, friends and other townspeople berated Reb Zusha, and soon it seemed that they would tear him limb from limb to retrieve the money. Finally someone piped up: "Let's go to the rabbi. He will be able to settle this once and for all!"
Everyone agreed to follow the rabbi's ruling and they all trailed along to the rabbi's house. The rabbi listened to each side and then ruled: "Reb Zusha must give the widow the 20 rubles."
Still, Reb Zusha refused to give up the money. One young man put his hand into Zusha pocket and extracted the bill. Then Zusha was escorted to the edge of the village and unceremoniously kicked out.
Many months later the village rabbi happened to encounter Rabbi Dov Ber and related to him the incident with his disciple, Reb Zusha.
The Maggid turned to the rabbi, "You must go to Reb Zusha and beg forgiveness. That money didn't belong to the widow. I myself gave it to Reb Zusha to marry off his own child! He demanded twenty rubles because he wanted to avoid honor at any cost. He wanted this great mitzva to be completely pure."
The rabbi was shocked and ashamed when he heard this. He went to Anipoli to beg Reb Zusha's forgiveness. But Reb Zusha replied to him, "You don't need my forgiveness because I never was angry. I do not hold my honor high, but I will forget about the incident completely if you promise never to reveal the truth to the widow. I never want her to suspect that the money wasn't hers by right." The rabbi, of course, agreed and the incident was never mentioned again.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev once asked his Chasidim, "Why did Moshiach tell Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi that he was coming 'today'? Isn't it written that G-d will send Elijah the Prophet before that awesome day arrives?" No one offered a response, so Rabbi Levi Yitzchok answered himself: "Elijah the Prophet is due to come in order to raise everyone out of their mundane concerns and prepare them for Moshiach. However, 'If you will listen to the voice of G-d' - that is, if we will wake up on our own - then Moshiach will be able to come today, immediately, without Elijah the Prophet having to come to forewarn us."
(Siftei Tzadikim B'haalotcha/Lma'an Yishme'u)