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Despite the concerns over the economy just about everywhere in the world, building continues at an astounding rate. Just ask anybody in Dubai, or at universities across the United States, or at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where the tallest prefab building in the world is expected to spark a modular-housing boom.
The Torah (Deut. 22:8) teaches that when we are building a new home, we must erect a guard-rail around the roof. The following verse presents the obvious reason for this commandment: someone can fall from an unenclosed roof.
According to various commentators, this mitzva applies to a home one purchases or even rents.
On a deeper level, this mitzva applies not only to someone who is constructing, purchasing or renting a home, but to every Jew. Whether an apartment, condo, co-op, or a house, any edifice that we call "home" must have a guard-rail.
The Hebrew word for guard-rail is "maaka." And it is from this word that we can learn that a guard-rail applies to each of us.
The first letter of maaka is mem. The mem signifies "malchut" or royalty. In a Jewish home everyone should be regarded as royalty, not just guests! Everyone (spouses, siblings, children) should be treated with respect and dignity.
The second letter of maaka is ayin. Ayin is the first letter of the Hebrew word "ol," meaning "yoke." Each person must place upon himself or herself the "yoke" of 100% commitment to the other person, be it spouse, parent or child.
The next letter is kuf. Kuf stands for kedusha - holiness. Every activity in the home can and should be endowed with holiness, even such mundane acts as eating or decoarting the home.
We can understand the intrinsic holy nature of a Jewish home (apartment, dorm room, etc.) by studying an earlier commandment in the Torah. "You shall make a Sanctuary for Me and I will dwell in them," G-d commands us (Ex.25:8). G-d enjoined us to make one Sanctuary but promised to dwell "in them" - plural - for G-d dwells in every Jewish heart and home where His presence is welcomed.
The final letter of maaka is "hei." In Hebrew each letter has a numerical value and hei equals five. This teaches us that in our homes we must bombard all five senses with good. What we see, touch, taste, smell and hear should be positive and beneficial.
When we see a mezuza on the doorpost or Shabbat candlesticks in a prominent place, we know that we are in a home where Jewish observance is valued. The words that we hear in the home should be worthy of this "miniature sanctuary." The distinctive aromas - latkas or sufganiyot on Chanuka, special dishes for Passover, fresh challa baking on Friday afternoon (straight from your local supermarket freezer) are scents that literally create memories...
In addition, Judaism involves our senses in practical mitzvot: When Shabbat ends we recite a blessing over spices and smell them during the Havdala ceremony. Upon seeing a rainbow, or a long-lost friend, there are special blessings say. It is a mitzva to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashana. We are encouraged to taste of the foods of Shabbat on Friday afternoon, etc.
G-d's purpose in creating the world, according to our Sages, is for us to make it into His "home." This will be realized in the Messianic Era. As each of us works on building a maaka for our own homes, we simultaneously prepare for the Messianic Era, when G-d will comfortably dwell in this world, may it commence now.
This week's Torah portion, Va'eira begins with a G-d's statement to Moses: "I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as 'G-d Alm-ghty,' but My Name 'Y-H-V-H,' I did not make known to them....Therefore say to the Children of Israel [in My name], "I am Y-H-V-H."
It would seem from these words, that the revelation granted to the Children of Israel is greater than that received by the Patriarchs. And yet, the Patriarchs were not only the physical but also the spiritual progenitors of the Jewish people. The revelation they received was the ultimate source and cause of the higher revelation granted to their descendants.
Although the Patriarchs were able to experience a foretaste of the spiritual effects of commandments, the full ability to bring G-dliness into the physical world was realized only when the Torah was received by the Jewish people. It is through the study of Torah that this spiritual revelation is drawn down into the conscious powers of a Jew's soul and through the observance of the mitzvot (commandments), it is brought into his body and further into the world at large.
Although the Patriarch's service tapped the soul's essence, because their service was mainly spiritual, and not revealed in the world at large, its unlimited quality was also not revealed. Since the giving of the Torah the service of the Jewish people has been, to the greatest extent, to refine this world. Therein lies the difference between their service and the primarily spiritual service of our the Forefathers.
There is an advantage to the revelation of the essence of the soul at the giving of the Torah to the service of the Patriarchs. For the fact that G-dliness is revealed throughout the world at large reveals its true unbounded and unlimited quality, that it has no limitations.
So, we can understand; the service of the Jewish people in subsequent generations comes as a result of that of the Patriarchs; and, It is the service of the Jews of subsequent generations that reveals the essential potential possessed by the Patriarchs.
These concepts have great relevance to our day, as the ultimate revelation of G-d's Name Y-H-V-H will occur with the revelation of "the new dimensions of the Torah that will emerge from Me" in the Era of the Redemption.
There are parallels between the concepts referring to the service of the Patriarchs as anticipating and preparing for the giving of the Torah and our present service which prepares for and anticipates the Final Redemption. Our service through observance of Torah and mitzvot draws G-dliness down into the world, however the revelation of our service will not be seen until the advent of Moshiach. Then, "the glory of G-d will be revealed and all flesh will see...."
Just as it is the Patriarch's service which led to the revelation of the giving of the Torah, similarly, it is our service which will lead to the revelations of the Era of the Redemption. Indeed, our service in the era of exile taps the essential power of the soul, and this is the quality that will be revealed in the Era of the Redemption.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Your Royal Garb
by Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz
It was September 2007 and I was in Monte Carlo for a friend's wedding.
We prayed that Saturday morning at the local synagogue and later walked to the nearby Hotel de Paris. Entering the lobby, I was surprised at the large security presence. I soon learned that the legendary former South African president Nelson Mandela was a guest in the hotel. As it happened, he was sitting in one of the stately public rooms on the lobby floor as I passed by.
I instinctively wanted to meet the iconic statesman. The slim chance of gaining access to meet Mandela did not stop me from asking the security guard at the door if I could please step in to bless the former president. Just then, a second member of the security detail approached and asked what I wanted. The first bodyguard explained that I was a rabbi who wanted to bless Madiba on the holy Sabbath. They agreed to let me go over to greet him.
As I approached the former president, he looked up and beamed. I was dressed in the full Chabad Shabbat attire, the flowing black frock and black fedora, and since I had just left the synagogue my white and black tallit was draped over my shoulders.
After we had been introduced, Mandela invited me to sit near him. He asked me to please bless him and mentioned how touched he was that I had blessed him on the Sabbath. President Mandela also told me how much he cherished it when 'his rabbi,' Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris, would bless him back home.
Looking across at the great man, who had suffered for decades, fought for freedom, and pulled a splintered nation together, I felt compelled to ask one question. Had he ever compared his story to that of the biblical Joseph?
Without pause, Mandela replied that he felt a strong affinity with Joseph. Joseph had been imprisoned for life, yet he found strength in his positive outlook and had finally emerged to lead a nation. With twinkling eyes, Mandela laughed out loud: "But I spent many more years in prison then Joseph did!"
I then asked him, "Is it in honor of Joseph's coat of many colors that you wear your trademark colorful "Madiba shirts"?
"No," he replied, "I wear these shirts to represent my people and their struggle and to represent the beautiful diverse cultures and traditions of Africa." He tenderly touched the African continent embroidered on his custom-made silk black shirt.
We chatted easily. He commented on how I was dressed and said, "Seeing you dressed like this reminds me of that Saturday visit to the synagogue" a few days after being elected President. On the first Shabbat after he had been elected president, back in May 1994, he visited South Africa's largest synagogue, the Green and Sea Point Hebrew Congregation in Cape Town. "His rabbi," Chief Rabbi Harris had invited him to attend morning services.
Mandela recounted how he had addressed the packed crowd and had "appealed to the local Jewish community to implore their South African family members who had emigrated to return home to help rebuild a new democratic South Africa." He also reassured the local Jewish community not to be afraid of a Government of National Unity and promised that "together we will succeed."
He then recalled, "When I returned to the motorcade, my driver handed me a gift from a women who had attended synagogue that morning. It was a beautiful black shirt, with a colorful design of golden fish across it. I chose to wear that shirt to the opening of parliament of our new democratic government.
"After I had worn that shirt, this same woman (South African designer Desre Buirski) would continue to send me shirts. We become good friends, and she designed hundreds of shirts for me. These shirts help me carry my message all over the world."
He smiled and added, "And all because I went to synagogue on a Saturday morning."
I stood up and thanked him for the generosity of his time and the honor of meeting him. Before I left, Mr. Mandela complimented the traditional look of my Chasidic dress. "I am happy to see you dressed this way; you should always be proud to wear the clothing of the Jewish faith as a mark of honor," he said.
As I shook his hand, he told me, "Remember young rabbi, when you dress in your royal garb, you represent what the Bible stands for: How all humans are Gd's children, created in the image of Gd, regardless of ethnicity, color or faith."
Chabad of Carroll County in Skyesville, Maryland, opened recently under the directorship of Rabbi Sholom Ber and Feige Cohen.
Rabbi Chaim and Leah Hoch have opened Chabad of Borehamwod and Elstree, England
Chabad of West Pasco County, Florida, purchased a 4,000 sq. ft. building that will serve as a community center for Jews throughout West Pasco.
A Chabad-Lubavitch Humanitarian Center, part of the Ten Yad Organization providing food and social services, has opened in S. Paulo, Brazil. The six-story high center is 24 hours a day to provide food and social services for the community. Ten Yad has provided food for the poor since 1992 through soup kitchens, "meals on wheels" programs for the elderly and disabled, and food collection and distribution programs. More recently they have begun reaching out to the homeless, orphans and prisoners.
5th of Shevat, 5736 
...I appreciate the kind sentiments expressed in your letter. But I am mindful of the dictum of our Sages of the Talmud (B. M. end of p. 84a) to the effect that compliments and approbations, however justified, do not help to clarify issues, where-as a question or challenge, requiring an answer or explanation, can be more helpful to bring out important practical points and elucidations.
Following this principle and especially in view of the opening lead of your letter, referring to the well-known question (and challenge) Ayeka - where are you - in light of the Alter Rebbe's [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] explanation of it, which reappears again in the concluding paragraph of your letter, the course of my response is already chartered.
There is no need, of course, to point out to you that when the question Ayeka is posed to a private individual, it is likely to refer to the individual personally and to his immediate family, while the same question put to a person of influence and communal responsibility, to whom many look up for inspiration, Chinuch [Jewish education] and guidance in their daily life and conduct, the question has much wider implications. It also calls for an assessment as to where he stands and what he has accomplished in the public domain. Indeed, perhaps the latter is the more significant challenge, for it is there that the person's fullest achievement is expressed, as it comes to light in those who benefited from his influence, and it is more significant for many reasons.
Needless to say, the foregoing is not contradicted in the least by the popular adage - "first correct yourself then correct others." Certainly in this country, and in these days, it is the duty of everyone who has any influence in his surrounding to take an active part in promoting Torah-Chinuch, bearing in mind that even a slight improvement during the formative years may well result in significant benefits in later years to the extent of affecting one's whole life and that of one's family, etc. The prospect is not the same, of course, for the person who is of the older generation, since he is already a mature person with a defined course in life, though he, too, is capable of a radical change and advancement to an incomparable degree.
As you are surely aware, the contemporary young generation, more than at any other time in the past, is not afraid of a challenge, even if it should entail radical change and great hardship. It is rather those who are supposed to present the challenge to them who fail to give our youngsters credit, thinking that if it is offered in a diluted form, it will be more appealing and acceptable. Their fear of tafasta miruba [too much at once] has got them down so much that all that they offer is miut sheb'miut - very little - not realizing how self-defeating their approach is.
I should not be at ease with my conscience, both for my sake and yours, if I were not to put it in plain words. I am confident that you will not take it amiss. I speak of living Yiddishkeit in the daily life and conduct in terms of actual observance, what our Sages call maase eikar - the essential thing is the practice of Mitzvos [commandments]; not the kind of Judaism that is practiced on certain occasions, or on certain days of the year, but every day; until the habit becomes second nature - in this case, actually the essential nature....
Exodus from Egypt means leaving limitations and bounds, and Chasidic teachings are to enable man to leave the restrictions of the material world. There is a difference: The Egyptian Exodus means shattering and then departure, which is why they went away from Egypt. The Chasidic exodus means purification and correction, stepping out of worldly limitations and bounds while remaining in the world. This means, while functioning within the world we must transcend its limitations. We are to remove the limitations and bounds, and perceive the truth - that the world per se is truly good, since, after all, the natural world is what G-d intended. This is attained through the working on oneself through Chasidut.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Our Sages describe the current Jewish month in which we find ourselves, Tevet, as "the month when the body derives pleasure from the body." Chasidic teachings explain that this means that in this month, G-d's essence derives pleasure from the service of the Jewish people within the physical world. In its most complete sense, this service is revealed to us by tzadikim-the righteous.
The 24th of Tevet (this year coinciding with Friday, December 27) is the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism. Rabbi Shneur Zalman opened a new path which allowed the teaching of the previously hidden aspects of the Torah - Pnimiyut HaTorah - to be comprehended through the intellect and thus reveal additional G-dliness within the world.
The number 24 written in Hebrew letters is "kaf-dalet." On the eve of the 24th of Tevet, 5752 (1992) the Rebbe noted that kaf-dalet relates to the verse, "I will make your windows shining rubies - kadkod." In Chasidic thought, kadkod is associated with the expression from the Midrash, "I will do as this and as this," i.e., that there are two approaches to G-dly service, one beginning with the revelation from above, and the other beginning with the elevation of the worldly plane. The ultimate level of service is to fuse the two.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman was not only a master in the area of Pnimiyut HaTorah. He was a great scholar of the revealed parts of the Torah as well.
This quality of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's is alluded to in his name, Shneur, which can be broken up into two Hebrew words, "shnei" and "ohr," meaning "two lights." He illuminated the world with his greatness in the two lights of the Torah.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that Rabbi Shneur Zalman, who illuminated the world with the revealed and hidden lights of Torah, also fused the two approaches to G-dly service.
You shall know that I am the L-rd your G-d, Who brings you out (Ex. 6:7)
G-d promised the Jewish people that not only would He take them out of Egypt, but also that they would know it was He Who had redeemed them; the redemption itself would serve to deepen their understanding and faith in G-d. Indeed, this is the purpose of all redemptions and salvations: that through them we come to recognize the true Redeemer and Savior.
She bore him Aaron and Moses (Ex. 6:20)
The Torah specifically tells us that Moses and Aaron were born like all children, to "regular" human parents; the fact that they became prophets and leaders of the Jewish nation was due to their own actions and choices, not because they descended from on high like celestial angels. From this we learn that every individual, through his own efforts and free will, can reach the highest spiritual levels - even as lofty as Moses and Aaron.
(Ma'ayana Shel Torah)
The magicians did likewise with their enchantments, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt (Ex. 8:3)
Unlike the frogs brought forth by Moses and Aaron that jumped into the Egyptians' homes, beds, kneading troughs and even ovens, the frogs produced by the magicians merely dispersed throughout the country. For without a specific G-dly command, there was no need for them to sacrifice their lives.
(Be'er Mayim Chaim)
The L-rd sent thunder and hail, and fire came down upon the earth (Ex. 9:23)
Lightening is perceived before thunder, though they occur simultaneously. (Our sense of sight is quicker than our sense of hearing; by the time the sound reaches our ears, our eyes have already processed the lightening.) However, the laws of nature were altered during the plague of hail, and the Egyptians saw and heard the lightening and thunder at the same time. The reason is that Moses had told the Egyptians beforehand exactly when the plague would begin; had there been a lapse between the visual and auditory components, the Egyptians could have claimed that he hadn't been precise.
The poritz (nobleman) and his son were having a heated argument. The son, an only child, had asked his father for permission to go hunting with his friends in the dense forests around the city of Liozhna. The elderly father, concerned for his son's safety, had refused to grant it. The father's opposition to what he considered a dangerous venture seemed immovable.
At the height of the argument, however, the poritz had suddenly stopped speaking. For a few minutes he was silent, lost in thought. "I will let you go on one condition," he finally decided. And indeed, it was a very odd stipulation.
"In the city of Liadi there lives a famous rabbi. He is the spiritual leader of all the Jews in this area, and every word he utters is considered holy. Go to this rabbi. If you promise to do this, I will let you go hunting." The son was very surprised, but gave his word. The next day he left on the expedition.
In those few moments of silence, the poritz's memory had carried him back to the time he had served as an interrogator in the main prison in Petersburg. Although he had interrogated hundreds if not thousands of prisoners in the course of his career, his experience with the rabbi who had been charged with rebelling against the government was something he could never forget. His regal bearing, majestic long beard and deeply expressive eyes were permanently engraved on the nobleman's heart.
He could remember the rabbi's answers to the interrogators' questions as if he had heard them just yesterday. The wisdom and truth they contained had been evident in every word, and the poritz had been extremely impressed by the rabbi's character. In fact, the rabbi's subsequent release from jail on the 19th of Kislev and the dropping of all charges against him were in large part due to the poritz's intervention.
The rabbi, of course, was the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad Chasidic movement, whose opponents had slandered and libeled him to the authorities. But despite the accusations, the young interrogator had been convinced that the rabbi was a G-dly man. Now, decades later, the poritz felt that if his only child could see the holy rabbi for himself, it would somehow set his own mind at ease.
Unfortunately, the poritz's misgivings proved to be well founded. A few weeks into the expedition the hunting party had been halted by a blinding rainstorm. The son, who had wandered off from the rest of his friends, was alone in the middle of the forest. Seeking shelter under a tree, he had no choice but to wait for the storm to pass. But the weather did not improve, and only grew worse. It was several days until the storm abated.
Soaked to the bone, hungry and sick, the poritz's son despaired of ever leaving the forest. It was truly miraculous when he eventually found a path through the foliage and succeeded in dragging himself to an inn on the outskirts of Liozhna.
The next day, burning with fever, he suddenly remembered his promise to his father and resolved to fulfill it. With his last ounce of strength he arose from bed and set out for the city to find the famous rabbi.
Once in town he soon learned that Rabbi Shneur Zalman had recently passed away. The poritz's son felt a pang of conscience until the Jews informed him that the rabbi had left a successor, his son Rabbi Dovber (the Mitteler Rebbe), who was also a holy person. But the Mitteler Rebbe was no longer living in Liozhna, and now resided in Lubavitch.
There was no rational explanation for the urgency he felt to see the son of the famous rabbi his father had praised so highly. Nonetheless, he hired a carriage and set out for Lubavitch, despite his weakness from his recent ordeal.
That night, when the poritz's son arrived in Lubavitch, he was disappointed to learn that the Rebbe was addressing his Chasidim and would not be receiving visitors. But the young nobleman would not be turned back. Undaunted, he insisted on being told the exact location where the Rebbe was speaking.
The study hall was packed to the rafters, so that no one noticed the stranger when he entered. In the front of the room the Mitteler Rebbe was seated at a table saying a Chasidic discourse. The poritz's son was astounded by the scene. Such a large crowd of people, yet everyone was silent and focused on the Rebbe. He found himself rooted to the spot.
About an hour later it occurred to him how odd it was that he was standing, given the state of his health. When he left the study hall he could actually feel his strength returning, which he had no doubt was in the merit of the holy rabbi. He was also very grateful that he had headed - albeit late - his promise to his father.
This story was related many decades later by the poritz's son - by then a nobleman in his own right - to a Chabad Chasid.
In this week's Torah portioin we read: Moses returned to G-d and said, "L-rd! Why have You mistreated this people? Since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, he made things worse... You have not saved this people at all" (Ex. 5:22-23)From this exchange we learn that we mustn't resign ourselves to the present exile with the excuse that "such is the will of G-d." The Redemption is near, yet it is still bitter and painful. Therefore, even while reaffirming our absolute faith that "the ways of G-d are just," we are also to express our anguish with the prayerful outcry "How much longer?" and ask for the immediate coming of Moshiach.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 5743-1983)