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People love to find grammatical and typographical errors in the printed word. It is with great glee that readers report to writers and editors of newspaper, magazine and various other printed media.
L'Chaim, of course, is no stranger to errors and its staff is used to readers approaching them by diverse means - phone, mail (snail and electronic) and in person - when a mistake is spotted.
And so, when a sharp-eyed and very educated reader questioned the grammatical accuracy of writing "the Jewish People has" in one of our articles, we put on our super-sleuth hats. We discovered that it is, in fact, accurate to consider "Jewish People" as singular or plural; both are correct.
While English dictionaries unambiguously define "people" as a plural noun, English textbooks, such as New College Grammar, by Mason Long, categorizes it as a "collective noun," which is singular:
"Concrete nouns also contain a third class of nouns known as collective nouns. A collective noun denotes a collection of persons, places, or things, regarded as one. The objects which are thus collected into one term have some characteristics in common, enabling us to regard them as a group.... The most important question that arises with regard to a collective noun is whether the verb used with it should be singular or plural. It may be said that, strictly speaking, a collective noun is always singular, but that the verb, in some exceptional instances, and for special reasons, may be plural."
The exceptional instances and special reasons are when the group is revealing its diversity, such as when there are differences of opinion or disparate activities.
A basic teaching of Chasidic thought is that everything we see or hear is a lesson in our service of G-d.
Although one might consider the question of defining the term "Jewish people" as singular or plural seemingly trivial, there is actually a deep lesson we can learn from this discussion.
Judaism has always acknowledged that there are divisions amongst the Jewish people. When Moses addressed his last words to the Jewish people, he stated: "You are all standing before G-d, your L-rd - your leaders, your tribal chiefs, your elders, your law enforcers, every Israelite...even your woodcutters and water drawers."
Moses was definitely speaking to a most diverse crowd. And yet, when that same Jewish people, years earlier, encamped at Mount Sinai, awaiting the Giving of the Torah, their encampment is referred to in the singular - "he encamped." This means that they were totally united, "like one person with one heart," as the commentators explain.
Saying that the Jewish people is singular is not denying the fact that we have varied occupations, positions, opinions, physical qualities, emotional attributes, intellectual capabilities, etc.
When writing "the Jewish people have" we are acknowledging the differences amongst our people. These differences, however, do not have to cause disunity, dischord, devisiveness or discomfort. For, at the same time as we are plural, we are also singular, we are one, intrinsically and essentially united.
Although New College Grammar was published in 1935(!), the unity of the Jewish people is something that will never be outdated.
This week's Torah portion, Ki Tissa, relates that G-d gave Moses the Tablets of the Law as soon as He finished teaching him the Torah - on the fortieth day after Moses ascended Mount Sinai. The purpose of teaching the Torah to Moses was that he, in turn, would impart it to the Jewish people; the Tablets were likewise to be given to the Jewish people.
What were the Jews doing while Moses was on Mount Sinai? As we learn in this weeks portion, on the thirty-ninth day of Moses' absence the Jewish people made the Golden Calf, a very serious sin.
Thus we see that despite their sin, G-d continued to learn Torah with Moses so he could teach it to the Jews. G-d gave Moses the Tablets after they had made the Golden Calf.
From this we derive a very important lesson about how to relate to other people. G-d did not stop teaching Moses when the Jews transgressed. On the contrary, He continued learning with him until the entire Torah had been taught, and even gave him the Tablets of the Law.
We too must emulate G-d's actions. If we want to have a positive influence on another person, that they strengthen their Jewish observance, the other person's spiritual standing is irrelevant. It is forbidden to stop teaching someone Torah or cease trying to bring him closer to Judaism even if he continues to sin, G-d forbid. On the contrary, we must try even harder to exert a positive influence. And when we do, both the "giver" and the "taker" will surely benefit. Indeed, G-d acted in the same manner even when it came to the destruction of the Holy Temple.
The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed because of the sins of the Jewish people. And yet, the Jewish people were sinning for a long time before it was actually destroyed. Despite their transgressions, G-d refrained from taking this drastic step for many years.
Why? G-d wanted the Holy Temple to continue to exist for as long as possible. Although the Jews were sinning, He gave them ample opportunity to repent and prevent the destruction from occurring.
We too must always help our fellow Jew to preserve the spiritual Temple in his heart. We must never withhold spiritual aid and assistance. Even if the other person does not conduct themselves properly and sins, we must always continue to fortify their spiritual Sanctuary. In this manner we will merit the building of both the spiritual Sanctuary that exists within every Jew, as well as the Third Holy Temple by Moshiach, speedily in our day.
Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 11
by Rabbi Ari Shishler
"Are there lions walking the streets?"
Whenever they'd ask me that on my teenage travels abroad, I'd solemnly nod and describe the daily peril of picking our way through the jungle to get to school. Recently, my kids sent photos to their cousins from a safari our family had taken. They captioned the pic of a herd of elephants standing on a dirt road "Reason we were late for school today."
Our family's playful teasing about wild encounters have been peppered with real first-person adventures in South Africa's various game parks. Our family has been charged by a rhino, driven in an open Land Rover through a massive herd of African Buffaloes, and has screeched off in reverse to avoid a head-on with a temperamental bull elephant. Those escapades had all occurred miles from home on safari. Joburg's streets hadn't threatened our kids with much more than panhandlers and annoying windscreen-washers.
It wasn't a lion or lumbering elephant on Linden road, but we did have a very real and very scary visit from the wild.
Friday was the fast of Tevet, when Jews recall the first time enemy armies- the Babylonians - surrounded the walls of Jerusalem. As our community members began to arrive for the special afternoon fast-day service, an uninvited visitor pranced onto the wall of our temple.
I missed the action, which I'm quite miffed about, but an adult baboon arrived at our Chabad House, just in time for Mincha. (In future, I intend to be much more cautious about broadcasting that we need "one more for the minyan").
My seven- and eleven-year-old daughters were downstairs in the function hall, preparing for Shabbos. I was upstairs in Shul, preparing for the afternoon service. I didn't know my daughters were downstairs, they didn't know I was upstairs - and none of us knew there was a primate scaling the wall.
My daughters enjoy animals- from a very safe distance. A whimpering chihuahua would send them scampering for safety. You can only imagine their terror when a fully grown baboon leaped into the parking lot.
The girls panicked.
The baboon panicked more.
In seconds, the ape had run across our property, clambered over a wall and disappeared.
I was quietly studying the Torah portion upstairs in Shul, oblivious. By the time I became aware of the commotion, it was over. Our family spent the rest of the afternoon between Shabbos preparation, ad hoc trauma debriefing and informing all those cousins overseas that we really do have wild animals in the 'burbs.
Two days later, my kids are still wary of stepping outside alone (the baboon has yet to be caught and returned to the wild) and I've been mulling over the lessons to be gleaned from such an unusual experience.
Firstly, I was struck by the situation my children had found themselves in: Their ordinary day had rapidly shifted into a terrifying confrontation. They had panicked and had felt vulnerable and unequipped to tackle the problem. Yet, all along, their father had been upstairs. A good lesson in life: Whenever you experience a anxiety or an overwhelming challenge, remember you've got a father upstairs. You only need to do be aware that he is there and let him know that you're in trouble.
Next, I wondered what had brought the baboon to Shul. My community over Shabbos unanimously replied that it could only have been the food; he certainly would not have come for the sermon. They weren't far off, because it seems that the bewildered baboon had been scavenging through the trash for food. (Nobody had informed him it was a fast day).
Chabad philosophy teaches that we each have a "Divine" soul and an "Animal" Soul. While the "Animal" only relates to and chases things it believes will bring it benefit, the "Divine" within us inspires us to be transcendent and altruistic.
Impure or negative energy, when compared to holy or positive energy, is described as an ape compared to a human. Apes look quite human (it's amusing to watch primate families interact, because they look so familiar) and share a whole lot of our DNA. But, they don't have the capacity to shift their nature, use abstract imagination or to experience altruism. Old baboon couldn't stay at Shul, even if he had wanted to, because to be part of the community, you need to be a giver, not a scavenger.
Lastly - and my daughters do not believe me on this one - the ape was more afraid of the girls than they were of him. A group of my friends and I were once hiking in the Drakensberg mountains when a troop of territorial baboons cut us off and began threatening us. Initially, we thought they'd move aside and let us pass, but when they kept inching forward and started baring their menacing incisors, we backed down and returned home. An adult human is no match for an adult baboon.
But, this guy wasn't in his natural habitat; he was lost in our neighbourhood. He was disoriented and afraid and he darted at the hint of a wide-eyed girl's scream. Which is a good lesson too. Humans need to live in civilized areas if they are to be protected from the forces of the wild. And that means spiritually too. If you make sure to live in a spiritually healthy environment, the feral forces can't harm you. But, if you wander into a spiritually unruly area, you can't be guaranteed your safety.
Rabbi Shishler is the rabbi of Chabad of Strathavon and the learning director at Chabad House, Johannesburg, South Africa. This article appeared on rabbishishler.blogspot.com
Likkutei Dibburim is a record of talks delivered by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. These talks embrace childhood memories; insightful stories; recollections of Stalinist dungeons and interrogations; delicately-drawn vignettes of villagers and humble giants; eloquent and sometimes impassioned passages of exhortation; fascinating chronicles of the early history of the Chassidic movement; and, of course, creative and instructive expositions of the teachings of Chassidus. The final volume of Likkutei Dibburim has been translated by Rabbi Uri Kaploun and the six volumes are now available in a boxed set from Sichos in English.
The Hidden Artist
The Hidden Artist is a breathtaking new picture book, all about the wonder, the variety, and the loveliness G-d created just for us! The Hidden Artist depicts amazingly detailed animals, fish, mountains, sea and sky. Truly inspired rhymes tell the story of a young child who wonders, "With all this beauty, great and small, I wonder, Who's behind it all?" By Leah Chana Rubabshi, Illustrated by Phyllis Saroff and published by HaChai.
Purim Kattan, 5711 (1951)
Greetings and blessings,
In reply to your letter, delivered by the members of your household asking whether to extend or cut short your journeys because of the rise in the exchange rate of the country's currency:
In my opinion, you should not change your pattern because of this matter. All the profit which is appropriate for you in connection with this journey will certainly reach you to a full extent: whether because the exchange rate rises or due to other factors. What difference does this make to you?
Seemingly, those who merited a good portion, to be closely involved with Torah concerns and its support and to be distant from the world of business - why would they think deeply and devote the labor of their minds to the intricacies of finance and the like? With regard to them, the Torah's charge "And Gd... will bless you in all that you do" is fulfilled in a complete sense by making a medium for their livelihood in an ordinary manner. Their powers of intellectual creativity, comprehension, and depth of thought (and, needless to say, their power of bonding, should be focused on the matters of Torah and its support. It is the responsibility of the Holy One, blessed be He, to provide abundant and extraordinary success in material and spiritual matters through these ordinary mediums. For this is the appropriate measure to draw down Divine blessing.
Enclosed is a letter to the young man about whom you wrote. I am sending it to you because I don't know his address. Thank you for the effort in delivering my letter.
With greetings to all "our Jews"; the latter phrase should be interpreted as in the words of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe: "'Our Jews' means Jews that are connected to the Torah and its mitzvos (commandments)." (And which of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are not connected to the Torah and its mitzvos?) May you be successful in your affairs.
Purim Kattan, 5711 (1951)
Greetings and blessings,
Colel Chabad/Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes, was founded by the Alter Rebbe and established with self-sacrifice. Afterwards, all of our holy Rebbeim who served as heads of the Colel in each subsequent generation strove exceedingly to strengthen it and maintain it. At present, [the Colel] is in difficult straits:
Among his other statements, my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, used these words in his last message on behalf of the Colel while in this realm - delivered 19 days before his passing:
Each and every member of the chassidic brotherhood has an obligation to remember at every time and on every occasion the mitzvah of giving to the charitable fund of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes concerning which we were commanded by our holy Rebbeim. This is the personal responsibility of every man and woman and it applies in every place and every time, fixed for all generations. Similarly, the holy blessings... of our revered Rebbeim which are designated for all those who strengthen this charitable fund are established and in effect at all times.
Certainly, these holy words are engraved upon the hearts of the members of the chassidic brotherhood. I have come only to encourage those who are eager,as an additional measure, to advance further in holy matters, so that those who, due to whatever reason, do not yet have a tzedakah (charity) box from the fund of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes-Colel Chabad, should hurry, bring it, and establish it in their homes. All those who have pushkas from the fund of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes-Colel Chabad, the directors of the Colel, its members, those who act on its behalf, and those who respond - every one of the above - should add strength to his support for Colel Chabad so that the Colel can fulfill its purpose and mission as appropriate to the needs of the moment.
This charity is great, possessing the power to arouse sublime kindness that will draw down active blessings to all who participate in it on behalf of themselves and the members of their households with regard to all of their material and spiritual needs.
With blessings for both material and spiritual good,
- (Back to text) Before the Talmudic Sage Rabbi Meir passed away, he observed the terrible difficulties that hunger caused in Israel. He proclaimed that whenever tzedakah would be given on behalf of his soul, he would intercede on the giver's behalf and that the money should be distributed to the poor of Israel. Consequently, when the Alter Rebbe established a charitable found to support the poor of Israel, he associated it with Rabbi Meir.
15 Adar I-Shushan Purim Kattan
It is said of the Time To Come: "A stone in the wall will cry out and a beam from the tree will respond." At present, inert creations are mute; though trodden upon, they remain silent. But there will come a time when the revelation of the Future becomes a reality, that the inert will begin to speak, relate and demand: "If a man was walking along without thinking or speaking words of Torah, why did he trample upon me?" The earth trodden upon has been waiting for millenia, ever since the Six Days of Creation. All kinds of living creatures have been treading upon it all this time, but it is waiting for a Jew (or two Jews) to walk on it while discussing Torah. But if they do not say words of Torah, the earth will protest: "You too are just like an animal!"
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Being that this year is a leap year, containing two months of Adar, the 14th day of the first Adar is known as Purim Kattan, the '"minor" Purim. This Friday is the 14th of Adar I.
Until our present fixed calendar was established, the Sanhedrin (highest rabbinical court) would decide whether the year would be a leap year. They very often postponed this decision until the last minute to see if the plants had begun to sprout and there was enough time for it to grow in order to bring the Omer, as well as if the roads were dry enough for those who were travelling to Jerusalem for Passover would otherwise be unable to arrive in time for the holiday, etc. After Moshiach comes, the Sanhedrin will again decide each year whether to add a second Adar.
Likewise, there is also a Shushan Purim Kattan, a "minor" Shushan Purim, on the 15th day of the first Adar (occurring on Shabbat this year) . The Jews of Shushan, the capital city of Persia, fought their enemies on the 13th and 14th of Adar and celebrated on the 15th, unlike the Jews who dwelled in other regions of the Babylonian Empire, who fought only on the 13th and celebrated on the 14th.
What is the relevance of a Jewish holiday named for a city in the Diaspora? It is the task of every Jew to refine the material environment of the world, to transform the mundane into the holy. By naming the holiday Shushan Purim, we are transforming the Persian capital into something positive.
The lesson of Shushan Purim can be applied to the rest of the year. The task of elevating the physical into the spiritual realm, is a daily, hourly, constant assignment. For example, money, the truest symbol of materialism, is simply currency. But when given to charity, used to purchase Torah books, spent on tuition in a Jewish school, it is elevated.
Let us continue with the task of elevating the physical to the spiritual until the ultimate fulfillment of that goal, the arrival of Moshiach.
You shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen (Ex. 33:23)
According to Rashi's commentary, G-d showed Moses the "knot of the tefilin (phylacteries)." What are we to learn from this? Tefilin consist of two parts - one placed on the hand, and the other on the head. The hand represents interpersonal relationships, for it is with our hands that we extend aid and assistance to others, whereas the head, the seat of our intellect, is the medium through which we connect ourselves to G-d by learning His Torah. In order to serve G-d properly, the Jew must excel in both areas. Moses asked to see G-d's glory so that he would have a better understanding of what is required of the Jewish people. The knot of the tefilin symbolizes G-d's desire that every Jew bind these two aspects of our worship together -- doing our utmost for our fellow Jews and at the same time devoting ourselves to Torah study.
When you shall take the sum (literally, "the head") of the Children of Israel... then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul (Ex. 30:12)
When the time will come for you to appoint a "head" - a leader of the Jewish people - make sure it is one who is willing to give up his very soul on behalf of his brethren; only one such as this is worthy.
...He saw the [golden] calf and the dancing, and Moses' anger was kindled and he threw the tablets and broke them...(Ex. 32:19)
From this incident we see clearly the great difference between hearing and seeing. Moses had already heard directly from G-d that the Jews made the golden calf. Yet, it wasn't until he actually saw the calf with his own eyes that his anger was kindled.
(Commentary on Tanya)
Everyone who sought G-d went out to the Tabernacle of Meeting, which was outside the camp (Ex.30:7)
In actuality they were looking for Moses, yet the Torah states that they were seeking G-d. We thus learn that receiving the leader of the generation is the same as receiving G-d Himself.
(Jerusalem Talmud, Eruvin)
The love and patience which Rabbi Yitzchak Shaul showed to all the people he met - men, women and children - were unsurpassed. Even animals and birds benefitted from his uniquely warm and caring personality. This, his father, Rabbi Nissan, had implanted in him since earliest childhood. His father always told him that one must love everything that G-d has made, and one must not harm any of His creatures.
Rabbi Nissan had had good reason to teach his son to be merciful, for, as a child, like many other children, Yitzchak Shaul had thought nothing of throwing stones at birds, chasing cows, goats, dogs or cats.
Rabbi Nissan had a favorite rooster. Each morning it crowed loudly, awakening Rabbi Nissan at the break of dawn, thus allowing him to begin his day. Rabbi Nissan looked after the rooster himself, making sure it had enough to eat, and keeping it in good health so that nothing would effect its excellent crowing. The louder the cock crowed, the more pleased was Rabbi Nissan. But not so little Yitzchak Shaul. As much as his father loved the rooster, so did his young son hate it. He delighted in persecuting the bird at every opportunity.
One day, unnoticed by Yitzchak Shaul, Rabbi Nissan came into the yard and observed his son's cruel behavior toward all of the farm animals, and the rooster in particular. Suddenly, Yitzchak Shaul felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and looked up to see his father's angry face.
"So, this is the way you spend your time! Ill-treating helpless creatures!" his father rebuked him sternly. "I could never imagine that a child of mine could be so cruel!"
The frightened little boy thought his father would surely give him a beating, he looked so angry. But this was not Rabbi Nissan's way. He was a teacher of young boys. But in all of his years of teaching, he had never laid a hand on his pupils, nor any of his own children. True, his "strap" hung on the wall of the class-room. But if a pupil deserved punishment Rabbi Nissan had only to indicate the strap on the wall, and tell him what he deserved, and it was always enough for the culprit.
Entering the house with his son, Rabbi Nissan asked him to bring the Talmud and open it to page 125. He told him to read the section relating to the injunction to look after chickens with gentle care. "See how the Torah thinks of everything," Rabbi Nissan enthusiastically explained to his little son. "In another part of the Talmud, we find that we must never sit down to a meal before first looking after our animals.
"Thus, we see that we must first of all care for the other of G-d's creatures before we look after our own needs. Yet, you, my son, have not only ignored this teaching, but have moreover shown a cruelty towards the poor creatures, which I could hardly have believed possible in a child of mine!"
Yitzchak Shaul trembled before the reproof and reproach of his father. He thought his father had finished with him when, instead, he heard his father saying in a very serious voice:
"You know that it is not in my nature to hit anyone, and I have never hit you, but this time, I am going to ask you to take down the strap which is hanging on the wall. I want you to understand the pain you have inflicted upon the creatures you have so thoughtlessly persecuted."
Yitzchak Shaul gravely took a chair and reached up for the strap which he had never before seen his father use. This in itself impressed upon him the enormity of his crime.
"Before I hit you," Rabbi Nissan said, "I want you to know quite clearly that the only reason I am doing this, is so that you will the better remember the pain you have inflicted upon the birds and other living creatures."
This was the first and last time Rabbi Nissan ever used the strap on Yitzchak Shaul, and he accepted them without a murmur.
Rabbi Nissan quickly went into another room without a backward glance, and a moment later Yitzchak Shaul heard his father crying, deep and painful sobs escaping him which he seemed unable to restrain.
When Yitzchak Shaul heard his father sobbing, he realized that it was all his fault for having made his father do something so contrary to his nature. This gave the little boy more pain that the actual hitting, and he determined, from that moment, never again to hurt anything or anyone.
He felt the pain a couple of days, and walked about full of regret and shame for his misdeeds. On the third day, he suddenly went up to his father, kissed him and asked him, with tears in his eyes, if he would forgive him.
Rabbi Nissan's eyes also filled with tears as he said to his son tenderly, "My son, you are still a little boy and I, your father, have to bear all your sins, which are not quite serious. But it would be dreadful if you grew up to be an unfeeling, cruel creature!"
Yitzchak Shaul felt a changed boy. Gone was his previous pleasure in his cruel pastimes.
From The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Memoirs
In the Mishna (Sota 9:15) we read: "With the advent of the footsteps of Moshiach, chutzpa - insolence - will increase and prices will soar; the vine will yield its fruit, yet wine will be dear; the government will turn to heresy and no one will rebuke them; the meeting place of scholars will be used for immorality...the wisdom of the scholars will degenerate, those who fear sin will be despised, and the truth will be lacking..." The above-mentioned chutzpa should be utilized in a positive way - by asking and demanding of G-d insistently, that our righteous Moshiach should actually appear. G-d will surely be pleased with this demand, and will accordingly fulfill it.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe 27 Adar II, 1986)