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Who can repress a smile when seeing the joy of a small child shrieking in delight as he glides down a slide in a park? Whose gait isn't emboldened as he passes a newsstand and the headlines report good news? Or what about when you're at a wedding and the stomp of the foot on the breaking glass elicits resounding cries of "mazel tov"; the surge of simcha, or joy, is electric.
"Serve G-d with joy," King David demands. And since we are in the employ of our Boss 24-7 we must be in a continual state of joyousness.
"That's easier said than done," you might be thinking. Perhaps in the above-mentioned scenarios joy is intrinsic, but what of other times, those regular, run-of-the-mill days when there's no particular reason to rejoice? Or worse yet, those gray periods when we see everything around us through cheerless lenses? How can we sustain an upbeat feeling, an optimistic outlook?
By not thinking too much about ourselves. When a person focuses on himself, it's natural that he should start thinking about what he lacks materially or his failings in regard to self-growth and actualization. Obviously, these thoughts aren't conducive to inspiring a cheerful attitude.
Also, by not thinking too much of ourselves. When a person has an inflated sense of self, he is often hurt or angered by slights real and imagined.
If a person really wants to be in a joyous frame of mind, he has to rise above self-concern. He needs to spend time reflecting on the idea that there is something deeper and great beyond him, G-d. And when a person thinks more about G-d and less about/of himself (especially if those reflections are based on the Jewish mystical teachings found in Chasidism), he will find it easier to maintain a positive and even joyous attitude in life.
And there's something in it for us, as well. When a person is joyous, he generates a new-found energy that he would not otherwise be able to muster. This doesn't mean that real problems miraculously cease to exist (though sometimes they do disappear), but rather that we are able to view them and even solve them from our new, energized positive perspective.
When we're so happy that we're "bursting" with joy, it's natural to want to share it with others. An instinctive part of being happy is wanting those around us to be happy as well. And share it we should, especially now that we are in the Jewish month of Adar II and so close to Purim! The Talmud teaches, "From the beginning of Adar we increase in joyousness." Take advantage of the fact that this Jewish year is a leap year and contains two months of Adar. That means we get double the opportunities to practice being happy! And as the old saying goes, "Practice makes good enough!"
One more thought about simcha: In Hebrew it shares the same root letters as the word "Moshiach." This teaches us that by actually working on ourselves to be happy, we actually hasten the time when the whole world will be happy - the time of Moshiach.
This week's Torah portion, Vayikra, discusses the various types of sacrifices the Jewish people were commanded to offer during the times of the Tabernacle and later the Holy Temple. In the description of the first few types of sacrifices, the wood used for the fire on the altar is mentioned numerous times.
The Talmud relates that when the Jews returned to Israel from the Babylonian Exile, after the destruction of the First Holy Temple, they found no wood for the altar in the Temple's storehouses. Several families banded together and donated wood. Later, these families were given the permanent honor of supplying the wood for the altar. The Sages decreed that the days when the wood was donated should be celebrated as a minor festival by the families.
Interestingly, there is another instance in which celebrations are connected to wood. The states: "There were no other holidays as great to all of Israel as 15 Av and Yom Kippur." One of the reasons for the joy on 15 Av was that this day marked the end of the harvest of trees whose wood would be used to burn the sacrifices.
What is so significant about the wood for the altar that its donation mandated an actual holiday, and its harvest brought such joy to the entire Jewish nation?
The wood was not merely fuel for the fire on the altar; it played a far deeper role in the spiritual function of the Holy Temple, and was an essential element of the sacrifices themselves.
But to grasp the importance of wood, we must first understand the significance of the sacrifices. According to Nachmanides, an individual bringing an offering was to have in mind that the animal being slaughtered was in his place. Only through G-d's good will did He accept an animal in exchange.
There were many different types of offerings, and the thoughts accompanying each of them varied. For example, when a person brought a sin offering, he was required to dwell on thoughts of repentance and make amends for his wrongdoing, whereas the thanks-offerings aroused a deep love for G-d. Each offering was to be brought with its appropriate reflections and meditations.
But the most fundamental thought of all, regardless of the offering, was that of giving oneself totally over to G-d. This absolute self-sacrifice transcended any personal emotions or motivations. Only after this requirement was met could the individual go on to express the emotions demanded by the specific offering.
This self-sacrifice was expressed by the burning of the wood on the altar. The Torah likens man to a tree. The burning of the wood symbolized the willingness to sacrifice oneself without personal considerations. For, when bringing an offering, the donor might derive some degree of satisfaction, personal glory or benefit from the act. However, the burning wood reminded him that there should be no such ulterior motives. The celebrations surrounding the provision of wood for the altar therefore epitomized the purest and most lofty aim of the sacrifices themselves.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The Sword and Holy Torah
by Ziv Shilon
Translated from a speech of Captain Ziv Shilon at an event in Israel saluting the Rebbe's emissaries in Israel.
I'm proud and happy to take part in this wonderful evening in honor of the Chabad Shluchim (emissaries). My story represents those of many other wounded soldiers, all of whom have given their all in defense of the State of Israel.
In the spirit of the month of Adar, which will bring us good, I want to tell you about one small miracle which occurred from heaven, followed by a long path, paved with good deeds in Heaven's name.
On October 23, 2012, a year and four months ago, when I was laying profusely bleeding near the Maarechet Fence in Gaza, with both my arms almost completely disconnected from my body, I felt my strength ebbing.
Human strength with which I was familiar until then, left me. Today, when I look back, it is clear to me that only heavenly intervention helped me to get up, holding my amputated left arm with the remnants of my right arm, and to run about 250 meters towards my men behind me. It was a seemingly unending journey, with my mind engulfed in thoughts, including thoughts of the world to come...
In truth, I can say that I hadn't anticipated such strength. This power came to me with much aid from heaven, strength that has accompanied me, so I believe, till today!
I was first acquainted with Chabad when Rabbi Menachem Kutner, a Chabad emissary and Director of Chabad Terror Victims Project (CTVP), came to visit me in the hospital after I was wounded. He came to encourage me and my family in those most difficult moments.
Before the injury, I hadn't even known that Chabad Shluchim take part in the treatment and care in such situations. I thought they spread their ideas and cared for those connected to them. I was so happy to find out that there is more to their work.
Menachem was with me and my family, and with many more wounded soldiers, during our most difficult and complex times as we fought our way back to life. Without these good people, it would have been hard, or nearly impossible, to climb back.
After I had recovered a little, I went on a trip to New York with a delegation organized by Chabad Shluchim especially for us - for wounded soldiers and those injured in terror attacks. It was there that I discovered the wonderful world of Chabad and the extraordinary leadership of the Rebbe. It was then that I realized where Chabad Shluchim receive their instructions to help all Jews!
The Rebbe was a "quiet leader," as we would call it in the military. A leader with a lot of charisma so that people saw him as the leader that he was. But also a leader with humility and modesty who paid individual attention to each person. And that's what captured my heart.
The Rebbe called the IDF disabled - "the excellent of the IDF." He knew they had the responsibility for taking on the defense of Jewish citizens of Israel and how incredibly important that was. He did not call them disabled, but rather excellent!
My personal experience with the Rebbe was at the Ohel, his resting place. I asked the Rebbe from the bottom of my heart to send me a sign that my right hand will be healthy and that my mother will live.
I did receive from the Rebbe an answer and blessing in the following awesome sign: In the Psalm that I said at the Ohel, the word "hand" appeared three times. This gave me a lot of strength.
On Chanuka, Menachem visited me again at Tel Hashomer rehabilitation center after I had a very complex operation. I know and am certain that because of the Rebbe's blessings, I was able to light a Chanuka candle using my wounded hand!
As a believer, but not defined as religious, I was enthralled by the ability of Chabad Shluchim to provide "a moment of rest" during the constant struggle of rehabilitation and healing. The amazing experiences we have are products of the hard work of the Shluchim, which, without question, lift the atmosphere and spirits of wounded soldiers!
Everyone knows that the Shluchim are everywhere around the world. They give every Jew a place to go during times of joy as well as in times of trouble. They provide small moments of "Jewish magic" for Jews in places far from home.
But I learned that here in Israel, close to home, the Chabad Shluchim like Menachem provide so much warmth and light, and such helping hands here.
I find much similarity in the life of a Chabad Shaliach with the life of an army person in Israel. They both dedicate their time and their family life to the most important things - the benefit of our Jewish family wherever they are.
The soldier does so with the strength of the sword, and the Shaliach with the strength of the Holy Torah. And it is known that the sword is likened to the Torah. Our strength as a Jewish nation will never be whole if we give up on either one of them!
Even during the densest fighting, our soldiers find the time to don Tefilin and strengthen their arms for the next battle.
Tonight I can state that I will do all in my power to return and fight to preserve Israel's boundaries. I'll do so with the help of prayers and the support along the way, from Jews like you, the Chabad Shluchim.
I'll be able, with G-d's help, to rehabilitate my right arm and return to the front with my dear soldiers, to watch and secure, so that absolutely no one will be able to threaten the existence of the Jewish nation.
The Chabad Shluchim are already planning to flood the country with Mishloach Manot (holiday food gifts) and the joy of Purim. They will go to hospitals, to the elderly and the weak, to victims of terror, to widows and orphans of IDF soldiers, and to the soldiers defending the nation and Land of Israel.
Even the most difficult of our foes, upon seeing the nation of Israel united, won't be able to stand against us! The unity of the nation is our greatest goal, as the Rebbe also discussed.
I salute you, the Chabad Shluchim, for your activities that you carry out with your whole heart and I bless all the wonderful friends of Chabad, for this marvelous partnership. Thank you all very much.
Rabbi Shlomy and Chaya Levertov have opened a new Chabad Center - Chabad of Paradise Valley, Arizona. Their first community-wide event will be a Shabbat dinner on March 14.
Rabbi Moshe and Aidela Pape are opening a new Chabad Center in New Rochelle, New York. They will be focusing on building an adult education network and other programs.
Rabbi Shmuli and Malky Zejger arrived from Israel in Kiev, Ukraine, where Rabbi Zejger will work with youth, and Mrs. Zejger will serve as principal in Chabad's Or Avner Jewish Day School.
In "It Happened Once" in issue 1308, the rabbi in the story was incorrectly identified as Rabbi Yeshayahu Halevi Horowitz (the Shaloh).
Freely translated and adapted
Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar 1, 5733 (1973)
To All Participants in the Annual Mid-Winter Convention of N'Shei Ubnos Chabad
Blessing and Greeting:
The Annual Mid-Winter convention is taking place in this Leap Year between the two Purims. This lends added significance to the role of the Jewish woman in Jewish life as it is reflected in the festival of Purim; while the Leap Year factor presents the conference with a special challenge.
It has been pointed out before that the Leap Year offers a basic general lesson to all of us. The additional month which characterizes our Leap Year makes up for the accumulated deficiency between the Lunar Year - the basis of our Hebrew Calendar - and the Solar Year, which determines the four seasons. For the Torah requires that our festivals occur in their due season (Pesach [Passover] in the spring, etc.). Herein also lies the meaningful lesson that it is never too late to make up for a deficiency in the past. Moreover, as in the case of the added month of the Leap Year, which not only fully makes up for the past deficiency, but also makes an "advance" for the future, so it is not enough to merely make up for the past deficiency in terms of achievement for Torah and Yiddishkeit [Judaism], but an extra effort is called for as an "advance" on future achievement.
As for Purim, one of its well-known and oft substantiated is that of the Jewish people, by virtue of being a people of the Torah, is not subject to the conditions and laws of Nature which govern the fate and destiny of other peoples. For, while the elements which gave rise to the Purim festival seem to have followed a "natural" course, the truth is that Purim came about in a supernatural way, by Divine intervention. This is why it is described as Ness-Purim, the miracle of Purim. And what brought about the Miracle of Purim was the fact that not a single Jew attempted to save his life, under Haman's threat of annihilation, by compromising Yiddishkeit [Judaism]. This could have been an easy way out, as our Sages tell us, since Haman's decree only applied to Jews as Jews. It is because of this extraordinary Mesiras Nefesh [self-sacrifice], reversing a previous attitude, that the miraculous reversal of events took place.
The woman's role in the miracle of Purim is pointedly emphasized by the fact that the Megilah [scroll] of Purim is named after Esther alone. It is an eternal credit to Jewish womanhood, for it is inconceivable that the whole Jewish people at that time could have maintained such a high level of Mesiras Nefesh for such a long time without the women's encouragement and inspiration.
I trust that the above points, which are so relevant and timely for this year's conference, will receive full expression at the convention in general, and in each and every participant in particular, to be carried further by each to her group and circle.
May this year's conference, and each participant in it, produce a real "advance" in terms of achievement, and may it be carried out in the spirit of Purim, with real and abundant joy, to help bring about for all Jews-in the words of Megilas Esther - "light, joy, gladness, and honor." With blessing for hatzlacha [success] and happy tidings
7 Adar II
Walking in the street one must think words of Torah. Whether to actually pronounce the words depends on the place, if one is permitted - according to Torah law - to utter words of Torah there. But when someone goes about not occupied with Torah words,then the stone he treads on exclaims: "Bulach! ('clod', in Russian) How dare you trample me! How are you any higher than I am?"
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week contains within it a special date for the American Chabad-Lubavitch community, yet possibly even more so for the American Jewish community at large.
The date is the Ninth of Adar (this year Tuesday, March 11). On this day, in 5700 (1940), the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, arrived in the United States.
Though weakened in body - as he was confined to a wheelchair - he was not weakened in spirit.
After his arrival in the United States, the previous Rebbe successfully devoted himself to establishing a strong Jewish educational system here. Within two years, yeshivot in New York, Montreal, Newark, Worcester and Pittsburgh were founded. This flurry of activity, however, did not at all affect the manner in which he continued to work toward the establishment of educational organizations in other parts of the world. For, within ten years, programs were started in Paris, Safaria (Israel) and North Africa.
Before his arrival in the United States, the previous Rebbe was told that "America is different." The customs and ways from the "old country" just wouldn't do here. The Rebbe replied in his usual indomitable manner, "America is not different!" and proceeded, throughout the rest of his life, to prove that he was right.
The Jewish community here is greatly indebted to this prophetic and visionary giant.
The Rebbe explains that the arrival of the Previous Rebbe on our shores marked the beginning of the primary efforts to spread Chassidus and Judaism to the outer reaches of the world at large.
We should intensify our efforts to carry out the service begun on the 9th of Adar, namely, to spread the light of Torah to the entire world, until the Redemption comes and this world is revealed as G-d's dwelling.
And G-d called to Moses (Lev. 1:1)
The Hebrew word for "called," "vayikra," is written with a tiny alef, alluding to Moses' exceptional humility. As Reb Simcha Bunim of Pshischa explained, Moses was unimpressed by his own greatness. True, he had attained an extraordinary level of spirituality, but he saw himself as if standing on top of a high roof: G-d had given him his outstanding qualities, and thus his achievements were not the result of his own efforts. For that reason Moses waited until he was called to enter the Tent of Meeting.
If his offering be from cattle (Lev. 1:3)
Three types of burnt-offerings may be brought upon the altar: cattle, sheep, and fowl. A wealthy person is self-assured and prideful, and therefore most likely to sin. For this reason he must bring the largest and most expensive offering, "from the cattle." A less affluent person, less likely to sin, fulfills his obligation by offering a sheep. But the poor man, who is already humbled by his poverty, need only bring "of the fowl," the least costly type of offering.
The sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar (Lev. 1:7)
Even though a heavenly fire descended from on High to consume the offerings, the priests were still required to bring ordinary fire as well, to the altar. We learn from this that one may not rely solely on the "fire that descends from on high"--the natural, innate love of G-d which is present in the soul of every Jew. Each of us must also bring an "ordinary fire," kindle that innate love of G-d by taking the initiative and contemplating His greatness, to further nurture that inner spark.
He shall remove its gizzard with its feathers, and throw it beside the altar...at the place of the ashes (Lev. 1:16)
The gizzard is disqualified from being offered because it receives its sustenance from "stolen" food (that the bird picks at indiscriminately). This teaches us that even the poorest person (who can only afford to bring a bird as a sacrifice) must refrain from helping himself to other people's money...
The city of Brod was renowned for its Torah scholars, the most famous of whom was the sage Rabbi Moshe Leib. Like many of his colleagues at the time, he was wary of the new Chasidic movement that was then making inroads.
The sexton of Rabbi Moshe Leib's synagogue had a daughter who had been suffering for some time from a mysterious digestive disorder. When the sexton heard about the Chasidic Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk, he decided to go to him to ask for a blessing for his daughter. The Rebbe gave him some food his wife had prepared, and instructed him to feed it to the girl. As soon as she tasted it her pains went away.
The sexton was filled with wonder and appreciation. He was so impressed by what had happened that he decided to share the good news with Rabbi Moshe Leib. He urged him to go to Rabbi Elimelech to see for himself.
At first Rabbi Moshe Leib was adamantly opposed to the plan, considering it a waste of time that could be better utilized studying Torah. "And besides," he countered, "you know I don't really believe in these newfangled wonder workers..."
But the sexton was persistent. "On the contrary," he said. "You, as a rabbi, have an obligation to check him out for yourself. If you determine that Rabbi Elimelech isn't a true tzadik (righteous person), you can persuade people not to go to him. But if you find that he really is a holy man, you will have succeeded in dispelling a lot of false notions."
In the end Rabbi Moshe Leib consented and traveled to Lizhensk. The whole way there he thought about what he would say to the Chasidic master, and composed various questions to test his scholarship and piety.
Rabbi Moshe Leib arrived in Lizhensk on a Friday afternoon. He was surprised when he saw that Rabbi Elimelech lived in a tiny little house - not the grand mansion that he had imagined. His surprise grew when he realized that Rabbi Elimelech himself was standing on the threshold, waiting for him. The tzadik extended his hand in greeting.
"Come in, come in," he said to him warmly. "I've heard so much about you. They say that you're one of the most distinguished Torah scholars in all of Brod." Rabbi Moshe Leib felt a surge of pride.
"Therefore," Rabbi Elimelech continued, "I'd like to tell you an interesting story." Rabbi Moshe Leib's face fell, but the tzadik didn't seem to notice.
"There was once a brave warrior who did battle with a ferocious lion and succeeded in slaying it. To commemorate his heroic deed, he skinned the animal and filled its hide with straw. He then placed the stuffed lion in front of his house so that everyone would know how strong and courageous he was.
"When the rumor spread that there was a lion guarding his door, all the animals of the forest came to see for themselves. They stood at a distance, too fearful to approach. But there was once clever fox who quickly perceived that the lion wasn't moving. He crept closer, and with one paw swiped at the beast. When he saw that it wasn't alive, he tore the skin apart and the straw fell out. All the animals laughed and returned to the forest."
Rabbi Moshe Leib looked at the tzadik, not comprehending his meaning. Why had he made the long trip from Brod to Lizhensk? To hear animal stories? He couldn't believe that Rabbi Elimelech had nothing more important to do on a Friday afternoon than tell tales. He was about to say good-bye and return to his inn when the tzadik continued. "No, don't leave just yet. I have another story to tell you.
"There was once a very poor man who had never in his life owned a new set of clothes. One day his luck changed, and he came into a large inheritance. The first thing he did was to summon a tailor and commission a fine new garment as befits a nobleman. The tailor measured the man from head to toe, and a few days later returned for the first fitting.
"The man put on the half-completed suit as the tailor rearranged the pins and basting stitches and made little markings with chalk. Ignorant of the way a custom garment is made, the man assumed the tailor was mocking him and threw him out of the house, despite his protestations."
That was the end of the story. Rabbi Moshe Leib, completely confused, went back to the inn to prepare for Shabbat.
Then it hit him: Perhaps the tzadik was talking about him with his strange tales? Maybe he was trying to tell him that he was only a "stuffed lion"? And like the poor man with the new set of clothes, could it be that he was only posturing as a nobleman? His whole life would have to be reconsidered...
That evening in the synagogue Rabbi Moshe Leib studied the tzadik in an entirely different way. He became an ardent disciple of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, and later a Chasidic master himself in the city of Sasov.
Our Sages interpret the verse, "Do not touch My anointed ones (meshichai)," as referring to Jewish children. Why are children given this title? Because their only genuine concern is Moshiach. A child truly wants to live in a world of peace, harmony, knowledge and joy, the very qualities that will characterize the Era of Redemption. Adults often find it difficult to think beyond the mundane details of their daily existence. Children, by contrast, do not have to grapple with such concerns, and thus their true inner desire can express itself. Although their feelings and thoughts may lack sophistication, the simple genuine power of their desires is greater than that of adults. And this fundamental desire is focused on the coming of Moshiach.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)