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Over 40 years ago, the United States Environmental Protection Agency established the Clean Air Act Amendments. Sixteen years ago smoking was banned on all commercial passenger flights in the United States, and/or by American air carriers. As of January 2014, 28 states have enacted statewide bans on smoking in all enclosed public places, including all bars and restaurants.
But, can smokeless, cleaner air lead to a clearer head? less murky thoughts? spotless behavior?
An old Jewish custom (about 1700 years old) begins once again this Saturday afternoon. It's the tradition of studying the Mishna "Ethics of the Fathers" during the weeks between Passover and Shavuot. Many have the custom to continue studying these teachings throughout the summer months as well, until Rosh Hashana.
These "ethics" have a lot to say that are relevant to us today, in our interpersonal relationships both business and pleasure.
"Receive every person with a cheerful countenance," suggested Shammai. Say "hello" with a smile and see how that starts your day off right. If you run into someone you don't particularly like, look at the whole person, find his good qualities and then you will be able to greet him with a cheerful countenance.
Joshua ben Perachyah said, "Judge every person favorably." Put yourself in the other person's shoes and think how you would react or what you would have done in the same situation. And remember that when the "Final Judgement Day" comes, you'll be judged as harshly or lightly as you judge others!
And for the generation that New York magazine called the "greed" generation, we have Hillel's comment: If I am only for myself, what am I? Can a person really be effective when only concerned for himself? A person wrapped up in himself makes a pretty small package!
Rabban Gamliel, Hillel's son, counseled, "Provide yourself with a teacher and free yourself of doubt." Get an advisor for yourself, maybe even more than one. You'll need a financial advisor, a medical advisor (if there are, G-d forbid, health problems), and someone to help you explore your relationships. Of course, most importantly, provide yourself with a spiritual guide - someone you can look up to, learn from and hope to emulate.
Take a deep breath (now that the air indoors is cleaner). Doesn't your head feel clearer already?
In this week's Torah portion, Kedoshim, we learn that one may not eat the fruits of a tree during the first three years after it was planted, while the fruits of the fourth year are holy. They are to be eaten only in Jerusalem. The Torah proceeds: "But in the fifth year you may eat its fruit [in all places], so that it may yield you more produce..." Thus, the objective of the first four years is the increase in yield during the fifth year.
The fifth year's increase in physical yield resulted from the fact that in a spiritual sense, too, the fruits of the fifth year possessed a quality that was lacking - not only during the first three forbidden years, but also during the fourth year when the fruits had to be eaten in Jerusalem. Why, then, could these more spiritually elevated fruits be eaten wherever one desired? Why were they not restricted to the confines of the Holy City of Jerusalem, as were the less spiritual fruits of the fourth year?
Before the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism, became renowned, it was his custom to wander from town to town and village to village, because one of his approaches to Divine Service was to inquire among Jews as to their welfare, and elicit responses of praise of G-d for their well-being.
He was most gratified to hear the loving praises with which they responded to his queries: "Blessed be His Name," "Praise the L-rd," "The loving G-d does not forsake," and so on.
Once the Baal Shem Tov visited a town where there lived an eminent scholar who for the past 50 years had been piously abstemious, studying Torah day and night in holy isolation. He would fast until after the evening prayer. He would then break his fast with a crust of bread and water.
The Baal Shem Tov once entered this scholar's "seclusion chamber," which was in a corner of the synagogue, inquired after his health, and asked him whether his needs were being met. The recluse ignored him. After the Baal Shem Tov repeated his questions a number of times the scholar became angry and showed his visitor the door. Said the Baal Shem Tov to the scholar: "Rabbi, why don't you provide G-d with His sustenance? You will starve Him, G-d forbid, and He will depart from the world."
Hearing these words the scholar was perplexed: such strange words about seeing to G-d's needs so that He should not starve?! The Baal Shem Tov noticed the scholar's bewilderment and explained: "Jews exist by virtue of G-d's sustenance, but what sustains Him? This is answered by King David in Psalms, wherein he says: 'You, Holy One, are enthroned upon' - i.e., You are sustained by - 'the praises of Israel,' by the words of praise that Jews give You for their health and livelihood."
To make this world a "dwelling place for Him," so that G-d be eminent in this world, is the purpose of all creation. Accomplishing this requires more than Torah study. It requires - as indicated by the Baal Shem Tov's conduct - that we praise and acknowledge G-d for even the simple things in life, for all things are to be imbued with holiness.
So, too, regarding the fifth year's fruits. The highest state of holiness is attained not by eating the fruits in Jerusalem; it is achieved by transforming the whole world into the Holy City of Jerusalem.
From The Chasidic Dimension by Rabbi S.B. Wineberg
Lessons I Learned Behind Bars
by Rabbi Avrohom Brashevkitzky
It smelled like the entire kitchen in the kosher restaurant came out to hug me! But it was actually the mashgiach (kosher supervisor) of the establishment who had come out of the kitchen to say "hello" to me. What made the moment so enjoyable was the fact that one of the last times I had seen this guy, he was wearing an orange jumpsuit, in a county jail.
My wife and I had stopped into the restaurant to grab a bite to eat. But what I left with was much more than edible nourishment; I was seeing the profound effect of the Lubavitcher Rebbe insisting that no Jew be forgotten.
The story doesn't start or end here. It began several years ago when Rabbi Mendy Katz from The Aleph Institute asked me to volunteer to visit Jewish inmates in the jails/prisons closet to Doral, Florida, where my wife Zeldi and I are emissaries of the Rebbe. Knowing that taking care of the needs of our incarcerated brethren was highly important to the Rebbe, I said "yes."
Truth be told, I was excited in the beginning. But I have to admit I lost my stamina pretty quickly. There were those times that I got stuck for longer than I expected due to a "lock down." At other times I left worn out and despondent. Although I continued to visit regularly, I'd often ask myself: What's the point? Most of the guys seemed so far, so distant.
In addition, there was a more mundane problem; as a community rabbi and emissary, I need to be in touch with so many people but I was not allowed to bring a cell phone into the facilities. Each time I visited, I was cut off from the entire "outside" during the few hours spent "inside."
To make a long story short, I came home one evening from the jail and, seeing all of many calls I had missed, I decided that perhaps I would stop going.
As I often do when I am straightening up in the kitchen, I dialed "Chassidus on the Phone" to listen to the talk of the Rebbe that was playing that day. Usually the talk relates to the weekly Torah portion. However, that day, it did not seem to have a connection to the portion at all. In the talk, the Rebbe was explaining the great importance of visiting Jews who are confined against their will, whether in hospitals or behind bars.... Obviously I continued after that.
Today, as I was entering the prison chapel I met Steve, holding a book in his hands that I had loaned to him. I bring the guys books to read whenever I come and when they return them I loan them new ones. Steve was holding GPS For Life (a book elucidating Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy) that I had recently loaned to him.
"Rabbi! This book's so amazing that I asked my wife to purchase five copies; for her, each of my children and my son-in-law!"
As we talked, he continued: "I'd already given up on studying Tanya, but this book changed everything! It's amazing! I'm finally realizing that the reason I ended up here is to appreciate and study Torah and find real meaning in life!" He continued to detail the method he's implemented in order to "really study it; not like a compelling 'good-read' that you don't stop turning the pages." He explained to me that he read a chapter then the next, then went back to chapter one and reread it and then reread chapter two. After reading chapter three he went back to the beginning of chapter one and so on.
I am inspired to continue not only by the Rebbe's words and by the men I visit, but by my fellow emissaries, as well. "Rabbi Mendy" (Schechter) is one of them.
To explain: Jack owns a business in my area. I would visit him at least once every week or two and we became friendly over time. He almost always put on Tefilin when I came. I offered him many times to study Torah. I encouraged him to perhaps buy his own pair of Tefilin, but nothing really came of it. Unfortunately he had some problem with the IRS and "went in" for about 8 months in upstate Florida right near the coast.
Recently Jack got out and of course I resumed my visits (with more frequency). He couldn't stop telling me how impressed he was about "Rabbi Mendy who drove every week from New Orleans, three and half hours in each direction (!), just to spend an hour or so with us." Jack now owns his own pair of Tefilin and has committed to studying Torah once a week in his office.
I also take this opportunity to thank Rabbi Mendy Katz and the Aleph Institute for the wonderful work they do around the clock. Mendy you are an inspiration to me and many others!
My point in sharing my experiences is to encourage others to get involved in this important work. Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries and see how you can help them with prison and hospital visitations. You can also visit aleph-institute.org, an organization reaching out to Jewish inmates and servicemen throughout the USA founded under the direction of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Levi and Mushky Laine have arrived in Hanoi, Vietnam, to establish a new Chabad-Lubavitch Center there. This is the second Chabad Center in Vietnam.
Rabbi Baruch and Chaya Rozmarin have settled into their roles as emissaries of the Rebbe in Grenada, the "Island of Spice" in the southeastern Caribbean Sea.
Chabad of Medford, New Jersey, has found a new home in a Dutch Colonial on Main Street. When renovations are completed, the Chabad Center will include a small sanctuary, classrooms, offices and a kitchen.
Ground-breaking for a new, 10,000 sq. ft. Center for Jewish Living, in the heart of culturally-rich Santa Fe, New Mexico, recently took place. The center will include a sanctuary, classrooms, community room, Kosher commercial kitchen, playground, garden, rooftop terrace, Mikva, hospitality rooms, lounge, and offices.
Sivan, 5738 
Thank you for your letter upon your return from Eretz YIsroel [the Land of Israel].
I am pleased to note that you and your wife enjoyed your visit in Eretz Yisroel and were impressed with the activities of Chabad there. As I have remarked on similar occasions, it is customary to bring back souvenirs from the lands one visits that are characteristic of native features and products, etc. I trust therefore, that you too brought back with you the right souvenir from the Holy Land, namely, an extra measure of holiness, which will serve as a fitting memento of you visit. And, of course, there is always room for improvement in matters of holiness, Torah and mitzvos [commandments], in the daily life. In your case this is even more important, not only for your own benefit, but also for the benefit of the many who look to you for inspiration; and one is inspired not by someone else's good thoughts and intentions, and not so much by word of mouth as by living example, which need no elaboration to a psychologist.
Now to the main subject of our correspondence, namely, saving Jews from getting involved in avoda zora [idolatry] through T.M. and the like by offering them a kosher alternative.
With reference to your letter, I would like to make the following observations:
Although a well planned and systematic approach is generally required to ensure success of any project, I do not think that we can afford to delay too long the implementation of our plan through time-consuming preparations; and for two reasons: firstly, every day that the plan is not in operation means so many more Jews turning to those unholy cults ad there is no other sure way of preventing or discouraging this.
Secondly, and this is also a weighty consideration, every new project is provisional by nature, for it is expected that as it progresses there would be need for changes and improvements, which is common experience in various fields, medicine, science, business etc.
I note in your letter that your discussions with your colleagues have advanced to the point of forming an ad hoc committee. I therefore believe that the stage can now be set to start immediately a pilot clinic or similar facility, to start offering actual treatment, on the basis of your ad your colleagues' professional expertise and mutual consultations. The pilot project should be set up in a way that allows for ample flexibility for modification and change as may be necessary.
As indicated, I will be able to provide the funding for the initial stage, within limitations. You will no doubt send me a tentative budget of the initial outlay, with an estimate of the period of time it may take until the setup becomes self supporting. Indeed, I am confident that before long it will not only be self supporting, but also profitable, considering the popularity of techniques involved. But it is important to start in a way that will not inhibit the effectiveness and development of the project, even if it costs much more.
With regard to specifics, I do not think it advisable to use the term "mystic" for the planned healing center, since the goal is to attract the greatest number of Jews and save them from avoda zora, and the said term might discourage some. Moreover, generally mysticism connotes something that lies beyond the pale of human comprehension, while the therapeutic benefits of the techniques are quite understandable rationally. Besides, to emphasize the mystical aspect would leave the door open also, lehavdil [to separate], to non-Jewish mystical cults.
For the same reason it is advisable to be circumspect in regard to the description of the techniques to be used I the healing center. For example, you mention the use of "mikvot" [ritualarium]. While it is not in my domain to assess the therapeutic effect of relaxation in a hot mikve , I fear that to include a mikve "officially" in the regimen might be suspected - by some people, a least, that it is a gimmick to involve them in mitzvos. I think that veiling in it some such term as "immersion" hot bath and the like would entirely allay such suspicion.
As for calling the healing center..... it is a name already in use by various organizations and journals. Another suitable name would have to be found, but there is no need to make the final decisions on this right away.
Finally, let me relieve you of any apprehension that you might be "pushing" me on this matter. On the contrary, in connection with such a vital project, "pushing" could only be all to the good, since time is of the essence, as I emphasized above.
In view of the fact that everything is by hashgocho protis [Divine Providence], it is significant that your letter and my reply were written in proximity to the Yom Tov [holiday] of Kabbolas Ha'Torah [receiving the Torah, i.e.. Shavuot], when we renew and redouble our commitment to the Torah on the basis of "naasah" [action] before "v'nishma" [understanding] with emphasis on the doing and that "naaseh" is the key to "v'nishma."
With esteem and blessing,
Iyar 1, Second day of Rosh Chodesh
The Rebbe Rashab took a liking to the saying, "The first Chabad Chasidim were always keeping count." He commented: "That idea characterizes a person's mission in life. The hours must be 'counted hours,' then the days will be 'counted days.' When a day passes one should know what he has accomplished and what remains yet to be done... In general, one should always see to it that tomorrow should be much better than today."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Twenty-three years ago, on the 28th of Nisan (this year occuring on Monday, April 28), the Rebbe made a declaration that shocked his Chasidim:
"I have done everything I can. Now I am giving it over to each one of you. Do everything you can to bring Moshiach in actuality" the Rebbe stated.
Throughout the following 11 months, until his stroke, the Rebbe continued to speak numerous times each week about Moshiach and what each one of us can do to prepare for and hasten the Redemption.
The Rebbe, ever emphasizing our Sages' teaching that "deed is essential," has given concrete suggestions about how we can best do what we need to do to bring Moshiach:
Study Torah in general, and in particular, those parts of Torah that pertain to Moshiach and the Redemption. More specifically, study about Moshiach and Redemption as elucidated in the Rebbe's 32 volumes of "Collected Talks" (Likutei Sichot).
Live in a manner now that is a "dress rehearsal" for the Redemption, the time when there will no strife, no jealousy, world peace and inner harmony, and Divine knowledge will be within everyone's reach.
Give extra charity, keeping in mind the Talmud's teaching that charity hastens the Redemption.
Increase in acts of goodness and kindness. Every day, perhaps a number of times each day, do something kind for a neighbor, a friend, a co-worker, a family member, a stranger.
In this way, may we hasten the moment when all of our needs, spiritual and material, will be amply supplied in the ultimate Redemption.
Antigonos of Socho received the tradition from Shimon HaTzadik. He used to say: ...And let reverence for Heaven (literally, the fear of Heaven) be upon you (Ethics Ch. 1:3)
After Antigonos emphasizes that one should not serve G-d with a view to receiving reward, but out of complete love for Him, he declares that a person must also be careful regarding his reverence for G-d. One who serves with love is eager to fulfill a positive commandment, and one who serves with reverence is careful regarding negative ones. Thus, by being careful in both aspects, a person's service is complete.
Hillel said: Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving other people, and drawing them to Torah (Ethics Ch. 1:12)
Moses drew G-dliness down to the Jewish people from Above by means of the Torah which was given through him. Thus he is referred to as "the chaperone of the King" - analogous to the escort who accompanies the groom to his bride. Aaron, by contrast, brought the Jewish people closer to G-d from below to Above, and is thus referred to as "the bride's chaperone," analogous to the escort who accompanies a bride, leading her up to the groom who awaits her.
(Sefer Ha'Arachim Chabad, Vol. 2)
[Hillel] used to say: If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? (Ethics Ch. 1:14)
In many areas of Jewish life the individual and the community are completely integrated and harmonized, with equal emphasis on both. Hence, "If I am not for myself" expresses the importance of the individual. At the same time, each person is part of the whole Jewish community, and if he is not, i.e., "if I am only for myself," isolated from the community, what is the individual truly worth?
(Likutei Sichot Vol. 18)
As part of his inheritance, Rabbi Yosef received a clock that had belonged to his father, the Seer of Lublin.
When the shiva (first seven days of mourning) for his father ended, Rabbi Yosef set off for his home in Tulchin. On the way, it began raining heavily. The roads were soon flooded, making it impossible to go on. Fortunately, Rabbi Yosef found a Jewish inn and decided to stop there until the storm ended.
After three days the rain stopped, at which time Rabbi Yosef was more than ready to leave. The innkeeper, let us call him Zev, presented Rabbi Yosef with the bill that Rabbi Yosef could not pay. He offered Zev any of his possessions as payment, and after some consideration, Zev chose the clock.
Zev hung the clock in a back room of the inn, wound it up, gave the pendulum a swing, and the clock began ticking away. Every hour the clock rang out the time in an appropriate number of chimes.
At first, Zev and his wife were thrilled when they heard the clock chime, but as time passed, they paid it little attention.
Years later a rabbi came to stay at the inn and was given the room where the clock hung.
That night, Zev, though exhausted, could not sleep. From the rabbi's room came sounds of beautiful singing and the sound of dancing. And when the clock struck the hour, the music took on an added quality of joy!
Zev decided he would ask the rabbi in the morning what this great joy was all about. With this thought in mind, he fell fast asleep.
The following morning, the rabbi, as if reading Zev's mind, said:
"You must be wondering why I was so joyous last night, but I am wondering where you got the clock!
Zev could not understand the connection between of the two things but told the Rabbi the story of rabbi Yosef and how he acquired the clock.
"I see you have no idea what a bargain you got," said the Rabbi. "This clock belonged to my saintly rabbi, the Seer of Lublin. As soon as I heard the chiming, I recognized it!"
"A clock is a clock," mumbled Zev.
"Let me explain what a clock really is," offered the Rabbi. "People think a clock is for the telling them when to get up, go to work, eat, sleep. That is nonsense. People lived for thousands of years without clocks. An animal doesn't need a clock to show it when to do these things."
"True," said Zev, waiting for more.
"A clock reminds people that there is such a thing as time in this world. When G-d created the world, He created time. The minute and hour hand on the clock remind us that each minute and every hour G-d gives life to the whole world and sustains us.
"A clock is indeed a great thing," Zev called out enthusiastically.
"That is not all," continued the rabbi. "The clock also reminds us that time is passing, and we must watch and guard it. Anything lost can be found, except for time, which can never be recovered. When the clock chimes, it makes us consider if we have filled the passing hour in a worthwhile manner."
"Oh, Rabbi, when I think of how many hours I have wasted," Zev cried out.
"Don't be downhearted," the rabbi said encouragingly. "Do you know that the Hebrew word for hour also means 'a turn'? Do you know what 'a turn' is? Imagine a person walking carelessly along a dangerous road, till he reaches a cliff. Suddenly, he realizes where he is and quickly turns around. This turn immediately saves him, even before he has managed to take the steps away from the danger. In one hour or with one turn toward the right path a person can change his whole life."
"How wonderful!" Zev marveled.
"Now, I shall tell you the really exciting secret of this clock, the clock of my saintly Rebbe.
"This clock is exceptionally perfect and wonderful, for in addition to all the previously mentioned virtues, the clock has a most happy chime. Every chime rings out like a message of good news, as if to tell us that an hour of Exile has passed and we are now one hour nearer to the complete and final Redemption with Moshiach."
"Now," the Rabbi asked Zev, "Can you understand why I rejoiced so much the whole night? I heard the chime of the clock, recognized it, and celebrated with fervor."
How is it that the Redemption has not yet been attained? That despite all that has transpired and all that has been done, Moshiach has still not come? What more can I do? I have done all I can to bring the world to truly demand and clamor for the Redemption...The only thing that remains for me to do is to give over the matter to you. Do all that is in your power to achieve this thing--a most sublime and transcendent light that needs to be brought down into our world with pragmatic tools... I have done all I can. I give it over to you. Do all that you can to bring the righteous redeemer, immediately! I have done my part. From this point on, all is in your hands...
(The Rebbe, Nissan 28, 5751/1991)