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Once, when Rabbi Beruka met the prophet Elijah in the market-place, Rabbi Beruka asked him, "Can you show me someone who is assured of a place in the World to Come?"
Elijah pointed to two ordinary looking people, whereupon Rabbi Beruka approached them and asked what their occupation was.
"We are jesters who make people laugh when they are sad," they replied.
What exactly is a jester and how did these particular jesters make people laugh when they were depressed? The word "jesters" is defined by Rashi as "one who is joyful and causes others to rejoice."
This word can also be read as "I have given joy to others; consequently, I have also rejoiced." One experiences personal joy only after he dispenses it to others.
The nature of joy is that it permeates a person's entire being. When a person is happy, he lives joyfully. This happiness affects the way he conducts his life and influences everyone with whom he comes in contact. He shares happiness with those around him and his happiness brings him success in all matters.
At the conclusion of a passage in the Torah describing a series of curses to be visited upon the Jewish people, the Torah explains: "Because you did not serve the L-rd your G-d with joyfulness and with gladness of heart..."
This idea is somehow foreign to the customary notion of happiness. When do we consider ourselves happy? Well, for most of us, happiness connotes some pleasurable situation or occurrence.
Jewish teachings define happiness not only as the feeling of joy that results from pleasure. For the Jew, happiness is itself a form of devotion, of Divine service to the Creator. It is a self-imposed state of mind, which denotes our faith and belief in G-d. We are joyous because we are sure that everything He does is in our very best interest; we are joyous because we are living in accord with G-d's Divine blueprint for universal life, the Torah.
Our joyous state of mind exists regardless of externals, it defines our being Jews. And happiness is also a great mitzva, for it is an affirmation in the truest fashion, of our faith in an omniscient and benevolent G-d, whose plan for us may be unfathomable, but Whom we trust, as a child trusts his mother and father.
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria comments: "Simcha [joy] is fundamental to the service of G-d. Even if our service was lacking in other aspects, if we had been happy while serving G-d, we never would have been exiled."
Of course, the mega-simcha we are all awaiting is the imminent commencement of the Messianic Era. And we can each hasten its arrival by maintaining an attitude of joy, which will most certainly have a ripple effect through our relationships with everyone we encounter on our meandering paths through this world.
This Shabbat we bless the month of Adar, about which the Talmud states, "When Adar begins we increase our joy."
In this week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, we find the verse: "If you lend money to My people..." The word if usually implies an optional act. However, lending money (without interest) is actually a mitzva, a commandment!
According to the Midrash, G-d only tells the Jewish people to do and observe those things which He, Himself does. Thus it follows that G-d also observes the precept of "If you lend money to My people."
A loan is given to someone even if he doesn't deserve it. Nonetheless, it is not a gift; the borrower must ultimately repay the loan.
G-d, too, provides man with various abilities that he does not necessarily deserve. He demands, though, that this "loan" be repaid - that the abilities be utilized for the realization of one's mission in life.
There are two types of loans: loan of an object and loan of money. The difference between them is that in the first case the borrower must return the same object, for it does not become his property. A monetary loan, however, is "given to be spent"; it becomes the property of the debtor and he may use it any way he desires.
When G-d provides man with abilities it is like a monetary loan. Man chooses how he will use these abilities. Will he use them for his own purposes or to realize his mission in life?
A loan, even of abilities, is given to be spent. Every Jew is permitted to take his loan and to utilize it for his personal affairs. However, he must always bear in mind the ultimate purpose for which the loan was intended.
Practically speaking, the Midrash comments that lending money to the poor is tantamount to lending to G-d. And in Proverbs it says, "He that is gracious to the poor, lends to the Eternal and He will repay him..."
When G-d pays back His debt, though, He does so according to His measure. Just as G-d is infinite, He recompenses without limit.
Charity is equivalent to all the mitzvot (commandments). Among the various levels in charity, the highest is gemilut chasadim. Gemilut chasadim literally means performance of kindness. In colloquial usage, though, this term usually refers to granting [interest] free loans.
Our sages say that gemilut chasadim is superior to charity, for charity can be given only to the poor while free loans are given to both the poor and the rich. Charity implies the existence of a rich person and a poor person. But, gemilut chasadim is not limited.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
How I Got Here
by Leiba Rudolph
I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s in Squirrel Hill, the predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I had strong Jewish feelings, yet the religion I experienced in my synagogue felt like, well, nothing. Saturday School was where you went on Saturday morning to decide where to go shopping on Saturday afternoon.
Everything around me indicated that the purpose of life was to "have it good" - good grades to get into a good college to get a good job to be able to wear good clothes, etc. And yet there was a very real part of me that knew there had to be something more.
When I was young, I was haunted by the sight of children in wheelchairs. I thought they were being punished for something, and that thought terrified me. How could I reconcile the fact that they couldn't walk and my biggest worry was whether or not I would be allowed to get Pappagallo shoes?
As I grew older, I focused less on my quest for existential meaning and accepted the fact that having the right friends, the right achievements - the right stuff - might just be all there would be to my lucky little life. I performed respectably well in all these areas, but I secretly yearned for something true and lasting that would give my life direction and purpose.
There was college at the University of Michigan (no answers there), a brief stint back home as an advertising copywriter, (please tell me I was created to do more than write about aluminum screws), an MBA (no answers but at least more money) and then, at age 25, marriage. When it came to pairing me with my husband, Zev, G-d was looking out for me big time.
Next came the dog, then the kids; Jewish philanthropy was a natural next step. "Helping less fortunate Jews" felt like the best way to show my gratitude for being able to enjoy my dog and two kids in a country that wasn't persecuting me.
As I climbed the ladder of "young leadership" in Jewish philanthropy, I realized how lacking my Jewish education was. My husband and I were soon enrolled in an elite, intensive class sponsored by billionaire philanthropist Leslie Wexner, who saw the gaping hole of knowledge among young Jewish decision-makers. He spared no expense, recruiting the best and the brightest to enlighten the chosen few who committed to sit around a conference table for four hours every other week for two years.
At one meeting, Wexner participant Charlie Saul mentioned an upcoming Shabbat retreat with a Chabad rabbi named Sholom Lipskar. Nobody else showed much interest, but I was enticed by a weekend in the country with free babysitting. In May of 1987, our family went on the retreat that changed our lives.
It almost didn't happen though. Only moments after settling into our cabin to unpack, my husband spotted Rabbi Lipskar outside. We hurried to introduce ourselves. I extended my hand but he politely refused to shake it. I was totally humiliated - I had no idea about the laws regarding men, women, and touching. I went back to our cabin and became hysterical.
"That's it - we're leaving," I announced to my husband. I had wanted to give "the Orthodox" a chance, but couldn't get past a basic greeting. Somehow Zev convinced me to stay and give them another chance. Fortunately, I quickly realized that these people were talking about what I like to talk about: G-d, why we are here, and the meaning of life. By the end of the weekend, I felt as if I had won the spiritual lottery.
What was so compelling about what I learned, what inspired me to change my whole life, was the notion that the world is waiting for the imminent arrival of Moshiach, the Messiah, who will conclude this long and painful love story between G-d and the Jewish people and thereby solve the existential mystery called "life as we know it." There was just one eensy-weensy detail, they added: learning Torah and doing mitzvot (commandments) combine to create the super fuel that hastens his arrival.
I took a deep breath and a leap of faith.
My husband was also inspired by the retreat, and agreed that Jewish observance was worth pursuing. He had always strongly identified as a Jew. He loved the land of Israel and he loved the Jewish people. He was willing to go for a little Jewish observance, too.
The first step was the kosher kitchen (you are what you eat, right?). The following week I met with Mrs. Miriam Nadoff, of blessed memory, who would walk through my kitchen and tell me what to do. The very notion that a stranger cared to help me keep kosher confirmed that we were making the right move.
And that was just the beginning of the changes we made. Our kids adjusted well to no more Saturday cartoons; it was hard to believe that going to shul was becoming a reward instead of a punishment. The moratorium on non-kosher restaurants was almost a deal-breaker; I was a hopeless cook. But I was a good learner, and I had a new determination that could only have come from G-d.
More than once, I asked myself what I had gotten myself into - besides the cooking and the babies (thank G-d, we went on to have five daughters and four sons), there was the hard work of actually trying to be a mentsch. Of trying to understand what G-d wants from me. It has been an amazing journey, one that I could never have foreseen.
During a private audience in 1989, I actually asked the Rebbe to bring Moshiach, and was told by the Rebbe that we should do more as quickly as possible because Moshiach is coming "tomorrow or maybe the day after tomorrow." But as time went on, my enthusiasm was not always at fever pitch. Just what did the Rebbe mean by "tomorrow"?
Last fall, I wrote a piece for our local Jewish newspaper. In it, I spoke from my heart and said what I know to be true about G-d, Torah, the Jewish people and Moshiach. After that, several people suggested I start writing a blog, so I did. Ponderingjew.org is part memoir, part daily life, with a little Chassidus as I try to understand it and live it - and it's short. Thank G-d, I get positive feedback from many people who have been touched, so I hope I am doing something to bring that "tomorrow" closer, once and for all!
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter
Rashi's Campus and Torah
The groundbreaking ceremony for a beautiful campus for Chabad of North Fulton, and the completion ceremony of the writing of a Torah scroll will take place on March 8 in Alphretta, Georgia. Both events are in conjunction with the upcoming first yartzeit of Rashi Minkowitz, devoted wife, mother, rebbetzin and shlucha in Alphretta who passed away suddenly last year at the age of 37. To participate visit chabadnf.org orRashisTorah.org.
The Tabacinic Chabad Center, in Clearwater, Florida, held its opening ceremony recently. The new center stands on a 1.3-acre lot and is six times larger than the community's first location on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, which opened in 2011. The celebration began with the launch of a community Torah scroll.
These letters were written to sculptor Chaim Yaakov (Jacque) Lipchitz
29th of Shevat, 5720 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter with some delay, but I was pleased to read in it that the family matter has been resolved satisfactorily through the cooperation of an Orthodox Rav, who has made a deep impression on you.
May G-d grant that this satisfactory development be the forerunner of other successes in all your affairs, in accordance with the Torah, Toras Chaim, including, of course, the matter of health. For, as you know, the great teacher Maimonides has ruled that taking care of one's physical health is part of our religious way of life. This is further emphasized in the teachings of Chassidus, where it is taught that all the daily aspects of physical life, including eating, drinking, etc., and certainly aspects connected with the emotions such as in art, etc., can and should be elevated to a higher spiritual level if carried out in accordance with Mosaic Law, as you mention in your letter, with inner joy and gladness of heart.
Being on the threshold of the happy and auspicious month of Adar, which has been so for all our people throughout our history, and also for every individual Jew, who is an inseparable part of our people, I send you the traditional good wishes for a happy and successful month.
19th of Adar, 5721 
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to thank you for your note and best wishes for Purim, together with the Shallach Monos. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and attention.
You do not mention anything about matters of health, or other affairs in your family, from which I gather that all is well.
I have had occasion to observe that the commandment to increase joy with the entry of Adar, implies that every day of the month should have a larger measure of joy over and above the increased measure of joy in the previous day, and so on, in a compounded way each day. Similarly, it should be with all matters of Torah and Mitzvoth. Since G-d's reward is in kind and in a most generous measure, His blessings come in a similar compounded way. May it be so with you and yours, and may you have good news to report in good health and contentment.
I trust you will find the enclosed of interest.
4th of Adar, 5723 
After not having heard from you for some time, your letter of February 22 was particularly welcome, following the regards which I had previously received through Mrs. Weill.
I am very pleased to note that you have resumed your work, and are working with inspiration.
In connection with your forthcoming exposition, I wish you unqualified success, and for many, many good and happy years to come may G-d grant you to use your gifts to the credit of our Jewish people, and of our Jewish values in particular. For there are many ways in which a Jew can serve G-d, and one must serve Him in all, in accordance with the principle "Know Him, and make Him known, in all your ways." You have a unique privilege of doing so through your own medium, which to certain circles is the only medium of learning something about Jews and Judaism.
A propos of the above, I trust you will not take it amiss, though it may sound somewhat chauvinistic, but it is nevertheless true, that Jews, as Jews, can be justly proud. For although we declare, and pray for, three times a day - in the famous hymn "Oleinu l'shabe'ach": "To establish the world under the kingdom of the Almighty, and all mankind shall invoke Thy Name," this is preceded by "It is our duty to praise the Lord of all things... Who hath not made us like the nations of other lands," etc. Any doubt that one might have had about the inherent distinction between our people and other nations, in this 20th century of enlightenment, science and philosophy, has tragically been dispelled by our experience at the hands of a nation which claimed first place in the arts and sciences in our generation, while the other "advanced" nations hardly did anything to avert or stop the mass slaughter. This is too painful to contemplate.
I will conclude on a happy note, having entered the joyous month of Adar, highlighted by the festival of Purim, may you, we all in the midst of all our people enjoy - to quote the Megillah - "light and gladness, joy and honor."
Your check was turned over to the special Purim fund, for "gifts to the poor," in the spirit of the Megillah.
From Beis Moshiach Magazine
If you only knew - Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch said - the power of verses of Tehillim (Psalms) and their effect in the highest Heavens, you would recite them constantly. Know that the chapters of Tehillim shatter all barriers, they ascend higher and still higher with no interference; they prostrate themselves in supplication before the Master of all worlds, and they effect and accomplish with kindness and compassion.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we bless the new month of Adar. Our Sages have taught that when the month of Adar begins we should increase in happiness.
Happiness is related to Moshiach in numerous ways. For starters, we are taught that "Happiness breaks through boundaries." Moshiach, too, is referred to as one who "breaks through boundaries."
Additionally, the word Moshiach, is sometimes spelled without the Hebrew letter yud. At these times it is the same letters as the Hebrew word for happiness - samayach. When we are samayach - happy, we bring Moshiach.
The story is told about one of the great sages of Poland that when he was a little boy he asked his father for an apple but was refused.
The enterprising youngster recited the blessing for fruit. His father could not possibly allow the blessing to be recited in vain and promptly handed his son an apple.
The Rebbe used this story to describe the relationship between happiness and the imminent Redemption. The Rebbe explained that, "If the Jewish people begin now to rejoice already in the Redemption, out of absolute trust that G-d will speedily send us Moshiach, this joy in itself will (as it were) compel our Father in heaven to fulfill His children's wish to redeem them from exile."
Why is happiness such an effective means of hastening the Redemption and preparing ourselves for Moshiach's imminent arrival? Again, let us look at the Rebbe's words.
"The nature of happiness is that it permeates through the entire scope of the person's existence. When a person is happy, he lives joyfully. This happiness affects the way he conducts his life and all the people with whom he comes in contact. The person shares happiness with those around him and his happiness brings him success in all matters."
Live Moshiach! Make someone happy today. It doesn't take much - a smile, a kind word, a phone call to say, "I was thinking of you."
When you purchase a Jewish slave (Ex. 21:2)
Surely you do not purchase a slave; you purchase a man and he becomes a slave. The verse wishes to indicate that slavery does not mean complete ownership of another person. Even before he was sold he was already a slave to the Alm-ghty and must be treated with proper respect.
If the stolen article is found in the thief's possession... he must make double restitution. (Ex. 22:3)
It is possible to utilize for G-d's service, according to the Torah, all behavior-traits. This includes those traits that are unwholesome, and even those that are evil. For example, Rabbi Meshulam Zusya of Anipoli learned a number of methods of serving G-d from a thief: a) He works quietly without others knowing. b) He is ready to place himself in danger. c) The smallest detail is of great importance to him. d) He labors with great toil. e) Alacrity. f) He is confident and optimistic. g) If he does not succeed the first time, he tries again and again.
Keep away from anything false. (Ex. 23:7)
Rabbi Mendel of Kotsk used to say: It is written, "Truth sprouts from the land." But we know that nothing grows if it isn't sown first in the ground. The seeds of truth are lies; when one buries a lie in the dirt, the truth will always sprout from it.
And Moses was on the Mountain forty days and forty nights (Ex. 24:18)
"Not until after forty years does a person fathom the full intent of his teacher" the Talmud tells us. One day "Above" is equal to a year in this world. Moses was on Mount Sinai - "Above" - for exactly forty days and nights. Thus he was able to fully fathom Torah and wholeheartedly accept its obligations.
The National Assembly opened at Wormeise, Germany, on December 15, 1544, when one of the participants proposed to banish the Jews from all parts of Germany for their part in circulating forged coins. All parties at the assembly, both Catholic and Protestant, voted in favor of the proposal.
It appeared that sentence had already been passed against the Jews of Germany when suddenly an unexpected defending counsel appeared. This was the new Director of Trade Guilds in Germany, the Minister Wolfgang Schutzbar, who was highly respected by all the princes and ministers of the government. When the moment came to make the final decision concerning the Jewish problem, he rose from his place and said: "Honored lords and friends, I cannot give my consent to your decision to banish the Jews from Germany. His Majesty the Emperor is not only the Emperor of Germany but also the Holy Roman Emperor. He is the ruler of the whole of Christendom and it is his duty, as such, to permit the Jews to live in the Holy Roman Empire of the German people in memory of that man whom all the Christians regard as their saviour and who was of Jewish seed. Other kingdoms do not resemble the Holy Roman Empire of Germany, which has the duty to suffer the Jews to live in it. Therefore, noble lords, I beg you to let this matter alone, for His Majesty, the Emperor, will not desire or be able to ratify such a decision."
The short words of Minister Wolfgang made a deep impression on those assembled, who listened to him and took back their decision to expel the Jews.
The following day, Rabbi Yosselman of Rotheim, who had been at the Assembly, and the rabbis and lay leaders of the community of Wormeise, went to the house where Minister Wolfgang was lodging. They asked for an audience with the minister. The minister greeted them cordially.
"Sire," began Rabbi Yosselman, "we have come to express our deepest gratitude to you for your gracious speech in favor of our Jewish brethren at the meeting of the National Assembly. Through it you delivered us from a bitter fate. And although it is clear that His Majesty would never have ratified such a decision, for he is gracious to us and protects us, nevertheless such a decision would have caused us many hardships and troubles. We therefore pray you to accept this gift as a token of our gratitude."
"I don't know what you are talking of," said the minister, shrugging his shoulders in astonishment. "Did I make a speech yesterday in favor of the Jews at the National Assembly? Indeed I have already heard the same thing from a number of people. I did not take part in yesterday's meeting at all. Being ill, I was obliged to stay at home. My family and the servants will bear witness that I did not move outside the house yesterday for even a minute."
On hearing these words Rabbi Yosselman and those who accompanied him were dumfounded. "Noble sire," replied Rabbi Yosselman, "Permit me to contradict you. I myself was present during the discussions, and myself saw how you defended my brethren the Jews, how you stated that it was the duty of the Holy Roman Empire to allow the Jews to live within its borders. Sire, have you a twin brother who resembles you in every particular?
"This is all very strange and puzzling," said the minister. "I have no twin, and none of my brothers is at present in Wormeise. The matter must be investigated. Perhaps it was some kind of swindler - but that cannot be. The princes and ministers would have detected a fraud at once. All of them know me well."
Suddenly Rabbi Yosselman's eyes sparkled as if the puzzle had been solved. "Noble lord and my dear brethren," he said. "Know then that G-d performed a great and wondrous miracle for us in His mercy. The Holy One, blessed be He, sent us Elijah the Prophet in the guise of the honored minister who was absent from the meeting to save us from the fate of expulsion. You must know, dear brethren, that such miracles happened of old and are related by our sages in the Talmud. This miracle also proves to you, sire, how great your worth is in the eyes of G-d, for certainly the prophet would not have appeared in the form of an unworthy person.
"Therefore, I pray you, sire, accept this modest gift as an expression of our gratitude." The minister was deeply moved when he took the gift from Rabbi Yosselman. The Jews bade him a warm farewell.
The story spread quickly, making a great impression. People in those days did not believe in miracles easily, but here was a fact that could not be denied. All the princes and representatives of the classes saw and heard Minister Wolfgang making his speech in favor of the Jews. On the other hand, the members of the household bore witness that he had not left his house all that day. There could therefore be no other solution to the puzzle than that proposed by Rabbi Yosselman.
The Torah states regarding slaves, "For six years he shall serve and in the seventh year he shall be set free. (Ex. 21:2) The six years mentioned here hint to the six kingdoms in which the Jewish people "served," i.e. were enslaved: Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Media, Greece and Rome (the "exile" in which we presently find ourselves). Soon we will be "set free" by Moshiach, who will redeem us from our present exile.