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by Rabbi Yossy Gordon
Years ago, when I was a more avid exerciser, I met a lot of strong people. I am talking about guys that could bench press nearly twice their weight.
The importance of exercise notwithstanding, true strength is not about weights or tests of physical strength or stamina. True strength is the strength within.
A powerful king in search of solitude was once walking down a path when he mistakenly bumped into an old man. After apologizing, the king asked the old man who he was.
"I am a king," answered the old man. "A king?" responded the king in surprise. "Where is your domain? "My domain is myself," answered the old man. "I am the absolute ruler over myself."
So much for strength. What about happiness? I bet many people would forego strength for happiness. Here is the kicker. True strength and true happiness go hand in hand. It is all found in a profound lesson the Rebbe derives from the Jewish month of Adar in which we find ourselves right now.
The names of the Jewish months were remembered by the Jewish People following the end of the Babylonian exile and the rebuilding of the Second Temple in 370 BCE. These names all possess a special element of holiness, as they are part of the very same holy language that G-d used to create the world.
The Talmud instructs us to increase in joy during Adar. As a matter of fact, since things are so bright during Adar, our Sages suggest that anyone who has a court case should try to schedule it during the month of Adar when the Jewish People find particularly good favor in the eyes of G-d.
The word "Adar" literally means might, as the verse in Psalms uses the word "Adir" meaning "mighty" in praise of G-d. During this month of Adar, the Jewish People are endowed with an additional dose of might to be able to combat their challenges successfully.
Utilizing this additional might allows us to be able to transform hardship into success and sadness into joy. This was realized in the year 355 BCE when the miracle of Purim occurred during the month of Adar. The day that had been slated to be a day of wanton murder and destruction of the Jewish People became a day of great joy that continues to be celebrated today.
Our Sages instruct us to "increase" in our joy during this month. This means that the culmination of our joy during the month of Adar has to be at the end of the month. As the days go by, we are to be happier and happier as we use our might more and our challenges gradually decrease into oblivion.
It seems nice, but it is difficult. This is where I will share with you the wisdom I heard from my dear father, may he live and be well gezunterheit, that I often share with others and have proclaimed in this space many times in the past. He once said to me, "Mein kind ("my child" in Yiddish), better to fake joy than to be truthfully sad. Ultimately, the joy becomes genuine because it is always inside of you. Now go reveal it."
Friends, it is the joyous month of Adar so let's rejoice!
May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. Chazak!
- (Back to text) While many maintain that the names are actually taken from the Babylonian tongue, the Rebbe maintains that it is likely that many (if not all of) these names are actually Hebrew, but that the practice of calling months by names instead of their numeric position on the calendar originated in Babylon.
This article is in memory of Schabse Noach ben Moshe o.b.m. Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter.
This week's Torah portion, Ki Tissa, contains one of the most misunderstood occurrences in the Torah - the sin of the Golden Calf. As it appears in the Written Torah (without the accompanying commentary), the entire account is difficult to understand. How could the same Jewish people who had just left Egypt under miraculous circumstances, received the Torah at Mount Sinai amidst open miracles and actually heard the voice of G-d utter the first two of the Ten Commandments, stoop so low as to worship a molten image?
Closer study reveals that the Jewish people were not seeking a substitute for G-d in the golden calf; what they desired was a substitute for Moses, as expressed in the verse, "The people saw that Moses was delayed in coming down ...and they said [to Aaron]: Get up, make us a god...for this man, Moses, who has taken us out of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him."
Without Moses, the Jewish people were in a quandary. Moses was the intermediary that connected them to G-d Above, as it states, "I stand between G-d and you." Moses was the medium through which the Children of Israel were freed from Egypt and through whom they received the Torah, to the point where "the Divine Presence spoke from his throat."
Moses is referred to as "a man of G-d," for despite the fact that he was mortal, Moses existed on a spiritual plane on which he was totally united with the Divine. His function as intermediary between man and G-d served to strengthen the Jews' belief in the Creator, for it is difficult to believe in a G-d one cannot see. When the Jews beheld a human being on such a G-dly level, it strengthened their faith in G-d and connected them to Him in a tangible manner.
In this light, it is easier to understand the mistake they made. When Moses did not reappear at the time they expected him, the Jewish people feared they had lost the ability to bind themselves with the Infinite. They rightly understood that such an intermediary needs to be completely united with G-d; having just witnessed the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, at which G-d descended in a "supernal chariot" bearing the face of an ox, they decided to forge a calf of gold that would closely resemble it.
The Jewish people were correct in recognising the need for an intermediary between man and G-d in the form of a G-dly human being; there was also nothing wrong with their choice of an inanimate object to draw holiness down into this world (G-d's voice would later issue forth from between the cherubim - fashioned in the form of two angels - above the holy ark in the Sanctuary).
Rather, their error was in taking into their own hands a matter which can only be determined by G-d. Only G-d has the authority to decide how His holiness will be transmitted; only He may choose the correct medium.
Adapted from the works of the Rebbe
by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
A number of years ago, I attended the celebration of the circumcision of the eight day old son of good friends, Tamir and Judy Goodman.
Close to a hundred friends and family were at the celebration. In the middle of the festive meal an impeccably dressed, perhaps 60-year-old woman stood up, asked for attention, and began to speak.
She introduced herself as the widow of Israeli Knesset member Professor Avner Shaki, of blessed memory. She began by explaining the reason for her being at the celebration. About a year earlier Tamir had called her home and asked for her husband. When he heard that Dr. Shaki had passed away, he began thanking her profusely, saying repeatedly, "You and your husband saved me!"
Tamir, an observant Jew, had been quite a celebrity in Israel a few years earlier. In high school and university in the U.S. where he was born and raised, he had been such an excellent basketball player that all the games his team played were re-scheduled so as to not fall on the Sabbath; an unheard of precedent.
Then, when he graduated college and the best team in Israel drafted him for a long contract it was in all the papers. He became the darling of the Israeli media and was interviewed countless times in all the newspapers and on television.
But suddenly things changed. Tamir began having trouble with his left knee. He had to sit out many games. The team doctors were pessimistic. The team that brought him to Israel traded him; the future looked dim.The Israeli media that had once adored him began attacking him.
There was no other recourse than to operate. But the experts told him that the chances for success were slim, maybe 5%.
Being a follower of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Tamir decided he needed the Rebbe's advice and blessing. He travelled to the Ohel, the Rebbe's resting place. He wrote a letter and poured out his heart asking whether he should have the operation or not.
Tamir then went into the Chabad House that is located just outside the cemetery. He sat down in the reception room, where a video screen shows thousands of hours of videos of the Rebbe speaking, often to individuals.
Mrs. Shaki continued, "This is why he called to thank me. But I have to first give you some background. In 1963 the Israeli government passed a law that to this day threatens Judaism, the law of 'Who is a Jew.' An officer in the Israeli Navy married a non-Jewish woman from Ireland who underwent a fake conversion and bore him several children. He then brought them all to Israel and wanted the government to register them as Jews. (Until this episode, the Torah definition of who is a Jew, i.e. one born to a Jewish mother or who converted to Judaism according to Torah law, was the Israeli law). The Israeli High Court agreed to change it.
"True their pitiful decision had to be ratified by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, but it was controlled by a leftist coalition who were all for the change.
"This is where my husband of blessed memory, came in. His party, the National Religious Party, was officially part of this 'coalition.' Although they did not support this change, as it was against Torah law and they are a religious party, they were ordered to abstain, which in essence meant to support the change.
"We discussed it and we decided my husband had no recourse other than to follow his party's plan, though it was abhorrent to him. In any case, his one vote would have no real value and if he disobeyed we would lose everything.
"But the night before the vote we received a telephone call from New York. It was the Lubavitcher Rebbe! The Rebbe introduced himself and actually begged my husband to stand up and vote 'no.'
"My husband explained that it would mean the end of his political career. The leftist media would make mincemeat of him. He would almost certainly get expelled from his party. And in any case his vote wouldn't really count -100 votes were against him and the law would go through in any case!
"But the Rebbe replied that someone had to be willing to sacrifice himself for the truth and to sanctify G-d's name.
"We are not Chabad Chassidim. But the next day my husband did it. He stood up, raised his hand and voted against. I don't know if any such thing ever happened in Israeli politics.
"The Israeli media ridiculed him; his fellow party members were blazing mad. They despised him. He made hundreds, if not thousands of political enemies. We were suddenly alone.
"Shortly thereafter we went to New York and visited the Rebbe. When my husband entered the huge synagogue where the Rebbe was speaking to thousands of Chasidim the Rebbe actually stood up for him out of respect. Then afterwards we had a private audience with the Rebbe that was videotaped.
"The Rebbe thanked us for our bravery and he thanked me for supporting my husband. My husband complained of being fired from his party position and the media descending on him. The Rebbe replied: 'Pay no attention to the media. And regarding your job; you are like a professional athlete; you are just taking a step back in order to jump ahead with doubled and redoubled power and success.'
"Sure enough it was just as the Rebbe said. Several years later, my husband was asked by his party to return but this time as its leader. He truly jumped to redoubled success. But we never understood why the Rebbe talked about athletes. After all, my husband was certainly no professional athlete
"Well, about a half a year ago, we found out. Tamir Goodman was sitting in the Chabad House near the Ohel wondering about his operation, when suddenly the video of our audience appeared on the screen before him with the Rebbe saying: 'Pay no attention to the media. You are like a professional athlete; taking a step back in order to jump ahead with doubled and redoubled power and success.'
"The words perfectly fit his predicament. The Rebbe was encouraging him. He returned to Israel, had the operation, and despite the reservations of the surgeon who operated, it was, thank G-d, a complete and miraculous success! That is why he called to thank us and that is why I'm here at this simcha!"
Rabbi Tuvia Bolton lives in Kfar Chabad, Israel, and is the director of Ohr Tmimim yeshiva. He is a teacher, musician and storyteller.
My Favorite Jewish Bedtime Stories
This delightful collection of classic tales and parables drawn from Jewish lore and tradition will entertain all ages, while teaching universal ethics and morals. Transcribed from stories told by Rabbi Yosef "Uncle Yossi" Goldstein and beautifully illustrated. Published by Jewish Learning Group.
Matza Balls for The Soul
Matza Balls for The Soul: Stories Revealing The Mystery of Jewish Power, by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton, contains stories that evoke the faith, joy, ingenuity and miracles that have kept Judaism and the Jewish people powerfully alive for thousands of years. Available as a kindle book.
16th of Iyar, 5739 
This letter has been long overdue, especially considering its subject matter. But it is also the subject matter of this letter, more precisely the emotional aspect of it, that is the prime reason for the delay. For it is not easy to express in words, much less in writing, very deep personal feelings, and I kept on delaying it for a calmer disposition. However, since these feelings have not subsided, there is no point for further procrastination.
I refer, of course, to your truly Yiddisher [Jewish] endeavor in the matter of restitution of the manuscripts and books that belong to the Library of my predecessor, my father-in-law of saintly memory, which you initiated with the help of friends, and have already had considerable success in regard to a substantial part of them, having them restored to their rightful place and "home."
As you know, this Schneerson Library included not only a collection which my saintly father-in-law had acquired person-ally during his lifetime, but mainly manuscripts and books that were the legacy of his saintly forebears, some of them going back to the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman], Founder of Chabad.
There is surely no need to elaborate on what these manuscripts and books meant to him, as to all the Lubavitcher Rebbes before him. He had a very special, profound and soulful attachment to them, over and above his attachment to books and manuscripts of similar sacred content. And many of them represent the heart and soul of the sacred Chabad literature.
You can therefore well understand how deeply moved I was, and will always be, and the feelings of all the friends of Lubavitch about your great and noble endeavor in volunteering your time and effort and prestige to "bring home" these sacred manuscripts and books. It is truly a case of Pidyon Shvuim [redemption of captives], since only by being at home can these spiritual treasures resume their full vitality, not only for the benefit of those who are directly associated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, but also for the benefit of all our Jewish people through the dissemination of the teachings of Chabad Chassidus and Pnimius Hatorah [the inner teachings of Torah].
If "the reward of a Mitzvah [commandment] is the Mitzvah itself" and requires no human "thank you," your noble endeavor clearly transcends any expression of gratitude. Nevertheless, I am impelled to express, however inadequately, in my own behalf, and in behalf of the movement which I am privileged to head, as well as in behalf of all who have an actual or potential stake in this matter - our gratification and heartfelt appreciation.
Permit me to add a further point, by way of a deeper insight into the subject at hand. This, too, is based on the teachings of Chabad, which with all its philosophy is a part of our Torah, Toras Emes [Torah of Truth] and Toras Chaim [Torah of Life]. This calls for a foreword, and, to put it briefly:
One of the fundamental doctrines of Chabad, which the Alter Rebbe expounds in, among other sources, the Shaar haYichud veHoemunah section of his basic opus, the Tanya, is that in every thing, even in inanimate material objects, there is a "soul," or a vital spiritual core. To quote from the first chapter of the abovementioned section:
[Quoted in Hebrew in original letter] "Even in inanimate objects such as stones, earth and water, there is a soul and spiritual sustenance."
Of course, there are gradations in this spiritual soul. There is, to begin with, a plain material object that simply by the fact of being a created thing, contains a "spark" of the Divine Creative Force that keeps it in existence; on a higher level, there is a material object which has served a good purpose; higher still - an object that is used in the performance of a Mitzvah. It is explained in Chabad [Chassidus] that when an ordinary material thing is used for a good purpose, especially in the performance of a Mitzvah, it undergoes a "refinement" and "spiritualization," to the extent of becoming a Dovor Shebikedusho [a holy object] (e.g. Tefillin made from leather and parchment).
continued in next issue
16 Adar I
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism said: The offerings for the Sanctuary included gold, silver and copper, but nothing sparkled except for the mirrors presented by the women. From these mirrors were fashioned the washbasin and its base. These were the last of the Sanctuary articles to be made, but were used at the start of every Sanctuary service (for laving by the priests) - for their beginning is implanted in their end.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week's Haftara reading is about the meeting between the wicked King Achav and Elijah the prophet. We read the words "Elijah went to appear before Achav."
There are many stories of Elijah the Prophet appearing at different times and ages. And I am reminded of one such story of the Baal Shem Tov.
The Baal Shem Tov's students constantly begged him to show them the Prophet Elijah until he finally agreed. One Friday afternoon, as was their custom, the disciples were hearing words of Torah from the Baal Shem Tov. Suddenly he said, "I would like to smoke a pipe."
The Baal Shem Tov's disciples ran around looking for someone willing to lend a pipe, knowing that even the most mundane act of their Rebbe had spiritual ramifications. They returned, however, empty-handed. The Baal Shem Tov looked up and saw a Polish squire walking nearby. He asked his students if they would see if the squire was willing to lend his pipe.
The students approached the squire, and not only was he willing, but he walked over to the Baal Shem Tov to give it to him personally. The squire proceeded to light the pipe, and while the Baal Shem Tov smoked, they discussed the year's harvest, whether there would be enough grain, etc. The Baal Shem Tov's disciples, in the mean time, took no notice of the squire and discussed the teachings of their Rebbe.
After the squire left, the Baal Shem Tov declared, "I have kept my promise. I have shown you Elijah."
The disciples were shocked. "If you had told us it was Elijah, we could have asked him to teach us."
"If you had understood and asked who it was, I would have been permitted to reveal him to you. But since you did not understand, I could not do so."
As we continue to pray for Moshiach; to perform additional acts of kindness to hasten his arrival; to study about Moshiach and the Messianic Era; let us learn from the Baal Shem Tov's students by being ready to recognize Moshiach when he is revealed.
And they rose up early the next day, and offered burnt-offerings and brought near peace-offerings, and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to make merry (Ex. 32:6)
Such is the progression when a Jew abandons his true faith in G-d and replaces it with a foreign ideology: In the first stage, the Jew is more than willing to bring sacrifices and offerings on behalf of his new dogma. In the second, he looks for the personal benefit it will bring him. The third stage, however, is the lowest of them all: utter licentiousness and immoral behavior.
This shall they give...half a shekel, after the shekel of the Sanctuary (Ex. 30:13)
Why did G-d command the Jews to give half a shekel and not a whole one? To show that by himself, the Jew is only "half" and thus incomplete - the other half consisting of either G-d Himself or another Jew. Both interpretations, however, are interdependent one on the other.
And the people assembled themselves together around Aaron, and said to him: Get up, make us gods (Ex. 32:1)
Why did they ask this of Aaron instead of just appointing him in Moses' stead? The answer is that Aaron, "the pursuer of peace," was too close to the people for them to consider him as their leader. Too much familiarity makes it impossible for people to feel the proper respect for their leaders.
(Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorka)
And the Children of Israel shall keep (veshamru) the Shabbat (Ex. 31:16)
Keeping Shabbat means much more than just refraining from certain kinds of work; the Hebrew root shin-mem-reish also implies waiting in anticipation and looking forward to something. The Torah teaches that rather than being considered a burden, Shabbat should be eagerly awaited and longed for each day of the week.
As a child, the great Torah scholar, Reb Avraham of Sochatchov, was the pupil of his great father, Reb Zev Nachum of Biala. One day his father asked him a particularly difficult question about the Talmudic text they were studying.
The child, who was endowed with a brilliant mind, saw the solution to the question at once and didn't lose a moment in proving the answer.
His father, a scholar of note, rejected his son's answer, which seemed to have popped out of the child's mouth before he had a chance to properly reflect on its profundity.
Reb Zev Nachum gave the boy a light tap on his cheek and said, "You will have to overcome your habit of answering so quickly before you have thought through the question."
Many years went by and one day Reb Avraham, now an established scholar of great repute was summoned to his father's sick bed. Reb Zev Nachum reminded his son about that incident which had occurred so many years ago and said, "You know, after that happened I again looked into the commentaries on that particular passage. In my study, I discovered that the interpretation which you gave was perfectly correct. I had wanted to apologize to you at the time, but I was afraid lest you become too conceited about your intellect, and I restrained myself. I have thought about it all these years."
Reb Avraham smiled at his father. "I, too, have thought about that incident many times over the years, and I, too, wanted to speak to you about it. I knew at the time that my analysis of the problem was correct and that I was punished unjustly. I forgave you immediately, but because of the mitzva of honoring one's father, I restrained myself from uttering a word about it."
Late one winter night a group of scholarly visitors arrived at the home of Reb Simcha Bunem of Pshischah. At the time, he was a small child of five years old. They had come to pay their respects to his father, the Rabbi of Viedislav.
While they were enjoying their meal, the rabbi called his little son. "Come, my boy. I would like you to go and prepare for us an interesting and unusual interpretation of the laws of hospitality.
The child took to his heels and quickly disappeared. After a short time had passed, the boy reappeared.
"Well, my son, what surprise have you prepared for us?" The child already had the reputation of a prodigy, and the distinguished guests were anxiously awaiting his new Torah delights. Simcha Bunem respectfully requested that they all follow him.
They all rose and followed the rabbi. Their surprise was evident when they entered the next room and saw a truly original interpretation of the laws in question. There, neatly arranged, was a bed, complete with clean linens and a fluffed up pillow for each guest!
Reb Meir was a successful businessman and a chasid of Rebbe Mordechai of Lechovitch. His partner and friend was Reb Gershon, who was not a chasid. Reb Meir never gave up inviting his partner to accompany him to his Rebbe's court, and Reb Gershon never weakened in his refusal to come.
One time, however, business necessitated that they both be in the town of Lechovitch at the same time, and Reb Gershon finally gave way and accompanied Reb Meir to the Rebbe.
When they arrived, the Rebbe was seated at his table. Reb Gershon, contrary to his expectation, was fascinated by what he saw and emerged greatly excited.
"What is it that has excited you so much?" Reb Meir asked. His partner replied, "I saw that the Rebbe eats in such holiness that his very eating resembles the service of the High Priest in the Holy Temple." The chasid was very hurt and disappointed by his friend's reply and he brought his complaint to the Rebbe.
"Rebbe, why should it be that on his first visit, Reb Gerhson, who has refused to even come to see you for many years, has the privilege of perceiving you in a way in which I, who always come, am not able to see?"
The Rebbe replied, "He is not a chasid, and he must see with his eyes. You, however, are a chasid, and you have to believe."
Joseph had two sons, Menashe and Efraim. These two sons represent the dual approach of every Jew in exile. The Torah tells us that Menashe's name implies Joseph's deep longing for his father's home. A Jew must always feel out of place in exile and strive to transcend its darkness. The name Efraim, by contrast, indicates Joseph's vast success in dealing with his surroundings in exile. Our ultimate goal is not only to work on personally transcending exile, but rather, to reach out and transform our srroundings until the darkness itself shines as light, turning exile into redemption.
(The Rebbe, as quoted in Yalkut Moshiach UGeula by Rabbi Dovid Dubov)