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Would you consider turning your yard into a petting zoo complete with a camel, a draft horse, a bull, ponies, two llamas, a yak, a goat, a chicken, a turtle and a boa constrictor? One grandmother did, for the joint first birthday celebration of her two granddaughters. The $1,200 price tag included entertainment, gifts and 102 Dalmations decorations. Or maybe your child would prefer a catered birthday party with a clown, pony rides, a horse and a fountain spewing apple juice?
These are just two examples of birthday parties that, as one psychologist notes, "set up lifelong expectations that might be unrealistic. It is important on birthdays to help a child avoid valuing materialism over family and friends."
In a drive to reinstate good, old-fashioned values and, at the same time, keep expenditures down, many parents are opting to get off the birthday bandwagon while they still can.
So far, so good. But you're probably wondering what birthdays have to do with Judaism. The notion that there's nothing Jewish about birthdays is so prevelant that a prominent and knowledgeable Jewish radio show host and writer recently wrote that there is no inherent meaning in birthdays within Judaism.
The Rebbe initiated an innovative campaign to make birthdays meaningful for both children and adults. (The Rebbe established the campaign in connection with the birthday of his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, on the 25th of Adar - March 16 this year) The Rebbe encouraged people to celebrate their birthdays in the traditional Jewish manner.
Jewish teachings explain that a birthday is a time when mazalo gover - the particular spiritual source of a person's soul shines most powerfully. The Divine energy that was present at the time of your birth is once more present and dynamic on the anniversary of your birth each year.
Therefore, your birthday is a perfect time to enhance the quality of your life in the year to come.
Things you can do on your birthday to get the most out of your soul-power include spending time in self-evaluation, making a positive resolution for the coming year, giving charity, studying Torah, and organizing a birthday party with friends and family. At the gathering make sure to share with friends some of what you learned on your birthday.
After hearing about the Rebbe's suggestions for birthdays, one public school teacher was so taken with this meaningful way to celebrate that she incorporated some of these recommendations into her students' classroom birthday parties. She asked each child to make a positive resolution and to share with the other students something meaningful and valuable they had recently learned.
Celebrate your birthday in a traditional Jewish manner, de-emphasizing the materialism and concentrating instead on family, friends and spiritual growth.
To find our when your birthday falls on the Jewish calendar, call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center or the "Tzivos Hashem Superphone" at (718) 467-7800. You can also visit your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center's website or chabad.org.
This week we read two Torah portions, Vayakhel and Pekudei. Vayakhel describes the construction of the Tabernacle in the desert and its furnishings. Among the detailed instructions of how to make the Tabernacle is the following verse (Ex. 25:18):
"They shall make the stakes of the Tabernacle and the pins of the courtyards and their tying ropes."
Rashi explains that the stakes were inserted into the ground to fasten the edges of the curtains, so that they would not flap because of the wind, and the ropes were used for binding them.
There is a lesson to be derived from this:
The generations that preceded us can be compared to the builders of the Tabernacle itself. Our own generation, the last one before the coming of Moshiach, can be compared to those who tie the edges of the curtains to the stakes in the ground so they will not flap loosely in the wind.
In the overall stature of Israel's history, our generation is the very "heel" - the lowest part of the body - while our predecessors are like the brains, heart and other "higher" parts of the body. Our task and mission is likewise the "last" or "heel" - labor to complete and finish all that is still required to bring about the Messianic redemption. Ours may be the "lowest" task, merely tying down the very edges of the curtains, some rather incidental and external details. Nonetheless, it is just this work that completes the whole job, and it is specifically what we do that will fasten the Tabernacle so that it may stand firm.
We are indeed the "heel"-generation, time-wise and quality-wise, compared to all those before us. This may raise the question: Is the generation worthy? Why should we merit the coming of Moshiach when our ancestors, who were greater saints and scholars then we are, did not? Nonetheless, the fact is that we are the ones who compete the work. The credit and merit, therefore, is attributed to our generation. Our sages thus said that a meritorious deed is attributed to him who does the last part of it and completes it (Sotah 13b).
Moreover, the edges of the curtains were to be tied to the pegs that were fixed in the ground, the earth. This alludes to the very purpose of the Sanctuary, namely, to bring about an indwelling of the Divine Presence in the Tabernacle which was to be a physical abode established specifically here on earth. This, indeed, is the very task and purpose of our generation. We are to draw the Divine Presence all the way down to the very earthiness of this material world, and this will happen with the coming of Moshiach and the ultimate Redemption.
From "Living with Moshiach" adapted by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet from the work of the Rebbe, published by Kehot Publication Society.
Travel Through Jewish Time
by Marla Cohen
Frances Mangan, a teacher at PS 207 in Howard Beach, recently brought 27 first graders, most of them of Hispanic and Italian descent, to the Jewish Children's Museum in Brooklyn.
Greeting them as they stepped out of the elevator was a lifelike model of Abraham, the biblical patriarch, the man who defied idolatry and became the first Jew. Reclining in front of his tent, just as described in the Torah, he smilingly offers hospitality: "Come inside. You must be exhausted from the heat."
A Voyage Through Jewish History, the new exhibit in the Jewish Children's Museum at 792 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, takes visitors on a journey through Jewish time, beginning in Abraham's and Sarah's day, through contemporary times.
Since opening, some 50,000 people a year have been greeted by Abraham as he offers a gateway into the 7,000 square-foot fourth floor tour of Jewish culture and lore.
"It was by far the best trip I have taken any class on, anywhere. The displays and activity were perfectly pitched to children."
Championed by Devorah Halberstam, whose son Ari was murdered in the 1994 Brooklyn Bridge shooting, the Museum is meant to promote tolerance and provide a basic understanding of the Jewish people. As such, it is designated as a cultural institution but its sensibility is clearly suffused with Jewish values.
As 15 pint-sized visitors make their way into Abraham's tent, they encounter Sarah, his wife. She is busy making bread that looks a lot like a pita. The children are encouraged to touch the bread. It is clammy, a bit tacky in texture, as unbaked dough might be.
For these second and third graders from the Chabad Hebrew School of Greenwich visiting on a recent Sunday, the exhibit allowed them to display what they had learned in Hebrew school and add to that knowledge as they played their way through the first two displays on the floor.
"I liked how we came here for Hebrew school," says Stella Maymin, 8, a third grader, who played a matching game involving authentic looking clay pots, learning about the 12 tribes of Israel. "If someone doesn't know something about the religion, it would be good to come here and learn something."
And while Stella didn't know it, that is a large part of the museum's mission. She and her classmates elbowed one another for a chance to play a pachinko-style game that fills the stripes on Joseph's coat with beads of many colors. And as Joseph's journey carries him to Egypt, it scrolls, comic-book style, along the Nile, as the children journey with him.
Approximately 3,000 public school children make this journey with their class annually. And since the museum serves non-Jewish children as well as Jews at all levels of observance, organizers wanted to find ways to reach them all.
"The overall mission of the museum is to impart an appreciation of Jewish culture," says Halberstam. "It brings it together in one place, for all children to gain a perspective of what Judaism is about."
With $5 million in funding from the City of New York, and thousands of years of Jewish history to cover, organizers had to hone in on moments they felt would be meaningful to the children visiting. The results, according to Halberstam, far exceeded her expectations.
"It's rewarding to see it finished and to see the children get involved," says Halberstam. In a rush of excitement she describes her favorite exhibit, David's Harp. High-tech "strings" are actually beams of colored light. Pluck on them, and each one sounds. Run your fingers across them and you can create music. "It's not just a walk through. You can spend quality time on each of the exhibits."
And if the tumult of kids scrambling to be first as they sample the displays and activities is any indication, they love it as much as its founder does. Joseph's story takes them into Egypt, although the multi-media Sinai experience has not yet been completed. Fundraising continues for the project, which will include an amphitheater as well as other multi-media attractions.
Designed by Work With Your Brain, a Croton-on-Hudson company that designs built environments, it is the only Jewish children's museum in this country. When organizers began working on it, they were inventing from the ground up, says Nissen Brenenson, the museum's director of education. "I've worked with design companies, which very often, even if they are doing something new, are following precedent, or another version of something that's been done before.
"Here, because of space constraints, and more importantly, the subject matter, many, if not all the exhibits and the basic design, were new."
Exhibits on other floors are dedicated to Jewish practice and ritual life. A model supermarket, complete with scanners, engages children in games about Kosher. Children can learn about Shabbat and how it is observed; see the days of creation and dress up for Purim.
The fourth floor exhibit demonstrates even more creative approaches to the material. The walls of Jericho come tumbling down - it's a scrolling light box that descends into the floor after the shofars at its base have been blasted enough times. Each shofar is attached to a bicycle-horn bulb, and squeezing each one sounds the various-sized ram horns.
Along the way, children can build the Holy Ark that held the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. A "First Fruits Race" is an arcade game that allows seven children to participate in a water-gun shooting gallery. Each child shoots water at one of the seven species mentioned in the Torah. The winner is the one whose fruit makes it to the top - the Temple in Jerusalem - first.
"It's so amazingly hands-on," says Alice Talmud, principal of the religious school at Temple Beth Israel in Port Washington, a Conservative congregation in Long Island. "It's just fun to explore. They come back happy, feeling involved and connected and talking about their experience," she says of the students.
To read the complete article visit lubavitch.com. Reprinted with permission.
Chabad-Lubavitch of Almere, Holland, recently opened a new Chabad House in this capital city of the province of Flevoland. The new center serves the 1,000 Jews in Almere as well as 1,000 Jews who live throughout the province of Flevoland.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman and Mushka Minkowitz recently moved to Chevy Chase, Maryland, where they are bolstering the Chabad activities in the Chevy Chase/Bethesda area.
Rabbi Rafi and Chaya Brocha Goodwin have moved to Barkingside, Essex, UK. They will be directing programs for young married couples, strengthening synagogue services, offering classes for young people and developing new relationships in the area.
A continuation from the previous issue of a letter dated 16th of Iyar, 5739  to someone instrumental in restoring parts of the Previous Rebbe's library to its rightful owners. In the first half of the letter the Rebbe explained that even inanimate objects contain a "soul."
Applying the above principle in our case - manuscripts and books of the most sublime content, written by Jews whose whole life was dedicated to Torah and the Jewish people and studied with heart and soul, enriching and illuminating Jewish life - clearly their albeit "material" and "inanimate" aspect is imbued with eternal light and life of the highest order.
Thus, when they are in "exile" from their natural environment, from their "home," they are indeed in "exile" and "captivity," however well treated. They are, in a real sense, like Shvuim - people held in captivity - who can never be fully happy even if well provided for with their material, and even spiritual, needs, for they long to return home, to be united with their family and friends and whole milieu in which they belong. This is why Pidyon Shvuim [redeeming captives] in the ordinary sense is such a great Mitzvah [commandment]. Hence, it is impossible to overstate the great Zechus [privilege] that you and your associates in the endeavor have in the "Pidyon Shvuim" of these manuscripts and books.
I am aware that there may be those who may say that these are mystical ideas that should not be taken into account, in consideration, etc. Needless to say, I do not include you and your friends in this category, but you may perhaps come across a person, or persons, who may attempt to argue in this vein, even though inwardly not very convinced. Be it as it may - in light of Jewish experience in our own eventful times, eventful from one extreme to the other, now brilliantly bright, now dismally bleak - I doubt if anyone can truthfully deny the truth of what has been said above on the ground of it being intangible or mystical.
I am pleased about the timing of this letter on the eve of your departure on the second stage of your endeavor to return a further substantial part of this library that are still in "exile."
I trust and am confident that you will not encounter difficulties, since you will be dealing with fellow-Jews, children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, especially those whom Divine Providence has privileged to be the custodians of this part, after it had been pillaged during the war and Holocaust, miraculously survived, until they finally came under that custody of the present guardians, in order to be restored to their rightful owners and rightful home in the true sense of veshovu bonim ligvulom.
Indeed, the Zechus of having taken care of them in the interim will stand them in good stead, and make them even more responsive to their pleasant duty in the realization that they can now complete and bring to the culmination point their guardianship.
Reiterating my heartfelt appreciation of your achievement in the past, I extend to you prayerful wishes for Hatzlocho [success] in your present trip, and all good wishes to your associates in the endeavor, as well as to the esteemed present guardians, who will surely extend to you their kind and fullest cooperation.
The merit of your great mission will certainly stand you and all yours in good stead for additional generous blessings in all your personal affairs, materially and spiritually.
With esteem and blessing,
P.S. In accordance with the time-honored Jewish custom to make one who sets out on journey a "shliach-Mitzvah" [an emissary for a mitzva] in addition to whatever great mission one's journey is connected with, by giving him some money for distribution to Tzedoko [charity] on arrival at his destination, I am taking the liberty of enclosing an amount for Tzedoko to contribute in the Holy Land, and, if not too much trouble, a part of it at the Western Wall.... veshovu bonim ligvulom: "when the sons return to their borders"
26 Adar II
All that is sacred to the nation of the G-d of Avraham and is fundamental to the house of Israel - in establishing and rearing an upright generation, kashrut of food, the sublime pure holiness of Shabbat, was entrusted by awesome and revered G-d - for preservation and development - to the woman of Israel.The woman who fulfills her obligation and destiny in the life of the family, in conducting the home, and in seeing that the education be according to Torah, this woman is the subject of the verse, "The wisdom of women constructed her home."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This week we read the third of the four special Torah portions, Parshat Para. Parshat Para describes the offering of the red heifer (the para aduma) and begins, "This is the decree of the Torah." These words indicate that the significance of the red heifer relates to the Torah and its mitzvot in its entirety.
The mitzva of the red heifer reveals two tendencies in a person's G-dly service: a yearning to cling to G-d, known as "ratzo" and the willingness to carry out G-d's will in this world, known as "shov." These two qualities are fundamental thrusts of Judaism.
The burning of the red heifer with fire represents the an upward thrust - ratzo. Fire is characterized by activity and a constant upward movement. The use of "living water in a vessel" which was combined with the ashes of the red heifer refers to the service of shov, for water naturally flows from above to below. Furthermore, when found on a flat surface, water remains in its place, symbolizing tranquility.
Ratzo and shov are fundamental thrusts in Torah, not merely because of the unity they can bring about within the world, but because these two tendencies reflect positive qualities which must be emulated in our service of G-d. A Jew must possess the quality of ratzo. He must not be content with remaining at his present level, but must always seek to advance further. He must always be "running to fulfill a mitzva." Even though he has reached a high level, he must always seek to attain higher heights.
In contrast, ratzo alone is insufficient and it is necessary to internalize all the new levels one reaches, making sure that they become a part of one's nature. This is reflected in an approach of settledness (shov). It does not, however imply complacency. Rather, the internalization of one level produces the desire to reach higher peaks. After reaching those new peaks, one must work to internalize them, which, in turn produces a desire to reach even higher peaks.
May we all grow in both areas of growth and tranquility, ratzo and shov until we reach the highest height of all and actually greet Moshiach.
Moses gathered all the congregation...and said to them: These are the words which the L-rd has commanded, that you should do them (Ex. 35:1)
As Rashi notes, this gathering took place on the day after Yom Kippur. On the holy day of Yom Kippur, everyone is in awe of G-d, suffused with a sense of peace and brotherly love for his fellow man. Moses gathered the Jews together immediately afterward to teach them that Jewish unity should not be limited to Yom Kippur, but should be felt throughout the year.
This is the thing which the L-rd has commanded to say...whoever is of willing heart, let him bring an offering...gold and silver and bronze (Ex. 35:4-5)
In his Responsa, Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (the Rashba) writes that "it is a mitzva (commandment) to publicize and make known those who do a mitzva." It is therefore incumbent upon us to "say" - announce publicly - the names of whoever donates money for "the thing, which the L-rd has commanded."
Moses called Betzalel and Oholiav, and every wise-hearted man (Ex. 36:2)
Why didn't the "wise-hearted men" come on their own to Moses, and waited until he approached each of them individually? Because a person who is truly wise-hearted doesn't consider himself wise; when Moses issued his call, none of them thought he was talking to them.
Of the hundred talents of silver were cast the sockets of the Sanctuary (Ex. 38:27)
The Hebrew root of the word for socket, "eden," has two meanings: 1) a base or doorsill, and 2) lord and master. Both meanings, however, are interconnected. This is alluded to in Rabbi Meir's statement in the Zohar: "He who is small is great; he who is great is small." A person who is as humble as a "doorsill" is truly noble, while one who lords himself over others and feels superior is truly lowly.
The Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, related this story:
It was Reb Hillel Particher's custom to travel around the villages surrounding Cherson to visit the Jews who lived there. The settlements were comprised of all types of Jews: There were the scholars, who looked forward to Reb Hillel's learned discourses, and there were the simple folk, who understood not a word of his Chasidic teachings. Regardless of their level of learning, however, all of these Jews had been instilled from birth with certain precious Chasidic traits: they loved to do a favor for their fellow Jews; they prayed with true love and fear of G-d; and they lived in general harmony with one another.
Reb Hillel was a man who brimmed over with an overflowing love of his fellow Jews. He was also an extremely humble man. When he looked at even the most simple, uneducated Jew he saw only his pure soul, his neshama shining through; he never focused on the grubby exterior. And when he approached the common people, he never exalted himself over them. It's no wonder that they loved him, too. His arrival was greeted with great excitement in every town and village, and everyone would drop what they were doing to run out to greet him.
Reb Hillel himself was one of the most highly respected Chasidim. On each of his trips, he took the opportunity to explain the lofty ideas expressed in a Chasidic discourse to his listeners. Of course, since Reb Hillel was one of the greatest intellects of the movement, the villagers often comprehended very little of what he said. Once when Reb Hillel arrived in a village, so many people came out to hear him speak that there was no room in the entire village large enough to accommodate everyone. There was no choice but for Reb Hillel to address the crowd outdoors.
The small street was filled to capacity with men, women and children, all waiting in great anticipation for Reb Hillel to begin. As he spoke, Reb Hillel noticed that many in the large crowd were weeping, and it dawned on him that the reason for their tears was that with their very limited education, they were unable to comprehend his words. Their tears bespoke their terrible pain at not being able to understand the profound insights of the Chasidut he was sharing.
When he finished the discourse, Reb Hillel told the people: "To create a letter in a Sefer Torah three things are required: ink, a quill and parchment. If there is no parchment, the letter cannot exist, even if the scribe possesses the finest quill and the best ink. Only when simple Jews, who are compared to the parchment, gather to learn Torah, the Torah scroll can be completed."
Reb Hillel continued, "There are no words to describe the tremendous joy created in the highest heavens when this happens. Now, that you, my dear friends, have come here, the Torah can be completed."
The Previous Rebbe concluded the farbrengen with the words: "The same situation is true for us today. No words can describe the great tumult in heaven as a result of our holy gathering. Not only are our physical bodies participating in this celebration, but our souls are also rejoicing."
Early one morning in the month of Tamuz, the Chasidim of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidism, were gathered for the brit of his newborn son. Everyone knew how important punctuality was to Rabbi Shneur Zalman, and so, by seven o'clock, they had all assembled and were waiting expectantly for the brit to begin. Rabbi Shneur Zalman, however, didn't come as expected, and the hours began to pass. The Chasidim couldn't understand the reason for the delay, and even as the clock struck noon, there was no sign or word from Rabbi Shneur Zalman.
As they waited, the door to the shul opened and in walked a strange looking man. He was attired all in white, and despite the heat of the day, was wearing a fur hat. As soon as the stranger arrived, Rabbi Shneur Zalman also entered and greeted the man with an enthusiastic, "Sholom Aleichem, Reb Betzalel."
The infant was carried in and Rabbi Shneur Zalman gave the stranger the honor of bringing the child to "Elijah's chair." He was also given the honor of giving the baby a bit of wine to taste. The Chasidim were amazed. Who was this man, whom none of them had ever seen? Why had Rabbi Shneur Zalman honored him and even held up brit on his account? There was only one explanation: He had to be a hidden tzadik!
When the excitement had abated, the Chasidim approached the stranger and asked his name. "Betzalel the Shepherd," was all he replied. This curt answer piqued their curiosity, and they decided to try to speak to him later that evening. When they went to speak with him, however, to their bitter disappointment, the man was gone. Still very anxious to discover the stranger's identity, they went to Rabbi Shneur Zalman himself.
"He is indeed a shepherd," Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied to them. "In fact, he has been tending his flock for some 40 years in a small village near Svitzien. Over the years he has committed the entire Talmud to memory - both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds - he even has memorized many commentaries, including Maimonides! But the one accomplishment which has caused his soul to shine as it does is his mastery of the study of Mishnayot, for the letters which compose the word "Mishna" are the same as those which make up the word "neshama," soul. It is his devotion to learning the complete Mishna by heart that has raised him to the greatest spiritual heights."
While in exile, the Jewish people are compated to a rock due to the storms they must weather and also due to their spiritual insensitivity. With the coming redemption, by contrast, G-d promises to remove our heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. In his blessings to his sons before his passing, our Patriarch Jacob states, "From there he sustained the rock of Israel" (Ex. 49:29). This refers to Moshiach, who will emerge and sustain the Jews at the end of their exile, while they are spiritually comprommised and likened to a rock. He will lead them from this tate to the Redemption.
(Ralbag al HaTorah, as quoted in Yalkut Moshiach UGeula by Rabbi Dovid Dubov)