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by Rabbi Uriel Vigler
My five-year-old son likes to climb onto the kitchen counter and hang out there. Each time he does it, I take him down and explain that he could hurt himself. But no matter how many times I tell him it's dangerous, the very next day (or next hour!) he's climbs right back up.
Until this week.
You see, last week, when he climbed onto the counter, he actually fell and hurt himself. Since then, he hasn't done it. And it's pretty easy to understand why.
When I explain the dangers, he hears, but doesn't listen. He doesn't absorb and internalize what I'm saying. But when he actually falls and experiences the danger, now he understands.
In truth, we are all like my little five-year-old.
I had lunch with a group of four people last week, and they asked me to share some words of Torah. I spoke about gossip and explained that gossip is considered as severe as the three cardinal sins - murder, idolatry and adultery. We discussed the topic for close to 20 minutes.
Shockingly, just minutes later one of the people started sharing a juicy story about someone in his community, and they gossiped for the next 40 minutes. I couldn't understand it. We'd just finished discussing the severity of gossip, yet here they are gossping?
When I was in yeshiva, my mentor, Rabbi Zalman Gopin, often said, "If you come to hear you will not be affected, but if you come to listen you will absorb."
That's what happened at the lunch. Everyone heard, but no one listened. They didn't internalize it. It's natural. We hear hundreds of conversations daily, but we don't actively listen and internalize most of them.
But Judaism is different. It needs to be absorbed. When we hear words of Torah, we need to absorb what we are hearing. We need to actively listen and contemplate. Only then, can we truly understand and internalize what we have learned.
In two weeks we will be celebrating the beautiful, joyous holiday of Passover - the time of our freedom. When we sit at the Seder, we're not just marking a historical event that occurred over 3000 years ago. We're experiencing and celebrating our current freedom in the 21st century.
When we sit at the Seder in two weeks, and recite the entire Hagada, let's make sure we actively listen so we can absorb its messages. Let's experience modern-day freedom, liberated from all enslavement, physical and spiritual.
We are instructed, "Remember the day that you left Egypt every single day of your life."
Don't just hear these words, listen to them!
May we celebrate together, in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Vigler co-directs Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side in Manhattan with his wife Shevy. From Rabbi Vigler's blog at www.chabadic.com
This week's Torah portion, Vayikra, which begins the book of Leviticus, deals with the service of offerings and sacrifices which were brought in the Sanctuary and the Holy Temples. Although today we cannot bring physical sacrifices, the Torah Is eternal and applies in any day and age. In fact, each Jew is likened to a sanctuary, whose purpose is likewise to bring G-dliness Into the world. We may therefore apply the lessons we learn from these offerings to guide us in our own worship of G-d.
The "tamid" (perpetual) offering was the foundation of the entire daily service, for it was the first to be offered in the morning and the last one to be brought at the end of the day. The tamid was relatively inexpensive, consisting of a lamb, a little oil, and some flour and salt. The tamid was not brought by individuals, but rather, all Jews contributed a small amount of money every year with which to buy the necessary items. This offering brought down G-d's blessings for all Jews, wherever they might live.
We learn from this that G-d does not require us to give up all of our material possessions without leaving anything for our own use. What is required, however, is that whatever we do offer, must be given wholeheartedly and with sincerity. Quality is more important than quantity, and our service of G-d should be conducted with joy and enthusiasm.
Another lesson to be learned is that although the tamid was offered only twice each day, it was called a "perpetual" offering because its influence was felt throughout the rest of the day.
The same is true in our own lives. Most of our daily tasks are devoted to necessary and mundane matters, and we are often too busy to sit and contemplate G-dliness a whole day long. That is why, as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, we bring our own "perpetual offering," to express the same utter devotion and dedication to G-d that was expressed by the tamid: "Modeh ani lefanecha, Melech chai ve'kayam, sh'hechezarta bi nishmati b'chemla rabba emunatecha - I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for having compassionately restored my soul in me. Great is Your faithfulness." With this declaration, we not only thank G-d for having restored our soul, but designate Him as our King, whose sovereignty we willing accept.
The recitation of "Modeh Ani," the saying of which takes only a moment, sets the proper tone for the rest of the day. Thus do we bring our own tamid offering even today, enabling us to remain connected to G-dliness even when occupied with our daily affairs, and ensuring that all our endeavors will be blessed with success.
by Blair Donner
It felt like starting from scratch. I had just arrived at my dorm room and my first day at Rutgers University was going to start tomorrow. My family had just left. My roommate had yet to arrive. My friends were all many miles away. I had almost no connections and I vaguely recognized only a handful of Rutgers students who went to my high school. Never in these moments did it occur to me that the Rutgers Chabad House would become so integral to my time at this new institution.
The usual questions of a transfer student plagued my mind. Will I be able to make friends? What are the professors like? And, of course, how in the world does the bus system work? I had come from a small private school near my hometown. Before I had been able to visit almost every weekend. Now I lived on a campus much too far away to go back anytime soon.
I initially tried to adjust by focusing on one goal: enhancing my own future career. Extracurricular activities, bustling career fairs, and resume reviews all captured my interest. I desired success, and was amazed at the opportunities Rutgers offered. However, internally I realized I felt a bit empty. I was only worried about myself, about pursuing my ambitions. Just like poison, such a mindset was making me selfish. Perhaps, it's not necessarily bad to have dreams, but only chasing after one's own individual prosperity can be dangerous.
That's when an invitation from a new friend to attend the Shabbat dinner at the Chabad House in Rutgers changed the entire course of my adjustment this semester. I knew what was entailed in a Shabbat celebration, after all I had come from a Jewish background. Unfortunately, a connection with this identity had faded over the years. Holidays and customs we had traditionally observed in my youth were now no longer practiced by my household. Reflecting on the rich sense of community embedded in the essence of such a celebration made me nostalgic. I decided to accept the invitation.
I tentatively entered into the Chabad House that evening. Almost immediately, I was warmly welcomed by the Rabbis, students, and others guests. As we gathered around the tables to begin the evening's prayers, I noticed a few non-Jewish guests attending as well. Apparently, it was their first Shabbat. As we sung blessings over the wine, Challah, and shared stories from the Torah watching these students enjoy a Shabbat experience for the first time moved me. I reflected how this Jewish custom unifies people. That Shabbat dinner was a sharp reminder; life isn't just about finding another experience to slap on a resume. Truly, community and traditions are also of great importance.
After the jokes and celebration of the evening passed, I knew I wanted to become more involved with the Rutgers Chabad House. I quickly learned that there are events held almost daily including classes on Judaism, celebrations, and volunteer opportunities. Personally, I took an interest in service, and now am very grateful for the chance to serve specialized children at the Robin Wood Johnson Hospital along with my new friends. As a transfer student, it had been hard to find such a warm and inviting community on campus, but now I was starting to find my place.
Ultimately, experience in the Chabad House has added something deeper to my time at Rutgers. Participating in its affable culture and community have enabled me to mature my understanding of the greater purpose of every individual towards the betterment of society. Being a transfer has had to take patience. Even though a new environment can be exciting, it can also be lonely, confusing, and frustrating. Attending the Chabad House is an escape from the chaotic cacophony of each day at this new school. Without this solid foundation I definitely would not have been able to reconnect with Judaism, and I most certainly would not be the same Rutgers student.
The Hyper-Modern Ancient
With-It Traditional Haggadah
The Hyper-Haggadah by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman is designed to make sense to the modern mind without compromising any of the tradition. Organized so clearly as to bring out the structure and flow of the seder, the translation is in the language we speak. And the illustrations make it yet more relevant to our modem world. Rabbi Freeman is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth; Men, Women & Kabbalah, the creator of KabbalaToons and the director of Chabad.org's Ask The Rabbi.
If I Went to the Moon
In this whimsical picture book written by Sara Blau, a young boy enjoys an afternoon of creative play, imagining the many supplies he'd need for a trip to the moon.. As he packs and prepares, our hero realizes how hard it would be to do mitzvot in a place that has nothing but what he can bring along. If I Went to the Moon will inspire boys and girls to do mitzvot with joy and appreciation, right here on Earth! Laminated pages from HaChai Publishing.
15 Elul 5744 
Sholom uBrocho [Peace and Blessing].
Your letter of Aug. 25 reached me with some delay. In it you write about your son's desire to transfer to a yeshiva of his choice to upgrade his Torah education, but that you did not approve of it for reasons cited in your letter.
Incidentally, among the letters that came with yours, there was a letter from a parent about a son wanting to transfer to a yeshiva where the atmosphere of yiras shomayim [fear of Heaven] is less strict; also a letter from other parents seeking advice on how to deal with their son who wants to leave his religious education altogether. Thus, your letter was exceptional.
There is surely no need to point out to you that, regrettably, in this day and age, the forces of non-religious, or minimal religious education, are far greater than those pulling in the opposite direction.
Considering the pressures of the environment on the young generation (which, for various reasons, are more difficult to resist in our Holy Land), I hope you will agree with me that far from being upset by Zvi's desire to upgrade his Torah education, you ought to thank G-d every day for having been blessed with a son whose greatest desire is to deepen and advance his Torah education in the fullest possible measure.
The above is, of course, in addition to a clear psak-din [ruling] in the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] to the effect that "one should always learn Torah in the place his heart desires."
I am certain that if you review the situation calmly, you will come to the same conclusion, namely, that you should indeed be truly grateful to Hashem for Zvi's determined resolve, and, moreover, should encourage him in it.
It being the month of Elul, it is especially inappropriate to speak, or even think, anything but good about fellow Jews, particularly those living in Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel]. Nevertheless, when it concerns a most important decision, one must not close one's eyes to the reality of the situation. And the reality is that our youngsters and adolescents in the Holy Land nowadays have to face extraordinary tests and trials; and that the trend - there as well as in the world at large - has not been totally in the direction of a growing commitment to ol malchus shomayim [Heavenly yoke].
It is therefore necessary to consider not only the status quo, but also what the situation may be next year, and the year after. Hence, even if the status quo were satisfactory, an extra measure of immunization and resistance capacity must be built up ahead of time. This is particularly essential in the teenage years, when the foundation is laid for the whole life ahead.
Be it remembered that even a Tsaddik gamur [completely righteous person] prays in the beginning of the day throughout his lifetime: al tvienu lidei nisayon - to not lead yourself to temptation.
Since these days of Elul are especially auspicious for a bracha [blessing], I can confidently extend to you the bracha that if Zvi will follow the path he has chosen, you will certainly have much true nachas [joy] from him in every respect, and much sooner than you expect.
To conclude on the concluding remark of your letter referring to our meeting in 1970 in connection with your planned aliyah [immigration to Israel] - I will add the prayerful wish that you should continue the "aliyah" process in all aspects relevant to your living in the Holy Land, in keeping with a steady advancement of yalchu mechayil el chayil - from strength to strength and from good to better and better, including also growing nachas from Zvi and from all your offspring.
Wishing you and all of yours... [to be sealed for a good sweet year, both materially and spiritually].
P.S. I did not wish the following remarks to intrude in the letter itself, though relevant to the subject matter. Hence the P.S.
I trust you remember our meeting and conversation as clearly as I do. You will recall your pessimistic view of the world situation at that time, and of the USA in particular, although at that time there was not as yet any talk of nuclear annihilation, but only of atomic bombs, etc. Yet you felt impelled to leave the USA.
Since then, many years have elapsed and, thank G-d, your pessimism has turned out to be entirely unfounded.
I mention this here, not, of course, by way of saying "I told you so," but to support my conviction that your present "pessimism" regarding Zvi - if he should not change his decision (which accords with the Shulchan Aruch) - is likewise entirely unfounded. On the contrary, the fullest optimism and expectation are warranted that you will have from him the maximum amount of true Yiddish nachas, and will be glad in retrospect that you did not stand in his way, but, indeed, encouraged him.
Rabbi Shmuel commented on the saying, "The place of man does not honor him; rather man honors his place." The term, "kavod," "honor," has two implications. One is "kaveid," "liver," as in, "Pharaoh's heart is kaveid ("heavy"), and the Sages comment, "His heart became like a liver," (cold, insensitive). The other meaning is kavod, "honor," signifying the revelation of a supernal encompassing illumination. "The place of man does not honor him": Place (and circumstances) do not make him cold and insensitive. Rather, "Man honors his place," man has the capacity and the power to illuminate his environment ("place") with the light of Torah and mitzvot.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Shabbat is Rosh Chodesh Nissan. On this Shabbat we read the special portion called "Parshat HaChodesh," beginnning with the words, "This month will be for you the head of the months."
This refers to the month of Nisan, known as the "month of our Redemption," for in the month of Nisan we were redeemed from Egypt. In addition, our Sages interpret the words, "this month will be for you - for your Redemption."
There is a very beautiful description in Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov's work, "The Book of our Heritage" about the concept of redemption: "The word 'redemption' applies only when one emerges from darkness into light. One who has never experienced the suffering of bondage and oppression cannot appreciate redemption. The very essence of redemption is the freedom which comes from the oppression itself. Had the Children of Israel never been enslaved, they would never have experienced true freedom. Once they were enslaved, the slavery itself gave rise to the redemption and from the midst of the darkness, and only from that darkness, the light burst forth. Thus said our Sages: The Israelites said to the Holy One, 'When will you deliver us?' G-d answered, 'When you will have reached the lowest depths, at that moment I will redeem you.'
"The future redemption will also burst forth from the midst of darkness. At the very moment when every heart trembles at the point of despair, the glory of G-d will shine forth. And when will that moment be? In the month of Nisan, for G-d has appointed it as a time of redemption. Every misfortune which befalls Israel during this month is nothing else but an assurance that the deliverance is about to begin.
"When G-d chose the Jewish people as His nation He established for them a month of redemption, a month in which the Jewish people would be redeemed from Egypt, a month in which they are destined to be redeemed in the future."
May we merit the true and complete redemption of the entire world even before the beginning of the "Month of Redemption."
If his offering is a burnt offering from cattle (Lev. 1:3)
Three types of burnt-offerings may be brought upon the altar: cattle, sheep, and fowl. A wealthy person is self-assured and prideful, and therefore most likely to sin. For this reason he must bring the largest and most expensive offering, "from the cattle." A less affluent person, less likely to sin, fulfills his obligation by offering a sheep. But the poor man, who is already humbled by his poverty, need only bring "of the fowl," the least costly type of offering.
Because thought always precedes deed, the burnt-sacrifice, brought to atone for evil intentions, is listed first in the order of offerings. "That which was created last arose in the mind first."
If any one of you bring an offering to G-d (Lev. 1:2)
Chasidic philosophy interprets this verse to mean that the personal offering each one of us brings to G-d must truly be "of us," from our innermost part. Yet a person might hesitate, thinking that a mere mortal can never bridge the gap between the finite and infinite. We must therefore remember that our relationship with G-d is, in actuality, dependent only on our initiative. Once that initiative is taken, nothing can stand in the way of communion between man and G-d.
(The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe)
With all your sacrifices you should offer salt (Lev. 2:13)
The sacrifices are symbolic of the revealed part of Torah, which is likened to meat; the salt alludes to the esoteric part of Torah that deals with more abstract and spiritual matters. Just as salt preserves meat in the literal sense, so too does learning the innermost aspects of Torah ensure that the revealed part will remain preserved.
Once at a Chasidic gathering, Rabbi Avraham Zaltzman told a story about his yeshiva days in the town of Lubavitch nearly a century ago:
I was only 12 - but so wild and uncontrollable that I simply couldn't sit and study Torah. So what happened? I, along with two other boys of similar nature, was given various odd jobs to keep myself busy in positive ways.
One of these jobs was to milk a few goats at a nearby farm and supply milk to the pupils. But this too became boring. So one terrible day, desperate for some fun, my friends and I somehow managed to get one of the goats to drink vodka, led the intoxicated animal to the entrance of the large study hall where all the pupils were immersed in Talmudic study, and pushed it in.
The goat, totally oblivious to the holiness of the place, jumped onto tables, knocked over several rabbis, and scattered books and papers in all directions. It was hours before the studies could be restored and, of course, it was no secret who was to blame.
The three of us were summoned to the principal Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Shneersohn (son of the Rebbe Rashab - Shalom Dovber Shneersohn, fifth Rebbe of Chabad and founder of the yeshiva), where we were ordered to pack up our belongings and leave. With no other choice we did as we were told, and several hours later were waiting in the train station at the nearby city of Rodna, suitcases in hand, to return to our homes.
But suddenly I turned to my friends and said, "What are we doing? We can't leave! We must go back and plead for mercy!"
But the others just shook their heads. "It won't work," one answered. "Didn't you see the look on the principal's face? He doesn't want to see us again. We're finished!" The other boy agreed. But I wouldn't give up. Before the train arrived I managed to convince one of the boys to come back with me and give it a try.
We said good-bye to our third friend and trudged back to Lubavitch with no real idea what our next step was, but I was determined not to go down without a fight. We couldn't go back to the principal; he was too angry. And the Rebbe, the principal's father, also wasn't the one to approach; he would never override his son's decision, especially in this situation.
Our only chance, we decided, was the principal's grandmother, Rebbetzin Rivkah. She had a wonderful, warm heart and was a mother for all the boys in the yeshiva. She cooked, sewed, and washed for them as well as tended to them in times of illness and need. Maybe she could help.
We went to her house and knocked on the door. When she answered, I poured out my heart.When I was done, her answer was to the point. "I can't go against the decision of my grandson; he's the principal. The only one who might be able to do that is my son, the Rebbe. But I can't talk to him about this either. I simply can't mix in."
Then she brightened. "But, what I can do is this: every morning at ten my son sits in his room and drinks a cup of tea. Come tomorrow morning and I'll show you where the room is . . . . but you will have to do the talking."
My friend and I found some place to sleep that night and the next morning I reported to the Rebbetzin while my friend, who was simply too afraid, waited outside. She let me in, pointed me to the room, whispered "Good luck," and watched as I bravely approached the door.
The door was open. When the Rebbe saw me standing there he looked up, stared at me for a moment, and asked what I wanted. "I want to learn in Lubavitch." I was almost crying.
"Lubavitch?" The Rebbe smiled, motioning me to come closer. "But there are so many other good yeshivas! Slobodka, Navordek," and he rattled off all the other Torah academies, about 20 of them, in the area.
"But I want to learn here!" I whined.
The Rebbe smiled at my reaction, and when I saw the smile I began to cry. This in turn made the Rebbe laugh, which made me cry even harder.
Suddenly the Rebbe became serious. "We will think about it. Come back later today."
I backed away, sniffling and wiping my eyes with my sleeve. Suddenly I stopped, took two steps forward which put me back in the entrance of the room, and just stood there, staring sheepishly at the floor. "Nu? What do you want now?" the Rebbe asked.
"Uh, I have a friend," I answered. "He's waiting outside."
The Rebbe leaned back thoughtfully. "A friend, is it? Well, we will think about him also. Come back in a few hours."
Well, the story has a happy ending. We returned to the Rebbe a few hours later. The Rebbe took us into his son's office to speak to Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, said a few words, and left.
His son imposed a stiff fine: we had to learn tens of pages of Talmud and Chassidut by heart. Nevertheless, he accepted us back in!
And that's the story - how my broken heart got me back into yeshiva.
Rabbi Mendel Futerfas, a well-known Chasid, was also present at this gathering, and he commented:
"Tell me, what made the Rebbe accept you back into the yeshiva?"
"That's the point of the story," explained Rabbi Zaltzman. "Because I wanted so much to learn in Lubavitch that I actually wept! That's how much a person should want to study Torah and Chasidic teachings; that his heart is breaking!"
"Nope!" said Reb Mendel. "Your broken heart is not what got you back into Lubavitch. The reason the Rebbe took you back was because you worried for your friend. You thought of another Jew. That's why he took you back. Because of your brotherly love!"
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine
Regarding the final redemption, Isaiah states, "You will not leave in haste." Why is this so? The Tanya describes haste in the service of G-d as a virtue. Surely the final redemption will be associated with haste! However, alacrity is virtuous only when preparating for a mitzva, while the actual mitzva must be performed patiently and with full concentration. This quality was lacking at the Exodus. Not only did the Jews hurry through their preparations, as the Torah states, "You shall eat it [the Passover sacrifice] in haste," but the actual Exodus was also in haste. Our efforts to prepare for the final redemption must be done with the greatest speed, joy, and enthusiasm, but the actual redemption will be unhurried, so that we can fully experience the mitzva itself.