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Caps and gowns, diplomas, speeches. Get past the ceremony and what is most associated with graduation? For many it is the thought of summer vacation or having graduated, i.e., being finished with school altogether.
And yet, the graduation ceremony - usually replete with cap and gowns, diplomas, speeches and celebrations - is called "commencement" synonymous with beginning, start, opening, outset, onset, launch, initiation, inception.
Graduation, then, connotes that one is beginning a different level of education or a new aspect of life.
In Judaism, the perfect example that the end is tied up with a new beginning is shown by the fact that immediately upon finishing reading the Torah on Simchat Torah, we commence, once again, to read it from the beginning. This teaches us, among other things, that there is always more Torah one can learn.
Many of us put Jewish education for our children at the end of a long list of extra-curricular activities that includes swimming lessons, little league practice, studying a foreign language, a musical instrument, play-dates and more. By the time a young person is dating and begins bringing home non-Jewish boyfriends and girlfriends, we realize that we should have been a little more serious about giving them a Jewish education sooner.
When is the appropriate time to "commence" a child's Jewish education? Before the child is even born! Today, we know that good nutrition, exercise and abstinence from chemical substances can have a positive affect on the unborn child. Studies even show that the mother's mood or mental state can have a bearing on the child's later development.
From earliest times, there have been examples in Jewish history of mothers taking their unborn child's spiritual health very seriously. The mothers of many of our greatest sages stationed themselves near yeshivas so their unborn children would be able to hear Torah being studied, or they studied Torah themselves especially diligently during pregnancy.
Once a Jewish child is born, his senses can be stimulated Jewishly. Music, mobiles, books, blocks, even videos are available in a Jewish genre. Just as quickly as a two-year-old can memorize a nursery rhyme, she can learn the Shema prayer; and the newly developing spark of Jewishness will continue to grow and expand.
By fostering a Jewish environment in the home, and sending the child to a school where he will be enthused with a true-Jewish spirit, the spark can be fanned into a flame of Jewish pride, age-old tradition, and lifelong values.
But don't despair: One of the most magnificent concepts in Judaism is that it is never too late. Truly, we never graduate from Judaism; each new beginning is indeed, a brand new beginning.
In this week's Torah portion, Shelach, we read that Moses sent spies to the Land of Israel in order to get a report on the conditions there. The spies returned with the gloomy news: "The people dwelling in the land are strong, the cities are very strongly walled and great, and we also saw the children of giants there." The spies were harshly punished by G-d for their message, and the Torah describes them as having "brought an evil report against the land."
Why were they punished at all? Were they not merely fulfilling their mission? Their job was to check out the land, "What it is, and whether the people dwelling in it are strong...the cities, if they are open places or fortified," and this is what they did. Is it their fault that the land was occupied by giants and the cities were reinforced? Should they have given a false report upon their return?
The true sin of the spies was that they digressed from their mission. They were only required to describe the Land of Israel, in order for the Jews to know how best to approach and conquer it in a natural manner. The spies were not satisfied with a mere description; they had to editorialize as well and added their opinion as to the likelihood of it being conquered. When they added their own deductions, this caused the Children of Israel to lose faith in G-d and begin to despair. The sin of the twelve spies lies in their comment, "We will not be able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than us."
The spies' transgression was that their faith in G-d's commandment was not great enough. When G-d commands that something be done, a Jew must have faith that it is possible. G-d does not require anything of man which is above his capabilities. Even a mortal, possessing the minimum of understanding and responsibility, will not ask a person to do something which is impossible. Every artisan who fashions a vessel creates it so that it will fulfill its purpose and not break. How much more so is this true about G-d. When the King of Kings commands us to do something, there is no doubt that it is within our grasp, or else it would not have been commanded.
However, we must remember that although man must be sure of his ability to perform mitzvot (commandments), he must not rely on miracles to accomplish them. Indeed, mitzvot must be done through natural means, as this is the will of G-d. A Jew must find the best way according to the laws of nature, to succeed in his tasks. That is why Moses sent the spies; to discover the best approach to conquer Israel militarily. The sin of the spies was that they put all their faith in nature itself, and forgot Who created that very nature.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
by Carli Teproff
Christina James has a bad habit of saying she will do something - everything from chores to meeting up with friends - and not following through, the 16-year-old said.
But not anymore, said Christina, who penned her promise to change her ways on a traveling "I will" scroll attached to an RV meant to inspire change around the globe.
"I definitely will keep this in mind next time I say I am going to do something," said the teen, who signed the scroll Tuesday when the RV visited an after-school group that meets at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School in north Miami-Dade.
The "I will" scroll is part of America's Torah, a mission born after Rabbi Joseph Raksin was gunned down as he walked to his Orthodox synagogue in Northeast Miami-Dade in August. The RV trailer, which has a photo of Raksin, began its journey in Key West and is now traveling up the East Coast.
Raksin's son-in-law, Izzy Labkowsky, originally planned on having a Torah - which contains a handwritten version of the Five Books of Moses in Hebrew - written in his father-in-law's memory. But the idea turned into a full-blown mission to spread love, not hate. So he sold his general contracting business, bought an RV and came up with a plan to tour the United States to write a Torah. By getting sponsors for letters in the Torah and donations, Labkowsky is planning a two-year trip across the country and will share the seven Universal Laws, including respect for human life and establishing a judicial system. The idea for the "I will" scroll came from a project done at the Chabad of the Grove - the "I will" wall, which queries congregants with the statement, "To make a better world, I will..."
Labkowsky, 34, built the scroll with wood and metal and stocked it with 75 yards of canvas for people to write their messages.
About five yards have already been filled with promises: "I will feed the hungry; I will stop bullying at my school; I will not curse."
The goal is to get about a mile's worth of messages.
"It's very inspirational," said Labkowsky, who plans on finding somewhere to display the completed scroll. "Some of the messages are really touching."
On Tuesday, Labkowsky brought his project to students in the C Teen club, sponsored by Chabad Chayil. The primarily Jewish teen group, which meets weekly, opened Tuesday's meeting up to everyone.
"It's a message everyone can understand," said 10th-grader Simon Assoulin, 16. "We should always use good over evil."
Simon said he was honored to write on the wall.
"I will support special needs kids throughout my life," he wrote.
"This is something I always try to do because my sister and brother both have special needs," he said.
For Labkowsky, the mission is personal. He began his speech talking about his father-in-law.
It was about 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, when Raksin was walking east on Northeast 175th Street and Eighth Court toward Bais Menachem Chabad, 1005 NE 172nd Ter., when he was confronted by two men. One pulled a gun and shot him.
Labkowsky said he and his children walked passed him as he lay on the ground, but they didn't know it was him.
Miami-Dade Police Spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta said this week that the case is still open and police are still asking anyone with information to come forward.
"I am turning this tragic thing into goodness," said Labkowsky, who has recruited other rabbis and others to help him spread the word.
And while Labkowsky hopes police find the men responsible for Raksin's death, he said he was focusing his energy on spreading goodwill.
"The Torah brings light," he said. "And light is the only way to fight darkness."
To follow the RV on it's journey, visit www.americastorah.org.
Reprinted with permission from the Miami Herald.
Rabbi Yisroel Noach and Alti Majesky will be moving this summer to Accra, Ghana, where they will establish a new Chabad Center. The Majesky's are moving their together with their three young children as emissaries of the Rebbe. Accra is the capital and largest city of Ghana, in West Africa.
The Batumi synagogue in Tbilisi, Georgia, has officially been returned to the Jewish community. Built in 1904, the synagogue was taken over by the Soviet government in 1929 and used as a sports center. In 1998, the Jewish community was allowed to begin using it once again as a synagogue and that year it was refurbished. However, it wasn't until this past month that the historic synagogue was actually turned over to the Jewish community.
18th of Sivan, 5719 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter, in which you write about your anxiety in regard to the question of Parnosso [livelihood].
Needless to say, I am much surprised at you, that you should allow yourself to be so affected by this. For you surely know how often our sages have impressed on us the importance of trust and confidence in Gd, in order that we realize that all difficulties encountered in life are only trials and tests of a passing nature. To be sure, the question of Parnosso is one of the most difficult tests - nevertheless, Gd does not subject one to a greater test than he can withstand, as our Rabbis expressed it, "According to the camel, so is its load." The very trust in Gd is a vessel and channel to receive Gd's blessings, apart from the fact that such confidence is good for one's health, disposition, and therefore is also a natural means to the desired end. All the more so, since, as you write, you have noticed an improvement in recent weeks. This should serve as an encouraging sign and greatly strengthen your trust in Gd. No doubt you also remember the commentary of my father-in-law of saintly memory, in regard to the saying of our Sages that "Life is like a turning wheel," at which my father-in-law remarked that "When a point on the wheel reaches the lowest degree, it is bound to turn upwards again."
As for your request for advice, in my opinion you ought to set a period of time for the study of Pnimius of the Torah, namely, Chassidus, concerning which it is written in the Zohar (part 3, page 124b) "In the area of Pnimius ha-Torah there is no place for negative things and evil," and as further explained in Iggeres ha-Kodesh, chapter 26.
In addition, I suggest that you should set aside a couple of pennies for Tzedoko [charity] every weekday morning before prayer, and also before Minchah [afternoon prayer]. Also to recite at least one Kapitel Tillim [chapter of Psalms] after the morning prayers every day, including Shabbos and Yom Tov [holiday].
All the above should be Bli Neder [without vowing], and at least until Rosh Hashanah. It would also be very good for you to know by heart several Prokim Mishinayos [chapters of Mishna], and at least one Perek [chapter] Tanya.
Life is like a turning wheel. When a point on the wheel reaches the lowest degree, it is bound to turn upwards again.
I am confident that the above, together with an increased measure of Bitochon [trust] will soon bring an improvement in your Parnosso.
In accordance with the teaching of our Sages (beis besi tes vuv beis) that money from a good and saintly source brings Gd's blessings, you will find enclosed a check from one of the treasuries for my father-in-law of saintly memory, to deposit to your business account, and may Gd grant that the predictions of our sages will be realized in your case also.
Hoping to hear good news from you,
Enclosed you will find a copy of a message, which I trust you will find useful.
Akavya ben Mehalel said: "Reflect upon three things and you will not come near sin..." (Ethics, 3:1)
Reflection in this sense is indicative of the deepest levels of meditation. When a person takes the mission for which his soul descended to this world seriously, he will reflect upon the ultimate elevation of his soul - which comes about through his being in this world - and he knows that eventually he is destined to give an accounting. By reflecting thus, he will certainly not come near sin - he will not transgress inadvertently, and he will fulfill his mission in life fully. (Ma'amarim of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, 5705)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The 28th of the Hebrew month of Sivan (coinciding with June 15 this year) is the anniversary of the arrival in the United States of the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin.
Twenty-eight in Hebrew letters spells Ko-ach, meaning "strength." The Rebbe explained this means that strength and permanence are contributed to the entire day, and this in turn gives strength to every Jew to carry out his preparation for the ultimate redemption.
The Rebbe went on to explain that it was in "770" (Eastern Parkway) that the spreading of the wellsprings of Chasidut, the prerequisite to Moshiach's revelation, reached its most complete expression.
He referred to 770 using the Talmudic term "Beit Rabbeinu Shebebavel" meaning literally "the house of our Master in Babylonia" that our Sages refer to as the location of the Temple in exile, so to speak.
"Not coincidentally," explained the Rebbe, "770 has the numerical value of the Hebrew word 'poratzta' meaning 'and you shall spread forth.' And it is from 770, explained the Rebbe, that the first revelation of the Third Holy Temple will take place, encompassing the entire building from its lowest levels until its rooftop.
"The rooftop is the place where Moshiach stands and announces, 'Humble ones, the time for your redemption has come.' The rooftop of the Holy Temple," continued the Rebbe, "refers to the miniature sanctuary of the Diaspora which represents the Holy Temple of Jerusalem."
It is also not coincidental, the Rebbe pointed out, that "770" is the numerical value of "Beis Moshiach" - the House of Moshiach.
May we all go together with the Rebbe and 770 and all the miniature sanctuaries - every shul and every Jewish home, for that matter - to the actual site of the Third Holy Temple in Jerusalem, now.
And we were in our own eyes as grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes (Num. 13:2)
This statement was in itself one of the sins that the spies committed. They should not have concerned themselves with how they appeared to others. It was not enough that they felt as if they were as small as grasshoppers, they felt obliged to add that the giants agreed with them.
(Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk)
You shall take courage and bring from the fruit of the land. (Num. 13:20)
When Moses sent the twelve leaders into Israel to spy out the land which had been given by G-d to the Jewish people, he told them to bring back some of the land's fruit with them. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1811) used to say: The nations of the world have stolen the Land of Israel from us. Therefore, it is our duty to stand up and unceasingly shout that it is indeed our land. We must protest to the whole world, that even though other nations have lived in the Land of Israel for many generations, it has not become theirs, and their claim upon it is no claim at all. We are obligated to cry out, as is indeed the law, that if one protests against someone's occupying land, his claim upon it is nullified.
To understand personal growth, one must bring an example from the fruit of the earth. First one sows the seed; only after the seed decomposes, and its essence is nullified can it grow and produce.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
Only against the L-rd do not rebel... (Num. 14:9)
Why did Joshua and Caleb consider the spies' report and the people's reaction a rebellion? Because fearing giants and fortified cities shows a lack of belief in G-d; when one trusts in G-d there is no reason to fear man. (Rabeinu B'Chaya).
A prominent Jewish merchant, Reb Yaakov from Vilna, known to be an accomplished Torah scholar, once passed through Mezritch. Having heard of the greatness of the Mezritcher Maggid, Rabbi Dov Ber, Reb Yaakov decided to visit him, although he was not an adherent of the Chasidic movement. Reb Yaakov was eager to engage the Maggid in a learned discussion, and he was not disappointed. But, as Reb Yaakov had no interest in Chasidic philosophy, the subject was not broached.
As Reb Yaakov was about to leave, the Maggid suddenly said: "Remember Yaakov, what our Sages of blessed memory said, that G-d sends His cure to a patient through a particular doctor and a particular medicine. Sometimes the One Above sends His cure not through the medication which the doctor prescribes, but through the doctor himself. As you know, a doctor receives his healing powers by authority of the Divine Torah, as it is written, 'And he shall surely cure him.' Therefore, the doctor has a healing angel at his side, and a very great doctor is accompanied by the chief healing angel, Rafael, himself."
As he traveled back to Vilna, Reb Yaakov thought about this strange parting remark, which seemed to come out of the blue. Reb Yaakov was, thank G-d, in very good health. He had never needed a doctor before, and he hoped he would not have to consult one in the future. He hadn't asked the Maggid for medical advice, so why had the Maggid mentioned doctors? Unable to solve this puzzle, he soon dismissed the entire episode from his mind.
Several weeks later Reb Yaakov returned home and soon fell into his normal routine. After a few days, he awoke feeling quite ill. His condition worsened rapidly and although all the best doctors were called in, each offering a different medication, nothing helped.
Word of his condition spread quickly. His friends and acquaintances were devastated, for Reb Yaakov was a kind and charitable man. Then a ray of hope appeared. The Jews of Vilna heard that the king would be arriving in town, and his personal physician, who was a wayward Jew, would be accompanying him. If only they could persuade the king's doctor to pay a call on their beloved friend, maybe this great doctor could save his life.
The community leaders dispatched a delegation to the king and petitioned him to allow his royal physician to visit Reb Yaakov. The king received them graciously and agreed to their request. The hopes of his family and friends soared when the famous doctor entered the sickroom, but were soon dashed. When the doctor looked at Reb Yaakov he said disdainfully, "Am I G-d that you have brought me here to revive a dead man?"
To everyone's horror, the doctor turned to leave. The distraught family begged him to prescribe some medication. "Nothing can help this man," he replied brusquely, casting a parting glance at the dying patient. But something caught his eye and he turned to look again. A slight bit of color could be seen on the patient's pale face. The doctor quickly took his note pad and scribbled a prescription. "Run to the pharmacy and bring this medication at once!"
Hope sprang again into the hearts of the man's family and friends. The royal physician remained at the man's bedside, his eyes fixed on the sick man. He was amazed to see further signs of improvement. He pulled out his pad and prescribed another medication. But no sooner had he written it out than the patient's eyes began to flicker. The doctor had never seen such a thing in all his experience. Suddenly, the erstwhile dying man sat up in bed and addressed the physician, "I beg you, dear doctor, don't go yet. Stay a while longer, and I'll feel much better. The Angel Rafael must be at your side."
The physician was completely overwhelmed. He stared at the patient in utter disbelief, and although he didn't believe in angels, he could almost believe the patient's words. As if reading the doctor's thoughts, Reb Yaakov began to relate his visit to the Maggid of Mezritch and especially the Maggid's puzzling remark at the end of the visit.
"I can see now, that his remark was completely prophetic and true," Reb Yaakov remarked.
The king's doctor, who had listened intently to the whole episode, sat engrossed in thought. It occurred to him that, great healer though he was, he needed a lot of healing himself -- healing of a spiritual nature.
"I would like to meet this saintly man," he finally said. "When you are fully recovered, I would like you to take me to meet him."
Not very long after, the two of them, Reb Yaakov and the king's physician, traveled to Mezritch -- Reb Yaakov to become a Chasid and the physician to return to his faith.
Adapted from Talks and Tales
Not only must we remember the Sabbath on the day of Shabbat itself, but we must also remember it on each of the preceding weekdays. It is for this reason that we recite in the daily prayers, "Today is the first day to the Sabbath," etc., followed by a chapter of Psalms for the day, and we prepare in advance for each coming Sabbath. The same is true of the six millennia that precede the Era of Redemption, the "day that is entirely Shabbat." By remembering the redemption during the preceding days of exile, our service of G-d is easier, for we anticipate the imminent redemption and eagerly prepare for its arrival.
(The Rebbe, Yalkut Moshiach UGeula al HaTorah)