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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
Items that always seems to be available at garage and yard sales throughout the summer, or at any other time of year, are golf clubs. Whether the avid adolescent golfer is away at college or beyond, or Dad never really took to the new pastime, or Mom has perfected her stroke and game to the point where she needs better clubs, golf clubs can easily be purchased for the neophyte golfer.
In keeping with the Baal Shem Tov's teaching that we can learn something to enhance our lives spiritually from everything we see and hear, even if you've only tried your skill with clubs and balls at the local mini-golf, there's a lot that can be learned from this mellow sport.
"Hold the club firmly with both hands," a seasoned golf expert will tell any newcomer to the game. Applied to Jewish living, this means that our approach to Torah and mitzvot (commandments) has to be firm, not wishy-washy or laissez faire. In addition, Torah teaches that "the right hand brings closer and the left hand pushes away." This means that our "hands-on" approach to Judaism has to include bringing that which is beneficial and positive into our lives while pushing away that which can be harmful or negative to Jewish living.
In real golf (as opposed to miniature golf, where people sometimes skip a hole if there is a long wait and then come back to it) you must complete all 18 holes as established by the course. Similarly, a set course has been established for us by the Torah, beginning with our daily routine and encompassing our entire lives.
When we get up in the morning, we train ourselves that our first conscious thought is to thank G-d for giving us another day of life. Throughout the day we have a sequence of activities and mitzvot that we fulfill up until the time we go to bed, following the declaration that we forgive all those who might have knowingly or unknowingly wronged us, after which we entrust our soul to G-d's safe-keeping. Just as our day is ordered and sequential, so is our week, month, year, and entire the Jewish life-cycle.
To truly hone our living skills (unlike when we putter around on a mini-golf course, where we can dodge the rules) we must follow the established progression of the Torah. And though the mitzvot are "written in stone" (at least the Ten Commandments, to be exact), Judaism allows for, acknowledges and even encourages individual expression and personal preferences within the established guidelines.
Any golfer worth his tee will inform you that one of the main guidelines of the game is to keep your eye on the ball. In the big golf game of life, the ball is the goal. As long as we keep our eyes on the goal and know where we're going, it's hard to get off track.
Jewish teachings have always explained that our goal is the Geula (Redemption), at which time the Goel (Redeemer, i.e. Moshiach) will lead the Jewish people out of gola (exile). No one knows which tiny mitzva-tap on the ball of exile will gently drop us into the final hole (numbered 18 perhaps for "chai-life," for after the Redemption we will experience life as G-d truly intended it to be). It might be your kind word, or his extra charity, or her heartfelt prayer, or my Shabbat candles. If each one of us tries our best, then certainly, very soon, we will get the ultimate hole in one.
The Sabbaths during the "Three Weeks" (the time between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av), contain a unique dimension: They are within the period of lamentation over the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people. Yet it is forbidden to mourn on Shabbat, and on the contrary, we are commanded to rejoice.
In truth, these special Sabbaths express the true good that is hidden within the exile. Seen superficially, the exile is only a negative phenomenon - painful and without merit. On a deeper level, however, the exile contains a higher purpose, one that is only goodness and light - the Final Redemption with Moshiach. In fact, in the era of Moshiach, those days that were marked by the Jewish people as days of mourning will be transformed into days of rejoicing.
This principle - that what we now perceive as cause for grief will ultimately be shown to be only good - is reflected in the dual nature of these three Sabbaths.
This duality is further expressed in this week's two Torah portions, Matot and Masei.
In the Torah, the Jewish people are sometimes referred to as "shevatim" and sometimes as "matot," both of which are generally translated as "tribes."
Literally "rods" or "staffs," there is one important distinction between the two terms: although both signify a branch that has been cut from a tree, a "shevet" still retains its moisture and suppleness, whereas a "mateh" has already dried out and is therefore stronger and inflexible.
These two appellations allude to the Jewish soul's journey in this physical world.
Torn from its G-dly Source, the soul is "cut off" from its roots, as it were. Sometimes it manages to retain its original Divine "moisture," yet other times it is so estranged from its G-dly Source that it appears to have "dried out" completely. "Masei" ("Journeys") too, alludes to the soul's descent from the highest spiritual planes to this world, including the lowliest descent of all into the exile. And yet, the purpose of this descent is none other than ascent, thus the strong rod has a certain advantage over the flexible tree branch.
Matot and Masei remind us of the true essence of the exile, which is the great ascent and revelation of G-dliness that will be revealed precisely from within.
A Jew must always remember that the true purpose of the soul's sojourn in the physical world, as well as the Jewish people's travails in exile, is solely in order to reach the G-dliness of the Messianic era. This awareness in itself gives us the strength to overcome all difficulties and to fulfill G-d's will in the most trying of circumstances, leading all of Creation to its ultimate perfection with Moshiach.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 28
Lighten Up and Have Fun!
by Sarah Kaye
From a speech at the Machon Chana End of Year Ceremony
I never could have imagined living and studying in New York, let alone Crown Heights, Chabad Headquarters.
I did not grow up a city girl. I grew up in beautiful Northern California in a very traditional, Conservative Jewish home. But at the age of 16, my family and I moved to Arizona. The land of the extreme heat.
At the time, moving to Arizona was the worst thing that could possible happen. I mean, what 16 year old wants to move half way through high school to a place that they know absolutely nobody. However, now I see that it was the best thing that could have happened to me. You see, I never would have ended up going to Arizona State University if I hadn't moved to Arizona.
Without going to ASU, I would not have met my amazing Shluchim (emissaries of the Rebbe), Rabbi Shmuel and Chana Tiechtel, and without meeting my amazing Shluchim, I would not have ended up here at Machon Chana.
If you know me at all, I am a person who likes to know what is happening and when. The fact that it was a month before I was about to graduate and I didn't know where or if I would be going to Seminary was not an easy bone for me to swallow. But my Shluchim told me about Machon Chana and that it is where Malka, another ASU alumnus, was studying. I applied that afternoon to Machon Chana and it wasn't long before I was accepted.
I graduated from ASU in December of 2014. As soon as I graduated I started to prepare for my life changing decision to go to New York. What that really meant practically for a girl living in Arizona is buying winter clothes. Fast forward through that month, to about a week before I came here. I was a serious ball of stress. I called Malka Presti and told her I was officially coming and that I was nervous. I asked her what Machon Chana was like and she said, "it's amazing. It's crazy, everything is kosher, everyone is chabad and everyone loves to learn!" I then asked about the weather, and she told me, "You will freeze!"
The day that I came to Machon Chana was unreal. I truly didn't believe that I was actually going to seminary. The moment that I walked into the Machon Chana dorm, I felt that I was a different person. In college, I was a walking stress-ball. In Machon Chana I learned to lighten up and have fun. However, being at seminary also hit me with a reality check. I started to realize how much I didn't know. I had a lot of catching up to do, about 22 years worth!
One of the things I had to get used to was the never ending thirst for knowledge and self-improvement. I had never seen so much extra-curricular studying in my entire life. Plus, I had the extreme cold to get used to as well!
In the beginning it was seriously overwhelming. However, it was not long before these words became part of my vocabulary as well, thanks to all of my amazing and patient teachers.
Mornings would not have been the same without Rabbi Yitzchok Dubov's Chassidus class. He taught us that every time you learn something, you should ask what would happen if this didn't exist? Why should I care about this. If it isn't relevant to our lives, then we aren't questioning him enough. This in turn, led to many interesting discussions, bright and early in the morning, of how we may or may not exist.
Every class that we had at Machon Chana helped me to grow in so many different ways. I remember when I was visiting with my family in March in Florida, only two months after being here at Machon Chana, and my father being extremely impressed with how much I had learned. I truly owe all of what I know to all of our amazing teachers who have opened themselves up to us girls, not just in class, but outside of class as well.
The teachers at Machon Chana are endlessly patient, tirelessly available, and genuinely interested in every question, no matter how trivial they seemed to us. Rabbi Majeski literally makes time for every single student and every single problem that we may have. There is an ongoing joke in the dorm that Rabbi Majeski is like our Zaidy.
And on top of that the friends that I've met here are the most caring and diverse I've ever had. We have students from all over the world coming together for one common purpose - to study Torah.
I feel so honored to be a part of this institution whose students the Rebbe called "my daughters."
Machon Chana has changed me in every way imaginable. Being one of the Rebbe's daughters gives you a boost of refinement, maturity, confidence, and a special love for Torah.
What I hoped to get out of this experience was to gain a foundation in Jewish learning, to discover more about myself, how to use my potential to live a more meaningful life, how to be Jewish woman and how to build a Jewish home. What I actually found here was everything I was looking for and so much more!
The friendships I made here will, G-d willing, last me a lifetime. I have met people who really understand my situation and where I am coming. We have shared and experienced so much together including baking 1,500 hamentashen, crazy peeling contests before Passover, late night talks, Shabbatons and more.
I feel that Machon Chana is just the beginning for all of us. It has laid the foundation for the rest of our lives as Jews, and we will continue building off of it. But to do that, we must continue to learn, to grow, and to improve. We have been given the tools to keep going, but it is up to us to actually make it happen. I personally will be continuing my journey next year at Machon Chana, and I can't wait to see what the future has in store.
To learn more visit machonchanayeshiva.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 347-770-4550
Children's Torah Almost Complete
The sixth special Torah being written to unite Jewish children throughout the world under the age of Bar and Bat Mitzva is almost complete. The last few thousand of the over 600,000 letters that comprise each Torah scroll are waiting to be inscribed. The Children's Torah Scroll Campaign, begun 25 years ago by the Rebbe, has united over 3,000,000 Jewish children throughout the past quarter century. A letter is "purchased" for $1 per child, after which the child receives in the mail a full-color certificate from Israel indicating in which Torah portion the child's letter is inscribed.
To purchase a letter for a Jewish boy or girl you know, visit www.KidsTorah.org.
2 Menachem Av, 5734 (1974)
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of July 1st.
The reply in detail to the contents of your letter you will no doubt have received from your father, with whom I discussed it at some length. Nevertheless, I want to put down in writing some of the points and briefly at any rate.
First of all, I am grateful to note your concern, indeed profound concern, for your parents. This does not surprise me, of course, knowing your father and your upbringing. But it is nevertheless gratifying to see it expressed in a letter.
As for the subject matter of your letter, it is surely unnecessary to point out to you that when one thinks about the well-being of any person, including above all, his inner harmony and peace, one must obviously think not in terms of the immediate days and weeks, but also how it will be in the long run. This should be the consideration in regard to all affairs, but especially so when it is a question of where to settle down.
This is a very serious question even when one is at the crossroads, and much more so when one has already been settled in a place and contemplates changing it.
Now, with regard to your father, and knowing him, I have no doubt that he could feel in his element only in a place where he can fully utilize the knowledge which he has acquired and the qualities which G-d has bestowed upon him, that is, to utilize them in the fullest measure for the benefit of the many.
By comparison with this, personal amenities -- and I mean this also in a spiritual sense -- are not the decisive factor, and perhaps no factor at all.
All the above would be true even if it was a matter of conjecture. But in this case, after he has been so successful in his accomplishments in the past, there is no room for any doubt whatever as to the importance of this overriding consideration.
On the basis of what has been said above, supported by what you and all the other members of the family have seen of your father's hatzlocho [success] not only in your city, but South Africa as a whole, you will surely realize without any shadow of a doubt that your father will feel in his element and be truly happy if he continues his present situation in your country.
Moreover, it is surely unnecessary to bring special proof that the trend of assimilation, even assimilation in its coarsest form, namely intermarriage, is still very strong in all of South Africa, and that the work and fight to turn back this trend will still be required for a long time.
Fortunately, experience has shown that where there is a suitable and determined person with courage and determination to guide the young generation, the response is gratifying, and often highly gratifying. This has also been the experience of your father, who has succeeded, with G-d's help, to literally save many Jewish men and women from complete assimilation and to lead them in the way of G-d within the Jewish fold.
To return to you, I of course inquired from your father about your activities, as well as about those of the other children, in the spreading of Yiddishkeit.
May G-d grant strength in accordance with the saying of our Sage, "He who has 100, desires 200, and having achieved 200, desires 400." If ambition grows with achievement, even in material things, how much more should this be the case in matters of the spirit, which are the essential aspect of Jewish life.
I trust that you have read about the Five Mitzvah Campaigns which I have been urging recently, also pointing out that Jewish daughters and women have their part in these activities, and a very important part. I am confident that you and your friends are taking an active part in them.
With blessing, M. Schneerson
P.S. Inasmuch as I understand that your letter was written with your father's knowledge, I am sending him a copy of my reply.
Rabbi Shimon said, "Be meticulous in reciting the Shema and in prayer"
The Hebrew word for meticulous, "zahir," relates to the word "zohar," "to shine." Rabbi Shimon specified reciting the Shema and praying, not Torah study, because prayer is relevant to every Jew, regardless of his level of learning. Each Jew is enjoined to shine forth and illuminate his surroundings in this manner. Although in general, light is associated with Torah study and not prayer, Rabbi Shimon generated the potential for such light to be produced through reciting the Shema and the daily prayers."
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Friday is the first day of the month of Av. With the beginning of Av, the three week mourning period over the destruction of the Temple intensifies.
The first of Av was also the day on which Aaron, the High Priest and brother of Moses, passed away.
Concerning his passing, the Torah tells us that "All of the house of Israel wept for Aaron for 30 days." But only the men wept for Moses and not the women. Why was this? Because Aaron had made peace between a man and his wife, and between a person and his friend, so all of the Jewish people mourned him.
Certainly it is Divine Providence that Aaron, who was known as a "pursuer of peace," passed away just on the day when, hundreds of years later, we would be intensifying our mourning over the destruction of the Temple? His life's work, evident even at his passing and how he was mourned, teaches us how to remedy the reason for which the Temple was destroyed.
Our Sages tell us that the first Temple was destroyed because the Jews indulged in idolatry, adultery and murder. The second Temple was destroyed through the sin of causeless hatred. We see, then, that hatred and divisiveness among Jews is equal to idolatry, adultery and murder.
We have much to learn from Aaron and his passing. But, most importantly, we must learn to emulate the wonderful example he showed us, that of doing everything in our power to bring peace and harmony amongst our fellow Jews. When this happens, we will no longer mourn the passing of Aaron, nor the destruction of the Holy Temples, for we will all be united, together as one, in the Third and Everlasting Holy Temple, NOW!
If a man makes a vow to the L-rd (Num. 30:3)
The Torah teaches that vows are praiseworthy, terming them "a fence around abstinence," yet at the same time states that "the [existing] prohibitions of the Torah are sufficient." How do we reconcile these two statements? A person who conducts himself properly is not encouraged to abstain from worldly matters. On the contrary, he is obligated to work "within" the world, in order to elevate and sanctify the physical plane of existence. A person whose conduct is deficient, however, can sometimes prevent further deterioration by means of vows.
He shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth (Num. 30:3)
The commandment to carry out one's verbal declarations was given primarily to the "heads of the tribes" - to the leaders of the Jewish people. As authority figures, they are responsible for setting the highest standards for the rest of the community. That is why the Talmud states in Berachot: "Concerning one who recites the Shema but [his words] do not reach his own ears, Rabbi Yosai opines that he has not fulfilled his obligation." A person must never chastise or reproach another unless he has first applied the same criticism to himself.
These are the journeys of the people of Israel (Num. 33:1) In the entire narrative of the Jewish people's journeys through the desert, the Hebrew letter "zayin" does not appear even once. This alludes to the fact that they did not journey on Shabbat ("zayin," with a numerical equivalent of seven, alludes to the seventh day), and that they did not need to resort to weapons ("zayin" also means weaponry or arms).
In the year 361 of the Common Era, 293 years after the destruction of the Second Holy Temple, a new leader of the Roman Empire ascended the throne. Julian would be Caesar for only two years, but his short reign would be distinguished by an unusually friendly relationship with the Jewish people. In fact, Julian was responsible for initiating an abortive attempt to rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. We are aware of these events thanks to a Greek historian who recorded them for posterity some 80 years after they occurred.
Julian was a nephew of Constantine the Great, who established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. He also moved its capital from Rome to Byzantium (Turkey), and changed its name to Constantinople.
When Constantine died, his three sons fought over who would take his place. Almost all the members of the royal family were murdered, with the exception of Julian. After traveling to Athens and studying philosophy, he became disaffected with Christianity and reverted to the ancient idolatry of the Romans.
Julian went on to become a celebrated military leader, enjoying many victories over the warring Germanic tribes. When the then-reigning Emperor decided to exile him to the Far East, his troops rebelled and established him as the new Caesar. One year later, he declared full religious freedom for all citizens of the Empire. In truth, he was far more benevolent toward his Jewish subjects than to his Christian ones. In an official letter addressed to the "Jewish communities" of the realm, he wrote that he was henceforth exempting the Jews from the special tax that had been levied against them, and declared himself a long-time defender of the Jewish people.
In the same letter he blamed his uncle, the late Emperor Constantine, and his uncle's cohorts, whom he termed "barbarians," for the state-sponsored and institutionalized discrimination against the Jews. At the end of the letter he reassured everyone that he had personally had them killed, and advised the Jews to forget about them and relegate their nefarious deeds to history. Julian also promised that after the war with the Persians ended he would rebuild the holy city of Jerusalem, "which for so many years you have longed to see inhabited; indeed, I will help you inhabit it."
In general, however, the Jews were unimpressed by Julian's professions of fellowship. They knew that they were not sincere, and were actually motivated by selfish political ambitions. Nor did they consider him a new "Cyrus," who had been sent by Divine Providence to bring their exile to an end and rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
In fact, the Greek historian who chronicled this episode wrote that Julian's "friendship" with the Jews was largely the result of his hatred for the Christians. Moreover, he hoped that they would ultimately follow his example and assimilate into the dominant Roman culture.
At one point, Julian summoned the Jewish elders and asked them why they were not keeping the Torah's laws with regard to the sacrifices. The elders explained that after the Holy Temple was destroyed bringing sacrifices was forbidden, as doing so depends on having a standing Temple with priests to serve in it.
To demonstrate his serious intentions, Julian then ordered that the Jews be given a considerable stipend from the royal treasury, so they could begin to take the first steps toward reconstruction. According to the historian, the Jews actually started recruiting artisans and laborers. Their first task, however, was to clear the Temple area from the filth and debris that had accumulated over the centuries. Women, too, joined in the work, while others contributed their jewelry. After the ground was cleared they were ready to lay the foundation stone, but an extremely powerful earthquake intervened. Huge boulders flew in all directions, and the earth split in many places. A number of Jewish workers were injured, houses came tumbling down, and many residents of the city lost their lives in the disaster.
When the dust settled, the laborers returned to their tasks. Some assumed they were still obligated to carry out the Emperor's orders, while other truly wished to continue. In any event, they refused to recognize the Divine Providence that was obviously against rebuilding the Temple at that time.
And then, as if to further indicate G-d's displeasure, a huge fire broke out at the construction site and many more workers were killed. At that point everyone agreed that the time had not yet arrived to build the Temple, and the project was halted.
A personal friend of his, Ammianus Marcellinus, wrote this about the effort: Julian thought to rebuild at an extravagant expense the proud Temple once at Jerusalem, and committed this task to Alypius of Antioch. Alypius set vigorously to work, and was seconded by the governor of the province; when fearful balls of fire, breaking out near the foundations, continued their attacks, till the workmen, after repeated scorchings, could approach no more: and he gave up the attempt.
Although there is no way to verify all the details in the Greek historian's account, it is undisputed that the Emperor Julian fell in battle against the Persians in 363, effectively putting an end to his plans.
Some Sages, including Maimonides, maintain that the era of Resurrection will eventualy give way to an eternal era of spiritual reward for the soul, at which point it will be necessary to forever shed our bodies. Other Sages, including Nachmonides, insist that the eternal era of reward will be experienced in the physical world, in bodies, following the resurrection. Rabbi Shneur Zalman constantly and exclusievely quotes the view of Nachmonides that the ultimate reweard is post-resurrection and experienced in physical eternal life.
(Based on Ohr HaTorah/Yalkut Moshiach uGeulah al HaTorah)