When is a Word not a Word? | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | All Together | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi Uriel Vigler
Every year Oxford Dictionaries chooses a Word of the Year, but this year's selection was not a word at all. That's right, this year they chose a pictograph-the "Face with Tears of Joy" emoji.
But whereas recent years' selections (such as "vape," "selfie," and "GIF") were used millions of times, this year's word was used 6.6 billion times on Twitter alone! It is, by far, the most tweeted emoji.
It seems bizarre, but when you consider what an emoji actually represents, it all makes sense. Emojis are universal. They transcend language barriers, and are equally as understandable whether you speak English, Afrikaans, Japanese, French, Arabic, Chinese or Swedish. Emojis are visual representations of human emotions, which are understandable and relatable across the board. A smile is a smile in any language.
There are so many emojis, but which one was chosen? The face that is laughing so hard it's crying. Essentially, happiness. This is what people want to share and experience-the joy so extreme it leads to tears. No matter which languages we speak, we can all relate to that feeling.
Can you imagine a world where everybody speaks a single language? Historically, one of the major barriers to mutual understanding and cooperation between people has consistently been language. If we all spoke the same language, and could understand each other with ease, how much more could we accomplish?
We know that when Moshiach comes, that's exactly what will happen. The entire world will share one language, as the prophet Zephaniah prophesied, "For then I will bring one language for all the nations of the world so that they may call out in the name of G-d."
Perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of that language-the emoji.
Despite the many terrible tragedies the world faced this year, from Jerusalem to Paris, Syria to Tel Aviv, San Bernadino to Afghanistan, maybe we are also inching closer to a universal language. A language free from boundaries. A language that we all know, and understand, and can use to wipe evil off the face of the earth. A language with which we can share feelings of sadness and frustration, but also hope, joy and delight.
Rabbi Vigler and his wife Shevy direct Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side in New York. From Rabbi Vigler's blog at www.chabadic.com
The conclusion of this week's Torah reading, Mishpatim, speaks about the Jews' acceptance of the Torah that G-d gave them. Last week's Torah reading spoke about the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people by G-d. Why is this repetition necessary?
There two dimensions to the event at Sinai: G-d's perspective and ours. The previous portion, Yitro, relates that G-d gave the Torah, making it possible for man to relate to Him on His frequency. Until the Torah was given, there was an unbreachable chasm dividing man from G-d. For there is no other channel through which a finite man can relate to G-d in His infinity. By giving the Torah, G-d reached out to man and granted him the opportunity to connect himself to G-d on G-d's terms.
The portion of Mishpatim focuses on man's response to G-d's initiative. To what extent are we willing to commit ourselves to Him?
There are some who are prepared to do what G-d says when it makes sense. If there is a Divine commandment that they appreciate and feel a connection to, they will observe it. If, however, they do not understand, then they will pass.
Is there anything wrong with that approach? Well, such a person is not bad. He or she may indeed be quite refined and very pleasant company. Nevertheless, if the decision whether or not to follow a command is based on the person's logic or desires, he is not making a commitment to G-d; he is basically serving himself. He is his own man, not G-d's.
Ultimately, that can lead to a difficulty, for a person who is determining what is right or wrong on his own can easily err. Self-love is the most powerful bribe there is, and it is possible that it will warp a person's perception until he will confuse good and evil, defining values solely on the basis of his own self-interest.
Moreover, even when the person does not fall prey to such failings and is able to maintain exemplary standards of conduct, something is missing. The word mitzva (commandment) relates to the word tzavta, meaning "connection." When a person fulfills a mitzva only because of the dictates of mortal wisdom, his observance lacks the fundamental awareness of the bond with G-d that the mitzva establishes.
At Sinai, the Jews accepted the Torah by saying: "We will do and we will listen," expressing their commitment to follow G-d's will even before they heard - let alone understood - what He would command. By doing so, they adopted an objective standard of good and evil, for it would be the Torah's guidelines and not their own subjective feelings that would determine their values.
But more than that, giving such a spiritual blank check is the most appropriate way to respond to G-d's initiative. It implies that just as He is boundless and unlimited, we are prepared to open ourselves to Him in an boundless and unlimited way. This enables the Torah to bring about a complete bond with Him, tying us not only to the dimensions of Him that we can comprehend, but to His infinite aspects which defy all human understanding.
From Keeping In Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by S.I.E.
The Pondering Jew
From Lieba Rudolph's blog ponderingjew.org
My daughter Sara wanted to know if the young women could use my kitchen for their event, "Shabbos in an Hour."
"What do you need me to do for it?" I asked, half holding my breath.
"Nothing," she answered plainly.
"Well, that works," I smiled. Of course, I knew the event would offer me a wonderful excuse to declutter my kitchen.
When she came to me a few days later and asked me to share some personal tips with them, I laughed, and agreed immediately.
My two worst subjects are organization and cooking. If I can learn how to prepare for Shabbos, anyone can.
I still haven't found the common thread among women who actually enjoy cooking. If it's something you inherit from your mother, this could explain why I don't like it. Like many baby boomers, going out to restaurants was my family's favorite pastime, and I carried it with me affectionately into young adulthood.
I had it all figured out: eating in restaurants works. Forget about the enjoyment factor, going out to eat is often-times plain old more economical than cooking. All that effort that goes into planning, buying, putting away, preparing, serving and cleaning up the food - just for one meal for just a few people. And that's assuming you didn't leave the food in the oven for a minute too long (one minute!), thereby turning the whole process into a gigantic waste. There are cooking schools with cooking rules; professionals know how to do it right. I didn't know and I didn't care to learn. It's true that eating is something I do all the time, but I drive all the time too, and I trust my car to someone who knows cars better than I do. And for those times when restaurants don't work, that's why G-d created tuna fish.
In college, I viewed my lack of interest in cooking as a celebration of my selfhood and freedom from gender stereotyping. But in order not to be fearful, I would need at least one recipe, like the one my sister Stephanie gave me so I could make dinner for my five roommates. I just needed a package of onion soup mix and a jar of apricot jam to spread over chicken, and voilà.
When I learned that being an observant Jew meant keeping kosher in and out of the house, and keeping kosher out of the house meant no more eating in non-kosher restaurants, it was almost a deal breaker. But if Torah is Divine, I had no choice and, with G-d's help, I would have to learn to cook. If I wanted to be receptive to matters pertaining to holiness - and I did - I had to eat like a Jew.
Fortunately, though, G-d made me clever. I immediately learned how to bake challah, so everyone would fill up on it and barely notice that the rest of the meal was less than stellar. And I've been looking for other cooking shortcuts ever since.
Of course, if you do anything long enough you get better at it by default, as was certainly the case with me and cooking. Several years ago, after I had made all the food for a reunion with these same college roommates, my friend Gail casually observed, "There must be a G-d if Lieba can learn to cook."
"You should do it," Rochel effused in her inimitable, hard to refuse way.
She wanted me to be part of the Chevra Kadisha, the Jewish Burial society. I knew that such an organization existed, but, I mean, who actually wants to join this club? When Rochel suggested I consider becoming a member, I felt a little obligated and more than a little intrigued, so I said I would give it a try. A few days later, I got a call from Naomi, a woman Rochel described as an expert at performing the tahara, the process by which Jews are prepared for burial.
"Are you available at 5 tonight?" Naomi asked almost cryptically. I answered that I was; she told me they would be expecting me at the funeral home. I should go straight to the back.
As I walked into the funeral home exactly at 5, I felt a quiet rush of Jewish connectedness; I didn't know what I was doing but I felt honored to be doing it. I walked through the back doors of that warm, plant-filled chapel everyone knows and entered the other room, the place where the tahara happens.
Two women were already there and so was the mais, the body of the deceased woman.
When the two other women arrived and the process got fully underway, communication was almost exclusively through hand motioning and head nodding. (Naomi had told me earlier that conversation would be minimal during the process, but I didn't realize how minimal.) I learned later that the departed person's neshama, the soul, is actually present in the room, hovering between the physical and spiritual worlds. Apparently, under these circumstance, the less said the better.
There's not much to tell you about the tahara process because it's meant to be done with the utmost privacy and respect for the body of the deceased. I can tell you that it's gentle and loving, that it's known as chesed shel emes (true kindness) because the deceased person can never repay the favor. I can tell you there are selfless people in every Jewish community all over the world who perform this mitzvah and almost nobody knows who they are. I can tell you that it's not hypocritical for people to choose Jewish burials even if those same people didn't choose to live Jewish lives.
Jewish burial preparation is one of those things Jews have done for thousands of years, but it's one those Jewish things I had never experienced. In the brief hour I spent with these women, I felt humbled to be in the presence of people who provide such an essential link in the chain of Jewish life-yet they do it all in secret. I guess when you spend such intimate time with G-d, that's job satisfaction enough.
I saw the burial process as a strikingly clear convergence of matter and spirit-the essence of Judaism. In that one hour in the back of a funeral home, I saw in a new way how all Jews are connected, even Jews whose life force has left them. My presence in the room that day may have added only a tiny link to this holy chain, but the experience was enough to give me a whole new appreciation for the way Judaism regards life from beginning to end.
Chabad at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida, recently purchased a two acre lot near the UCF campus. They plan to build a 15,000-square-foot Chabad on Campus center to serve as a base for their work with students and faculty at UCF.
The Chabad Jewish Center in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, has purchased the former Temple Judea building in Doylestown Township. The 8,500-square-foot facility situated on nearly three acres of land will undergo some renovations in order to accomodate the Chabad-Lubavitch activities that will take place there.
Rabbi Berel and Rivky Gurevitch recently arrived in Eugene, Oregon, to run a Chabad House at the University of Oregon, Eugene. The Chabad House is located in the heart of student housing and services the university's 1,600 Jewish students and the town's 2,000 Jewish residents.
29 Shevat, 5739
February 26, 1979
The Honorable Walter F. Mondale
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. Vice-President:
I read with profound interest your Remarks at the Meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee For a Cabinet Department of Education, Jan. 24, 1979. Needless to say, I fully endorse the substance and urgency of your message. Indeed, in light of the saying of our Sages, "Words coming from the heart penetrate the heart and are eventually effective," I am confident, Mr. Vice-President, that your words will find the proper response they deserve.
You will surely recall, Sir, the meeting at the Caucus Room of Congress, which you graciously chaired, in celebration of the H.J. Res. 770, authorizing and requesting the President to issue the Proclamation designating April 19, 1978 as "Education Day, U.S.A." I trust you also read some of my remarks in this connection that appeared in the Congressional Record, the thrust of which, permit me to reiterate, was:
Education, in general, should not be limited to the acquisition of knowledge and preparation for a career, or in common parlance "to make a better living!" We must think in terms of a "better life," not only for the individual, but also for society as a whole. The educational system must, therefore, pay more attention, indeed, the main attention, to the building of character, with emphasis on moral and ethical values.
The above principle, which is surely indisputable, assumes added significance now that the Administration is making an all-out effort to promulgate the required legislation to implement the President's proposal for a Cabinet-level Department of Education-for the following reason:
The skepticism on the part of those who, at present, oppose the Administration's educational program (of which you make mention in your Remarks) is, I believe, in large measure due to the shortcomings of the educational system in this country, which leaves much to be desired in the way of achieving its most basic objectives for a better society. In a country, such as ours, so richly blessed with democracy, freedom of opportunity, and material resources, one would expect that such anti-moral and anti-social phenomena as juvenile delinquency, vandalism, lack of respect for law and order, etc. would have been radically reduced, to the point of ceasing to be a problem. Hence, it is not surprising that many feel frustrated and apathetic.
We must think in terms of a "better life," not only for the individual, but also for society as a whole.
I submit, therefore, that the Administration's resolve to restructure the Federal education role-long overdue-would be well served if it were coupled with greater emphasis on the objective of improving the quality of education in terms of moral and ethical values and character building that should be reflected in the actual everyday life of our young and growing generation.
I take the liberty of enclosing a copy of a brief memorandum on the subject, which I trust you will find of interest.
With prayerful wishes and blessings for success in your endeavors to upgrade the educational system, and in all your public and personal affairs,
I remain, Mr. Vice-President,
The Hakhel event (once every seven years in the year following the Shemita/Sabbatical year, during the holiday of Sukkot, to take place in the Holy Temple) is meant to emphasize the need for parents to maintain close watch on their children's development... To set the proper example for their children, especially during the early years when they are their children's primary role models.
(L'lmod U'Lamed, p. 168)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
As this year is a leap year on the Jewish calendar, there are two months of Adar, known as Adar Rishon and Adar Sheini, or Adar I and Adar II. This Shabbat we bless the new month of Adar I.
Our Sages have taught that, just as when the month of Av begins (the month in which we commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem) we lessen our joy, so, too, when the month of Adar begins, we increase our simcha - joy and happiness.
In talks before and during the two months of Adar, 5752 (1992), the Rebbe emphasized the importance of simcha in turning the darkness of exile into the light of Redemption.
The Rebbe also stressed that, being as there are two months of Adar this year, there are 60 days during which we are to increase our simcha. More importantly, in Jewish law, the quantity of 60 has the ability to nullify an undesirable presence.
Specifically, this concerns food; if a quantity of milk, for instance, has accidentally become mixed with meat, if the meat outnumbers the milk by a ratio of 1:60, the milk is nullified and we may eat the meat.
Similarly, explains the Rebbe, 60 days of simcha have the ability to nullify the darkness of the present exile, allowing us to actually turn the darkness into light.
Concerning the kind of things that should be done to arouse simcha, the Rebbe suggested that each person should proceed according to his level: a child, for instance, should be made happy by his parents; a wife by her husband, and vice versa.
The bottom line, my friends, is that the Rebbe did not let up on encouraging an increase of simcha in all permissible manners during the entire month.
We should hearken to the Rebbe's words and utilize simcha, especially during this month, to turn darkness into light, sadness into joy, and pain and tears into rejoicing with Moshiach in the Final Redemption, may it take place, as the Rebbe so fervently prayed, immediately, literally.
For six years he shall serve and in the seventh year he shall be set free. (Ex. 21:2)
These six years hint to the six kingdoms in which the Jewish people "served," i.e. were enslaved: Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Media, Greece and Rome (the "exile" in which we presently find ourselves). Soon we will be "set free" by Moshiach, who will redeem us from our present exile.
If the stolen object shall be found in his possession... he shall pay double (Ex. 22:3)
A thief must pay back double what he stole. When a thief steals $100, his intention is to gain $100 at the expense of $100 dollars of his victim. By paying back double, the thief is losing $100 and at the same time the victim is gaining $100. This demonstrates how punishments in the Torah are measure for measure; what is done to the thief is the same as that which he meted out for his victim.
You shall not afflict any widow or orphan (Ex. 22:21)
Whenever Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev reached this verse he would cry out. "Master of the Universe! You instructed us in Your holy Torah to be kind to widows and orphans, and yet we are like orphans in this bitter exile! You must therefore take us out of this exile at once!"
When you lend money to My people, the poor among you (Ex. 22:24)
The words "among you" seem to be superfluous. The Hebrew word for "among you" is "imach", which also means "with you." Sometimes a person might establish an amount of money that he will give to a particular charity, and even if his wealth increases, the amount he gives remains the same. The Torah is telling us that when we are enriched, the poor should be enriched with us.
(Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg)
And He will bless your bread and your water, and I will remove sickness from your midst (Ex. 23:25)
Most illnesses are caused either by food that is ingested, or from an intensification of internal forces within the body. G-d therefore promised to send His blessing in both of these areas, blessing the food one eats - "your bread and water" - and "removing sickness from your midst" - making sure that illness does not come from within.
Rabbi Chanina bar Chama was one of the first generation of great Talmudic Sages who followed the redaction of the Mishna by Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi [Rabbi Judah the Prince]. By the time he came from his native Babylonia, to study under Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, Rabbi Chanina was already a very accomplished scholar and was received with great warmth and friendship. He developed strong ties with his teacher and many of his fellow disciples, particularly with Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.
During those turbulent and dangerous times, it was often necessary to send Jewish dignitaries to plead with the Roman government on behalf of the Jewish people. Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Chanina were often chosen to appear before the Roman emperor. When one of the emperor's advisors asked him why he would rise in honor of these Jews, he replied, "They have the appearance of angels."
Rabbi Yehuda passed away and was succeeded by his son, Rabban Gamliel, who, according to his father's instructions, seated Rabbi Chanina in the place of greatest honor at the academy. However, Rabbi Chanina's tremendous modesty prevented him from taking that place. Only when the elderly sage, Rabbi Efes passed away did Rabbi Chanina occupy it.
According to the teaching of our Sages that we should not make the Torah "an ax with which to dig," Rabbi Chanina went into business dealing in honey. When he succeeded, he opened and supported a Torah academy in his town of Tzippori. He never ceased trying to bring the people closer to G-d and would often reprimand them; this, of course, caused some resentment.
Once, there was a severe drought in the northern part of Israel where Tzippori was situated. At the same time, in the southern part, where Rabbi Yehoshua lived, ample rain fell as soon as Rabbi Yehoshua prayed. The people of Tzippori complained, saying that the drought continued only because Rabbi Chanina didn't pray for them enough.
In response, Rabbi Chanina sent for Rabbi Yehoshua. When he arrived, a public fast was declared and prayers were said for rain. When no rain fell, the people finally understood that the fault was not Rabbi Chanina's, but their own, and they resolved to correct their behavior.
Rabbi Chanina was known as a gifted healer who was well-versed in the use of various kinds of herbs and also the antidotes to snake poisons. He frequently advised people to be careful not to catch colds and to take care of themselves and not neglect treating any disorder.
His Torah teachings and the example of his mitzva observance had a profound influence on his generation. He observed the Sabbath in a manner which showed his love and devotion to the mitzva and when the Shabbat departed he marked it with a Melave Malka - a feast for the departing out the Sabbath Queen.
Although he lived through very difficult and trying times, he accepted all his suffering - losing a son and a daughter - with love of G-d and an abiding faith. He lived a long life and even when he was very old he was unusually fit. It is said that at the age of eighty, he was able to put on his shoes while standing on one foot. When asked to what he ascribed his good health, he replied that he was always careful to show respect to Torah scholars as well as for the elderly, even if they were not learned.
Before Rabbi Chanina passed away, Rabbi Yochanan, his disciple, (who compiled the Jerusalem Talmud) went to visit him. On the way, word reached him that his master had died and he tore his clothes in mourning. Rabbi Chanina was so loved and respected among the Jews of his time that he was given the honorary title, "Rabbi Chanina the Great."
Adapted from Talks and Tales
Our Sages state that one is obligated to lend money to a poor person as well as a wealthy person. Sometimes a wealthy person is in need of money; at that moment, it is considered as if he is poor. Furthermore, no matter how wealthy a person is, he can always accrue more money. Thus, in comparison to his possible future wealth, he may be considered lacking in his present state. The same is true of the various periods in Jewish history. Compared to the Messianic Era, even our golden age under King Solomon, when the Holy Temple existed in all its glory, will be considered impoverished. Thus, we look forward to the Messianic Era in the same way a poor person longs to become rich.
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Acharei, 1986)