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Think back to the time when you first understood the sheer power of fire: It both amazed and frightened you.
When it is under control, fire betters our life in countless ways, many of which we have come to take for granted.
But when we don't have it under control, a raging fire destroys everything in its path.
A young person is like fire. With direction and guidance, he or she can change the very shape of the world. Without direction, the fires of youth are wasted at best, while at worst can become a dangerous and destructive force.
To lead a meaningful life means harnessing the fires of youth. To do so, we must first understand the purpose of youth itself; for all G-d creates is with profound intent.
The period of youth is an odd one by nature, nestled between childhood and adulthood. A teenager is no longer content to play like a child but doesn't have the knowledge and experience to fully engage in adult pursuits.
Young people begin to experience many of the frustrations and yearnings of an adult, but may lack the maturity to deal with them.
Teenagers have plenty of time on their hands, yet contemporary society is far better at providing ways to waste this time than spend it productively.
Youth is one of the most precious periods in a person's life, and yet one of the most difficult.
These various tensions within young people create a unique, untamed energy, the energy of life itself.
Young people are not looking for comfort, they are seeking a meaningful cause. They are overflowing with a mixture of adrenaline and confidence - "I want to change the way the world works" "I can change the world" young people often think.
Adults, burdened with the pressures of everyday life, may resign themselves to the world the way it is, but young people unhindered by the realities of adulthood, do not tolerate such resignation. This often causes conflict between the two groups: Young people abhor the status quo while adults' lives revolve around it.
So what we have here, in the most general terms, is either energy without sufficient direction or direction without sufficient energy.
Many adults simply throw up their hands, writing off youth as a rebellious period that a person outgrows. Young people, meanwhile, often think that adults have forgotten how to appreciate the very meaning and thrill of life.
Youth are rebellious, and adults see the rebellion as an aberration, or even one step short of a crime. But rebellion is not the crime; the crime occurs when the rebellion has no healthy outlet.
Rebellion, in fact, can be the healthiest thing for a human being - an undiluted energy that inspires a person to not give up easily, to refuse to tolerate injustice, to not go along with an idea just because everyone else is thinking it.
Depriving a young person of an outlet to release this energy can cause deep pain and anxiety. Think about the steam that builds up in a turbine - without a safety valve, it is bound to explode sooner or later.
The worst thing we can do with a young person's spiritual or psychological energy is to bottle it up; in fact, we must do everything we can to tap this energy, to focus it and channel it properly.
From the book Toward a Meaningful Life by Rabbi Simon Jacobson of the Meaningful Life Center. www.meaningfullife.com.
The Torah portion of Ki Tisa contains the commandment of the half-shekel, symbolic of the mitzva of tzedaka (charity).
There are several ways in which an individual can give tzedaka. The first is when a person is kindly and giving by nature, or when he understands intellectually the need to help his fellow man. This is, however, considered to be the lowest level of giving tzedaka.
A higher level is when a person gives tzedaka because G-d has commanded him to. In this instance the incentive is not personal, but stems from the desire to obey G-d's will. A mitzva is an absolute that is not subject to intellectual or emotional considerations. Thus, when a person gives tzedaka out of a sense of obedience, his action is imbued with greater power. Yet even here there can be personal motivations mixed in, such as the fear of punishment or the desire to receive reward (material or spiritual) in this world or the next.
Above these two levels is the giving of tzedaka "without the intent of receiving a reward." In this instance, the mitzva (commandment) is fulfilled out of pure and simple obedience to G-d, without any thought of recompense whatsoever. The person wants to fulfill G-d's will and enjoys doing so.
The mitzva of the half-shekel, however, represents the very highest category of giving tzedaka. On the verse in this week's portion, "This shall they give...a half-shekel...an offering to G-d" (the commandment for every Jew to give the half-shekel), the Jerusalem Talmud comments: "G-d removed a coin of fire from under the Throne of Glory and showed it to Moses, saying, 'This shall they give.' " Indeed, the "secret" of the half-shekel is related to the idea of "a coin of fire."
The nature of fire is to always ascend upward; it has no "weight" or fixed, definable form. Similarly, the optimal way to give tzedaka is with a fiery "flame" and enthusiasm, without any personal considerations or motives. In this scenario, the Jew just naturally desires to fulfill G-d's will, and doesn't even look for other reasons or justifications.
Nonetheless, it is significant that G-d showed Moses a "coin of fire," rather than just a flame. When a person gives tzedaka (or does any other mitzva, for that matter), theoretical abstracts are not enough. The point is to bring down that fiery enthusiasm to where it can actually help someone, and express it in the realm of concrete action.
When the mitzva of tzedaka is done in this manner, a Jew will give unconditionally, without waiting for specific times and without waiting to be asked. His inner "fire" will prompt him to seek out those in need, and he will give repeatedly, over and over again.
Adapted from Sefer HaSichot 5749, Vol. 1
A Life for Others
by Tzippy Clapman
When I was a child, my mother's youngest sister, Shaina Esther Szmerkes, lived near us in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn with her husband, Irving and their three sons. With my mother's influence and gentle guidance, she became Torah observant, she kept strictly kosher, observed Shabbat, and carefully kept the laws of mikva. She sent her three sons to the Mesivta Tiferes Jerusalem on the Lower East Side. Her husband worked as a driver for a kosher catering establishment.
My aunt had no need to work in those years, and she decided to make a difference in the community. She realized how the elderly Jewish American women, mostly widowed and living alone, needed some assistance in their daily needs. Some were homebound, with help from government-sponsored home health aides, in and out of their homes a few times a week. Most of this population had children out-of-town who could not assist them in their daily needs.
Most of the government health aides were lazy. They would come, watch television and eat. They were known to neglect and sometimes even mistreat their patients. My aunt decided to make it her mission to visit these homebound Jewish women on a daily basis, to look in on the treatment they were receiving and the health aides. This kept the workers on their toes, as they knew someone was coming to check on them who cared.
Shaina Esther knew the needs of each of her "clients," and she turned their needs into her personal responsibilities. One needed help with banking, as her Social Security check had to be cashed and bills had to be paid. My aunt would make sure her rent, grocery accounts, telephone, electric, gas, and other bills were paid on a monthly basis. One women liked fresh bread or rolls, daily. Others needed her to accompany them to their medical appointments. A few of her clients were totally non-mobile and bed-ridden. My aunt would make sure to be there for their daily bath, to assist the home attendant in washing, drying, lifting, turning. Because of my aunt's presence, the bathing and dressing were done gently and lovingly, under her watchful eyes.
Any time we would sit in the park near the housing projects, we would see my aunt rushing through the streets, coming and going from one apartment to another. She was always schlepping a bag of groceries or a stack of envelopes.
There was a mentally disturbed older woman in our community who suffered from severe anxiety issues. She was divorced and had a child who was taken away from her due to her lack of childcare skills and resources. Her pain was great. Without proper medical attention for herself, she would run through the neighborhood screaming and shouting. Naturally, most people avoided her. My aunt knew her situation and would greet her daily with hugs and kisses. She would calm her down, find out what issue was bothering her at the time and work on resolving it. Whether she needed to go to the doctor's office or re-apply for her medical benefits, rent subsidies, etc., my aunt would escort her to the various offices all over town with no hesitation.
Shaina Esther had three children. Her oldest, Shmuel, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease in his teens. Thank G-d, he was successfully treated at the time and grew up to be a fine religious young man. Like his mother, he was kind, giving, helpful and loved by all his friends and co-workers. Later, he had a recurrence of his disease, from which he did not recover. My aunt was heartbroken, but after shiva she ran out doing her mitzvot with more vim and vigor than before.
Her other two sons never married, so my aunt was left without any grandchildren at all. However, she would not allow this situation to take over her life. She kept busier than ever helping people in need, people nobody else wanted to deal with.
My aunt also regularly visited her mentally challenged brother, Chaskel Zelig, in the Group Home where he was a resident. She always came with her sons, and took him out to his favorite restaurants. She made sure he had anything he wanted that was within her power to provide.
In her 70s, my aunt lost her devoted husband. A lone survivor of the Holocaust, he was never a very happy man, but he was very supportive of his wife's activities and he always worked hard to support her and care for his family. After his death, once more my dear Tanta Shaina Esther picked herself up from her sadness and went back to all the people who needed her.
Over the years my aunt always partook in our family simchas and she would visit with us on special occasions. But we knew that she was always on call and in high demand in her community mitzvot. She never had fancy clothing or expensive jewelry, as these things were totally worthless to her. Her apartment had only basic furniture as she had no use for material goods. Accumulating them was not her goal. Caring for and comforting people in need was all she needed, to be content.
Three years ago my aunt suffered a heart attack and spent a year in and out of the hospital. I spoke with her almost daily and often visited with her during that year. She kept saying that it wasn't her own pain or discomfort that bothered her. What caused her the most pain and regret were the lonely women who needed her and all the mitzvot she was missing out on. A year after her heart attack, her holy soul left us.
Shaina Esther lost a child, a husband, had no grandchildren, so little in worldly good but never stopped caring, loving, and giving.
Reprinted from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter. Tzippy Clapman, RN, MS, FNP, lives in Crown Heights with her husband, Rabbi Yehuda Clapman, a certified sofer. Formerly a NICU nurse and now a provider in school-based clinics
First Mikva in Western Africa
The very first Mikva to be built in all of Western Africa is currently being constructed by Chabad and is set to be completed within 3 months. Rabbi Israel and Haya Uzan, of Chabad-Lubavitch of Nigeria, undertook this project. The Mikva will be available for the more than 70 Jewish families from Abuja and Lagos, amongst them 10 whom have already undertaken to use the Mikva regularly.
Sole Synagogue Under Construction
Of the more than 40 synagogues that had onced served the Jewish community of Zhitomir, Ukraine, only one remains, though it had been confiscated and shut down. In 1990 the building was returned to the Jewish community. Due to structural decay the building was not usuable. Recently it started undergoing a gut renovation. The completed building will house a modern JCC, a soup kitchen, home, communal offices, classrooms, a library and a state of the art Mikva.
Between Purim Kotton And Purim Godol, 5736 
This is to acknowledge receipt of your correspondence and photo, and may G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all matters about which you wrote.
Especially as we are now in the auspicious days between Purim Kotton and Purim Godol, the festive days of the two Mazeldike [auspicious] months of Adar of this Jewish Leap Year, the highlight of which is, in the words of the Megillah [Book of Esther], "For the Jews there was light, joy, gladness and honor." As our Sages explain these words, they have in addition to their plain meaning also the inner meaning of "Light - this is Torah . . . Honor - this is Tefillin," Tefillin being symbolic of all the Mitzvos [commandments]. May this be so also in your case.
Included is, of course, also the Mitzvo of V'Ohavto L'Reacho Komocho ["You shall love your neighbor as yourself"], the great principle of our Torah, which makes it the duty and privilege of every Jew to spread the light of the Torah and Mitzvos in his surroundings. And while all this is a must for its own sake, this is also the way to receive G-d's blessings in all needs, materially and spiritually.
Wishing you and yours a truly happy and inspiring Purim,
Purim-Koton, 5725 
Blessing and Greeting:
I am pleased to be informed about your forthcoming convention, which is taking place in the period between the two Purims. This auspicious circumstance, coupled with the fact that the Jewish women had a prominent part in the Miracle of Purim, will surely add a significant dimension to your convention.
While on the subject of the two Purims, it is appropriate to mention a further point: The occurrence of two Purims as this year, is due to the fact that our unique Hebrew Calendar requires a periodic adjustment between the lunar and solar years. The extra month in our Leap Year makes up the deficiency in the lunar year as compared with the solar year. But since the deficiency is only close to 11 days, whereas the extra month consists of 30 days, it is clear the extra month makes good the deficiency of several years.
In accordance with the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov [founder of Chasidism], to the effect that every experience should serve as a lesson toward better service of G-d, the Leap Year serves to remind us that everyone has an opportunity to make up for any deficiency in the past, and sometimes even to accumulate a little reserve for the future, as in the case of our Leap Year.
By very definition Chassidus is a way of life that demands a little more effort than in the line of duty - a little more dedication, a little more depth, a little more enthusiasm.
Chabad Chassidus emphasizes this point in a very basic manner, since by very definition Chassidus is a way of life that demands a little more effort than in the line of duty - a little more dedication, a little more depth, a little more enthusiasm; and enthusiasm itself provides a breakthrough in overcoming limitations. Fortunately, Jewish women are blessed with a goodly measure of enthusiasm, which should only be channeled in the right direction - to strengthen and spread Torah and Mitzvoth as they are illuminated with the light and warmth of Chassidus.
May G-d grant Hatzlocho [success] to your convention to accomplish its goals, and more, with practical and fruitful results.
While the lack of the Temple today precludes us from fulfilling the mitzva of Hakhel literally, its significance and intent - like all aspects of Torah - are timeless. As a people and a nation we need to be aware of the special mission G-d has charged us with. Inhabiting a land and developing a culture that is focused on mere physical survival, even when we are spectacularly successful at it, is not the object of this mission. The Torah calls us a "holy nation" - a nation focused on a higher purpose in life, a nation in the direct service of G-d.
(Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, Jerusalem Post)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This year is a leap year in the Jewish calendar. Thus, there are two months of Adar this year, known as Adar Rishon (the first Adar) and Adar Sheini (the second Adar). All special dates that occurred in a "regular" year that did not have an extra Adar are celebrated in Adar Sheini.
Our Sages teach, "With the beginning of Adar, rejoicing is increased." Every day we are enjoined to serve G-d with joy. But when the month of Adar begins, we are told to increase that joy.
In a leap year such as our current year, for two entire months we are expected to behave in a more joyful manner for, just as we read in the Megilla on Purim, "the month was changed for them from sorrow to joy."
What was so special about the joy of Purim that we should be expected to be joyful for an entire month? By way of analogy, light always seems brighter when it comes after darkness. In a room full of light, the flame of one candle seems insignificant. But, in a pitch-black room, even the light from one small candle can help to illuminate the entire room. Imagine, then, the impact of a spotlight in a lightless room.
Joy is similar to light. The sorrow, fear and mourning of the Jews when they thought that Haman would be able to carry out his evil plan was immense. They were in a state of total darkness. The joy that they experienced when Haman's plan was foiled was phenomenal. But is was all the more incredible for having been preceded by such darkness.
On the holiday of Purim, we recite the blessing "Sheh asa nissim - Who has performed miracles for us." In this season of miracles, may we experience the ultimate miracle, which will be to us like the brightest spot-light in Jewish history, the arrival of Moshiach, NOW!
Half a shekel, after the shekel of the Sanctuary (Ex. 30:13)
A Jew is only "half" an entity in two senses, attaining completion and wholeness by uniting with G-d, or alternately, with another Jew. Yet these explanations are interrelated, for when a person helps his fellow Jew and unites with him, he simultaneously merits G-d's blessing and draws closer to Him.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. 3)
This verse contains an allusion to the commandment of charity for the word "shekel" has the same numerical equivalent as nefesh, soul (430). This teaches that giving charity has the power to effect atonement for the soul.
The commandment to give a half-shekel was "to make an atonement for your souls," to atone for the Jewish people's sins. The amount was therefore set at precisely half a coin, to show that G-d Himself is responsible for the other half. Had He not created the Evil Impulse to tempt us in the first place, we would never transgress.
(Reb Simcha Bunim)
The Children of Israel shall keep - veshamru - the Shabbat (Ex. 31:16)
Keeping Shabbat means much more than just refraining from certain kinds of work; the Hebrew root shin-mem-reish also implies waiting in anticipation and looking forward to something. The Torah teaches that rather than being considered a burden, Shabbat should be eagerly awaited and longed for each day of the week.
When you will take the sum (lit., the head) of the Children of Israel... then they will give every man... (Ex. 30:12)
When the time will come for you to appoint a "head" - a leader of the Jewish people - make sure it is one who is willing to give up his very soul on behalf of his brethren; only one such as this is worthy.
Everyone who sought G-d went out to the Tabernacle of Meeting, which was outside the camp (Ex. 30:7)
They were actually looking for Moses, yet the Torah states that they were seeking G-d. We thus learn that receiving the leader of the generation is the same as receiving G-d Himself.
(Jerusalem Talmud, Eruvin)
In the year 1648 the Jewish people were overtaken by terrible and overwhelming tragedy. In that black year the Ukrainian Cossack BoG-dan Chmielnicki and his vicious hordes rampaged through the countryside murdering and pillaging the unfortunate Jewish villages in their wake.
A young girl was living in a small Polish village together with her widowed mother and small brothers and sisters at the time of great upheaval. When word spread of the approach of the murderers, the Jews fled wherever they could; this girl was separated from her family. She wandered the countryside with a group of destitute Jews, begging for food.
After some weeks of wandering, the group of refugees came to Vilna where they found a community shelter. The wife of the shelter manager took a special liking to the girl and offered to help her establish herself in Vilna, reasoning that in a large city, she would more easily find her family.
The girl, for her part, was grateful for the woman's friendship, and when she was offered a job in a Jewish house, she accepted happily. "My son-in-law," explained the lady of the house, "is a great Torah scholar and studies every night until midnight, at which time he is served his dinner. Up until now my daughter and I have had the honor of serving him, but it is difficult for us to keep such late hours and also manage the house during the day. You will have the duty and privilege of serving my son-in-law." The girl accepted the job happily.
The first night as she sat outside the door of the scholar, listening to the haunting sing-song melodies of the Talmud, the girl was transported back many years. It was as if she was listening to her father's voice rehearsing the ancient texts in just the same melodious voice. With these memories filling her mind, tears suddenly began to flow down her cheeks, as she sobbed quietly.
A moment later the door opened and in an annoyed tone of voice the young man said to her, "Please stop that noise. You are disturbing my concentration." Frightened to lose her job, the girl was quieted at once.
The following night as she sat by the closed door listening to the ancient melodies, the girl was again moved to tears, and she couldn't control her weeping. When the young scholar opened the door, he saw at once that something serious was grieving the girl. His patient questions yielded from the girl an account of her sad tale. She told him about her beloved father, Meir who had passed away many years ago and about her mother and siblings lost in the terrible upheaval. She also told him about her older brother who had been sent away to study after his bar-mitzvah and whom she had never seen again.
The young man, Rabbi Shabetai Cohen, (later known as the ShaCh), quickly realized that he knew the girl's family and the whereabouts of one of her relatives, for he, in fact, was her long-lost brother. He did not disclose this information to her, though, for he had his reasons for withholding that wonderful news. Meanwhile, things continued as before, except that Rabbi Shabetai requested that the girl be relieved of her duties, remaining in the house with the status of a family-member.
About half a year later, the lady of the house took ill and the girl took upon herself the care of the invalid as well as assuming most of the household responsibilities. The illness was a prolonged one, and finally the lady passed away, deeply mourned by the whole family.
Not too long passed before matchmakers approached the wealthy widower with suggestions of matches. Uncertain about what to do, the widower consulted his learned son-in-law. Rabbi Shabetai replied that he should postpone any action in the matter, and should wait another year.
After a year passed the marriage brokers returned, and the widower consulted his son-in-law again. This time he offered this advice: "Disregard all the suggestions of the matchmakers, for the best and most suitable match is right here, the young woman you have 'adopted' into your family. Set the earliest possible date for the marriage. After the chupa I will tell you the true identity of the girl."
The young woman was happy and honored to accept the proposal, and the marriage was celebrated joyously. Rabbi Shabetai now revealed to his father-in-law that his bride was none other than his own long-lost sister. He added: "As a wedding gift, I promise that you will be blessed with a son. You will name him Meir, after my saintly father, and he will enlighten the Jewish world with his Torah knowledge and wisdom." This indeed came to pass.
Adapted from The Storyteller., Kehot Publication Society
In This week's portion we read, "And to the children of Israel you shall speak, saying: 'This shall be oil of holy anointment to Me for your generations." The oil of anointment (Shemen Hamishcha) was used to anoint the High Priests and the Kings of the House of David. Moses prepared only 12 Lug (about two gallons) of this oil. Miraculously it was enough for all past generations and all future generations. It was still used in the second Holy Temple, and was hidden when the Holy Temple was destroyed. When Moshiach is revealed, it will be returned to us.
(Discover Moshiach, Rashi 30:31. Talmud Krisus 5b)