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Ahh, July Fourth. Fireworks and barbecues. Red-white-and-blue and fife-and-drum. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. These are images that the Fourth of July conjures up for many Americans.
In 1989, a copy of the Declaration of Independence was found in the back of a picture frame bought at a yard sale for $4.00 at an Adamstown, Pennsylvania, flea market. It was determined that this copy was one of an estimated 200 Dunlap broadsides printed on the night of July 4, 1776. To date, 26 copies of the broadside have been discovered, the most recent once in 2009 in the National Archives in London, England.
We've all heard stories like this one, but with different twists. The person who buys a copy of a Rembrandt for a couple bucks and finds out it's an original. Someone who finds an old, battered violin in the attic only to realize that it is a real Stradivarius.
How did these people find out that what they had was the genuine article? They took it to an expert, someone who not only knew a lot about the item in question, but was highly trained and certified. By looking for or noticing small details that the average person wouldn't even know existed, the expert could ascertain the object's authenticity.
Though the above occurrences are not common, the idea behind them is a recurring theme that permeates our lives: We often don't know the true value of the Real McCoy.
The Torah and traditional Jewish values are a prime example. How many of us truly recognize the value of the Torah? To learn to appreciate its worth, we need to go to an expert, someone who is highly trained in teaching or imparting this most unique document communicates.
When it comes to mitzvot, commandments, people sometimes ask: why does five minutes later matter when I'm lighting Shabbat candles? What's the big difference between a "k" and a copy-righted kosher symbol on food?
Some people question the necessity of performing mitzvot, or specific mitzvot in particular. After all, I'm a "mentsh" and isn't that the most important thing?
Do we really know the value of doing a mitzva in the Torah-prescribed way? Not being experts in spiritual matters, can we possibly fathom the greatness of our small deed or adherence to a detail?
And finally, what of the Jewish soul, defined by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad-Lubavitch, as an actual portion of G-d. Looking at your fellow Jews, do you know his or her greatness? Can you possibly recognize the power and potential of your fellow Jew?
A chasid, a gem dealer, once came to his Rebbe after returning from the Holy Land. "They say that the souls of the people living in Israel are loftier than those living outside of Israel," the chasid said. "I didn't notice any difference."
The Rebbe was silent, then asked, "Could you show me some of the gems you have with you?" The chasid gladly obliged. He showed the Rebbe the stones and explained how their worth is determined by size, color, brilliance, etc.
"And how do you know how to grade them?" asked the Rebbe.
"For that," said the chasid, "you have to be a mayven, an expert."
"To know the worth of a Jewish soul, you also have to be a mayven," said the Rebbe.
May we all learn to appreciate the the Torah, mitzvot, and our fellow Jew.
In this week's Torah portion, Shelach, we read about the report of the spies whom Moses sent to explore the Land of Israel. The reaction of the Jewish people to the spies' negative report was immediate: "Our wives and children will surely be taken captive by the strong people living there. Let us appoint a new leader and go back to Egypt." G-d, therefore, decreed that they would not be allowed to enter the Land. "But your children, of whom you said 'they will become prey,' them I will bring in, and they will know the land you have despised." The children, the younger generation, will be the ones to enter Israel, G-d promises.
Why is there such an emphasis on children, in both the complaint of the Jewish people and in G-d's response? Because children played a significant role both in the inheritance of the Land and the mission with which the Jewish people are entrusted.
Concerning young children our Sages comment: "A baby breaks into crumbs more than he manages to eat."
This saying can be understood in the spiritual sense. A baby symbolizes a person who possesses little wisdom and understanding. The food represents the Torah and its commandments that sustain the soul. A person who is an "adult," who utilizes his time on earth wisely, focuses on doing mitzvot and fulfilling his mission in life. A child, in the spiritual sense, wastes most of his time by becoming involved with extraneous matters, losing sight of the Divine purpose for his soul. Most of his spiritual sustenance, the Torah, ends up unassimilated and undigested, "crumbs on the floor."
This, in fact, was the claim made by the spies: "Why must we enter the Land of Israel and waste our precious time involving ourselves with physical matters? Here in the desert where all our physical needs are miraculously met, we can devote ourselves totally to G-dly pursuits. For even if we will have time to study once we enter the Land, most of our day will be wasted! It is far better to stay in the desert than to lower ourselves to that level!"
G-d responded: "Your children...will be the ones to inherit." Even though the generation of Jews that left Egypt was on a very high spiritual level, devoting their lives to studying the Torah, it was precisely the children, those possessing little Torah knowledge, who would be allowed to enter the Land of Israel. The new generation would be required to pursue a different path, working hard to provide the physical necessities of life, while at the same time imbuing their surroundings with G-dliness and holiness. For this is what G-d really wants Jews to do. Our mission in life is to lead a "normal" physical existence seamlessly cobmined with following the precepts of the Torah.
Torah learning of young children is also especially dear to G-d. "The learning of little children may not be disturbed, even to build the Holy Temple!" we are told. Their pure faith and belief in G-d has the power to arouse G-d's mercy and foil the evil plans of the enemies of the Jewish people.
Machon Chana Vignettes
The following are excerpts of speeches that students of Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva gave at various events.
Hi, My name is Haya Liorah and I am from Paris, France. Before coming to Machon Chana I received a degree in legal accounting.
I started becoming very interested in Judaism around age 16. I was very determined and started to learn how to read Hebrew. All of the money that I made babysitting I used to buy Jewish books.
As my 18th birthday neared, I decided that I wanted to be totally observant of Torah and mitzvot (commandments). I'm still not able to explain why I chose this path except to say that I felt it was the truth. Since making that decision, I have never stopped learning.
For three years I studied privately with the Chabad shlucha (emissary) near where I live in Paris, Shaina Chaya Asseraf. At the same time, I was completing my degree and dealing with the disappointment of my parents. It was a huge challenge for them that I chose a life path different from theirs. But they are very supportive of me now.
When I started studying at Machon Chana, I discovered a new spiritual depth to Judaism that I had not yet encountered. I found this through the study of Chassidic teachings. These teachings, and a deep connection with the Rebbe, have become a tremendous source of inspiration for me.
Studying at Machon Chana has benefitted me to the point where I would say that it has actually built my life. These have been the best two years of my life! Thank you to all my teachers, especially Rabbi Majeski at the school and Mrs. Nemni in the dorm.
Hi, my name is Tal and I am from Israel.
After serving in the IDF as a medic for two years I was accepted to a program at Vassar College in New York, to come for a full year as the Hebrew Language Fellow.
In the second week of classes one of my sophomore students who was very much involved with the Chabad House on campus told the shlucha, Dalia Sanoff (an aluma of Machon Chana), that there is a new Israeli at Vassar and that we should meet.
Back then I didn't know what Chabad is.
We met and slowly but surely I started to get more involved in the Chabad House programs. I wanted to know more.
I was amazed to see how inspired and motivated my shlucha is thanks to Machon Chana and thanks to the beloved dorm mother, Mrs. Gita Gansburg, obm, in particular. She shared so many stories and memories from the time she was at Machon Chana.
So how did I finally get to Machon Chana? Last year I was invited to come to Machon Chana as a guest to celebrate the holiday of Shavout, and I never left since!!
Machon Chana is more than an institution for textual learning. It is a family, a place of growth, a school for life.
Hi everyone, my name is Tami, I grew up in Uruguay. Although my family was not religious, my parents sent me to the Chabad elemntary school.
When I was 12 years old, my parents decided to switch me to a Zionist school. I spent many years learning about Zionisim, and it became part of my life in a very deep way.
Three years ago I started being in touch with the Shemtovs, the shluchim (Chabad emissaries) in Motevideo. When their son offered me a job in a kosher Pizza Store, as a supervisor, I accepted.
I had a friend who is involved with Chabad. She suggested that I start studying Tanya, the basic book of Chabad philosophy. She explained that it helps one learn how to live a full, Jewish life.
From the moment I heard about the book I felt compelled to buy it. I started to study by myself, but I didn't get much out of it.
I spoke with Mrs. Rochie Shemtov and I told her that I want to study Tanya. "I have the best place for you to do that!" she told me. And here I am at Machon Chana, for more than a year.
This entire year, in addition to the regular classes, I studied Tanya one-on-one with Rabbi Majeski (dean of Machon Chana). Rabbi Majeski inspired me and encouraged me to continue concentrating on Tanya even when things got difficult. Just two weeks ago, thanks to Rabbi Majeski, I reached to my goal and finished the first book of Tanya.
I've grown so much since I came to Machon Chana. Part of the reason is because of the learning and part is through seeing and living with Lubavitcher Chassidim in Crown Heights. Here, people are joyous, they speak about G-d with passion and conviction; they connect the physical and spiritual. I'd never seen people as happy as here in Crown Heights, and from all that I have seen and learned here, I have changed.
Thanks to all of Machon Chana and my friends who supported me and helped me to grow.
For info about Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva visit MachonChanaYeshiva.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (718) 552-2422.
Chabad of West Orange, New Jersey, celebrated the opening of their new Chabad Center. The facility is currently renovated to accommodate a sanctuary, youth lounge, lecture/social hall, kitchen, Rabbi's study and library. Ultimately co-directors Rabbi Mendy and Altie Kasowitz intend to renovate the entire 13,000 square foot facility.
Lubavitch House at the University of Pennsylvania held a dedication ceremony this past month. Opened in the 80s, they purchased the building next door a number of years ago and combined the two facilities. The now 25,000-square-foot facility has several levels. The first encompasses a large social hall, a library and the Beit Yaakov Synagogue. There's a student lounge, offices and conference rooms. The top floor is student housing mainly occupied by graduate students.
16 Adar, 5712 
. . . You seem to be disturbed because you feel that you have not attained the proper level in Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] and cannot see the tachles [purpose] etc., which makes you downhearted.
Leaving the details of your complaints aside, I wish to make several observations:
- A feeling of dissatisfaction with one's self is a good sign, for it indicates vitality and an urge to rise and improve one's self, which is accomplished in a two-way method: withdrawal from the present state, and turning to a higher level (see Sichah [talk] of my father-in-law of sainted memory, Pesach 5694).
- If the urge to improve one's self leads to downheartedness and inertia, then it is the work of the Yetzer Hora [evil inclination], whose job it is to use every means to prevent the Jew from carrying out good intentions connected with Torah and Mitzvos.
The false and misleading voice of the Yetzer Hora should be stifled and ignored. Besides, as the Baal Hatanya [author of the Tanya, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] states (Ch. 25), even one single good deed creates an everlasting bond and communion with G-d (ibid., at length). Thus, a feeling of despondency is not only out of place, but is a stumbling block in the worship of G-d, as is more fully explained in the above and subsequent chapters of Tanya.
- With regard to understanding, or lack of understanding, of the tachles, the important thing required of the Jew is contained in the words of the Torah: "For the thing is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart (and the tachles is) to do it." Understanding is, generally, the second step. The first step is the practice of the Mitzvos....
My prayerful wish to you, as you conclude your letter, is that the next one coming from you will be more cheerful.
Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, 5730 
Greeting and Blessing:
My dear Assaf:
I was pleased to receive your letter, but I was very much surprised at the question you asked.
You wrote: "I want to know if Hashem [G-d] really exists." I will answer it this way: Suppose you were walking in the streets and saw a skyscraper. Would you ask, "Is there someone who made it?" And if this is so with a building of a number of floors, what will you say about the whole world, with the sun, moon and stars, oceans and mountains and woods, and all the creatures on land and in the seas, and so on?
Your other question was: if you daven [pray] the rest of the year, will you get a trumpet?
Since you are a thoughtful boy, I will again answer it with an illustration: Suppose you were invited to the White House, and the President of the United States received you with pleasure and asked you what kind of a present would you like. Would you ask him for a candy? Perhaps you know the story of King Solomon, who was only 12 years old when he became king of all the Jewish people, after his father, King David. G-d appeared to him in a dream and asked him, "What shall I give you?" And all he asked for was a wise and understanding heart! And G-d gave him that, as well as everything any person could wish for.
I trust you are learning Hashem's Torah with devotion and diligence, and conduct yourself the way Hashem wants you to as befitting for a Jewish boy, a son of Abraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, the fathers of our people.
Hakhel is not only something to achieve in one's personal life, but also in conjunction with others, and even all Jews! Hakhel requires us to assemble and unite all Jews in Torah study - as per the theme of the commandment of Hakhel in its most literal sense, and as per the original Hakhel, the Giving of the Torah. The event at Sinai is referred to as Yom Hakahal, 'the Day of the Assembly,' when the entire Jewish nation assembled. Not only did all of that generation assemble, but also the souls of all Jews who would live in all future generations!"
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Naso, 1988)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The 28th day of Sivan (this year Monday, July 4), is the anniversary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's arrival on American soil in 1941.
The Rebbe and Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka's escape from German-occupied France was fraught with danger. The only possible route at the time was to travel by ship to Portugal, cross over the border with Spain, then from Barcelona continue on to the United States.
The Nazis, may their name be erased forever, fired at every passing ship, and the Rebbe's vessel came under attack several times. When the ship finally sailed into the New York harbor it was truly a miracle that it had safely navigated the seas.
For reasons of ill health, the Previous Rebbe was not able to personally greet his daughter and son-in-law. Instead, he appointed a delegation consisting of four prominent Chabad Rabbis to serve as his emissaries. On the night before the ship was due to arrive the Previous Rebbe summoned them and said, "I will reveal to you who my son-in-law is: Every night he recites Tikun Chatzot; he knows the Babylonian Talmud by heart with the commentaries of the Ran, the Rosh and the Rif; the Jerusalem Talmud and its commentaries; the writings of Maimonides and Likutei Torah. Now go out and welcome him!"
The actual reunion between the Rebbe and Previous Rebbe would not take place for another three days, and the Previous Rebbe requested that he see his son-in-law and daughter separately. The Rebbe later explained why: "[The reason] was that my father-in-law was a man of profound feeling; one can imagine the intense emotion it would have caused had we gone to see him immediately, and together. Chasidut demands that the head rule over the heart; thus, despite his pain, he waited several days until seeing us."
So began a new chapter in the dissemination of Torah and mitzvot and another step forward toward Moshiach.
Every one a ruler ("nasi") among them (Num. 13:2)
The Hebrew word "nasi" is composed of the words "ein" ("nothing") and "yeish" ("something"). A Jewish leader who is humble and considers himself "nothing" is the only kind of leader who is truly "something." Likewise, one who thinks he is "something" is not a leader at all.
(Degel Machane Efraim)
You shall offer up the first part of your dough for a gift (Num. 15:20)
The commandment to separate a portion of dough teaches an important principle in the education of our children: The "first part" of the school day, i.e., the morning hours, should be utilized as a "gift" for "offering up" - set aside for studying holy Jewish subjects, as opposed to secular ones learned later in the afternoon.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Only rebel not against G-d (Numbers 14:9)
Nothing in the spies' report encouraged open rebellion against G-d. On the surface, they were merely reporting facts. Nonetheless, Caleb and Joshua responded by cautioning them not to rebel. For the fear they expressed regarding the land's giant inhabitants and walled cities was what constituted their rebellion. As King David states in Psalms, "G-d is with me; I will not fear what man may do to me." Believing in G-d causes a person to cease fearing man.
Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz, known as the Sanzer Rav, was deeply involved in the mitzva (commandment) of charity, giving with an open hand from his own funds and soliciting from others as well. In keeping with the rabbinical dictum that charity collectors should travel in pairs, he always went on his rounds with a respected member of the community.
One time the Sanzer Rav set about to collect a large amount of tzedaka (charity) for a certain wealthy man who had gone bankrupt. He and a trusted companion went about from house to house soliciting funds, when they came to the elegant home of one of the richest men in the city. They entered the beautifully appointed anteroom and were shown to a velvet sofa where they were served tea from a silver tea service while they waited for the master of the house to appear. After a few minutes a well-dressed gentleman entered and greeted the illustrious rav warmly.
The rav and his companion requested that the wealthy man donate the large amount of 500 rubles for an unspecified "worthy cause."
The rich man considered their request for a few moments and then asked, "Tell me, exactly what is the cause you're collecting for? Is it for some public institution or for a private person?"
The Sanzer Rav replied that he was collecting for a wealthy citizen who had lost all his money and gone into bankruptcy. But this answer wasn't sufficient for the man, and he began to inquire further about the identity of the person.
"I'm sorry," replied the Sanzer Rav, "but I cannot divulge the man's name, since that would cause him terrible embarrassment. You'll just have to trust me when I tell you that he's a very deserving individual."
The rich man refused to be dissuaded from his curious pursuit of the man's identity. "Of course, I trust you implicitly, and I would be only too happy to donate even several thousand rubles to help you, but I would first like to know to whom I'm giving the money."
At this point the man who was accompanying the rav interjected his opinion that perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to divulge the man's identity in this case. Certainly the rich donor wouldn't allow the information to leave the room, and it was a wonderful opportunity to amass the large amount of money to help a fellow Jew rebuild his life.
But the Sanzer Rav would say only that the man had up until recently been one of the pillars of the community and had himself contributed to many worthy causes before his unfortunate business collapse. Again he protested that he couldn't and wouldn't publicize the man's name.
The rich man, far from being silenced, was even more aroused in his curiosity. "If you tell me his name I will give you half of the entire amount you need."
His fellow collector again tried to convince the Sanzer Rav to tell the man's name, in view of the tremendous sum of money involved, but to no avail.
"You must understand," he replied, "that even though the sum you are offering is more than generous, the honor of this Jew is more important and valuable to me than any amount of money! If you were to give me the total sum that I require, I would still refuse to reveal the identity of the recipient!"
The rich man's countenance changed suddenly and he became very still. He quietly asked the Sanzer Rav to step into an adjacent room, for he wished to speak with him privately.
Standing alone with the rav, the rich man broke down into bitter sobbing. "Rebbe," he began, "I, too, have lost my entire fortune and am about to enter into bankruptcy. I was too embarrassed to tell this to anyone, but when I saw how scrupulously you guarded the other man's privacy I knew I could trust you. Please forgive me for testing you in such an outrageous manner, but I am a desperate man. I needed to know for sure that under no circumstances would you tell anyone about my terrible situation. I am in debt for such a huge sum, I have no hope at all of repaying it. I'm afraid that I will have no choice but to leave my family and go begging from door to door!"
The Sanzer Rav left the home of the rich man, and needless to say, not a soul ever heard a word of their conversation. Less than a week later he returned to the same man's house with a large sum of money. He had been able to raise enough money to rescue not only the original intended recipient, but this one as well. They were both able to pay off their debts and resume their businesses successfully.
The role of the saintly Sanzer Rav in this affair became known only many years later after he had gone to his eternal reward.
It is written (Psalm 84:12), "For a sun and a shield is Havayah Elokim (G-d, our L-rd)." "Shield" refers specifically to that shield which is a covering for the sun, to protect creatures so that they should be able to bear it (i.e., the sun's heat). Our Sages, of blessed memory, have said (Nedarim 8b), "In time to come (i.e., in the Messianic Era), the Holy One, blessed be He, will take out the sun from its sheath; the wicked will be punished by it...," as they will be unable to bear the intensity of the sun. The passage goes on to say that the righteous will not only be able to tolerate it: they will actually be healed by it.
(Shaar Hayichud Vehaemunah, Ch.4)