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Although it's been six years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the worst (and G-d willing last) spill in U.S. history, its effects are still impacting marine life, shoreline and the environment.
Extensive revisions to offshore-drilling regulations, issued in April 2016, put Deepwater Horizon into the news again.
A famous teaching of the Baal Shem Tov is that everything we see and hear contains a lesson for us. How much more so does this apply to something that is heard by the whole world and impacts the entire globe.
Let's consider the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion for a moment. 4.9 million barrels of oil was spilled, travelling and affecting (albeit adversely) the sea population and shoreline for thousands of miles.
An obvious lesson to learn from this catastrophe is that there need to be disaster-proof methods for the handling of any kind of potential energy, whether oil, electrical, nuclear, gas, etc.
A more esoteric and positive lesson - for we can always learn something from even the most negative occurrence - is two-fold: the existence of an immediate "ripple effect," and a less immediate long-lasting effect.
That the explosion and spill in one area and could effect life thousands of miles away and be the topic of conversation around the world shows us just how far-reaching every action can be.
Everything an individual does has an impact somewhere, somehow, and that impact is infinite.
A simple example of this is doing what our Sages encouraged - greeting everyone with a smile.
Have you ever tried to trace the path of a smile? It begins when you smiling at someone who looks rather grumpy. That person becomes just a bit less grouchy and decides not to bark at a co-worker when he messes up.
The co-worker, feeling surprised and highly relieved, is more pleasant to the next person he comes in contact with, and it goes on and on. The ripple effect of a single smile.
Whether we know it, whether we acknowledge it, or even whether we want it to, our positive actions and mitzvot have the power to impact far beyond what we consider our circle of influence.
The oil spill rippled outward and spread damage and destruction.
Our mitzvot ripple outward, purifying the spiritual environment, spreading healing and repair, influencing the very direction the world is going in until ultimately it will arrive at its final destination - the Messianic Era.
The performance of mitzvot has a personal effect as well.
They refine the soul, making it more receptive to goodness and G-dliness.
But what of the fact that the repercussions of the oil spill are still being felt more than six years later? What lesson can we learn from this?
Chasidut teaches that negative ultimately disappears, while good is eternal. Thus, the transgressions and adverse actions of Jews throughout the ages vanish with time. But the good of all generations, from our ancestors Abraham and Sarah right up to and including the good that each of us does every day, remains.
This is also the explanation for why it is specifically in our generation that Moshiach will take us out of exile and into the Redemption. It is not that we are more meritorious or greater than previous generations. Rather, the accumulation of goodness and G-dliness has finally reached the point where creation is saturated, and the Redemption, as the Rebbe has stressed so many times, is imminent.
By continuing to do good and performing mitzvot, our actions spread out until they alter the entire world.
In this week's Torah portion, Chukat, we are taught the law of the Red Heifer. If someone comes in contact with a dead body, they have to be purified by being sprinkled with water mixed with the ashes of the red heifer. About this mitzva (commandment) the Torah says "Zot Chukat HaTorah - this is the decree of the Torah." Meaning, there is something about this mitzva which is central to Torah and its observance.
This mitzva is a "chok," a mitzva whose rational is beyond human comprehension and is done just because it is G-d's will.
What are some lessons that we can take from this Mitzvah that effect Jewish life and observance?
The first lesson is that we must be alive. Our attitude, outlook and focus must be positive and alive. Some see Torah as a bunch of rules telling them what they can't do. To them Torah becomes a miserable ball and chain which they lug around. Some even take pride in this form of misery: "Look at how miserable I am for G-d."
This is not living. The Torah wants us to purify ourselves from even contact with death. To live with Torah, is to see the positive purpose and mission that Hashem has given to us. Instead of a ball and chain, Torah becomes wings with which you can soar. Mitzvot become a joy to do. Even the negative commandments are kept out of joy and positivity. You get to be G-d's messenger to do these things.
Another thing we can learn from the red heifer is, that its reason is beyond human comprehension. We only do it because it is G-d's will. Same could be true about all the mitzvot, even the ones we do understand, we can and should do them for a higher purpose, because it is G-d's will. This makes our seemingly mundane actions meaningful too.
Being unable to do anything for myself, I see more than ever how simple actions can be meaningful and G-dly. Just sitting, keeping me company, is so precious to me.
This perhaps is the most important lesson of all. It is easy to see prayer, Torah study, tefillin, Shabbat candles, etc. As G-dly. To G-d, our most mundane act can be G-dly. This is especially true when we show kindness to one another, what is more G-dly than that.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
Spying for Babylon
By Menachem Ziegelboim
An elderly Jew by the name of Yisek Faguskin would go every morning to the Chabad synagogue in Bnei Brak, Israel. Although he was over 80, his mind was sharp. He came to the synagogue to study a little Torah and to enjoy the Jewish atmosphere which he had missed out on throughout his life in Russia.
Eight years ago, Rabbi Zushe Gross, who gives classes in the synagogue, was relating the story of the Previous Rebbe's arrest and subsequent liberation on 12 Tammuz (this coming Monday). He described the "crimes" of which the Previous Rebbe was accused, and concluded with his release and redemption.
Yisek Faguskin listened to the story and smiled. "Yes," he said, "I was a senior judge in the communist system. I am very familiar with how they operated. It didn't take much to get called before a judge and punished severely. But if you think that we judges decided people's fate, you are mistaken. I will relate one story, one of many that I remember, which will demonstrate how 'justice' was meted out in Russia."
And this is the story he told: I was a senior judge at the time Stalin was killed in 1953. As you know, Stalin murdered millions of his citizens in order establish his position and to "purify" Russia of the "decadents."
After his death, Khrushchev rose to power and the decision was made to reexamine the files of tens and hundreds of thousands of citizens who had been judged under Stalin's rule. Some of these people were freed.
I reviewed many of these files and decided each matter. One day I came across the file of someone who had been sentenced twenty-five years before. The file had been signed by an investigator who had since been promoted and had achieved the rank of general in the Ministry of Justice, the Yustitzia in the Ministry for Internal Affairs.
Who was this person? His name was Vladek, and he was a simple farmer who lived on the banks of Lake Baikel in Siberia, in a small and peaceful village. One day at the end of the 20s, he and some friends decided to open a fishing business in order to earn an honest livelihood. They bought two boats, and began fishing in the lake.
The fish they caught were of superior quality because the lake was free of poisons and dangerous chemicals. Within a short span of time, they were extremely successful and established a cooperative.
The government wasn't happy with their accomplishment, and one morning three trucks packed with soldiers arrived in the village. The soldiers dispersed among the passersby and attacked them, and then forced them on to the trucks and covered them with tarpaulins.
Vladek was among those who were caught and forced on to the truck and taken to the G.P.U. for investigation. He spent days in a dark, damp cell without being informed why he had been arrested. When he was finally taken to his first interrogation, he was told that he was guilty of spying.
"Who did you spy for?" asked the interrogator.
"I didn't spy," answered Vladek innocently.
Vladek was instantly beaten by two soldiers who stood at his side. He underwent many interrogations, but each time Vladek assumed some mistake had been made and so he never admitted anything since he had nothing to confess.
Vladek was warned that he had 24 hours to think over his decision, and if he did not confess to spying he would be beaten to death.
Vladek didn't know what to do. He was desperately famished and nearly out of his mind with fatigue. In the end he broke and decided to admit to spying, but he didn't know what to say about which country he had been spying for. He wasn't clever enough to invent the information they wanted.
He figured that if he would tell them he spied for Germany, they would ask him what information he gave them, how he obtained it, and they might ask him to say a few words in German, which he didn't know. He didn't know what he would answer, and then he would be guilty of both lying and spying!
Vladek wracked his brains and suddenly he remembered a scene from his childhood, when his grandfather took him to hear the priest's lecture. He remembered that the priest had mentioned "Babylon" and Vladik rejoiced and decided to say he spied for Babylon.
At his next interrogation, Vladek admitted that he had spied. "Which country?" the interrogator asked.
"For Babylon," answered Vladek.
The interrogator quickly wrote down the information and had Vladek sign it. Vladek received a bowl of black kasha for his trouble. A few days later he was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment, and on the appointed day he and the other prisoners left by train for the labor camp.
Nearly 25 years had passed and Stalin died, and I was given his file. I looked into the matter and was surprised to learn that this man had admitted to spying for a country that no longer existed.
I found out that the interrogator who had extracted the confession had been promoted to the rank of colonel in the Ministry of Justice in Moscow. I called the department and spoke to him. I reminded him of the case which had taken place at the end of the 20's and he remembered it.
"How could this man have spied for Babylon?" I asked him, without concealing my surprise. "After all, Babylon was a nation of ancient times?"
There was a moment of silence and then he said, "I remember it well, but what could I do after receiving a direct order from Mayazhov to fill a certain quota of prisoners? To fill the quota, we didn't care who was guilty and why. We took whoever was available and sent them to Siberia in the best cases, and in the worst cases we sent them to the next world."
Once he admitted to this, I ordered that Vladek be freed and even be given a token compensation. Broken by his years in the labor camp, all Vladek wanted was to return to his village on the banks of Lake Baikel, and to see his friends, his beloved lake and boats. When he arrived back in the village he discovered that nothing was left of the place, and he was the sole survivor of all his friends.
"This is a story which I was personally involved in," concluded Yisek, "and when I hear the story of the great Rebbe who was imprisoned, I am amazed. I am astounded about how he was freed when his 'crimes' were so serious. He must have been a great tzaddik..."
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine
Teen leaders and the Rebbe's emissaries from around the world came together for the third annual CTeen Leadership Retreat and Convention in Bushkill, New York. Participants joined dynamic workshops and hands on activities that offered refreshing takes on topics connected with leadership.
Chabad on Campus Convention
A Chabad on Campus Convention brought together hundreds of the Rebbe's emissaries from college and university campuses in 17 countries. While some emissaries came from as far away as Australia and China, most of the rabbis and rebbetzins were from the 245 U.S. campuses that have Chabad Houses. While their parents were busy at workshops and lectures, hundreds of children - the Chabad on Campus "ambassadors" - were treated to a fabulous four day camp. The convention took place in Stamford, Connecticut.
15th of Tammuz, 5731 
Greeting and Blessing:
I trust you had an inspiring 12-13th of Tammuz, the history and significance of which you surely know. As I have often mentioned it before, the important thing of observing a special day in our calendar, is not simply for the sake of remembrance of an event in the past, but that this remembrance should serve as a source of inspiration and stimulus for positive action in the present and future.
One of the significant aspects of the 12-13th of Tammuz, recalling the imprisonment and liberation of my father-in-law of saintly memory in those crucial days of the Soviet regime, is the nature of his activities which had brought about that crisis. For, my father-in-law of saintly memory had been very actively engaged in a variety of activities to preserve Yiddishkeit [Torah Judaism] even under that hostile regime. These included the placement and financial support of Rabbomin, shochtim, mohalim, teachers, etc., and the maintenance of houses of prayer, chadorim, yeshivos on both elementary and advanced levels. While all these activities were characterized by the same dedication and spirit of selflessness for the preservation and spreading of Yiddishkeit, going against the tide and in defiance of a brutal regime, and especially the militantly anti-religious Jewish section of the Communist party, etc., the main weight of this general activity was in the educational area, namely establishment and maintenance of clandestine chadorim, Talmud Torahs and Yeshivos. For, however vital all the other activities were, such as providing a Rav [rabbi] and a shochet [ritual slaughterer] and a mikvah [ritual pool], etc., the most important and far-reaching activity was the chinuch of the Jewish children, since the children are the foundation of the whole future of our people, and also the basis for all religious and spiritual activity devoted to the adults. As our Sages put it succinctly (in keeping with their way of expressing profound ideas in a few laconic words): "If there are no little lambs, there are no big rams."
Nowadays where chinuch [Jewish educaiton]is concerned, it is not enough to provide the facilities for Jewish children to acquire the knowledge of Torah and the Jewish way of life. In this day and age the important thing is to inculcate into the children the proper Torah spirit and develop their true Jewish character, so that they should be able to face the world, even if they are a small minority, and should not fall prey to the various new ideas and ideologies which are so contrary to the spirit of Torah and Judaism.
The children are the foundation of the whole future of our people, and also the basis for all religious and spiritual activity devoted to the adults.
For this reason it is necessary to get the Jewish children at their earliest age, in order to enable the Jewish boy and girl to realize the full potential of his or her Jewish neshamah [soul]. This is also what makes the elementary Jewish school so important nowadays; because it is there that the child's character is primarily molded. In this connection, I want to recall one particularly meaningful episode connected with the anniversary of the 12-13th of Tammuz, since it was one of the factors which aggravated the position of my father-in-law of saintly memory and precipitated the investigation and arrest. I refer to a public discourse which he gave on the Purim before his imprisonment, based on the text "Out of the mouth of the babes and sucklings You established strength because of in answer to Your enemies, in order to silence the enemy and avenger." (Ps. 8:3). He explained on that occasion, and in the published discourse which appeared already after his liberation, the vital importance of Torah-true Chinuch which must begin at the earliest age, and this is the way to overcome and silence our enemies, not only the enemies of Yiddishkeit, but also the enemies of the Jewish people. Actually the two are closely interlocked, inasmuch as the destiny of our people is essentially bound up with Yiddishkeit, as Rav Saadia Gaon expressed it, "Our people is a people only by virtue of the Torah" (Beliefs and Opinions 3:7)
Continued in next issue
With thanks to NissanMindelPublications.com
According to the Talmud, even very young children were brought to the Temple on Sukkot for the great Hakhel assembly. Their parents were travelling from all over the Holy Israel. The children could not be left at home with the few individuals who are exempt from this commandment. So, although these children would be present in any event - as a consequence of practical considerations - the Torah legislates their inclusion in the assembly. As part of the mitzva, these efforts are worthy of reward.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Monday is the 12th of Tamuz. On this day in 1927, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, o.b.m., was informed he would be released from prison.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok had been imprisoned by the anti-religious Communist regime for his efforts to strengthen Torah and Judaism in Russia. Originally he was sentenced to death; later, through American intervention it was commuted to three years in exile and finally all charges were dropped.
It is told that KGB agents once burst into his home, "warning" him to stop his work.
"My activities are legal according to Soviet law. I see no reason to stop them," he calmly replied.
One of the agents waved a gun at him. "This little toy has made many a man change his mind!"
"This little toy," retorted the Rebbe, "can intimidate only a man with two gods and one world. I, however, have one G-d and two worlds."
Such was the indomitable spirit of the previous Rebbe, leader of Russian Jewry and staunch champion of the conviction that America could also become a center for Torah and Jewish life.
The life of this great leader can be inspiring for us, today. Let us emulate the unflinching, resolute determination of the previous Rebbe, in all matters pertaining to our "one G-d and two worlds." And let us each do all we can to continue the work of the Rebbe, in strengthening Torah and Judaism all over the world. Then, the celebration of the 12th of Tamuz will be not just someone else's day of liberation, but indeed our very own.
Which has no blemish, which has never borne a yoke (Numbers 19:2)
If a person sees himself as "without blemish," confident that he has already reached perfection, it is a sure sign that he "has never borne a yoke" - he has never accepted the yoke of heaven. Otherwise he would understand that he is still full of flaws and imperfections...
(The Seer of Lublin)
And he hit the rock with his staff (Num. 20:11)
Chasidic philosophy explains that the dor hamidbar, the generation of Jews who left Egypt, was considered to be on the spiritual level of "dibur," or "speech" (both words share the Hebrew root daled, bet, resh). The generation of Jews which entered the Land of Israel was on the spiritual level of deed, for they involved themselves in the practical mitzvot which could only be done after they left the wilderness. This, therefore, is one of the reasons Moses hit the rock with his staff and did not merely speak to it to bring the water forth - he recognized that a physical action was most suited to the needs of the generation of Jews he then led. In truth, however, he should have tried to elevate them to the higher level of speech. And this is why he was punished by G-d.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
And when a serpent had bitten any man, and he looked up at the serpent of copper, and lived (Num. 21:9)
The serpent has two diametrically opposed qualities: It can wind, and it can also heal. A person who is learned in Torah should also possess the same two characteristics--and know when each is appropriate. Moses, the greatest scholar who ever lived and who embodied only goodness and mercy, alluded to this in the first wonder he performed for Pharaoh when his staff turned into a serpent: A person must know when power and strength must be shown.
(Degel Machane Efraim)
Prior to WWII, there was a large and vibrant Jewish community in the city of Lantzut, located in southeastern Poland. Several thousand Jews lived in the city in 1940, when Lantzut was occupied by the Nazis (may their names be eradicated) on the eve of Rosh Hashana. Ten days later, on Yom Kippur, the entire Jewish population, including the rabbi, was expelled for allegedly being communists. They were driven into Soviet-occupied territory towards the San River.
A stranger in a strange land, the Lantzuter Rav began to wander from place to place, looking for somewhere to rest from his weary journey. Then one day, he was stopped by the Soviet authorities. Since he had no identification documents and couldn't speak Russian, he was placed under arrest. After a hasty trial he was exiled to the frozen wastelands of Siberia.
However, his hardships did not end in Siberia. Libelous charges were lodged against him, that he had passed secret information to the Poles. This amounted to sedition against the U.S.S.R., and if convicted, he could be sentenced to death, G-d forbid. In fact, twelve people had testified to the rabbi's guilt. Furthermore, since he was a rabbi, the case aroused a great deal of interest, and many people came to the "trial," the results of which were determined well in advance.
Under normal circumstances, there was no chance for him to survive the proceedings. Yet he experienced a miracle. After the "witnesses" completed their testimony, the judge pounded his gavel, turned to the Rabbi and said, "You are charged with violating statute number XX... The fact that you show ingratitude towards Mother Russia for saving your life, repaying her with evil for the good she has done for you, after welcoming you with open arms from the fires of Poland, by assisting the enemies of the Soviet people... all this pales in comparison to your greatest crime. You are a rabbiner, a Jew, and it is written in your Torah, 'Pray for the welfare of the government.' Therefore, as a rabbiner, how can you possibly act contrary to your Torah and commit treason against your country?"
"Your honor is correct," the Lantzuter Rav replied. "I am a practicing rabbi, and our Torah condemns such conduct. However, it never crossed my mind for a moment to offer aid and comfort to our country's enemies. All the testimony brought against me by these witnesses is completely false. I have never committed treason against Russia and I never will," he concluded emphatically.
To the rabbi's great astonishment, the judge accepted his plea. He rapped his gavel again, declared that he had found the rabbi innocent of all charges, and ordered his immediate release!
The Lantzuter Rav was stunned. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined that he would be set free. When the hall emptied and he left the courtroom, the judge approached him and placed a note in his hand. On it the judge had written that he wanted to see the Rabbi in his home, at eleven p.m. that night.
At the appointed time, the Lantzuter Rav approached the judge's home. When the door was opened, the rabbi could not believe his eyes. The judge's wife, modestly dressed and wearing a head-covering, invited him in. The judge welcomed him with great respect, and showed him that he was wearing a tallit katan. He then offered the rabbi a seat in his living room and proceeded to tell him what had impelled him to clear the rabbi of all charges.
"Just before I joined the Red Army, I went to the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn, to receive his blessing. The Rebbe looked at me with his holy eyes and said cryptically, 'When you reach a position of greatness, don't forget to do a favor for another Jew.'
"The years passed. I joined the army, and I was quickly promoted. After my discharge, having proven my loyalty to Russia, I received high-ranking positions with the local Ministry of Justice, eventually being appointed to serve as a judge.
"When you arrived in the hall, my eyes began to dim. I saw the rows of witnesses before me, and I realized that if I would dare to rule in your favor, the people in the courtroom would tear us both apart. I was about to render my decision in accordance with Soviet law, when I suddenly envisioned my holy audience with the Rebbe from years ago. I again saw the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph Isaac, looking at me with piercing eyes and saying to me, 'When you reach a position of greatness - don't forget to do a favor for another Jew.'
"I decided then and there that no matter what happened, I would risk my life to exonerate you. G-d Almighty helped and He placed the right words into my mouth, which, thank G-d, resulted in your acquittal and our both leaving the courtroom, safe and sound..."
Reprinted from chabadshore.com
There is a profound link between the precept of the "red heifer" and the Redemption: Mitzvot - commandments - signify life. One who follows the commandments attaches himself to G-d and draws spiritual vitality from the Source of All Life. Sin signifies death. Violating G-d's will disrupts attachment to the Creator, thus bringing about the "impurity of death." Both the red cow and the Redemption effect purification. For just as the ashes of the red cow are used for removing a legal state of impurity, the Final Redemption with Moshiach will purify the entire people of Israel from any trace of deficiency in their bond with G-d.