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How will you celebrate your next birthday? Hardly a question you would consider of deep, religious significance, right! Yet, on a birthday Judaism says there is more to celebrate than you might think!
The (Jerusalem) Talmud states that on a birthday our "mazal" (good fortune) is strong, a time when "mazalo gover," the particular spiritual source of a person's soul irradiates powerfully. Generally, when our fortune is strong, it's a great opportunity to make bold moves. So why not contemplate some new adventures?
We can use this transitional time to take stock of our achievements to date, make new beginnings, and accept new commitments for the year ahead.
On the anniversary of our birth, we embark on a new year, a new stage in our development. Take advantage of this occasion and arrange a birthday gathering. But not just your average birthday party with food, drinks and music--though that, of course, can be a part of the celebration. Spend some of the time in the company of a few of your closest friends. Be introspective, explore the state of your spiritual life, set your Jewish house even more in order.
Just be sure the party isn't all talk and no action. Start fulfilling some of the good resolutions you'll probably come up with right there. And do something practical, like making a contribution to a charitable cause.
The 25th of Adar (coinciding with March 18 this year) is the birthday of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson and marks the anniversary of the "Jewish Birthday campaign" that the Rebbe established on the Rebbetzin's birthday 16 years ago.
Because the day of one's birth is the day one's "mazel" shines (according to the Talmud) one should spend part of the day celebrating in an especially Jewish way.
A person has the ability to utilize his birthday for a positive end, instead of letting it pass as just another day. He can make it a holiday with emphasis on more Torah and mitzvot.
One's birthday is a time for reflection, when one may "remember and think about those aspects of his life which need improvement and repentance" (HaYom Yom, 11th Nissan).
Here are some suggestions:
On your birthday increase your contribution to charity. When the birth day is on Shabbat or Yom Tov, give the extra charity before Shabbat or the holiday.
Put time and effort (or more time and effort) into prayer.
Study the chapter in King David's Psalms that corresponds to your new age.
Study extra Torah
Review your conduct for the past year - see what needs repentance and improvement - and make good resolutions for the future years.
If possible say the blessing of "Shehecheyanu" on a new fruit.
Celebrate with your family and friends in honor of your birthday - give thanks to G-d for enabling you to reach this milestone.
In this week's Torah portion, Ki Tisa, we read about the sin of the golden calf. Just months after G-d freed us from the shackles of Egypt, just days after G-d revealed His essence to us at Mount Sinai. We betrayed Him in the most hurtful way possible. We made and served a false god, and to throw salt on the wound we gave it credit for redeeming us from Egypt.
As a nation, the sin of the Golden Calf has been our biggest regret to date. It has also been our greatest catalyst to change and get closer to G-d. It weighs heavily on our national conscience and we continually atone for this grave blunder.
Ultimately, the sin and the sincere remorse, regret and repentance that followed, is what gave us the most powerful tool for atonement, the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. It is what shaped us into the great, unwavering, G-d centered, dynamic, world effecting people that we are.
All of us have regrets, all of us have done things that go against everything that we stand for at one time or another. Embarrassed and ashamed it weighs heavy on us. It feels like a dark cloud following us around.
The question is: Do we let it bring us down into depression? Do we ignore it and become numb, cold and insensitive? Or do you allow it to effect you and become a catalyst for positive change?
Falling into depression is not the way. G-d wants us to serve Him with joy. Becoming cold and insensitive is simply not Jewish. A Jew should be kind and caring. Being cold or depressed is miserable and no way to live.
Examine the guilt. If the wrong can be righted, then by all means, do so. If you hurt someone, apologize. You will be surprised how powerful an honest "I'm sorry" can be.
If it cannot be corrected, then allow the guilt to shape you into a better person. The guilt will then be transformed into the event that shaped you into the good person you have become. You will begin to see it as a positive rather than a negative.
Confined to a bed, I have a lot of time to think. How many experiences would I like to change? How many words would I like to take back? How many hurts would I like to soothe?
I know that your lives are busy and it's hard to find the time for this kind of introspection. However, this exercise will unburden you. It will allow you to rise above the hurt, the shame, and the resentments. You will be happier and those around you will be effected by the new and improved you.
If you can, please forgive me, please forgive you and forgive each other.
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.
Souls on Don
by Rabbi Yanky Ascher
"I knew I had some Jewish blood," he said, "because I remembered hearing my grandma speaking Yiddish whenever she was angry. But it seemed pretty irrelevant to me - the kid who grew up going to church and wore a cross around his neck."
"It all began to change when I was in the 11th grade. Our teacher gave us an assignment: to write a report on the religion of our choice. I had read about Islam before, but it didn't resonate with me. Christianity wasn't interesting because everyone was Christian. I knew nothing about Judaism. After confirming with my mom that we did indeed have some Jewish roots, I was intrigued.
"I went to the library and loaded up on every book I could find about the Jewish religion. I read. I wrote. I read more. Something began turning inside.
"My teacher returned my report: 5 out of 5. I asked him if he knew if we had a synagogue in Rostov. He gave me an address.
"That Friday evening, I tucked my cross inside and entered the synagogue for the first time. I was greeted by a rabbi with a huge smile. He gave me a hug and welcomed me. The atmosphere was so warm. I had never experienced that in any church before. I just felt at home.
"I kept coming back, but I knew so little. I had heard that there was a grave of a holy rabbi in Rostov. One Friday night I decided to go pray there. I got in the car and drove over to the cemetery, not knowing that driving was forbidden on Shabbat. I put some coins in the charity box and read some psalms. I was on a high. For some reason, though, every time I tried lighting a candle, the flame would go out. I thought it was odd. The next day, I went to the synagogue and vented my frustration about the candle that just wouldn't light. That was my introduction to the laws of Shabbat.
"I learned a lot. And I learned quickly. Within a year, I got rid of my cross and had a Bris.
"If you ask me how it all happened, I don't really know. I just feel like sometimes God takes us by the hand and shows us where to go."
"I thought I heard a helicopter approaching," she began, "but helicopters weren't common in Lugansk. The sound kept getting louder and louder, as the chopper hovered over my building."
June 2, 2014
"I woke in a panic. 'Thank God,' I thought. 'It was just a dream.' But it wasn't. Military aircraft began flying over our home. I could feel the walls shaking.
"When the fighter jets stopped flying overhead, we were able to hear the firefighting in different neighborhoods around us. Our quiet city had become a war zone, with the constant sounds of bombings and sirens. I was afraid. I thought about God. For the first time, I realized that I really believed in Him.
"When the tanks came and parked in the soccer field across the street from us, we knew it was time to leave. It's good we did because all the buildings that surrounded our home were bombed. So when our grandfather found a job opportunity in Rostov, we all packed our bags and crossed the border, leaving the country we once called home behind.
"Can we talk about something else?" Miriam asked.
"Sure," I said. "Can you share any happy memories from your childhood?"
Miriam thought for a moment.
"When I was in the first grade, my teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. 'I want to be a boss,' I said. But my teacher told me that a boss was not a profession. Later, I was visiting our synagogue, and there was a woman there who organized all the holiday events. 'That's it,' I thought to myself. 'That's my dream. That's what I want to be."
"It took a war and a difficult move, but today my dream has come true. I'm so happy that I was able to join the Jewish community here, and I'm excited to be working with our youth club, RoshTov. I found my place. I'm a very proud Jewish girl and every time we organize an event or celebrate a holiday, I get to share that with my community. What could be better?"
"I started working at the Kosher store four years ago," said Galina. "I live just a few blocks away from the synagogue, but this job was my first encounter with the Jewish community. When business is slow, I take a book off the shelf and read. I'm going through the Torah for the first time. I'm intrigued. At 62, I have so much to learn."
Galina turns to the side, tears welling up in her eyes.
"If you're going to write about me, there's something I want you to know. Last year, I was diagnosed with cancer. As I lay in the hospital, alone in my thoughts, the nurse walked in and said that there was a delivery for me. It was a warm meal. For the rest of my stay, Kaila and Faigy, the Rabbis' wives, would take turns sending over delicious food every day. It was so thoughtful and caring of them. Even when I was back home recuperating, they'd come over to visit often - never empty-handed. I was so touched."
"That's when it hit me: This wasn't just a job for me, and I didn't just join a community."
"This is my home, and these are my family."
To read more visit www.SoulsOnTheDon.com
Thank G-d for Making Me a Woman
Where would the Jewish people be without Jewish women? Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin aims to debunk the myth that Judaism values the male contribution in Jewish life more than the female. Rabbi Raskin, who has authored many books, was determined to write this book when challenged by a congregant that she was not satisfied with books written by women espousing the role of the Jewish woman as being lofty; rather she wanted to study these ideas from a man's perspective.
For the Love of Truth
We may sense - or even know - that Christian claims about the Jewish Bible are false. But do we know why? For thousands of years attempts have been made to wrest us from our heritage, yet Jews have remained true to their faith. In these pages, the late one-of-a-kind theologian, scholar, academic, and philosophical fighter, Rabbi Dr. Jacob Immanuel Schochet teaches Jews feel so confident with the Torah of Israel. Readers will understand why we reject any attempts to change or exchange our faith for any other, and will gain incredible clarity and inspiration in their daily Jewish lives.
25th of Adar, 5721 
I received your letter which is an acknowledgment of my letter.
I was pleased to read in it about your shiurim [study classes], and I hope that you make additional efforts from time to time in accordance with the precept of our Sages that all things of holiness should be on the upgrade.
With regard to the discussions and debates and questions about which you write, it is not the right way to engage in this kind of futile discussions which are endless and useless. There is only room for discussion among people who are studying together and a question comes up now and again, and even then they should be of minor consideration
Generally speaking, all the questions which you mentioned have already been answered in our sacred books, and those who continue to argue about them do so mostly either because of ignorance or mischief. Some people simply fear that if they accepted the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] fully, they would be obliged to commit themselves in their daily life and conduct, and give up certain pleasures, and the like. Therefore, they try to justify their misguided views by futile arguments.
By way of example, I will take one question which you mention in your letter, and which apparently was impressed upon you as something complicated, but in reality the matter was discussed and solved very simply in our sacred literature. I refer to the question of how can man have freedom of choice of action if G-d already knows beforehand what he is going to do? The answer to this is simple enough as can be seen on the basis of two illustrations:
- Suppose there is a human being who can foretell the future of what is going to happen to a person. This does not mean that this knowledge deprives that person from acting freely as before. It only means that the knowledge of the forecaster is such that it is the knowledge of how the person will choose freely and of his own volition. Similarly, G-d's knowledge of human actions is such that it does not deprive humans from the free choice of action, but it only means that G-d knows how the person will choose to act in a certain situation. To formulate this in scientific terms, we can say that the opposite of free choice is not pre-knowledge, but compulsion, for there is such knowledge which does not entail compulsion (as for example, knowledge of the past).
I refer to the question of how can man have freedom of choice of action if G-d already knows beforehand what he is going to do?
- Every believer in G-d, and not Jews only, believes that with G-d the past, present and future are all the same, since He is above time and space. Just as in the case of human affairs, the fact that Mr. X knows all that happened to Mr. Y in the past, this knowledge did not affect Mr. Y's actions in the past, so G-d's knowledge of the future, which is the same as His knowledge of the past, does not affect the free choice of human action.
From the simple solution to the above question, you can draw an analogy in regard to all similar questions and be sure that there is an answer to them, and very often a simple one. But the proper Jewish way is to fulfill the Torah and mitzvoth without question, and then to try and find out anything that one wishes to find out about the Torah and mitzvoth, but not, G-d forbid, make human understanding a condition of performance of G-d's commandments.
I trust that you participated in a Purim Farbrengen [Chassidic gathering], and I hope that the inspiration and joy will be lasting throughout the year.
What customs are now with Passover?
Thirty days before any Jewish holiday it is traditional to begin studying about and preparing for it. Specifically 30 days before Passover it is customary to begin collecting Maot Chitim "wheat money" for matza. In more recent times, this fund was expanded to supply the poor with other Passover holiday needs wine, meat, new clothing in honor of the holiday, etc. Donating to maot chitim is in addition to the various other general charities and communal funds regularly distributed to the poor. Every person should give according to their means.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is known as "Shabbat Para," when we read the special Torah portion about the red heifer. The ashes of the red heifer (of which only nine have ever existed) have the power to remove the spiritual impurity caused by contact with a dead body.
As Maimonides writes: "There were nine red heifers from the time we were commanded until the destruction of the Second Holy Temple. The first was prepared by Moses our Teacher, the second by Ezra, and seven more between Ezra and the destruction. The tenth will be prepared by King Moshiach, may he be speedily revealed, Amen, may it be G-d's will."
Maimonides impassioned "outburst," as it were - "may he be speedily revealed, Amen, may it be G-d's will" - is somewhat surprising, given its context in a book of Jewish law. Moreover, even if we were to make "allowances" for such a prayer, surely it would seem more appropriate in his Laws of Kings.
The explanation, as Maimonides himself provides elsewhere, is that believing in Moshiach and actively awaiting his arrival is a perpetual mitzva. A Jew longs for Moshiach because he feels incomplete without him. He hopes for Moshiach "all the day" because until he arrives, a crucial element is missing.
Accordingly, the mere mention of Moshiach, even indirect or tangential, can arouse a passionate response in the Jewish soul. Even the slightest reference elicits a heartfelt prayer, that G-d should fulfill His promise and send Moshiach at once.
The red heifer is particularly associated with the Final Redemption, as it states, "Then I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean." This refers to the sprinkling of the ashes of the red heifer, which will remove our present state of spiritual impurity (due to contact with the dead).
In the tiny interval that remains, let us remember that every positive action we do draws nearer the day when "The spirit of uncleanliness I will remove from the earth," with the coming of Moshiach, "may he be speedily revealed, Amen, may it be G-d's will."
And you shall make an incense (Ex. 30:35)
A person wrongs his fellow man and asks his forgiveness. The first time it happens the wronged party is only too happy to forgive him and excuse his behavior, but by the second and third time he isn't so easily appeased. Even though he is willing to make up, a "foul odor" still remains that taints the relationship. So too is it with G-d. The offering a person brought caused G-d to absolve him of his sin, but a "bad smell" still fouled the air. The purpose of the incense offering was to dispel this "odor."
The Tablets were written on both their sides (Ex. 32:15)
The two sides of the Tablets are an allusion to the two aspects of Torah, the revealed (nigleh) and the hidden (nistar). If a person publicly denies the Divinity of the Torah's mystical teachings, it is a sign that inwardly, he also denies the sanctity of the revealed portion.
(The Chatam Sofer)
Before all your people I will perform wonders, such as have not been done on all the earth, nor in any nation (Ex. 34:10)
The Hebrew word for "wonder" is related to the word meaning "set apart." G-d promised the Jews that they would be set apart from the rest of the nations of the world, for His Divine Presence would henceforth rest only on them. But what "wonders" were promised? Not merely miracles in the physical world, but wonders in the spiritual sense, a deeper understanding of G-dliness and holiness than is afforded others. That is why the verse specifies "before all your people," for only the Jew can really understand and appreciate the depth of these wonders.
In the winter of the year 1592, the Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Yehuda Lowe, was called to see Emperor Rudolph II. The famed Rabbi spent a long time with the Emperor, but no one knew what it was all about. Many years later, this story was told about the visit and a strange dream that the Emperor had.
At the Emperor's court there were some ministers who were envious of the great respect and honor that the famed Maharal was enjoying. Both Jews and non-Jews knew that the Maharal was a holy man and they respected him greatly. The courtiers of the Emperor planned to drive the Rabbi out of Prague and send him and all his flock into exile. Knowing that the Emperor would not hear of such a thing, they turned to the Empress, who promised to induce the Emperor to carry out the plan.
In the evening, the Empress handed the papers containing the harsh decree to her husband and asked him to sign them at once. At first, the Emperor hesitated to sign the decree, but when his wife persisted in her request, he said that he would "sleep on it," and sign the papers in the morning.
That night, the Emperor had a strange dream...He was waging war, but was captured and placed in prison, where he was told he would spend the rest of his life.
For many years the Emperor remained in prison, living on bread and water, with no one taking any interest in him.
One day an old Jew passed the prison. He was a venerable-looking man, with kindly eyes. The Emperor called out to him. The old man stopped and looked at the prisoner behind the bars.
"I am the Emperor," the prisoner exclaimed. "Don't you recognize me?"
"You have changed, Sire," the old man replied.
"I swear to you that I am the Emperor Rudolph. Please get me out of here," the prisoner begged desperately.
The old man knocked at the prison wall with his cane, and immediately there appeared a passage in the wall. The Emperor walked out and went with the old man to his home.
"You cannot return to the palace in this state," the old man told him, "for no one will recognize you. I will send for a barber and a tailor to groom you and to prepare royal robes for you. In the meantime, lie down and rest."
Then the old man placed two plates near the bed. "What are these for?" the puzzled Emperor asked.
"One is for your nails and the other for your hair," the old man replied.
"How can I ever thank you?" the Emperor asked, with tears of gratitude rolling down his cheeks.
The Emperor awoke and wiped the tears from his cheeks. He sat up in bed and saw two plates on a little table near his bed. His thoughts turned to his strange dream. "Only the saintly Rabbi, Rabbi Lowe, could explain to me the meaning of the dream," the Emperor thought. At that moment there was a knock at the door. "You ordered the Royal Barber to report this morning," the Chief Chamberlain said on entering.
"Request Chief Rabbi Lowe for an audience immediately!" the Emperor called, and the puzzled Chamberlain withdrew.
As soon as the Maharal entered, the Emperor, who had never seen the Rabbi before, recognized him as the old Jew he had seen in his dream.
"In my dream last night you did not recognize me," the Emperor said reproachfully.
"You had changed, Sire," the Maharal answered.
"Tell me more about my dream."
"You went to bed with unkind thoughts last night. What did you have under your pillow?"
The Emperor now remembered that the empress had placed the decree under his pillow, to be ready for his signature first thing in the morning.
"I promise you that no harm will befall the Jews of Prague," Emperor Rudolph said, and immediately tore up the papers containing the cruel decree.
"You spared my brethren much suffering," the Maharal said, "but you have spared yourself even greater pain."
Up until the destruction of the Second Temple, ashes had been prepared from a total of nine red heifers. The first red heifer was processed by Moses himself. The second was done by the prophet Ezra in the days of the First Temple, and during the entire Second Temple era only seven more heifers were prepared. The names of the High Priests who prepared those heifers are recorded in the Mishna. In recounting this in his commentary to the Mishna, Maimonides ends with the enigmatic statement: "... and the tenth red heifer will be accomplished by the king, the Moshiach; may he be revealed speedily, Amen, May it be G-d's will." With this statement, Maimonides recounts an ancient tradition - that the tenth red heifer is associated with the Messianic era.