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by Dr. David YB Kaufmann obm
Ah, family reunions! Those gala gathering of the clan events. They can be held for special reasons - a mother's 75th birthday, the parents' 50th wedding anniversary, a Bar Mitzva. They can be held for no reason at all other than a celebration of the generations.
They can extend across a wide range of cousins - go back three or four generations. Some families have a yearly event. It starts with parents, children and spouses, and grandchildren. The reunions can have a theme, have special commemorative sweatshirts, occur around a holiday. Grandma can make some special recipes (a thousand chocolate chip cookies, anyone?), cousins play games (all night sessions of Chess, Monopoly or Risk), and the siblings catch up with each others' lives (how's the new job working out? you got a new car? which team's going to win?).
Around the dinner table, a recounting of family history. Stories of old frictions now produce laughs and a sense of togetherness, of battling through together rather than against each other.
Stepping back for a moment, though, or looking on as an outsider, we must be struck by two observations, apparent contradictions. We see an intensity of affection that, in many ways, has no parallel for breadth and depth. Oh, sure, there will sometimes be tense moments (fewer the older we get, the more reunions we have), conflicts, a flaring up here and there, on rare occasions, of unsettled issues. But over all, by and large - overwhelmingly so - consider the months of planning! - everyone focuses outward from themselves and inward to the family - the family as a whole, as an indivisible unit. One sees a clear and present pride, an exclusionary pride, that extends to and includes all - those born into and those adopted in.
And the second thing we see is the diversity. This one barely speaks English, that one can barely read Hebrew. This one wears a kipa, studied in a yeshiva and his wife covers her hair; that one is always on the go, hasn't settled down yet, has a high profile job; the other one is strictly "middle class" - two cars in the garage, suburbs, soccer and piano. They look different, they live differently and yet - they're family. Here, we don't measure lifestyles and we don't count mitzvot (commandment). Rather, we count souls to make sure everyone's here. At reunions, we measure the limitless responsibility and love we have for each other. Each guarantees the other. Each is bound to, part of, every member of the family.
The family reunion - a microcosm of the Jewish people. For all our diversity, we "camp at Sinai" as one people. Near or far, does not our family - our extended family, our fellow Jews - remain always in our minds and hearts? Do we not rejoice at the reunion, even with a "distant" cousin?
And of a certainty we look forward to the ultimate family reunion, when all Jews, living and dead, will be reunited in our ancestral home, in Israel, as we gather for the family feast, so to speak, at the rebuilt Temple, with the coming of Moshiach.
This article is one of over 400 article that Dr. Kaufmann wrote for this column in L'Chaim over the course of eight years. Read more about Dr. Kaufmann in the Slice of Life
This week we read two Torah portion, Vayakhel and Pekudei. In the first portion we learn about the donations that created the Kiyor, the Laver, a large copper receptacle that held water. The Kohanim, the priests, would wash their hands and feet using the water from the Kiyor before doing the Temple service.
Where was the copper for the Kiyor from? The women gathered at Moses's tent with the copper mirrors they had used to beautify themselves while they were still in Egyptian exile. They intended to donate these mirrors to be used for the holy Tabernacle.
Moses was disgusted by the mirrors, because he did not relate to the holy purpose for which they had been used. G-d told Moses to accept them, "for they are most precious to Me of all." Because of these mirrors, the women established great numbers in Egypt. When their husbands would be exhausted, laboring under Egyptian bondage, they would go out and greet them with food and drink. They would feed them, and entice them with words, they would hold the mirror in a way that both her and her husband could be seen together, she would say "I am prettier than you." In this manner she would awaken his desire for her.
It is with these mirrors that the Kiyor was made, for the Kiyor is to bring peace between husband and wife. How important is the relationship of a couple to G-d?
In Song of Songs, King Solomon compares our relationship with G-d, to the relationship of a husband and wife. This relationship with G-d is the foundation on which our purpose and mission as the Jewish people is established. Every mitzva, every prayer and every part of Torah we learn, comes down to this relationship. Being one with G-d.
The microcosm of this relationship is that of a husband and wife. This relationship is so central to Judaism, that the mirrors that brought husband and wife together as one, are not only special, but most precious of all. It is so important that no service could be done in the Temple before washing hands from the Kiyor, which was made from these mirrors. The Kiyor was placed between the altar and the Holies, the center of all of the action in the Temple. It was seen and served as a reminder of the importance of the husband and wife relationship.
This shows us how important it is to work on our personal relationship. If you are not growing closer together, there is a problem. If you feel that your relationship is on the rocks, you are not alone, don't be ashamed to get professional help. Most good marriages are that way because the couple was willing to go to a professional and sort out their issues. If you think your relationship is just fine, then you must take it to the next level, there is always room to grow. The Kiyor, made of these mirrors and placed centrally in the Temple, is a reminder, that your relationship is central to Judaism, it is the foundation of Jewish life, and it is not just special, to G-d, it is most precious of all.
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.
Scotch and Herring
by Rabbi Mendel Rivkin
It is with a heavy heart and profound sadness that I share the news of the passing of community leader, my fellow (senior) Shliach, family friend and longtime neighbor, Dr. David Kaufmann.
Dr. Kaufmann was one of the first (if not the first) people to get involved with Chabad in 1975 when my parents, Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin, arrived in New Orleans. While pursuing graduate studies at the University of New Orleans (UNO) and later Tulane, he also pursued his other passion, Jewish learning. David was a regular at our home and entertained us kids with songs and stories. He always had a pipe and a chess board handy.
After marrying Nechama and starting their family, David completed his PHD in English at Tulane. Then David and Nechama joined the staff of Chabad as the Rebbe's emissaries in New Orleans. For years they directed Camp Gan Israel day camp and then also became the directors of Chabad's activities on Tulane's campus. David also spearheaded the highly popular "Chanukah @ Riverwalk" program and continued to coordinate it until recent years.
His true love was Torah study, especially Chasidic philosophy and the teachings of the Rebbe, which he shared at every opportunity.
David had a profound influence on many people as an emissary, teaching and inspiring in his unique manner, and also as a professor of English and Jewish studies at Tulane. For years he led a Tanya study class with a diverse group in attendance. His classes on the Rebbe's Sichot (talks) were much anticipated.
David was influential in the growth of Torah Academy Day School, serving in many capacities over the years, not the least of which was Chess Club instructor, once leading the club all the way through the tournaments, nearly to the top of the city rankings.
David was an author of many books spanning several genres. He was also a translator and an editor. He was a pioneer in using the internet and email for Jewish outreach, through which he developed a relationship with the legendary online Jewish figure, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Kazen. For years, Dr. Kaufmann authored the lead front page article in this L'Chaim Newsletter.
All of the above aside, most central to David's life was his family, and being a chasid and emissary of the Rebbe. He deeply regarded the mitzva (commandment) of honoring parents. His pride and joy were his wife, children and grandchildren.
This past summer, Dr. Kaufmann stood before us at Project Talmud, and bravely spoke about Faith in Times of Crisis. It was - at times - an emotional presentation that strongly impacted the listeners. We all had hoped that it would be strictly a rear-view mirror perspective. Alas, it was not meant to be and this morning our community suffered the loss of one of our best.
Our hearts are broken for the loss but even more so for his wife Nechama and their children. May G-d comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and may we very soon experience the Redemption, the time when "death will cease forever and G-d will wipe the tears off every face."
From Dr. Kaufmann's website (www.davidybkaufmann.com) that features his novels:
David Y. B. Kaufmann has triangulated the country, having been born in Seattle, grown up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and finally settling in New Orleans. He and his wife Nechama have seven children. He has taught for over 35 years and has a Ph.D. in English. He is an eclectic author, having written scholarly articles on Mark Twain, Jane Austen and Narrative Closure as well as hundreds of essays on a variety of topics. He has edited several chess books (having been an active player and teacher), as well medical texts and legal briefs. He has translated works of Jewish thought and co-authored the email-written memoir, Judaism Online: Confronting Spirituality on the Internet, with Shoshana Zakar. His fiction includes, Trees and Forest: A Mystery and The Silent Witness (YA), both set in New Orleans, as well as the Scotch and Herring Mystery series, set in 1950s Brooklyn.
A Poem that Dr. Kaufmann wrote on turning 65 six months ago:
So I made it. One year past do you need me.
I have been through the war, you and I,
And bear the scar of more than life -
There is a limping of the soul I would not trade,
Though I have spent a lifetime, and would have spent
Another to avoid the gaining of that gain,
Irredeemable, a value prized beyond
The infinite price. I nearly didn't make it
Twice, you and I, but seven returns
Manifold, and prayers breach the sky.
The world is hollow and we twirl within -
So many futures I have been,
So many futures I have yet to be,
And I see the prologue in the days to come -
Walk with me, cane or no,
And turn a sunset into dawn,
The night is dark and full of light,
The stars like dust, sand on the shore,
We shall walk the numbering ever
And forevermore. When half and yet half
Again I did not think that I would be
Where I am - if I could see that far
(Glasses as a toddler, you know, the eyes
Inward more than distance searched) - and who I am,
Nor that I'd be, or how the becoming
Came to be - all that, and more, in haze -
And yet, so I moved, you and I -
In children and their children years come by.
And so the time to come, the time that's past,
A fog submerged, a path, a light surpassed.
Rabbi Chanan and Tuba Chernitsky are opening a new Chabad Center in Newfoundland, a remote Canadian island. They will be serving the Jewish population of 500 with all their needs for Jewish life. Before moving permanentl to the island, the Chernitsky's came regularly for various holidays and even organized a Passover Seder last year. They will be holding one again this year, but now in their permanent positions as emissaries of the Rebbe.
Rabbi Zalmi and Patsonia Lipinski recently settled in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in the Buenos Aires Province, to open a new Chabad Center there. Mar del Plata is the seventh-largest city in Argentina and home to an estimated 5,000 Jews. Mar del Plata is the 37th branch of Chabad in Argentina. Since being established, Chabad in Mar del Plata has had classes, classes, Shabbat dinners, and holiday programs..
20 Kislev, 5732 (1972)
I was pleased to receive regards from you through our mutual and esteemed friend Rabbi..., who has written to me about his visit with you and your participation in the worthy cause, in which you also took in your children as partners.
In the light of what Rabbi... has written to me about his acquaintance with you, I am confident that you will utilize your distinguished position, which brings you into personal contact with Jewish youth, to strengthen their Jewish identity. To be sure, the courses which you teach are undoubtedly far removed from the religious and spiritual aspects of Jewish identity. However, it is surely unnecessary to emphasize to you that students generally look up to their professors, not only as experts in their particular fields, but also as persons and individuals who have accomplished a great deal in their lives and have attained high status. Consequently the views and ideas that a professor expresses, and especially his personal way of life and world outlook, directly and indirectly influence his students and create in them a desire to emulate their professors. And even those who for one reason or another are rebellious, inwardly recognize that the achievements of their professors should be emulated.
In the light of this, a professor in college or university has an extraordinary opportunity to benefit his students by word, and even more so, by example. Even if an extra effort in this direction may entail certain difficulties which are sometimes not imaginary nor magnified, but real - the thought of how much good a little extra effort might do, and how much it can be reflected and multiplied in the lives of the young people who so need guidance and inspiration, should make all such difficulties worthwhile.
Although the above has been written in general terms, with a view to disseminating Jewish values, etc., it is important to bear in mind the dictum of our Sages that the "essential thing is the deed," namely, the actual Jewish experience in daily life.
I am confident that you will utilize your distinguished position, which brings you into personal contact with Jewish youth, to strengthen their Jewish identity.
For, Judaism is a way of life that is not relegated to several days in the year, specific holy days, or even Shabbos, but embraces all of Jewish life each and every day. It is for this reason that the Torah and Mitzvoth are referred to as "our life," indicating that their fulfillment must be continuous and uninterrupted, just as life must be continuous and uninterrupted. Herein the Jewish religion differs radically from any other religion, in that it is not something additional to the person, but is intimately the person himself, for a Jew and Torah and Mitzvoth are inseparable.
Much more could be said on this subject, but I trust the above will suffice. I will only conclude that inasmuch as we are about to celebrate the festival of Chanukah, when we will be lighting the Chanukah candles in growing numbers from day to day, indicating the need to spread the light of the Torah and Mitzvoth in a growing measure, since it is written, "A Mitzvo is a lamp and the Torah is light," thereby illuminating the Jewish soul of which it is said, "A lamp of G-d is the soul of man" - may this be so with you and me and all our people.
With esteem and blessing,
If we have a question in Jewish law, how many rabbis can we consult?
If we have consulted a rabbi and he has forbidden a certain matter in question, we are not permitted to consult another rabbi about the same question, unless we first advise him of the decision of the previous rabbi. (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we read a special Torah portion, Parshat HaChodesh, that speaks about the month of Nisan (which begins on Tuesday).
Our Sages argued over when the Final Redemption with Moshiach will occur. Some held that "In Nisan [our ancestors] were redeemed [from Egypt]; in Nisan [the Jewish people] will be redeemed in the future." Others insisted that the Final Redemption will take place in the month of Tishrei.
There are two reasons why Moshiach has to come. One is by virtue of the Jewish people's cumulative service of G-d over the last few thousand years. The other is simply G-d's promise to bring Moshiach.
According to Chasidic philosophy, the month of Nisan symbolizes the level of G-dliness that transcends our service. G-d took our forefathers out of Egypt on Passover despite the fact that they were spiritually degraded and unworthy. By contrast, Tishrei (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), is a time for returning to G-d in repentance and prayer.
The Rabbis' disagreement over the most appropriate month for Redemption was based on whichever factor each considered more decisive. Those who believed that spiritual status is more important held that it will occur in Tishrei, insisting that the Jewish people must be aroused to increased observance of Torah and mitzvot in order for Moshiach to come. Those who believed that G-d's promise is the determining factor held it will occur in Nisan.
So how was it resolved? Actual halacha (Jewish law) rules that "in Nisan they will be redeemed" - that the overriding consideration is simply G-d's promise. But both sides had a valid point, for by the time Moshiach comes, the world will have already been transformed by our service into an appropriate vessel for G-dliness. Yet the revelation of holiness that will occur will far surpass any level man could have attained by his own efforts.
May it happen immediately.
Moses assembled the entire Israelite community and said to them, "These are words that G-d has commanded you to do..." (Ex. 35:1)
When it came time to erect the Sanctuary, the first prerequisite was "Moses assembled" - unity and peace!
(Ohr P'nei Moshe)
The use of the word "assembled" over the word "gathered" has deep significance. "Assembled" implies that those who gathered became not merely a collection of individuals - separate beings gathered in the same space - but rather a new entity, a congregation. This was a prerequisite for the construction of the Sanctuary, whose purpose was to provide a dwelling place for G-d. For G-d chooses only to rest in a setting of absolute unity.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
He made the copper washbasin and its copper base out of the mirrors of the dedicated women ... (Ex. 38:8)
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe, said: The offerings for the Sanctuary included gold, silver and copper, but nothing sparkled except for the mirrors presented by the women. From these mirrors were fashioned the washbasin and its base. These were the last of the Sanctuary articles to be made, but were used at the start of every Sanctuary service when the Kohanim washed their hands.
These are the accounts. (Ex. 38:21)
Mose gave a full accounting of all the gold and silver given, to show that there was no reason to suspect him of stealing any of the precious metals brought for the Sanctuary. It says in Proverbs (15:16): Better a little, with the fear of G-d, than a great treasure, with confusion. Rabeinu Bechaye comments that it is better to have just a little money, obtained properly with the fear of G-d than an entire treasure obtained through foul means such as thievery or usury. In the Talmud (Sota) it says: "G-d despises a sacrifice brought with stolen money." The Talmud (Bava Kama) states that to steal from a non-Jew is a greater sin than to steal from a Jew, for then the sin also desecrates G-d's name.
There was once a Chasid who travelled to his Rebbe, Reb Yisrael of Koznitz, every month to take in the atmosphere of holiness which filled the very air of the Rebbe's court. Although in general he was happy with his lot in life, he knew he would only be completely content if he had a child.
Several times his wife had encouraged that he ask the Rebbe for a blessing to cure their childlessness, but to no avail. His wife wouldn't desist from her pleas. "This time," she insisted, "you must not leave the holy Rebbe until he answers our request."
The next time when the Chasid came to Koznitz and was admitted into the Rebbe's chambers, he told the Rebbe of their longing for a child. The Rebbe listened and offered him the solution his spiritual vision afforded him: "If you are willing to become a pauper you will be granted the blessing you seek." The man agreed to discuss the condition with his wife and return with her answer.
The woman didn't think for a moment. "Of course it's worth everything to me." The man returned to Koznitz and accepted the harsh prescription. But poverty was not the end of the Rebbe's advice; the man was sent on a long arduous journey to visit the famous tzadik, the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin.
The Chozeh was known for his power to discern the state and provenance of a person's soul, and when he met the Chasid he studied his visitor long and hard before he spoke.
"I will tell you the source of your childlessness and what you must do to correct the problem. Once, when you were very young, you promised to wed a certain maiden. When you matured, she didn't interest you any longer and you broke your promise. Because you hurt her feelings, you have not been able to have children since. You must find her and beg her forgiveness. Go to the city of Balta (which was very distant); there you'll find the woman."
The Chasid wasted no time in embarking on the journey. But when he arrived in Balta no one knew anything about the woman. He rented a room and waited to see the words of the tzadik materialize.
One day, he was walking down the street when he was caught in a sudden downpour. He ran to a nearby shop to escape from the rain and found himself standing near two women who were also seeking shelter. Suddenly, he was shocked to hear one say to the other, "Do you see that man? He was once betrothed to me in my youth and deserted me!" He turned to see a woman dressed in the richest fabrics and wearing beautiful jewels.
He approached her and she said, "Don't you remember me? I am the one you were engaged to so many years ago. Have you any children?"
He immediately poured out the entire story, telling her that he had come only to find her and beseech her to forgive him. He begged her to ask of him anything to atone for the terrible pain he had caused her.
"I lack nothing, for G-d has provided me with everything, but I have a brother who is in desperate need. Go to him and give him 200 gold coins with which he can marry off his daughter, and I will forgive you. In the merit of marrying off a poor bride you will be blessed with children, as the tzadik told you."
"Please, you give your brother this money. I have travelled many months and I'm very anxious to return home."
"No," the woman adamantly refused. "I am not able to travel now, and it is not feasible to send such a sum of money. No, you must go yourself." With that, she turned and proceeded down the street.
The Chasid ventured on yet another journey to a distant city where he was able to locate the woman's brother. The man was in a terrible state of agitation which he readily explained: "My daughter is betrothed to a wealthy young man, but I have suddenly become penniless and unless I can find the dowry money, the marriage is off."
The Chasid listened to the heart-rending tale and then said: "I will give you 200 gold coins which will be more than enough for all your expenses." The man couldn't believe his ears. "What, you don't even know me - why would you do such a thing for a total stranger?"
"I have been sent by your sister whom I met a few weeks ago in Balta. Many years ago I was once betrothed to her and I abandoned her, and the help I'm offering to you is my promise to her."
"What are you saying?" the man turned pale. "What kind of crazy tale are you spinning and why? My sister has been dead for 15 years. I should know - I buried her myself!" Now it was time for the Chasid to be shocked.
The Chasid pondered the miracles G-d had wrought on his behalf so that he would be able to make amends to his former fiance and merit to have a child of his own. He handed the man the golden coins and the man blessed him to be granted many sons and daughters and a long and happy life of joy from them.
Our Sages highlight the connection between children and redemption by interpreting the verse, "Do not touch My anointed ones (meshichai)," as referring to Jewish children. Why are children given this title? Because a child truly wants to live in a world of peace, harmony, knowledge and joy, and these are the very qualities that will characterize the Era of the Redemption.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)