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Your 80-something aunt saves wrapping paper, glass jars, and plastic shopping bags. She reuses them, as well as the cotton that comes stuffed into the top of medicine and vitamin bottles. She never has more than one light on in the house, and she is known to mumble something like "We don't need to make the electric company rich." Everyone in the family rolls their eyes. The best of you call her "thrifty," others call her "frugal," and a few shake their heads about "depression mentality" even though the depression was over more than half a century ago.
Your next-door neighbor has become eco-friendly. She travels almost exclusively on public transportation, turns off lights and raises the thermostat on the air-conditioner when not in a room, drinks water from her Sigg Traveler, saves junk mail to use as scrap paper, and when she's washing her dishes (of course, she doesn't use throwaway) she first soaps all of the dishes and then turns on the faucet and rinses them so as to conserve water. She reuses wrapping paper, glass jars, and plastic shopping bags, as well as the cotton that comes stuffed into the top of medicine and vitamin bottles.
You marvel at your neighbor's devotion to the environment and resolve to emulate some of her earth-friendly behavior.
Is there a difference between the actions of your aunt and that of your neighbor? Not really. What separates them is not their actions but why they're doing what they're doing. Or perhaps the difference is in how you perceive or react to their motivation?!
A similar scenario can be used to illustrate attitudes to the observance of mitzvot (commandments) - or our attitudes towards those who observe them.
One person views Torah and mitzvot as restrictive. "How can you limit yourself by doing a, b or c (or not doing x, y, or z)?" he asks. "Shabbat, for example," he continues. "You can't watch t.v., you can't talk on the telephone, you can't surf the net."
But another person perceives Shabbat differently. "Prohibitive?" he responds. "On Shabbat I have permission to do so many things! I can actually relax and enjoy a meal without being disturbed by the telephone. I have permission to read a book without caring if my stocks went up or down. My fingers don't itch and twitch to flip the switch on my computer this one day a week. What a pleasure!"
A Midrash describes a bird complaining to G-d that she was created with cumbersome and weighty wings. How can she possibly get anywhere wobbling along on two tiny feet while balancing her feathered appendages? G-d explains to her how she can use the wings to gracefully and swiftly soar to the highest heights and furthest distances.
Mitzvot and Torah study are like wings. With the right attitude, we can use them to carry us to unimaginable heights and distances.
This week's Torah portion, Nasso, is the longest portion with 176 verses. It is always read right before or right after the holiday of Shavuot. This is a clear indication that there must be something of great importance to be learned from here that is central to our keeping of the Torah.
Nasso starts with the tribe of Levi's responsibilities of transporting the Mishkan (Sanctuary). This is followed by the Priestly blessing. Finally, it ends with the offerings brought by each of the Israelite tribal princes for the Mishkan's inauguration. This adds to the central importance of the message to each tribe and each classification, Kohen (priest), Levi and Israel, with regards to our service of G-d, symbolized by the Mishkan.
What central lessons can be learned from these three sections, Levi's responsibilities, Kohen's blessing and Israel's inaugural offerings?
The service of the Levi was manual labor, moving and hauling parts of the Mishkan. This teaches us that even physical work can be holy and that we must serve G-d not only with Torah and mitzvot (commandments) but also our physical day to day actions.
The Kohen, with love, blesses all the Jewish people with blessings of physical abundance, physical grace and physical peace. The Kohen, is made to recognize that G-d loves and values every Jew, in every place and at every time and wants him to have material abundance, etc. So too, we must recognize the value of every Jew and seek to have them included in G-d's service. We must find pleasure in each others good fortune and seek to help those who haven't found their good fortune yet.
It seems that all the princes brought the same offering, but if one is to delve deeper into the symbolism of each princes offering, you will find, that what looked the same was unique in meaning and therefore, truly different. When we do a mitzva, it might seem that it is the same as the next guys mitzvah, we both put on Tefilin, we both light Shabbat candles. In truth, we are all different and though we are doing the same action, the mitzvot we do couldn't be more unique. No one can do your mitzva. This is why each offering had to be separately written, though they look alike, they are not.
So you see, your physical action is holy, your physical abundance is cherished and your mitzva are unique, the same but different. We can't do without you.
The Jewish people and the Torah are one. We are the ones who live it. We are living Torahs and everything we do can be holy and special.
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.
Is This Me?
by Eliana Amundson
From a speech at the 62nd Annual International Convention of the Lubavitch Women's Organization.
I'm from Orange County, CA - from Newport Beach. And I'm a student at Machon L'Yahadus, a full-time women's seminary in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, under the direction of Rabbi Shloma Majeski.
Growing up I had a good life. I have one brother who is three years younger than me. My father is a lawyer, and my mother left her law practice to be a stay at home mom. We lived in a great area.
When it came to Judaism, we were Jewish friendly. We went to synagogue on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana. We made sure we went to a Passover seder, lit the Chanuka menora, and bought some challah here or there. And that was about it. We loved being Jewish, and were somewhat familiar with the customs, but we never did anything on our own volition.
When I was 12 years old life really hit hard. My mother got sick, my parents got divorced, and my brother started getting involved with the "wrong" crowd. At that point, not only was I just focusing on surviving, but I was pulled out of the Bat Mitzvah classes that I has been taking, and there went any Judaism that I had come to know.
Fast forward to when I moved up to Los Angeles to go to college. One day I was walking through campus and there I saw Rabbi Eli Moshe Levitansky, standing in a sukkah on my college campus. I approached him and we had a conversation. He invited me to a Shabbat meal, and the rest is history. Getting involved, keeping mitzvot, and being passionate about Judaism came relatively naturally to me. I became that girl who did every Chabad on Campus program, I was president of Chabad - you name it and I was there. To the point that when I graduated, I became known as "that Chabad on Campus girl."
I graduated from Cal State University Northridge with my degree in Political Science-International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies. A week later I was on a plane to Washington DC to work for the summer at the Jewish Policy Center, a non-profit think-tank that works with Jews in America, American-Israeli relations, Middle Eastern politics and the like.
I had my dream job working with America/Jews/and Israel, I lived three blocks from Capitol building, everyone in the office was Jewish, there was kosher food in the fridge, and I went to the Chabad house for Shabbat. I was living the life!
When it came to the end of my time there at the job, I knew that I had a decision to make. I knew that I had entered into one of these life defining moments. And the decisions that we make in these moments, are the decisions that affect us for the rest of our lives.
I laid down at night. I looked at my dream staring at me right in the face. I looked at everything I had spent years and years working towards. I looked at everything that I had ever wanted looking at me right in the eyes, and I asked myself, "Is this really me?" And the answer was no.
So I enrolled in Machon L'Yahadus and moved to Crown Heights to go to seminary. Why? I'm here because I knew that I needed to learn how to act like a Jew. It's not much more complicated than that.
But it wasn't until coming here that I realized that not only was I learning how to live and behave like a Jew, but learning how to "act Jewish" is also learning how to be a person. Between elementary school, middle school, high school, and six years in college, I was in school for 19 years. And during those 19 years not once did I learn how to be a good person. Not once did I learn how to treat somebody else, how to overcome life's challenges, or how to deal with issues that I have inside. So much of Torah and Chasidic teachings have to do with that! So much of Torah and Chasidut is about how to be nice to my friend, how to be nice to myself, and how to just be good.
Technically I could have learned all of that on my own. I mean I could have had a great life. I could have had my dream job in DC, a nice big Torah observant family, a nice big house, I could have learned at the local Chabad house. I could have lived a nice, beautiful, and comfortable life. This is what people dream about!
But something inside of me knew that this wasn't enough. Because when someone is a chassid, they know that life is not about being comfortable. Life is about growing! Because if we are not growing, then what are we even doing with our lives?
That's why I am here. I am here to learn, I am here to grow, I am here to be uncomfortable - and I love it!
So I am sitting here in class in Brooklyn, NY; 3,000 miles from home, 150 miles from my closest relative, and 230 miles from where I was told I would be happy. Because while becoming Torah observant came relatively naturally to me, the decision to be truly happy and fulfilled was the scariest and most frightening decision that I have ever made in my life.
And the Rebbe showed me that this was the right decision to make. How?
On my birthday, which occurred at the very beginning of the school year, Mrs. Tzivia Jacobson came to school to speak on the topic of Women in Chasidut. At the end of her talk she raffled off a dollar that her husband had received from the Rebbe.
I won that dollar!
When the Rebbe handed that dollar to Rabbi Gershon Ber Jacobson, the Rebbe knew that 25 years later, there would be a girl sitting in seminary on Eastern Parkway, who is going to change her life forever, and who is going to need that dollar.
But I'm not the only one. I sit in class with 35 other beautiful, smart, and courageous women who have done exactly the same thing as me. Because that's what we do at Machon L'Yahadus. We are changing our lives, we're there learning how to be Jews, we're there learning how to be people, and we're changing the fabric of our souls.
New Campus for Alberta Chabad
The Jewish community in Calgary recently joined together for the ribbon-cutting of the new Chabad-Lubavitch of Alberta, Canada.The 13,500-square-foot building, sitting on two acres of property, includes a synagogue, social hall, kosher kitchen, library, youth center, computer lab, classroom, administrative offices and facilities for Camp Gan Israel.
Chabad ACT Expands
Chabad ACT - Australian Capital Territory, in Canberra, Australia, has expanded. Just less than two years ago, two properties were purchased that now house the Chabad ACT synagogue, mikvaot, childcare centre, preschool, Hebrew School, Library, Shop, commercial kosher kitchen, clothes bank, food bank, administration offices and counselling/tutoring rooms. The purchase of the new facility was necessary due to the rapid growth of the preschool.
2 Sivan, 5711 [June 6, 1951]
Greeting and Blessing:
With the approach of Shovuoth, the festival of our receiving the Torah, I want to send you a brief message, although I am greatly overburdened with work. This ought to indicate to you how highly I value the work of your group for advancement in both knowledge of Torah and practice of its precepts.
Being G-d given, the Torah has infinite aspects. The purpose of this message is to point out to you one of the most important aspects of the Torah.
To many the Torah may be a means to gain reward and avoid punishment. Others consider the Torah a guide to good living. I will give you my view after a brief introduction.
The world is a creation by G-d. As such it can have no common denominator with its creator. This cannot be amplified here, for lack of space, but it should be sufficiently clear anyway.
This world consists of a variety of creatures, which are generally classified into "Four KinG-doms: minerals, vegetation, animals and mankind.
Taking the highest individual of the highest group of the four mentioned above, i.e. the most intelligent of all men, there can be nothing in common between him who is a created and limited being, and G-d, the Infinite, the Creator. No analogy can even be found in the relative difference between the lowest of the lowest "KinG-dom" and the highest of highest, for both are creative things.
However, in His infinite goodness, G-d gave us the possibility of approach and communion with Him. G-d showed us the way how a finite created being can reach beyond his inherent limitations, and commune with G-d, the Infinite.
Obviously, only the Creator Himself knows the ways and means that lead to Him, and the Creator Himself knows the capacity of His creatures in using such ways and means. Herein lies one of the most important aspects of the Torah and Mitzvoth to us. They provide the means and ways whereby we may reach a plane above and beyond our status as created things. Clearly, this plane is comparatively above the highest perfection which a man can obtain with his own created (hence, limited) sphere.
From this point of view, it will no longer appear strange that the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] find expression in such simple, material and physical aspects as the Dietary Laws, and like.
For our intellect is also created, and therefore limited within the boundaries of creation, beyond which it has no access. Consequently, it cannot know the ways and means that lead beyond those bounds.
The Torah, on the other hand, is the bond that unites the created with the Creator, as it is written, "And you that cleave to G-d your G-d, are all living this day."
To the creator - all created things, the most corporeal, as well as the most spiritual, are equally removed. Hence, the question, "what relationship can a material object have with G-d?" has no more validity than if it referred to the most spiritual thing in its relationship to G-d.
But the Creator gave us a possibility to use, not only within our created bounds, but beyond, toward the Infinite, and he desired that this possibility be open to the widest strata of humanity. Consequently, He has conditioned this possibility upon ways and means which are accessible to all, namely, the Torah and Mitzvoth.
From this point of view it is also clear that no sacrifice can be too great in adhering to Torah and Mitzvoth, for all sacrifices are within the limits of creation, whereas the Torah and Mitzvoth offer an opportunity to rise beyond such limits, as mentioned above.
It is also clear that no person has the right to renounce this Divine opportunity by professing indifference toward reward and punishment. Such views are but the product of his limited intellect which has no right to jeopardize the very essence of the soul, for the latter, being a "spark of the Divine", is above the intellect and any arguments it can produce, to deter him from the utmost perfection he is able to attain.
I wish each and every one of your respective families an enjoyable and inspiring Yom Tov with lasting affect throughout the year.
Why do we dance at a wedding?
Part of the mitzva (commandment) of "making the groom and bride happy" is to entertain them with dancing. By dancing around the bride and groom, the community expresses its support for the couple. The Talmud relates many instances when the greatest of our Sages set aside their uninterrupted study of Torah for the sake of entertaining the couple. In accordance with Jewish law, men and women dance separately with a mechitza (divider) separating them.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Many of us are already involved in making plans for the summer. We consider the weather, prices, accommodations, attractions, and other variables and options.
But, there should be many other concerns on our list of considerations. If we're away over Shabbat, is there a place we can hook up with that will allow us to celebrate Shabbat in the proper spirit? Will there be kosher food for body and soul?
When we look for a day camp or overnight camp for our children, we must make sure to check into the atmosphere of the camp. A Jewish camp run on authentic Jewish ideals can not only fill our children's hours with healthy activities for their bodies and minds, but for their souls as well.
At a Jewish camp, run according Torah ideals, a Jewish child can learn to be proud of, and love, his heritage in a positive, hands-on environment. Unencumbered by books and desks and white-boards, Judaism literally comes to life through stories, songs, activities and practical mitzvot.
Vacation time, and especially the beautiful, warm days of summer, is the perfect time to check out the really important "attractions" in life.
Experience a traditional Shabbat, bask in the sunlight of mitzvot (commandments), swim in the deep pool of Torah study.
Include Torah and mitzvot at the top of your list of considerations this summer for you and your family.
Ethics of the Fathers
The Mishna Ethics of the Fathers, containing guidelines and rules governing moral behavior, is introduced by a detailed account of the transmission of Torah down through the generations. Although non-Jewish thinkers have also produced works on ethics and codes of conduct, our Sages wanted to emphasize the Divine origin of the sayings contained in the Ethics of the Fathers.
All of Israel have a share in the World to Come (introduction to Ethics of the Fathers)
Every Jew deserves reward just for being a Jew. A portion of the World-to-Come is his just by virtue of belonging to the Jewish people. Without a proper Torah education, an untutored Jew's mitzvot may be lacking. Yet he is still part of the nation of Israel and deserving of eternal life. Even the simplest Jew is full of mitzvot, like seeds of a pomegranate, by the weight of Jewish fate and responsibility.
(Blossoms, by Rabbi Yisroel Rubin)
Be of the disciples of Aaron...loving your fellow creatures, and bringing them near to Torah (Ethics 1:12)
One must never think it is permissible to adjust the Torah to the level of those who may be disaffected or estranged from Judaism, in an attempt to bring them closer to observance of Torah and mitzvot. It is forbidden to alter or deviate from any part of the Torah. Judaism must remain in its entirety. Our efforts must lie in bringing alienated Jews closer to the authentic Torah.
Shimon his son said:...not learning is the main thing, but doing. (1:17)
In short, theory is not as important as practice. Our own Jewish community seems to be sinking by the sheer weight of its own wordiness. Conferences, conventions, and commissions continue to grind out reams of paper with endless words. We bemoan, we bewail, we diagnose and prescribe. But all these are no substitute for actions and deeds of meaning.
(Ethics from Sinai, Rabbi I. Bunim)
During the period of Roman hegemony in the land of Israel, the great sage Rabbi Abahu was the leader of his generation. He was greatly honored, not only by his fellow Jews, but by the Roman rulers, including the emperor himself.
Rabbi Abahu was a valued advisor and often the invited guest of the Roman emperor. Whenever he would enter the royal palace, singers would be stationed at the entrance to sing his praises. Rabbi Abahu was fluent in Latin, Greek and many other languages spoken in the huge Roman Empire.
Rabbi Abahu had every reason to hold himself in high regard, but, in fact, he is remembered for his extreme humility. A very handsome and wealthy man, he was so self-effacing that it is written that it was hard to find his like, even in that generation of tremendous Torah giants and righteous individuals. A number of instances are noted in the Talmud which illustrate his remarkable traits.
At that time, it was customary for the sages to address the masses with the aid of an interpreter. Rabbi Abahu would speak in a terse, abbreviated Hebrew, and his interpreter would expound on the ideas in great detail, simplifying them so that the thoughts were accessible to all.
One day Rabbi Abahu's wife and the wife of the interpreter had an argument. In the heat of the angry exchange the interpreter's wife blurted out, "What does my husband need your husband for?! He's just as great a scholar any day, and he is perfectly capable of teaching Torah without your husband's paltry contribution!"
Rabbi Abahu's wife was shocked and deeply insulted, for her husband was known as one of the outstanding sages of the age. Not wanting to argue further, she walked away without replying, but she was seething inside.
That night Abahu noticed that his wife was not her usual self. "What is wrong?" he asked her. She told him the whole story of her encounter with the interpreter's wife, sure he would be upset at the woman's rude remarks. Perhaps he might even want to hire a different interpreter.
"Is that a reason to be so upset?" he asked her. "And even if she was speaking the truth, her husband and I both have the same goal. We are both teaching, not for our own honor, but for the honor of Heaven." Rabbi Abahu was so great that his own personal honor had no meaning to him.
Once, it was necessary to choose a new Rosh Yeshiva (spiritual leader and chief instructor of the Torah academy) for the great yeshiva in Caesarea.
On account of his great scholarship and remarkable personal qualities, the Sages wanted to appoint Rabbi Abahu but he refused the honor, suggesting instead Rabbi Aba, a poverty-stricken sage who lived in the city of Acre.
Rabbi Abahu hoped that with the appointment to the honored position of Rosh Yeshiva, the poor rabbi's financial hardships would be lifted. In making his recommendation Rabbi Abahu said, "Rabbi Aba is the most humble man I know. Why, when I see how he conducts himself, I cannot even compare to such a man!"
It happened once that Rabbi Abahu and another great scholar, Rabbi Chiya bar Aba, were visiting the same town. Every evening they would meet to learn and discuss Torah thoughts, and afterward Rabbi Chiya would walk Rabbi Abahu home, as an indication of respect. That Shabbat they decided to deliver their discourses at different study halls.
Rabbi Abahu spoke about Aggada, the stories of the Torah, while his colleague spoke about Jewish law. Many people attended both lectures, but when they heard that Rabbi Abahu was speaking about Aggada, they left Rabbi Chiya and swarmed to hear Rabbi Abahu. When Rabbi Chiya realized what had happened, he was crestfallen.
Word of Rabbi Chiya's reaction reached Rabbi Abahu and he at once set out to the lodging of his colleague. "The people came to my lecture only for one reason, and I will illustrate it with a story," began Rabbi Abahu.
"Once, two peddlers came to the same town. One was selling precious stones, while the other was selling all sorts of household miscellany. The second man had so many customers he couldn't keep up with the demand, while the man selling the precious stones sold nothing. Was it because his wares were unworthy? No, the deficiency was entirely on the part of the customers. Not only did they lack the money to purchase jewels, they didn't even have an understanding of the value of gems. Common household items were all they knew about.
"You and I have come to a town where there are very few learned people. The majority find it easier to listen to the stories of the Aggada (without even realizing that they understand very little of them). So, you see, it isn't that they prefer my discourse to that of my learned colleague, they just find the topic more compatible with their unsophisticated level of understanding."
After Rabbi Abahu spoke to him in this consoling manner, Rabbi Chiya felt somewhat better, but Rabbi Abahu sensed that he remained unconvinced. As a further indication of his esteem, Rabbi Abahu changed the usual order and accompanied Rabbi Chiya to his residence, to show the great honor in which he held him.
The Jewish people journeyed through the desert with the Tabernacle to subdue the force that nourishes the negative, the evil in the world. The physical desert is a metaphor for a spiritual desert - a life, environment or society devoid of Torah and G-dlienss, which are compared to water. The Levites carried the Tabernacle throughout the desert and the Divine Presence resided in the Tabernacle. The Levites, each family performing its assigned task, enabled the revelation of the Divine Presence in the desert. We must all be Levites, transforming the desert in which we find ourselves into a dwelling place for G-dliness.
(From Reflections of Redemption by Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m., to whom this column is dedicated)