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Did you know that the Walt Disney Company is the largest consumer of fireworks in the United States? Or that they were invented in China in the seventh century?
National Day Celebrations, Guy Fawkes Night, Independence Day. Looking up toward the stars on the Fourth of July in the USA, one can hardly miss the breathtaking sight of fireworks exploding all over the summer sky. Eyes darting here and there, exclamations of "oohs" and "ahhs" escaping the lips, fireworks are a special treat for young and old.
Did you ever wonder why we are supposed to say a blessing over every piece of food we eat? Or why the "Shema" is written on a piece of animal skin (parchment) and affixed up on the doorpost? Or did you ever think it a bit strange that the Torah spends so much time discussing the sacrifices or exactly which part of one's fields must be left available for the poor? And what about wrapping tefilin... lighting a candle for Shabbat... keeping meat and dairy separate... Why do Jews do these things and more?
The answer is, spiritual fireworks!
Chasidic philosophy explains that G-d created everything with a spark of holiness. The holiness started out as one entity which "exploded." The sparks of the explosion scattered everywhere and were buried within every part of Creation. This explosion was no cosmic accident, though. It was part of G-d's master-plan for the world and His creations.
When we say a blessing over food before eating it, we are elevating the spark of holiness within the food. By using the energy that we derive from the food to do a mitzva (commandment) - like help an old lady carry her shopping bags home, we are further elevating the spark.
That we are ultimately elevating holy sparks by doing mitzvot does not negate the fact that we are also gaining from performing the mitzvot. Saying a blessing is good manners, it teaches us to be thankful to the One who has given us the food. Helping a little old lady can further refine our character and encourages us not to take for granted our good health and strength.
Like real fireworks, we can't see with the "naked eye" exactly where the spiritual sparks go once they've been released. But, when we do mitzvot, we can be assured that the sparks have been elevated. And, can you imagine what a beautiful sight it must be Above when those sparks are released!
In this week's Torah portion, Chukat, we read about the passing of Miriam, and the well of Miriam drying up. We read how the Jewish people were thirsty, Moses hit the rock and water came out once again. We were so close to the Holy Land, but couldn't get in because Edom wouldn't allow us passage through their land. Then, Aaron's passing, the second war against Amalek, and finally we were forced to turn back and take the long way around the land of Edom.
Disheartened, the Jewish people turned against G-d and Moses: "Why did you bring us up from Egypt to die in the desert..." G-d sent snakes which bit them, and many died. Realizing that they were wrong, they asked for forgiveness, and that Moses pray for them, which he did immediately. G-d told Moses to make a copper snake and put it on a staff. Anyone bitten, would look at the snake and live. This is followed by miracles and victories.
Even though life was getting more and more difficult for the Jewish people, the expectation was that we remain loyal to G-d and to Moses.
Why is so much expected from us? Why did Moses forgive them so quickly? What is the idea of looking at the snake, that saved them?
The first lesson found here, is that we are different and special. We have been chosen by G-d for a reason, because G-d sees the amazing qualities we have over all other nations of the world. The world sees that we are special as well, and they expect us to keep to higher standards. This is why when a Jew does something wrong, it is a bigger deal than when a non-Jew does the same act.
When our faith is tested over and over again, through struggles, suffering and letdowns, we have it in us to remain strong in our faith and belief. We know that G-d is in control and that He knows what He is doing. We understand that every setback is really a stepping stone to something much better. We need to rise above in every situation, and when we don't, we disappoint G-d, the world and ourselves.
The second lesson is that when we realize that we are wrong, we ask for forgiveness. And when we are asked for forgiveness sincerely, we should forgive immediately.
The copper snake was placed on a staff, so that one had to look up to it, and so, you were looking up to our Father in heaven. This is the key to being the special people we are, is that we are connected to Hashem and we realize that everything is from Him. When we realize that, the miracles and victories begin.
This parsha is the story of our lives, the struggles, the suffering, the miracles and the victories. The main thing is to keep our focus on G-d.
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.
A Visit to Independence Hall
Translated notes of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, after his visit to Philadelphia in 1930.
...The mayor's representative officially invited me, in the name of the free republic and in the name of Philadelphia, to visit Independence Hall. There, from President Washington's chair, I was to bestow my blessing to the American Republic. I agreed.
At 2:30 p.m., we went to the Hall where a large crowd waited. A few hundred other cars followed us. All the streets were closed and we traveled with a police honor guard (not like in the past, the one that brought me to Spalerna [prison in the USSR]). When we arrived it took some time until we got out of the car. The mayor's representative walked ahead of us, followed by the director of the honor committee of Independence Hall. He was followed by the director of Agudas Chassidei Chabad in Philadelphia, Mr. Nosson Feigen, who is one of the distinguished wealthy men in the city. Then we walked, the uncle... my son-in-law, Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary, and myself, followed by the committee from New York which accompanied us. Following them, they allowed 50-60 other people to enter, Jews and non-Jews, and representatives of the Jewish and Anglican newspapers.
The most significant area in the building consists of two rooms, one of which contains President Washington's chair, in which he sat 150 years ago and wrote the principles of freedom of religion and the principles of the law which gives equal rights to all men. The other room contains the historic bell upon which is engraved "Proclaim Liberty...."
It is considered a great honor to be allowed to enter the room and to inscribe one's name in a book, as well as to lay a wreath of flowers near the bell. People who have been victorious in their battle for liberty are so honored. This honor was awarded a few years ago to General Fas of France when he visited America. An additional honor given to kings and heads of state is to be allowed to sit on President Washington's chair [the "rising sun" chair] on which he sat during the signing of the constitution. The chair is placed high up and one must ascend a few steps to reach it. The entire area is cordoned off by ropes and nobody is allowed to go up to the chair.
When we entered the room where the chair is, the mayor's representative delivered an address in English, the gist of which described how happy they are for the privilege of having such a guest who has fought and continues to fight for religion, which is one of the principles of the American Republic. In the name of the city of Philadelphia, cradle of liberty, and in the name of all officials of the city, he blessed the great guest and asked for a blessing for the American Republic. This took 15 minutes.
I responded in Yiddish, "I think it is obvious to everyone what a fine impression such a warm and humanitarian reception would have on someone who was imprisoned for his religious and moral endeavors. It is difficult to find the appropriate words of appreciation. I will just say a few words of heartfelt thanks to G-d and bless the American Republic.
"Blessed is G-d Above, Maker of heaven and earth, Who grants man wisdom.
"For the good relationship the American Republic has with all nations, for the good care the American Republic bestows upon the Jewish people, the eternal nation, I bless the American Republic with great success, with all its esteemed leaders, mayors of all its cities, led by President Hoover, the great implementer of principles of religion, spirit, and humanitarianism everywhere."
Then they brought me to the place where the chair is and honored me by allowing me to sit in it. All the invited guests stood nearby and I said, "The great G-d who created man and endowed him with understanding to bring the true light to humanity; He, blessed is He, shall give blessing and success to all who fight for justice, truth, and faith."
From there we went to the room where the bell is. The mayor's representative and Mr. Feigen picked up the wreath of flowers which I was supposed to place near the bell. When we arrived there, they handed me the wreath of flowers. I took the wreath and the crowd was most somber. Before placing it I said, "Liberty based on faith is the most proper and the strongest."
From there we went to the place where a crowd of thousands waited. The mayor's representative gave an address in English, saying that the foundation of everything is faith, and this is what America fought and continues to fight for and will support all who fight for it. He said that the city of Philadelphia, cradle of liberty, was fortunate to receive the honor that befell it, to merit the visit of the esteemed guest, who has entered into the golden book of history as one of the great people who inscribed magnificent pages therein with blood and sweat.
The mayor said, "We are happy to express our support for the hero, Rabbi Schneersohn, who merited to accomplish so much. His great and holy work is not only for the Jews of Philadelphia, not only for American Jewry, but for the entire Republic, which supports religion and humanitarianism. It is doubtless a joy for all humanity to see you as a beacon of light, and in the name of the residents of Philadelphia, I bless you with much success in your great, moral work."
I said a few words - how fortunate are those whom G-d gave the privilege to be residents and citizens of this country and its cities; they should all be blessed in everything they need. I turned to the mayor's representative and thanked him for the warm reception and for his blessings for success.
From Beis Moshiach Magazine, prepared for publication by Rabbi Shalom Yaakov Chazan..
Rabbis Ordained in Moscow
Nineteen students received rabbinical ordination in Moscow, Russia, this past month. The new graduates will serve Jewish communities in dozens of cities throughout Russia and the FSU.
First Place Award
The American Jewish Press Association has awarded Chabad.org and photographer Mendel Benhamou the first-place Simon Rockower Award for Excellence in Photography for work done in 2016. The award was given for the story "Russian Jewish Students Celebrate Unity, Bris in New York," a photo essay that chronicled a week-long visit to New York City by 30 Jewish students from 15 cities across Russia. This marks the fifth first-place award to Chabad.org for excellence in journalism in the past three years. In 2016, AJPA awarded first place to Chabad.org in the category of Outstanding Digital Outreach for its website and mobile platforms; for its presence on all aspects of social media; and for its flourishing digital apps program.
2 Tammuz, 5727 
Your letter reached me with some delay. In the meantime I was pleased to see your husband at the farbrengen [Chasidic gathering] here.
As for the subject matter of your letter, you surely know that the Torah tells us that the conquest of the promised Holy Land was to take place by stages. The same applies, in a deeper sense, to the personal conquest of the self.
In other words, when it comes to personal advancement in matters of Yiddishkeit [Judaism], the best method is sometimes precisely in the way of a gradual conquest, step by step, and stage by stage, rather than by means of a drastic change.
Of course there are certain situations and matters where a drastic change may be necessary, but by and large steady progress is usually steadier than progress by fits and starts.
In light of the above, and in regard to the matter which you mentioned, it is possible that you may be pushing a little too hard. It is perhaps advisable that inasmuch as you have expressed your opinion, and it was not accepted, it is better to leave it alone until such time as the other party will himself come to the same conclusion. I trust that this will come to pass sooner than you anticipate.
I trust that you have begun your summer vacation in a suitable way, and may G-d grant that the vacation will generate new strength and power to be able to carry on all good activities with increased vigor.
Above all, I reiterate the central point, namely that you and your husband should together bring up your children in good health and happiness, materially and spiritually.
We have now entered the particularly auspicious month, the month of Tammuz, with the anniversary of the liberation of my father-in-law of saintly memory, the history of which is undoubtedly familiar to you.
This anniversary is not something which affected only the personal fate of my father-in-law of saintly memory, but was of far-reaching consequences for Russian Jewry and world Jewry as a whole.
Indeed, my father-in-law of saintly memory, referring to his miraculous geula [redemption], wrote explicitly to that effect, saying, "It was not me personally that G-d had saved, but it was a salvation for Yiddishkeit in general."
When it comes to personal advancement in matters of Judaism, the best method is sometimes precisely in the way of a gradual conquest, step by step, and stage by stage, rather than by means of a drastic change.
The anniversary therefore is an occasion for celebration and inspiration for each and every one of us every year at this time.
But this year is particularly significant inasmuch as it will mark the fortieth anniversary. As our Sages explained, the completion of forty years provides special understanding, appreciation and insight into the mind and personality of one's teacher.
I trust you will suitably observe this coming anniversary on the 12- 13th of Tammuz, and derive lasting inspiration from it.
The obvious lesson which we must draw from it is this:
If a Jew can accomplish so much for Yiddishkeit single-handedly, despite overwhelming odds and obstacles, how much must each and everyone one of us try to do our share, being fortunate in living under infinitely better circumstances, with complete freedom of action to strengthen and spread Torah-Yiddishkeit.
With regards to the whole family and with the blessing of Chag HaGeula [holiday of liberation],
Must one give charity to anyone who asks for it?
We are not obligated to give someone who asks for charity a large contribution, but we are not allowed to send him away empty-handed. Also, it is forbidden to pretend not to notice someone who asks for charity. If someone asks for food we give him food immediately without checking to see if he has any. However, if he asks for clothing, we are permitted to check into his situation.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
At the end of this upcoming week, on Thursday, the 12th of Tammuz (July 6), we celebrate the birthday of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. This day, and the one that follows, is also the anniversary of the release of the Previous Rebbe from Bolshevik imprisonment.
The Previous Rebbe's redemption from prison is related to the ultimate Redemption through Moshiach and the personal redemption of every single Jew.
How can this be so? The Previous Rebbe was the leader of the Jewish people of his generation. The great commentator, Rashi, explains: "The leader includes the entire people." Therefore, the redemption of the leader of the generation affects the entire generation.
The Previous Rebbe himself emphasized this point in a letter that he wrote to his chasidim on the first anniversary of his release:
"It was not myself, alone, that the Holy One, blessed be He, redeemed on Yud-Beis Tammuz, but also those who love the Torah and mitzvot, and so to all those who bear the name 'Jew.'"
Our Sages have taught that on a person's birthday his mazal - luck, or strength - is stronger than at other times. This is true even after the person's passing. In addition, Judaism also teaches that the spiritual influences and energy which were present on a specific date in Jewish history repeat themselves and return on that same date throughout the ages.
Thus, on the 12th of Tammuz, the birthday and anniversary of deliverance of the Previous Rebbe, all of these additional spiritual powers are in place. Let us hook into them and use this auspicious day for Torah study, additional good deeds and charity, and a special, heartfelt request from each of us to the Alm-ghty to bring the Final Redemption immediately.
"He who says...what is mine, is mine, and what is yours - this is a median characteristic, and some say this is the characteristic of the people of Sodom" (Ethics of the Fathers, 5:10).
An individual who behaves in this manner, not wanting anything from others and unwilling to give of himself, does not seriously threaten the existence of the world. Yet, if this same attitude is adopted by an entire society, it leads to the degradation and indifference of Sodom, where poor people died in the streets from hunger.
"There are four types among these who give charity" (Ethics 5:l3).
Two men once came to Rabbi Yehuda Landau, to collect money for a poor man. "How much does he need?" Rabbi Landau asked. After citing a particular sum, Rabbi Landau offered the entire amount, minus a few gilden, to the two visitors. They did not understand his gesture. If he could afford to part with such a large sum of money, why not the entire amount?
"The Torah states, 'One who wishes to give but that others should not - he begrudges others.' One must leave room for others to perform the mitzva of charity as well..." he explained.
Ben Bag Bag said...Ben Hay Hay said... (Ethics 5:21).
According to one opinion, these two individuals were really one person, a proselyte (ger) who joined the Jewish people at an advanced age, yet who excelled in his Torah studies to such an extent that he was included among the Sages who put the Mishna together. Abraham and Sarah, the first Jews, are considered the parents of all future proselytes. The name "Bag Bag" is really an abbre viation of the words "ben ger" (son of a convert) and "ben giyoret" (son of a female convert). Additionally, the name "Hay Hay" alludes to the letter "hay" of G-d's name which He added to Abram and Sarai, transforming them into Abraham and Sarah. Because of his self-sacrifice to become a Jew, this Sage was therefore most qualified to stress the greatness and uniqueness of Torah.
It was market day in the small town of Lubavitch in White Russia. The streets were filled with farmers and wagons. Eleven-year-old Yosef Yitzchak was walking home. Along the way he met Reb David, the butcher, hurrying to the market with a calf swung over his shoulder, a young lamb in his arms, and a basket of chickens hanging in front of him.
Reb David's face lit up when he saw Yosef Yitzchak, the only son of his Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dov-Ber of Lubavitch. "I hope with G-d's help to earn well at the market today," Reb David said to Yosef Yitzchak. Hardly had the words left his mouth when a policeman came running over and struck Reb David in the face.
Yosef Yitzchak was enraged at the unprovoked attack. "Filthy drunk!" he yelled at the policeman, pushing him away from Reb David with all of his strength.
But, Yosef Yitzchak was hardly a match for a grown man. The policeman ordered one of his assistants to arrest the young boy. He was roughly pushed and pulled through the busy market crowds until they reached the police station. There, his "crime" was reported; he had supposedly torn the policeman's medal off of his uniform and prevented him from fulfilling his duty.
The station officer looked at the boy with contempt. He slapped the boy in the face, then led him by the ear to a dark cell.
Yosef Yitzchak was beside himself with fright. Then, suddenly, he thought, "I am sitting in jail just like my famous and holy grandfathers who were imprisoned for defending Jews and Judaism! I should occupy myself with Torah-study as they did." In the gloom of the cell he started repeating chapters of Torah by heart.
Suddenly he heard a long, drawn-out groan coming from the corner. He forced himself to concentrate on the words of Torah and moved away from the corner.
Again there came the frightening groaning, accompanied by the noise of desperate struggling. Terror seized Yosef Yitzchak, until he remembered that he had a box of matches with him! He struck a match, and saw lying in the corner of the cell a calf, with its legs tied and a muzzle over its mouth. Yosef Yitzchak's fears were quieted.
In a little while Yosef Yitzchak heard footsteps. His cell door opened. The officer who had thrown him into the cell pleaded, "Forgive me, I didn't know who you were. Have pity on me. Don't tell the chief that I hit you and mistreated you."
In the police chief's office, Yosef Yitzchak saw Reb David, the butcher and a policeman. Two witnesses from the Jewish community were there on Reb David's behalf. The policeman was claiming that the calf Reb David had taken to market was stolen from another butcher. The witnesses testified that Reb David had bought the calf himself.
As the case proceeded, Mr. Silverbrod, a representative of Yosef Yitzchak's family, arrived with a note for the police chief. The chief read the note and said that the boy should be released.
Yosef Yitzchak told Mr. Silverbrod about the calf he had seen in the jail cell. Mr. Silverbrod immediately realized that this was the calf which had been stolen.
The police chief was informed and, upon investigation, found out that the calf had indeed been stolen and hidden by the policeman who had attacked Reb David and accused him of stealing it.
Yosef Yitzchak's father was very proud of him. "You did well to defend an upright and honest Jew," he said, "even if you suffered for several hours. And now you have found out how good it is to know parts of Torah by heart. Indeed, without it, how would you have been any different than the calf which was in the jail with you?"
Young Yosef Yitzchak, who became the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, later wrote in his diary: "Father's words became engraved in my mind and in my heart: To love and hold dear every Jew, to defend the honor of a Jew even when dangerous to do so; and to store away a "provision" of Torah.
There have been nine Red Heifers so far. The tenth, according to Maimonides, will be prepared by Moshiach. By recounting the history of the Red Heifer, Maimonides emphasizes its eternal relevance, even in the times of exile. By including a prayer for Moshiach in the laws of the Red Heifer, Maimonides is reminding us to be "Moshiach-conscious" at all times, aware that until the Redemption we are incomplete. The ashes of the Red Heifer, used to remove the spiritual impurity resulting from death, alludes to Redemption, the final purification, the removal of any separation between G-d and the Jewish people.
(From Reflections of Redemption by Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m., to whom this column is dedicated)