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Though most of the world operates on a metric system for weight, liquid, cubic, square and linear measurements, the United States continues to use a system referred to as the "traditional systems of weights and measures." It's sometimes (erroneously) called "Imperial," or "English" (which refers to the pre-1824 reform measures used throughout the British Empire).
Years back, it was expected that Americans would gradually wean themselves off English and switch to metric; thus products produced in the U.S., even those not manufactured for export, carry both the metric and English measurements. Goods imported into the U.S. from Israel and Europe carry both metric and English designations. But for most American schoolchildren, their only familiarity with the metric system is the knowledge that soft drinks come in one, two or three liter bottles.
There is, however, another system of measurement, linear at least. And it is called the "Jewish yardstick."
The Jewish yardstick is simple to use, and it doesn't interfere with any other system of weight, liquid, cubic, square, or linear measurement.
The rules for using the Jewish yardstick are as follow: When measuring up your neighbor, friend, co-worker, relative or any stranger, judge him leniently and favorably. When measuring yourself and your accomplishments, be stringent.
In Chasidic terminology one would say: Look at another with the "right eye" - with kindness; look at yourself with the "left eye" - with strictness.
Such an approach is based on the commandment to "Love your fellow as yourself." Just as a person's intrinsic self-love allows him to overlook his own faults, so too, must we overlook another's faults.
In regard to our personal conduct, we strive to both push away the negative and to do good. When relating to another individual, however, the Jewish yardstick's method is to channel our energies solely into the positive path - "Do good."
Although there may be times when someone's conduct warrants reproof, before criticizing - even before giving "positive criticism" - we should question ourselves as to whether we are fit to be the one to administer it. Furthermore, if reproof must be given, it should be offered gently, which will obviously enable it to be accepted more readily than harsh speech.
Moreover, such words should be spoken only on select occasions.
The old saying, "Spare the rod and spoil the child," is a derivation of the Biblical verse, "One who spares the rod hates his son." Judaism indicates that rebuke and reprimand are not only important, but at times, essential. However, admonishment may be given only when the relationship between two individuals is like that between a father and son: To give rebuke, one must love the other person just as a father loves his child; additionally, the difference in level between the two people must be as radical as the difference between a father and a son. Needless to say, this does not apply in most cases.
Why is all this true? Because the ultimate value of every Jew is immeasurable.
Based on the last public talk of the Rebbe, 25 Adar I, 1992
This week's Torah portion, Ki Tavo, begins with Moses' instructions to the Jewish people concerning the first-fruits (bikkurim). The Torah also shares the specific words that one would use to declare his gratitude when bringing the first-fruits to the Holy Temple.
The portion concludes with Moses telling the people that only on that day, 40 years after their exodus from Egypt and birth as a nation, had they attained "a heart to understand, eyes to see and ears to hear."
Usually we associate the brain with understanding and the heart with emotions. However, in this portion it says "a heart to understand." What is the connection between the heart and understanding that we speak of here?
The answer can be found by looking at the word used in Hebrew for "understand" - daat.
Just because a person is intelligent, doesn't stop him from doing immature or silly things. Watch a smart child play in the mud wearing his nicest clothes or a genius implode over a trivial matter.
This is because he lacks "daat."
What is daat? Daat is the ability to take your smarts and apply it to your emotional make-up. It is the bridge between the mind and heart. It takes time and effort.
For the Jewish people in the desert, it took 40 years to develop this level of understanding, where their hearts and minds beat to the same Jewish drum.
This process can be accomplished by each one of us, through time and effort. Every day we become more in sync, every Torah lesson we apply to ourselves, we become more in tune with G-d.
The same is true for our relationships. First you get to know each other. But with time and effort the relationship becomes deeper and you begin to sense the other person's way of seeing things. Until there comes a time that you are so in sync, that you don't have to think about it, you just know.
This is "a heart to understand." When your emotions, and subsequently your actions, are in sync with your mind, specifically with your Torah knowledge.
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 the Don
by Yanky Ascher
My wife died this past September. We were married for 59 years. I survived three heart attacks, but losing Alla was unbearable. I laid my feet down, never intending to use them again. I had given up.
Then one day a few teens from our community came knocking on my door. "We haven't seen you in a while," they said, with bright smiles on their faces. "You're needed for the Minyan."
I couldn't turn them down, and it ended up saving my life.
Until recently, we never saw teens attending programs in our synagogue. I'm so happy that has changed. The youth are our future.
"My story started before I can remember," Leora began. "I was born during difficult times. My parents were struggling to make ends meet when a friend of my mom suggested that she look into a program called Chesed. That was the first time she ever walked through the doors to the synagogue, and though at the time it was out of desperation, I can proudly say that I was the one who brought my family back to Judaism."
"The thing is, despite the fact that I had been studying in the Jewish school since the first grade, being a Jew meant little to me until five years ago. If you had told me then that one day I'd be religious, I would have laughed. Not mixing meat and dairy was a strange concept to me, and ignoring my phone one day a week seemed impossible."
"Then, one summer I went to the Jewish summer camp, Gan Israel, and it all started to change. I had a counselor who was very kind to me and lit my soul. When I went home after the summer, I began lighting Shabbos candles. They say that one good deed leads to another. As time went on, I began to observe Shabbos, then Kosher laws. Religion has brought meaning to my life and has made me a better person. I've since taken up Jewish studies in Moscow's Machon Chamesh Institute."
"Today, I'm visiting New York City, home of Chabad's headquarters. I came to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe's resting place - to thank him for sending people to places as far as my hometown of Rostov so that they can light souls like mine."
"When I arrived from Serbia three years ago, I didn't speak Russian, but the Jewish school welcomed me with love. The language wasn't the only thing unfamiliar. I remember the first time I put on Tefillin. 'What are these boxes,' I thought to myself. I was clueless!"
"They mean a lot more to me today."
Dovid takes out his new Tefillin, a gift from the Rabbi. You can smell the fresh paint as he puts them on for the first time.
"Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echod."
He finishes praying and gently removes his Tefillin.
"Praying with Tefillin has become a meaningful part of my daily life," says Dovid, "but wearing my own is completely different. It's an indescribable feeling."
"Would you like to take off your coat?" I asked. "I think it will look nicer."
"What use is it?" she responds. "How old do you think I am?"
"We left Odessa for Kazakhstan on one of the last two ships. I was just 11. We watched the Nazi's bomb the other ship right out of the sea. It was a nightmare. We just as well could have been on the other ship, and I wouldn't be here to tell the story.
"It was in Kazakhstan that I met my husband, in 1948. He was 20. I was 18. After the war, we moved back to his hometown, Rostov. I've been here ever since.
"In a few years, I'll be 90," says Shaindel. Tears appear in her eyes as she continues. "Five years ago I lost my husband. We were together for 63 years. I never thought that he'd go first."
"My grandfather, Yeshaya, was a Rabbi. When I think of my ancestors, and I think of my descendants, I realize that there is nothing left of our heritage and it breaks my heart."
Reflections is a new mini companion to the High Holiday machzor. The new booklet explores 16 key High Holiday prayers with reflections, providing inspiration and motivation that congregants are seeking, all in tight, pithy explanations and meditations. Each full-color page (36 in all) of the booklet illuminates another key prayer of the machzor, framed within magnificent art and design. The meditations featured in the booklet were written by noted author Rabbi Tzvi Freeman. Published by Chabad.org
New Emissaries to Spain
The Spanish island of Ibiza, in addition to boasting pristine Mediterranean waters, stunning and often secluded beaches, and and other attractions, is now home to a Chabad House. Rabbi Mendel and Rina Baitz arrived recently. Since their arrival they have hosted Shabbat dinners, Torah classes, services and kosher food services.
13th of Elul, 5731 
To the Administration of Chabad House
I was gratified to be informed about the forthcoming dedication of a Sefer Torah [Torah Scroll] in the Chabad House, which will take place on the auspicious day of the 18th of Elul, the birthday of the founder of general Chassidus, the Baal Shem Tov, and the birthday also of the founder of Chabad Chassidus, the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi], author of the Tanya and Shulchan Aruch.
Needless to say, the observance of this double birthday has the central purpose that their way of life, work and teachings should continue to illuminate the daily life of each and every one of us. Both the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe, who expanded the Chassidic teachings in a systematic way, brought the Chassidic experience to Jews of all backgrounds, made the embodiment of the three loves, love of G-d, love of the Torah and love of Israel, the cornerstone of their system, with emphasis on the fact that the said three loves are completely interlocked and integrated.
This system and way of life quickly began to spread and gain many followers, in an ever-growing measure in quantity and quality, from generation to generation to the present day, which has clearly demonstrated how viable and vital it has been for the Jewish people, for the individual as well as for Klal Yisroel [the entire Jewish people].
I have used the expression "illuminated" advisedly, since this does not necessarily mean the creation of new things, but to illuminate existing things which have not been fully appreciated, or which have been altogether overlooked.
Thus, the primary contribution of Chassidus is that it illuminates the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments], and their inner aspects, Pnimius HaTorah [inner teachings of the Torah], and shows each and every one of us the way to bring them within our personal daily experience.
The above is particularly important in relation to the young generation, who are still at the threshold of independent life and have untapped resources of energy and dedication to face any challenge, to accept the truth and nothing but the whole truth, rejecting all compromise - in their search for the genuine article.
As for the teacher and mentor, while he must do his best to help those whom he teaches and guides to make the utmost progress, he also reckons with the capacity of the students. However, since it is the task of each and every Jew to follow the Torah way of life, with dedication and inspiration, as illuminated by the teachings of Chassidus - it is clear that this task, which has been given to every Jew as a duty and privilege by G-d, the Creator and Master of the world, is within the capacity of each and everyone, since G-d does not expect the impossible.
May G-d grant that the dedication of the Sefer Torah in the Chabad House should symbolize the dedication of the Sefer Torah in each and every Jewish home in the community, and strengthen adherence of the Torah and Mitzvos in the daily life, not only on special occasions or special days, but in accordance with the well-known commandment in the Shema - "And you shall teach them diligently to your children and speak them when you sit in the house or when you walk in the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up."
I send my prayerful wishes to each and every one who is associated with the work of the Chabad House, for Hatzlocho [success] in all above, and in a growing measure and, with the approach of the New Year, to be blessed with a Kesivo vachasimo Tova [to be inscribed and sealed for good], for a good and pleasant year materially and spiritually.
Why is the shofar sounded during the entire month of Elul (except Shabbat)?
Maimonides explains that the shofar is blown as a means of stirring us to repentance. Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the second set of Tablets on Elul 1. A shofar was sounded to remind the Jews not to sin (as they had done when Moses was on Sinai receiving the first Tablets). The Shofar recalls Moses' ascent, Israel's repentance and G-d's forgiveness.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Shabbat is "Chai Elul," the 18th of the Jewish month of Elul. This date was the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, and the birth, 50 years later of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad Chasidic philosophy.
One year, on the day before Chai Elul, the Rebbe spoke to children returning from Jewish overnight camps.
He explained that both the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Shneur Zalman were renowned for their efforts to teach Jewish children about Judaism. In particular, in regard to the Baal Shem Tov, it is always mentioned that before he became well known, he served as a teacher's helper. In this capacity, he would remind the young children in his charge to begin their day thanking G-d that they were, indeed, alive that day. This is accomplished by reciting the "Modeh Ani" prayer, through which, as the very first act of the day, a Jew acknowledges G-d.
This is how a child trains himself to feel genuine gratitude for all the good things which G-d has given him. And from that point on, through every moment of the day, a Jewish child increases his appreciation and awareness of G-d's goodness. For indeed, G-d gives graciously and generously.
This is particularly true in the month of Elul, when - as Rabbi Shneur Zalman teaches - G-d makes Himself accessible to the Jews as a king in the field. G-d does not tire, but renews constantly all the good which He grants to every child and adult. And in particular, He grants Jewish children success in studying G-d's Torah and fulfilling His mitzvot in a beautiful and conscientious manner, inspired by the love of G-d and the fear of G-d.
Though the above thoughts were addressed to children, they apply equally to all of us. For each one of us has the "child" within.
Whenever a person's deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will endure (Ethics, 3:10)
This Mishna can also be applied to the area of education. A school should endeavor to impart wisdom and at the same time train its students to do good deeds. In fact, the primary focus should be on good deeds, for through them the knowledge will thrive.
(Biurim L'Pirkei Avot)
Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is granted (Ethics, 3:15)
Every person has the potential to fulfill his personal destiny, but the choice to fulfill that destiny is his alone. No one can stand in his way, nor is there anyone compelling him.
Let the honor of your student be as dear to you as your own (Ethics, 4:12)
A student is obligated to honor his teacher and sit before him in awe, therefore it is out of place for a teacher to conspicuously honor his student. The teacher must, however, take care to protect his student's dignity.
He who studies Torah as a child, to what can he be compared? To ink written on fresh paper (Ethics, 4:20)
The advantage of writing on fresh paper is that the writing lasts, The concepts that a person learns in his childhood will be retained.
(R. Ovadiah of Bartenura)
A woman once came to the Baal Shem Tov and begged him to bless her with a child. The Baal Shem Tov was unwilling at first, but when pressed, he finally assured her that within a year she would bear a son. A son was born to the woman and her husband and was a source of great joy to them.
When he was just two, the child suddenly died. The woman sadly returned to the Baal Shem Tov who told her, "Listen carefully to a story.
A childless king once asked his wisest advisor how he could solve the dilemma of not having an heir.
" 'No one can help you but the Jews,' said the advisor. 'You must tell the Jews that if, within a year, your wife does not give birth, they will be expelled from your kinG-dom. They will then pray that you beget a son.'
"The king issued the advisor's decree. The Jews gathered to pray, recite Psalms and fast. They entreated G-d to save them from this decree and their voices reached the heavens.
"A very lofty soul in heaven heard the outcry and told the Alm-ghty that he would be willing to be sent to the world below and live as the king's son. In this way he would save the Jewish people of that land.
"Within the year, the queen gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. At a young age the prince's genius was evident. Everything that he was taught he grasped immediately.
"One day, the prince told his father, 'I have learned all I can from the teachers in this kinG-dom. Find me a teacher with whom I can study something in which I can delight!'
"Soon after that, a wise and ancient looking scholar approached the king and offered to teach the prince. 'I have only one condition,' demanded the scholar. 'When I am alone in my study no one, not even the prince, is allowed to enter.' The King readily agreed, caring only to please his beloved son.
"The prince was enchanted with his new teacher. Day and night he studied with the scholar, always thirsting for more. The prince was only separated from his teacher while he slept, and at those times that his teacher insisted on being alone in his study.
"One day the prince succumbed to his curiosity and entered his teacher's quarters. He opened the study door and was astounded to see his teacher swaying back and forth, covered with a white and black cloth, and leather straps around his arm. He gasped and the teacher turned to see his shocked disciple. 'You were not to enter,' he said firmly. The prince just nodded mutely.
" 'Now that you know my secret, I must leave the kinG-dom,' said the scholar sadly.
" 'But I know nothing,' cried the prince, for he had never seen a Jew in talit and tefilin.
" 'I am a Jew,' explained the scholar.
" 'Then I too, will be a Jew,' said the prince.
"Try as he did, to dissuade the prince, the scholar was unsuccessful. Finally he agreed to teach the prince Torah. As soon as they began studying, the prince realized that he had found that which had seemed to elude him all these years. Years flew by, with the prince always at the scholar's side. He drank in the words of Torah, never tiring of it.
" 'It is time for me to become a Jew,' said the prince, now a young man, to his teacher.
" 'You could not remain prince if you were to become a Jew,' warned the scholar. 'You would have to move away from the king to a distant land where he will not find you. Is it not better for you to stay here?'
"The prince was adamant, and so they told the king that the prince needed to learn first-hand about his father's vast country. With the king's reluctant permission, the prince and scholar traveled away from the palace toward the border of the kinG-dom. The prince crossed the border, converted, and settled down to a life of studying the Torah.
"When the prince died, his soul ascended to the World Above and not a single count could be charged against him. What could be said about a soul who had had such tremendous sacrifice to descend to the world in order to save the Jews from a terrible decree, and who had rejected the royal crow to become a Jew?
"But then, one angel said, 'For his first two years he was nursed by a non-Jew.' It was decreed that this soul, being so lofty, would need to descend into this World once again and be nursed by a Jewish woman."
The Baal Shem Tov then looked at the woman. "You need not be sad that you merited, for two years, to raise this lofty soul."
Exile is only a tool, a punishment for our sins - as explained in this week's Torah portion, Ki Tavo. G-d does not want us to be in exile. Knowing this, we ourselves should not be satisfied with the situation. And sine exile is not an appropriate condition for the Jewish peopoe, we cannot become comfortable or complacent. Indeed, especially when the outward hardships have been removed, we should increase our efforts in and enthusaism for Torah and mitzvot. Especially now, tine footsteps of Moshiach, we must remember that exile has no real substance, and act accordingly.
(From Reflections of Redemption, by Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m., to whom this column is dedicated)