Fragile | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | All Together | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Dovid Y.B. Kaufmann
Sometimes we're reminded just how delicate we are. Little things, slightly off balance - and when we step back to reflect we realize just how thin the margin is.
It's a clich้ in sports, of course. "The game's a matter of inches." It doesn't matter which game - golf, baseball, tennis, football.
If we expect athletes to live on the edge, to dramatize the significance of the critical, yet usually unforeseen, moment, we don't think of our ordinary lives that way. Oh, true, there are some professions that demand fast reactions when that unexpected yet decisive moment occurs - police, firefighters, doctors, for instance - although even in so-called ordinary jobs there are events that, depending on how we act, alter the outcome, tip the balance. (Just ask anyone in sales - or even a plumber!)
Most of the time, though, we expect to live in quiet routine, with enough variety and innovation to keep us awake or motivated. And so there's a sense of indulgence, that there's time ahead, that ups and downs are just a cycle.
But then there are times...
Have you ever gone without eating for a while? Or maybe you're on a diet; maybe you got so busy you just forgot to eat.
And then you grab something small to eat, drink a cup of orange juice, or have some watermelon and instantly, though you're hungry and your body needs nourishment, instantly you're back to your old self.
Ever have a slight fever? An annoying hangnail or blister? Ever had a little cough or been affected by a passing whiff of smoke? Little things that set us off, that tip the scales and unbalance us.
At such moments - or rather, afterwards, when we've recovered our equilibrium - we realized how finely tuned, how delicate, and how fragile we are.
Judaism informs us that not only our bodies, but our minds and souls are fragile, in delicate balance, but also the whole world, all humanity, the environment (shall we talk about global warming?), the earth itself and indeed all of creation are weighed in a scale in stasis, perfectly balanced.
Further, Judaism teaches us that every moment is the critical moment. The game is always on, the inches (or centimeters) always in play, the margin for error always small - everything suspended as we make the next move, call out the next signal, decide on the next plan.
The delicate, the fragile, the equilibrium of the world - all depends on our next step, our next, act, our next word, our next thought.
The whole world hangs in the balance between good and evil, redemption and destruction, and our next act, our next word, our next thought can tip the scales, the delicate scales that balance the fragile existence of creation, toward good that will be eternal.
This week we read the Torah portion of Mishpatim as well as the first of the four additional Torah portions read in the weeks leading up to Passover.
This week's additional reading is Shekalim. Every Jewish male was required to give a coin whose value is described in the Torah as being "half a shekel of the holy shekel." This coin was given as an annual contribution for the communal offerings.
The Torah uses the term "holy shekel" to distinguish from the ordinary shekel. The ordinary shekel had a value of 10 smaller coins called "gera," whereas the value of the "holy shekel" was 20 gera.
Since the gift's value was 10 gera, why would the Torah command us to give half of a "holy shekel" rather than just a whole ordinary shekel?
The answer is to be found in a commentary of the Maggid of Mezritch about the silver trumpets (chatzotzrot) that were blown on festive occasions in Temple times.
G-d commanded Moses, "Make for yourself two silver trumpets - chatzotzrot." The word chatzotzrot can be divided into two words, chatza-ai tzurot, which means "half forms." Each trumpet is a complete form but is not whole without its partner.
"Two chatzotzrot," means that G-d and the Jewish people, are so to speak, two half forms, which together complete each other.
Similarly, each of us is only complete when we connect with other Jews - other half-shekels.
When a Jew connects with G-d, you have both halves of the form, each half is complete on its own, each is 10, a whole ordinary shekel, but a Jew together with G-d becomes a holy shekel.
The same is true for Jewish people. Each one of us are complete on our own, but we are only half of a holy shekel. We need another person to become a holy shekel. The mitzva of loving your fellow, makes you whole. G-d likes to be where there is love and unity amongst friends.
This, of course, is also the case for couples. When you are together in a loving relationship, you are two complete half-shekels that become one holy shekel. In order for that to happen, you have to see your partner, not as a half, but as a whole. And then the two ordinary shekels, become one holy shekel. When this happens, G-d wants to take part in your relationship, if you bring G-d in, you take your relationship to a whole new level.
G-d wants us to connect with Him, however, He wants us to love one another first.
May G-d bless us with good relationships, with our friends, spouses, and ultimately with Him. Our unity will bring us the ultimate relationship with G-d that we yearn for, with the coming of Moshiach. The time has come.
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
"I discovered that I was a Jew at age thirteen, and I was heartbroken," said Aliza. "I had negative preconceived notions about Jews, and it didn't help that my classmates liked to remind me of my roots. A year later, my parents sent me to a secular Jewish summer program, but I felt no connection. Judaism just wasn't for me."
"Several years later, an acquaintance of mine moved to Israel. It came as a surprise to me, for I had no idea that she was Jewish. I enjoyed following her journey and photos on social media, and though I still felt little connection to Judaism, my curiosity was piqued. I began to read about our traditions and history, and over time feelings of Jewish pride began to awaken. I found a relative living in Israel and asked her to buy me a necklace with a Star of David on it. I was thrilled when it finally arrived in Russia after many months, and I've been wearing it ever since."
"As interest in my heritage continued to grow, I paid a visit to the local synagogue. The security guard opened the door and led me to the bulletin board. My life changed when I walked in that day. Expecting to see a schedule of prayers and services, I was surprised to find a fun and active youth club. As a kid, I cared little about my Jewish roots, but today I am very proud to be a member of the Jewish nation."
"The real surprise, though, was yet to come."
"When I walked into the synagogue for the first time just over a year ago, I never dreamed that I'd meet my husband there. I married Shneur Zalman under a Chupah two months ago. We now share a Jewish home and look forward to having a Jewish family, preserving the traditions of our people."
"After our wedding, I decided to give back. Today, I lead the Eurostars youth club in our community. I'm grateful that God gave me the opportunities that I've had this past year, and I want all Jewish youth in our city to have the same."
"The saddest day of my life was the day I buried my mother. It was also my 45th birthday."
Meet Alexander Bermus, Professor of Pedagogical Sciences at The Southern Federal University of Rostov.
"As I watched the funeral procession, I was overwhelmed with emotion. With my mother's passing came the end of an era for me, as I no longer had any living relatives my age or older left in Russia. I felt the ties to my heritage threatening to sever."
"I'm quite sentimental by nature. I thought of how much my mother had done for me over the years and wished there was some way to give back. I decided to have a Brit Mila in her memory. Several months later, I gave her that gift and received my Jewish name, Yisroel."
"I'm now an active member of the Jewish community. I found solace in the synagogue and more importantly, I feel eternally connected to the many generations of Jews who lived before me."
"My mother was a traditional Jew," said Natasha. "She'd fast on Yom Kippur, wouldn't allow bread into our home on Passover, and would pray often. But as a young girl, tradition didn't interest me. I loved music and dreamt of being a famous singer. I wanted to be part of the Soviet cultural scene. My mother tried discouraging me from leaving my roots behind, but I was determined."
"My dream became a reality, singing and directing the ensemble for over fifteen years. Though I was succeeding in my career, I began to feel an emptiness on the stage. I'd write lyrics and compose tunes, trying to impart deep, soulful messages to my audience, but they just wanted a show, and the messages weren't received. I started to question myself and wondered whether being a singer in the Soviet Union was my true life's calling."
"Then the Soviet Union collapsed. A Rabbi moved to town and began to rebuild Judaism in our city. I started to visit the synagogue and did a lot of reading. When the Jewish school opened, they were in dire need for teachers. The rabbi noticed my interest in Judaism and persuaded me to take the job. It was a big challenge, as I felt very unknowledgeable, but with each lesson I prepared, I'd learn more."
"I've been teaching for over thirteen years, and the students feel like my children. I've learned so much, thanks to them, and I can't imagine ever leaving the job. I found my place, and all this time, I never gave up singing. I channel the talent that God gave me as a tool for Torah education."
"I think back to my childhood when Judaism meant so little to me. As a young rebel, the thought of sitting in the synagogue on Yom Kippur could never compare to standing on a stage. So much has changed. Now and then, my faith gets tested when I'm offered work to perform at festivals. I always turn it down because the stage will never mean more to me than the children at school, and standing in the spotlight on a Friday night will never come close to taking in the warm glow of the Shabbat candles. Yom Kippur is now the most meaningful day on my calendar, and if you want to find me, I'll be reconnecting with G-d at the synagogue on Gazetni Street."
To read more visit www.SoulsOnTheDon.com
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, together with Moshe Holtzberg, unveiled the plans for a state-of-the-art Living Memorial at the Nariman (Chabad) House in Mumbai, India. Nine years ago Moshe's parents, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, were murdered in their Chabad House together with four other people. Moshe, then a baby, was saved by his nanny Sandra Samuel. At the ceremony, joined by more than 60 dignitaries from India, Israel and abroad, Moshe's two grandmothers lit an "eternal flame" in remembrance of the 176 victims of all of the coordinated terrorists attacks that day. Rabbi Israel and Chaya Kozlovsky, co-directors of the Chabad House, explained that the living memorial is geared to educate and inspire people of all backgrounds to act for the betterment of themselves, their communities and the world. The Living Memorial will incorporate the still bullet-ridden apartment where the Holtzbergs lived, as well as the floor where most of the murders occurred.
Erev Shabbos Nachamu, 5739 
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to acknowledge receipt of you letter, subsequent to the visit, together with your sons, in connection with the forthcoming bar mitzvah.
In compliance with your request, I am pleased to reiterate the good wishes conveyed personally that in accordance with the Mishnah (Ovos,ch. 5). "From the age of thirteen - to the life of mitzvos [commandments]," he should go from strength to strength in fulfillment of the traditional blessing of "Torah, chuppah [marriage] and good deeds," and you should have much true nachas [pride], Yiddish [Jewish] and chasidish nachas, from him and from each and all of your children, in good health and happy circumstances, materially and spiritually.
I take this opportunity of sharing with you some thoughts, based on the well known teaching of the Baal Shem Tov to the effect that one should learn from everything in one's personal experience how better to serve G-d.
Since your field is history, I will dwell briefly on one aspect of Jewish History which is particularly instructive.
Anyone, especially a historian, reflecting on the long history of our Jewish people cannot fail to recognize its unique character, unparalleled in the histories of other nations. On the one hand, our people has suffered endless and harsh persecution and extreme vicissitudes and changes from time to time and from place to place. Yet, on the other hand, it has not only managed to survive, but also to outlive mighty empires and cultures which had been its tormentors and while these had long ago disappeared from the face of the earth - Am Yisroel Chai ve'Kayam [the People of Israel live and are eternal]!
Having recognized this plain and undeniable fact, the question is how to explain this extraordinary phenomenon; in other words, what is the secret of Jewish survival, its strength and eternal vitality?
The usual scientific method in establishing a so-called "law" of nature is to find that constant factor which keeps on appearing in all tests and experiments. In this way the essential correlation is established, which must then be accepted as an indisputable fact.
Applying this method in the case of Jewish history, we find that the usual factors which are important for national identity and preservation insofar as other nations are concerned, notably territory, statehood, language, dress, etc., cannot be said to have played an essential role in the preservation of our Jewish people, since these were not constant and changed from time to time and from place to place. The only constant factor that runs like a golden thread throughout our Jewish history is Jewish adherence to our G-d given Torah and mitzvos: the same seventh day Shabbos, the same laws of kashrus [kosher], tefillin, mezuzah and so on, have been adhered to by all Jews in their everyday life, since the time of Moshe Rabbeinu [Moses].
And while the language in which the Torah was studied and expounded varied from ancient Aramaic to present day English, etc., and the level of exposition of the Torah and mitzvos varied from the plain to the most profound, and from the rational to the esoteric, the actual performance of the mitzvos remained the same, down to the very text of the brochos [blessings] - "Who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us..." So also in regard to the details of the religious article involved in the performance of the mitzvos. For example, the tefillin which a bar mitzvah begins to put on for the rest of his life, the Hand Tefillin and the Head Tefillin, remained the same through the ages, nor has its significance been diminished as symbolic of the whole Torah, as it is written, "And it shall be for a sign upon your hand for a memorial between your eyes, in order that G-d's Torah be in your mouth" (Exod. 13:9). And so also the very first mitzvah which a bar mitzvah boy performs as an adult Jew - the mitzvah of Shema, on the night before, by which the Jew proclaims daily (evening and morning) the unity of G-d, his love and fear of G-d and his total commitment to G-d's mitzvos, with all his heart and all his soul and all his possessions. All this has not changed through the ages.
From The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP).
Why do the bride and groom fast on their wedding day?
Since on the day of one's wedding G-d forgives the bride and groom of all their previous transgressions, it is seen as a private Yom Kippur for the couple. They fast until the ceremony, add Yom Kippur confessions to their afternoon prayers, recite the Book of Psalms, and ask for forgiveness for the wrongdoings of their youth, committed knowingly or unknowingly, before starting their new life together.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
How does a person become a Jew? This week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, indirectly touches upon this question.
Historically, the Jewish people entered into the covenant of the Torah by performing three actions: brit mila (circumcision); immersion in a mikva; and the bringing of offerings, as it states, "And they offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto G-d."
Ever since the Torah was given, a potential convert to Judaism had to undergo a conversion process consisting of these three steps. After the Holy Temple was destroyed and offerings could no longer be brought, a person became Jewish after brit mila and immersion alone.
When Moshiach is revealed and the sacrifices are reinstated, converts will again be required to bring an offering to the Holy Temple.
As we learn from the Hebrew word for sacrifice, "korban," which implies "closeness" and "affinity," a sacrifice is a gift to G-d that strengthens the Jew's inner bond with his Father in Heaven. Thus, in the times of the Holy Temple, a convert brought his offering only after he had already become a Jew.
When the Holy Temple stood and the Divine Presence dwelt in a physical structure, the special relationship between the Jewish people and G-d was openly revealed. During the exile, however, with the physical Temple no longer in existence, it is much more difficult for the Jew to perceive the true magnitude of his bond with G-d. In such an atmosphere of concealment it is therefore possible to become a Jew even without the enhancement of a sacrifice.
The fact that converts will be required to bring a sacrifice when the Third Holy Temple is built does not mean that their conversions have been deficient in any way. The coming of Moshiach and the building of the Temple will in no way lessen the holiness of any Jew. Moreover, converts will be able to partake of the various sacrifices like any other Jew, even before their own individual offerings are brought.
If you lend money to My people, to the poor (Exodus 22:24)
Our Sages commented that not only is one obligated to lend money to someone who is poor, it is also a mitzva (commandment) to lend money to one who is wealthy! Sometimes, for whatever reason, a rich person is in need of money for a particular purpose; at that moment, it is considered as if he is poor. Furthermore, no matter how wealthy a person may be, he can always become richer. Thus, in comparison to his later financial status, he may be considered poor in his present state. The same holds true of the various periods in world history. Compared to the Messianic Era, even the golden age of the Jewish people under King Solomon, when the Holy Temple existed in all its glory, will be considered impoverished. Therefore, no matter how secure we may be in exile, we look forward to the Era of Redemption in the same way a poor man anticipates becoming rich.
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Acharei, 1986)
He that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution (Exodus 22:5)
The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said: "I, too, must make restitution for having kindled the fire in Zion, as it states, 'He has kindled a fire in Zion and it has devoured its foundations.' Indeed, Zion will be rebuilt with fire, for "I will be to her a wall of fire round about."
And He will bless your bread and your water, and I will remove sickness from your midst (Exodus 23:25)
Most illnesses are caused either by food that is ingested, or from an intensification of internal forces within the body. G-d therefore promised to send His blessing in both of these areas, blessing the food one eats - "your bread and water" - and "removing sickness from your midst" - making sure that illness does not come from within.
There once was a certain miller named Yerachmiel Hirsch who employed three Jews as workers in his mill. This Reb Yerachmiel was a notable scholar, even giving a regular Talmud class in the local study hall, but he exhibited one particular character flaw: He held the simple, uneducated Jew in contempt.
One of Reb Yerachmiel's employees, Ephraim Kalman, was also a competent scholar, and as such, he was well respected by his employer.
The other worker, Baruch Shimon, had never had the opportunity to study Torah. Although he lacked a knowledge of Torah, he was a man of high character and as an employee no complaint could be lodged against him.
Nevertheless, the miller lost no opportunity of belittling him and showing him that he held him completely in contempt. If that happened when Ephraim Kalman was there, he did not shirk from reproving Reb Yerachmiel, quoting to him from the sages to the effect that even if he happened to be a Torah scholar, he shouldn't consider himself superior.
The miller had so much respect for Ephraim Kalman, that he swallowed the reproof without a word, but still, he did not alter his attitude towards Baruch Shimon.
One day Reb Yerachmiel returned from the Study Hall where he had given his usual Talmud class. Seeking the approbation of his learned worker, he rushed up to Ephraim Kalman, reviewed the lecture, and waited eagerly for his comments. While the two of them were deeply engaged in the scholarly discussion, Baruch Shimon sat quietly in a corner, reciting Psalms with tears flowing down his cheeks.
When the miller and his worker concluded their discussion, they noticed Baruch Shimon, sitting with closed eyes, reciting the Psalms. Realizing that the man was reciting a certain passage with many mistakes, Reb Yerachmiel remarked in a contemptuous tone, "What has this poor Hallel prayer done to you? You're absolutely murdering it!" Pleased with his own wit, he burst into derisive laughter.
Poor Baruch Shimon looked heartbroken and bewildered, then threw a look of gratitude to his co-worker Ephraim Kalman who was giving their boss a good "telling-off" in a voice full of fury.
"You ought to know," he rebuked him, "that our sages tell us that for every word of praise to the Al-mighty that comes from the lips a Jew, an angel is born! And these angels speak always in defense of the Jew in whose merit they have been created. How dare you then laugh at poor Baruch Shimon when he was singing G-d's praises and causing angels to be created!"
"And what angels they would be," scoffed Yerachmiel Hirsch. "If their creation depended upon Baruch Shimon's words, they would all be born crippled." And he laughed again at his witticism.
"And what sort of angels so you think are born from our Torah study?" asked Ephraim Kalman.
"Now that is where you can be sure that the angels will be perfect, healthy and strong, as if carved of iron or stone. And their songs would reach right up to the Celestial Throne itself!" said the miller proudly.
"For my part, I am convinced that the Al-mighty would find much greater delight in the angels which you term 'crippled' but which come from the sincere words of simple, good-hearted Jews, than from those created from the words of people who are haughty in their Torah knowledge!" retorted Ephraim Kalman.
The miller said nothing more, but from that day he never again "attacked" Baruch Shimon in the presence of Ephraim Kalman. This did not stop him from persecuting Baruch Shimon even more than hitherto. He rebuked him for desiring to take time off to pray with the quorum, but Baruch Shimon insisted on his right to this privilege.
"My time for prayer belongs to me and is as holy to me as Shabbat and Yom Tov, when you cannot expect me to work," Baruch Shimon told his boss fearlessly.
"But the Al-mighty doesn't want any special prayers from you," the miller told him heartlessly. "It is enough if you say your prayers at home."
This was too much for the poor fellow, and he chokingly replied: "Is it my fault that G-d has not blessed me with a good brain so that I too could have become a scholar? And can I help it if I must spend my time carrying sacks of grain for a living, so that I have no time for Torah study?"
The miller had a nephew named Shalom Yechiel who had come to live with him and was a keen follower of the Baal Shem Tov's new way of life. Upon hearing how his uncle was putting this simple man to shame, he pleaded with him: "Uncle, listen to what the Baal Shem Tov teaches. He says that he values the simple but sincere, ordinary Jew with his goodness of heart, much more than the Torah scholar who is puffed up with his own self-importance.
Shalom Yechiel spoke at length about the ideas of his Rebbe, and his uncle must have listened with his heart and mind as well as his ears, for, from that time on, he refrained from taunting Baruch Shimon.
Adapted from the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Memoirs
The Torah portion of Mishpatim begins with the laws of the Hebrew slave. Chasidic philosophy explains that there are three levels of servitude: the Canaanite slave, the Hebrew slave, and the Hebrew maidservant. The process of transforming the world starts with the level of "Hebrew slave" - illuminating the animal soul and our material environment, changing them and bringing them under the jurisdiction of holiness. Following that is the level of the "Hebrew maidservant," the level of Redemption and Moshiach, when there will be a total transformation and the world openly becomes a dwelling place for G-dliness.
(From Reflections of Redemption based on Likkutei Sichos 35, by Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m.)