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Gardening supply stores (in the northern hemisphere) have been encouraging us to think about spring for quite a while already. If you haven't yet ordered your seeds from Burpee, it's too late. Planning in advance and preparing for spring, way before the threat of frost is even over, is a necessity for the serious gardener.
Springtime also happens to bring with it one of the most colorful, widely observed, and vividly recalled Jewish holidays - Passover. In fact, one of the three names by which Passover is mentioned in the Bible is "The Holiday of Spring."
Our Sages enjoin us to begin preparing for each holiday thirty days before the festival begins. When our Sages made this suggestion, they had in mind learning the laws pertaining to the holiday. Many people use this 30-day guideline as a reminder that it's time to start at least thinking about cleaning the house for Passover
Cleaning for Passover and ridding the house of chametz (leavened foods) needn't include "spring cleaning." (Though for some, the smell of Murphy's Oil Soap or Lestoil are just as bound up with Passover as say, matza ball soup and horseradish.) But, you might be surprised to note that the cleaning connected to Passover has a spiritual side as well.
According to Chasidic philosophy, bread and chametz symbolize the egotism and haughtiness within each of us. Chametz puffs up like a haughty person's chest, swells like an egotistical person's head. Matza, on the other hand, is flat, low, humble. Even the fact that its flavor is bland and nearly tasteless, attests to its modesty.
Before Passover, when we are checking cabinets and corners, looking behind bookcases and inside briefcases for chametz, we are laboring at a job that requires minimal brain-work. Which means that we have plenty of time to contemplate whether we've been behaving like chametz or matza for the past year.
And if we find that we are full of chametz, then pre-Passover cleaning time is the perfect opportunity to check the closets and corners of our own personalities in order to begin ridding ourselves of these traits.
More likely than not, most of us need these few weeks of preparation and cleansing in order to make sure that our homes, and we, are truly clean and ready for Passover.
But amidst all the physical and spiritual cleaning, don't forget to start making plans for where you'll be celebrating the seders. Also, check out your local supermarket or grocery store and see if they are stocking what you need for the eight-day holiday. If they don't have everything, find out who does. In addition, call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center or Judaica store to order Shmura matza - the special hand-made matza that is produced with tender loving care just like the Jews ate when they came out of Egypt.
In this week's Torah portion, Vayikra, we read about the various sacrifices brought to G-d on the altar in the Tabernacle and later in the Holy Temple.
Described is the "Olah" ("ascending") offering, "peace" offering, "sin" offering, "guilt" offering, and "Mincha" offering.
The various offerings were either animal or bird sacrifices, or flour offerings. From all the offerings brought, the flour offering was the only called "Mincha," meaning "gift."
What is so special about this offering that it is called a gift? What lesson can we take from this?
The Mincha was usually brought by the poor, being that they could afford neither animals nor birds.
For those who could afford animals or birds, bringing a sacrifice didn't change their lifestyle. Whereas for the poor person, it was truly giving up his basic needs. It was giving of himself in the purest sense and to G-d that is a "gift."
There is giving of what you have and giving of who you are. Each of us should give of what we have. The question is: Are we also giving of who we are?
G-d gave each of us talents, abilities and natural gifts. These are yours for as long as you have them. These were given to you so that you can accomplish your unique mission. Using these talents, abilities and natural gifts is giving of what you have.
Your essential self is by far greater then the gifts you possess. Allowing your neshama to come through and effect those around you, is giving of yourself.
Over the past few years since I was diagnosed with ALS, I've been watching my abilities, talents and gifts slip away, wondering: What is the purpose of living if I am not able to do these things?
The answer became clear as people started to visit. With nothing to give of my talents, I was left with raw love and joy towards the visitors, and that apparently came through more powerfully than all the talents.
You don't need to wait to tap in to your essential self. You can allow it to come through in everything you do. Ah! Your essence is beautiful, let it come out. Now, that is a "gift" to G-d.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the Rebbe's teachings, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
The Sweetness of Life
The guest stood hesitantly in the entrance of the London synagogue, unsure of where to sit. Most of the congregants were already seated in their regular places, and the cantor had already started the prayers. He hated those awkward moments, entering a strange place where he didn't know a soul. Suddenly he noticed a smiling man surrounded by children, handing out lollipops. The man's kind, friendly expression was an open invitation to the guest, who seated himself next to him.
Throughout the prayers, the guest kept casting sidelong glances at his seatmate. The man's friendly, smiling expression could not hide a faraway look in his eyes, and the guest was sure that there was a fascinating story behind it all.
As soon as the prayers ended, the man turned to the newcomer in the synagogue and greeted him with a warm "Sholom Aleichem" (colloquial "welcome"). Unable to contain himself, the guest asked him to explain how he became the "shul candy man."
With a slight sigh, the man shared his story.
"My name is Chaim. I am a Holocaust survivor. I lost my parents as well as my wife and children. I was saved in body, but like many other Jews in my situation, my soul remained wounded. The great losses I suffered left their mark on me. Inside I felt empty and cold, depressed, lacking any interest in life. I did not believe I could go on living my life after the terrible blows I had suffered. I mourned the loss of my loved ones every moment of every day. My tears would not cease.
"I went through the motions of life - eating, working, sleeping - but everything I did triggered memories of my family. The pain was especially strong around the Jewish holidays.
"This was the state I was in when I came to New York to meet with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I was in the United States for business and decided to use the opportunity to see the Rebbe. I hoped that this visit would enable me to find some solace.
"I went in to the Rebbe's office for a private audience. I had already heard a great deal about people's amazing experiences with the Rebbe, and I was not disappointed. The piercing glance, the complete, focused attention, the caring - all this allowed me to release the heavy load I had been carrying since the war. I expressed to the Rebbe my doubts about my ability to get married again and be a husband and father once more. Was there hope for me to become the joyous, generous person I once was?
"The Rebbe looked at me lovingly and asked, 'Why is it so hard for you to recover? What is it that is holding you back?'
"I thought for a moment and answered that the great love I had for my murdered family does not allow me to move on. I feel a constant longing for them that cannot be extinguished. Their memory is constantly on my mind, imploring me never to forget.
The Rebbe looked at me again and said, 'You have within you a great treasure of love and giving. Take it, the love that right now prevents you from feeling any joy, and transform it into something productive. Use that joy to restore your life and rebuild a new family and a new future.'
"On the surface, nice words, no more and no less. But as I left the Rebbe's presence I felt a change inside me. The Rebbe's words caused a revolution inside my injured soul. I felt that my great love, which until now was a source of pain, had been transformed into a source of strength to rebuild.
"The first Shabbat that I returned home to London, I felt a strong desire to do something to express the love in my heart. I prepared a bag of candies and decided to distribute them to the children. I wanted to reclaim some of that joy and love I used to be known for.
"The first candy I gave to a child felt like a heavy weight in my hand. Each child who lined up to receive a treat reminded me of one of my children who was no more. But as time went on it became easier and easier. The love that burned in my heart finally started to warm me instead of destroying me from within.
Chaim concluded, "The love that ignited in me the will to live became a powerful force. I married again and more children were born to me. I built a new, beloved family. And distributing candies in shul - the very act that brought me back to life - is something I will never give up."
From Beis Moshiach Magazine.
After years of planning and construction a new Mikva (ritual bath) opened in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Called "Mei Olga," the mikva attests to the revival of Jewish life in Uzbekistan. Although a mikvah opened in Tashkent soon after the fall of the Iron Curtain, due to frequent earthquakes, the mikvah soon became unusable. In addition to the community, Jewish leaders and rabbis from throughout he FSU, the festive dinner that followed the opening of the mivka was also attended by Uzbekistan's Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov.
Torah for Parkland Teens
More than 2,500 teens from 436 cities around the world gathered in Times Square after the conclusion of Shabbat for a havdalah service and Torah completion ceremony at the tenth annual CTeen Shabbaton. Among the attendees were teens who had survived the attack at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. CTeen had arranged for each of the 2,500 participants to receive his or her own letter in the Torah scroll known. The Torah scroll was dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in the Parkland, Florida shooting.
16th of Adar I, 5725 
Greeting and Blessing:
I am in receipt of your letter, in which you ask a number of religious questions, etc,
Generally speaking a letter is not the proper medium to discuss such questions in due detail. Actually there is no need for this, because you have in your community a fine Rabbi and scholar, Rabbi ... with whom you could discuss all these questions personally. You may also mention to him that I referred you to him.
However, inasmuch as you have already written, I will make some observations relating to your questions.
You ask how to avoid various temptations or undesirable habits, etc. The answer to this and similar questions has already been given by our Sages of blessed memory a long time ago, namely "Try hard and you will succeed'. In other words the only way to overcome these things is by a real effort and with a determined will. On the other hand human nature is such that a radical and complete transformation should not be expected all at once. It is necessary to proceed steadily step by step.
You also ask how the validity of the Revelation at Sinai could be proved, and how our religion is different from others who also claim validity on the basis of tradition. This question in particular should be discussed at length personally, rather than in a letter. However to put it very briefly, the difference lies in the fact that our tradition goes back uninterruptedly to the Revelation at Sinai, which was witnessed by hundreds of thousands of adult Jews, several millions of men women and children altogether. These eyewitnesses transmitted what they saw and heard to their children and grandchildren in such an identical manner, that there is nothing in human history which has the strength of greater human evidence than this historic fact. However in regard to other religions, there are periods in their history where their whole religion was concentrated within one person, or a small group of persons. Incidentally, the Revelation at Sinai is a unanimous recognition also by the Christians and Moslems, although G-d forbid that we should have to rely on the support of external evidence or external sources.
Being satisfied with the truth of our own religion, we are not interested in disproving the validity of other religions based on claims of "miracles" etc. Even assuming that such miracles took place, they would not shake our faith and conviction, knowing that the Torahitself has warned us precisely against such situations, which should be regarded by us as nothing more than tests of our own faith.
Finally, the central aspect of the Revelation at Sinai was the giving of the Torah and particularly the Ten Commandments which begin with the very basic idea of pure monotheism. Any faith that accepts the Revelation, yet takes the liberty of changing such fundamental things as pure monotheism, or shifting the observance of the Shabbos to another day in the week, etc. - you have here a self contradiction.
In conclusion, let me say that it is a pity to waste time on some of the speculations and questions which you mention in your letter, for the essential thing is the daily life and conduct in accordance with the Torah and mitzvot, with simple faith and sincerity, realizing that the Divine commandments are essentially beyond the ken of the human mind, except insofar as G-d Himself chose to reveal. At the same time the very fulfillment of the mitzvot (commandments) with sincerity and faith enlightens the mind, and gives one new insights to better understand and appreciate the deeper significance of the daily religious observances, simple as they seem to appear.
MIRIAM is mentioned by name at the splitting of the Reed Sea (Ex. 15:20). However, she is referred to much earlier in her work with her mother as a midwife. She was the greatest prophetess of the Jewish people. In her merit, a well miraculously followed them in the desert. She was the sister of Aaron and Moses. Miriam's name hints at the condition of the Jews' lives, made bitter - mar - by the slavery. MOSHE (Moses) is first mentioned in Exodus (2:10). He was the greatest of all prophets, led the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage to freedom. He was named Moshe, meaning "drawn out (of the water)" by Pharaoh's daughter Batya, who saved him from the Nile.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is Rosh Chodesh (the first day of the month of) Nissan. Nissan is the month in which the Jewish people left Egypt.
As related in the Torah, two significant events transpired on the first of Nissan.
The first occurred when the Jews were still enslaved in Egypt. They received the commandment to sanctify the new moon and the laws associated with the Passover offering, which they were commanded to bring two weeks later on the 15th of the month.
The second event occurred exactly one year later, when the Jewish people had already been liberated, received the Torah at Mount Sinai, and were utterly free. On that day, the Sanctuary in the desert was erected, signifying the indwelling of the Divine Presence in a physical "house."
Although the two events took place a year apart, the fact that they occurred on the same date indicates that they share a common theme.
Every Jew, in every age and circumstance, is simultaneously "enslaved" and "liberated." From the perspective of the Jewish soul, a "veritable part of G-d Above," he is always free. Yet he is still "enslaved" to the physical body, which requires daily upkeep and maintenance.
However, the body and the soul are not two separate worlds, completely disconnected and dissociated from each other. The Jew's objective is to integrate the two into a single, well-adjusted entity. As the Tanya teaches, the key to a well-balanced life lies in giving precedence to the spiritual over the physical, "raising and exalting the soul high above the body."
"A mitzva is a candle, and the Torah is light." When a Jew illuminates his body with the sanctity of Torah, his animal soul willingly subjugates itself to his G-dly soul, and the two work successfully in tandem.
Our Sages tell us that the Final Redemption will take place in the month of Nissan. May we merit to greet our righteous Moshiach, sound in body and soul, in the immediate future.
He shall bring it, of his own voluntary will (Lev. 1:3)
Citing the Talmud, Rashi comments: "From this we learn that force may be applied. And what if it is against his will? The Torah states 'voluntarily'; the person is forced until he admits that he wants to comply." Coercion, it seems, is a legitimate way to obtain compliance. This is because, on the deepest level, a Jew's innermost desire is always to obey G-d's command. Outwardly he may protest, but in his heart of hearts he would rather overcome his evil inclination.
(Maimonides, Laws of Divorce , chap. 3)
You shall burn no leaven-chametz, nor any honey, in any offering of the L-rd made by fire (Lev. 2:11)
"Leaven" is symbolic of the kind of person who is angry at the world. Morning or evening, Shabbat or a regular weekday, he is always sour - "chamutz," (from the same Hebrew root as chametz). "Honey," by contrast, alludes to a person who is affable by nature. No matter what happens, he remains buoyant. The Torah teaches, however, that a person must learn to control his emotions, even positive ones. For there are times when it is appropriate to be "leaven," and times when it is appropriate to be "honey."
(Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch)
With all your sacrifices you should offer salt (Lev. 2:13)
The sacrifices are symbolic of the revealed part of Torah, which is likened to meat; the salt alludes to the esoteric part of Torah that deals with more abstract and spiritual matters. Just as salt preserves meat in the literal sense, so too does learning the innermost aspects of Torah ensure that the revealed part will remain preserved.
And if he denies unto his neighbor that which was delivered to him to keep, or in pledge, or in something taken by violence...he shall give it to the one it belongs to on the day he confesses his sin (Lev. 5:21, 24)
The Torah advises the robber to return whatever he stole on the same day that he admits his crime. The longer he waits, the harder it will be for him to give it up.
The great scholar and saint, Rabbi Chaim ben Attar, known as the Ohr Hachayim (HaKadosh), after his work of the same name, had many remarkable students.
One of them was Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai, who is known by the acronym of his name, the Chida.
When the Chida went to live in Israel his teacher gave him, as is the time-honored custom, a note to insert between the stones of the Kotel, the Western Wall.
The Chida took the note, put it in a safe place, and resolved to follow his master's bidding as soon as he arrived in the Holy Land.
When he arrived in Israel, the Chida decided that rather than depend on charity of any kind, he would work by the sweat of his brow. To implement his plan, he bought a donkey and a wagon and set about earning his meager subsistence as a hauler of clay.
He lived in this way for the first few years, satisfied that he was managing through his own efforts, and avoiding accepting charity. Then, suddenly his donkey died, leaving him with no means of support.
The Chida was crushed by this unforeseen turn of events, and as Torah teaches us, he searched into his actions trying to discover the reason for his suffering this calamity.
Then he realized: the note! He had completely forgotten about it.
The Chida first immersed himself in a mikva.
Then he hurriedly found the paper on which the Ohr Hachayim had written his message, and rushed with it to the Kotel.
Once there, he inserted it, unread, into the deep crevices of the ancient stones.
He immersed himself in prayer, asking the forgiveness of his teacher.
Feeling much relieved, the Chida returned to his usual place in the study hall. But something was different.
People were looking at him with different gazes than before and treating him with great deference and almost fear, as if he was a notable personage.
"What has happened that you are behaving in this strange manner towards me?" he asked them.
But the people themselves couldn't explain what it was about him that provoked their reaction. "Maybe you can tell us what is different about you today," they replied.
With that, the Chida told them about his misfortune, which he regarded as a punishment for his forgetting about the note he had forgotten about for so long.
He explained to them that today he had at last completed his task and obeyed the Ohr Hachayim by placing the note in the stones of the Kotel.
When the scholars of the study hall and the heads of the community heard this story, they were very curious to know what was written on the note.
Invoking all their authority, they implored the Chida to show them where he had placed the note. He took them to the exact spot at the Kotel where the note lay.
They took it out and opened it.
The message on the note read, "My sister, my bride [mystical references to the Divine Presence which rests at the Kotel] I beg you to help my beloved student in his time of need."
When word spread around Jerusalem of this wondrous story the people understood the greatness of the Chida and decided to appoint him Chief Rabbi of the Holy City.
The Book of Leviticus begins by defining what types of sacrifices should be brought and how they are to be offered. Since Moshiach will rebuild the Temple and restore the sacrificial service, obviously any discussion about the Temple or sacrifices deepens our understanding of what will be required of us and what life will be like in the era of Redemption. Such a discussion also helps us prepare for the coming of Moshiach. Needless to say, the sacrifices must be seen as having more than just historical or theoretical interest. Rather, the restoration of the Temple service is an imminent reality.
(From Reflections of Redemption based on based on Likutei Sichos 27, by Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m.)