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by Rabbi Eli Cohen
We live in the age of the sound bite, short attention spans and instant gratification. In such a world, it may seem foreign to us to take out a chunk of our day to mumble passages of a 2,000 year-old text and stand in silent devotion. Wouldn't a simple "G-d is great" or "thanks a lot" be enough, and then on with our day?
Does the Infinite need to be told how wonderful He is? One would hope not. Why then are we enjoined to spend 45 minutes or more a day extolling His virtues?
Imagine writing a poem to express your affection for someone very dear, a spouse or child, for example. Would the three words, "I love you" be enough? Not very romantic. You would probably want to put into words the reasons for your love, the special qualities which endear this person to you, the wonderful feelings you get from being in his or her presence.
Consider a toast master who gets up to introduce the honoree at a banquet:
"Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Ed Forman. He's great."
That's not enough. No, we must be told every time he is honored about his presidency of the Global Jewish Association and his chairmanship of a particular national foundation and so on, in what can often become a shopping list of good works. These are recited, not because the honoree likes to hear them, but because his resume of accomplishments establishes a feeling of admiration, perhaps even awe on the part of the audience, that makes them more receptive to whatever the honoree says after such an introduction.
Our prayers are not merely a recital of our needs and wants.
When we approach G-d in prayer, we are nurturing a relationship with our Creator. It is a two-way relationship built on two emotions, love and awe. When we stand before Alm-ghty G-d on a daily basis, we give expression to our deep feelings of connection to something more vast than anything we can possibly imagine. In our prayers we cherish the link between the finite and the Infinite; between puny, insignificant man, tiny grain of dust in the entire cosmos and G-d, Who constantly gives life to the entire universe and yet cares and looks after little me.
As we pray we hear the words of praise resounding in our minds and we are filled with emotion. On the one hand, we feel that warm tingling feeling we get when you start describing someone who is near and dear. On the other hand, we are filled with a dread and respect that we might feel ten minutes before a meeting with a top corporate executive or a world leader.
The Talmud calls prayer "the service of the heart." To make it a meaningful service, it must involve painting the word pictures and taking the time to develop the emotions which comprise a real interface between man and G-d.
In this week's Torah portion, Pinchas, we read about the regular sacrifices brought on the Temple altar. There were daily, Shabbat, new month and festival offerings.
Every day, two yearling lambs were brought as "constant burnt offerings. The first you should do in the morning, and the second you should do in the afternoon."
What is the significance of bringing one in the "morning" and one in the "afternoon"? What lessons could we take from this constant burnt offering, for our relationship with G-d, and for our personal relationships?
The Hebrew word for sacrifice is "korban" which comes from the word "karov," close. The idea here is to bring yourself closer, strengthen your connection with G-d.
This must be "constant." G-d wants us to work on developing our relationship with Him every day.
How do you get closer to G-d? By being a "burnt offering." Burnt offerings were unique. Whereas with other sacrifices, only parts were burnt on the altar, the burnt offering was entirely consumed. G-d wants us to give our total self to him. To be open and vulnerable and to allow our entire self to be consumed, becoming one with G-d.
"Morning" is symbolic of the good times, when the light of G-d shines bright. At these times things are easy, there are no obstacles to overcome. "Afternoon" is the hard times, when the sun is going down and obstacles make G-d seem distant. Even in these dark times of exile we need to come closer. The darker it is, the greater the effort we need to give to connect. The bond we forge in these dark times, is beyond anything we could have created in times of light.
Ultimately the light will return but because of the closeness we have developed, the light will be greater than anything we could have imagined.
The same is true for personal relationships. To get closer you must be "constant," you must work on your relationship every day. Give your entire self to your other, allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable. This is easy when things are fine. However, it is the persistence and effort in times of difficulty that will take your relationship to a whole new level. Deeper, stronger and more wonderful than anything you could have imagined.
Struggling with ALS has been a tremendous strain on my family, especially on my wife. Nevertheless, it has brought us closer as a family and as a couple. And for that I am thankful.
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.
Here I Come Brooklyn
by Raizel Sara Pershin
I was finishing up my college years at Purdue university when I came upon my first major decision in life: should I go on to graduate school or look for a job in the real world. I had been living in the bubble called university for four years of my life. I needed a break before making this decision so I went home to my family in Cleveland, Ohio before graduation in the spring. Little did I know that G-d, via my mother, had other plans. I was soon to embark on a new journey that would forever change my life.
The previous winter my mother, the snowbird, had gone to Miami Beach. During her stay she met another Jewish women from her home town in Europe and the two hit if off right away. Soon my mother found out about her new-found friend's son Michael. He had met Chabad in Cleveland and it had changed his life. He had gone from a total hippy college student to a Torah observant Jew. She was so proud and happy with her son's new life as a "Chabadnik."
The wheels started turning in my mother's head. Maybe she could get Michael to knock some sense into me! I had become enamored with the "hippy" mentality and lifestyle and my Jewish identity had dwindled. My European Holocaust survivor parents could not relate to this!
So, when I came home for Spring Break my determined mother wasted no time in orchestrating that I meet Michael. Michael and I had actually gone to the same High School! At first we caught up on old friends and high school days. Then Michael told me how he met Chabad during his college years. The Friday night Shabbat meals, the campus program, discovering Judaism and its beauty... As he finished telling his story he invited me to the Chabad House for a Friday night meal to also experience it myself.
Friday night arrived. Michael walked over to my house and then we went together to came and picked me up and off to the rabbi's house. The beautiful atmosphere of that Friday night meal, the singing, the family atmosphere. It was so different from the Friday night college parties that I had gotten used to but where I had felt so uncomfortable. Now the world that my European Holocaust survivor parents had come from started to resonate within me. I became a "regular," going weekly to Chabad for Shabbat.
One week I picked up a book about the philosophy of Chabad. I started to read it and thought to myself, "Finally a book that speaks about the inner dimension of Judaism!" I had always grappled with questions on G-d and Judaism: why are Jews so different? Who is this Jewish G-d that destroys six million of His people?...
As a young girl, every afternoon I went to a Jewish school run by the Orthodox community where many of the Holocaust survivors sent their children. Our parents wanted us to fit into the American culture hence we went to public school. But they wanted us to maintain a Jewish identity hence Hebrew school every day after school and Shabbat groups ever Saturday. And yet, I felt like a foreigner here in America with those old style European parents who never really understood the American Culture.
The Friday nights at Chabad brought back wonderful memories of my childhood.
I had thought that I had come home from college to take a break to figure out my work/career path but instead an entirely new chapter in my life began. I can only describe it as my soul feeling like it was being brought back home to its Jewish roots . And all of this was being orchestrated by the One Above via my Jewish mother, her annual Florida winter vacation, and Michael. Little did my mother know that she was propelling me towards the lifestyle that she was so abruptly taken away from.
With a number of Shabbat experiences at Chabad under my belt, soon afterwards came my first trip to Crown Heights and to World Headquarters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his chassidim.
"Sonia," Mrs. Shula Kazen, one of the first emissaries of the Rebbe to Cleveland told me, "The annual convention of the Lubavitch Women and Girls Organization is coming up. You must go see the Lubavitcher Rebbe, he is a holy man." No one ever questioned Mrs. Kazen, known affectionately in Cleveland as "the general." So off on the bus I went as a good solider, no questions asked.
I will never forgot that first weekend I spent in Crown Heights. We went off the bus, straight into the welcoming and open arms of the Crown Heights Lubavitch community.
The Shabbat started with candle lighting and then we immediately went to the home of Rabbi Yosef Goldstein to listen to his majestic class in Tanya, the main book of Chabad-Lubavitch philosophy. The Goldstein home was filled with the aroma of Mrs. Goldstein's freshly baked challahs and other delicious Shabbat foods - heaven on earth. The class ended in time for us to arrive for the Friday night services in the huge synagogue known as "770." There were hundreds of men dressed in the black Chassidic garb and the women were elegantly and modestly dressed.
After services we went to our host families for the Friday night meal. Then we gathered at an "oneg Shabbat" led by a young women, Malka Tougar. With her charm, charisma and deep knowledge she spoke and then answered many of our questions. Shabbat day was also memorable with prayers, meals and lectures that transported me into a different place and time zone.
The highlight of the convention was the main and final session, when the Rebbe addressed the women and girls. The men's section of "770" was cleared out and only women were allowed inside. The Rebbe empowered the women to be Jewish leaders in their uniquely feminine way. After the Rebbe's talk, each participant walked past the Rebbe and received a blessing.
Wow! That is the only word I could use to describe such an incredible experience. Yes Mrs. Kazen! So right you were ! Now I was hooked.
This article is dedicated to Raizel's mother, Rochel bas Yisroel Zev.
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17 Menachem Av, 5737 (1977)
Greeting and Blessing:
Thank you for your letter of July 22. I am pleased to note that you recall our discussion. However, your inference from the recent black-out in support of your thesis is debatable.
At any rate, following the example of your letter, I will also make reference to a recent event in support of my position. I have in mind the visit of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and no doubt you also had an opportunity of meeting him and have evaluated the results of his visit to the USA.
One of the obvious elements of the Prime Minister's visit is that it has demonstrated once again how vitally important it is for our people in the Holy Land to have strong and viable Jewish communities in the outside world. For, however important aliyah is, it would be a mixed blessing if it were to erode the Jewish voice and influence in such strategically important countries as the USA and others.
And speaking of the importance of Jewish communities in the Diaspora, the emphasis is not merely on numbers as they appear in a national census, but also and primarily on the quality of the Jewish population and leadership, namely, the extent to which Jews identify themselves with Jewishness and Jewish causes. Here again, as I pointed out in our discussion, it is not enough just to write a check - however indispensable financial assistance is, but it must be a more meaningful identification and personal commitment, touching deeply every Jew and reflecting in his daily life as a Jew.
Such identification is not limited to the home and synagogue or when one is in the society of fellow Jews, but it must be evident everywhere, even among non-Jews, and even in the White House, with truly Jewish self-respect and avowed trust in G-d, the Guardian of Israel, and with pride in our Jewish heritage and traditions - as was so eminently expressed in word and deed by Prime Minister Begin. It is the general consensus that this worthy deportment of the Jewish representative during his first encounter with the President of the USA had an immensely favorable impact and has established a personal rapport between the two leaders which will hopefully have far-reaching beneficial results also in terms of American support.
However important aliyah is, it would be a mixed blessing if it were to erode the Jewish voice and influence in such strategically important countries as the USA and others
I trust you have followed closely the highlights and details of this visit and compared it with those of his predecessors. Here, for the first time, came a Jewish Prime Minister who declared in a loud and clear voice that he comes strengthened by the prayers of his fellow Jews at home and abroad and trusts in G-d and the security of his people that his mission will be successful. And, as you surely know, when he sat down to break bread with President Carter, he made sure that it would be a kosher meal, and as he put on a yarmulke and made a bracha and explained to the President the meaning of it. All of which has earned him the respect and admiration of the President and of all others who came in contact with him. Even from a pragmatic statesmanlike viewpoint this approach is bound to be a sure winner, though, regretfully, it had not been recognized by his predecessors.
To conclude on the concluding note of your letter, may G-d bless you with strength and wisdom to use your good offices and influence in the said direction, especially in view of your prominent position in the Jewish community.
With kind regards, and with esteem and blessing,
PINCHAS means "mouth of a snake." Pinchas was the grandson of Aaron (Exodus 6:25) and a Priest. Another famous Pinchas was Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair who was a great scholar.
PENINA means "pearl" or "coral." Penina was the second wife of Elkana (I Samuel 1:2). Elkana was the father of Samuel the prophet by his first wife, Chana.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The interval between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av is known as the "Three Weeks," the period in which the Holy Temple was destroyed. After the destruction, G-d showed the prophet Ezekiel an image of the Temple and commanded him to convey its likeness to the Jewish people.
"Master of the universe!" Ezekiel protested. "The Jews are scattered and dispersed among their enemies. How can You command me to describe the Temple to them? Are they in any position to actually rebuild it? Why don't You wait until the exile is over? Then I will go and convey Your message."
Answered G-d: "Why should the building of My House be nullified just because My children are in exile? Reading about it in the Torah is as great as actually erecting it. Go and tell them that they must study the Torah's verses about the Temple's structure. As their reward, I will consider it as if they are actually engaged in its construction."
The obligation to build the Temple is not abrogated by our being in exile. When Jews study the laws pertaining to the Temple's appearance and service, G-d deems it as if we are actually working to erect the physical Temple. The commandment to build the Temple is a perpetual mitzva that applies in all times and places. During the Three Weeks, our study of these subjects is intensified.
Maimonides writes in his Laws of Kings that the Third Holy Temple will be built by man, i.e., by Moshiach. The Midrash, however, states that it will be built by G-d and descend from heaven. How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction?
Those elements that are clearly delineated in the Talmud will be constructed by human hands; the components that are written about in Ezekiel (which are beyond our comprehension, as the language is cryptic and esoteric) will be built by G-d. And because G-d Himself will participate in the building of the Third Holy Temple, it will endure forever as a lasting edifice.
May the merit of our increased Torah learning make it happen immediately!
The Men of the Great Assembly made three statements: "Be deliberate in judgment; raise up many students; and make a fence around the Torah." (Ethics 1:1)
Raise up many students - Implied in the Hebrew term is the notion that one must instruct one's students until they are able to stand independently. A teacher's responsibility is not merely to impart knowledge, but rather to give his students a strong base of values and principles which will continue to give them strength.
(Shabbat Parshat Naso, 5740)
Shimon the Righteous was one of the last of the Men of the Great Assembly. He used to say: "The world stands on three qualities: on [the study of] Torah, the service [of G-d], and deeds of kindness." (Ethics 1:2)
[The study of] Torah, the service [of G-d], and deeds of kindness - The Torah shows a person how to conduct his life. Service (prayer) enables one to internalize the Torah's teachings, and deeds of kindness express these teachings in the world at large.
(Shabbat Parshat Shemini, 574O)
Yehoshua ben Perachyah and Nittai of Arbel received [the oral tradition] from them. Yehoshua ben Perachyah said: "Provide yourself with a master; acquire for yourself a friend; and judge every person favorably." (Ethics 1:6)
Judge every person favorably - Even when a person's conduct does not seem worthy of favorable judgment, one should endeavor to find redeeming virtue within him.
(Shabbat Parshat Behaalos'cha, 5741)
All that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created solely for His glory, as it is stated:66 "All that is called by My Name - indeed, it is for My glory that I have created it, formed it, and made it;" and it says: "The Lrd shall reign forever and ever." (Ethics 1:11)
The Lrd shall reign forever and ever" - This phrase refers to the Era of the Redemption. This is the ultimate goal of our pious conduct, to usher in the era in which G-d's glory will be revealed in the most consummate manner.
(Shabbat Parshat Pinchas, 5744)
From In the Paths of Our Fathers, sie.org
Around the time Herod was rebuilding the Second Temple, a man named Nikanor lived in the Land of Israel. When he heard about the magnificent restoration of the Holy Temple he wanted with all his heart to join in the great work and make his own contribution to G-d's House.
He decided that he would have two huge, copper gates constructed to lead from the azara courtyard to the Holy Temple itself. At that time the city of Alexandria in Egypt was known as the center for copper work, and so Nikanor traveled to Egypt to commission and oversee the job. He was a man of means, and so after locating the best craftsmen, he rented a studio and hired expert coppersmiths to design and execute the project.
The gates were of gigantic dimensions and the work was slow and painstaking. Finally the doors were completed, and Nikanor couldn't wait to see his beautiful gates become a part of the Holy Temple. He hired skilled porters to transport the gates to the port where a ship lay anchored and ready to sail back to the Holy Land.
At long last the gates were loaded aboard the ship and on their way to the Land of Israel. For the first few days everything went according to schedule, but suddenly the weather shifted and a terrible storm blew up. Enormous, angry waves crashed against the sides of the ship until it was filled with water and about to sink.
The sailors rushed to lighten the ship's load. The panicked captain ran to Nikanor, pleading, "You must agree to throw at least one of your gates overboard. They are the heaviest part of our cargo, and if we are to have a chance to survive, they must go.
Nikanor wouldn't hear of it. He clung to the doors with all of his strength, but soon even he could see that his protests were futile. A few hefty seamen gathered on deck and together cast one of the enormous doors overboard as Nikanor watched in horror. At once the ship was about to right itself, but the pitching of the waves continued unabated and the ship began to take water once again.
There was no choice. The sailors were about to throw the second gate overboard when Nikanor cried out in anguish, "If you throw this over, you will have to throw me, too! I will not be parted from it!" But the sailors seized the one remaining door and with all their might they cast it into the sea. At the very moment that the door hit the waves, the sea quieted.
Nikanor scanned the glassy sea as far as his eyes could see. There, floating out on the smooth waters was the gate sparkling like gold in the sunlight. By some miracle it had not sunk into the deep, but was floating its way to the Land of Israel. Nikanor couldn't contain his great happiness. The gate landed at the quay the same time the ship docked. A few days later the other door also made its way to the shore of Akko and joined its mate.
The two doors were transported with great celebration, to Jerusalem where they were installed in a place of honor, in the eastern wall opposite the Holy of Holies. The gateway which they occupied was given the name "The Gate of Nikanor."
Many years later when all of the gates of the Holy Temple were covered in gold, or exchanged for doors of solid gold, the Gates of Nikanor were left unchanged in memory of the great miracle which accompanied their installation.
Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was a great sage and righteous person who lived during the time of the Holy Temple. Rabbi Chanina lived a life of poverty, but even though he was poor, he had a great desire to donate a gift to the Holy Temple. What could he give, when he could barely feed his own family? One day Rabbi Chanina was standing by the roadside, watching the other Jews bringing their sacrifices to the Temple. He began walking down the road, meditating on his dilemma. When he stopped walking, he noticed a huge boulder standing by the road. What attracted his attention was its unusually beautiful shape and color, and that gave him an idea. "Why, I could work this stone and polish it until it is a truly beautiful object. Then it will be a fitting gift for the Holy Temple."
He worked the stone and when his job was completed he looked around for porters to carry it to Jerusalem. But no one would carry it for only five small coins, all he possessed. Suddenly five men appeared from nowhere and agreed to bring his stone to Jerusalem for the tiny sum of five coins.
In moments he stood in Jerusalem with his stone - the porters had disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. A miracle had occurred to enable the tzadik to make his gift to the Holy Temple. Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa donated his five coins to the fund for poor scholars and returned home a happy and fulfilled man.
There are three different facets of our relationship with G-d: 1) We are connected to G-d in a service-reward relationship. 2) We were chosen by G-d to be His people, regardless of how well we live up to our side of our contractual relationship with Him. 3) We are connected to G-d because we are part of Him. This third facet mirrors the division of the land by inheritance that we read about in this week's portion. All three facets of our relationship with G-d are important, but in the Messianic future our inheritance-relationship with G-d will become paramount. It is this aspect of our relationship that we should try to emphasize now, as we prepare ourselves for the imminent Redemption.
(From Daily Wisdom, by Moshe Wisnefsky from the teachings of the Rebbe)