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Happy birthday! With about 360,000 births each day world-wide, it's likely that at least a few of our readers are celebrating their birthdays today.
Conventionally, birthdays are for parties! When we're very young (and very old) we mark the day we were born with a celebration. Cake, ice cream, gifts, games, we gather family and friends to celebrate our birthdays.
Ostensibly, birthdays are quite secular affairs. Every person (Jew or non-Jew) has one once a year. In fact, in the Torah, the only birthday singled out for any mention is that of Pharaoh! Yet, the Talmud teaches that one's birthday is the day on which one's "fortune rises."
Is there a special "Jewish" way to celebrate a birthday? And is there such a thing as a Jewish birthday? And once we find out when our Jewish birthday is, how do we go about celebrating it?
A birthday is a time for reflection, a time to review the year gone by and to think about those aspects of our lives that need improvement and correcting.
We can use the day to study a Jewish thought and share it with others, take (extra) time to pray, as well as making sure to give charity and do some other special mitzvot (commandments).
The birthday party is transformed into a joyous gathering of family and friends and the power of the birthday will guarantee that the good resolutions made in such a setting will be fulfilled in the future.
Ancient Jewish sources teach the value of celebrating a birthday. For example there is a Midrash that relates: Most people cherish the day on which they were born and make a party on that day.
In 1988 (5748), shortly after the passing of his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the Lubavitcher Rebbe chose the anniversary of her birth as a time to launch a new campaign to reinvigorate the custom of celebrating Jewish birthdays.
The Rebbe asked that even the youngest children should be taught the spiritual importance of a birthday and that they should be encouraged to celebrate their birthdays with their friends in a way that they will increase Jewish observance and good resolutions.
For each of us, our birthday is a day to rejoice in the knowledge that on this day our soul descended to this world for a special, unique purpose that is only ours to fulfill.
On the anniversary of our birth, we embark on a new year, a new stage in our development, and a new chapter in the fulfillment of our life's mission.
There is no other you in the world and there is no other person who can accomplish the purpose for which you specifically were born.
Take advantage of this occasion. Be introspective, explore the state of your spiritual life, set your Jewish house even more in order. Start fulfilling some of the good resolutions on the spot and use your birthday as a time to increase goodness and holiness in the world!
This week we read the Torah portion of Shemini and we read an extra portion about the Red Heifer. A Red Heifer is called "para aduma" in Hebrew and this extra portion is known as "Parshat Para."
What is the significance of the Red Heifer? If someone comes in contact with a dead body, they have to be ritually purified by being sprinkled with water mixed with the ashes of the red heifer. About this commandment Torah says "This is the decree (chukat) of the Torah." Meaning, there is something about this mitzva (commandment) which is central to Torah and its observance.
This mitzva is a "chok," a command whose rationale is beyond human comprehension and is done just because it is G-d's will.
What are some lessons that we can take from this mitzva that affect Jewish life and observance?
The first lesson is, that we must be alive. Our attitude, outlook and focus must be positive and alive. Some see Torah as a bunch of rules, telling them what they can't do. To them, Torah becomes a miserable ball and chain, which they lug around. Some even take pride in this form of misery, "look at how miserable I am for G-d." This is not living. The Torah wants us to purify ourselves from even contact with death. To live with Torah, is to see the positive purpose and mission, that G-d has given to us. Instead of a ball and chain, Torah becomes wings with which you can soar. Mitzvot become a joy to do. Even the negative commandments are kept out of joy and positivity. You get to be G-d's messenger to do these things.
Another thing we can learn from the red heifer, is that its reason is beyond human comprehension. We only do it, because it is G-d's will. Same could be true about all the mitzvot, even the ones we do understand, we can and should do them for a higher purpose, because it is G-d's will. This makes our seemingly mundane actions meaningful too.
Being unable to do anything for myself, I see more than ever, how simple actions can be meaningful and G-dly. Just sitting, keeping me company, is so precious to me.
This perhaps, is the most important lesson of all. It is easy to see prayer, Torah study, tefilin, Shabbat candles, etc., as G-dly. But to G-d, our most mundane act can be G-dly. This is especially true when we show kindness to one another, and what is more G-dly than that?
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.
Western Wall Vignettes
by Reb Gutman Locks
A nice Jewish man was visiting Israel from Paris. His religious friend brought him over for me to help him put on tefilin.
When he finished his prayers, I asked him how old he is. He is ½ a year younger than I am. I turned his forearm over expecting to see tattooed numbers there, but there weren't any.
I asked, "How come you weren't sent to the Death Camp?"
He said, "We were living in a small village outside of Paris and the gentiles there didn't tell the Nazis (may their name be wiped out) that we were Jews."
I asked him "How many times a day do you thank G-d for this?"
He said, "Every day"
One child, one angry or jealous neighbor, one loose tongue for one second is all it would have taken and his entire family would have been murdered along with the other millions of Jews they killed.
Why did G-d save this family? I do not know. But surely He did so for a reason. And for some reason He is saving you and me today.
They were visiting from Canada. His son asked for someone who could give his father a blessing. They brought them over to me. The son said, "I want someone to give my father a blessing."
I said, "Here is the blessing for your father." I told the father to put his right hand on his son's head, and to repeat the blessing that we give to our children.
He repeated the blessing in Hebrew and I had him add all that he wanted for his son.
Then I asked the son if he had put on tefilin that day. He said that he had. I asked the father, but the son jumped in to separate me from his father: "No, he's okay. He doesn't need!"
"What are you talking about?"
I said to the father, thinking maybe he wasn't Jewish, "You have a Jewish face, so your mother must have been Jewish, right?"
"What do you think?"
"So, you're Jewish?"
"Did you put on tefilin today?"
"Then come put on tefilin now."
"No, I'm good."
"You could be better," and I brought him over to the tefillin stand.
I helped him put on tefilin and was surprised that he knew most of the blessing. I urged him to pray for his loved ones. He prayed silently for a long time.
When he finished we took pictures and I asked, "Was that worth doing?"
He said, "Yes, it was good."
I asked him when he last put on tefilin. He said at his Bar Mitzva.
"How old are you?"
"That's 65 years ago! Don't wait another 65 years to do it again!"
What happened there? The literal scene was obvious, the father had a reunion with his youth, with his Jewish awareness, with his loved ones, with G-d.
What happened in Heaven? We don't know the details, but surely, we warmed his welcome for when he goes back upstairs.
He is a sculptor and was visiting Israel from Albania. He got into a conversation with us at the tefilin stand and it turns out that his mother, who was from Istanbul, was a Jew.
I put tefilin on him and showed him how to open his heart. He left and like all the others we are blessed to help, he went off on his own way.
Do these tefilin experiences at the Kotel change anyone, or are they just momentary tourist attractions? Photo-ops? Here is what he wrote a few days after he left.
"Greetings from Tirana (Albania).
"I am very overwhelmed and at once emotional by my first visit at the wall. G-d welcomed and blessed me openly with the opportunity to meet my brother of our strong nation. Sincerely, I still feel like I'm there right next to that sacred wall, which from now on is my house of soul and heart. I came shy and not confident to the Wall because I unfortunately know very little about our belief. However after the conversation with you I really felt like in the middle of my family and my brother, whom for the first time made me experienced Bar Mitzvah.
"Wishing you endless happiness
He is a retired doctor, visiting from America. The conversation went like this:
"Let me take your picture."
"Is your mother Jewish?"
"Yes. What does that have to do with it?"
"Come, put on tefilin.
"No, I don't do that. I haven't put on tefilin since my grandson's Bar Mitzvah."
"Come put on tefilin and I will let you take my picture."
"Okay then, no picture. You want a picture... you have to put on tefilin."
He gave in, and I have a photo of him smiling with the tefilin on. From the photo you see that he had a good time.
Gutman Locks has been a fixture in the Old City of Jerusalem for three decades. He is the author of several books, has produced musical tapes and short videos, and writes regularly on www.mpaths.com.
New Torah Scroll
A Torah scroll is being written to be used at Chabad Cambodia, Phnom Penh's first and only Jewish congregation, directed by Mashie and Rabbi Bentzion Butman. Sadly, the scroll is being written in memory of Eliyahu Moscowitz, the 24-year-old brother of Mrs. Butman, who was shot and killed on Simchat Torah night in his Rogers Park, Chicago, neighborhood 6 months ago. Eliyahu was a kind, open, sincere, caring young man. The Torah is being written in Ashdod, Israel, by Rabbi Levi Butman, brother of Rabbi Bentzion.
By A Jew
Chabad of Toco Hills, Georgia, hosts a unique history class. "World History by a Jew" presented by Seth Fleishman. On Shabbat afternoon Mr. Fleishman presents world history, but through a Jewish lens. The class is attracting Jews of all different backgrounds as well as non-Jews.
19th of Adar, 5729 
To the Friends of Lubavitch
Los Angeles, Calif.
Greeting and Blessing:
I was very gratified indeed to receive the encased Key, to the new Lubavitch Center in L.A., through your representatives who came to participate in the Purim celebration. No doubt, on their return, your distinguished representatives conveyed to you the words spoken here at the Purim Farbrengen [Chasidic gathering].
While the words spoken at such an auspicious occasion have a significance of their own, I also wish to convey to you in writing my heartfelt congratulations and prayerful wishes in addition to the blessing which has already been given by G-d Himself, whose reward for each and every good deed is most generous, coming from "His full, open, holy and ample Hand."
I reiterate the prayerful hope which I expressed to your distinguished representatives, namely that the new edifice be a center for various activities to spread goodness and kindness as embodied in our Torah, which is the true good, as it is written, "I have given you a good doctrine (Torah) " Moreover, that it be a "center" in the fullest sense namely that it extend its influence to the whole periphery. That is to say, that the spirit of the Center, namely the spirit of the Torah, Toras Chaim [the Torah of life], as it is permeated with Chasidic light, vitality and warmth, and based on the three loves - the love of G-d, the love of the Torah, and the love of our people Israel - which are one, should reach out to the entire periphery, and. indeed, beyond, to the whole of the West Coast.
Inasmuch as you have been privileged to be the initiators of this great and meritorious project, may G-d grant that you should also see it to its fullest realization, and enjoy the fruits of it to ripe old age, in good health and in true happiness. I also hope that you will be kind to your friends and neighbors and involve them too in this great work of the friends of Lubavitch.
Having just celebrated Purim, and in the spirit of the text of the Megillah [Scroll of Esther], may each and every one of you, in the midst of all our people, enjoy "Light, joy, gladness and honor, in the fullest sense of these meaningful words.
Wishing you the utmost Hatzlocho [success], and
With esteem and blessing,
19th of Adar, 5729 
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleased to receive your regards through the visitors from L.A., who came to participate in the Purim Farbrengen. Their account of the progress made by the activities of Lubavitch and Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch on the West Coast, especially in connection with the new Center, are very encouraging. Particularly gratifying, of course, was their report about your current participation, and promise for the future, as I see also from your note which they conveyed to me.
My father-in-law of saintly memory, whose personal blessing you had the zechus [privilege] to receive, as I have heard, often reminded us that when a Jew resolves to do something good, he receives special aid from On High, in the form of new channels and means, to carry out his resolve fully and joyfully.
Moreover, our Sages of blessed memory tell us that it is in the nature of the Jew to strive for ever greater accomplishments, and in an increased measure. Thus, they said, "He who has 100 desires 200, and (having attained) 200 - he desires 400."
In the light of the above, and knowing of your family tradition as especially exemplified by your sister Mrs. E.-, whom I have occasion to meet personally, I am confident that when you will have fulfilled your present goals, you too will have a strong desire to raise your future goal.
May G-d grant that you should be able to do so in good health, and with joy and gladness of heart.
ACHINOAM means "my brother is pleasant." King Saul and King David both had wives named Achinoam.
ADIN is from the Hebrew meaning "beautiful, pleasant, gentle." In the Bible (Ezra 2:15), Adin was one of the people who returned to Israel with Zerubabel from the Babylonian exile.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat a second Torah scroll is taken out of the ark and Parshat Para, a special chapter enumerating the laws of the red heifer, is read. The ashes of the red heifer (of which only nine have ever existed) have the power to remove the spiritual impurity that is caused by contact with a dead body. The tenth and final red heifer will be prepared by Moshiach, who will purify the Jewish people in the Messianic era.
The mitzva of the red heifer is a prime example of a "chok" - a commandment that completely transcends human understanding. While the person upon whom the ashes were sprinkled was purified, the one who performed the ritual was rendered unclean. The mitzva of the red heifer has long been derided by the non-Jewish world for its inconsistencies. The Evil Inclination wants Jews, too, to feel uncomfortable about it. But like other commandments in this category, it reminds us that the basis for our observing Torah and mitzvot is not how much of Judaism we can understand and "agree" with. A Jew's faith in G-d is higher than the limitations of the human mind.
Of course, as human beings blessed with intellect we are obligated to study Torah and comprehend it to the best of our ability. Faith and intellect are two sides of the same coin, each one complementing the other and making us complete. But the bottom line is that the Torah is Divine, and we can't expect to understand everything.
The mitzva of the red heifer thus contains an important lesson: G-d promised us Moshiach; it doesn't matter if it makes "sense," or if there are skeptics who ridicule our belief. In the same way our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt in the merit of their faith, so too must we remain strong until the Final Redemption with Moshiach is a reality.
May it happen at once.
But these you shall not eat...because it chews the cud (ma'aleih geira) but does not divide the hoof (u'farsa einenu mafris); it is unclean to you (Lev. 11:4)
A Jewish host must make sure that his guest is comfortable. He should cut several slices of bread from his loaf (the Hebrew word parsa means both hoof and a slice of bread) in case the guest is too embarrassed to do so, and must himself partake of enough food to encourage the guest to eat without self-consciousness. This is alluded to in the Torah: The camel, which "chews the cud but doesn't divide the hoof," is not a kosher animal, as it eats enough but doesn't share his parsa (bread). Likewise, the pig, "which divides the hoof (i.e., shares his bread with others)...but doesn't chew its cud (i.e., does not eat enough to encourage guests) - it is unclean to you." Only a host who fulfills both requirements is "kosher."
(Reb Meir of Premishlan)
You shall sanctify yourselves and you shall be holy, because I am holy (Lev. 11:44)
The rich man's son doesn't worry about livelihood because his father is always there to help him financially. So too is it with the Jewish people: Because our Father is holy, it doesn't take very much effort to be holy ourselves. All we need do is take a step in the right direction, and our Father helps us along...
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Barditchev)
Why does this verse follow the Torah's enumeration of forbidden foods? To teach us that when a Jew is careful to eat only kosher, his soul is invested with an additional measure of holiness.
(Maimonides, Hilchot Maachalot Asurot)
And the stork (chasida) (Lev. 11:19)
The Talmud asks, "Why is this bird called a chasida? Because it acts with loving-kindness (chesed) towards its friends." One might think that this is a positive virtue, but the stork is not a kosher animal. It acts this way only with those close to it, rather than with all creatures equally.
Dama ben Nesina was a noble gentile, greatly admired by his wisdom and prowess. It so happened that the elders of his city gathered together for an important meeting, and they called for Dama to come and advise them.
When he arrived they immediately seated him at the front of the table and the discussion began. Unknown to Dama, however, his mother - unfortunately a demented woman who was not responsible for her actions - had followed him and burst into the chamber room.
Before the startled eyes of the people, she rushed at her son and began to beat and slap him. The noble Dama, with perfect respect, never raised his hand against his mother, merely pleading, "Mother, have pity and allow me to take you home."
When the Jewish sages heard of this remarkable self restraint and honor of his mother they proclaimed to all, "If you wish to understand how far the mitzvah of honoring one's parents extends, come learn from Dama ben Nesina."
The Sages had yet another occasion to admire the respect Dama ben Nesina had for his parents. It was during the period of the Second Temple, and the High Priest was garbed in his holy garments as specified in the Torah. There arose a need for a precious stone to be placed in the High Priest's breastplate and the rabbis heard that Dama owned a beautiful gem.
Hurrying to his home they were greeted by the noble Dama, "Welcome, great rabbis. What has happened that you honor me with your presence in my home?"
"Noble Dama," the rabbis replied, "we have need of a precious gem that is in your possession, for the High Priest. We are prepared to give you 1,000 gold she for it."
"I will gladly sell you the gem," replied Dama. "Allow me to get it from the next room."
Entering the next room, Dama saw that his father was fast asleep on the couch and one of his feet was resting on top of the chest, in which the gem was contained. Dama was faced with the choice of awakening his father or missing the opportunity to sell the gem.
Making sure. he did not awaken his father, he returned to the room where the rabbis sat and said, "Learned rabbis, I am afraid that I cannot sell you the gem."
The rabbis, thinking that he wished to get a higher price for the gem, said, "We must have the gem and we are prepared to offer you ten times what we offered you before. Here are 10,000 gold shekel if you will let us have the gem immediately."
"No, no," protested Dama. "You do not understand; I cannot give you that gem because my father is sleeping on the chest in which it lies. I would not awaken him if you were to give me an entire household of gold and silver."
At that moment, the father awoke from his sleep and entered the room.
"Father," cried Dama, "you are up. Now I can get the gem and sell it to the rabbis."
Going into the other room, Dama got the gem and handed it to the rabbis.
"We thank you for the gem," they said. "Here are 10,000 gold shekel."
"Take back 9,000 of the money," said Dama. "I originally agreed to sell it for 1,000 shekel. The reason why you added the rest was because I would not awaken my father. Heaven forbid that I should sell the honor and respect of my father for 9,000 shekel."
The Almighty did not allow Dama to go unrewarded. The next year, he was blessed with the birth of a perfect red cow among his cattle. The rabbis heard of this and hastened to buy it, for the red cow was vital in the days of the Temple, when the laws of purity were daily matters of practice.
They were so overjoyed to find a red cow that they gladly paid Dama 10,000 shekel for his cow. When the people heard this they said, "The duty of honoring one's parents is truly great in the eyes of the Almighty. Therefore did He bless Dama ben Nesina."
Adapted by Rabbi Sholom Klass obm from the Talmud
Among the cud-chewing, hoofed animals, these are the ones that you may not eat: the camel...the hyrax..the hare..the pig. (Lev. 11:4-7) The Torah lists four animals that have only one of the two kosher signs and are therefore non-kosher - camel, hyrax, hare and pig. Each animal symbolizes one of the four nations which enslaved the Jews in exile. We are now in the last of these four exiles, corresponding to the pig - chazir in Hebrew. The word "chazir" means "return." After this fourth and final exile the glory of the Jewish people will "return" to the way it was intended.