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by Yehudis Cohen
What is it that magically draws people to a mixture of marshmallow fluff, crisped rice cereal and margarine?
Long ago, when my husband and I ran Chabad serving the students at NYU, Rice Krispy Treats were one of the staples at our weekly Friday night "oneg Shabbat" - an after the services and meal time to hang out. Over the years I probably made thousands of trays of Rice Krispy Treats. And that gave me plenty of time to contemplate the message of this thoroughly sweet, sometimes sticky dessert.
In keeping with a primary teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that one can glean a lesson for Jewish living from everything one sees and hears, I present the follow hypothesis in answer to the above question.
A box or bag of crisped rice cereal contains hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tiny, distinct pieces of crisped rice. If, by mistake, one spills this cereal, it scatters everywhere, in all directions and into every nook and cranny. However, upon mixing the cereal with marshmallow fluff the individual pieces become stuck together.
And that, simply speaking, is one of the main messages I have found in Rice Krispy Treats. We Jews want to be united. We want to be "stuck" together with the help of a sweet, delicious, pristine, healthy (marshmallow fluff is cholesterol free) substance. We don't want to be scattered, alienated, detached and divided in a million directions. Of course, every Jew wants to retain his or her uniqueness and identity just as in Rice Krispy Treats each individual piece of crispy rice is recognizable and discernible. But ultimately we want to be part of, not apart from, the Jewish community. And we want every other Jew to feel connected to all other Jews.
How can we accomplish this? By learning even more from my experience with Rice Krispy Treats at NYU.
I personally didn't find preparing Rice Krispy Treats particularly challenging nor did I find them gastronomically appealing. I would prefer making (and eating!) my grandmother's oatmeal jelly bars, or perhaps Betty Crocker Double Chocolate Fudge Brownies. Even Peanut Butter Chocolate Rice Krispy Treats are more exciting than the marshmallow fluff variety as far as I am concerned. But the students wanted ordinary Rice Krispy Treats, so that is what I give them.
Now, imagine adopting such an attitude when we relate to another Jew. Imagine putting aside what we want to give, what we would like to offer another Jew (what we think the next Jew is lacking?), and instead, concentrate on the needs or desires of the other person. When a friend wants someone to listen, we listen instead of talk. When he wants to learn to read Hebrew, even if we're itching to teach him something more advanced, we teach him Hebrew or find someone who will. And conversely, if we know someone who wants to explore Judaism at a rate or depth that will exceed our own comfort level, we encourage her and help her along.
Let's all take the Rice Krispy Treat challenge. I believe we'll be pleasantly surprised at the results.
The Torah portion of Nasso begins with the count of the Levitic children of Gershon and Merari, who would be transporting the coverings, curtains, posts and panels of the Sanctuary and its courtyard when the Jewish people traveled in the desert. It comes after the count in last week's portion, of the children of Kehos (also Levites), who carried the vessels of the Sanctuary.
Everything in Torah is eternal, but these counts seem to be specific to the time that the Jewish people were in the desert. Why does the Torah tell us something that seems to irrelevant today?
When the Jewish people traveled in the desert, the clouds of glory protected us from our enemies and killed the poisonous creatures. When we encamped, we set up the Sanctuary and the well of Miriam gushed forth water, making the desert bloom with greenery. For the Jewish people, there was really no desert, because their travels made the desert civilized.
The ability to do all this came from the tribe of Levi, and specifically from those who were of age to dismantle, transport and set up the Sanctuary and its vessels. What gave them the power to affect their surroundings so drastically? It was the fact that they were specially counted this time. This count raised them above and separated them, so that they weren't affected by the harmful and negative aspects of their surroundings, rather, they affected the negative and turned it into positive, they made the desert habitable.
This idea of making the desert into a home is applicable to every person and in every generation. When a person thinks about his life, he comes to realize that he is flawed. He and his surroundings are not habitable for G-d. He can become disheartened.
This is where the lesson of the counting of Gershon, Merari and Kehos comes in. We are each traveling in a desert and our job is to make our personal deserts and our desert environment bloom.
Each one of us can be like a Levite, as Maimonides says, "Not just the tribe of Levi, but anyone... who will give of himself... G-d will be his portion and his inheritance..."
In other words, anyone who puts himself to the task of turning himself and the world around him from a desert into a civilized place will be given the strength from Above, he will reach the level of the Levites. And through this, he will be able to effect his place in the world, and make it into a home for G-d.
There is another lesson here. The children of Gershon, Kehos and Merari first began their service at the age of 30. Notwithstanding the past and their late start, they were able to reach the highest levels and transform the desert into an oasis. Similarly for us, we don't have to dwell on the past, it is never too late to begin, and if we make the effort, we will be given the strength to rid ourselves of any negativities, bad habits or addictions, and make ourselves and our surroundings into a beautiful home for G-d.
May we merit to see our deserts become an everlasting home for G-d, with the coming of Moshiach, now!
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.
Souls on the Don
by Yanky Ascher
"When the Second World War advanced to Rostov, we were afraid for our lives," said Lyudmila. "We had no time to think. Our parents gathered grandma, my brother and I, and took us to the train station. They purchased the only tickets available - a roofless train to Tashkent. We evacuated, leaving everything we owned behind."
"Life in Tashkent was a nightmare. We lived in deplorable conditions and had little to eat. Though she was weak, grandma refused to eat anything that wasn't kosher.
"After the war, we came back to Rostov, but life was still challenging for Jews in communist Russia. When I went to get my passport, the agent tried convincing me that it would be to my benefit if I changed my father's name on the records. With a father named Meir, doors would likely remain closed to me. I refused.
"We managed to maintain our nationality with pride through the most challenging times. Eventually, we built a successful family business. Today, I'm 80 years old, and I'm still working. You can find my office on the prestigious Prospect Pushkin Street-just look for the door with the Mezuzah hanging on it."
I was born in Pyatigorsk, a resort city in the northern Caucasian mountains.
As a young child, my family moved to Rostov. After college, I landed a job at a local bank. One afternoon, Danny, an old college buddy, walked in. Something looked different about him.
"Have you decided to become a rabbi," I asked.
Danny smirked. "Why don't you come join us," he said. "We're having an event for young adults at the synagogue. I think you'd enjoy it."
"What has that got to do with me," I stubbornly replied. "I'm not Jewish."
I knew that my grandmother was Jewish, but didn't know what that had to do with me. Danny continued inviting me to events, but I always declined.
One day, Danny called. "Sasha, I'm getting married and want you at my wedding."
This time, I couldn't turn him down.
The wedding took place in a courtyard of an abandoned home that I later learned once served as the residence of the fifth Chabad Rebbe. It was a traditional, religious ceremony. An hour later it seemed to be over, and I head over to the gym. As soon as I hit the treadmill, my phone rang.
"Where are you," Danny shouted into the phone.
I told him that as soon as the wedding ended, I left.
Danny laughed. "That was just the Chupa," he explained. "The dinner is happening now at the synagogue. We're waiting for you."
Once again, I couldn't refuse the groom's invitation. I got back into my suit and drove back. I can not describe the feeling I had when I entered the synagogue for the first time. It was like I was returning home - as if I belonged.
A lot has happened since. Over the past two years, I had a Brit Milah and began using my new Jewish name, Aron. I met a wonderful woman, Elisheva, and asked her to marry me. We hope to move to Israel in the near future.
The irony of the whole story is that today when I meet old friends, they ask me if I've decided to become a rabbi. I just smirk."
"It was my first Jewish experience," said Polina. "I still don't understand how my parents, who considered themselves atheists, agreed to send me to the local Jewish summer camp, Gan Israel. It was a life-changing experience for me."
"My parents were shocked and concerned when I told them that I wanted to start lighting Shabbat candles Friday evenings. They asked lots of questions. When my mother realized that I was committed, she decided that she would light with me, to support my journey."
"That was two years ago. I've since joined the local Jewish school, where I've forged strong friendships. I now call myself by my new Jewish name, Baila, and I'm proud to be an active member of our community's youth club. Each Friday night my "atheist" mother continues to light Shabbat candles with me."
"I've come to a point in my life where I feel like I've reached a fork in the road and the choices I make will dictate my future. I plan to continue my studies in Israel. Although it will be difficult for me to leave my family and new friends, I know that this is best for me."
"Last Friday, after we lit the Shabbat candles, my mother turned to me and said, 'I want you to know that while you're in Israel, I'm going to continue lighting these candles every week.' This is the best going-away present she could give me!"
Read more at SoulsOnTheDon.com
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New Chabad Center
Jewish college students in Jacksonville, Florida, and the city's Southside Jewish community celebrated the opening of their newly expanded Morris and Lillian Tabacinic Chabad Campus and Finker-Frenkel Chabad Center. Rabbi Shmuli and Chana Novack of Chabad of Southside have overseen the growth and now expansion of the facility to a sprawling 12,000 square feet. The Chabad Center is centrally located near UNF and a popular shopping and entertainment hub.
2nd of Kislev, 5723 
Sholom uBrocho [Peace and Blessing]:
Thank you for your letter, enclosing page proofs of your forthcoming article. I very much appreciate your thoughtfulness in sending me same.
I hasten to reply not only because of the importance of the subject matter, but also in the hope that my observations relating to your article will be of interest to you, and primarily, I confess, in the hope that this communication may serve an immediate practical purpose. What I mean is that if there is any possibility of introducing some revisions in the article before it appears in the publication, and if you agree with my views, then on the basis of the principle "accept the truth from whatever source," you will incorporate my suggestion in your article.
Before coming to the point, I want to express my gratification with the general position which you espouse in your article. It is also especially gratifying to note that you have the courage to express your convictions publicly, for, sad to say, there are some who, for one reason or another, consider it expedient to pass over the vital issues of the Regents Prayer and Federal Aid in silence, and still others whose fear of an unpopular course drives them into the opposite course, in disregard of the Shulchan Aruch. (For them, apparently, the fear of Heaven does not match the fear of flesh and blood, though it is no more than the fear of the "sound of a torn leaf.")
Now to the point. I refer to the second part of your article which deals with denominational religious exercises in the public schools. Here, you state, "the matter becomes a bit more complicated" and you continue to expound the view at some length that the religious Jew should not oppose even such religious practices in the public schools, and that it is as well that the non-Jewish children should be more religious, etc.
My objection is that it is not strategically advisable to introduce this aspect of the general problem into a discussion of the Supreme Court's ruling on the Regents Prayer. The objective is, after all, to bring about a reversal of Supreme Court's decision on a non-denominational prayer, for which much public opinion must be won. To declare that there should be no opposition even to denominational exercises, and that they should in fact be viewed with favor, would at once alienate many groups which may still be undecided, or open-mined, on the issue of the Regents Prayer, not to mention those who might be persuaded to reconsider their position.
So much for "strategy." But the essential thing is that all denominational exercises, such as are connected with Xmas celebrations, nativity, etc., are in the view of the Torah Avodo Zoro. Considering the state of the children's mind in the present generation, on the one hand, and the solemnity and appealing decor with which these exercises are presented, it is certain that many Jewish children will not only be reluctant to forego these displays but would even participate in them. From what I have been told of these exercises it is not merely a case of avizrayhu d'avoda zoro but avodo zoro mamash.
Your suggestion that such exercises might affect those children who are in any case far from religion, but not those who are deeply rooted in the Jewish faith, etc., does not alter the situation, for it is incumbent upon us to safeguard Jewish children against avodo zoro regardless of their background. All the more so, since the non-religious background is not related to avodo zoro, G-d forbid, but to plain ignorance and indifference, and the proportion of such children in the public school, as I pointed out in my letter on this subject, is unfortunately much larger than that of children who come from a religious background.
Thus, according to the Shulchan Aruch it is forbidden for Jewish children not only actually to sing carols but even to participate in them with silent reverence, and the like. Even if such participation were in doubt, it Is a sofek avodo zoro, which is d'orayso and in regard to one of the three transgressions of yehoreg v'al yaavor. It is distressing enough to contemplate how many Jewish children are already unwitting victims of the existing situation, and how many more would join their ranks if such denominational exercises were to receive the official sanction of the government and even Jewish circles.
This is why I fervently hope that if there is any possibility whatever to eliminate the paragraph or section dealing with the said aspect and I would indeed be very happy to be informed that this has been done. I would like to add that I would be prepared to cover all expenses entailed in the resetting, or even the reprinting of the particular form of the Journal, etc., in which case there should be no objection on the part of the Journal, and surely the author should have the final say in such matters.
Continued in next issue, reprinted from Nissan Mindel Publications.
ACHIYA means "G-d is my brother." One of King David's warriors was named Achiya (I Chron 11:36). Achiya of Shilo, a prophet in the times of King Jereboam (I Kings 11:29), was born in Egypt during the Jewish people's enslavement there. He lived an exceedingly long life and was the teacher of Elijah the Prophet. He revealed himself to the Baal Shem Tov, taught him Kabala for 10 years after which he told the Baal Shem Tov that he must reveal these new teachings to the world. ANAT means "to sing." In Judges (3:31) Anat was the father of Shamgar, an Israelite Judge. Today, however, it is used primarily as a female name.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Shabbat adds an element of completion to the days of the previous week. Therefore, this Shabbat is the completion of the holiday of Shavuot, the holiday which celebrates the giving of our holy Torah.
We also see a connection between this week's Torah portion, Nasso, and the holiday of Shavuot. The word "Nasso" means "to lift up," and the Torah portion begins with the commandment to "lift up the heads." The Rebbe explains that this alludes to the ability of Torah study to elevate our intellectual faculties, and also that the act of fulfilling the mitzvot can be further elevated through Torah study.
How should we approach our Torah study?
The Torah, itself, states, "On this day, the children of Israel came to Mount Sinai." It should have said "on that day." But using the phrase "on this day" teaches us that we regard the Torah as if it were just given to us "on this day," that we should learn Torah with joy and enthusiasm, as if we have just received it.
The giving of the Torah is also connected to this week's chapter of Pirkei Avot, which begins, "Moses received the Torah from Sinai and conveyed it..." This verse teaches us how the Torah was first brought down to this world and continues to be passed from one generation to the next.
The chapter then goes on to state how the Torah continually influences the world at large, with the verse, "The world stands on three things, on Torah, on Divine Service, and on deeds of kindness." The ultimate purpose of the world is to make it a dwelling place for G-d. It is through these three things - Torah study, serving G-d, and acts of kindness - that this will occur.
We hope and pray that we will soon be blessed with the coming of Moshiach, who will lead us into a world that is truly a dwelling place for G-d.
And the priest...shall make atonement for him, because he sinned against the soul (Num. 6:11)
The Talmud relates the question of Rabbi Elazar HaKapar: "Which soul has the Nazarite sinned against?" The answer is, his own soul. (A Nazarite is one who takes a vow to abstain from wine, during which time he is also not allowed to cut his hair or come into contact with the dead.) If the Nazarite's only "sin" is having denied himself wine, how much more so is it "sinful" to deliberately cause oneself any kind of distress or suffering? Indeed, our Sages said: One who sits and fasts is called a sinner.
Four of the wagons and eight of the oxen he gave to the sons of Merari (Num. 7:8)
These wagons had to carry an enormously heavy load of materials for the Sanctuary: huge planks, bolts, pillars, tent pegs, etc. Why, then, were there only four wagons? Why wasn't the weight distributed on several more? The answer is that if everything could be loaded onto four wagons, no more were required. Every single object in the world must be used to its full potential, as "G-d has created nothing superfluous in His world."
The one who made his offering on the first day was Nachshon, the son of Aminadav, of the tribe of Judah (Num. 7:12)
All of the other Nesi'im (princes) who made offerings are referred to by their proper title, Nasi, whereas Nachshon is referred to only by name. The reason? To "counteract" his having been first, lest he become boastful.
The numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letters of "on the first day" ("bayom harishon") is 620 - the same as "keter" ("crown"). This is an allusion to the sovereignty granted by G-d to the tribe of Judah.
Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua was a great Sage in the times of the Talmud.
The Midrash relates that on one stormy day he was walking along the beach. As he gazed out on the wild sea he saw a ship sinking beneath the waves. It seemed to him that a small speck was floating on a plank, traveling parallel to the shore.
He strained his eyes on that point and realized that the speck which clung to the wooden board was a person.
Finally the plank with its dripping passenger landed ashore. The man, having been stripped of his clothing by the waves, hid himself among the seaside plants which clustered on the beach. But when he saw the Jews passing along the shore he called out to them, "Please, take pity on me and give me some clothing. I was tossed up on this beach by the vicious storm which carried away all that I had. I am one of the sons of Esau, your brother. Please help me."
But to his horror, no one showed the least inclination to help him. On the contrary, several men laughed at his predicament, answering, "May all of your brethren be similarly tossed about," and continued on their way. The Edomite was cold and exhausted from his ordeal. Finally, Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua approached, and the man called out again in despair, "Sir, I can see that you are a respected person amongst your people. Surely you appreciate that some respect must be given to G-d's creatures. Please give me some garment to put on to cover my nakedness. All of my clothing was torn from me by the storm which I barely survived."
Rabbi Elazar was a very wealthy man. He was wearing seven beautiful and costly garments, one of which he took off and gave to the man. Then he took the Edomite to his home where he revived him with food and drink. He presented the man with 200 dinars, set him in his carriage and drove him towards his home, all with the greatest kindness and respect.
After some time, the king of that land died and the people chose the Edomite as their new king. Hatred for the Jews burned in him, and one of his first decrees upon assuming the throne was to issue a terrible decree against them - that all the men be killed and the women be taken as wives by whomever wished. A long time he had waited to take revenge for the carelessly cruel remark: "May all your people be tossed around so."
The Jews were panic-stricken. How could they convince the new king to annul his deadly decree? They went to the Torah Sage and leader, Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua, who was known for his great wisdom and begged him to intercede on their behalf with the king.
"I will go to the palace and try to speak with him," Rabbi Elazar agreed, "but you know that no authorities do anything without payment." The people collected the tremendous sum of 4,000 dinars and gave the money to Rabbi Elazar; perhaps he would succeed in buying their lives. Rabbi Elazar set off on the long journey to the royal palace, ransom money in hand.
When he arrived in the capital, he went to the palace where he asked to be announced to the king. Permission was granted and he was led into the throne room. When the king recognized Rabbi Elazar, he threw himself at the Sage's feet crying, "Why have you troubled yourself to travel this great distance to see me, my benefactor?"
"I have come to intercede for the Jews, to beg you to cancel your decree against them."
"You are a great rabbi. Tell me, are there any falsehoods in your Torah?"
"No," replied Rabbi Elazar. "Everything in the Torah is true and just."
"I will ask further: Is it not written 'An Ammonite and a Moabite shall not enter the congregation of G-d because they met you not with bread and water on the way'? And also does it not say that 'An Edomite thou shalt not abhor, for he is your brother'? I am an Edomite, and yet the Jews showed me no pity in my darkest hour of need. Therefore they deserve the death penalty."
Rabbi Elazar listened to all the king said and then replied simply, "You are correct that they sinned against you, but still, show them compassion."
The king agreed to obey Rabbi Elazar, but he said, "No king annuls a decree for nothing."
"The people have given me 4,000 dinars for your majesty. Please, take them and redeem my people."
"I will take those 4,000 dinars and I hereby present them to you in payment for the 200 dinars you so kindly gave me. Furthermore, to reward you for giving me your cloak, I present you with 70 robes from my royal storehouse. In gratitude for the food and drink with which you restored my soul, I will redeem your people. Now, return to them in peace, for if it were not for your kindness, they would have no reprieve from my justice."
The laws of a Nazarite teach us a most significant principle about our belief in the coming of Moshiach: Torah law decrees that if one declares on a weekday, "I undertake to become a Nazarite on the day that Moshiach will come," he is bound by it from that very moment. This clearly shows that Moshiach can arrive at any moment, as we say in our daily prayers, "Every day we hope for Your salvation."