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by Rabbi Mendel Rivkin
I was checking the Mezuzahs at a business owned by members of the community this week. We discovered an issue with one of the scrolls. The form of a single letter was misshapen; there appeared to be a drop of ink that had either run or dripped into the space of the letter rendering it invalid.
We got to talking about the impact that just a drop of ink can have. I recalled the passage in the Talmud where the sage warns the scribe how careful he must be with the letters. "With one drop of ink one can destroy the world." Seems a little hyperbolic?
The letters Daled and Reish are almost identical in form. The only difference is a slight protrusion of ink off of the back of the top line of the daled. It is as if a little yud sticks out of the back of the daled, whereas the reish does not have that. What is a yud? A drop of ink. Now picture a scribe writing the words of the Shema. The last word of the line is Echad, ending in a daled. Imagine if a fly touched down on the parchment at the exact spot and erased the ink of the little yud (drop) on the back of the daled. We would then be left with a reish, rendering the word as Acher (other) rather than Echad (one). We have now transformed the meaning of the verse from a pivotal declaration of Divine Unity, to a command to worship a foreign deity.
Let's explore this a little further and see what this all represents in our personal character development. The words Daled and Reish have similar meanings - poor and destitute. Kabbala explains that the difference between the two is the drop of ink protruding from the back of the daled. That drop of ink, the yud, represents humility (the yud being the smallest letter of the Alef-bet). Let's view the poverty here as spiritual poverty (poverty of knowledge, of character, of spiritual sensitivity or of holiness). If so, the difference between the poor Daled and the destitute Reish is humility. The daled (with the yud protrusion) is humble and is therefore open to influence and change. The reish (minus the yud) lacks humility and is therefore resistant to influence and change. A full cup cannot accept any more liquid whereas an empty one can.
Now we can begin to appreciate the power of just a drop of ink in the literal sense as it relates to Mezuzahs, Tefillin and Torah scrolls, as well in the figurative sense as it relates to personal growth. I encourage all of us to have our ink inspected on both levels. (Chabad is happy to help with any and all of the above.)
Rabbi Rivkin is program director at Chabad Lubavitch of Louisiana in New Orleans. This article is from his blog.
This week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, follows the Torah portion of Yitro that contains the greatest event in Jewish history, the revelation at Sinai highlighted by the giving of the Ten Commandments. Mishpatim closes with a review of the preparations the Jewish people made before receiving the Torah at Sinai. Sandwiched between the exciting retelling of the giving of the Torah and the review of the preparations that preceded it, many basic civil and business laws are detailed.
Why is it that right in middle of the most sublime, spiritual experience, we have the most rudimentary, seemingly mundane laws?
We all yearn for a moving, spiritual experience. To be touched and inspired. To rise above the mundane and soar, to experience a high and experience the divine.
This sounds nice, but is it what we are all about?
Of course, we are meant to develop a relationship with G-d, but there is something more that G-d wants of us.
By putting these laws in middle of the most sublime event, G-d is telling us that there is something special, even sublime, about basic laws.
Could being good, kind, honest and just, be spiritual? When you think of these laws as rudimentary, they are not so spiritual. However if you see them as G-d's will, they take on a whole new meaning.
All of a sudden, the simplest things become meaningful. You are filled with a sense of fulfillment, knowing that you are doing what G-d wants. Inspiration can be found in kindness, honesty, and in acceptance of the simplest Torah laws. Suddenly spirituality starts to be found in the most unexpected places. The simplest act can be sublime, and holy.
I have found that the simplest things in life make the greatest impact. For example, smiling at someone, can lift their spirits. An honest compliment, can change the way a person sees him/herself. When you learn to find joy in small things, there are always things to be joyous about.
Think of all the small things you can do to make a difference. Find joy in small things. If you do, you will always have something to be happy about.
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.
Without A Single Scratch
by Sarah Bendetsky
As told by Victor Finkel o.b.m. to his grandson Rabbi Moishe Pesach Finkel and translated by Sarah Bendetsky
My zeyde often repeated these strange and frightening words: "the Barsuki village", with his eyes closed...
This village is situated in the Kaluga region, in Mosalsky District, and is known as the Death Valley.
It was the early February in 1942 when the Germans besieged the villages Vyshnyee and Sitskoye cutting out all exits. Surrounded from all angles, the divisions of the Soviet Army continued to fight. The Nazis were strengthening their troops with new reserves.
With no ammunition and fuel, it was a life-threatening situation for the Soviet soldiers. The regular bombings and firing resulted in a huge number of wounded and casualties.
The remaining soldiers had nothing to eat except for the flesh of dead horses.
When the commanding staff lost the last hope for help to arrive, a decision was made to break the siege on their own. They hoped to attack the Germans during the night by the Popolta River Valley to reunite with the other divisions of the Soviet Army.
On that night, the Nazis illuminated everything around them with rockets and fired point-blank from the submachine guns.
To imagine what was going on there without losing one's mind is next to impossible.
A testimonial by the General-Lieutenant Y. S. Fokanov's wife states, "... It was a living hell! Everything roared and rumbled due to bombings. You couldn't see a thing ahead or next to you. The earth was packed with the dead bodies of soldiers and in order to move, you had to step on the carpet of corpses. It seemed that no one was going to come out alive..."
But they had no choice and moved ahead. With snow up to their knees and firing non-stop, the soldiers continued to break the siege. Most were killed, with only a few individuals who made it to the forest.
Among them and by pure miracle, was my zeyde.
He was starving; on the way through the forest, he ate tree bark and drank melted snow water.
Barely moving his legs, he somehow came out to a small river bank. He kneeled and drank the ice-cold water. And then he heard, "Stop! Who's out there? Hands up!"
It was a Soviet soldier holding a gun pointed at my grandfather. But my zeyde couldn't believe his luck! Miraculously, he came out to territory occupied by the 50th Soviet Army.
"It's me, your fellow Soviet soldier, please don't shoot! Take me to the commanding staff..."
And so my zeyde was taken to an inquisitive Captain with distinct Jewish appearance. For a long time he looked through my zeyde's documents and then said:
"Victor Petrovich Finkel. A Jew. Born in 1922. Is that correct?
"Yes," my grandpa nodded.
"Have you studied in a Jewish religious school before the war?"
"Can you read Hebrew?"
"Yes, I can."
"Prove it right now," said the Captain taking out a Siddur, a Jewish prayer book.
My grandpa opened the siddur and read, "Shma Yisroel, Hashem Eloy'keinu Hashem Echod! Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one!"
The commander closed the prayer book and said in a quivering voice:
"Victor Petrovich! Please take no offence... The place is filled with German saboteurs! How did you manage to come out alive? Almost everyone died in Barsuki and you don't have a single scratch! It's nothing less than a miracle! You will eat now; we have pasta for lunch. But I ask you to eat very slowly; otherwise, you can die from all the starvation you've experienced. Remember, eat slowly... Now, go."
... Years later, my zeyde used to say on many occasions:
"I have no idea who helped me to get out. I don't know how to orientate in the forest. Left and right, people were shot point-blank. My own commander lied in the snow and begged me to shoot him... And the Nazis kept on firing, killing us, the living skeletons... They succeeded to kill almost all of us. And I am the lucky exception because someone just took me out... Someone from the other world... Back then, I didn't understand that. I wasn't a believer. But now, I shiver each time the memories of that hell come back to torture me...
I was taken out by the invisible guards who came to rescue me so that your father, you and your sister would be able to live..."
From Sarah Mendetsky's blog, Baggage of Thoughts
Rabbi Aryeh and Mushka Laufer recently established the Chabad House of Northern Rhode Island in Lincoln, Rhode Island. The new Chabad House's activities includes classes and Shabbat and holiday events, as well as visits to homes and businesses.
Rabbi Menachem and Bassie Sabbach have arrived in New Caledonia, Southwest Pacific. Located in Nouméa, the capital and largest city, their goal is to help Jewish residents and tourists connect to their Jewish heritage.
Rabbi Uri and Devorah Leah Medina will be arriving shortly in Rhodes, Greece, to open a Chabad Center in the city that has more than 150,000 Israelis visiting annually. During their "trial" run in Rhodes, the Medinas received dozens of phone calls each day from tourists who were looking for kosher food in the city that has a Jewish quarter dating back to the first centuary.
18th of Cheshvan, 5723 
...In addition to my letter of yesterday's date, which was confined to a purely scientific discussion, it is this second letter which will express my real approach to you, the Torah approach of one Jew to another.
It is surely unnecessary to emphasize to you that the basic principle of the Jewish way of life is "Know Him in all your ways." This principle has been enunciated in the Talmud, Early and Late Responsa, until it has been formulated as a psak-din [legal ruling] the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, sec. 231). It is there explained that it is the life's mission of every Jew to acknowledge G-d even in the simplest pursuits of the daily life, such as eating, drinking, etc. How much more does this apply to the mere essential aspects of one's life, especially in the case of one who has been endowed with special qualifications, knowledge and distinction, etc., all of which place him in a position of influence. These are gifts of Divine Providence, which the Jew is duty-bound to consecrate to the service of G-d, to disseminate G-dliness through the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] to the utmost of his ability, in compliance of the commandments and - the great principle of our Torah. And since, according to the Torah view, everything in the world is ordered and measured and nothing is superfluous, the duty and Zechus [merit] of every Jew are commensurate with his capacities and opportunities.
I have only seen you briefly, but I have formed some impressions, which have been augmented by your book, the only one I have been able to obtain so far, and by what I have heard about you and your station in the academic world and otherwise. I have no doubt that you have unusual opportunities to disseminate the Torah and Mitzvoth among wide circles of Jewish scientists, students and laymen.
In recent years, especially in the U.S.A., we have witnessed two tendencies among Jewish youth, striving in opposite directions. On the one hand there has been an intensified quest for the Truth, a yearning for closer identification with our people and our eternal values. At the other extreme, the pull of assimilation, intermarriage, etc. has been gaining, too. Aside from the colleges and universities in a few major cities, the situation in campuses in regard to Kashrus [kosher], Shabbos, etc. is too painful to contemplate not to mention the widespread confusion and misconceptions in respect of the most basic tenets of our faith.
If the first of the above mentioned tendencies were to be stimulated and fully utilized at this auspicious time, the chances are very good that it would gain momentum and grow wider, and in time also deeper. If, as our Sages say, to save one soul is to save a whole world, how much more so to save so many lost Jewish souls.
I want to express to you my fervent hope - and, if necessary, my urgent appeal also - that you put the whole weight of your prestige as a leading scientist behind a resolute effort in the cause of the Torah and Mitzvoth. I am informed that you have been elected as this year's President of the organization of Jewish orthodox scientists. You could set the pace for the entire organization, individually and collectively, to follow your example, and set in motion a "chain reaction."
I will conclude with a well-known saying of the Baal Shem Tov, which I frequently heard from my father-in-law of saintly memory: "G-d sends down to earth a soul, which is truly a part of G-dliness, to sojourn, embodied, for seventy-eighty years on this earth, in order to render a favor to another Jew, materially or spiritually." If a single favor justifies a whole earth bound life, how great is the Zechus of a consistent effort to help a fellow-Jew, and many of them, to find their true way, the way of the Torah and Mitzvoth in their day-to-day living.
May G-d grant that your words coming from the heart will penetrate the many hearts which are ready and eager to respond, and may G-d grant you success in this as in all your other endeavors for yourself and your family.
Are there any special law concerning "table-talk"?
We are enjoined to discuss matters relating to the Torah at every meal. In fact, the Mishna states that if three people eat together at a meal and don't discuss Torah thoughts, it is as if they ate of idolatrous sacrifices. However, if they discuss Torah, it is as if they have eaten at G-d's table. (Ethics 3:3) We are instructed, thoough, not to speak while actually eating, since one might choke by doing this. (Code of Jewish Law).
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat is the first of four weeks when we read a special Torah portion following the Torah reading. The special portion for this week, "Shekalim," deals with the command to every Jew to contribute half a shekel toward the building of the Sanctuary in the desert.
This half-shekel was not only a tax but served the additional purpose of being an atonement for the sin of the "golden calf." After hearing the command from G-d, Moses was perplexed as to how it was possible for a half-shekel to atone for such a horrendous sin.
The requirement to give half of a coin, indeed, had significant meaning. It signified to each Jew who gave - and every Jew did give - that G-d and the Jewish people are one whole. We are not, as mathematicians might think, two separate entities that join together - one plus one equals two. Rather, we are a half and G-d, as it were, is a half. It is only when the two halves are added up that there is one, unified, complete, whole individual.
In addition, there is a more "down-to-earth" implication to this analogy of a half-shekel. Each Jew, as we mentioned before, is a half. Only when one Jew joins together with another Jew - another half - does either Jew become whole. Whether the mitzva of charity, Torah study, visiting the sick, hospitality, or numerous other mitzvot, it is only through connecting with another Jew that we become whole.
And these are the ordinances which you shall set before them (Ex. 21:1)
This section of the Torah comes immediately after the Revelation on Mount Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments. Yet what is enumerated here are not lofty principles pertaining to the relationship between G-d and man; they are very concrete laws governing man's relationship with his fellow man. We learn from this the lesson that "good manners are a prerequisite to Torah." Rabbi Mendel of Kotsk used to say: The same way that a book's preface informs the reader of the book's contents, a person's courtesy and manners indicate just how much Torah learning he has acquired.
Six years shall he serve, and in the seventh he shall go free (Ex. 21:2)
"Six years" symbolizes the six thousand years of the world's existence; "shall he serve" refers to our mission to learn Torah and perform mitzvot; "in the seventh" refers to the seventh millennium, when "he shall go free," when the Messianic Era shall reign on earth and G-dliness will no longer be hidden but revealed.
For all manner of transgression...of which he can say, "this is it" (Ex. 22:80)
Pride is the root of all transgression. The essence of sin is when a person says of himself - "this is it" - "I am the most important thing in the whole world!"
(Rabbi Yisrael of Modzitz)
Reb Yerucham was never much of a breadwinner. Instead, he devoted all his time to Torah-study and prayer while his wife, Leah went to the marketplace to conduct business. She would make small purchases which she would in turn, sell to her neighbors at a small profit. The arrangement worked well, for although they never had much, they both felt very privileged to be able to serve G-d by devoting themselves to His Torah.
In the winter, though, when the roads were blocked with snow and ice, and the farmers couldn't make it into the market, Leah didn't fare so well. She was forced to sustain her family on the few coins she had managed to squirrel away during the previous months. Every time she had to dip into her meager "capital" her heart fell. When only a few pennies remained, she decided it was time to go to her husband. "Yerucham, what are we going to do? How are we going to feed our children?"
Reb Yerucham lifted his eyes from his tome and replied, "Have faith. Our Heavenly Father has never forsaken us before, and will not forsake us now..."
"What good is faith on an empty stomach!" the poor woman said bitterly. "I can't bear to see my children starving! What am I to say to them when they cry for bread tomorrow morning?"
"Don't worry now - till tomorrow morning there is ample time for G-d to provide for our needs. Put your trust in Him, Leah; He won't forsake us." Poor Leah left the room very troubled, but a little comforted by her husband's assurances.
Reb Yerucham went outside, and as he was about to come back in, he spotted something lying in the mud. He picked it up and brought it into the house. He washed it, and sure enough, it was a silver coin!
Now, his wife would be happy and they would be able to manage a little longer. But then another thought passed through his mind, "If G-d had wanted to send them sustenance, couldn't He find a better way than throwing him a muddy coin? No, He doesn't want me to accept it this way; He is only testing our faith in Him."
So Yerucham decided that in the morning he would put the coin into the tzedaka (charity) box. Yerucham became so engrossed in his study that he was startled by his wife's cry of joy when she spied the silver coin on his table. "Don't get too excited; it's not ours!" he said quickly.
"What do you mean?"
"I have already donated it to charity."
Looking into his wife's shocked eyes which were already filling the tears, he continued explaining, "Imagine if I were to give you a present and throw it into the garbage heap, saying, 'Go pick it up, dear.' You wouldn't want it anymore. Well, I believe that G-d has sent this coin to us as a test of our faith in His readiness to provide for us. Be strong in your faith, and you will see that I'll be proven right."
Leah walked out of the room, shaking her head. She knew that her husband was a scholar and a saintly man, but there was not one morsel of food in the house. Meanwhile Reb Yerucham sat by the light of a candle studying into the wee hours.
Late that night two tired merchants were travelling through one of the persistent snow storms that had enclosed the little hamlet. Exhausted, they saw a faint glimmer of a candle in the pitch, black darkness. They knocked on Reb Yerucham's door asking for accommodation. He agreed, but very apologetically, since he had very little to offer them. The men were just happy to have a place to sleep. They spread out their bountiful food supplies on the table and invited their hosts to join them in a feast fit for a king.
During the meal, the conversation took a scholarly turn and the merchants saw that their host was no country bumpkin, but a very learned and wise man. One of the merchants turned to his companion and said, "Why should we trouble ourselves to travel all the way to Lemberg to mediate our dispute when we have a great scholar right here."
"Yes, I agree," said the second, and he proceeded to explain.
"We are not only partners, but also close friends, but we have a disagreement which we want to present before a great rabbi. We were about to continue to Lemberg, but we feel that you are a person very qualified to judge the problem, and G-d has brought us to your door. We will be happy to pay you the same amount we would have paid the Rabbi of Lemberg."
Reb Yerucham didn't usually involve himself in judgements or arbitrations, but under the circumstances, since the two men were so anxious to settle in a peaceful fashion, he agreed to take up their case.
The following morning, Yerucham and his guests made their way to the synagogue for the morning prayers. Yerucham slipped the silver coin into the charity box, thanking G-d for not forsaking him and his family in their hour of need, and sending him generous sustenance in an honorable and worthy manner.
We are currently in the last days of Exile, when "Behold, he stands behind our wall, watching from the windows, peering in from the cracks." That is, the wall of Exile has already cracked, and our righteous Moshiach stands and "peers in from the cracks," (the cracks of the wall of Exile)...Certainly then, at this time one should make every effort to behave in a way of love of a fellow Jew and unwarranted love. Through love of a fellow we will merit the Redemption.
(The Rebbe, 11 Nissan 5742-1982)