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Once upon a time, many years ago, when our Yiddish-speaking grandparents and great-grandparents were alive, everyone knew what "Nu" meant.
It went without saying. They were only newcomers to the "Golden Land" then. Life was a struggle and they didn't have much patience. Everything was measured carefully, even words. So just the mere sound of a demanding, gnawing "Nu," kept children in line. It sent many of us scurrying to shul or Hebrew School, or just plain kept us out of trouble.
But those days are gone. It is rather difficult to explain even to an educated, sophisticated and literate contemporary person the full impact and many nuances of this short little word. Furthermore, even if they understood, today's modern people would refuse to listen. They'd complain it gives them a Nurosis. Vey iz mir!
The only place in today's world where one can still hear something somewhat similar to the primal nu is in Israel, where it is reported that the cows still keep faithfully repeating "Noo, Noo" to this very day.
Unfortunately, the English language has no phrase, paragraph or even page that can do justice to the good old-fashioned "Nu." All Webster's dictionary could think of is the gnu, a wild animal that isn't even kosher. All the American Public ever heard about is Sununu, who isn't even Jewish. Nu, need I say more?
So what else is Nu? We'll soon be entering the month of Adar I. Though Purim isn't celebrated until Adar II some people are already tuning up their groggers. And with a whole extra month to practice noise-making at the sound of Haman's name, how will we continue the Megilla reading when those tuned-up groggers, stamping feet and clapping hands refuse to stop? Nu? What do you do?
You use the un-word. All you need is a few strong Nus, and the shul decorum is restored without saying a word! In fact, the puny little "Nu" can produce better results than those long formal lawyers letters with all their newfangled multi-syllable words.
On the other hand, Nu is not No, and No is not Nu. While its tone shows a hint of disappointment, it also expresses the confidence that we know better. It only insinuates, without spelling it all out. For nudging too much is a nu-nu.
Nu! Enough of this nonsense! Let's stop this nuisance and get a little more serious. Let' think back to the Nu age. When our parents or relatives said: "Nu?" they meant business. They expected more of us. "Nu, so when will you settle down already?" Or, "Nu, can you ever become a Mentch?!" Indeed, no nus is not good news! Nu?!
by Rabbi Yisroel Rubin, director Chabad of the Captial District--Albany, Nu York.
In last week's Torah portion, we learned about the Revelation on Mount Sinai. This week, in Mishpatim, the text begins by delineating some of the many practical laws which the Torah contains. The first subject dealt with is, "If you buy a Hebrew servant." This pertains to a Jew who was sold into servitude by the courts in order to make restitution for stealing, or one who sells himself due to his great poverty.
At first glance, it seems odd that the Torah would begin with this subject first. After all, in the generation of Jews who left Egypt, there were no Hebrew servants! The Children of Israel were all very wealthy, having received many gifts of gold and silver from the Egyptians before they left, and from the great riches they plucked as they passed through the Red Sea. There were no poor people who had to sell themselves into slavery. And even if there were those who succumbed to the prohibition "Thou shalt not covet" and actually stole something, they were all sufficiently wealthy to be able to pay back the rightful owner twice, or however many times the value of the stolen object, as prescribed by Torah law. Why then does the Torah choose precisely this subject to begin the portion dealing with practical commandments, those governing man's relationship with his fellow man--the laws of offerings, festivals and the like?
The section on the Hebrew servant, more than any other commandment, illustrates the effect the Revelation on Mount Sinai had on this world. With this mitzva, more so than with others, we see a direct cause and effect between the sin and its punishment. If a Hebrew slave does not desire to be freed after six years of servitude, his punishment is "and his master should bore his ear through with an awl."
The commentator Rashi explains that this ear, which heard the prohibition uttered on Mount Sinai against stealing and committed thievery anyway, deserves to be bored through. This ear, which heard G-d declare that the Jewish people are His servants alone--yet wants to remain a slave to a human master--deserves to be pierced.
In many instances of Torah law, we do not find such a direct cause and effect between a wrongdoing and its rectification. For example, the Torah promises that the reward for honoring one's parents is longevity, but we don't always perceive this connection. Similarly, punishments may also seem to have little connection to the sin committed. However, the penalty for a Hebrew slave who refuses to be set free is one instance in which the punishment is an obvious consequence of the actions.
When the Torah was given it enabled the spiritual and physical world to influence each other. Prior to that time, the spiritual and material were sealed off from one another--each realm remained isolated and distinct. The Hebrew slave is an example to illustrate this innovation, for his spiritual defect found a physical expression, one which could be seen by all. Furthermore, Chasidic philosophy explains that the Hebrew bondsman also symbolizes man's obligation to subjugate his baser instincts and desires in the service of G-d. After the Revelation, the road to spirituality is paved by our properly utilizing physical reality in the service of holiness.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
THOSE SHMA WORDS
by Goldie Goldblum
(Based on a true story)
Everyone likes me. I have friends on the block, and friends in school. I can make them laugh. They say, "That David. He's crazy!" Sometimes I jump up and down and laugh and dance. One time Herby--he's my friend--told me to jump into a swimming pool, and I jumped in. But then I got real scared, 'cuz I forgot that I can't swim. All my friends ran away, they got so scared.
I met Mr. Klein when he pulled me out of the swimming pool. My Mom was all upset when Mr. Klein told her that the boys in my school are mean to me. I wanted to say it's not true, they're my friends. But my Mom just nodded her head. Then Mr. Klein told us he's a principal in a Jewish school. He told us that there are other retarded kids in his school. I asked, "What's retarded?" He said it means I can't think as fast as other kids.
Anyway, my Mom didn't let me go back to that school and I started going to Mr. Klein's school. On the first day, a big kid came over and picked up my hand and shook it, and he said, "My name's Yisrael. You wanna play?" I played with him, but he didn't ask me to stand on my head or dance or anything like my friends at my old school. He asked me if I can read; well, I can't, but I'm already twelve, so I thought he'll think I'm dumb if I can't read, so I said, "Yeah! I can read." Herby always laughed when I said that, but Yisrael said, "Can you read Hebrew?" I asked him, "What's that?"
He drew a big fork on the ground, but it didn't have a handle, and he said, "This is a shin." I said, "Nah, my shin doesn't look like that." But he told me Hebrew shins do.
Then he said some words that I didn't know, not even one. He said, "You wanna learn to say them?" I didn't even know what he said but I thought maybe I could learn them. So we sat and he said this word, "Shma," about fifty times over, and then I got a turn. Then he said "Yisrael" and I giggled, 'cuz that's his name. After I said Yisrael, I couldn't remember the first word anymore, but he didn't say anything.
Every day, Yisrael said those words with me and he told me all about them. I don't know everything he said, but I was real happy to hear that Hashem (that's the secret name for G-d that us Jews say) is everywhere. That's pretty cool. Mr. Klein listened to me, and I got nervous but sometimes I'd say it okay, and one day he said I should say it at my Bar Mitzva.
I got Yisroel to write down Bar Mitzva so I could ask my Mom what is was and if maybe I could get one. She said YES!
I didn't tell my Mom that I knew those Shma words, and I was going to say them. I wanted to give her a present, a surprise one. Yisrael did it again and again with me, and every time I did it right he gave me a big smile. He didn't laugh. My Mom and Yisrael would smile at me by the Bar Mitzva and I'd say the Shma.
Real soon, it was the Shabbat for the Bar Mitzva. My Dad got me dressed, and when he pulled up my tie I started to practice the words. He held onto my tie, and then my Dad's eyes got all wet. "You got sand in your eyes, Dad? I asked. I was scared, but he took me outside and we walked to the shul.
Yisrael came and gave me a siddur and a big smile. He's my friend. When they took the Torah out of the closet, my Dad went with me and we touched it. Then they read some words. I saw the Rabbi come over, and he said a lot of stuff, I don't remember what, and I kept on hearing my name. This must be the Bar Mitzva. Then he asked me if I have anything to say.
My stomach really hurt then. What should I say? But Yisrael got up and he held my hand. I looked around to see if anyone saw me being such a big sissy, but everyone was looking at my face. Yisrael said softly, "Now!"
A man in the back said, "Ssshh!" and I remembered, "Oh yeah... Shma!"
I said the words real slow and loud, so my Mom could hear. When I was done, I thought everyone would laugh, but it was quiet. I could see some people crying. I asked Yisrael if I should do a dance to make everyone happy, but he said "No, sometimes people cry when they're happy." Sounds pretty funny to me.
After shul, I found my Mom. Her eyes were all red. I think she had sand in her eyes, too. I gave her a tissue, and asked her if she liked my present. She thought I meant the tissue. But I said, "No! The words! I said them for you."
It got really bad then, the sand, and I think she got some in her throat. That was when I decided that when I'm as big as Yisrael I'm going to work and get my Mom a really good present. Maybe I'll get her screens for the windows, so the sand can't come in any more and get in everyone's eyes.
Reprinted from The Yiddishe Heim
JEWISH FAMILY EXPO
Play the Jewish "game show" Wheel of Torah, peruse the life of Rabbi Akiva in animation, walk through a 40-foot maze of Jewish history, experience the story of Miriam's Wells in a lifelike desert scene, particpate in a Kiddush Levana sound and light show. Observe Jewish craftsmen at work, meet authors at the Jewish children's book fair, make Jewish arts and crafts, see colorful, animated exhibits, enjoy a puppet show, live entertainment and more. Phew, all this under one room at the all-new Jewish Family Expo, Feb. 1-10. Sponsored by Tzivos Hashem, the Expo will take place at the Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center. For more information, call (718) 467-6630.
PLAYING WITH FIRE
At the age of 20, Tova Mordechai became an evangelical minister, and served the church with vigor, until the Spring of 1981 when she sat in a Christian Ministerial College reading through a leaflet.. which explained the laws of Passover. "I had no idea what it meant, nor did I have any idea that I myself was a Jew," writes Mordechai in her newly released book, Playing with Fire. On February 4, at Congregation B'Nai Avraham in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Tova Mordechai will tell the story of how from this start she battled with the church and herself to find her way back to her people and G-d. For more info about the lecture call (718) 596-0069.
CLASS ON GULF VICTORY
The Book of Esther will be the focus of a ten-week Tuesday night Torah class sponsored by the Chabad Center of White Meadow Lake in New Jersey. The class will continue through Purim, which commemorates the freedom of the Jewish nation from persecution under the Persian Empire and is related in detail in the Book of Esther. For more information, call (201) 625-1525.
A LESSON FROM THE LEAP YEAR
From letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
This year's conference, taking place in the month of Adar I, brings to mind the significance of our leap year, and its relevance to our daily life. For, although our Jewish calendar year has a basic logic of its own, it, too, like everything else in Jewish life, must be related in a practical and tangible way to our personal lives and responsibilities.
The fundamental reason for adding an extra month in our leap year is, of course, the fact that the Torah requires our calendar to be based on the lunar year, which is shorter than the solar year by approximately eleven days. At the same time it requires that our festivals take place in their due season (Passover in the spring, Sukkot in the autumn, etc.). This necessitates an adjustment once in two or three years, in order to make up the deficiency of the lunar year in relation to the solar year*.
The lesson contained in this calendar arrangement is that a person can in one year make up for deficiencies in past years.
Furthermore, just as the leap year not only makes up the deficiency, but also provides an "advance" on the future, so must the individual from time to time not only make up what he has failed to accomplish, in the past, but also make a special and extra effort to go a step forward as a reserve for the future**.
In addition, the Jewish leap year has a special relevance to Jewish women, mothers and daughters. The sun and the moon were created as "the two great luminaries," but each has been given its own place and function. The moon acts as a reflector and transmitter of the sun's light. In this way it has a special quality in that it transmits the solar light and energy to those areas in nature where direct sunlight would be too intense to be beneficial.
Similarly, the Jewish wife, in many respects, must reflect and transmit the Torah way of life to the entire household, and it is in this way that she fulfills her great responsibility and privilege of being the Akeret HaBayit--foundation of the home.
In taking stock of your accomplishments in the past, you will find much to be gratified with, but these very accomplishments will also reveal that with a little more effort, a great deal more could have been accomplished. It is, therefore, to be hoped that you will resolve not only to make up the "deficiency," but in keeping with the spirit of the leap year, also make an advance on the future. After all, true progress cannot be limited to making up deficiencies. It is necessary to forge ahead steadily, and from time to time, to also advance by leaps and bounds.
In accordance with the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, to the effect that every experience should serve as a lesson toward better service of G-d, the leap year serves to remind us that everyone has an opportunity to make up for any deficiency in the past, and sometimes even to accumulate a little reserve for the future, as in the case of our leap year.
Chabad Chasidut emphasizes this point in a very basic manner, since by very definition Chasidut is a way of life that demands a little more effort than called for in the line of duty--a little more dedication, a little more depth, a little more enthusiasm; and enthusiasm itself provides a breakthrough in overcoming limitations.
* The lunar month is 29 or 30 days. One lunar cycle is 354 days, while one solar cycle is 365 days. An extra month is inserted 7 times in 19 years in order to make the holidays in their correct seasons.
** At times the additional month actually makes the year longer than 354 days thereby giving an "advance" toward the upcoming year.
Are there any special law concerning "table-talk"?
Though we are enjoined to discuss matters relating to the Torah at every meal--since our table is considered an altar--we are instructed not to speak while actually eating, since one might choke by doing this.
(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch)
Statutes, contains many precepts essential for living harmoniously with others. One of these statutes is "Keep yourself far from a lie."
An interesting anecdote relating to the mitzva of not lying is told about a wealthy chasid from Janowitz. In the course of introspection during the bedtime prayers, the chasid decided that whenever he said anything that resembled a lie he would donate 25 rubles to charity.
The chasid mentioned this undertaking to his children's private tutor.
"Then lie!" advised the tutor. "You will be providing money for needy Jews."
We do not know whether the tutor gave this advice in jest or earnestly. But we do know that when this very same tutor--himself a chasid--visited Reb Shmuel, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Rebbe reprimanded him for his advice.
In the Mishna, our Sages tell us, "A mitzva brings about a mitzva and a transgression brings about a transgression." According to one commentator, this teaching can be rephrased and shortened to read, "A mitzva brings about a mitzva and a transgression." How can this be possible?
At times we might do things which we know are not right. But we think that the "end justifies the means": If the store stays open on Shabbat, more money can be given to charity; if it is too far to walk to shul on Shabbat and we drive, well, at least we're going to shul. We begin to convince ourselves that what we're doing is actually a mitzva that will bring about another mitzva. But actually, it is a "mitzva" that brings a transgression.
The Torah in general, and this week's Torah portion in particular, is very clear about what are mitzvot and what are transgressions. And never does a mitzva come from a transgression.
May we only fill our lives with deeds that are truly mitzvot, bringing more and more mitzvot after them.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
In a small village in Poland there lived an unassuming and pious Jew named Meir. While he was by no means well-to-do, his family never wanted for their daily bread. Each day on his way home from the synagogue Meir passed through the farmers' market, buying produce and poultry which his wife sold from a small store attached to their house. The prices were always fair, and they earned a reputation for honesty.
Meir stood out from the other buyers at the market, for he would never haggle over prices. Meir had his one fair price, and that was that--he would never budge. Eventually the farmers came to respect him and would even seek him out when they had some special goods for sale, and he became known to everyone as "Honest Meir."
Meir had only one regret in life--his business took time away from his beloved Torah study. One day he decided that he would work only half as much, and spend the time saved learning Torah. His wife was worried by his decision, but he calmed her saying, "Don't you think that G-d can send us enough in those three days?" She wanted to reply that of course He could, but would He? But she stopped herself and decided to wait and see what would happen. As it turned out, their income was the same and her husband thrived on his Torah learning.
One day his wife came to Meir to discuss the marriage of their daughter, Mirele. "G-d has been good to us, and we must certainly be grateful, but our daughter isn't getting any younger, and the time has come for us to start saving for her dowry."
Meir looked at his wife and replied, "G-d has taken care of us so far. Trust in Him and stop worrying."
But his wife couldn't rest. "Meir, we aren't supposed to rely on miracles. Maybe you should go out and work like you used to."
Meir replied, "What you're saying may seem true, but don't forget my 'silent partner'--G-d. Haven't you seen with your own eyes that since I've spent extra time with my 'partner' we have lost nothing. I can not stop my Torah studies, especially now when we need Him even more." There was nothing more his wife could say except a heartfelt "Amen."
A short time later a peasant showed up at the marketplace with a large honeycomb encased in a block of wood. Several prospective buyers approached him, but he refused them, saying, "I will sell only to Honest Meir." And there he sat and waited until finally, late in the afternoon someone told him that Meir wouldn't be coming to market that day.
The peasant made his way to Meir's house where he was greeted by his wife. "My husband isn't at home now," she told him, but she asked him to wait while she ran to fetch her husband. Meir measured the honeycomb and lifted it; then he made his offer, "Judging by its size and weight, and even allowing for the wood, there should be a lot of honey in it." The two men agreed on a figure which seemed fair to both. The only problem was that Meir didn't have such a large sum. Meir's wife interrupted, saying: "I will try to borrow the money from some of our neighbors."
Meir served the peasant a cup of tea, and then he questioned the man: "Tell me, how did you come to have such a strange honeycomb?"
The peasant replied, "I was walking through the woods collecting fire-wood. When my cart was full, I got inside and fell asleep, but it seems that my mare wandered a bit, for when I awoke, I found myself in a different part of the woods, in front of a tree stump. Looking up, I noticed bees buzzing, and being something of a beekeeper myself, I hopped out of my cart and with a long thin twig I removed the queen bee from the hive. I tried to take out the honeycomb, but it was impossible to do so without breaking it. That's when I got the idea of sawing off the stump."
By the time the peasant had finished his tale, Meir's wife had returned with the money. Meir gave it to the happy peasant who went off feeling very pleased. Meir's wife began to extract the honey. She pulled out two and then three heavily laden honeycombs and reached in with a deep ladle for more, when she found there was nothing there but a deep, empty hole. The poor woman was horrified. They were now in debt, and for nothing but a bit of honey and a piece of wood!
She screamed for her husband, who was equally shocked at the find. "What will we do now?" his wife wailed. Meir was also at a loss, but not willing to give up he said, "Go fetch your longest cooking spoon and maybe we can salvage something from the bottom."
Meir dipped the spoon into the wooden cavity, and lo and behold , the spoon was filled with a pile of golden coins and jewels! His wife almost fainted from the shock, but when she recovered she asked her husband, "Do you think G-d had the bees produce this treasure for us?"
Her husband turned to her, smiling, "Possibly, but I think there's a simpler explanation. Probably someone hid this treasure years ago and had to abandon it for some reason. Then the bee colony settled in the trees stump and built their hive on top of the treasure. Now, it seems that G-d must have decided there was no longer any reason to leave it hidden since we need the money to marry off our children and do other good things. So, you see, the peasant was rewarded for his labor, and we were even more richly rewarded for our faith and trust in G-d."
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(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" (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)
Elijah the Prophet is the harbinger of the Redemption. His functions will include: to rectify Israel's behavior, causing them to return to G-d with repentance; to proclaim the imminent coming of Moshiach; to restore the sacred objects from the Holy of Holies of the first Temple, and later hidden before its destruction; and to be involved with the resurrection of the dead. The essential task of Elijah will be to resolve legal disputes and to establish peace in the world, as it says, "He will turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers."
(From Mashiach by Rabbi J. I. Schochet).