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Ahh, July Fourth. Fireworks and barbecues. Red-white-and-blue and fife-and-drum. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. These are images that the Fourth of July brings out in most Americans.
Last year a news item about the United States Constitution was carried in many papers. It didn't make the front page and most people probably didn't even notice it. But, it went something like this: at a flea market a person purchased an old-looking document for a few dollars. Upon taking it to an expert, he found out that it was an original copy of the United States Constitution!
We've all heard stories like this one, but with different twists. The person who buys a copy of a Rembrandt for a couple bucks and finds out it's an original and worth a mint. Someone who finds an old, battered violin in the attic only to realize that it is a real Stradivarius.
How did all of these people find out that what they had was the genuine article? Simple. They took it to an expert, someone who not only knew a lot about the item in question, but was highly trained and certified. By looking for or noticing small details that the average person wouldn't even know existed, the expert could ascertain the object's authenticity.
Though the above occurences are not common, the idea behind them is a recurring theme that permeates our lives: We often don't know (or refuse to acknowledge) the true value of the Real McCoy.
The Torah and traditional Jewish values are a prime example. How many of us truly recognize the value of the Torah? To learn to appreciate its worth, we need to go to an expert, someone who is highly trained in teaching or imparting the rights and responsibilities that this most unique document communicates.
Another example is mitzvot. People often ask, why does five minutes later matter when I'm lighting candles? What's the big difference between a "k" and a K on food? Why is it better to say the prayers in Hebrew; G-d understands every language?
Some people question the necessity of doing mitzvot at all, or specific mitzvot in particular. After all, I'm a mentsh and isn't that the most important thing?
Do we really know the value of doing a mitzva in the Torah prescribed way? Not being experts in spiritual matters, can we possibly fathom the greatness of our small deed or adherence to a detail?
The last example is that of the Jewish soul, called by the founder of Chabad Chasidic Philosophy an actual portion of G-d. Looking at your Jewish brother or sister--sibling in the larger sense as we are all the children of one G-d Who is the source of all Jewish souls; the only things that separates us are our bodies--do you know his or her greatness? Can you possibly recognize the power and potential of your fellow Jew?
A chasid, a gem dealer, once came to his Rebbe after returning from the Holy Land. "They say that the souls of the people living in Israel are loftier than those living outside of Israel," the chasid said. "I didn't notice any difference."
The Rebbe remained silent, then asked, "Could you show me some of the gems you have with you?" The chasid gladly obliged. As he showed the Rebbe the stones, he explained how their worth was determined by size, color, brilliance, etc.
"And how do you know how to grade them?" asked the Rebbe.
"For that," said the chasid, "you have to be a mayven, an expert."
"To know the worth of a Jewish soul, you also have to be a mayven," the Rebbe said.
May we all learn to appreciate the authenticity of the Torah, mitzvot, and every Jew.
This week's Torah portion, Korach, tells about the controversy with Moses initiated by Korach and his followers. His argument went as follows: If every single Jew is a member of a holy nation, then no one person is greater than another. Why are you, Moses, entitled to special privileges? Jews can only stand united if absolutely equal rights are afforded to all, he claimed.
The Torah teaches that this claim--taken to its logical conclusion--leads to the opposite of unity, so much so that Korach's controversy with Moses became the yardstick by which all dissention among Jews is measured.
Moses alluded to this in his answer to Korach: "In the morning G-d will show who is His." Moses explained, according to the Midrash, that the same way that G-d has created natural divisions between night and day which complement each other and form a cohesive whole, so too has He created distinctions between different types of Jews, all for the sake of the unity of the Jewish people.
The world was created so that each creation has its own natural boundaries and limitations. These boundaries enhance the world's natural order and give it structure, for everything has its own particular purpose and function to perform. Unity among G-d's creatures is attained only when each one works within its own framework and fulfills its own role. Harmony is maintained only when we adhere to the Divine plan, interdependent, performing our different allotted tasks. If one creation tries to assume the role of another, the result is disharmony and dissonance.
The distinctions between Israelites, Levites and Kohanim (and even among priests themselves, between ordinary priests and the high priest) are not arbitrary. Each distinction reflects the type of soul given to each Jew, which correlates to his particular task in life and way of serving G-d. G-d desires that each of us fulfill our own unique mission in life, not that of our neighbor. True unity is only achieved when we respect the differences between us.
Each Jew is blessed with different strengths and qualities, and we are enjoined to pool these disparate resources together for the common good. Every Jew, whether Israelite, Levite or Kohen, is indispensable and is part of this greater whole.
The lesson we learn from Korach is also one which is applicable today. Some think the path to true unity and peace lies with breaking down barriers which exist between men and women, Jews and non-Jews, and different faiths and ideologies. The Torah, however, teaches us otherwise. It is only by maintaining and respecting inherent differences that we can achieve unity and true peace.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
JUST ONE CANDLE
It was shortly before Rosh Hashana a few years ago. I was on my way home in a cab to Crown Heights. I didn't notice until I was in my apartment that I had left my briefcase in the taxi. Trying to trace a particular cab in New York City is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, but nevertheless I tried. There were precious Jewish books and important papers in that briefcase that I needed for my teaching job. But it was to no avail and I finally just gave up on it.
To my surprise, a few days later I received a phone call from a man called Sam, who told me he had my briefcase, and I could pick it up at his business in another part of Brooklyn. It seemed that an Irishman who had been in the taxi after me found the briefcase. When the taxi-driver said that he would not bother to try and find the owner, and just throw it away, the Irishman considerately took it. Looking inside for identification, he saw books with Hebrew letters, and decided to give the briefcase to the only Jew he knew, this Sam who went to the trouble of locating me.
When I went to pick up the briefcase, Sam and I got into a conversation about Crown Heights, which he remembered from his childhood, when he used to visit relatives who lived there. One thing led to another, we began talking about Lubavitchers in Crown Heights today, and Sam mentioned that he had a daughter who was somewhat interested in Judaism. I extended an open invitation for his daughter to spend a Shabbat with me, thanked him again for his kindness in returning my briefcase, and on that note I left.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Shabbat candlelighting campaigns was then gathering momentum with the goal that every Jewish woman and girl who lit Shabbat candles brought more spiritual (and physical) light into the world. With this in mind, I went back to Sam armed with a candlestick and a mezuza. I explained our aims and concerns, and again extended the invitation to his daughter to join my family and me for a Shabbat. But I never heard from her until I received this letter a few months ago:
"My name is Sarah G. I am the daughter of the man who found your briefcase in a cab some three and a half years ago. When he told you about my growing interest in Judaism, you gave him a mezuza and a candle-lighting kit for me, and said you hoped I would use it to bring a little more light into this dark world.
"I did begin to light Shabbat candles, and affixed the mezuza to the entrance of my room, where it still is. Lighting the candles was just the beginning for me, for it made me want to understand what was behind this mitzva, the holiness which I came to love.
"About a year after you gave me the candle-holder and mezuza, I had learned enough to start keeping kosher. It was hard but I stuck it out and have eaten only kosher food ever since.
"When I went away to college I studied Hebrew and began taking Torah classes one night a week with a few others. These classes made me want to learn even more, so I have decided to go this summer to the Bais Chana Institute in Minnesota to study. Although I am going alone, I am looking forward to the experience, for I know that once I get there I will not be alone, for there are many girls and women who have very little religious background. I think it will strengthen me and help me decide my future course, more college or more Jewish studies.
"I have been thinking about you for a while now and have always regretted not accepting your Shabbat invitation. I guess I just wasn't ready then. I had to learn for myself.
"I know that a long time has passed since you gave me the candlestick and since then you must have given out so many more you may not even remember giving one to my father for me. But I wanted you to know what it did for me. A mitzva is timeless; it is never too late for a person to learn. I surely was not going to let the passage of time get in the way of telling you that you did a great mitzva.
There is a P.S. to this letter. When Sarah came back from Minnesota she spent some time at home with her family before moving into Crown Heights. Her mother was so inspired by many of the things Sarah had learned that she decided to start studying Torah, too, on Sundays at Machon Chana Women's College.
The power of one Shabbat candle, or any mitzva, in fact, is truly magnificent.
Reprinted from The Yiddishe Heim
Camps, synagogues and youth groups can reserve now for an exciting hands-on Scribal workshop sponsored by Tzivos Hashem. You'll see how hides are worked and prepared for writing Torah scrolls, tefilin, and mezuzot. You'll actually work with the hides and also find out how a scribe makes his ink; how to cut a quill feather, and how to make basic writing strokes. For more info call Tzivos Hashem at (718) 467-6630 or your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.
MOSHIACH IS ON THE WAY
To help promote awareness about Moshiach, T-shirts, bumper stickers, regular and illuminated car signs, posters and postcards--all declaring "Moshiach is On the Way"--are available from the office of the International Campaign to Help Bring Moshiach. For an order form call (718) 778-6000 or write to 1408 President Street, Bklyn, NY 11213.
In honor of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's 91st year and to help speed the complete recovery of the Rebbe, the Lubavitch Women's Organization launched "Project 91." The goal of this special project is to establish 91 classes about Moshiach and the Redemption throughout the New York metropolitan area. If you are interested in attending or forming a Project 91 class call (718) 756-5954 or (718) 493-1773.
THE GUEST AND THE SERVANT
From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
The Talmud states: "The first person was created on the eve of Shabbat. Why? It may be likened to a king who built a palace, perfected it, arranged a feast, and then invited guests... Such is the way of the Holy One blessed be He, Who created... the whole world with wisdom and all worldly needs (and then he brought in guests), namely, Adam and Eve.
Yet, the Torah also declares, "Man unto toil is born," and that every person should live by the credo, "I was created to serve my Creator."
How are these two contradictory ideas about the purpose of man to be reconciled? If man is G-d's honored "guest" who finds everything ready and prepared for him, how can he at the same time be a "servant" who has to serve G-d constantly, and in a manner of real effort (toil)?
One explanation of the apparent contradiction is that precisely the combination of both characteristics provides a profoundly meaningful instruction in life, down to everyday living, which expresses itself in several aspects:
- It was expected of Adam and Eve--which is a guideline for every Jew, man and woman--that even when they find themselves in a situation as if in a royal palace, which is provided with not only all requirements, but also "to perfection," and they are invited to it as honored guests, it behooves them to make of it a service to G-d, the Creator of the whole universe.
The highest degree of this achievement is found in Moses, as the Torah tells us. For, while the Torah testifies that "No other prophet arose in Israel like Moses, to whom G-d made Himself known face to face," yet, when he attained his highest degree of perfection, or, as our Sages expressed it, when he reached the "fiftieth portal of understanding," he was still "Moshe, G-d's servant."
On the other hand, as it has often been pointed out, a Jew serves G-d not only through prayer, Torah study, and doing mitzvot, but also--to quote the Rambam--with his eating and drinking... and in all his deeds, even sleeping. For a Jew must prepare himself before going to bed in a way that his sleeping is elevated thereby to the status of Divine service--which is one of the reasons, indeed the deeper content, of the Shema before retiring to sleep.
- A second aspect, which likewise has to express itself in the daily life, is that G-d gave Adam and Eve--and through them to all Jews, men and women, to the end of posterity--the capacity and ability to "serve," that is, to add something to the "palace" with all its requirements, notwithstanding the fact that these were created by G-d, with Divine wisdom.
Thus, however good the state of affairs is around a person and with the person, everyone can (hence, must) bring it to a higher degree of perfection, to the extent of--to quote the remarkable expression with which the Torah describes man's contribution to Creation--becoming a "partner with the Holy One blessed be He in the work of Creation." In other words, he is capable of contributing so much that the Torah, Torat Emet--the Torah of Truth, declares him qualified as a "partner."
- With the above aspects in mind, every Jew should find it easier to do what must be done in order to rise ever higher in all matters of Torah and mitzvot, and Yiddishkeit in general, in full accord with man's purpose and life's destiny--I was created to serve my Creator. Let everyone just consider the wonderful powers with which G-d has endowed every Jew, even to become a partner--not in a small thing, and one thing, but--in the entire universe, created by G-d's Wisdom!
- The said contribution cannot be achieved in full measure through a limited, sporadic service, rendered on special occasions, or at certain times; but--only through a way of life which expresses itself in every-day service, by consecrating every act, word, and thought to be for the sake of Heaven, and consonant with the principles of know Him in all your ways--so that G-dliness clearly pervades all details of even mundane matters, and, as noted above, even while eating and drinking, etc. on an ordinary working day of the week.
- In the area of "to serve my Creator" there is the well-known directive to serve G-d with joy, and also with deep, inner elation derived from the realization of being privileged to serve G-d.
May G-d grant everyone success in the efforts to achieve all the above, and in the way of joy and pleasure.
What is the Shemona Esrei prayer?
The Shemona Esrei prayer is the central prayer in the three daily services. "Shemona Esrei" means eighteen and the prayer was called thus, because when it was compiled by the Men of the Great Assembly (around 428 b.c.e.) it had 18 blessings. An additional nineteenth blessing concerning slanderers was added by Rabbi Gamliel II toward the end of the first century. The Shemona Esrei is also referred to as the Amida--meaning "standing," because it is recited while standing.
the fourth chapter of Pirkei Avot and we find the words of Rabbi Azzai, "Do not regard anyone with contempt and do not reject anything. For there is not a person who doesn't have his hour, and there is not a thing that doesn't have its place."
On the first part of this Mishna, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, makes an interesting comment. He notes that in our lives we often encounter this interesting situation: Simple, ordinary people, who don't consider themselves to be "somebodies," make way and find place for people who are "lower" on the totem pole of life. They take time to consider another person's opinion, and are capable of becoming close with and uniting with others.
However, in the case of people who are "big and important," each one of them takes up so much space for himself, that none of them can stand anyone else, especially someone less important.
The truth is, that the truly great person doesn't disregard or reject anyone. He or she knows how to regard and appreciate every person and situation.
Rabbi Menachem ben Shlomo Meiri comments on the words, "do not reject anything." He says that even if you hear things about yourself that you don't really want to hear, don't regard the comments with contempt. If people criticize you, don't reject their criticism outright. Don't say that these faults are impossible and have no basis. But, rather, take the words to heart and try to ascertain how you can learn and grow from them.
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
Reb Shmuel Brin sat in a waiting room packed with chasidim who had traveled from far and near to seek the advice of the Rebbe Maharash--the Fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe. A tense atmosphere prevailed and showed itself in the serious and worried faces of all. Reb Shmuel was well known, the owner of a distillery which produced vodka, and an ardent follower of the Rebbe Maharash. He had been waiting to see the Rebbe for days, and now his turn had come, and he sat reciting Psalms with a broken spirit.
He entered the Rebbe's study, and was overcome with emotion--what had he done to bring this terrible calamity upon himself? He began to explain the situation to the Rebbe: "As the Rebbe knows, I earn my livelihood from my distillery. A certain tax is paid to the government for the amount of liquor produced, and a special meter attached to the fermenting vat measures each quart. From time to time an inspector comes to assess the taxes due.
"Until now there has never been any trouble, but it seems that one of my employees has found a way, through making a small hole in the vat, of siphoning off some of the vodka, and thereby bypassing the meter. The vodka he managed to steal he sold to his friends, and so he cheated both me and the government. I have no idea how long this has been going on, but this is how it came to my attention:
"A second worker caught the first thief red-handed, and demanded a share in the take. The first thief agreed, but later they had an argument and the second "partner" went to the police. Upon investigation, the police discovered the swindle and arrested the thief. When questioned, he admitted the theft, but he claimed that it was done on my orders.
"I don't know why, but then the police freed the thief and arrested me instead. My family barely managed to bail me out and I came here right here away to seek your advice. The penalty for cheating the government is very severe--there is even the possibility of life imprisonment or slave-labor in Siberia."
With that, Reb Shmuel broke into uncontrollable sobs, crying "Rebbe! Help me! me'ayin yavo ezri--From where will come my help?"
The Rebbe was thoughful for a while, and then responded: "Yes, your help will come from me'ayin, from the Unknown, from G-d. Return to your home, and when you will meet a Jew in trouble who will say: 'Me'ayin yavo ezri' help him; then G-d will also help you."
Reb Shmuel left very much encouraged. Not long after, Reb Shmuel heard about a terrible misfortune that had befallen his old friend Reb Chaim. He had become destitute in a devastating fire which destroyed his entire inn. With a house full of children, Reb Chaim was desperate.
Reb Shmuel went seaching for his friend, and found him sitting near some scorched wooden logs where his inn had previously stood.
The two friends greeted each other warmly. Reb Shmuel eagerly offered his friend a loan, but he shook his head. "Where would you get the money? You have troubles enough of your own," he replied. "As we say in Psalms: 'From where will come my help? My help will come from G-d.'"
As soon as he heard the words of his Rebbe echoed by Reb Chaim, he was even more anxious to extend his help. He didn't let Reb Chaim go until he finally accepted the proffered money.
Weeks passed and finally the day of the trial arrived. Many members of the community appeared to testify on behalf of Reb Shmuel, but things didn't go well for him. The two accusers swore that they acted under orders of their boss, and the prosecutor made a fiery speech denouncing Brin as a swindler of the worst type. Brin could only repeat over and over again that he was innocent of the charges.
After the lawyers had concluded their arguments, the judge proceeded to summarize the case and instruct the jury. He concluded his speech saying, "I want to recount the following episode which has a bearing on the case: Once, the young son of a nobleman was traveling by train. He left his luggage on the platform to get some refreshment. On his return it was missing, and along with it, all of his money and ticket. For a couple of days he hung around the station hungry and miserable, noticed by no one.
"Then a man descended from an incoming train, and with one look at the boy, invited him to partake of a meal at his expense. The boy accepted gratefully and told the stranger about his predicament. The man reached into his pocket and gave him money for a ticket. When the boy requested his name, so that he could repay him, he refused, saying that one day the boy would pass on the favor to another, and that would be his reward.
"Members of the jury," concluded the judge, "this man that you see before you is the very man who helped me so many long years ago! Such a man could not be liar and a thief! A man who could so graciously help a complete stranger with no thought of recompense could never commit this crime! I leave it up to you to decide!"
In a few minutes the verdict was returned. "Not guilty!" Reb Shmuel Brin did not immediately hear the verdict. His mind was on the words of his saintly Rebbe: "Fill the void of another in distress, and G-d will fill yours."
And Korach took (Num. 16:1)
How is it possible that a portion of the Torah is named after a sinner as great as Korach? The Torah wants to emphasize that we can learn something constructive even from Korach's bitter controversy. Just as Korach wanted to be a High Priest, every Jew should similarly desire to draw near to G-d.
That the earth open its mouth and swallow them up...and they go down alive into the pit (Num. 16:30)
A person can only avail himself of repentance while he yet lives. Korach and his followers, swallowed up by the earth alive because of their sins, were granted the opportunity to repent and atone for their transgressions.
The third of Tammuz
The third day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz (this year Shabbat, July 4) is the day on which Joshua commanded the sun to stand still in Gibeon. Thus, he and the Jewish army could complete their Divinely commanded battle against five kings who inhabited the Land of Israel. (Seder Olam Rabba) It is also the day, in 1927, when the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, was released from imprisonment (he was jailed for strengthening Judaism) but immediately sent to the city of Kostrama for a three-year exile. Nine days later he was informed by the Soviet authorities that he was released from exile, too.
Jews everywhere should know that the time for the coming of Moshiach has certainly arrived. All that is needed is to fulfill the directive of the Previous Rebbe: "Stand ready, every one of you, to greet our Righteous Moshiach!" These preparations, motivated by a yearning and desire for Moshiach, will of themselves surely bring Moshiach. As to the question, "Why has he not come until now?"--Moshiach will no doubt provide an answer for this in person. In the meantime, the query must not (G-d forbid) weaken a person's spiritual endeavors. On the contrary, it should spur him ahead with ever more energy.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)