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When discussing a recent New York City strike by maintenance workers, one newscaster commented that the strikers were being "very religious about picketing. Despite inclement weather and freezing temperatures, the strikers were walking the picket line every single day without exception..."
The doctor wants to make sure that the prescribed medicine is taken every day, three times a day, just as it says on the label. He emphasizes these instructions by adding: "Take it religiously!"
Look up "religious" in your handy thesaurus and you'll find synonyms like devout, godly, holy, pious, prayerful, reverent, and sanctimonious. You'll also find blind, conscientious, loyal, meticulous, strict, zealous.
But what the newscaster and the doctor both seem to be emphasizing is consistency. And they are using "religious" terminology in a very positive way.
In our politically correct world, where everything and everyone are expected to be tolerated, some seem to have very little tolerance for people who are "religious" in the conventional sense of the word. Unless, of course, it is a religion that is ill-understood, ridiculed or its adherents subjugated. Then, of course, it is very p.c. to be tolerant.
Consider someone who is crazy about a particular sport, to the point where his schedule revolves around his team's game schedule. If there's a game on and he can't get out of an important engagement, he might even bring along a portable TV, or at least a walkman, or, at the very least, run out every few minutes to catch an update. This person is truly a "fan" of that sport and of his team.
Now, consider someone who is crazy about Judaism, to the point where his schedule revolves around Shabbat, Jewish holidays, keeping kosher, etc. If there's an important engagement he can't miss, he might run out in the middle to say the afternoon prayers. He might eat prepackaged, kosher food at a power lunch. If he showed such commitment to a sports team (or an entertainer, for that matter) he would be called a "fan." But somehow, since it's "religion," he's often called a fanatic.
Now, if you look up fanatic in your handy thesaurus, you will find one fairly complimentary synonym -- "enthusiast." The rest, however, are downright negative and not worth mentioning here.
We have come so far in so many ways. Isn't it time to start rethinking our attitudes toward religion, especially our own Jewish religion, and give it the same courtesy we would give to the other things in our life we do "religiously"?
In this week's portion, Tisa, G-d commands Moses to make a washing basin and place it in front of the Tent of Meeting. This basin was for the priests to wash before they performed their service, as it states, "Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and feet from it when they go into the Tent of Meeting."
The act of washing had two objectives. The first was for cleanliness and purity, as the kohen (priest) was required to maintain a higher standard than others. The second was for the purpose of holiness: by washing himself the priest received an extra measure of sanctity. In fact, the very act of washing is called the "sanctification of the hands and feet."
Although the Temple in Jerusalem is no longer standing, the lessons we derive from the services that were performed there are eternal, and apply always. Every Jew is considered a "priest" (the entire Jewish people is called "a nation of priests and a holy people"), and the concept of washing before serving the Creator exists on many different levels.
In his Laws of Prayer, Maimonides writes that one must "wash his face, hands and feet before praying the morning service." Nowadays, when we cannot bring actual sacrifices, our prayers are offered in their stead. Washing before we pray follows the example of the priests, who washed before performing their Temple duties. But why does Maimonides stipulate that the face must be washed -- something the priests were not obligated to do? The answer is that the concept of "face" has a special significance during the period of exile, after the destruction of the Holy Temple.
Hands and feet are symbolic of man's physical ability and prowess; the face is symbolic of his higher powers (intellect, sight, hearing, speech, etc.) The more mundane aspects of life are to be carried out by the hands and feet alone, whereas the higher powers are to be reserved for man's higher calling -- the service of G-d.
Back when the Holy Temple stood, the overall spiritual level of the Jewish people was higher. It would never have occurred to the "face" to involve itself in lower matters; thus, it didn't need an added measure of protection and holiness. During the exile, however, the Jew is sometimes so demoralized that he forgets himself and invests his higher powers in affairs that are truly unworthy of their attention. His "face," as it were, must therefore be safeguarded.
In practice, many authorities have ruled that the "Modeh Ani" declaration made upon arising, thanking G-d for restoring the soul, is sufficient preparation for prayer, and washing one's face is not strictly necessary. For the Jew's innermost essence is always pure and connected to G-d, and thus always ready to worship the Creator.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 31
Reprinted from the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle
by Jim Baker
If it's "Babbit" or "Beowulf" you need to learn, then Cliff Notes is probably the answer. But if it's Jewish holidays you want to bone up on, then Rabbi Mendy Wineberg's Notes are your best bet.
True, Rabbi Wineberg -- program director of Chabad House Center -- doesn't offer as many titles as the old, familiar line of study guides to the classics of literature.
So far, he's got Maccabee Notes on "The Story of Chanuka," Megila notes on "The Story of Purim," and notes on Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur and Sukkot/Simchat Torah.
But one day soon, Rabbi Wineberg hopes to have a whole collection of his version of Cliff Notes, with a different, snappy booklet devoted to each Jewish holiday of the year.
The idea is to convey the essence of a subject in a condensed, easy-to-grasp format that's aimed at folks who know little -- or nothing -- about a given subject.
There's a strong similarity in the appearance of Cliff Notes and Rabbi Wineberg's Notes, too. Each has a cover with diagonal black stripes on a yellow field. However, Rabbi Wineberg jazzes up the covers of his Notes with Jewish designs like a menora, or a cartoon of a Ziggy-like man climbing the mountain range with a Torah held high above his head.
The most important difference, though, is that Rabbi Wineberg's study guides to the Jewish holidays are free. He puts them out as part of the "public service" to Jews for which the Lubavitch movement is known.
In this case, the outreach is mainly directed toward students. Rabbi Wineberg's primary target for the booklets are Jewish students at the University of Kansas in Lawrence -- and that's where he hands them out.
"This catches their eye," Rabbi Wineberg says. "Their first reaction is 'Why is the rabbi giving me Cliff Notes?' They're not going to throw them away. It piques their interest and curiosity."
His catchy, Cliff Notes-style format -- used to package simple information about Jewish holidays -- makes his booklets stand out amidst the blizzard of paper handouts that students face at the student union.
Most handouts wind up in the trash. But not the Megila Notes or Maccabee Notes. These the Jewish students hang onto. They read them and seem to enjoy them. The proof of this, says Rabbi Wineberg, is that "when I go to a Jewish fraternity or Hillel House, they still have copies of the Maccabee Notes and Megila Notes lying around."
Why? "Students love them," he says. "They tell me that now they understand what the (Jewish) holidays are all about."
The Cliff Notes' take-off masks a more serious intent: to teach young Jews -- especially those from less observant backgrounds -- about their faith. "This is geared for people with no prior knowledge of the holidays," Rabbi Wineberg says. "It assumes very little." The booklets are like a crash course: simple to understand, loaded with cartoony graphics, and take only ten or fifteen minutes to read, tops.
"We're doing this to spread the word of Judaism to everyone," Rabbi Wineberg says, "even those busy college students. And this works."
He knows that in seeking to capture the attention of college-age Jews, he's competing in a crowded marketplace.
By getting the facts quickly to the people who need them, Wineberg's Notes are able to reach young Jews who lack a solid foundation in Judaism -- but want one.
"I was approached by Jewish students (at KU) who said they were ashamed," Rabbi Wineberg says. "Their (non-Jewish) friends would come up to them and ask them about Rosh Hashana (or other holidays), and they wouldn't have any idea."
But since Rabbi Wineberg started introducing his booklets, "They feel better about themselves. Now, when people ask them why they are going home for the Jewish holidays, or why they are fasting, they know what to tell them. Now they can give an answer."
Steve Jacobson, director of KU's Hillel House, agrees. "I think these are incredible. They're relevant, they're familiar, they do what they're supposed to do."
"They give students a safe way to learn what they may not have learned in Hebrew school and are now afraid to ask. I really think it's a brilliant format."
Rabbi Wineberg got the idea from a friend of his, Rabbi Eli Backman, director of the Chabad House Center at the University of Maryland. Rabbi Backman had tried the Cliff Notes' take-off for a series of booklets about the Jewish holidays, with good response.
The two rabbis now work together on the format -- via e-mail -- developing booklets for other Jewish holidays and subjects. Rabbi Wineberg is happy with the response he's gotten from students. "It was a much greater success than I thought it would be. I ran out of copies the first time I did it. For Purim, I made 1,000 copies. I gave them all away," he says.
It's no wonder, according to KU's Jacobson. "I know students appreciate the opportunity to learn about the holidays." Jacobson wants to see more of Rabbi Wineberg's Notes. "I hope they (Rabbis Backman and Wineberg) continue to do it. I hope we have a complete library on all the Jewish holidays," he says.
Continue celebrating Purim!
In the days following Purim, hold at least three joyous gatherings! In general, efforts should be made to increase farbrengens (gatherings) and other expressions of happiness connected with a mitzva.
(The Rebbe, 13 Adar, 5750)
... Perhaps this is an opportunity to re-emphasize several basic points:
- Those well-meaning persons who felt impelled to interpret certain passages in the Torah differently from the time-honored traditional interpretation, did so only in the mistaken belief that the Torah view (on the age of the world etc.) was at variance with science; otherwise they would not have sought new interpretations in the Torah.
- The apologetic literature -- at least a substantial part of it -- that was created as a result of this misconception, relied on the principle that, as in the case of "mutar leshanot mipnei darchei shalom" [it is permissible to change for the sake of peace], there was no harm in making an "innocent" verbal concession to science, if it would be helpful in strengthening commitment to Torah and mitzvot of many.
- At the bottom of this attitude was the mistaken belief that scientific "conclusions" were categorical and absolute.
- Parenthetically, some explanation for this attitude to science may be found in the fact (pointed out in my previous letter), that the Torah accords to science a higher status of credibility than contemporary science lays claim to, as is evidenced from the rule in halacha that the prohibition of chilul [desecrating] Shabbat may be waived on the opinion of a physician in the area of pikuach nefesh [saving a life] and many similar rulings.
- The crucial point, however, is that the latest conclusions of science introduced a radical change into science's own evaluation of itself, clearly defining its own limitations. Accordingly, there is nothing categorical in science; the principle of cause and effect is substituted by "probable sequence of events" etc.
- Furthermore, contemporary science holds that scientific judgments and descriptions do not necessarily "present" things as they really are.
- Science demands empirical verification: "conclusions" are considered "scientific" if they have been investigated experimentally -- but certainly not in relation to conditions which have never been known to mankind and can never be duplicated.
- In view of all that has been said above, there is no reason whatever to believe that science (as different from scientists) can state anything definitive on something which occurred in the remote past, in the pre-dawn of history. Consequently, there is no need to seek new reinterpretations in the Torah to "reconcile" them with science, as stated in the beginning of the letter.
- Apropos of your special reference to Shabbat Bereishis, it is astonishing that those who attempted to reinterpret the Six Day Creation account in terms of eons etc. failed to even mention the contradiction of such a view with the text of a get [writ of divorce]. It is well known how punctilious the halacha [Jewish law] is in regard to a get. The text of the get begins with the unequivocal dating of it "according to the creation of the world" (e.g. in the current year it would read: "Shnat Chameshet Alafim Sheva Meiot Ushloshim V'Shalosh Libriyas HaOlam" (the year five thousand, seven hundred and thirty-three since the creation of the world).
In the words of the Megila which we read this week, "There is one people... and their laws differ from those of any other people".
May G-d grant that just as in those days our people felt justly proud of their uniqueness and difference and made no attempt to reconcile their laws and customs and views with those of the people among whom they were "dispersed and scattered," so may every Jew now also display the same courageous spirit, based on the one and the same Torah, since "this Torah shall not be changed or substituted" -- one of the basic Thirteen Principles of our faith, as formulated by our Sages.
With esteem and blessing,
Everyday your communications bring me closer to Hashem and now it seems with old friends.
We had some very dear friends from Salford England that we met back in the seventies. We have been on again off again in communication and especially for the last few year.
It seems however, that they receive L'Chaim [issue #403] where they saw my little story and they got in touch with us by telephone 2 Sundays ago. We have lived next door to them in Netanya, Israel, for many summers it seems without ever knowing it. Since we have not seen each other since the '70s we did not even recognize one another as we passed each other surely on the same street many times. Your work brought us together again. We will, please G-d, meet together this summer in Israel to renew our friendship.
A friend from Minneapolis sent me a copy of L'Chaim and it was nice to see my story. Lubavitch truly builds bridges around the globe.... Be well,
On numerous occasions, the Rebbe has spoken about the importance of extending a holiday either by prolonging the actual day or continuing in the spirit of the holiday on subsequent days. This is certainly true of the holiday of Purim which we recently celebrated.
The Rebbe has often emphasized the great value that such activities have, not only for ourselves, but for those with whom we come in contact.
But can't it get to be a little bit much after a while? Don't all of these added gatherings and extended holidays impinge on regular life, let alone the performance of mitzvot and study of Torah?
The Rebbe addressed this point, quite bluntly, at a gathering on the eve of Purim in 1990. He said: "There are those who have complained that the stress on holding such gatherings has become too much. In addition to the farbrengens held at weddings, engagement parties, or the like, farbrengens are held on birthdays and other occasions. So much time is being spent on farbrengens that there is little time left for study.
"These individuals must realize that 'a note descended from heaven, saying that "a Chasidic farbrengen is more powerful than the blessings of the angel Michael."' The unity and oneness achieved at such gatherings is extremely important and furthermore, the resolutions to proceed in the service of G-d made during farbrengens are very effective. Accordingly, there should be an increase, not a decrease, in the frequency with which such farbrengens are held."
Any time and any place is appropriate for even the most impromptu mini-gathering. The benefits for all those in attendance are immeasurable.
And, as the Rebbe concluded his comments at that time, "May these celebrations lead to the fulfillment of the prophecy, "those that lie in the dust will arise and sing" with the Messianic Redemption.
And they rose up early the next day, and offered burnt-offerings and brought near peace-offerings, and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to make merry (Exodus 32:6)
Such is the progression when a Jew abandons his true faith in G-d and replaces it with a foreign ideology: In the first stage, the Jew is more than willing to bring sacrifices and offerings on behalf of his new dogma. In the second, he looks for the personal benefit it will bring him. The third stage, however, is the lowest of them all: utter licentiousness and immoral behavior.
This shall they give...half a shekel, after the shekel of the Sanctuary (Exodus 30:13)
Why did G-d command the Jews to give half a shekel and not a whole one? To show that by himself, the Jew is only "half" and thus incomplete -- the other half consisting of either G-d Himself or another Jew. Both interpretations, however, are interdependent one on the other.
And the people assembled themselves together around Aaron, and said to him: Get up, make us gods (Exodus 32:1)
Why did they ask this of Aaron instead of just appointing him in Moses' stead? The answer is that Aaron, "the pursuer of peace," was too close to the people for them to consider him as their leader. Too much familiarity makes it impossible for people to feel the proper respect for their leaders.
(Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorka)
And he saw the calf and the dancing, and the anger of Moses waxed hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands (Exodus 32:19)
This underscores the difference between hearing about something and actually seeing it for oneself. Although G-d had already informed Moses of the Jews' transgressions, his reaction was more extreme once he had seen their behavior for himself.
As a child, the great Torah scholar, Reb Avraham of Sochatchov, was the pupil of his great father, Reb Zev Nachum of Biala. One day his father asked him a particularly difficult question about the Talmudic text they were studying.
The child, who was endowed with a brilliant mind, saw the solution to the question at once and didn't lose a moment in proving the answer.
His father, a scholar of note, rejected his son's answer, which seemed to have popped out of the child's mouth before he had a chance to properly reflect on its profundity.
Reb Zev Nachum gave the boy a light tap on his cheek and said, "You will have to overcome your habit of answering so quickly before you have thought through the question."
Many years went by and one day Reb Avraham, now an established scholar of great repute was summoned to his father's sick bed. Reb Zev Nachum reminded his son about that incident which had occurred so many years ago and said, "You know, after that happened I again looked into the commentaries on that particular passage. In my study, I discovered that the interpretation which you gave was perfectly correct. I had wanted to apologize to you at the time, but I was afraid lest you become too conceited about your intellect, and I restrained myself. I have thought about it all these years."
Reb Avraham smiled at his father. "I, too, have thought about that incident many times over the years, and I, too, wanted to speak to you about it. I knew at the time that my analysis of the problem was correct and that I was punished unjustly. I forgave you immediately, but because of the mitzva of honoring one's father, I restrained myself from uttering a word about it."
Late one winter night a group of scholarly visitors arrived at the home of Reb Simcha Bunem of Pshischah. At the time, he was a small child of five years old. They had come to pay their respects to his father, the Rabbi of Viedislav.
While they were enjoying their meal, the rabbi called his little son. "Come, my boy. I would like you to go and prepare for us an interesting and unusual interpretation of the laws of hospitality.
The child took to his heels and quickly disappeared. After a short time had passed, the boy reappeared.
"Well, my son, what surprise have you prepared for us?" The child already had the reputation of a prodigy, and the distinguished guests were anxiously awaiting the new Torah delights which were about to come.
They all rose and followed the rabbi. Their surprise was evident when they entered the next room and saw a truly original interpretation of the laws in question. There, neatly arranged, was a bed, complete with clean linens and a fluffed up pillow for each guest!
Reb Meir was a successful businessman and a Chasid of Rebbe Mordechai of Lechovitch. His partner and friend was Reb Gershon, a confirmed mitnaged. Reb Meir never gave up inviting his partner to accompany him to his Rebbe's court, and Reb Gershon never weakened in his refusal to come.
One time, however, business necessitated that they both be in the town of Lechovitch at the same time, and Reb Gershon finally gave way and accompanied Reb Meir to the Rebbe.
When they arrived, the tzadik was seated at his table. Reb Gershon, contrary to his expectation, was fascinated by what he saw and emerged greatly excited.
"What is it that has excited you so much?" Reb Meir asked. His partner replied, "I saw that the Rebbe eats in such holiness that his very eating resembles the service of the High Priest in the Holy Temple." The Chasid was very hurt and disappointed by his friend's reply and he brought his complaint to the Rebbe.
"Rebbe, why should it be that on his first visit, this mitnaged, who has refused to even come to see you for many years, has the privilege of perceiving you in a way in which I, who always come, am not able to see?"
The Rebbe replied, "He is a mitnaged, and he must see with his eyes. You, however, are a Chasid, and you have to believe."
One should look forward to the Redemption because that era will bring about the fulfillment of the will of G-d -- His intent (underlying the entire creation) of having a "dwelling place among the lower beings."
Looking forward to the Redemption should not be motivated by personal considerations, such as a desire to be extricated from a difficulty in one's material or spiritual life.
(The Rebbe, 5713-1953)