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According to most experts, the hardest thing to do in all of sports is hit a baseball. It's harder than running a marathon, catching a 50-yard touchdown pass, dunking a basket or any other athletic feat.
There are two reasons for this, one physical, the other emotional.
The distance from the pitching rubber to home plate is 601/2 feet (18.4404 meters). A fast ball travels 90 m.p.h. (144.84096 kilometers per hour, for you metric fans). That means it takes a baseball less than half a second to get from the pitcher's hand across home plate.
In that time, the ball travels through three zones. While it's in the first zone - the first tenth of a second - the batter has to recognize the pitch (fastball, curve, slider, etc.) and decide if it will be in his strike zone or not. While it's in the second zone - .15 seconds - he has to decide whether to swing, let it go as a ball or get out of the way of a wild pitch.
At this point the ball's moving too fast and too close for his eyes to see it. He loses track of it. But in the last third of the ball's flight, he has to start his swing and get his bat to where he thinks the ball will be in the last five-hundredths of a second.
The emotional reason isn't so complicated: it's scary. When we see a baseball zooming right at us - heading for our heart - at 90 miles per hour, our first impulse is to duck, run, get out of the way. The first thing we have to learn is not to be afraid of the ball.
So when we make contact with the fast ball, it's sweet. And when we hit a hard grounder or a line drive - hit it hard enough to get on base - it's an accomplishment unique and satisfying.
From each reason it's difficult to hit a baseball we can learn a practical lesson in living Jewishly.
There's a famous Jewish teaching of our Sages, zerizim makdimim l'mitzvot. One way to translate this is: the alert anticipate the mitzvot (commandments). It means those who are attentive, prepared, ready to act - on the ball - look for opportunities to perform mitzvot. They don't wait for the mitzva - they look for it. Like the batter, they recognize the "pitch" - the situation and quickly decide to "swing" - to go after the mitzva.
Feel like sleeping in? Zerizim makdimim l'mitzvot. That "pitch," that mitzva you've been waiting for, is coming your way. Do you want to study some Torah? Swing hard - take the initiative - call your Chabad House and join a class or get one started. Shabbat is coming soon. Do you have candles ready to light? Have you bought a nice wine for Kiddush? What about some "Shabbos treats," delicacies especially for Shabbat.
And so on. We have to be on top of the mitzvot, anticipating when they're going to be available, and prepared to "swing hard" and get into them.
But even if we are alert, if we anticipate the mitzvot, preparing ourselves for the opportunity, if we are afraid or hesitant, we might "swing late" and miss. However, in baseball you only get three strikes - three missed opportunities - and you're out. But, when it comes to performing a mitzva, you're never out. You're always at bat.
The Torah portion Bamidbar begins the book of Bamidbar, which is also known as "Sefer HaPikudim - The Book of Numbers." Both at the beginning and the end of the book of the book of Bamidbar the Torah details the counting of the Jews: First, after receiving the Torah in the Sinai Desert at the beginning of their wanderings through the vast and terrible desert; and the second time at the end of the forty years' wanderings, on the eve of their entry into the Land of Israel.
There is an eternal lesson which can be derived from these countings, both of which took place in the desert: the mission of every Jew, man or woman, is to make an "abode" for G-d in this material and earthly world.
When a Jew looks around and sees that the world is a spiritual "desert," full of materialism and mundane desires, the thought may occur: How is it possible to carry out one's mission of bringing G-dliness into the world? The Torah informs us that there is no cause for apprehension, as this was the way the Jews began their mission when they become a nation and received the Torah at Mt. Sinai. With the strength derived from the Torah, they made it through the vast and terrible desert - a bleak wilderness in every respect, where in the natural order of things there is no bread and no water, but only difficulties and trials.
Moreover, wherever they made their way through the desert, they transformed the desert into a blooming garden: Miriam's Well caused the desert to bring forth all sorts of vegetation and fruit; Manna, "Bread from Heaven" was brought down for their sustenance; the Pillar of Fire illuminated their way, while the Clouds of Glory protected them against all dangers. With our ancestors as role models, we see that our surroundings, whatever they may be, need not cause us any worry.
An additional lesson we learn from the counting in the desert is derived from the counting itself. Each person was counted individually, regardless of his station and standing in life, and each one was counted as no more than one and no less than one. This underscores the fact that each of us has his own personal mission in life.
In fact every Jew can be likened to a soldier - for truly, we are all soldiers in the service of G-d. In an army there are various ranks, from an ordinary soldier to the highest in command, yet, each one individually and all together carry out the Divine mission to make a holy place for G-d in this world, even in a desert.
Excerpted and freely adapted from a letter from the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Tefilin? Of Course!
by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
I once spent three days in Amsterdam with my wife. We saw a few art museums, visited some friends, I spoke at a synagogue frequented by Israelis and then we returned home to Israel. Several interesting things happened on the trip. But the most interesting incident of all took place on the plane back to Israel.
I decided to use the opportunity of the flight to help Jewish men put on tefilin. I was a bit apprehensive about figuring out who was Jewish, only to realize that my worries were for naught. I discovered that people from Holland hardly move. Jews on the other hand, especially Israelis, could not sit still for a moment. They were constantly talking, making endless facial and hand gestures, getting up or just squirming. So I simply approached anyone who moved.
At first several people refused, then one person agreed, then a few more, and so on. I proceeded down the aisle until I came to three young Israeli fellows sitting next to each other. They looked like they had gotten a lot out of Amsterdam: their brows, nostrils and earlobes were well pierced with rings and studs, small tattoos decorated their arms and all had hair dyed unnatural colors.
"What do you say? Want to do something really wild? Put on tefilin! It takes one minute and doesn't cost money!"
The young man sitting nearest the aisle contorted his face as though I was offering him a dead cat and shrugged his shoulders as high as possible which is Israeli for "drop dead." I got the message and, not disheartened, turned my attention to his neighbor who wasn't looking at me. "What about you, my friend?" I asked. Immediately he closed his eyes, tilted his head and let out a snore, feigning deep sleep.
Only one left. Sitting near the window reading a magazine, enveloped in the drone of the plane, he was unaware of what had just happened. I raised my voice loud enough for him to hear me. "Would you like to put on tefilin?" He looked at me suddenly and said "What!? What did you say?"
The first fellow, the one who had refused, was following with relish awaiting my total defeat. The one in the middle was still "asleep," but I could see that he was peeking. I repeated the question as I held up the tefilin.
"Tefilin?" he asked incredulously. "You want me to put on tefilin?!" He stood up, bent over a bit because of the overhead bin, rolled up his sleeve and exclaimed with a smile, "Of course I'll put on tefilin!!"
The first fellow was shocked! The "sleeper" in the middle even opened one eye to see if he had heard correctly. Meanwhile, the young man joyously let me help him put on the tefilin, then sat down and began reading in a loud voice the "Shema Yisrael" prayer from a card I gave him.
I didn't notice that we were being watched. A well-dressed, distinguished looking non-Jewish passenger sitting in the row ahead of us had turned around to watch the entire scene.
As soon as I noticed him I said "hello" and asked him if he had any idea what we were doing. He shook his head "no." He waited and watched intently as the Israeli finished and I removed the tefilin.
Then I began to explain. "These," I told him holding up the tefilin, "are made of leather and are a commandment of G-d to the Jews. G-d commanded every Jewish adult male to put them on like that man did, once a day every weekday."
I saw that the man was impressed. He looked at the Israeli young man, then back at me and said with astonishment, "You mean that young man is not religious, and he put on those boxes just because you asked him?! If I didn't see it with my own eyes I would not believe it!"
His excitement was contagious. I asked him his name and he told me it was Peter. I continued. "Do you know what is inside these leather boxes? Parchments containing the four paragraphs from the Bible that mention this commandment. And the most important one of them says "Shema Yisrael - Listen Jews, G-d is One."
Peter was listening intently above the noise of the plane as I continued. "It means that G-d alone creates everything constantly! Do you know what that means?" His eyes were wide with amazement, his traveling partners even looked up to see what was going on.
"It means G-d, who can do anything, creates you every second brand-new! And He does it for free! So if G-d creates you and me for free, then we should do something for Him for free!" And I told Peter briefly about the Seven Noahide commandments.
We shook hands and I started walking back to my seat. Suddenly, Peter unfastened his safety belt, stood up, straightened his jacket and tie, pointed at me and yelled at the top of his lungs: "This rabbi is correct!!" Then he majestically pointed up and announced: "And I want to apologize. To publicly apologize to him for what we have done to his people! We have taken a man and made him god, and we have denied the holy commandments!!"
The last three words he really belted out so that several rows around us were staring. Then he very warmly and officially shook my hand again, sat back down and returned to the book he was reading.
Read more of Rabbi Bolton's articles at ohrtmimim.com
New Shluchim - Emissaries
Rabbi Mendel and Dobi Greisman will be arriving soon in Arkansas to establish Chabad of Northwest Arkansas. The new Chabad House will serve the Jewish communities of Bentonville, the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and surrounding cities.
Rabbi Velvel and Esty Lipsker will be unpacking their bags in Miami, Florida, before the new school year begins. Rabbi Lipsker has been appointed to the administration of the Yeshiva in Miami and will work directly with the students.
Rabbi Yisroel and Fruma Resnick are moving to Northern California where they will establish a new Chabad House serving the needs of the Jewish residents in Pleasanton, Dublin, and Livermore, also known as the Tri-Valley.
Freely translated letter continued from previous issue to (then) General Ariel Sharon
Without a doubt, I have not, G-d forbid, given up hope that the situation will change. But until then, there would be no benefit or practical advantage to issuing a call for people to settle Hebron. For there would be bitter clashes between the people in charge (whom we have been discussing) and even such people who would not answer the call (to move to Hebron), but would be moved to think in that direction - and all the more so those who might answer the call and go to live in Hebron. The conflict would be to the extent that the government would issue laws against those who would go to settle. This would reveal to the world - not just the Jewish world, but even to the gentiles - that those who make the decisions are bent on making it difficult for the settlers, and even worse than "difficult" - they would humiliate them and strengthen the morale of the enemies of Israel.
I do not despair concerning all this. But it is not a shift in Jewish public opinion which will affect change, but rather the mistakes of the Arabs and their supporters. So it was in the past, when such mistakes last year forced the "pursuers of peace" to finally agree to provide security, naturally leading to a pre-emptive war. I hope that in the future it will be easier, and will not G-d forbid injuriously affect lives or even property of our brothers, no matter where they live.
It is amazing to what extent the label which was given to the Children of Israel in our Torah, "a stiff-necked nation," has not only endured until this day - but has been used by some for the opposite of the Torah and vital interests of the Jewish people. An example from the most recent weeks: the Algerian hijacking of the El-Al plane, when everyone clearly saw the reaction of even those who are supposed to be among the "friends of Israel." Yet despite all this, they congratulate the nations for finding a solution which was supposed to be an "ethical victory." Even if you could find reason to say that they were forced to agree to the extortion (to save lives), yet what obligates them to crown the architect of this deal as a Man of Ethics and totally righteous, and an example for the Masses? It would seem that there is no way to fathom a stiff-necked nation. This stubbornness expressed itself so strongly in the form of believing in the kindness of the nations (despite the message from our Prophets and Seers that the kindness of the nations is veiled sin), that even the invasion of Czechoslovakia did not weaken this spurious belief. Even though it would seem that the episode in Czechoslovakia has nothing to do with the subject of this letter-the inner significance is relevant, because it demon-strates the sentiment of some of those who decide the policy making process in the Holy Land, a process which expresses itself in deeds, grievous and painful acts which also cause much worry for the future (the near future at least - until they do away with their attitude about these matters).
We should end off on a positive note: I thank you for the warm greetings which you brought me from your visit to Kfar Chabad. According to the reports and information I have received from there, you spoke from your heart and with warmth, and strengthened and encouraged them.
Everyone is in need of this, including them.
Especially now, during these eventful times in the "Land upon which G-d's gaze is affixed from the beginning of the year until the end of the year," as it states in our Torah. When, on the other hand, the enemies who surround the land, see the government in our Land exhibit more and more weakness - a government who believes that they must deal with the Arabs with silk gloves and great care - and should there be a quarrel between an Arab and an Israeli, the first thing to do is to check what the reaction will be in the capital of one country or another, and only then decide what to do. So the Arabs constantly allow themselves the luxury of creating more and more disruptions, and all the more so, disturbances, and eventually terror.
And as we approach the New Year, as the well-known saying goes, may it be G-d's Will that this year end, together with all the undesirable things which occurred in it (they should totally and absolutely disappear) and next year, and in the final days of this year, may the blessings begin, including the crucial change in the government's posture, without having to wait for unwished-for incidents which would force the change. After all, we have seen miracles from the All-powerful G-d in the recent past, and He is able to affect miracles in any fashion - or as the traditional saying goes, with "good that is manifest and revealed."
With respect and blessings for an inscription for a good and wweet year, to you and all your family,
/Signed: Menachem Schneerson/
P.S. As I mentioned above, due to the painful points raised in this letter, it is written to you privately. You have permission to show or describe it to whomever you feel it would benefit. I will close with the hope that in accordance with the openness of this letter, you will respond in a likewise fashion to all the points raised in it. This is in addition to an answer to my question and others, which I hope you will be able to investigate and answer upon your return to Israel.
1 Sivan, 5765 - June 8, 2005
Prohibition 266: It is forbidden to envy other people's possessions
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 5:18) "You shall not desire your neighbor's house"
We are commanded not to be jealous or envious of other people's belongings. The word "house" includes all that which belongs to another person. The difference between the previous prohibition (265) and this prohibition is that, this mitzva forbids us to be jealous or envious of something that belongs to another person. The previous mitzva forbids us to try to purchase or gain an object that we desire which belongs to another person.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Summer is right around the corner. Many of us are already involved in making plans for the summer. We consider the weather, prices, accommodations, attractions.
But, there should be many other concerns on our list of considerations. If we're away over Shabbat, is there a place we can hook up with that will allow us to celebrate Shabbat in the proper spirit? Will there be kosher food for body and soul?
When we look for a day camp or overnight camp for our children, we must make sure to check into the atmosphere of the camp. A Jewish camp run on authentic Jewish ideals can not only fill our children's hours with healthy activities for their bodies and minds, but for their souls as well. At a Jewish camp, run on Torah ideals, a Jewish child can learn to be proud of and love his heritage in a positive, hands-on environment.
Unencumbered by books and desks and black-boards, Judaism literally comes to life through stories, songs, activities and practical mitzvot.
Vacation time is the perfect time to check out the really important "attractions" in life. Experience a traditional Shabbat, bask in the sunlight of mitzvot, swim in the deep pool of Torah study.
Include Torah and mitzvot at the top of your list of considerations this summer for you and your family.
And G-d spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai...(Num. 1:1)
G-d purposely chose a desert in which to give the Torah. He spoke to the Jews in a place where everyone enjoyed free access, to show us that every Jew has an equal obligation and share in the Torah.
(Bamidbar Rabba and Michilta B'Shalach)
Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses...(Num. 1:2)
In order to know the number of people in each tribe, first they were counted according to their families and then each member of the family was counted. This shows us the importance of the family. The existence of the Jewish people is based on and dependent on the actions of each family.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
And these are the generations of Aaron and Moses...(Num. 3:1)
Previous to this statement, only the sons of Aaron were mentioned. Why, then, were they also considered the generations-children-of Moses? Moses taught Torah to the children of Aaron; whoever teaches Torah to the children of his fellow-man, Scripture credits him as though they were his own children.
Those that pitch [their tents] on the east side are the standard of the camp of Judah...the tribe of Issachar...and the tribe of Zevulun...(Num. 2:3-7)
According to Rabeynu Bechaye, the tribes of Judah, Issachar and Zevulun camped near Moses and Aaron. For this reason, they all became great scholars. This shows us the importance of choosing righteous neighbors.
Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz, known as the Sanzer Rav, was deeply involved in the mitzva of tzedaka (charity), giving with an open hand from his own funds and soliciting from others as well. In keeping with the rabbinical dictum that charity collectors should travel in pairs, he always went on his rounds with a respected member of the community.
One time Rabbi Chaim set about to collect a large amount of tzedaka for a certain wealthy man who had gone bankrupt. He and a trusted companion went about from house to house soliciting funds, when they came to the elegant home of one of the richest men in the city. They entered the beautifully appointed anteroom and were shown to a velvet sofa where they were served tea from a silver tea service while they waited for the master of the house to appear. After a few minutes a well-dressed gentleman entered and greeted the illustrious Rabbi warmly.
The Rabbi and his companion requested that the wealthy man donate the large amount of five hundred rubles for an unspecified "worthy cause."
The rich man considered their request for a few moments and then asked, "Tell me, exactly what is the cause you're collecting for? Is it for some public institution or for a private person?"
Rabbi Chaim replied that he was collecting for a wealthy citizen who had lost all his money and gone into bankruptcy. But this answer wasn't sufficient for the man, and he began to inquire further about the identity of the person.
"I'm sorry," replied Rabbi Chaim, "but I cannot divulge the man's name, since that would cause him terrible embarrassment. You'll just have to trust me when I tell you that he's a very deserving individual."
The rich man refused to be dissuaded from his curious pursuit of the man's identity. "Of course, I trust you implicitly, and I would be only too happy to donate even several thousand rubles to help you, but I would first like to know to whom I'm giving the money."
At this point the man who was accompanying the Rabbi interjected his opinion that perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to divulge the man's identity in this case. Certainly the rich donor wouldn't allow the information to leave the room, and it was a wonderful opportunity to amass the large amount of money to help a fellow Jew rebuild his life.
But Rabbi Chaim would say only that the man had up until recently been one of the pillars of the community and had himself contributed to many worthy causes before his unfortunate business collapse. Again he protested that he couldn't and wouldn't publicize the man's name.
The rich man, far from being silenced, was even more aroused in his curiosity. "If you tell me his name I will give you half of the entire amount you need."
His fellow collector again tried to convince the Rav to tell the man's name, in view of the tremendous sum of money involved, but to no avail.
"You must understand," he replied, "that even though the sum you are offering is more than generous, the honor of this Jew is more important and valuable to me than any amount of money! If you were to give me the total sum that I require, I would still refuse to reveal the identity of the recipient!"
The rich man's countenance changed suddenly and he became very still. He quietly asked Reb Chaim to step into an adjacent room, for he wished to speak with him privately.
Standing alone with the Rabbi, the rich man broke down into bitter sobbing. "Rebbe," he began, "I, too, have lost my entire fortune and am about to enter into bankruptcy. I was too embarrassed to tell this to anyone, but when I saw how scrupulously you guarded the other man's privacy I knew I could trust you. Please forgive me for testing you in such an outrageous manner, but I am a desperate man. I needed to know for sure that under no circumstances would you tell anyone about my terrible situation. I am in debt for such a huge sum, I have no hope at all of repaying it. I'm afraid that I will have no choice but to leave my family and go begging from door to door!"
The Sanzer Rav left the home of the rich man, and needless to say, not a soul ever heard a word of their conversation. Less than a week later he returned to the same man's house with a large sum of money. He had been able to raise enough money to rescue not only the original intended recipient, but this one as well. They were both able to pay off their debts and resume their businesses successfully.
The role of the saintly Sanzer Rav in this affair became known only many years later after he had gone to his eternal reward.
"Behold the days are coming, says G-d, when I shall send a hunger to the land not a hunger for bread, nor a thirst for water, but a thirst to hear the word of G-d" (Amos 8:11) The ultimate search is the thirst for redemption and that is why, in the present generation, the era immediately before the dawning of that great light, there is such a tremendous thirst for spirituality.
(From Highlights, by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger)