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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
We all notice how stores price a lot of items just below a dollar. A bag of chips is ninety-nine cents. A jar of mayonnaise is $2.99. The head of lettuce? 79¢, not an even 80¢. You even see it on large ticket items, like cars - $19,999 - not $20,000. That extra penny or dollar sure makes a difference!
There's a name for this practice. It's called "just under pricing." It's a psychological tactic, or a marketing trick, to make something seem cheaper than it actually is. Gas stations even price gas at a tenth of a cent - $2.199 - as opposed to simply $2.19 or just $2.20 and be done with it.
As silly as the practice seems, it works. Many people believe that the "penny saved" is more than a "penny earned" and they're getting a great deal.
"Just under pricing" might work as a marketing ploy or sales tactic, and we might feel smug about "rounding up," but in some things we need to be very precise, to know the difference between 99 and 100. After all, have you ever heard of an athlete giving a 99% effort?
When it comes to medication, for instance, or the prescription for our glasses - we want the measurement to be exact. 1% may mean our eyes are out of focus, or the dosage is not quite effective.
When it comes to other matters we want "just weights and measures," as well.
And the Torah recognizes the need for precision. Rabbi Gamliel, in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), expresses it most succinctly: "Do not tithe by guesswork." When it comes to giving tzedaka (charity), don't rely on "just under pricing" and round up. This insight may be even more important now, in these hard economic times, when "just under pricing" and "rounding up" may seem so tempting.
In other things, too, we should avoid the "just under pricing" approach. The start or end of Shabbat - a little "just under pricing" could lead to lighting candles after sunset, thus desecrating the very Sabbath that the candles come to honor. A "just under pricing" on a fast-day, like Yom Kippur or Tisha B'Av, could lead to eating before one is permitted to break the fast. Similarly, this approach could allow one to think that it's permissible to buy a food product if the ingredients seem to check out 100% and "just" the kosher symbol is missing.
Even in Torah study, we have to be careful not to "round up," to shorten our study sessions or think that 99 is a 100. Interestingly, the rabbis stated that a donkey (taxi) driver who charges $1 for 10 miles can charge $2 for 11 miles, because it's beyond the usual. So, too, learning something 101 times - once more than the norm - is categorically different than learning it 100.
The same is true a step down. Learning something 99 times (metaphorically speaking) is not "just under" learning it 100; it's a difference in kind, not degree. We can't "round up" our learning.
So let's leave the "just under pricing" to the ads and marketeers. For us, when it comes to Jewish observance and learning, let's be "precise about the price" - knowing 99 is not 100.
The story related in this week's Torah portion, Korach, contains a lesson for each and every Jew.
"And it came to pass, that on the next day Moses came...and behold, the staff of Aaron...had budded...and bloomed blossoms...and yielded almonds." This was one of the signs by which G-d demonstrated that He had chosen Aaron for the priesthood (from whom all priests [kohanim] are descended). But what is the special significance of almonds vis-à-vis the priesthood?
Of all the fruits that exist in the world, almonds are the earliest to mature. The interval between the appearance of blossoms on the tree and the time when the nuts have ripened and are ready to eat is the shortest of any variety of fruit.
The Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism) explained that almonds are symbolic of the kohanim, who bless the Jewish people with the Priestly Blessing. In the same way that the almond is quick in maturing, so too is the blessing of the kohanim fulfilled in a swift manner, and without delay.
It states in the Talmud: "Kohanim are speedy and diligent." Kohanim are likened to almonds, for not only do they fulfill their priestly duties but they do so with speed and alacrity.
When G-d revealed His holy Torah, He told each and every Jewish man and woman: "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests." Every Jew is likened to a kohen, and must therefore derive a lesson from the priestly service:
The Holy One, Blessed Be He, entrusts each and every Jew with a Divine mission in life: to observe Torah and mitzvot in the physical world, and to pass this knowledge on to the next generation, by providing his children with a Torah-true education. How are we to fulfill this assignment? In the same manner as "almonds," i.e., with diligence and alacrity, never missing an opportunity to do an additional mitzva (commandment). A Jew should never put off till later a mitzva he can do right now. Rather, he should run to fulfill his mission in carrying out the Divine will.
Furthermore, when we act with alacrity, G-d promises that the fruits our good deeds produce will be swift in coming. Just like the almond, we will not have to wait a long time to see their results.
Adapted from Volume 4 of Likutei Sichot
Like a Child in Odessa
by Shayna Malka Krenkel
I was born in Odessa, Ukraine, back when it was part of the former Soviet Union. From the very first day I can remember, I always knew that I was a Jew. And I knew that being a Jew meant being different.
In school, practically every day my classmates would gladly remind me about my Jewishness. I cried a lot about being taunted, but the most difficult part was that I couldn't discover any reason why it was so painful and embarrassing to be a Jew. My family had only one answer for all my questions: everybody hates us because we are Jewish.
There was little Jewish observance in our house. My grandparents spoke Yiddish at home. Once a year my grandmother would take me with her to an old synagogue in a different town to buy matza. We would bring the matzos home in big white pillowcases, and I would eat it with chicken soup. When I asked my grandma why we do this ritual she would say: "Ich veis nisht. Don't ask. That's what Jewish people do once a year."
The concept of G-d always felt very private to me and was also quite embarrassing. When I was a child, every night before falling asleep, I used to talk to G-d. But I didn't know if it was okay to believe in G-d.
The first time that I went to a synagogue was when I was 18 years old on Rosh Hashana. It was a very moving experience for me. I saw people kissing the Torah. I was so happy to realize that there are also other Jewish people who believe in G-d. I wasn't embarrassed anymore.
In 1999, my family moved to San Francisco. We had no relatives there, no friends, no money, nor could we speak English. Like most new immigrants, we had to deal with welfare, food stamps, and studying English.
Three months after coming to America, something happened that I will never forget. I was walking on the street. It was afternoon. I suddenly felt an emptiness in my heart, and I had an urgent feeling that I must talk to G-d. I didn't know what to do. I stopped and said, "G-d, I really need to talk to you!" I continued walking for another block and then I saw a big, beautiful synagogue.
I couldn't believe my eyes! I knocked on the door and an older man opened it for me. He looked very surprised. He asked me what I wanted. In my broken English I somehow managed to explain to him that I really needed to speak to G-d.
The man told me that it was too late, the service was already over for the day. I told him that I didn't need any service. I simply needed to talk to G-d. The man agreed to let me in for 10 minutes. The big synagogue was empty. I walked in, sat in front of the Holy Ark and started praying, my own, heartfelt prayers
As I was leaving, a Russian-speaking rabbi met me in the hallway. He asked me a lot of different questions, and invited me for Shabbat. Later I learned that he and his family were Lubavitcher chasidim.
Before I left he gave me a tzedaka (charity) box. I had never seen one before and asked him to explain its significance to me. The rabbi said that it was a special box. "If you put in a penny every day, it can help in many ways. When you put money into it, G-d will hear you as if you prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem," he concluded.
I took this box home and saw its magic within a few days. I was in a car accident that badly damaged my car, though I was unharmed. My car was too old for insurance to cover the repairs. In California it is almost impossible to get around without a car. I was completely devastated; no car, no money. I turned to the tzedaka box, put in some coins and said, "G-d, who will fix my car? I can't be without it!"
Within five minutes a friend called up, and within the next ten minutes he arranged for my car to be fixed for free by his relative. Talk about special! That's how I started my Torah journey, my endless beginning began.
A number of things happened along the way, which made me feel that G-d was listening to me, and telling me that I was on the right path.
Eventually I went to experience my first Shabbat at the home of the Russian rabbi. This time he revealed to me that the Shabbat candles are also special. He explained how they can help with shalom bayit (marital harmony), health and many other areas. And, he emphasized, it only takes two minutes: all you have to do is wave your hands three times, cover your eyes and say a 15 word blessing.
He advertised it so well that I was excitedly counting the days until the following Friday. Right before the actual candle lighting time I suddenly froze!
The blessing has to be said while the eyes are covered and I didn't know the blessing by heart. So here was my dilemma: do I wait until next week and try to learn the blessing by heart or should I light and just read the blessing without covering my eyes?
I hit on a compromise. I told G-d that for the first little while I would peek. So with one eye covered and one eye opened I read the blessing. I felt the "magic" of the candles enter my home. Though I did not become observant overnight, it was the candles that magically brought me closer to G-d, Torah and mitzvot (commandments).
More than a year ago, I moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, with my two beautiful children. I am happy that my children have a chance to grow up Jewish the way I never did. They are not embarrassed to be Jews, as their mother once was long ago.
And now I recognize that I have a very close and pure relationship with G-d just like when I was a child talking to G-d before falling asleep back in Odessa.
From a speech at the International Lubavitch Women's Organization Convention
Two New Mitzva Tanks
Two new Chabad "Mitzva Tanks" (Mobile Chabad Centers) started their work recently in the central part of Israel. The specially equipped mobile homes cover the area from Netanya in the Sharon region to Rechovot and even further south. Regular programs include children's gatherings, classes, and the ever famous "mitzva on the go for people on the run" like tefilin and the distribution of Shabbat candlesticks for women.
The new Chabad Educational Center of Northwest New Jersey was recently dedicated. The Educational Center will house the state of the art Chabad Early Learning Center, David Hoffman Hebrew School, Chabad Hebrew High, JLI, and Mei Menachem Community Mikva.
Freely translated and adapted
25 Sivan, 5717 (1957)
In reply to your letter with the attached pidyon nefesh (entreaty)- which will be read at a propitious time at the holy resting place of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, of blessed memory - in which you write that you are at a total loss as to how you should act with regard to your child:
There is the known, astute advice of our Sages, of blessed memory, that there are three with whom one should conduct himself with a "right hand that draws close - a child ...."
In your current situation, you should seek the advice of a mental health doctor, since oftentimes - and possibly most times - the conduct that you describe in your letter is a result of mental strain and the like. Quite often a doctor can be quite successful in alleviating the matter.
In any event, in light of what you described to me, [it seems that] banishing your son from the house can lead to an even further deterioration of the situation and not be beneficial at all, as can readily be understood.
May G-d will it that you soon be able to convey glad tidings to me with regard to the above.
It is self-evident and patently obvious that the more you and your family increase your observance of Torah and mitzvos (commandments), the more this will increase G-d's blessings in general and the fulfillment of your specific requests in particular.
21 Shevat, 5714 (1954)
You write about the young man [and his mental problems]:
You should seek the advice of medical specialists who focus on this area, for to our great misfortune the events that transpired with this young man have become all too common during the past few years.
Consequently, the doctors in this field already know how to deal with it, what medications to give, and also how one should conduct him or herself with such individuals after they return home.
One of the most important things is that he should not have spare time [with nothing to do], but should be occupied with matters that do not require intense concentration. It would also be beneficial for him to do some physical labor, at least part time.
This individual should also have his bitachon [faith] in G-d strengthened and should endeavor as much as possible to completely cease thinking about his past. ...
12 Adar, 5718 
I received your letter in which you write about the [mental] problem of your daughter, Rivkah.
Judging by your description of her condition, it is somewhat surprising to me that she sees the doctor only once a month. However, I assume that you are in closer contact with him.
As for the question of making the trip to New York with your daughter to see me, I do not think it is advisable at this time, for it is impossible to foresee what effect this round trip might have on your daughter.
However, what I do consider advisable - and it is possible to arrange this without too much difficulty - is that your daughter have a change of environment for a couple of weeks. This would have a beneficial effect on her, inasmuch as she would not be in contact with the people in whose presence she feels so sensitive, etc.
Needless to say, every additional effort on the part of all the members of the family in matters of Torah and mitzvos would bring additional blessings to the whole family and particularly to your daughter, who is most in need of them.
From Healthy in Body, Mind and Spirit, Vol III, compiled by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English
Increase Torah Study and Charity
"We find that the Jews are frequently conceived of in two groups: students of Torah and businessmen who are involved in the performance of good deeds. The divisions between these categories must be nullified. The businessmen must take time from their work to study Torah, and the students of Torah must increase their charitable gifts, giving freely and generously. By breaking down the barriers that divide us, we can foster unity among the Jewish people." (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
We are now in the Hebrew month of Tammuz, which oddly enough, was the name of a Babylonian idol! Why would our Rabbis choose such a seemingly inappropriate name for a month on the Jewish calendar?
The literal translation of the word Tammuz is "heat," which alludes to the intense heat of the sun at this time of year. The Book of Psalms explains that the heat of the sun is used as a metaphor for G-d's power. G-d's strength expresses itself in two ways, creating positive energy and destroying negative forces. By using the name Tammuz, our Sages emphasized the infinite power of the Divine. In the same way the idol Tammuz was destroyed by G-d's wrath, all negativity encountered by G-d will be mocked and ultimately destroyed. G-d is always in control.
Moreover, in Chasidic terminology, the revelation of the Tetragrammaton - the unpronounceable four-letter Name that alludes to G-d as He transcends the natural order - is strongest at this time of year. The name Tammuz thus emphasizes this deeper dimension of G-dliness.
The numerical value of the Hebrew word Tammuz is 453, which is the same as "tagein" meaning "a protection or shield." This refers to G-d's protection of the Jewish people from the dangers posed by our adversaries. G-d protects and nurtures us even during our darkest moments. And when the letters of "tagein" are rearranged, the word "ginat" is formed, meaning "a garden." This image is a metaphor for the love and pleasure G-d derives from the Jewish people. In the same way a gardener stands in loving admiration of the rose's beauty despite the thorns on the rosebush, so too does G-d forgive His people for all their transgressions, for His love for us is constant and unwavering.
Will you assume to make yourself also ruler over us (Num. 16:13)
Because Moses was in the position of Nasi, leader of the entire Jewish people, he had to comport himself in a certain manner so that his words would be accepted. And yet, as the Torah testifies, his innermost nature was extremely humble. This is in contrast to a person who outwardly bows and scrapes the dust to prove his humility, yet inwardly feels arrogant and superior.
(Rabbi Moshe of Kovrin)
The censers of these sinners against their own lives (Num. 16:38)
Even worse than those who encourage conflict are people who drag matters of the spirit into controversy. They falsely clothe their arguments in spiritual terms while claiming to be on the side of holiness and sanctity.
That he fare not as Korach and his company (Num. 17:5)
The Torah mentions not only Korach as an individual but everyone who took part in the rebellion with him. From this we learn that not only those who engage in controversy for personal reasons will eventually be punished but all who foment disagreement, even if there is no personal benefit involved.
And you shall give there of the heave-offering of the L-rd to Aaron the Priest (Num. 18:28)
If, as we read in the Torah, Aaron the Priest passed away in the desert before entering the Land of Israel, how would the Jews be able to fulfill this commandment? Rather, this is an allusion to a time after the Resurrection of the Dead, when Aaron will again be alive and able to receive his due.
King Ahab was an evil, arrogant man with an insatiable desire for pleasure and honor. His close friend, Chiel, was equally evil.
Joshua had cursed anyone who would try to rebuild Jericho, but Chiel set about to do just that. During the rebuilding all of Chiel's sons perished. But still, he persisted.
When Chiel sat mourning for his son, G-d sent Elijah to visit and comfort him. But the prophet objected saying, "How can I go to such a despicable sinner? He will curse Your Name!"
But G-d did not relent. However, G-d told Elijah that if he was to curse Chiel, the curse would be fulfilled.
When Elijah arrived at the house, he found Chiel and Ahab sitting together discussing the passage in Torah which describes Joshua's curse.
In his great arrogance Ahab turned to the prophet and asked, "Who is greater, Moses or Joshua?" Elijah replied, "The master is greater than the student."
This was the answer Ahab expected, and he retorted, "If he was so great, why was his prophecy not fulfilled?
"The Torah says, 'Beware lest your hearts stray and you worship false gods...G-d will close up the heavens and there will be no rain.' And yet, although we all worship idols, not only have I not been punished, but I have been rewarded, for I am victorious in battle, the kingdom is flourishing, and the crops are bountiful. On the other hand, Joshua's curse on the builders of Jericho has been fulfilled. Explain that."
Elijah was enraged by the king's blasphemous words. He cried, "It was only G-d's great mercy that spared you until now, but I decree that from this moment there will be years of drought. Rain will not fall until I decree it!" G-d carried out Elijah's decree and a drought began.
During the reign of King Ahab, Elijah performed a great miracle before the Jewish people on Mount Carmel. The prophet challenged Ahab, "I will prove that G-d is the true G-d. I will build an altar and offer a calf, and your priests of Baal will do exactly the same thing. Only G-d will send down a heavenly fire to consume the sacrifice."
Ahab agreed, but to make sure that it would come out in his favor, Chiel, the king's friend had a plan. He would hide inside a hollow altar, bringing with him burning coals. When the priests called out to Baal, he would ignite the wood on the altar with the burning coals.
All the Jews were summoned to Mount Carmel to witness the great event. Identical calves were brought to the site and the sacrifices were prepared. Elijah addressed the masses: "How long will you waver between the two opinions before choosing whom to serve? If it is G-d, then follow Him and observe the commandments. If you believe in Baal, then worship him!" The shocked populace stood in silence.
Elijah continued, "I stand alone against 250 prophets of Baal to test which sacrifice will be accepted. Upon only one will the Heavenly fire descend, and that will be the proof of the true G-d."
The priests of Baal came first. They sacrificed their calf and shouted to their god. Chiel lay concealed under the altar about to ignite the logs from below. But just at the moment his hand was poised to move the burning coals, a poisonous snake bit him and he died.
The king stood waiting for his friend to carry out his plot, but the wait was in vain. The pagan priests jumped and cried, screamed and danced. But neither their shouts nor their magic succeeded in igniting the offering.
Then Elijah rose and stood by his altar. The sun was already beginning to set, but Elijah wanted the miracle to be visible to everyone. He cried out, "Sun! Sun! You stood still once for Joshua. Now, stand still again so that I may sanctify G-d's name before this huge congregation. Let all the Jews know that only He is the true G-d." The sun stopped its descent.
Elijah built an altar of twelve stones, symbolizing the twelve tribes and dug a trench around the entire edifice. He then commanded his disciple Elisha to fill a pail with water and pour it over his hands. Elijah's fingers became ten spouts of water which continued to flow until the trench was filled with water.
Then Elijah prayed to G-d saying, "In Your great mercy, send down a fire to consume the offering so that the Jewish people will believe in Your greatness and power. Let them know that the prophets of Baal are false prophets of a false god."
Before the eyes of all the people standing on the mountain, fire descended from the heavens. It consumed the sacrifice and licked every drop of water from the trench. The people fell on their faces and exclaimed, "G-d is the true G-d!"
Just then, rain began to fall on the land which had been parched for the past three years, and the punishing drought ended.
When Moshiach arrives, and G-dliness will be seen and felt, by even the most common man; we will yearn for the former days, when we were able to serve the Almighty on the lowest level, of the physical.