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Perhaps it's as straight-forward as not wanting to get hurt. Or maybe there's more to it, like being afraid of making a fool of oneself or, worse yet, failing. For a child, learning to ride a "two-wheeler" bicycle is an opportunity to acquire a new skill and taste independence.
And yet, for many a youngster there is a certain reticence toward this significant childhood experience.
At first the child sits stiffly on the bicycle seat. A "bigger person" pushes the bike along as the child gets a sense of balance. After the child becomes more comfortable and secure, the spotter can let go for a second or two and the child will coast on his own for a couple of feet or yards before losing his balance.
Eventually, after a few scraped elbows and bruised knees - all of which the child takes in stride - the novice bicyclist will glide and then begin to peddle. The look of intensity and seriousness on his face is a sight to behold.
Within days the now veteran bike-rider will be maneuvering turns, confidently making short stops and riding one-handed. Each new stunt elicits shouts of "fantastic!" and exclamations of "wow!" from his fans.
A few weeks later, an utterly confident thoroughly delighted child will be calling out, "Look Ma, no hands!" as he has learned to balance the bike and his body and form them into one unit.
Getting more involved in Jewish living - observance mitzvot (commandments) and Torah study - is sort of like learning to ride a bicycle. For many there is an initial reticence or even wariness. "If I accept the invitation for a Shabbat meal will I end up making a fool of myself by doing something wrong?" "I'll be the only in the synagogue who doesn't know the choreography of prayer." "I know I'm going to sit in the Torah class and not understand anything or ask a question that's so basic that everyone will think I'm an imbecile."
Once we get over the initial cautiousness and actually decide to give it a try, though, we've begun the life-long journey of acquiring a new skill and tasting independence.
Of course, we shouldn't be self-conscious or shy to have a "spotter" help us out as we get a sense of Torah balance. Before long the spotter will be cheering us on, marveling at the new-found insights we share with them or inspired by our enthusiasm.
It's natural that our first encounters with Torah and mitzvot might be approached with the same intensity and determination as that of a child learning to ride a bike. We won't be coasting along effortlessly, taking in the sites, hollering to passersby.
Rather, we'll be focused, which is exactly what people do when learning a new skill or experiencing something for the first time. But before we know it, we'll be easily maneuvering around the holidays, putting on the brakes (and staying balanced) to stop and study Torah, doing a one-handed drop of a coin into a charity box.
Jewish teachings refer to people as "mehalchim" - movers (as opposed to angels which are referred to "omdim" or standing still. The Torah propels us forward, giving us opportunities to coast, peddle, shift gears or brake before continuing on our journey once more.
Enjoy the ride!
This week's Torah reading, Eikev, contains the verses: "What does G-d, your L-rd, ask of you? Only to fear G-d... to walk in His ways and to love Him." Our Sages interpret the quote non-literally, noting that the Hebrew word "Mah" translated as "What" resembles the word "Meah" meaning 100. In this vein, the verse means that G-d desires "100" - 100 blessings. This is the source for the injunction for each person to recite 100 blessings every day.
On the surface, the simple meaning of the verses and our Sages' rendering of it are worlds apart. The verse is telling us to have an active emotional relationship with G-d - to love Him and fear Him, and seek to emulate His ways - while our Sages are speaking of a ritual obligation to recite blessings and to make sure that we recite 100 blessings each day.
When looking deeper, however, we can appreciate that with their interpretation, our Sages are not nullifying the verses' simple meaning. What they are doing is providing a vehicle for us to internalize and apply the charge communicated by the verse in our daily lives.
To fear and love G-d and follow His paths are noble virtues. How can a person make these virtues actual factors in his life and not merely ideals to which he is striving? By reciting 100 blessings a day.
To explain: Our Sages state, "It is forbidden to benefit from this world without reciting a blessing." And Maimonides writes: "Our Sages instituted many blessings as expressions of praise and thanks to G-d, and as a means of petition, so that we will always remember the Creator... and fear Him."
When a person recites a blessing before eating, he makes - or at least has the opportunity to make - a fundamental acknowledgement of G-d's presence in his life. Ordinarily, a person eats without thinking of how the food got here or why it got here. It's a very simple, almost animalistic deed. We eat because we're hungry without thinking of anything more.
Our Sages tell us to act differently, to take a moment off before eating to think and contemplate the inner spiritual dynamic that takes place when we eat. To quote (also from this week's Torah reading): "Man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that emerges from the mouth of G-d." The verse is explaining that the food a person eats exists because G-d invested His energy in it through the medium of speech. Just as at the beginning of creation, G-d spoke and created the world; so, too, at every moment He is bringing the world into existence through His speech.
When a person eats, he is not deriving his vitality from the physical matter of the food alone, but from the G-dly life spark His speech invested in the food. By reciting a blessing over his food, praising G-d "that everything was created with His speech," he is taking note of that process.
Similarly, when a person sees a lightning bolt or hears thunder, he recites a blessing, clarifying that what appears part of the natural order is really an expression of G-dliness. When he relieves himself, he recites a blessing, acknowledging the infinite wisdom that went into the creation of the human body. And in his prayers, when he petitions G-d for his livelihood, he is acknowledging that his success is not a result on his own endeavors alone, but depends on G-d's blessings. In a similar way, all the blessings we recite are intended to make the awareness of G-d part of our operative consciousness and in this way spur our love and fear of Him.
From Keep in Touch, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi E. Touger, published by S.I.E.
Clean Up Your Office!
by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
One of our students in the Ohr Tmimim Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad, Israel, whom we will call Mr. Schwartz, is well above the maximum age of our pupils, but he is one of the students in the Ohr Tmimim Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad, Israel. A lawyer by training and a restaurant-owner by profession, since Torah study sharpens the mind, he finds the studies informative and challenging.
Mr. Schwartz shared with me what he concluded was a big miracle that he experienced a little over a decade ago. Three of his children, two sons and one daughter, were engaged to be married and not only did he have no money for the weddings, he didn't even have sufficient funds to fly to the weddings!
Things looked really bad and he was worried. His business was having a bad year; he already owed money and had mortgaged his home so getting a loan was almost out of the question. Where would the money come from? "What am I going to do? How can I pay for these weddings?" He asked himself out loud.
But his wife wasn't worried. She kept telling him, "Don't just stand there, complaining and doing nothing... pray!"
So Mr. Schwartz prayed, and prayed and even said Psalms at every free moment. But the deadline approached and his debts and worries just increased.
Finally, in desperation, his wife suggested that instead of wandering around the house worrying in his free time, he should DO something positive... like... clean up his home office.
Cleaning up his office - that was no simple job. The room had not been really put into order for many years and had absolutely nothing to do with solving his debts. He wanted to concentrate on his problem! But to make his wife happy he did it. It was tedious work; there was a lot of dust and tons of useless papers that had to be thrown out. After working for a few hours with no apparent progress he was just about to give up when he noticed a neat bundle of official looking papers.
Mr. Schwartz took a closer look and realized they were one hundred shares of Northern Natural Gas stocks that he had purchased in 1976 for $7.00 per share!
Mr. Schwartz tried to remember when and why he had bought them but couldn't. The main thing was.... Were they worth anything? He sat in front of his computer, typed in the name and found ..... nothing! There was no such company! He tried all sorts of combinations of names and spellings but... after all, 24 years is a long time!
But Mr. Schwartz didn't throw them away. He had nothing to lose so the next day he took them to a stock brokerage down the street from his restaurant and asked them if it was possible to check if they were worth anything.
"Just one minute" the broker said, "I'll have a look here" and he began searching the web as only a stock broker can. But he too came up with nothing.
So Mr. Schwartz left the stocks at the brokerage at the request of the broker who promised he would make a more thorough search when he had free time.
Two days later, after Mr. Schwartz had already forgotten the entire affair and was back to worrying full-time about the upcoming weddings, he got a telephone call. It was the broker.
"Mr. Schwartz? I have some news for you. Twenty years ago Northern Natural Gas was bought out by another company who, two years after that, merged with yet another company. Then that third company merged with someone else and a few years later it was bought out by a company called Enron Corporation which is a multi-billion dollar concern. So, to get to the point, today you own 600 shares of Enron at 80 dollars a share."
Mr. Schwartz managed to say four words... "It's a miracle. Sell!"
Three days later he had $48,000 more in his bank account: certainly enough to fly his family to, and even pay a large portion of, all three weddings.
His wife, although very happy and grateful to the Alm-ghty, was not really surprised at all. "I told you to just pray and clean up your office! See, the same G-d who made the matches for our children gave us the money to pay for the weddings!"
But the story isn't over.
A month later Mr. Schwartz saw the headlines in the newspaper: "Enron Management Indicted for FRAUD!" The stock had dropped from $80.00 per share to 40 cents per share.
Mr. Schwartz read and re-read the article to see if it was really the same company and if the stocks really dropped so drastically ..... it was and they did. No doubt about it.... It was a double miracle; G-d blessed AND protected him!
But it REALLY hit home when, three months later he got a call from the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission! It is a crime to have inside information on the stock exchange and to use that information to manipulate the market. And that is exactly what it seemed clear to the FSEC that Mr. Schwartz had done!
If he didn't have some sort of inside tip how could he possibly have known to sell those shares at their highest price, just days before they pummeled to almost nothing?!
They informed him that if he didn't give a satisfactory explanation they would have to subpoena him to court.
So he explained the entire thing; about the upcoming weddings and the stocks he found. He sent them copies of the transaction and of the original stocks along with invitations to the three weddings and hoped for the best.
A week later the investigator called Mr. Schwartz. He had received all of the evidence and admitted that if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes he would never have believed it. "The Good L-rd really kept an eye out for you didn't He?" were his concluding words.
Chabad of Tribeca/Soho in New York City, New York, is moving to a new location with classrooms to house the preschool and Hebrew school, offices, lobby/cafe and a large multi-purpose space. Construction has begun on the Chabad Federman Jewish Center of Hillsboro, Oregon, home to Intel. The facility will include a library, study hall, kitchen, dining area, Hebrew school and 1,800-sq-ft synagogue.
Police Station Synagogue
Six Torah scrolls were stolen from the Tzemach Tzedek synagogue in Tzfat sparking a nation-wide search. When police recovered the scrolls they requested that one be loaned to the local police station so they could establish a synagogue.
Erev Purim, 5729 (1969)
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleasantly surprised to note in your editorial column in the issue of February 28th excerpts of letters from your son, as well as the spirit of your commentaries in this connection. Inasmuch as there is no end to the good, I trust that there will be continuity in this direction and that, moreover, the good influence of your son will create a chain reaction infecting and affecting all the members of your family.
I am reminded of the well known verse (end of Malachi): "And he [Elijah] will turn the heart of parents to the children," which, according to Rashi, means "through the children - he will induce the children, with love and good will, to go and speak to their parents to follow in the ways of G-d." And although I trust that in any case the parents are following the way of G-d, there is, as mentioned above, no end to the good, and always room for improvement in all matters of goodness and holiness, which are infinite, since they derive from the Infinite.
You and your wife are particularly privileged in that each of you has a substantial circle of readers, a considerable number of whom undoubtedly are influenced by your writings. Clearly, Divine Providence has bestowed upon you also a special responsibility. There is surely no need to elaborate on this to you....
P.S. In accordance with Jewish custom to offer a comment on a printed word, I will take the liberty to do so also in reference to the above-mentioned editorial, all the more so to avoid a misunderstanding that I fully agree with all that was said there. I trust you will not take amiss my remarks.
I wish to take issue with you in the matter of your youngest daughter who, as you write, is eleven years old, and resisted starting Hebrew school, but you "did not force the issue." You can well imagine my reaction to this. For surely, if your eleven-year-old daughter would have resisted going to school altogether, you would have found it necessary to "force" the issue - if the term "force" can be applied here. Certainly, insofar as a Jewish child is concerned, her Hebrew education is at least as important to her as a general education.
This has been generally recognized throughout the ages, but it should be particularly recognized in our own day and age. For we have seen many of the greatest and saintliest of our people exterminated by a vicious enemy. Consequently, all of us who have been fortunate enough to survive must make up for this tremendous loss. On the other hand, the forces of complete assimilation have grown much stronger in the free and democratic countries. Worse still, in recent years assimilation has found expression not only with another people, but very often with such groups which have discarded all pretenses to morality and ethics, etc. etc.
You may consider my reference to your daughter's attitude, and to your attitude in this connection, no longer relevant, since you write that she has agreed to begin Hebrew school, though you immediately point out (with apparent satisfaction) that the method of instruction is "habet ushma" [comprehension] - a system which obviously does not aim to lead to "vaaseh" [and doing]. Surely there is no need to emphasize to you the fact that when the Torah was given to our people, naaseh [we will do] was not only a condition of acceptance of the Torah, but a prior condition - "naaseh" before "v'nishmah" [we will understand].
Our Sages of blessed memory pointed out that Jewish identity and the very basis of Jewish existence, for the individual as well as for the people as a whole, lies in this great principle of naaseh before v'nishmah. Certainly this is the way to train and educate a Jewish child.
continued in next issue
Abraham ben Abraham, was the scion of one of the wealthiest families in Poland. Born Count Valentin Potocki, he was an intelligent young man, his search for truth led him to Judaism. Eventually, he abandoned his high aristocratic position, and became a Jew. He settled down near Vilna. He was betrayed to the Polish authorities and was arrested for the crime of having converted to Judaism. The greatest of the Polish aristocracy begged him to renounce his faith and save his life, but he refused, choosing to die (in 1749), as a martyr, with G-d's name on his lips. His grave was a place of pilgrimage for many years.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This Shabbat we bless the month of Elul, the final month of the year before Rosh Hashana. One of the most fundamental principles in Judaism is that a person can always change for the good. Regardless of one's past actions, the only requirements are remorse for misdeeds, the resolve not to repeat them, and a sincere desire to draw closer to G-d. This process of returning to one's true, inner nature (which is essentially good in the Jew) is known as teshuva, to which the entire month of Elul is dedicated.
Unfortunately, the concept of teshuva is sometimes misconstrued. "Becoming a baal teshuva" is not just for Jews who were never exposed to Torah and never had a chance to learn the basics. The greatest rabbis and scholars are also obligated to "do teshuva," for when it comes to levels of holiness and purity, there is no end to up. Only G-d can assess what is in a person's heart, ignoring the externals. On the contrary, a person who was raised in a religious home is better equipped to "do teshuva," armed with the benefit of a Jewish education to guide him.
The story is told of a teacher in a "baal teshuva" yeshiva who, in the course of an audience with a certain Chasidic Rebbe in Israel, described how wonderful his school was. In the midst of the conversation, he felt a sudden need to clarify that he himself "was not a baal teshuva."
"And why aren't you a baal teshuva?" the Rebbe gently chided him.
"Doing teshuva" is not a one-shot deal. A Jew doesn't become a "baal teshuva" by beginning to perform mitzvot and assuming that he's made it. The initial turning toward G-d may be revolutionary, but teshuva is an ongoing process.
Every day we are faced with choices; every day is a new opportunity to elevate and refine ourselves.
And the coming month of Elul is a particularly good time to renew our resolve...
Blessed shall you be above all the nations; there shall not be a barren male or female among you (Deut. 7:14)
The Torah considers the Jewish soul the most precious commodity in the world. The proliferation of the Jewish people, therefore, is the highest blessing that can be bestowed upon them.
(Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch)
And the L-rd will take away from you all sickness, and all the evil diseases of Egypt (Deut. 7:15)
"Sickness" is an illness which causes the sufferer to lie in bed, not because of pain or discomfort in any particular organ, but because it has spread throughout the body; "evil disease" alludes to an ache in a particular limb, while the rest of the body remains unaffected.
As a man chastens his son, so does the L-rd your G-d chasten you (Deut. 8:5)
A father's heart is heavy when he is forced to strike his son. Similarly, G-d suffers with us when punishment is meted out.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)
A land whose stones are iron (Deut: 8:9)
Rabbi Abba said: A Torah scholar who is not as tough as iron is no Torah scholar, as it states, "whose stones are iron." Do not read "avaneha" (stones), but "boneha" (her builders). This Talmudic homily teaches us an important lesson in how to protect the land of Israel: Although it is certainly necessary to possess "iron" weapons in the literal sense - an army and ammunition to deter our enemies - we must always remember that the true "iron" and strength of the Jewish people is their Torah learning and observance of mitzvot (commandments).
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
There was once a person who lived in the vicinity of the Baal Shem Tov. Because of his all-consuming pride, he decided to become an acetic, and in that way, attract to himself a following of as many admirers as the Baal Shem Tov had. To that end he wore only white garments, fasted interminably, and tortured his body by rolling around in the ice and snow. Imagine his disappointment when, in spite of all his attempts, he in fact attracted no following at all.
He decided to visit the court of the Baal Shem Tov to see where it was that he had failed. What did the Baal Shem Tov have that he lacked that caused thousands to flock to him? He made his presence known to all the Chasidim and tried to gain their friendship. But they easily saw beneath his pious exterior and rebuffed all his advances.
Before he took his leave of the Baal Shem Tov, the man managed to gain entrance to the presence of the tzadik.
The Baal Shem Tov took the man by the shoulder and said to him, "Come outside with me for a minute. Do you see that horse over there tied to the post? His garments - white; his food - hay; his bed - straw; and in winter, he, too, rolls in the snow. But in spite of all of this, he is still a horse."
A simple Chasid once approached the tzadik Reb Bunim of Pshischa. "It is written in our holy books that if one fasts a certain number of days, one will have a revelation of Elijah the Prophet.
Now I have fasted many, many days - exactly what is prescribed in the texts - and still I haven't had the revelation. What have I done wrong?"
Reb Bunim said to the Chasid, "I will explain it to you by means of a parable I heard in the name of the Baal Shem Tov:
"It is known that when the Baal Shem Tov travelled in his coach he covered extraordinary amounts of territory in an impossibly short period of time. But, you see, he used the coach only for the sake of appearing to operate in a normal fashion. The reality was that he travelled by miraculous means - kefitzat haderech - supernaturally contracting of distance. One time he was on a journey, and, as usual, he was covering enormous spaces in no time at all. The two horses who were flying before the coach began to think. Said one horse to the other, 'Look here, we are passing by all the usual rest-stops without ever stopping. When do you suppose they will feed us?'
"The other agreed. 'You're right. All along the road, I see carriages stopped off to the side where the horses are treated to some water or oats. Only we have to continue racing on non-stop like lightning. I wonder when we will finally be able to stop?'
"Then the first exclaimed, 'I think I've figured out the answer! Maybe we're not horses after all! Maybe we're actually human beings, and that's why we don't stop very often, for people can go longer periods without eating and drinking.'
" 'I have to congratulate you on your conclusion! I bet you're right. Let's wait and see what happens when we reach the next inn. If we come to a place where people stop to rest and eat, and we're given some supper, then we'll know.'
"So the horses continued their unnatural pace, which they accomplished with little effort or exertion. They passed inns, hotels and taverns, but they did not stop. The first horse again spoke to his companion: 'Well, we haven't stopped anywhere on the way to rest or partake of a bite to eat. I suppose we aren't human beings after all. Maybe we're angels in disguise.'
" 'You know, I think you must be right! We must be angels, because angels don't need to rest or to eat. I'm so happy that you have figured that out!' And the two horses dashed on with renewed strength.
"They continued until their master, the Baal Shem Tov, ordered them to halt. They had stopped in front of an inn where they were immediately taken to the stable and given an ample amount of hay. When the two horses saw the delicious-looking hay, they began eating as if they were starved."
Reb Bunim concluded his parable:
"This story refers to one who sits and fasts even if he continues his fasting for weeks on end. It may be that he will even convince himself that he is an angel. But how does that person end his fast? If, he pounces on his food like a horse, then he has remained the same horse as he had been before."
Moshiach will rebuke the meek for not standing up for truth and influencing his neighbor. When a person adopts an attitude of humility and argues, "Who am I to arouse my fellow? What kind of a spokesman am I?" - this is a most destructive humility. It is on account of this that the meek are worthy of being sternly rebuked. Daily experience teaches us that when someone seeks to arouse his fellow in a positive direction, conversations have an effect. Moshiach will teach everyone to stand strong for truth and to speak openly and with conviction.
(Likkutei Dibburim, Simchat Torah 5690, ch. 18, sec. 48)