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The Golden Standard of Jewish Education

The Golden Standard of Jewish Education

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The Kohen and Jewish Dermatology

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This week’s double Parsha of Tazria–Metzora deals with the various laws of ritual purity and impurity. A most prominent cause for ritual impurity was a mysterious skin condition that could manifest itself on a person’s body in various ways. There is no accurate English translation to the condition so I will refer to it by its biblical name Tzaraat.

The unfortunate individual diagnosed with tzaraat was subject to the highest level of ritual impurity, banished from the community until the condition healed and underwent a lengthy process of purification. A miraculous skin disorder that served to correct certain spiritual illnesses and applied only when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, we can learn relevant lessons in our daily lives from the laws of tzaraat.

To properly diagnose this disorder as tzaraat, one needed to be proficient in all of its complex and detailed laws. Yet even after the sage determined that this fellow suffered from this malady, only a Kohen – a member of the priestly family of Aharon – had the authority to pronounce the condition as tzaraat and the leper as a Metzorah. The ritual impurity of tzaraat only took effect after the Kohen’s pronouncement.

Why?

The ritual impurity of the Metzorah was so severe that he or she was quarantined from the community until the condition healed. Such a harsh reality cannot be implemented based on cold logic alone. Only a Kohen, a blood descendant of Aharon the High Priest, the paragon of selfless love for every Jew, can make such a pronouncement. Only one who truly loves his fellow Jew can identify the evil in another and begin the process of healing.

So when you notice someone that needs correction, first identify where your perspective is coming from. Are you genuinely concerned for the welfare of another? Do you have their best interest in mind? Are you approaching this with a “holier than thou” attitude? Once you have answered these questions, you are empowered and obligated to change someone’s life for the better.

 

Show Your Jewish Fins and Scales

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There is a common misconception that Torah is either a legal text detailing the specifics of Jewish law or a record of Jewish history. In reality, Torah is a guide, providing pertinent lessons in every area of life. An interesting detail in the laws of kosher provides a powerful illustration of this dynamic.

In this week’s parsha Shemini, the Torah provides two signs for kosher fish, fins and scales. The Talmud states that a fish with scales most definitely has fins but a fish with fins does not necessarily have scales. If so, why was it necessary to mention fins altogether? If you see scales on the fish, its status is clear! Even more perplexing is the fact that the Torah mentions fins before scales.

Scales serve as a protective layer from negative aquatic elements and the fins allow the fish to navigate the currents.

A Jew is provided with two crucial tools in life, Torah and Mitzvot. Torah for the Jew is like fins for a fish. More than just a moral compass, Torah study provides a Jew the moral strength to swim against the influential currents of our world and to navigate the often turbulent seas of life. But Torah study without mitzvah observance is like a fish with fins and no scales. It is not the Jewish way.

Mitzvot for the Jew are like scales for a fish, creating a spiritual protective shield so that the Jew is not adversely affected from the world he is compelled to engage. And to properly observe mitzvot, a bare minimum of Torah knowledge is required. Therefore fins are listed first of the kosher fish signs.

Let us proudly display our “kosher” signs by increasing our Torah study and committing to greater Mitzvah observance. There is no time better than now.

Let's Talk About Moshiach

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A Jewish farmer returned home from synagogue and excitedly shared with his wife the content of the Rabbi’s speech. “Moshiach is coming imminently and he will take us all to Israel! Can you imagine? No more problems from the anti-semitic landowner or pogroms from the Cossacks!”

“How can we move to Israel now?” his wife cried. “We just finished renovating the barn and who will look after the animals?”

The farmer’s excitement quickly dissipated and a heavy silence descended upon them. “Not to worry,” said the woman with a smile. “G-d saved us from the Cossacks, He will surely save us from Moshiach as well.”

It is one of the fundamental elements of Jewish belief and yet Moshiach remains a frightening mystery to so many. There is real concern that this enigmatic messianic phenomenon will fundamentally alter their lives against their will. Do we really want that?

What type of world do we truly wish to live in? What type of future do we want for our children and grandchildren? The universal yearning of humanity is for a globe cleansed of war, famine, disease and hatred. Much is being done to achieve this goal, but everyone agrees that there is currently no philosophy or framework that can deliver this lofty goal for the benefit of all humanity.

On the final day of Pesach (Acharon Shel Pesach) we read a section of Isaiah that discusses the era of Moshiach. After describing the persona of the redeemer, the prophet describes the utopic era as a time when “the wolf will dwell with the lamb” and there will be no evil in the world.

How will this be possible? “For the earth will be filled with knowledge of the L-rd, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9). The main role of Moshiach is to serve as the ultimate teacher for all of humanity. Nations will not be coerced to lay down their arms and people will not be forced to treat each other with respect. Moshiach will reveal the truth of reality to all and peace will be the automatic result. If anyone resists these changes, you will know that Moshiach has not yet arrived.

The message of Moshaich is so relevant on Pesach because the exodus from Egypt was merely the beginning of the long road to the ultimate redemption. The Seder commemorates the accomplishments of the past and the final moments of Pesach are a time for us to focus on reaching the finish line.

The Baal Shem Tov would mark the closing moments of Pesach with a festive dinner in tribute to Moshiach. Rather than simply learning, praying and yearning for His arrival, Moshiach should also be a culinary experience – similar to how the Seder brings the message of freedom to all our senses.

I invite you to join us on Tuesday, April 18, 7:00pm at Chabad for Seudat Moshiach – the dinner in tribute to Moshiach. Discover the real facts behind this fundamental Jewish topic and enjoy some final bites of Shmurah Matzah and other Passover delicacies. If you cannot join us, I encourage you to eat some matzah and toast lechaim on four glasses of wine in anticipation for a better world to come.

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Leaping Into Change

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The name Pesach rarely evokes images of obstacle racers leaping over obstacles barreling to the finish line. The taste of Matzah, memories of long Seder nights and Afikoman gifts are the traditional Pesach fare.

The nuanced meaning of Pesach has been lost in the English translation of “Passover.” The most accurate way to translate “Pesach” in the context of the Exodus is to “Leap Over.

As G-d prepared the Israelites for the imminent redemption from the two-century-old Egyptian slavery, He instructed them to sacrifice, roast and eat a lamb as a “Pesach Sacrifice” on the eve of the 15th on Nissan. They should put the sacrificial blood on their doorposts so that at midnight, G-d will strike the first-born Egyptians and skip the Jewish homes. The relevant verse (Exodus, 12:23) reads “Pasach Hashem Al Hapetach.”

The name links the sacrifice to the miracle, because in Biblical Hebrew, the word “Pesach” means to leap.

The famous 12th century commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki) explains: The sacrifice is called “Pesach” because of the skipping and the jumping over, which the Holy One, blessed be He, skipped over the Israelites’ homes that were between the Egyptians homes. He jumped from one Egyptian to another Egyptian, and the Israelite in between was saved. Likewise, you should perform the service in the manner of skipping and jumping, in commemoration of its name: Pesach.

How does “skipping and jumping” adequately describe the manner in which the Israelites prepared the Pascal Lamb?

Jumping is not a routine method of reaching a destination. When confronted with an obstruction we need to disregard the obstacle and elevate ourselves above it. For the Israelites to comply with the instructions to prepare the sacrifice and to be ready to leave Egypt, they needed to break their routine.

Ancient Egypt was the superpower of the world. The leading civilization in technology, philosophy and the arts. Yet it was also a morally corrupt and pagan nation. The vast majority of Jacob’s descendants dwelled in this cultural swamp of idolatry and immorality for over two centuries. Though they we distinguishable by their names, language and unique mode of dress, they had assimilated to Egyptian behavior and beliefs. To the point that four fifths of the Jewish population were uninterested in leaving Egypt, and perished before the Exodus.

Being worthy of redemption called for radical moves, such as slaughtering a sheep, which was the Egyptian deity they had worshipped just a few days prior and following Moses into the vast wilderness with insufficient food supplies or housing options. In doing so, they leaped out of the Egyptian outlook to a divine and holy reality. Only fifty days later, they enthusiastically accepted the Torah and Mitzvoth in all of its lofty moral obligations.

The Exodus of Pesach serves as a prototype for all subsequent redemptions. To break bad habits, mend broken relationships and to grow in religious commitment we must be ready to jump. Stubbornly following routine will produce predictable results. Breaking free from perceived limitations produces miracles.

Education and Sharing Day, El Paso

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Mayor Oscar Leeser has proclaimed today, April 7, 2017, to be Education and Sharing Day in El Paso. This follows an American tradition of proclaiming the Rebbe’s birthday, 11 Nissan, as a day of reflection and commitment to the values of education and good deeds in the United States. Every US President since 1978 has made this annual proclamation for Education and Sharing Day, USA.

This is a tribute to the Rebbe's life long efforts and advocacy for the betterment of education for American youth. The Rebbe emphasized that education should not be limited to the acquisition of wisdom and pursuit of a career, but rather, the education system must focus primarily on building good character and ethics.

Why is it that the Rebbe’s life and vision is summed up by the virtue of education? His contributions to Jewish life were vast, larger than life. So, why the emphasis on education?

On Monday evening we will all sit down by the Seder table to celebrate Pesach - the Festival of Freedom. The Seder was designed with the intention of quipping the child’s curiosity, bringing about the realization that this night is different from all other nights. After the child unabashedly expresses puzzlement with the goings on by asking the Ma Nishtana, the parent is obligated to respond by explaining the dynamics of that historic event in our history.

Even if there are no children at the table – the genre of the story remains the same: Educational. Geared to engage the innocence of youth and a sensory experience throughout. At the Seder we are all teachers and students.

The message of education pulses through the theme of the entire festival. The freedom granted to us over three millennia ago was the opportunity to educate. I am not referring to literacy and mathematics, of which the Jews had a thriving educational system during the two centuries of Egyptian slavery.

However, it was an education devoid of meaning and purpose, steeped in the local cultural swamp of idolatry and the promotion of self.

The Exodus was not merely a correction  of a terrible wrong, rather an urgent call to allow a nation to realize their full potential. The opportunity to transcend the self and connect with the divine. We were not granted a vacation from harsh labor, rather we were empowered to accomplish a loftier mission.

In our generation the Rebbe emphasized that we are all teachers. To bring the awareness of G-d to every corner of the globe and to empower all of humanity to achieve their full potential in bringing more goodness and kindness to our world.

Please join me in observing Education and Sharing Day by reflecting on the fact that educating others is not only for professional teachers. The Rebbe often quoted the Chassidic saying, “If you know Aleph, teach Aleph!”  Today, reach deep inside and find the “Aleph” that will be meaningful to someone else.

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Not One Size Fits All

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The sage advice going around nowadays is to minimize conversations about these three topics: politics, sports and religion. You are bound to disagree and you will need a spreadsheet to keep track of your counterpart’s nuanced position.

This week’s parsha illustrates a powerful lesson of the value of nuanced diversity.

The third book of the Torah, Vayikra, communicates the intricate details pertaining mostly to the Temple service. The opening sections discuss the laws of voluntary sacrifices at length. A sacrifice of livestock is called a Korban and a grain offering is called a Mincha. Sacrificial gifts to G-d could consist of 1000 fattened bulls, or merely several pounds of flour.

While the options are open to all, there is a clear expectation that a Jew of means would be sure to offer a sacrifice to G-d befitting his financial capabilities. After all, G-d sees the books!

Upon introducing the Mincha (grain/flour) offering the Torah prefaces (Leviticus 2:1): When a nefesh - a soul - will offer a Mincha (meal offering)… Rashi comments on this uncharacteristic expression: A voluntary Mincha offering was the sacrifice of the pauper. Even though it seems meager in comparison to the fattened bulls of the oligarch, G-d considers the offering of a few pounds of flour as if the pauper has offered his entire life.

We are all granted different gifts in life and no two people are the same. Although the teachings of the Torah and the 613 Mitzvoth are uniformly the heritage and obligation of every Jew, implementation will depend on many variables.

For example, in all matters of charity the Torah never determines a set amount for all to give. Either we are obligated to give a certain percentage of our earnings, or in some cases, the exact amount is up to the discretion of the individual. Often, the overarching rule is (Deuteronomy 16:17): Each according to his ability to give, according to the blessing that G-d has bestowed upon you.

Quantity in context is the determining factor of quality. An $18 donation can be a sacrifice for one and spare pocket change for another. Five minutes of Torah study each day can be a spiritual leap for one and neglect of academic prowess for another.

Be sure to give G-d your very best!

When You Are Not in the Mood

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What to do when we are not in the mood? Those times when nothing is exciting and motivation is at an all-time low. Even in the best of physical health, it can be tough to get out of bed in the morning or to have the discipline to pay the bills on time. Yet, even on those monotonous and boring days, we do what needs to be done anyway.

This week we conclude the second book of the Torah by reading the joint parshas of Vayakhel and Pekudei. The content of both portions describe the manner in which the Israelites prepared the  Mishkan (Tabernacle) that they were instructed to build as a dwelling place for the Divine Presence within their camp.

The final verses of the entire book describe the pivotal moment, after all was in place, when the divine presence descended upon the Mishkan. During the day it was seen in the image of a cloud and at night it was seen a glowing fire. Mission accomplished! Human beings had succeeded in inviting G-d to dwell in their midst!

This major endeavor was the beginning of a series of magnificent buildings that would serve as conduits to reveal the unbreakable bond between G-d and the Jewish people. The spiritual properties of the subsequent Holy Temples in Jerusalem, including the Third Holy Temple that will be built by Moshiach, are all sourced in the Mishkan built in the Sinai Desert.

Yes, the spiritual energy that pulsed in the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem, the capital city of the Holy Land flowing with milk and honey – initially entered this world in the parched and desolate wilderness of Sinai. A place devoid of life and beauty, unsuitable for human habitation and filled with ferocious snakes and scorpions. In this space of seeming nothingness, divinity was permanently revealed for the first time.

So the next time you find yourself in a spiritual desert – lacking the motivation and inspiration to learn some Torah, do a specific Mitzvah or to give charity, know that your greatest opportunity is now. When you do what is right even when you are not in the mood, you are inviting G-d into your life in a most meaningful and permanent way. Even a lackluster mitzvah can accomplish magnificent things!

I Forgot!

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Forgetfulness is the universal age-old excuse for anything and everything in life. Since memory is limited, forgetfulness has its advantages.

We can forget the bad, irrelevant and the petty things and remember the good, relevant and important things. It allows us to forget bad habits and to learn new ones. To forget past grievances and mend relationships. It motivates fresh beginnings and repeated good behavior.

Most importantly, forgetting is the beginning of forgiveness.

In this week’s parsha we learn of the first pardon the Jewish people received from G-d for the grave sin of the Golden Calf. Only forty days after experiencing the most intense divine revelation to man, they forgot their obligations and served an idol. G-d’s wrath was aroused and only due to Moses’ sacrifice and heroic prayer were they spared certain annihilation.

G-d revealed to Moses how to pray for forgiveness and promised that these prayers will cause Him to “forget” the iniquities of His people and forgive them.

This seems counterintuitive. If the human is guilty of sin, why should G-d forget? How is transgression of the Divine Will forgivable?

If you think about it, sin is the most counterintuitive idea imaginable. G-d is constantly recreating you from nothingness, providing you with life, health, sustenance, housing and happiness – and you violated His laws?! Is it possible to so shamefully disregard the king’s wishes in his presence?

Parents are rightfully aggravated and hurt when their children blatantly disregard or disrespect them. After everything they do for them, it is inconceivable they should reciprocate so negatively.

It is possible to sin when we forget that we are in G-d’s presence. Routine takes its toll and we start to take our many blessings for granted. As long as we forget G-d – He remembers the sin. Once we remember G-d and express remorse for our improper behavior – He gladly forgets the sin and graciously pardons.

Children do not mean to hurt their parents. Showered constantly with love, affection and care (which is a great thing) allows them to take this for granted. After a gentle reminder, we are happy to forget their negative behavior as well.

The key to our relationship with G-d is the knowledge that as humans, we are chronically forgetful of the source of our success and happiness. Once we remember the truth, G-d is grateful to forget the past and look forward to a positive and productive future.

May we merit the realization of the ultimate redemption, when forgetfulness will cease, ushering in a world of peace and tranquility, through our righteous Moshiach!

The Message of Wine

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Festivals are an integral element of Jewish tradition. Can you distinguish between holidays included in the Torah and those that were introduced by the sages at a later time?

Interestingly enough, the popularity of a holiday is not an indicator at all. Chanukah is an all-time favorite, and it was established over 1,000 years after Sinai. Shavuot is virtually unknown and it is part of the major three biblical holidays.

Purim is also a fairly new holiday in Judaism. During the Babylonian exile following the destruction of the first Holy Temple, the Jews finally started to grow accustomed to their new reality. They were accepted by the broader society and enjoyed much prestige in the royal Persian court. Kosher food was prepared at the royal banquet in their honor and a Jewish woman was the queen of the world. Their beloved leader, Mordechai, was a trusted aide and advisor to the king himself.

The times were good and the people relaxed in their anticipation for a return to the Holy Land and a new Holy Temple.

Then came Haman, the diabolical Amalekite with the wherewithal to take care of the Jewish Problem. He deceitfully manipulated the mind of the foolish king Achashveirosh (who was no Jew lover himself) to issue a genocidal decree against the Jews.

The Jewish response was swift and decisive. Under the influence of Mordechai they joined together in repentance and prayer, re-accepting upon themselves an uncompromising commitment to a life of Torah and Mitzvos. The outcome was an epic reversal and turnover of political fortunes: Haman was executed and we are here today to celebrate the miracle.

We celebrate by toasting Lechaim on wine. Wine represents the essence of the message of Purim. All fruits are of superior quality than the juice extracted from them. This is reflected in their prices and in the respective blessings recited before eating fruits or drinking juice. The juice of grapes is an exception. Wine produced from grapes is far more expensive and the unique "Hagafen" blessing is recited upon it. It is the beverage with which we sanctify Shabbat, Yom Tov and every celebratory Jewish milestone.

Just as when the grape is crushed it releases superior quality, so too the Jewish nation. Whether we are pressured by mortal enemies or internal struggles, we manage to pull through on a greater spiritual plane than before.

I invite you to join us in celebrating Purim. On Motzei Shabbat (Saturday Night) at 7:30pm we will read the Megillah, followed by Havdalah and a Falafel Bar. The celebration will include a masquerade, balloon art, face painting and a Purim craft. Don’t miss out on the fun!

Megillah readings on Sunday will be at 9:00am and 4:30pm. Purim in the Shtetl Dinner is open to all at 5:00pm! Enjoy a delicious traditional menu and celebrate away. Kindly let us know if you will be joining. Couvert is $15. Kindly consider being a cosponsor of all the Purim events for $200.

On Sunday at 2:30pm the children and seniors of the community will celebrate with a Hamentash Bake Off at the Monte Vista.

Throughout the day on Sunday be sure to give Mishloach Manot - gifts of food to a friend. At least two ready madefoods are necessary for the Mitzvah. Also, give Matanot Le’evyonim – gifts to the poor. We need to give money to two poor Jewish families. If you are unsure of whom to gift the money, Chabad has a special fund to help the needy and we will distribute the money on your behalf.

Best wishes for a joyous Purim!

Why Do We Need a Synagogue?

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The omnipresence of G-d is a fundamental Jewish belief. Why then do we limit His dwelling to a single structure?

In the last two parshas we learn of the first divine revelation to the Jewish nation: Matan Torah – the revelation at Sinai. This week begins the detailed instruction of the construction of the Mishkan. Upon completion, the people experienced a second divine revelation.

There is a crucial difference between these two rendezvous with G-d.

Leading up to the revelation at Sinai, G-d warned the people not to touch the mountain. Since it would serve as the physical location of such an intense G-dly revelation, a mere mortal would die by simply touching the mountain. However, once the spectacle was over – it was a mountain like any other. In fact, Judaism finds no interest in locating Mt. Sinai in the desert, as it currently contains no divine uniqueness. After the pomp and ceremony of Matan Torah, it remained mundane as ever.

The divine revelation in the Mishkan (and subsequently in the Temples in Jerusalem) is a different story altogether. Since the inauguration of the Mishkan, the divine presence has not departed the subsequent structures built throughout our history. Even after the destruction of the Temple, the divine presence remains at the same spot.

The contrast is striking as the lead up to these respective events. Whereas Matan Torah excluded human involvement, the building project of the Mishkan necessitated the financial and labor participation of the entire Jewish nation.

When the people erect a beautiful and quality structure for G-d as they would their own homes, they express their desire to have G-d dwell in their midst. Then, the divine presence is not limited to the dedicated structure; it finds expression in the homes of every individual. The Mishkan is a symbolic of the fact that G-d is a desired presence in our lives.

Wherever there is a community of Jews, it is crucial to construct a special home for G-d – the synagogue. It should be beautiful, comfortable and conducive to being a welcoming place for everyone to connect with G-d.

I invite you to join us in bringing this project to fruition in El Paso. Together we will construct a beautiful edifice where every Jew in town can join in prayer, study and celebration of our beautiful heritage.

The Fine Art of Tzedaka

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I'd like to share with you a story we discussed yesterday at the bi-monthly Pirkei Avot Lunch and Learn.

A blind homeless man came to the village of the great Talmudic sage Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov. He settled down at the side of the road with a tin can waiting for the wonderful locals to donate some much needed money.

Alas, the villagers did not pay much attention to his plight and the can remained empty. Rabbi Eliezer noticed this sorry state of affairs and he sat down next to the beggar without saying a word.

Sure enough, word spread like wildfire that the venerable sage was in the company of the mysterious beggar. Surly this man must be a giant in his own right! The crowds came out to view the scene and the coins started falling into the can by the dozens.

Although unable to see, the poor man sensed that there was a significant change in his surroundings. "What is going on? Why are the donations flowing all of a sudden?"

"Don't you know who is sitting next to you?" the townspeople replied. "The great Rabbi Eliezer!"

The man realized the great kindness the Rabbi had done for him and he blessed him: Just as you were so gracious to do this kindness for a man who is seen but cannot see, may the One who sees and cannot be seen (G-d) bless you with immeasurable kindness.

In this week's parsha we learn about the mitzvah of Tzedaka. Although giving seems to be an elementary concept, we truly need to train ourselves in the right way to give.

Every time we are solicited for much needed donations from worthy organizations and causes, we are confronted with the gnawing feeling that perhaps this money could be better used somewhere else. How can we be sure to get the best return on the investment? For example, in smaller Jewish communities, creating a children's program for $1,000 might cater to 50 children, whereas in a larger community, the very same program for the same price would attract and benefit 200 children. Is the local investment worthwhile?

The truth is that giving tzedaka is not natural. Why should I part with my hard earned cash?

The healthiest reason to do so is to fulfill the wish of G-d A-lmighty. SInce success is a blessing of G-d, we need to be aware that we are merely guardians of His wealth to appropriate accordingly. It is important to give out G-d's money the way He instructs in the Torah.

The Torah addresses the tzedaka quandary in the following verse (Shemot 22:24): When you lend money to the poor people in your locality, you must not act toward him like a creditor.

Rashi explains that in the precise articulation of this verse we learn the order of giving. Faced with the option of giving money locally or out of town - G-d wants you to give local.

May we inculcate the lessons of giving and always merit to be on the giving end of the wheel of life.

Wealth, Poverty and Waste

 

Capitalism seems to be working for most of us in the United States. Yet, just like every man-made system, it has its drawbacks. There are three negative attitudes that can result from living in a capitalist society.

a)    For the large majority of us who are not scraping the bottom of the barrel, there can be a tendency to waste money on petty, foolish and unproductive things. We lose our appreciation for the value of pocket change or small money. After all, I can spare a dollar or two.

b)     Those that have been blessed with great success and have amassed a large fortune, can sometimes delude themselves into thinking that they can succeed alone and don't need the little guys.

c)    People on the lowest rungs of the financial ladder can grow despondent and lose hope of ever making a true impact on society.

This week, in addition to reading the weekly Torah portion of Mishpatim during Shabbat services, we will read an extra Parsha - Parshat Shekalim. This portion of six verses deals with the mitzvah of Machatzit Hashekel - the annual half shekel tax.

In Temple times, the Jews were obligated to pay several taxes for the upkeep of the Temple service, to provide support for the Priestly and Levite families and to care for the poor and destitute. The specific amounts of these taxes varied based on the individual. If one harvested a large crop, his taxes were considerably higher than one who had yielded a smaller crop.

There was one tax that obligated everyone to give an equal amount. Every day, the Temple service would begin each morning with a Korban Tamid, a communal sacrifice offered on the Alter and close with a communal sacrifice offered in the late afternoon. On Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and Festivals there was an additional prescribed amount of communal sacrifices as well. These communal sacrifices were an essential element of G-d's relationship with His people.

The livestock used for these communal sacrifices was purchased with money from a special communal account. Each year, during the month of Adar, every Jew was obligated to hand over a half shekel - a value of less than $7 - to the Temple collector to be deposited in the communal sacrifice account. By giving a paltry sum once a year, every single Jew was represented before G-d with the entire nation every morning and afternoon.

You see what can be accomplished with seven bucks? This teaches us the value of every dollar. Appreciate the huge potential your money has for good and spend it wisely. Even a small sum can have a major impact.

There is an important thing you should know about this Community Sacrifice Account. Amounts larger than a half shekel per individual were not accepted. If a fabulously wealthy and philanthropic Jew wished to foot the bill of the daily sacrifices for the entire year - a huge expense - the response would be unequivocal. It is a generous offer and the money can surely be used for many worthy causes - but the daily relationship between G-d and the Jewish people cannot be funded by one individual. At the same time - one half shekel cannot purchase even one sacrifice. For the financial elite to be represented daily in the Temple - they needed the combined contributions of the entire community.

Finally, no one was absolved of this minimal obligation. No matter the circumstances, this amount was collected from even the poorest of the poor. Their half shekel was needed to complete the picture.

So remember, money is powerful and every dollar should be used wisely. Even if you may be blessed with financial, intellectual or social success you still need the rest of the community. And no matter how little you may have - you can also make a great impact.

Chabad Feminine Power

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One weekend a year, Chabad Rabbis assume the roles of babysitter, cook and homemaker. In connection with the yartzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, of saintly memory, the Rebbe’s wife, Chabad Rebbetzins gather in Brooklyn for the International Conference of Shluchos. The largest annual gathering of Jewish women leadership in the world.

Four hundred Chabad women emissaries participated in the first conference 28 years ago. This weekend, over 2,000 Rebbetzins are converging on Crown Heights from every corner of the globe. They will inspire each other and create new strategies to bring the joy and beauty of Judaism to every Jew in their respective hometowns and regions.

According to age-old stereotypes of Jewish religious communities, it would seem strange that Chabad women are spearheading Jewish outreach and gathering to celebrate their leadership roles. This week’s parsha gives perspective to what is going on now in Brooklyn.

In preparation for the Revelation at Sinai, G-d instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to discuss various mitzvoth of the Torah with the Jews to be sure they willingly accept it. “Thus shall you say to the Congregation of Jacob (the women), and speak to the Israelites (the men)” (Exodus 19:4). Approach the women before the men. After the women consent, the men will surely follow suit. (As if the men have a choice? ;))

The woman, as the mainstay and foundation of the home will set the tone for generations to come. The eternity of Jewish tradition is dependent on her commitment and sacrifice.

A feuding couple once came to a compromise. He will make the big decisions and she will make the small decisions. The big decisions included; how to vote in the presidential election, the strategy the US should adopt in defeating ISIS and what ought to be on the agenda at the UN. The small decisions included; which schools the children attend, bedtime routine, afterschool activities and where the family will vacation.

Yes my friends, the mother of the home influences every detail of the home. Jewish tradition and observance is an integral part of her sphere. As the saying goes, “When Mommy is happy, we are all happy.”

Since the beginning of our glorious history, the Jewish woman has been the standard-bearer of Torah.

Even though this Shabbos may be lonely and difficult for many Chabad Rabbis, it is the greatest investment we can make to energize the global Jewish community. I am certain that Chana will return next week with renewed vigor, joy and great ideas that will greatly benefit our community. In addition to the workshops, learning sessions and celebrations, these gracious Jewish leaders will pray on our behalf at the Ohel, and at the resting place of the Rebbetzin. As Shabbat marks the 29th anniversary of her passing, the Rebbetzin surely intercedes on our behalf, that the entire Jewish world be blessed in every way possible, and with the ultimate blessing, the arrival of our righteous Moshiach.

Traveler's Food of Faith

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As a frequent flyer, when preparing food for trips I take into account the possibility of lengthy delays, but there is a limit to what I can shlep. Once, during a peak season I was stranded in Dallas at midnight, rebooked to an early morning flight the next morning with no food left. Obtaining kosher food before arriving El Paso was not an option. Yes, it was a hungry trip.

In this week’s parsha we learn of the grand journey the Israelites embarked upon as they left Egypt. They were not given an arrival date to the Promised Land and the food provisions they took with them were wholly inadequate for a lengthy desert sojourn. Miraculously, the matzah baked on their first morning of freedom lasted thirty days!

As the 15th of Iyar dawned, the matzah was finished and the Jews faced the frightening probability of starvation. In response to their concerns, G-d notified them that He would provide them food every day from heaven. Each morning the Manna, cushioned between two layers of dew, would descend upon the camp and each family was to gather an “omer” measurement per head.

There were specific rules associated with this divine nourishment. 1. No extra was to be gathered. No matter how much one gathered in the field, back home the manna would always equate one “omer” per mouth. 2. No hoarding. Each day’s portion of manna needed to be consumed on the same day. No leftovers for early morning breakfast.

On the first Friday of this arrangement, upon returning home from gathering manna, the Jews realized that there was a double portion in their jars. Moshe explained that on the seventh day, Shabbat, food will not fall from heaven and on Friday G-d would provide for two days.

This is the reason for the custom of having two Challahs at the Shabbat meals.

The peculiar food arrangement that sustained our forebears in the desert for forty years was a training period in true faith and trust in G-d. Going to sleep at night without food in the cabinet or fridge for breakfast is a frightening prospect. To follow the rules of “gathering” our sustenance can be challenging. Most of all, forgoing a full day of obtaining a livelihood seems irresponsible at best.

Yet, this is the essence of faith and trust in G-d. By adhering to His guidebook to life, regardless of what the big world says, we are assured a sufficient and plentiful livelihood, even in the “desolate wilderness” of life. Honesty in business, tithing accordingly and Shabbat observance are the keys to monetary success.

As you recite the Hamotzi on the two challahs on Friday night, be mindful of the message of the manna. Even when making a living seems as challenging as finding bread in a desert, by sticking to G-d’s rules we will certainly receive His blessing. If you are thankfully in the higher income bracket, be thankful for G-d’s continued blessing and find ways to improve the clarity and size of your vessel. If good is good – better is always better.

Our Beautiful World

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In preparing this message, I chose to open with an inspiring quote about optimism. Google yielded this gem from Winston Churchill:

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

On the Shabbat morning of the 10th of Shevat, 1950, the Previous Rebbe passed away. Exactly one year later, the Rebbe assumed the mantle of leadership of the Chabad Lubavitch movement.

By divine providence, the Previous Rebbe had instructed that a Chassidic discourse entitled Basi Legani be published for that fateful Shabbat. The Rebbe considered it a spiritual guide for the next generation of Chabad, elaborating on its message and revealing deeper insight each year on the anniversary of his leadership.

The opening line of the discourse is a verse in King Solomon’s Song of Songs (5:1) describing the revelation at Sinai: “Basi Legani - I have come to my garden, my sister, my bride.” It is understood as follows: “I (G-d) have come (returned) to my garden (this physical/corporeal world), my sister, my bride (- this statement addresses the Jewish people – G-d’s bride).”

The discourse addresses a broad range of deep philosophical subjects including the purpose of creation, humanity, good versus evil and the ability of self-transformation. While there are limitless layers of insight in every line, the very first verse sets the tone for this foundational text. It describes the world we live in as a beautiful garden – a divine one, no less!

The intention is not of a utopian fairyland drifting in the clouds of our dreams and best imaginations. This physical universe, the same space that contains nuclear weapons capable of landing in the hands of madmen and terrorists, is the beautiful divine garden in which G-d is so proud to dwell! Can a world so insecure and volatile be a reflection of divinity and G-dly purpose?

In 1986, the Rebbe addressed the seeming contradiction between reality and King Solomon’s statement, in connection with the (behind the scenes) turbulent years of the Second Cold War. Can a world constantly on the brink of World War III be G-d’s beautiful garden?

Surprisingly, a lesson derived from nuclear weapons serves as the counterbalance to the global jitters they cause. The destructive powers of a nuclear bomb can be unleashed with the press of a button. Thus, the simple action of one individual can affect millions and alter the course of history.

Approximately 800 years ago, Maimonides declared: “One is obligated to view himself and the world as equally balanced. One positive action can tip the scales and bring salvation to the entire world”. Until recently, this assertion may have seemed as an exaggeration. The technological advance that debuted on the world scene as a cause of mass destruction clearly illustrates the truth of this inspiring statement. Especially in light of the fact that the powers of goodness and productivity greatly outweigh the forces of evil and destruction.

This world is a divine garden filled with billions of individuals each capable of unleashing the powers of goodness and kindness that can positively impact the entire universe. We need only to identify the opportunities that abound. The boldness and ability to overcome the difficulties they present will come in due course.

Learn More About The Rebbe's First Discourse Basi Legani 

 

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