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One of the people who had come to comfort the Lubavitcher Rebbe as he sat shiva for his beloved wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, of blessed memory, said,
"The Rebbetzin was truly a tzadeket [righteous woman]."
"Only G-d knows her true righteousness," the Rebbe responded.
Only G-d knows a person's true motives, inner thoughts, hidden deeds. We therefore have no scale by which to judge other--nor should we. If this is true when we are judging someone meritoriously, all the more so if we find ourselves judging another person harshly or negatively.
Jewish teachings are replete with helpful hints on how to judge others favorably, if at all.
Rabbi Moses Maimonides (the "Rambam") instructs us that, "The reckoning of sins and merits is not calculated on the basis of the mere number of merits and sins, but on the basis of their magnitude as well. Some solitary merits can outweigh many sins. The weighing of sins and merits can be carried out only according to the wisdom of the All-Knowing G-d: He alone knows how to measure merits against sins." Remembering this instruction helps us cultivate a less judgemental attitude.
Another thought to keep in mind: The way we judge another person is the way we will be judged in the Heavenly Court. If we always look for something positive in another person, or try to find a merit in even a seemingly negative act, or simply refuse to judge the situation or person because we do not or cannot know all of the factors, G-d will repay us in kind.
According to the Baal Shem Tov, when we see a fault in another person it is merely a reflection of--to a greater or lesser degree--a similar fault within ourselves. Every time we find fault in others we should look inside ourselves to see how that same failing is manifest within us. If you do this for a little while, you'll soon stop noticing other's faults, or else you will constantly be confronted with your own faults as well!
Our Sages enjoin us to judge every person favorably. For, we can't possibly know their hidden actions or secret good deeds. Stories from the past abound: there is the village "miser" whose passing reveals that he was a generous philanthropist; or the boorish shoemaker who seemingly could not even read, but was, in truth, a scholar and a hidden tzadik.
In addition, the Mishna teaches, "Do not judge your friend until you come to his place." The only way to really approach another person's place is first to leave your own place--your thoughts, conditioning, life-experience. Is it worth going through all that just to judge somebody else?
It is an art to always be able to find the good in another person. It often takes time to acquire such skills, but ultimately the hard work is well worth it.
This week's Torah portion, Yitro, contains the narrative of one of the greatest historical occurrences of all time: the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. Yet this is not readily evident by the name of the portion, which is called by the name of Moses' father-in-law.
Every word, letter, and subtle grammatical nuance in the Torah teaches us volumes; how much more so, the names of the portions themselves. What then, is so significant about Yitro that the Torah portion containing the Ten Commandments is given his name?
Yitro, described in the Torah as "a priest of Midian," was not merely a highly respected official in his native land. Yitro was the high priest of idolatry, who had explored every type of idolatrous worship and philosophy in the world. The Zohar explains that the Torah could not be given to mankind until Yitro had rejected each and every false god, and had publicly accepted G-d's sovereignty. Yitro was the symbol of the power ancient man invested in gods of wood and stone. It was only when Yitro declared "Now I know that the L-rd is greater than all the gods," that truth prevailed, and the Torah could be given.
The most dramatic contrast occurs when darkness itself is transformed into light. In Hebrew this is called "the superiority (yitron) of light over darkness," a light which shines forth from a place it had previously been unable to reach. It is also interesting to note that Yitro's name is linguistically related to this as well.
Yitro's acceptance of G-d also reflects the reason why the Torah was given on Mount Sinai. Prior to that time, the Patriarchs were already following the Torah's commandments, and Jews had studied Torah while in Egypt. What was innovated at Mount Sinai was the power to infuse the physical world with holiness, to combine the spiritual and the material simultaneously. The G-dliness concealed within the physical world could now be uncovered and revealed, according to G-d's plan.
When Yitro not only rejected his false idols, but joined the Jewish people in their faith, it paved the way for future generations to transform darkness into light and to build a dwelling place for G-d in this world. A Jew's task is to sanctify his physical surroundings and imbue them with holiness.
Yitro therefore merited that an entire portion of the Torah bear his name, for he personified the mission of every Jew and the reason for the giving of the Torah.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
NOTHING STANDS BEFORE THE WILL
Some of the members of the Chomesh Club
by Esther Altmann
I sat with Zahava in her sparsely furnished apartment, trying to get to know her. Her two-year-old, Chaya Mushka was equally curious to make my acquaintance and she kept me busy with an assortment of toys. I asked about her early years, her teaching, her family. But then Zahava looked me squarely in the eye and said, "If you want to know who I am--I can tell you simply: I am never satisfied; I am never content; I always want more."
Zahava Okunov wasn't referring to her material desires, but to her unquenchable desire to always strive for more and push to the utmost to accomplish her goals. A chasid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe all the way, Zahava's aim is to implement the goals of the Rebbe. She does this by living the famous saying: "Nothing stands before the will."
Zahava was born in the village of Kfar Chabad, near Tel Aviv. After her schooling there, Zahava became an emissary of the Rebbe to San Francisco where she was hired to teach young children. Never having worked with children, she was touched by their innocence and receptivity. Zahava discovered the truth of the famous dictum that words spoken from the heart enter the heart. Her sincerity inspired not only her students, but their parents, too.
After her marriage she moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where her Russian-born husband, Mendel, taught in a yeshiva program for newly arrived Russian boys. Zahava observed the boys and decided to bring the excitement and warmth of living Judaism to their sisters. With no budget, and by word of mouth and personal phone calls, a group of Russian girls ages 6-12, formed a club where they could sample the bounty of their heritage for the first time.
When Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, of blessed memory, passed away in 1988, Zahava renamed the group in her memory, Chomesh, an acronym of the Rebbetzin's name. For just as the Rebbetzin was devoted to fulfilling the Rebbe's enactments for the benefit of the Jewish people, so was this group dedicated to the love of Judaism and the general good of their people.
The Chomesh Club meets in the Crown Heights-based "Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe" center, where Zahava and a dedicated staff of young women teach the girls about Judaism through stories, arts and crafts, and songs and inspire a strong love for their roots.
Just a few weeks ago the girls were privileged to have a private audience with the Rebbe. One of the girls had been invited to a birthday party scheduled for the same day, and she was torn trying to make a decision. She told Zahava, "In one of the books you gave me, I read that everything that happens has a purpose. I asked Hashem [G-d] when I lit the Shabbat candles to help me decide what I should do. That night I dreamed I saw myself in front of the Rebbe, and then I knew what I was meant to do." How remarkable is this connection to G-d by a young girl who had so recently known nothing about her Jewish roots!
When the girls finally met with the Rebbe, who is still recovering from a serious stroke, he took special pains to wave and extend a look of love and encouragement to each girl. They emerged from the meeting inspired and with the desire to rededicate themselves to their goals.
Zahava, a devoted and patient mother of seven young children under the age of ten, feels that her work has brought blessings to her own family. "My hope is that each girl will pass on whatever she is getting from this club and will open similar clubs in her own area. By spreading the knowledge and warmth of Judaism, we pave the way for the coming of Moshiach. The Rebbe has such a special connection with the girls; the Rebbe sees the fruit which will eventually come from these little 'trees.' I see the children's love for Judaism and I know that whatever you give children goes deep inside and stays with them forever."
Zahava and her young teachers are always on the lookout for activities in keeping with the Rebbe's directives. Since the Rebbe spoke about the Chabad library which is to date being held illegally by the Russian government in Moscow, and suggested that bringing new Jewish books into one's home could exert a spiritual effect on the situation, Zahava started presenting each girl with a book every week. In addition to whatever affects they may have on the fate of the Chabad library, these books are achieving their own far-reaching effects right in the hearts of their happy recipients.
Zahava related a recent incident which made a profound impression on her and those who heard it. Since the Rebbe's illness, tens of thousands of people say daily the 91st Psalm, corresponding to the Rebbe's age--that is, the year he is entering. Additionally, people were encouraged to say the Psalm in unity at 12 noon. Zahava kept this custom with her usual, or rather, unusual dedication.
At the end of the Festival of Sukkot, Zahava was readying her youngest children to go to shul in the late morning. One of her children was dawdling. Zahava was exhausted and decided to let him take his time and use the few minutes for a welcome, short nap. She lay down at 11:50, knowing that she would get up in ten minutes to say the Psalm. She lay there half-asleep but uneasy, and when the clock showed exactly 12:00 it took all her will-power to get up and go to the kitchen to get a prayerbook. To her shock, the kitchen was on fire, overflowing with smoke. By the time she gathered her children, the door was nearly obscured by the billowing smoke. They managed to escape and warn the neighbors before her apartment was totally engulfed.
"Before, when I said the Psalm, I thought I was doing it for the Rebbe. But now I clearly see who was helping whom. Now I understand that the work I do is not an obligation, but a privilege."
Zahava has merited to discover her "mission" not only by her unwavering attachment to a tzadik who has great vision, but also by her own desire to look around and see is what needed around her.
HaChai Publishing, established five years ago in memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, recently released two new children's books.
Yitzy and the G.O.L.E.M. is the hair-raising adventure of twelve-year-old Yitzy, whose passion for computers gets him in trouble not only in school, but with the FBI! The is the first release in the series "Yitz Berg from Pittsburgh" by Sholom Cohen.
Why the Moon Only Glows is a beautifully illustrated children's storybook explaining why the sun shines and the moon glows. Written by Dina Rosenfeld.
AN ACTUAL PART OF G-D
From a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the twenty-second of Shevat, yartzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson.
The number twenty-two, written in Hebrew letters, is chof-bet. These are the same letters making up the word "bach" which is found in the verse, "Through you (bach), Israel will be blessed." This verse indicates that "through you," blessing will be drawn down to each and every Jew, generating positive activities which, in turn, will lead to further activities of blessing in a pattern which will continue endlessly.
Ultimately, these activities will lead to the fulfillment of the prophecy "And G-d will wipe tears away from every face...." "Tears" in Hebrew is numerically equivalent to 119. G-d's positive activity of wiping away tears represents an increase, causing the sum to reach 120, the complete sum of human life. Therefore, when Moses reached 120 years old, he stated, "Today my days and my years are completed."
The above relates to every Jew, for every Jew possesses a spark of Moses within him. This spark of Moses generates positive activity which, as explained above, initiates a pattern which continues to generate further positive activity forever.
The Hebrew word for "forever," "olam," also means "world." Olam is related to the Hebrew word "helam," meaning concealment. Our world is characterized by hiddenness, the concealment of G-dliness. This concealment allows for a soul--an actual part of G-d--to be concealed, that is, to depart from this world after its "days and years are completed"--after they have been endowed with fullness and completion through good deeds. In this context as well, the pattern mentioned above applies, as each good deed leads to more good deeds, in a never-ending sequence.
The above also shares a connection to the Torah reading of this Shabbat which describes the Giving of the Torah. Our Sages relate that after each of the Ten Commandments, "the souls of the Jews departed," a phenomenon parallel to death, and G-d revived them with the dew which He will use to resurrect the dead in the Era of the Redemption.
Similarly, in the present context, four years ago today,* an "actual part of G-d," a Jewish soul ascended from this world. Each year, on the day of the yartzeit, that soul ascends to a higher level, indeed, a level immeasurably higher than the peaks the soul had reached previously. This is reflected in the recitation of kaddish on that day. [The kaddish is recited each day for eleven months only in the year after the person's death.] Its recitation again on the day of the yartzeit, after not being recited on a daily basis, indicates a new ascent.
May the soul reach the ultimate level of ascent, the level to be reached at the time of the Resurrection. And may this take place in the immediate future. For ours is the last generation of the exile and the first generation of the Redemption.
Together with all the Jews of the present generation who will proceed to the Holy Land amidst health and joy, they will be joined by "those who lie in the dust," the souls of the previous generations, who "will arise and sing."
In particular, this applies to a soul who has merited that many Jewish girls be named after her and educated in the spirit in which she lived which, in turn, came as a result of the education she was given by her father, the Previous Rebbe.
This will be hastened by the distribution of money to be given--with each person making an addition from his own funds--to tzedaka. This will speed the coming of the Redemption when "the Holy One, blessed be He, will make a dance for the righteous," a dance which will be joined by each member of the Jewish people, man, woman, and child. And they will point to G-d and say, "Behold this is the G-d in whom we put our trust."
And this will take place in the immediate future. "With our youth and our elders... with our sons and our daughters," we will proceed to the Holy Land "on the clouds of heaven." And "those that lie in the dust will arise and sing," with the righteous ones mentioned previously, at our head.
* This was said on the fourth yartzeit of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka. This year marks the Rebbetzin's fifth yartzeit.
What is the kosher status of food with the letter "K" on the label?
A letter of the alphabet cannot be copyrighted, therefore, a "K" on a product label does not necessarily indicate rabbinical supervision. A manufacturer might decide his product is "kosher" and print a "K" on the label without any rabbinical involvement whatsoever. Often, however, it does designate some form of rabbinical supervision, though to find out the reliability of the supervising rabbi one would need to contact the manufacturer, to ascertain who the rabbi is and then consult a competent Orthodox rabbi as to the reliability of the supervision.
With this week's publication of L'Chaim we commemorate the fifth anniversary of the passing of our beloved Rebbetzin, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson.
This issue is number 255. The Hebrew letters equivalent to 255 spell the word "rina," meaning "song." This word is found alluded to in a prophecy especially associated with the Messianic Era, more specifically with the time of the Resurrection of the Dead. For, the prophet predicted, "Those who lie in dust will arise and sing--ronenu." This will be fulfilled in the Messianic Era through the Resurrection of the Dead.
Most certainly, it is appropriate to mention this prophecy in L'Chaim, since the Rebbe, shlita, used it when speaking of the Rebbetzin, adding that she and other righteous people will be "at our head" when we all go to the Holy Land.
We are taught by our Sages that in general, the Resurrection of the Dead will not take place immediately upon the revelation of Moshiach. However, the Rebbe has repeatedly pointed out that the tzadikim, the truly righteous, will arise immediately and go together with us to the land of Israel.
For the past five years, L'Chaim has been dedicated to teaching Jews of all walks of life and levels of observance Torah in general and Chasidic philosophy in particular. For, as mentioned numerous times, when the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, conversed with Moshiach in the Supernal World and asked him, "Master, when will you come?" Moshiach replied, "When your wellsprings--teachings--are spread forth."
Thus, when you share a thought from L'Chaim with a friend, or you read L'Chaim together with your family, you are hastening the revelation of Moshiach and the Messianic Era through spreading the teachings of Chasidut.
May the Rebbetzin, all of her good deeds, and all of the good deeds performed in her merit and by the thousands of children named in her memory, allow her to break through any remaining obstacles in Heaven to bring the Rebbe's complete recovery and the Final Redemption immediately.
Years ago in the city of Minsk there lived a man named Shmuel Nachum. Although his main occupation was studying Torah, his mind was so acute in business matters that he became an arbiter and legal advisor in all sorts of business disputes. In fact, this is how he made a comfortable living.
Shmuel Nachum and his wife had one surviving daughter, named Devorah, on whom they doted. Devorah was an unusually bright child and her father assumed total responsibility for her education. By the age of eight she was learning the Five Books of Moses and the Prophets. Her progress continued and by age ten she knew the whole Bible and began learning Mishna and the Code of Jewish Law. In addition she learned mathematics, Polish, and was able to read and write. By the age of fifteen she was studying Talmud with the commentaries of Rashi.
At eighteen she married a fine young man and was a happy new bride. Her husband succeeded in business and she shortly gave birth to two girls and one boy. Suddenly, tragedy struck her in a series of terrible blows. Her two little girls died in an epidemic and within the same year her husband also died. Broken-hearted, the young widow returned to her parents' home with her little son. But three years later, her son also, was taken from her.
What did she have left to live for? All day she tried to hide her grief from her parents, but from time to time she would closet herself in her room and weep for hours. After some time she realized that she must take charge of her shattered life, and she threw herself into her studies more than ever. She also began to involve herself in the social welfare of the local women.
Together with two of her childhood friends she established study-circles among the young women of Minsk who had not been as fortunate as she in learning Torah. Indeed, her learning groups became popular and spread throughout the city, making her a sought-after lecturer. Devorah found great solace in her work for, in helping others, she at the same time stilled the dull pain in her aching heart.
One day her father was approached by a certain man named Tzadok Moshe with a suggestion for a match between Devorah and his rebbe, a notable Torah scholar from Vitebsk named Nachum. Devorah expressed an interest in meeting the man, and it was arranged that he should travel to Minsk to meet this extraordinary woman. Within a short time they became engaged and thus began a new episode in the life of this unusual woman.
Having been used to the high level of Torah scholarship amongst the women of Minsk, Devorah was appalled at the ignorance of the women in Vitebsk, and she set about remedying it. Again she arranged study-circles as she had in Minsk. In addition, she established institutions for the sick and needy. She was very happy in her new life, filling her time with study, social service and managing her husband's business.
Nachum was not merely astonished to find that his wife was such a capable manager of his business affairs, but her extensive Torah knowledge astounded him! He began to realize more and more what a treasure he had in such a wife, and his respect and admiration for her increased enormously. He began to realize what a change her coming had made, not only in his own home which had become a veritable "Open House and Council of Wise Men," but in Vitebsk at large, where her influence was felt and appreciated in every sphere of social and educational activity! What he did not know was that Devorah found time every day to study Talmud and that she was studying it in its entirety for the second time!
Devorah was not satisfied to concentrate on the women alone; her ambition was to see Vitebsk as a whole become a center of Jewish learning. To that end she devised a plan in which a number of promising students from the small Vitebsk yeshiva would be supported to learn in one of the great yeshivas in another town where they would prepare themselves to serve their home town upon their return. In the interim, she convinced her husband to import and maintain at his own expense, a group of teachers and their families to come and educate the people of Vitebsk. This plan took time to implement, but within a year ten teachers were installed in Vitebsk and the sweet sound of Torah could be heard throughout the whole town.
Devorah had made her home in Vitebsk for ten years and her dream of making it a Torah center was slowly becoming a reality due to her efforts, foresight, and rare abilities.
Adapted from the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Memoirs.
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy (Ex. 20:8)
"'Remember' and 'keep' the Sabbath were said in one utterance," comments Rashi.
There was once a chasid of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, who was a particularly simple and unlearned man. Despite that fact that he didn't know the meaning of many words in the prayer book, he spent hour after hour engrossed in daily prayer. He soon became the object of scorn. What could he possibly be thinking about, untutored as he was in even the simple translation of the Hebrew words? his fellow congregants sneered. One day someone got up the courage to ask him.
"Whenever I pray, I constantly keep in mind something I once heard from the Rebbe on the saying 'remember and keep were said in one utterance.' With every word I utter, I try to remember and keep that oneness."
(Told by the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn)
And you shall be My own treasure [segula] (Ex. 19:8)
Just as the Hebrew vowel "segol" is made up of three dots, so too, does G-d's treasure (segula)--the Jewish people--consist of three constituent parts: priests, Levites, and Israelites. The Torah, too, from where Jews draw their strength, is also three-part: The Five Books of Moses, Prophets, and Writings.
Because the L-rd descended upon it in fire (Ex. 19:18)
The fire which accompanied the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai teaches us that everything connected with Torah study, the performance of mitzvot and the worship of G-d, must be done with the warmth and enthusiasm which derive from that original blaze.
And G-d spoke all these words, saying (Ex. 20:1)
"Saying" in this instance implies the obligation to repeat and continue what was said (when G-d gave the Torah) in future generations, for when Jews apply eternal Torah law to the needs of their everyday lives, it is as if the Torah is given anew each day. "Blessed are you, O G-d, who gives the Torah."
The Redemption will occur in a generation whose only merit is their yearning for Moshiach. It will not matter that the Jews may be on a more inferior spiritual level than prior generations and are compared to a willow, which has neither taste nor fragrance [neither Torah study or good deeds].
(Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter of Ger, the Sefat Emet)