Living With The Times | A Slice of Life | Insights | Customs
A Word from the Director | It Once Happened | Thoughts that Count | Moshiach Matters
Prize tickets, charts with stars, candies at the end of the day. These are typical rewards used for positive reinforcement and behavior modification in schools and homes throughout the world. Once you've entered the rat race though, such minimal rewards aren't effective. So businesses use bonuses, pay raises and promotions to reinforce good work.
Although popularized in the 60s, concepts like positive reinforcement, behavior modification, and self-fulfilling prophecy, can be found in Jewish sources.
Positive traits can actually be reinforced even without tangible rewards, in fact, even without the other person knowing about it!
We learn about this beneficial phenomenom from an unfavorable example in the Talmud. The Talmud explains that by speaking negatively about another person, even if what one says is true, three people are affected: the one who is slandering or gossiping; the one who listens; the one who is being spoken about.
It is easy to understand why the first two are impacted. One is transgressing the commandment of not being a talebearer or speaking evil. The other is being influenced by the (mis)infor-mation. How, though, is the one who is spoken about affected?
Negative Reinforcement! According to Jewish mysticism, the negative trait or deed about which one is speaking is reinforced each time it is mentioned.
Conversely, each time we speak positively about someone--whether it be a co-worker, friend, spouse, or child--on a spiritual level we are actually reinforcing and strengthening the positive aspect about which we are speaking. Even if they don't hear us saying it!
In addition, good feelings toward that person are reinforced each time we mention something positive about them.
But what if you don't really feel good about the other person? What if right now you don't see anything positive about his/her behavior?
There was a famous study done many years ago. A teacher was told she had above-average students even though the students were actually of average intelligence. Since she thought highly of them, she expected more of them and constantly praised them. They actually produced more and did better than children of the same intelligence in a classroom with a teacher who knew their true abilities. This is called "self-fulfilling prophecy."
The power of speech has tremendous strength. In fact, we are told that one of the things which can help hasten the arrival of Moshiach and the Final Redemption is simply talking or learning about it. How so? Using different vowels, the word "Moshiach," in Hebrew, could also be read "me-siach" which means "from talking." From talking about Moshiach we can actually bring him!
In the beginning of the Torah portion of Tazria we find the commandment "and on the eighth day shall the flesh of his foreskin be circumcised." Hundreds of years before this commandment was given to the Jewish nation, Abraham was instructed to circumcise himself "and your seed after you, for generations." Yet, Jewish boys are circumcised from the command in this week's Torah portion, and not because of our forefather Abraham.
The command given to Abraham to circumcise himself was a commandment given to an individual and revealed by G-d through prophecy. The mitzva of brit mila in this week's portion is one of the 613 commandments of the Torah which were given to the entire Jewish People at Mount Sinai, to which every single Jew was witness.
Chasidic philosophy explains that a Jew's G-dly soul enters the physical body upon performance of the brit. Before the brit mila, the joining of the spiritual, G-dly soul and the corporeal body was incomplete; brit mila effects a linking and union between the two. This is why, according to many of our Sages, only after brit mila does a Jew have a share in the World to Come.
The word "brit" means "covenant," for indeed it is a sign of the Covenant between G-d and the Jewish People. So great is this bond that it finds expression in the very physical flesh of a Jew, testimony to the depth of his relationship and commitment.
Brit mila is unique in the sense that it is a perpetual mitzva. The Talmud relates that once while King David was visiting a bathhouse, he suddenly grew despondent, concerned that he was also "unclothed without mitzvot" before his Creator. But after he reminded himself of the sign of brit mila engraved in his flesh he was reassured that he was not without merit for even one moment.
An additional advantage brit mila has over other commandments is the fact that it involves the physical body. Other mitzvot, even if they necessitate the use of various limbs of the body to carry them out, are primarily concerned with matters pertaining to the soul. The mitzva of mila is so great that it effects a change even in the physical realm, which the human eye can witness as testimony to the sacred bond between G-d and the Jewish people.
This explanation also sheds light on why a baby is circumcised before he can even comprehend the significance of the act. Performed on the physical body, the mitzva of mila effects a bond even greater than intellectual comprehension can grasp; in this respect, infant and adult are equal. The circumcision is therefore performed on the earliest possible date, the eighth day of life.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
SEEDS OF LIGHT
by Esther Altmann
Thirty years ago a young Israeli couple booked third class passage on a Greek freighter and traveled to New York City. The purpose of their voyage was to have an audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Although not yet a chasid, the young artist regarded the Rebbe as his spiritual master, and sought advice about the path his art should take. That visit, in fact, proved to be the seminal event which led Nachshon to develop his unique style of painting which may be described as a visual representation of the spirit, a mystical Chasidic art.
Looking into Nachshon's canvases one sees an internal dreamscape of the artists's (and perhaps the viewer's own) spiritual visions. Jerusalem is pictured often, a sprawling city, verdant and alive, dotted with gold. The Holy Temple shines prominently and proudly under the wide, blue sky. And the skies of Nachshon's work are especially expressive--sometimes swept with shreds of white fluff, at other times darkly suggestive, and often filled with thousands of shining lights. Shofars spout foliage, fires lick the skirts of high structures and rabbis fly through the skies announcing the Redemption of the world. It is as if Chasidut has come alive and the words and thoughts have assumed a corporeal visage.
It is this genesis of expression that Nachshon tries to express in his diary entry describing the act of creation:
"To stand silently, covered by a tallit and crowned with tefilin...near the Cave of the Patriachs...and to be inside the letters of the prayer, to see them shining and to begin to see the meaning of the scenery developing from verse to verse...at this special time, I could see the words I was saying...the vision developing from word to word...a scenery of infinite light which was in a state of constant flux, and to see the waters of G-d's wisdom, the Infinite Influence that comes from above, and to have the will to see more and more..."
Baruch Nachshon's relationship with the Lubavitcher Rebbe is a very special one, in that the artist has developed his craft in accordance with the Rebbe's guidance and spiritual goals. "When I met the Rebbe about thirty years ago, he pushed me to bring my natural powers and sense of creating art into completion, to a higher level." Nachshon's art would likely have developed in an entirely different mode, had he not sought and followed the Rebbe's advice to pursue his artistic muse "in a manner of kashrut."
At that time Nachshon had received several offers of scholarships to study art and was in the process of deciding which to accept. One of those offers was to study sculpting with the famous artist, Chaim Gross. From the Rebbe's answer Nachshon understood that none of these courses would not be acceptable. Finally, he enrolled in the School of Visual Arts in New York where he was afforded the opportunity to pursue his work in an appropriate fashion. Years later when he met Chaim Gross, the sculptor remarked: "You were right to follow the advice of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, because you have developed your own unique style. If you had listened to me you would have become another one in the crowd of New York artists."
Nachshon related an incident which occurred to him while exhibiting his art in Melbourne, Australia. "I was visiting Australia on the invitation of the local Chabad community, and was giving a slide show in the synagogue there when I spotted a man in the audience who looked out of place. He had a large mustache and reminded me of an early Israeli pioneer. We began talking and to my surprise, he took out of his pocket a photo of him and me taken thirty years ago in the Northern Galilee when he was a young army officer and I a teen-aged soldier. He recalled that we had hiked together through the countryside and I had spoken to him about Torah and mitzvot and different people in Kfar Chabad whom we could learn from.
"'You see, you planted the seeds of holiness in me 30 years ago, and today my children are learning in Lubavitch yeshiva in Melbourne.' When we met, the young officer was not at all observant. One must spread the seeds of holiness even though you don't know what will come of it. This I see as a duty."
On the final day of his stay in Melbourne he was approached by a man who was interested in buying a certain painting. It was a representation of the face of the Lubavitcher Rebbe superimposed upon the face of the moon. Nachshon was surprised that this man wanted this particular work. After all, he wasn't a chasid or a follower of the Rebbe, or even of a religious bent. On the contrary, he was an assimilated Jew , married to a gentile woman. When asked why he chose this work, the man replied: "This face reminds me that I am a Jew." This is the effect of Nachshon's Chasidic art--to awaken the slumberer, to arose the Jewish soul and help it connect with its Source.
When asked about his vision of the art of the future Messianic age, Nachshon replied: "I don't describe the events of the past or the present, but the future. And these are visions which I saw many years ago." In Nachshon's art the Redemption of the Jewish People and with them, the world, is a constant event. The wonder and joy of the coming of the Moshiach is alive, for he is indeed in the world, and existence sparkles and burns with intensity. Looking at his paintings, we the viewers have an emotional preview of the wonders which await us.
DAY BY DAY
Freely adapted from a question and answer session between the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Hillel directors and college students.
Can present-day rabbis give their own interpretations of the Torah, just as Maimonides expounded certain passages according to Aristotle?
A personal revelation must be in accordance with the one at Sinai. A prophet who contradicts the Mosaic law is called a novi sheker--a false prophet. Just as in physics there are certain laws of deduction that must be followed, so has the Torah established rules of deduction and interpretation. Any new interpretation that does not follow these principles must be rejected.
Maimonides expounded according to Aristotle only when dealing with passages of agada [stories told in the Talmud], but not when dealing with halacha--precepts.
How is G-d's uniqueness seen in this world?
Everything in creation has in its innermost part a spark of G-d that unites it with everything else in the universe. It doesn't matter what--human, animal, vegetable or mineral--in their innermost core the molecules all are alike.
G-d is "ein sof"--everlasting, and He has imbued His creatures with this attribute. Physics states that nothing can be destroyed--the atom will always exist; it can be transformed, but not destroyed. This ink-well on my desk, for instance, has limitations in size, shape--it is round, etc.--but in its "innermost" there is something that cannot be destroyed. This is a manifestation of G-d's Oneness.
Is creation to be accepted on pure faith, or does it have a basis in logic?
Belief in G-d is more than just emuna--faith. In mathematics, for example, if there are only four possible answers to a problem and you have excluded three of them, it is logical that the correct answer must be the fourth one. By similar deduction--exclusion of all other possibilities--you could conclude that G-d is the Creator. Furthermore, it is a matter of common sense. I would insult your common sense if I told you that this chair that I am sitting on was not made by someone. Also, whenever you observe orderliness you must assume that there is some force or power maintaining this order.
You said that we should make religion part of our daily lives. However, some of us feel that we cannot accept religion completely. Is there any value in compromise?
Nobody is perfect. There is no tzadik on earth that has never sinned. Even the most righteous is lacking in some aspect, yet this doesn't negate the good that he does perform. Every mitzva gives him additional power to continue.
I meant a permanent compromise. That a person is not interested in fulfilling some precepts at all.
Let him do as much as he can today--tomorrow he will try to fulfill even more, or maybe the day after tomorrow. G-d has infinite patience. But why postpone till tomorrow what you can do now?
I come from a small community and never had a good Jewish education. I find the Reform assimilated and liberal, but I cannot follow the Orthodox services. What shall I do?
You are young, and you have all the time in the world before you to learn even more than those who have had a Jewish education. It is stated in Avot: "Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor"--you are not expected to learn everything at once. A little bit each day, as long as you are on the right track. Start with Chumash, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch in English, Ein Yaakov in English. Avoid the complacency of thinking that you have achieved the summit, but know that you have more to strive for tomorrow and G-d will give you strength. My major objection to Reform and Conservative Judaism is that they compromise their ideals. They make it easy to achieve the summit and then they say you need strive for no higher. Orthodoxy says you must strive to become a little better each day. The stories in the Bible and Talmud apply to every one. Rabbi Akiva was 40 years old and had to support a family, and yet he started with alef bet and went on to become one of the greatest rabbis of all time. From this we learn that if you desire to do something, you will certainly achieve it.
Does Jewish custom allow for "housewarming" parties?
It certainly is a Jewish custom to hold a "Chanukat HaBayit"--house dedication--when moving into a new home. At such an occasion one would serve a festive meal, rejoice with friends and discuss relevant Jewish topics. This is beneficial both materially and spiritually.
In this weeks Parsha we learn of a leprousy-like disease. This disease afflicted a person, or his home or other possessions, when he indulged in slander.
When a person discovered that he suffered from this malady, he realized without a shadow of a doubt that there was an omniscient G-d who had been witness to his sin. The person was then required to shut himself off for seven days, in seclusion from the rest of society. These seven days were spent in introspection and consultation with the priest on how to atone for his transgression.
Speaking unfavorably about another shows a complete lack of "ahavat Yisrael"--love of one's fellow like oneself. Just as we certainly don't want others to notice or talk about our failings and foibles, we shouldn't talk about other people's faults.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that when you see a fault in another person, that same fault most definitely appears--even if only in a minute amount--in you. For, just as you cannot recognize a person whom you never met, you cannot "recognize" a fault you do not have.
There is another teaching attributed to the Baal Shem Tov about slander and gossip. When you hear an uncomplimentary report about another person, even if you don't know that other person, you should be very deeply pained. For, it can only be one of two things: if what is being said about the individual is true, then he is flawed and in need of improvement; if however, it is not true, then slander is being spoken and the talebearer is being harmful not only to the other person but to himself as well.
May we all only hear and say complimentary reports about each other, until we hear the final and most felicitous report of all, that Moshiach has arrived!
Rabbi Shmuel Butman
Reb Zusha of Hanipoli sat in his home immersed in his Torah learning, when the sounds wafting caused him to glance out the open window. Passing in front of his house was a wedding procession leading the bride and groom on their way. Reb Zusha immediately stood up and went out into the street where abandoning constraint he danced with unbounded joy. He circled the young couple and the other celebrants for a few minutes of great simcha and then returned to his home and his study.
His family members watched his actions with great interest. They suggested to him that his dancing before a wedding procession was unbefitting a person of his stature in the community.
To their comment he replied, "Let me tell you a story. When I was young I studied under the famous Maggid of Zlotchov, Reb Yechiel Michel. One day I did something against his wishes and he rebuked me severely. I was terribly hurt by his reaction, and he, sensing anguish, soon came over to me and apologized for the harshness of his response, saying, 'Reb Zusha, please forgive me for my angry words.'
"I was very comforted by his apology and replied, 'Of course, I forgive you, Rebbe.'"
"The same night before I went to sleep, he again came to me and asked my forgiveness. I was surprised, and repeated that I forgave him totally.
"I lay in bed for a while thinking about the incident, when the father of my Rebbe, Reb Yitzhak of Drohovitch, appeared to me from the Next World. He said to me, 'I had the merit to leave behind me in the world below my only son, and you want to destroy him because he insulted you?'
"'Please, Rebbe, don't say such a thing! I don't want to hurt him and I have certainly forgiven him completely and wholeheartedly! What more can I do than I have already done?'
"'What you have done is still not complete forgiveness. Follow me and I will show you the real meaning of complete forgiveness.'
"So, I got out of my bed and followed him until we reached the local mikva. Reb Yitzhak told me to immerse myself 3 times, each time saying and feeling that I forgave his son. I obeyed his wishes and immersed 3 times, each time with the intention of forgiving my Rebbe.
"When I emerged from the mikva I looked at Reb Yitzhak and saw that his face was so radiant that I was unable to gaze upon it. I asked him where that light came from and he replied: 'All my life I have carefully observed three things to which the Sage Rabbi Nechunya ben HaKana attributed his long life: he never sought honor at the expense of the degradation of his fellow; he never went to sleep without forgiving anyone who might have offended or injured him that day; he was always generous with his money. Reb Yitzhak then told me that the very same level which can be achieved through these things can also be reached through joy.
"And that is why when I saw the wedding procession passing in front of our house, I ran outside to partake of the festivities and to add to the simcha of the bride and groom."
Once Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg came to his Rebbe, Reb Dov Ber of Mezerich, with an inquiry: "How is it possible to fulfill the teaching of our rabbis that one is obligated to say a blessing on bad news just as one would on good news?"
The Maggid answered him by instructing him to go to the shul. "When you get there ask for Reb Zusha of Hanipoli and ask him to explain that dictum to you."
Reb Shmelke did as his Rebbe told him, and when he found Reb Zusha he asked him the question. Reb Zusha was a man who had endured great hardship throughout his entire life. He replied to Reb Shmelke as follows: "I am very surprised that my rebbe sent you to me, of all people. A question like yours should be addressed to a person who has, G-d- forbid actually experienced something terrible in life. Whereas I, thank G-d, know nothing about those frightful things. You see, I have experienced nothing but good all my life. I'm sorry, but I cannot answer your question since I know nothing about evil occurrences."
Reb Shmelke returned to the Maggid with his question answered. He now understood the meaning of the teaching that one is obliged to bless the evil that occurs in life as well as the good, for when man accepts a Divine edict with complete faith and trust, there is no longer a perception of evil inherent in the experiences.
If a woman has conceived and born (Lev. 12:2)
This section of the Torah, which deals with the laws of childbirth, comes directly after that portion which spoke of unclean animals--those which died of themselves, creeping things and insects. We learn from this that in the same way that eating non-kosher food makes a Jew dulled and insensitive to holiness, the opposite is true. Keeping the laws of kashrut ensures that one's children will be spiritually healthy and sound.
If a man shall have on the skin of his flesh (Lev. 13:2)
When discussing the phenomenon of leprosy and the various appearances such a plague could assume, the Torah uses the word adam--man--a term reserved for expressing man's finest attributes and characteristics. Why doesn't the Torah use any of the three other Hebrew words for man--ish, gever, or enosh?
The plague of leprosy appeared only "on the skin of his flesh"--on the most external part of a person. Years ago, when G-d afflicted someone with leprosy as a punishment for his deeds, it affected only his most external self, for the inner person was spiritually healthy and not deserving of punishment. Nowadays we have no such phenomenon, as the Biblical leprosy differed form the modern-day disease bearing the same name. In our time, it's not just the external part of ourselves we must work on and purify.
And the priest shall see the plague (Lev. 13:3)
The Talmud cautions that a priest who is blind in one eye is excluded from examining and pronouncing judgment on plagues. Every plague deserves to be studied with two eyes. One eye sees the leprosy itself, and the other eye sees the extenuating circumstances and reason which led to the sin. A priest who is blind in one eye will see only that which is negative, the plague itself, and will not try to find a merit in that person's favor. Such a priest is unfit to pass judgment.
(Rabbi Yosef Klein)
It is a foundation of our faith that the Messianic Age can miraculously begin any day. When Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asked Moshiach when he would come, he answered with the verse from Psalms, "Today--if you hearken to His voice."
(From The Real Messiah, by Aryeh Kaplan)