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What is the difference between a good piece of writing and a poorly written one? What, for that matter, is the difference between a book that brings joy and enlightenment to its readers and a work that espouses prejudice and hate? Both are comprised of the very same letters and punctuation marks. It is only their configuration that is different.
The same characters that, lined up one way, make a work of art, are a boorish scribble when arranged differently. The same words might form a celebration of goodness or a diatribe of utter virulence, depending on the sequence in which they are placed.
With this analogy, the Kabala explains the mystery of evil. If everything comes from G-d, and G-d is the essence of good, where does evil come from? But evil is a non-entity, explain the Kabbalists, devoid of any reality or substance. What we know as "evil" is merely a corruption of good - the same letters differently configured. This explains how we have the power to "transform darkness into light and bitterness into sweetness."
When confronted with the enormity of evil in our world, we should remember that evil is not itself evil - it is goodness in the form of evil. We need not vanquish the darkness and generate light in its place; we need not eradicate the bitterness and manufacture the sweetness to replace it; we need only rearrange the letters. All the world needs is a good editing.
For thousands of years, the writer who did not "get it right" the first time had to start all over again. Whether engraving in clay or stone, inscribing on papyrus or parchment, or banging away at a typewriter, the writer's first efforts usually ended up being discarded. He or she could erase, apply white-out fluid, cross out words and insert others between the lines or in the margins - up to a point. In the end, a fresh, new sheet would invariably be rolled into the typewriter for a "clean" (and hopefully) final copy.
Then came the computer and, with it, the word processor. Now the writer could juggle words, move sentences from one page to another, salvage lines from failed paragraphs and save them for use in another context.
Across the globe, the sound of balled-up pages being thrown into the wastebasket began to die out.
Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidism, taught that, "Everything that a person sees or hears should teach him/her a lesson in his/her service of the Alm-ghty." Everything - whether it is a natural phenomenon, a quirk of human nature, a technological development or a news story - can tell us something about our life's purpose. Because the world in which we live - our own everyday, mundane world - is a mirror of the spiritual cosmos.
We know that history is a process - a process by which the whole of creation advances toward the fulfillment of its function as a home for G-d. The climax of history is the era of Moshiach - a time when all ignorance, animosity, suffering and want will be eliminated from the face of the earth. A time when the letters of creation will be perfectly configured, so that the very forces that formerly spelled "evil" will now be channeled as forces for good.
The evolution of writing reflects our world's progression toward this ideal. In earlier generations, the task of "editing" the forces of creation was beset with false starts, abandoned efforts and wasted resources. But today we live in the age of electronic writing; today, the task of aligning the letters of our lives in their proper configuration is more accessible and more "user friendly" than it has ever been.
Reprinted from The Week in Review published by V.H.H. For subscription rates call 718-774-6448 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In this week's Torah portion, Korach, we read about the rebellion that Korach instigated against Moses after the Twelve Spies returned from their scouting mission to the Land of Israel.
Why did Korach wait until that point to incite the people against Moses? What was so significant about the Spies' sin that Korach took it as his cue to challenge Moses?
To answer, we need to understand the Spies' argument. The Spies maintained that it was necessary to be isolated from the physical world in order to serve G-d. They wanted the Jewish people to remain in the wilderness so they could continue to learn Torah without distraction. Moses, however, correctly countered that in Judaism, "the deed is the main thing." Only by performing concrete, physical actions-observing G-d's commandments in the Land of Israel-would the Jews be able to fulfill G-d's will and achieve perfection.
There is an essential difference between learning Torah and observing practical mitzvot.
Torah study requires understanding and comprehension. Yet not all people are on the same intellectual level. Some individuals are able to understand G-d's wisdom to a greater degree, others, to a lesser extent. Every Jew learns Torah based on his own intellectual capacity.
But when Jews perform mitzvot, they are all on the same level. Each person may have different thoughts when he does the mitzva, but the mitzva itself is the same.
Korach recognized that Moses' intellectual stature was far superior to anyone else's. He knew that Moses had received the Torah directly from G-d, and that his understanding of G-d's wisdom was on a higher level than any other Jew. This fact was undisputed.
But after the Spies returned, when it became clear that the Jew's main objective is the actual performance of mitzvot, Korach began to grumble. Aren't all Jews equally holy? Don't they all perform the same mitzvot? If this is the case, why should Moses be superior to anyone else?
"In the morning G-d will show who is His," Moses replied. Moses gave Korach and his followers time to repent, alluding, with the use of the word morning, to the fact that a Jew's mitzvot should be as bright as the light of day. True, we all perform the same mitzvot in the same manner, but without the proper intentions our mitzvot will not bring about the same revelation of G-dliness in the physical world they otherwise could have.
This contains an important teaching: A Jew must never rely on intentions alone, for the actual performance of the mitzva is what truly counts. At the same time, we must strive to ensure that our mitzvot be "illuminating," thereby making a "dwelling place" for G-d in the physical world.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 4
GOOD DEEDS AWARDS
Some of this year's awardees
The Good Deed Awards for Long Island Teenagers was established five years ago by the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education of Nassau County. "At a time when crime and drug abuse in high schools make the headlines, this annual event has become a great opportunity to identify the vast good so inherent in our youth and help the wider community appreciate it," explains Rabbi Anchelle Perl, director of the N.C.F.J.E. of Nassau County and spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Sholom Chabad of Mineola.
Each year teenagers from all backgrounds, races and walks of life are chosen for their outstanding achievements, positive roles, kindness and generous demeanor to their peers and community. Long Island teenagers were cited for good works that ranged from tutoring developmentally disabled youngsters to putting on plays for nursing home residents.
This year's Good Deed Awards Ceremony for Long Island Teenagers was addressed by two surviving students from Columbine High School in Colorado, Lauren Bonin and Cora Lininger, who gave an eyewitness report of the many good deeds that happened during and after the tragic event.
"The student who helped carry his friend out of the library after he had been shot in the head and hand, he's a hero," Bonin, a sophomore, told a spellbound audience. "The kids trapped in the choir room who crawled out an air duct to get help for the asthmatic students who couldn't breathe, they are heroes," Bonin continued.
Rabbi Perl explained his reason for having the Columbine students address the audience. "I wanted to prove to the world that good deeds happen in even the darkest of places, and we shouldn't give up on our youth. I also believe that as we celebrate the good deeds of Long Island teenagers, we must join hands and honor the students of Columbine High School. We must join in their pain, memorialize their loss and pause to hear, first-hand the many wonderful good deeds of the students at their school."
What follow are some of Rabbi Perl's remarks at the Awards Ceremony:
This is our 5th Annual Awards Ceremony for Long Island Teenagers. Why are we spending these precious moments together? Have you ever looked into a mirror, or seen yourself reflected in a pond or a lake? That image is not really you, but you can learn a lot about yourself by studying it. You can tell if you are healthy and fit, if you have been eating and sleeping enough. You can see your mood and your personality. The good deeds we will be hearing about this evening are like our own reflection. They aren't really about ourselves, they are about people like ourselves, but we can learn a lot about ourselves by just listening to their good deeds
"Don't we all wish we could do courageous things? Wouldn't we all like to make a difference in our neighborhood, our community, and in our world? Imagine how good it would feel to know that our actions are making a difference in people's lives. Well, we can see that it is possible, once we meet the students this evening, who are showing us the way.
"These young people are not famous Americans who lived long ago. They're kids of the '90s. They are battling the same problems we are. Because they aren't famous, rich or powerful, we can believe that anyone can do courageous and wonderful things. Even we.
"If you drop a stone into a pond over your reflection, your face ripples out of focus. Your image disappears and then wobbles before you. But it all slides back into place, and there you are again. By listening to these students' good deeds, it is like dropping a stone into water. For a moment, we forget ourselves. We focus and reflect along with the Students of Good Deeds, we share their thoughts and their struggles, maybe even giggle or cry with them. Then, when your through listening, you slide back into yourself again. Still you - except you are now stronger, smarter and braver. We have grown.
"Your presence here says that you are as sick as I am of the media reports of kids who cause trouble - as gang members, drug users, vandals and violent criminals - and that you are welcoming the chance to prove, that young people can be a powerful force for positive change.
"Government solutions to society's problems are slow and expensive. Young people are able to cut through red tape and get results while adults are still wondering where to start.
"What gives students this amazing ability? Unlike adults, they don't know ahead of time all the reasons why something might not work! Instead of making excuses, they take action. Today's youth have the power to create revolutions of virtue and integrity. And in a positive way, the young can indeed "put the elderly to shame" by storming the halls of vanity and selfishness.
"We should always be encouraging our youth and let them know that you are our hope, our most precious natural resources. And to all our wonderful Good Deed Awardees, we want you to know how proud we are. You are as alive as fire. All your good deeds show us that you are complementing your flame of youth with a sense of focus and urgency, you have the power to move the world, and you have, by your shining examples, changed the world for good."
The Chabad House Jewish Student Center at SUNY Binghamton received special recognition at the Excelsior Award ceremony sponsored by the Student Association and the Campus Activities office of the University. The Chabad House was cited for outstanding leadership and contributions to student life at Binghamton.
EIGHT ANNUAL CELEBRATION
A gala Bar and Bat Mitzva celebration for 500 boys and 500 girls who are recent immigrants from the C.I.S. was celebrated in Israel at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Sponsored by Collel Chabad, the celebration drew a crowd of thousands. Each boy received a pair of tefilin and each girl received a beautiful candelabra.
Erev Lag B'Omer, 5729 
...With regard to the idea of taking leave of absence in order to devote the time to visits in England, the European continent, etc., generally speaking, judging by your description of the project, it would be advisable to implement it and make the most of it. On the other hand, this is contingent on being quite certain that it would in no way jeopardize the security of your present position. For, undoubtedly, there are quite a few aspirants who would like to step into the vacancy. It would therefore be necessary to make quite certain that your leave of absence would in no way jeopardize the security and tenure of your position.
Needless to say, there is also the consideration that your visits to foreign countries could be used in a manner that would actually strengthen your position. It is for this reason that my first thought was that it would be a very good idea. I do hope that the apprehension I mentioned earlier is groundless, or you could in any case make sure that it would remain groundless. Whatever your decision in this matter, may G-d grant that your decision be the proper one, and be with Hatzlocho [success] in every detail, all the more so since your Hatzlocho means a benefit for many through enjoying your good influence in an increased measure.
I was particularly interested to note the enclosure reflecting the response to your article which originally appeared in the London Jewish Chronicle. In view of the fact that a part of your article was regrettably omitted in its original publication, I trust that you will find an opportunity to have the article republished in full in other media. And since people prefer something new, it does not mean that the article should be presented in exactly the same form as before, but it can externally be changed and recast, for the important thing is the content and the thoughts expressed, that they should be conducive and stimulate the reader towards authentic Yiddishkeit without compromise. Also, a new addition to the article could serve your experiences and activities in spreading Yiddishkeit among faculty and students. No doubt this point occurred to you also, and it could fit in very well with the general tenor of your published article.
With personal regards, and with blessing,
P.S. I am usually very reluctant to express my view on matters which lie outside my field of competence. However, having "glanced" through the detailed research program which you enclosed in your letter, I decided to make an observation: I fail to find among the itemized points of study one aspect which, in my humble opinion, should have been of particular interest. I am referring to the recognition that certain microbes and infections may be germane to hospitals-a view which, I believe, has received some attention in pertinent literature.
I am not familiar with the details of this problem, but I believe it has to do with the ability of bacteria to develop immunity to antibiotics, as has been established in the case of penicillin, etc. Hence, it is very possible that methods of infection control which are effective elsewhere may lose their effectiveness because of continued and consistent application in hospitals, or because the hospital environment has produced certain strains of certain bacteria which has given them a measure of immunity in that specific environment.
I do not know whether the omission of this aspect from your project is due to the circumstance that a three month study period would not be sufficient to include an investigation into this area, since, undoubtedly, it would entail the problem of distinguishing "immunized" from "non-immunized" bacteria, etc., as well as the problems of changing methods of sterilization and infection control and clinical observation, etc. Or, simply, because this question is outside your present work. Yet, it seems to me that this is a question of practical importance and should be well within your field of interest.
As in all matters, where the physical reflects the spiritual, there is a didactic relevance in the above-mentioned subject, reflected in Jewish ethics and in Halachah [Jewish law]. The point is dealt with conspicuously in the Tanya, and is related to the Talmudic saying that a person studying the same subject 101 times attains an excellence quite out of proportion over the person who studies only 100 times.
At first glance this is puzzling. However, the Baal Hatanya [the author of Tanya, i.e., Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] explains it by reason of the fact that it was customary in those days to review a subject 100 times; hence it was no special accomplishment. On the other hand, the one who did it 101 times went beyond his habit and accustomed practice, resulting in an extraordinary accomplishment both quantitatively and qualitatively. Indeed, the Baal Hatanya goes on to define the latter "eved Hashem" and the other "asher lo avodo" (Ch. 15).
To translate it into terms of "infection control," the person who develops good habits becomes immune to the Yetzer Hora [evil inclination], but by the same token he does not merit reward, since no effort is required here. Similarly, in regard to transgression, as explained in Iggeres Hateshuvah, where the difference between committing a transgression a second time and a third time is a difference in kind and not merely in degree. This should be discussed at greater length, but not here.
eved Hashem: a servant of G-d
asher lo avodo: [one] who does not serve G-d
In memory of Yosef Yitzchak ben Shlomo Shneur Zalman, yblc't
Prohibition 62: swearing a vain oath
By this prohibition we are forbidden to swear a vain oath. It is contained in the words (Ex. 20:7): "You shall not take the name of the
L-rd your G-d in vain." It forbids us to swear that an existing object is not what it really is, or that something exists which is impossible, or to swear to violate any of the Torah's commandments. It is also prohibited to swear to a self-evident fact.
In Chapter Four of Ethics of the Fathers there is a saying attributed to Elisha ben Avuya: He who studies Torah as a child, to what can he be compared? To ink written on fresh paper; and he who studies Torah as an old man, to what can he be compared? To ink written on paper that has been erased.
Judaism stresses the importance of beginning one's Jewish education early. What a person learns as a child stays with him forever. The "ink," once applied to the "paper," doesn't rub off so easily. It is much more difficult for an older person to assimilate a formal education.
A freshly written page on new paper is easily readable. As the person who studied Torah in his youth grows older, he can always look back and consult his "neatly written" store of knowledge. When the page has been repeatedly erased, the writing is much less legible.
A person who studies Torah as a child retains this quality of "fresh paper" throughout his life. Much effort is required to compensate for early years that were wasted.
Of course, "Nothing is impossible if the will is there." There's a lot more at stake than chronological years when it comes to learning Torah. "He who studies as a child" is symbolic of a person who approaches the Torah with a sense of self-nullification; "he who studies as an old man" is symbolic of a person who possesses a finely developed intellect, yet lacks a sense of nullification before G-d. The proper approach - awe and humility - is necessary for the Torah to be absorbed properly.
May it be G-d's will that Moshiach be immediately revealed, when young and old alike will merit to study the "new dimension" of Torah that he will teach us.
And Moses sent to call Datan and Aviram (Num. 16:12)
It states in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 106): "From this we learn that one should not 'hold on' to controversy." Even if several attempts to make peace have been made without success, it is forbidden to throw up one's hands and assume that nothing more can be done. Rather, one must continue one's efforts until peace is attained. Thus despite the fact that Moses had already spoken to Datan and Aviram several times, he attempted one more time to dissuade them. (Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorky)
Will you assume to make yourself also ruler over us (Num. 16:13)
Because Moses was in the position of Nasi, leader of the entire Jewish people, he had to comport himself in a certain manner so that his words would be accepted. And yet, as the Torah testifies, his innermost nature was extremely humble. This is in contrast to a person who outwardly bows and scrapes the dust to prove his humility, yet inwardly feels arrogant and superior. (Rabbi Moshe of Kovrin)
The censers of these sinners against their own lives (Num. 17:3)
Even worse than those who encourage conflict are people who drag matters of the spirit into controversy. They falsely clothe their arguments in spiritual terms while claiming to be on the side of holiness and sanctity. (Ayala Shlucha)
And you shall give there of the heave-offering of the L-rd to Aaron the Priest (Num. 18:28)
If, as we read in the Torah, Aaron the Priest passed away in the desert before entering the Land of Israel, how would the Jews be able to fulfill this commandment? Rather, this is an allusion to a time after the Resurrection of the Dead, when Aaron will again be alive and able to receive his due.
Bar Ayvoh, (who became known as Rav) was one of the great Jewish scholars who lived in Babylon the same time as Rabbi Yehuda the Prince led the Jewish community in the Land of Israel. Because of his fine, impressive appearance, he also was given the nickname Abba Aricha, or "the tall Abba."
Rav began his illustrious career when he arrived in Israel to study under the tutelage of his uncle, the noteworthy scholar, Rabbi Hiyya bar Abbah, with whom he was very close. Eventually, Rabbi Hiyya appointed his brilliant nephew to serve as an interpreter, a special scholar whose function it was to explain the teachings of the dean of the academy. Abba grew in Torah knowledge and stature, and when his uncle introduced him to Rabbi Yehuda, he made a very favorable impression.
Rav returned to Babylon and during his stay both of his parents passed away. Upon his return to Israel, Rabbi Hiyya inquired whether his father was still alive. Reluctant to give bad news, Abba responded with a question, "Why do you not inquire if my mother is alive?" Rabbi Hiyya then asked, "Is your mother alive?" To which Abba replied, "And does my father live?" From this cryptic exchange, Rabbi Hiyya understood that Abba's parents had died.
After his return to Israel, Rav joined the yeshiva of Rabbi Yehuda, becoming one of the outstanding students there, and following Rabbi Yehuda to Tzippori, when he moved his court there. His fame spread, and the Talmud reports the esteem in which his colleagues held him. Once, Issi bar Hinni referred to Rav as "Abba Aricha" in the presence of Rav Yochanan. Rav Yochanan angrily retorted: "You dare to call him 'Abba Aricha'? Why, I recall when I sat 17 rows behind Rav in Rabbi Yehuda's yeshiva. Sparks of fire passed from Rav's mouth to his Master's mouth, and back to Rav's mouth, and I could not even understand their conversation!"
Rav's brilliance was not confined to his knowledge of Torah. He was learned in the whole spectrum of secular studies, including medicine, nature, nutrition, zoology, geography, business and trade. He studied all of these secular fields in order to be able to decide the many legal questions which came to him. The Jerusalem Talmud relates that Rav spent 18 months studying with a shepherd to learn how to distinguish between blemishes which are permanent and those which are temporary, in order to render a decision as to the fitness of a first-born animal. In addition to all his other talents, Rav was an accomplished linguist, conversing fluently in Persian, Greek and Aramaic.
Many sayings in the Talmud are attributed to Rav and illustrate his wisdom and sagacity. "Better to be cursed than to curse" (Sanhedrin 49); "A camel came begging for horns, so his ears were clipped," (Sanhedrin 106); "Better to have a pot of earth than a large amount on the roof," (Pesachim 113). Rav used to say that a father should never show more love to one child than to another because such action causes jealousy between children, as was the case of Joseph and his brothers.
Rav was very humble and always sought peace. If someone happened to offend him, Rav was always the first to go out and try to make peace.
In later years, Rav returned to Babylon to strengthen Torah and Judaism there. There were great scholars in residence there when he arrived, and although he was greater than they were, he refused to assume any of their positions. In fact, he arrived anonymously and was not recognized. One day, Rav Shila had need of an interpreter, and Rav volunteered. It was soon apparent that he was no ordinary scholar, and Rav Shila recognized him. He exclaimed, "I am not worthy of having you as my interpreter!" Rav replied simply, "When one hires himself out for the day, he is duty bound to perform whatever job he is given."
In his great humility Rav greatly respected all Torah scholars, even those on a far lower level than himself. Only in the instance of a possible desecration of G-d's Name did he speak brazenly, saying, "When a question of the desecration of the Holy Name arises, one need not respect the feelings of even a great person" (Brachot 19b).
Rav owned a brewery, but was unsuccessful in business and lived in poverty. When Rav Shila died, Rav refused to step into his position. Instead, Rav left Nehardea to travel from town to town, teaching and attracting many disciples. He finally settled in the town of Sura, which had not yet been established as a Torah center. Eventually, his yeshiva grew very large. His financial position also advanced, and he became intimate with the royal family.
Although Rav didn't care for his personal honor, he was scrupulous toward the honor of the Torah. It is related in the Talmud that once Rav summoned a wealthy man to appear in court. The rich man was very haughty and instead of coming, he sent a message saying, "Do you know how rich I am? All the camels of the Arabs would not be able to carry even the keys to my treasures."
When Rav was given that message, he remarked that the rich man would soon be relieved of his riches. Very soon after, the king issued an order that all the rich man's possessions be confiscated. When that happened, the rich man ran to Rav, begging for his forgiveness. Rav forgave him at once. Soon, all his possessions were returned to him.
What Rabbi Yehuda the Prince was to Jews in Israel, Rav was for the Jews in Babylon. He is considered one of the greatest scholars of his time.
The substance of the cry "We Want Moshiach Now!" is that we forego the Garden of Eden and the World to Come: we want G-d's presence itself... Our desire is a yearning for nothing but the very essence of G-d. Therefore we cry out all at once in pain and in joy, "We Want Moshaich Now." For the most sublime levels of Divinity will be revealed through the Redemption! (Sefer Hitva'aduyot, 5745)