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Maybe you're fortunate enough to know someone who plays by ear. No, we don't mean play it by ear, which is a clich้ or aphorism meaning to ad lib, do something without preparation, act spontaneously.
Indeed, there's something gratifying about listening to someone who can play by ear - who can hear a song, go to the piano and, without practice or sheet music, sound it out. Within minutes she's playing it perfectly.
Many people take music lessons, but true musical talent is rare. Rarer still is the ability to play by ear - to be so "tuned in" that one must think in rhythm and melody, to be so sensitive to the patterns, progressions and inter-relationships that the music flows from the ear to the brain to the fingers, seemingly without interruption.
We know that harmony derives from intervals of sound on a scale. Sound A harmonizes with Sound B because B is a multiple of A. That is, if Sound A vibrates with a frequency of 1, then Sound B harmonizes when it vibrates at a certain ratio (say 1:2) of Sound A.
It may all be mathematical, but those who play by ear do so instinctively. They don't think about the relationships between the notes; they feel them in their mind and heart.
And yet, even those who play by ear don't always get the notes right the first time. They have to experiment, translate the melody in their head into the movement of their fingers, until they've learned to express the harmony playing inside.
There's a lesson here in our Divine service: Every soul hears the "music of the spheres." When it comes to recognizing the harmonic spiritual patterns, we can all play by ear. That's because every Jew is innately "tuned in" to the "spiritual melodies" - the mitzvot. The mitzvot, G-d's commandments, express G-d's Will with a mathematical precision reminiscent of music. And they harmonize with each other, "vibrating" in various proportions and relations - this mitzvah calls forth that mitzva, this one prepares for or takes precedence over that one.
For example, Shabbat is a dominant chord, which calls for lighting candles and Kiddush - two mitzvot that "vibrate" at a spiritual ratio to Shabbat itself.
And all the mitzvot together harmonize in our souls.
But when playing them by ear, we don't always get them right the first time. Our practical observance of the mitzvot - how we play them out - doesn't always match what we know we should do - how we hear them in our heads. And so we falter at the keyboard, so to speak, fooling around with the notes and chords until we get the melody right.
And that's where Chasidut comes in. Studying Chasidut creates a clear channel, as it were, from the spiritual songs in our souls to their expression in our actions. When those of us who can play by ear hear a song, its path to our fingers should be easy and immediate. Any hesitancy or "mis-notes" results from a blockage, something interfering with the transition from ear to hand.
Similarly, what prevents the harmony of mitzvot from flowing from our souls to our actions - our words, our prayers, our deeds - is some interference in the process of transition. Chasidut clarifies our conceptions trains our mind to respond to our soul, and our hands to be an extension of our soul.
We may not all be able to sit at the piano, recall a song and play it by ear perfectly. But by studying Chasidut, we can play perfectly the song of our soul.
This week, in the Torah portion of Vayakhel, we read about the setting up of the Tabernacle in the desert.
Before the Tabernacle was built, Moses called together all of the Children of Israel and commanded them to keep the Sabbath. "Six days shall work be done, and on the seventh you shall have a holy day. A Sabbath of rest to G-d."
The Talmud explains that the juxtaposition of Shabbat and the building of the Tabernacle teaches us which types of work we must avoid in order to keep the Sabbath. These are the 39 categories of labor which are prohibited on Shabbat, and from which are derived all other activities which may not be pursued on the holy day.
Nothing in the Torah occurs coincidentally. The fact that the Torah chooses the building of the Tabernacle to teach us which labors are prohibited on Shabbat shows that there is a connection between these two subjects. Furthermore, the relationship between Shabbat and the building of the Tabernacle has another, deeper dimension. Every one of the 39 types of labor involved in building the Sanctuary is the prototype of the labors we perform during the six days of the week. And, because everything in the physical world reflects its spiritual source, all our physical labor is the building of the Tabernacle. All the work which we perform has the potential to be elevated and turned into holiness.
But not only is the Tabernacle the source for the work in our lives, it also serves as our lives' goals as well. Every task we perform during our daily routine should be utilized to bring holiness into the world, the same function which the original Tabernacle served.
The Torah states: "Six days shall you work." Our Sages explain that this is a positive commandment, not merely the granting of permission. Man is compelled to toil to earn his daily bread. We see that the prayers and Torah readings prescribed for weekdays are shorter than those read on Shabbat and holidays, to enable a person to go out into the world to perform his daily tasks. It is through one's physical labor that he molds and shapes the world into a "sanctuary" for G-d.
How do we elevate our daily, mundane tasks? "In all your ways shall you know Him," explains the Torah. All of our activities, no matter how seemingly trivial, must be performed with the proper thoughts in mind. When we eat, drink, sleep and go about our business according to Torah law, we are cognizant of our Creator and transform our lives into sanctuaries to G-d.
The basic difference between the Tabernacle and our own physical world is that the Tabernacle was an actual manifestation of G-dliness, whereas the physical world is still in a state of potential. Man's task is to transform that potential into actual realization, by living according to the dictum, "In all your ways shall you know Him."
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Bar Mitzva in Wexford
By Rabbi Yosef Y. Jacobson
It was the summer of 1996. As Lubavitcher yeshiva students, Rabbi Mendy Harlig and I were using our summer break to join the Rebbe's "Peace Corps," to go to those areas of the world that don't have an emissary of the Rebbe nearby. We spent five weeks in Ireland, in the course of which we visited Jews from north to south, and east to west.
Our base was Dublin and we stayed at the Orwell Lodge Hotel. One day the managress of the hotel, an elderly Catholic woman, said to us, "Are you the young rabbis referred to in an article in The Irish Times?"
The article had said that two Chabad rabbis from Brooklyn were visiting Ireland in order to connect Jews with their Jewish roots. It stated that we were not proselytizing non-Jews, only giving our fellow Jews an opportunity to learn of their tradition and to experience their Jewishness. I told her the article was indeed about us.
"Marvelous," she said, "I hope you'll visit my cousin Tony who lives in Wexford. He is married to Roselyn, a Jewish woman, and they have three lovely children." She wrote down their address.
"Can we have their phone number?" I asked.
"They don't have one," she answered. "They live in a rural area and the people there don't have phones. But it's not a problem. Take the address and go. When you get there, ring the doorbell and walk in. I know they'll be thrilled to meet you."
We got into our car and drove to the south-east tip of Ireland. We got lost a few times on the winding roads, but finally arrived at our destination.
The woman who opened the door stared in astonishment. I can't blame her! Picture the scene: two rabbis with black yarmulkes and beards had landed on her doorstep in this little village in Ireland, with no prior warning.
A few minutes later we were seated around her kitchen table talking. We met her three children: Rebecca - 22, Aaron - 19, and Sara - 15. They all felt very Jewish but had no way of expressing their Jewishness in any area of their lives.
Roselyn had arrived in Wexford 25 years earlier, and since then, had almost never met a Jew. It was amazing to discover how strongly they felt about being Jewish despite their utter disconnect from Jews and Judaism.
Roselyn and her children took the opportunity of our visit to ask us many questions they had had for years. But their big question was: Why do rabbis like you visit people like us, people disconnected from Judaism, people you don't even know?
I explained to them that every Jew, no matter his or her connection to a Jewish community, level of knowledge, and fulfillment of Jewish law, has a Jewish soul which is connected, with an inviolable connection, to G-d. The Jew is intrinsically and innately part of a covenantal relationship with G-d that began 3,300 year ago and has not ceased since. Our challenge in life is to express this holiness and G-dliness in our daily schedule and interactions.
I went on to explain that the Rebbe said that every Jew is a Divine diamond, and this is why we came to see her and the children.
We talked with the family for a long time. At the end of the visit, when we exchanged addresses and were saying goodbye, a thought popped into my head. I asked, "Did Aaron have a bar mitzva?"
"No," said Roselyn. "There are no bar mitzva classes in Wexford," she added with a smile.
"Maybe we can celebrate his bar mitzva now?" I suggested. "The main part of the bar mitzva - putting on tefilin and praying to G-d in acceptance of the yoke of Heaven - can be done now."
Mendy brought tefilin from the car, and Rebecca and Sara brought a camera to record the historic moment. A bar mitzva in Wexford! Who would have believed it?
Aaron disappeared for a few minutes and then returned, wearing a green yarmulke which he found upstairs. Everybody felt the momentousness of the occasion - the first bar mitzva - and maybe the last - being celebrated in Wexford, Ireland.
The family watched in awe as Mendy put tefilin on Aaron's arm and head for the first time in his life.
I explained that the seven times the tefilin straps are wrapped on the arm symbolize the seven emotions contained by every soul, since the main point of tefilin is to make the heart and mind subordinate to G-d. I told them that the point of the commandment of tefilin is to connect and unite man's two components - the intellect and the emotions - with G-d.
Aaron began to say the "Shema," word by word, after Mendy. And that's when the dam broke. Roselyn began weeping profusely. Her daughters followed, sobbing like children. Emotions that had been pent-up for ages broke through. Roselyn went over to her only son to hug him. Mendy and I stood there silently and humbly as we witnessed the spiritual storm overtaking this Jewish family.
We watched four "diamonds" return to their source, to who they truly are.
We gave Rebecca and Sara each a candlestick, and they promised to light Shabbat candles each Friday before sunset. When we finally said "goodbye," they all walked us out. I thought about how just three and a half hours ago we were strangers, and now we were parting from family.
The next day I began reviewing the events in my mind. What had happened in that moment when Aaron began saying the Shema? What made the family burst into tears? It certainly wasn't nostalgia, for they had no memories of anything like this.
What had happened was that for the first time in their lives, they were given the opportunity to connect to their inner souls, to their Divine spark, which was always there but lay dormant. When Aaron, wearing tefilin, said the Shema, the spark in each of them ignited. There was no need to create or invent something new. All that was needed was to reveal that which was always present.
Rabbi Jacobson, one of the most sought-after speakers in the Jewish world today, has lectured to audiences in six continents and 35 states and is the author of the tape series "A Tale of Two Souls" and "Captain My Captain." To receive his weekly internet essays on Judaism, mysticism and psychology, please e-mail YYJacobson@aol.com. Adapted by S.Z. Levin from a speech.
Reprinted from Beis Moshiach magazine.
New Chabad Center
A new Chabad-Lubavitch Center is slated to open soon in S. Thomas in the Virgin Islands under the directorship of Rabbi Asher and Henya Federman. The center will reach out to the local Jewish community as well as serve the Jewish tourists who visit the Islands. Shabbat celebrations, holiday awareness projects, adult education and other Jewish services are some of what will be offered in the new center.
Mei Menachem Mikvas Devorah was recently dedicated in Oak Park, California. The new mikva is the first in the city of Oak Park and is a project of Chabad of Conejo.
Freely translated letters of the Rebbe
In reply to your letter in which you convey to me the good news that you have entered the second month - approximately - of your pregnancy:
Surely, as I have mentioned to ... if at all possible you are not to publicize the news "until the fifth month" - to use the expression of my father-in-law, the Rebbe.
I would suggest to you the following:
- Surely you are following your doctors' orders - those of whom you already visited - regarding your diet, not overstraining yourself, etc.
- Check all the mezuzos in your home and exchange the non-kosher ones for kosher ones.
- Keep the fine custom of Jewish women, that of giving charity to the fund of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes prior to lighting candles every Shabbos eve and Yom Tov eve.
- Your husband, the Rav, should continue reciting the daily portion of Psalms (as it is divided by the days of the month) at least until after you give birth in a good and auspicious hour.
So, too, in the Prayer Before Retiring at Night, your husband should recite - prior to Hamapil - the 20th Psalm, Lamenatzeiach ... Ya'ancha. After he concludes the chapter, he should once again recite the second verse, Ya'ancha, and have in mind that G-d should consider it as if he had all the intentions that are to be thought of at that time.
May G-d grant you an easy pregnancy; may you carry to term and give birth in a regular and easy way to a healthy child.
(Igros Kodesh, Vol. VI, p. 104)
In reply to your letter relating to your sister, who has been married for many years and has yet to be blessed with children:
I wonder why you did not mention whether they have consulted with fertility experts; if they have not as yet done so, they should do so now.
This is in keeping with the directive of our Sages, of blessed memory, who in commenting on the verse, "and he shall be healed," state: "From here we learn that the Torah gave a healer the ability [and power] to heal."
However, a Jew's physical and spiritual welfare are inextricably bound together, as they are "one nation on earth," and in the language of the Alter Rebbe: "This means that even in mundane ["earthly"] matters they will not be separated from G-d's true unity [and oneness]."
Therefore, they are to increase their performance of Torah and mitzvos [commandments] and strengthen their faith and trust in G-d, the Creator and Conductor of the entire world, that He watches over them with individual Divine Providence with regard to all the above.
In a case such as the above, it would also be appropriate for them to ascertain whether their shidduch with each other did not wound the pride of any Jewish young man or woman to the extent that it necessitates asking their forgiveness. [If they do have to ask forgiveness, they can do so] either in the presence of the aggrieved party or [if this is not possible,] in the aggrieved party's absence.
They should also check the husband's tefillin, as well as the mezuzos in their home, that they all be kosher according to Jewish law. Also, the wife should observe the custom of Jewish women of giving charity prior to lighting candles every Shabbos eve and every Yom Tov eve.
(Igros Kodesh, Vol. XVIII, p. 32)
From Eternal Joy, translated by Rabbi S. B. Wineberg, published by Sichos In English
24 Adar I, 5765 - March 5, 2005
Positive Mitzvah 62: Offering salt with a sacrifice
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 2:13) "With all your offerings you shall offer salt"
Salt is a very effective preserver. The Torah commands us to offer salt with all sacrifices.
This salt hints that by presenting our offerings to G-d we are "preserving" our closeness to Him
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The last public address of the Rebbe was on this Shabbat in 1992. The Rebbe spoke then about many concepts, including the importance of increasing in charity as a way of fostering unity amongst the Jewish people and hastening the Redemption. Among the Rebbe's statements:
"In regard to our gifts to charity; we must give of ourselves. There are different graduations in our obligation to give charity: The basic obligation of charity one tenth of one's resources. A person who desires to fulfill the mitzva in the most choice manner possible, should give a fifth of his resources. Over and above that, however, there is a deeper motivation to give, to borrow an expression, 'everything a person owns he will give for the sake of his soul.' For the realization of the fundamental unity we share with others will prompt us to give generously. For the other person is one's other half as it were. Giving to him fulfills one's own self, and therefore, there will be no limits to one's gifts.
"Furthermore, one's giving must be permeated with the efforts to gather together with all other Jews. This means that our thoughts must be preoccupied with the love of our fellow Jews. We must make statements that reflect this feeling as well. And primarily, our actual gifts must reflect this commitment. Thus they will be substantial, as mentioned above, "everything a person owns he will give for the sake of his soul."
"Moreover, our gifts to charity should constantly be increased. Every moment, the creation as a whole is being renewed and is receiving additional blessings through G-d's benevolence. Therefore, at every moment, we should renew and increase our commitment to charity, amplifying the manner in which we help others.
"And these efforts to gather together, both the different dimensions of our spiritual being and to gather together with other Jews will hasten the ultimate ingathering of the Jewish people when together with the entire Jewish people, we will proceed to the Holy Land, where we merit the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. May this take place immediately."
Take from yourselves an offering. (Ex. 35:5)
The words "from yourselves" show that one should not say that he will wait until he is rich to give his donation. Rather, he should take from what G-d has given him now.
And all the women whose hearts stirred them up in wisdom spun the goats' [hair]. (Ex. 35:26)
Rashi explains that the way in which the goats' hair was spun, actually on the back of the goat, was a special skill granted to certain women. The women were not commanded or instructed concerning how to spin the hair, but learned by themselves. They understood, therefore, that this special talent, given them by G-d, was meant to be used for the Holy Sanctuary. From this we learn that when G-d gives a person certain talents or skills, it is incumbent upon that person to use those talents to make a "sanctuary" for G-d in this world.
These are the things that G-d has commanded you to do. (Ex. 35:1)
Immediately following this verse we read about the commandment to refrain from work on Shabbat. Why are we first instructed to actively do something, and then immediately instructed not to do something else? Shabbat is not merely a passive cessation of labor, but is something in which we must take an active, vital role. It is up to us to make the holiness of Shabbat felt, by investing our efforts towards this goal during the first six days of the week.
All the wise-hearted among you shall come, and make all that G-d has commanded. (Ex. 35:10)
When a person decides to do a mitzva, it is preferable to do it immediately, as the opportunity presents itself, and not procrastinate. Doing a mitzva with diligence and alacrity prevents all kinds of obstacles from arising to prevent the performance of the mitzva at a later time. That is why the verse says, "All the wise-hearted among you shall come" - one who is truly wise - "shall come" - without delay.
Many, many years ago in southern Russia two families joined in the joyous celebration of the marriage of their children, Eliezer and Devorah. The moon shone down upon tables richly set with brimming platters of festive foods. People conversed happily, their gazes turning periodically to the joyous couple, and music filled the night air.
Suddenly, screams pierced the night, and dreaded words filled the air, "Cossacks, Cossacks are coming!" Pandemonium erupted and panic- stricken people ran in every direction looking for shelter from the murderous horde. But alas, men, women and children were mercilessly cut down in the quick, bloody foray. Throughout the town, Jews were robbed and murdered, captured and enslaved by the Cossack band.
When quiet finally descended upon the devastated village the young bride, Devorah, was still alive. She had no memory of her miraculous escape, but now, faced with an uncertain future, she set out for the Holy Land to the home of an uncle, her only surviving relative. Sympathetic Jews along the route helped her, and at long last she arrived in Israel where she was taken into the family and began to recover from her traumatic experiences. Since the fate of her husband was unknown she was unable to remarry, and the poor girl went to the Western Wall every day to pray that the Alm-ghty restore her husband to her.
One day the streets of Jerusalem buzzed with excitement. Trumpets blared and crowds gathered to welcome a handsome young king who, mounted on a beautiful stead, rode through the narrow streets followed by his retainers.
Suddenly, Devorah, who had come to witness the great event with her cousins, fainted. When they brought her home their mother scolded them for taking her out on such a hot day. But Devorah, who had regained consciousness looked up at her aunt and said, "Oh no, it wasn't the heat that caused me to faint. I saw my husband! The young king, he is my lost husband!"
The family looked at her in astonishment. Poor Devorah was suffering delusions, no doubt as a result of all she had been through. When her uncle returned that night they told him about Devorah's encounter with the visiting king. He felt great pity for his unfortunate niece and decided to take her to a well-known tzadik to ask for a blessing for her health.
To his surprise, the tzadik advised him to take Devorah's words seriously. Since the uncle had been appointed member of the delegation which was to greet the king, the tzadik advised him to take advantage of that fortuitous situation. "Let me give you an idea," said the tzadik, "In the course of your reception for the king, engage him in a game of chess. You will play very well, but then you will make a mistake. When he asks to explain this obviously foolish move, you will tell him that you are troubled by a personal problem. And when he inquires what it is, you will mention the name 'Devorah'. By his reaction, you will know his identity."
Just as the tzadik said, the chess game was played, the "mistake" was made, and when her uncle mentioned Devorah's name, the young king leapt up, scattering the chess pieces. "Where is she?" he exclaimed; "Did she remarry?"
The uncle recounted the entire story of Devorah's survival and passage to the Holy Land. He told how she recognized her husband and stuck to her convictions despite everyone's disbelief. The king was very moved by the account, and begged her uncle to tell her of his own difficult and trying experiences since the night of their wedding. He had been sold into slavery, had worked on a pirate ship, and then finally, shipwrecked on an island, been chosen king of the inhabitants. He had never, however, forgotten her. "Please, tell Devorah that I am prepared to do as she wishes. If she will have me back, I am prepared to renounce my crown and resume our life together. But, if not, I am willing to give her a divorce here and now. It is hers to choose."
The uncle returned home with the astoundingly good news that Devorah had, indeed, found her husband. There was no question in Devorah's mind; her prayers had been answered, her husband had been returned to her. The young couple was reunited in great happiness. The young man formulated a plan. After transferring stewardship of his little kingdom into capable hands, he would return quietly to Jerusalem, where he and Devorah would set up their home. This is exactly what they did. Most of the inhabitants of the city never knew the real story of Devorah and her husband.
Adapted from The Storyteller.
Unity is the key to G-d's blessings. Thus, in our daily prayers, we say "Bless us our Father, all as one." Chasidic teachings explain that the very fact of being together "all as one," makes us worthy of blessing. And this unity will lead to the ultimate blessing - the coming of the time when G-d will "sound the great shofar," and together "with our youth and with our elders... with our sons and with our daughters," the entire Jewish people will proceed to the Holy Land, to Jerusalem, and to the Third Holy Temple. May this take place in the immediate future.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 25 Adar I, 5752 - 1992)