Friday, February 26, 2010

Yalta - Women of the Talmud


Dear Students,
Allow me to share with you a short poem that I have always enjoyed.

by Edwin Markham
He drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
What will Rabbi Meir do when his primary teacher of Torah, Elisha ben Avuyah, turns heretic and colludes with the Romans in oppressing his own people? The rabbis refuse to even speak his name. Reviled and ostracized, Elisha is left alone in a private hell of his own making.

Now Rabbi Meir, a brilliant and daring leader, must choose how to respond. Will he side with his colleagues and turn away from Elisha? Or, knowing Elisha as no one else knows him, will his conscience dictate another solution?

We’ll discuss this question in our fifth lesson in Portraits in Leadership: Timeless Tales for Inspired Living. I look forward to seeing you next Tuesday at the Chabad Torah Centre.

Portraits in Leadership - Rabbi Meir

Is Intermarriage Good for the Jews? by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
I have always felt an affinity to Queen Esther from the Purim story. Just like me, she married a non-Jew. And because of it she saved the Jewish people. Isn't the message that intermarriage can be good for the Jews?

Esther is a tragic hero. Unlike many people's misconception, she was not happy to be queen. She was dragged away from her family and people, against her will, and forced to marry a grotesque and uncouth tyrant, the king of Persia, Achashverosh.

This was no romantic courtship. Having executed his previous queen for not obeying his wishes, Achashverosh ordered that every woman in the kingdom present herself before him. Esther, a sweet Jewish girl, was deemed the most beautiful candidate, and so she was taken to the king's palace. She had no choice - to resist meant death.

When an evil decree was made to annihilate the Jewish nation throughout the kingdom, Esther used her position to beg for the salvation of her people. She succeeded, but there was no happy ending for her. The Jews celebrated their victory in the streets, but Esther was stuck in the palace. She remained chained to her despotic husband till the end.

Esther is not a model of intermarriage. You can't compare her forced marriage to yours. But if you would like to take a lesson from Esther's life, perhaps it is this: Being married to a non-Jew in no way diminishes your responsibility to your people. Esther's marital situation was never used as an excuse for her to weaken her ties to Judaism.

A Jew, no matter how far they think they have strayed, remains a Jew. All the tasks and obligations expected of a Jew apply to you. The fact that you don't observe one law - the law forbidding intermarriage - does not exempt you from observing all the others.

Intermarriage is never good for the Jews. Esther was good for the Jews, because she never gave up her Jewishness. Neither should you.

Good Shabbos and Happy Purim!

Weekly e*Torah by Rabbi Avrohom Altein

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review of Lesson Four (Portraits in Leadership)

Thank you for joining our fourth class of Portraits in Leadership: Timeless Tales for Inspired Living. We began with Rabbi Akiva’s early years as a shepherd. One day, while walking in the fields, Rabbi Akiva noticed a rock formation that had been created through many years of water droplets falling onto the rock’s surface. Contemplating the scene, he reasoned that if water could have such an impact on the hard rock, then Torah would be able to mold and shape his heart. Rachel, seeing his potential despite his lack of schooling, married him on the condition that he study Torah. Her father considered the match unfitting, and he disowned her.

Their marriage began with great poverty, but Rachel was not dissuaded from encouraging Rabbi Akiva’s studies. He left home for twenty-four years at her urging and returned with twenty-four thousand students. When he returned and saw Rachel pushing toward him in the crowd, he told the students to make way for her because all that he and they possessed was due to her. Rachel’s father annulled his vow, and they lived in great wealth. Rabbi Akiva bought his wife a golden tiara with the image of Jerusalem as a sign of his appreciation for her long years of sacrifice.

Rabbi Akiva’s students perished within a short span of time. Tradition attributes the cause of their death to the fact that they did not show sufficient respect to one another. Despite this crushing loss at an advanced age, Rabbi Akiva nurtured additional students who were key to the survival and preservation of the oral tradition. Rabbi Akiva’s optimism and resilience is also demonstrated in an incident in which he could not find lodging and lost his lamp, his donkey and his rooster while out in the field at night. He remained positive that this was for the best, and in fact, he escaped being captured by robbers as a result of these seemingly unlucky events. In yet another illustration of optimism, Rabbi Akiva laughed when seeing the razed site of the temple, understanding this to be the first stage in its rebuilding and the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecies of redemption.

Rabbi Akiva hoped that the Bar Kochba revolt would usher in a better era, but these hopes were unfulfilled. As a result of the failure of the revolt, Roman rule became more oppressive and Torah learning was outlawed. Rabbi Akiva nevertheless continued to teach, seeing this as vital to life itself. The Romans arrested Rabbi Akiva, and after two years of imprisonment, he was cruelly put to death. Rabbi Akiva died with the shema on his lips, seeing his death as an opportunity to give his very life to G-d.

Despite many setbacks, Rabbi Akiva’s perseverance and constant optimism prevailed. Judaism was imperiled, and only one person could save the Torah and Judaism. What can one person accomplish? Perhaps we should ask instead, “what can’t one person accomplish, given sufficient resolve and determination?” Thank you again for joining us, and I hope to see you next week for our next portrait, Rabbi Meir.

Abaya's Mother - Women of the Talmud

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Love Is All You Need?! by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
My relationship is moving ahead. We certainly love each other, and we have from the start, but we do have our differences. All my friends say the main thing is that you are in love, and everything else will fall into place. But is this true?

All you need to know about relationships you can learn from making model airplanes.

A common mistake when making a model airplane is to start by putting glue all over the parts. That just creates a mess. The wrong bits get stuck together, wings get stuck to the floor, windows stuck on your fingers. It only complicates things when you introduce the glue too early.

The way to build a model airplane is to first organise the parts. Make sure the pieces fit together and nothing is missing. Then gradually apply the glue, and join the various parts, piece by piece, until it starts to take shape.

The parts may not fit perfectly at first. You may have to shave off some rough edges, or bend some parts into shape before they click. Minor imperfections can be overlooked - a dollop of glue can fix them up. With a bit of work it all comes together.

But if you find that there are parts missing, or they don't fit, then you don't have what it takes to make an airplane. You can't use glue to join mismatched pieces, and certainly not to replace missing parts. Don't even try, just look for a better model.

Your relationship is a model airplane. You and your partner are the pieces, and love is the glue that sticks you together. Without the binding power of love, two individuals could never become one. But that power, like glue, is indiscriminate. It must be applied carefully, because it could stick just about anything together; you can love someone who is simply not for you.

Before opening our hearts, we must ensure we have the right pieces to build a relationship. The building blocks of a solid relationship are shared values and common purpose. Our priorities in life, beliefs and visions for the future must fit together. We can have different opinions, different tastes and different ways of expressing ourselves; as long as we can share those differences respectfully, we can become one. But if our values are not in synch, then we simply have different futures - we are not going in the same direction.

This all may sound unromantic. The Beatles would never have made it big by singing:

"All you need is love, and shared values and commitment and a wholesome view of what a relationship really is - da dada dada."

But they should have. Model airplanes are not exactly poetic. But what's better - romantic dating that gets sticky, or a sticking together for a lifetime of romance?

Weekly e*Torah by Rabbi Avrohom Altein

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Portraits in Leadership - Rabbi Akiva

Is Your Religion the True One? by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
Due to my business, I travel a lot and meet many people from different religions. I have met Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians of all denominations, and each and every one believes that their religion is the one true religion and it is the right one to follow.

We can't all be right. So how are you so convinced that you are not going to burn in hell by not following Catholicism? Or get Allah angry by not being a good Muslim? Ultimately should we pick a religion like we choose our lotto numbers; just hoping that when it all comes to an end we have made the right choice?

Best regards and may the right god be with you.

Imagine there was one belief that Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus all accepted as true. Wouldn't that be amazing? For these very different religions to agree on something - anything - is nothing short of a miracle. If all the major religions would concur on one divine revelation, there could be no stronger indication that this revelation is true.

Well, it exists. There is one revelation that all believe to be true. All religions agree that the Torah was given to the Jewish people at Mt Sinai. This fact is written clearly in the Christian and Muslim scriptures. And the eastern masters have veneration for the Torah and its divine wisdom, to the point that they actually send Jewish seekers back to Judaism. The Dalai Lama is known to have told Jews who come to him "Why do you come to me? Go home and study Torah!"

So all major religions believe in the divine origin of Judaism. The same cannot be said for any other belief system. This is an incredibly significant point. It means that while so many Jews walk around unsure of their beliefs, most of the world today believes that G-d gave the Torah to the Jews.

But there's more. Believing Judaism is true does not mean negating other spiritual paths. Judaism teaches that while Judaism is the way for Jews, it is not for everyone. We are not out to convert the world to Judaism. Unlike almost every other religion, Jews do not missionize. This is because we believe not everyone needs to be Jewish.

A non-Jew can be close to G-d, go to heaven, and lead a moral and meaningful life, all the while remaining a non-Jew. Spiritual paths other than Judaism can be valid, as long as they conform to the seven basic laws for all humanity, known as the Laws of the Children of Noah (Noah being the father of all humankind). The seven laws are: do not serve idols, do not curse G-d, do not murder, do not commit acts of sexual immorality, do not steal, set up a fair justice system, and treat animals mercifully.

This is amazing. All religions believe in Judaism, and yet Judaism leaves room for other religious expressions. I am proud to be part of a belief system that can accept others, and is accepted by others. Not that this is the basis of my faith. Judaism doesn't need outside confirmation to be acceptable. But this is a strong argument against those who think that faith is a zero-sum game. And it provides a vision for how the world can live in harmony - many paths, one divine truth.


Dear Student,

When you were young, what were your dreams, hopes and aspirations? Did you fancy yourself atop Mount Everest? The CEO of a Fortune 500? Or perhaps you wanted to become a doctor but never had a chance to enroll in medical school.

At the age of forty, when many people mourn lost opportunities, one man set out to pursue a dream. He dedicated nearly twenty-five years to its fulfillment. Then, in two tragic weeks, when the dream seemed to crumble before his eyes, he did not despair. Rather with tenacious optimism and perseverance, Rabbi Akiva began to rebuild. In our next lesson of Portraits of Leadership: Timeless Tales for Inspired Living, we’ll examine this story and the fruits of Rabbi Akiva’s efforts that are still with us today.

I look forward to seeing you at the Chabad Torah Centre next Tuesday at 7:30pm.

Ima Shalom - Women of the Talmud | Portraits in Leadership

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review of Lesson Three (Portraits in Leadership)

Thank you for joining us for the third lesson of Portraits in Leadership: Timeless Tales for Inspired Living. We began with the unsettling story of Aaron Feuerstein who reached into his personal finances to pay his factory’s employees after a devastating fire. Unable to finance both the company’s recovery and the payroll, he was forced to file bankruptcy. Several years later, when he tried to buy back the factory, his bid was refused. We reviewed the story together and then discussed our opening question – is bitterness justified when good goes unrequited?

We then turned to the life of Rabbi Eliezer, beginning with his wealthy background and the many struggles he faced when he wanted to begin learning Torah at 28 years old. Later, after enduring poverty and hardship, Rabbi Eliezer’s family saw how learned he became. His father changed his mind and decided to give Eliezer all of his wealth. Eliezer felt no rancor toward his brothers and refused to accept their portion of the estate.

Rabbi Eliezer had an excellent memory and was chosen to preserve the teachings of his instructors. He was committed to faithfully transmitting the Torah of previous generations without distorting it with his own understanding. At the same time, he worked tirelessly to master the material that he learned and make it his own, thereby adopting the mindset at his teachers.

In the study hall, a landmark debate occurred regarding the status of an oven. In spite of a heavenly voice concurring with Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion and other supernatural signs, the rabbis did not understand his logic and refused to concede. Because Rabbi Eliezer faithfully transmitted what he learned from his teachers, he too refused to concede. The academy could not allow him to maintain an opinion that differed from the majority, lest its authority and credibility be undermined. Eliezer was thus banned from participating in the academy, and students could not stand within four cubits of him.

Though the ban remained in effect until the end of his life, Rabbi Eliezer continued to answer questions that were brought to him, and he continued to be held in the highest esteem. The ban was lifted immediately after his death so that he could have a proper and honorable burial. Rabbi Eliezer teaches us that we must be willing to graciously pay the cost of our convictions.

Thank you again for joining us for this class, and next week, we will continue with our next portrait, Rabbi Akiva.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Portraits in Leadership - Rabbi Eliezer Ben Hyrcanus


Dear Students,

When construction worker Wesley Autrey risked his life by valiantly throwing himself onto the subway tracks to restrain an epileptic as a train ran over them both, his heroism was met with public acclaim. Autrey received a Bronze Medallion from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a personal invitation from President Bush to the State of the Union address.

But when civilian Lisa Torti pulled Alexandra Van Horn to safety after a car accident in California, she did not received similar recognition. Instead, she was slammed with a major lawsuit for allegedly exacerbating Horn’s injuries.

It’s not that hard to do the right thing when one’s sacrifice is recognized and rewarded. But what about when there is a steep price to pay? Knowing what she knows now, would Lisa save Alexandra again? Would you?

How much is integrity worth? In this lesson, you will meet a man willing to stand alone, apart from family, friends, and colleagues, in order to uphold his values and a sacred trust.

I look forward to seeing you at the third lesson of Portraits in Leadership: Timeless Tales for Inspired Living at the Chabad Torah Centre.

Rabbi Shmuly Altein

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Weekly e*Torah by Rabbi Avrohom Altein

Life & Law
This Shabbat's Torah Reading is Mishpatim (Judgements). It contains Jewish laws that regulate business dealings between people. The Torah obligates a person that is negligent to pay for damages that he causes to others. There are rules about loans, about the obligations of a trustee and about many other things that are considered civil law.

Why would the Torah include these laws? Shouldn't the Torah devote itself to religious laws like prayer, kosher and keeping the Shabbat? What not leave civil law to the secular courts?

The answer is that Judaism does not distinguish between religion and civil law. From a Jewish perspective, a person cannot be religious while being dishonest. And a person cannot be absolutely honest unless he is truly religious.

A person that does not believe that we are accountable to a Higher Authority, but thinks of the world as some kind of jungle where only the cunning and fittest survive-will find it difficult to restrain his desires. And a person that prays in synagogue but is dishonest in business is not truly religious at all; his prayer is only lip service.

That is why the Ten Commandments include both the belief in one G-d as well as the laws "Do not murder" and "Do not steal." The two are intertwined.

Even a humanistic and ethical person will find that the Torah's commitment to ethics is more far-reaching than that of a secular society. A civilised society outlaws murder and robbery because otherwise people will destroy themselves. But as long as one person does not infringe on another, civil law has nothing to say.

The Torah's laws do not only define rights-they also define obligations. We observe these laws not only so that we don't destroy each other, but because by keeping the Torah's laws we give our lives higher meaning and connect with the Creator.

There is beautiful teaching of the sixth Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn. He notes that the Torah is called "Torat Chaim," the "Torah of Life" and "Torat Emet," the "Law of Truth."

The Rebbe explains: Every society has laws. Their laws are the product of life. The particular needs and conditions of life in each society give rise to sets of laws that allow people to cope with their particular needs. That is why legal systems vary from one society to another and change over the centuries. People make these laws, so those laws are not absolute truths; they depend on the varying and changing needs of society.

But the Torah's laws are not generated by life. On the contrary, life itself flows from keeping the Torah's laws, because by keeping the Torah we bond with the Creator, the source of life. That's why it's called the Torah of Life. And just like G-d is absolute and eternal, so are His laws called the "Torah of Truth." It is forever relevant, in all times and in all places.

Weekly Smile
Upside-Down Qualifications
The role of the modern rabbi has changed dramatically from that of his predecessors. A rabbi today is expected to be a therapist and social worker, an entertainer and comedian. Traditionally, though, a rabbi was an authority on Jewish law. He not only had to be wise and knowledgeable but also pious, so that his legal decisions would be firmly based on Torah.

Years ago, a Jewish man travelled a long distance from his religious home, to visit the rabbi of a modern, secular Jewish community. He explained that he wanted the rabbi to judge a difficult case. His family had suffered severe financial losses and poor health. He had grievances against G-d and he asked the rabbi to judge between him and G-d.

The rabbi was surprised, "Certainly, there is a scholarly rabbi in your own town. Why did you need to travel to me?"

The visitor replied, "The rabbi of my town is G-d-fearing, so how could he judge impartially between us? But I've been told that you have no fear of G-d, so I know I can trust you!"

Review of Lesson Two (Portraits in Leadership)

Dear Students,

Thank you for joining us for the second lesson of Portraits in Leadership: Timeless Tales for Inspired Living. After concluding with Hillel last week, this week’s lesson focused on Hillel’s most junior student. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai was identified as the student most able to faithfully transmit his teachings to future generations.

Rabban Yochanan lived in Arav for eighteen years where there was little appreciation for Torah study. He nevertheless remained at his post until he was needed in Jerusalem to serve as a teacher after the passing of many of Hillel’s senior students. He was also instrumental in refuting the Sadducee teachings that threatened to undermine the oral tradition. Rabban Yochanan sought to maintain an aura of relative calm and stability for as long as possible, although he knew that the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash was inevitable.

Factionalism threatened to tear apart the people, as the wealthy tried to curry favor with the Romans, the Zealots tried to force a revolt, and the moderates tried to salvage what they could by pushing for their interests without rebelling against Roman leaders. Rabban Yochanan, with the assistance of his nephew, head of the Zealots, snuck out of the city to negotiate with the Romans. Though he was able to secure Yavneh as a center of Torah learning, many were critical that he did not try to save the Beit HaMikdash. He felt that a request of that magnitude would jeopardize his ability to salvage anything at all. After the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, the center of Torah moved to Yavneh.

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai stood at the helm of the yeshivah in Yavneh and attracted the greatest minds of the generation. Though Rabban Yochanan had arranged for the safety of Rabban Gamliel and his family, it was still too early for Rabban Gamliel to emerge and take a public role. After two long years, Rabban Gamliel felt safe enough to come to Yavneh and assumed his natural position as nasi.

At this point, Rabban Yochanan relocated to Beror Chayil, a small town in the Negev, in order to allow Rabban Gamliel to establish his authority. Rabban Yochanan continued to visit Yavneh in the role of av bet din. On his deathbed, he expressed doubt about his portion in the world to come. This signifies that Rabban Yochanan totally dedicated himself to the mission at hand, without ever having the luxury of self-reflection.

Thank you again for joining us for this class, and next week, we will continue with our next portrait, Rabbi Eliezer. I look forward to seeing you.

Community Shabbat Dinner

Friday, February 5, 2010

Question of the Week by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
I am a little confused about when Shabbos starts. This week the advertised time for candle lighting in Sydney is 7:40pm, which is 18 minutes before sunset. But you start your Shabbos service at 6:30pm, ending at 7:15pm, before Shabbos starts! So what's the story? Can you say the Shabbos prayers when it isn't even Shabbos yet?

The Jewish day begins at sundown. This is based on Genesis' description of a day as "it was evening and it was morning" - night first, then day. And so the Shabbos, the seventh day, begins at sundown on Friday.

However, Jewish law allows us to bring in Shabbos early. We can extend the borders of holiness, and accept the Sabbath upon ourselves while it is still Friday afternoon. There is a certain window of time before dusk during which we can usher in the Shabbos, though the weekday sun still shines.

During the summer months, when the days are long and dusk is very late, many communities choose to bring in Shabbos early, so those who cannot stay up late can participate. This explains why services may end even before Shabbos officially begins. For those who attend such services however, it is Shabbos already.

This has cosmic significance. The sages of old predicted that the world as we know it will only last for six thousand years. The seventh millennia will usher in a new age, the times of Moshiach, a time of peace and spiritual awakening, a time when all the world will join forces to serve G-d and live in harmony. Just as the week is divided into the six working days and the seventh day of rest, so too history is divided into six millennia of work and effort, perfecting the world, vanquishing evil and promoting goodness, culminating in the seventh millennia, a world of Shabbos, when the hard work will have been done and the world will come to rest.

We are now in the year 5770 from creation. According to this reckoning, we are toward the end of the sixth millennia, late on the Friday afternoon of history. We are in the middle of the frantic rush to get everything ready for Shabbos, which explains why the world moves so fast these days.

These are amazing times. As the era of Shabbos approaches, there is a shift in the spiritual mood. We are edging toward a more spiritual way of living, where the soul is as obvious as the body, goodness is more tempting than evil, and the mysteries of life are solved.

But we need not wait until the seventh millennia to live on this higher plain. Just as we can bring in Shabbos early and accept it upon ourselves on Friday afternoon, so too we can start living by higher principles right now, on the Friday afternoon of history. We can open ourselves to a soulful life right now, by seeing beyond the emptiness and superficiality of the material world, and connecting to the Shabbos way of thinking.

Don't wait for Shabbos to come to you, bring it in early.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Helena - Women of the Talmud (Portraits in Leadership)

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Dear Student,

One of the greatest Jewish philanthropy initiatives of recent times has been Birthright Israel, which has awarded a free trip to Israel to all Jews under the age of twenty-eight, Birthright Israel is credited with strengthening a sense of Jewish identification in young unaffiliated Jews that lasts long after the trip is over.

It is a great irony that at the same time that Birthright Israel has flourished, Jewish day school education has undergone its own crisis of funding. Rising tuition has made day school an unaffordable luxury for many Jewish children.

While both these projects are admirable and important ones, when forced to choose, what is the real birthright? A visit to Israel, or a chance to attend a Jewish school? National pride and identity or the opportunity to study Torah and one’s spiritual heritage?

Two thousand years ago,Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai was forced to decide where limited Jewish resources would be allocated. What was more important: the temple or the academy? National identity or knowledge of a heritage? What would he decide? And does his decision have implications for our decisions today?

Please join as for Lesson Two as we explore this issue.

Hillel the Elder

Review of Lesson One (Portraits in Leadership)

Dear Students,

Thank you for joining us for the first lesson of Portraits in Leadership: Timeless Tales for Inspired Living. After setting the stage in this particularly tempestuous chapter of Jewish history, the first sage featured in our course was Hillel. We began with the great personal sacrifice that he made in order to relocate to Israel to study Torah. Under great financial constraints, Hillel would pay half a coin each day for entry into the study hall. One day, however, he lacked the necessary funds. In class, we discussed various possible responses in such a situation – and then we read the Talmud’s account of Hillel climbing up onto the study hall’s roof, hardly noticing the cold and listening to the words of Torah.

Next, we spoke about an incident with the Beteira family in which they forgot a law, and after Hillel demonstrated his knowledge on the topic, he was appointed leader. At first, he harshly criticized them for their laxity in study. However, at a later point, Hillel too forgot a law. This instance of “poetic justice” impacted Hillel on a very personal level. He realized that he must be gentler in his approach, and this lesson guided him thereafter.

The main segment our lecture examined Hillel’s “humble greatness” as well as the quality of humility. There was a story in which a man repeatedly tried to irritate Hillel, asking a series of strange, hypothetical questions at the most inopportune times. After each question was patiently answered, the man admitted that he had thereby lost a bet that he would cause Hillel to lose his temper. We examined several stories and quotations and then, in pairs, formulated arguments for and against applying the quality of humility to the great Hillel. On one hand, the above story seems quite humble. At the same time, a comment such as “my greatness is my humility, and my humility is my greatness” could be construed as boastful and prideful – far from humble. At this point in class, we paused to reconsider the quality of humility. Humble people are aware of their abilities, but realize that they are tools given by G-d to be used responsibly. Therefore, assertiveness is a natural outgrowth of humility, and the above statement doesn’t conflict with being humble at all.

The schools of Hillel and Shammai were quite different, as we later discussed. Nevertheless, Hillel toiled to preserve peaceful relations while, at the same time, igniting a renewed interest in Torah study. Shamai demanded exacting standards of perfection – and Hillel reached out to all kinds of people. He also avoided conflict with the ruling government of Herod.

Thank you again for joining us for this first class, and next week, we will continue with our next portrait, Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakai.

First in a series on Women of the Talmud: Queen Shelmtzion

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Welcome to Lesson One of Portraits in Leadership: THE HUMILITY TO LEAD

Dear Student,

It has been known by our intelligence for a while now that weapons of mass destruction have fallen into the hands of many dangerous terror cells. While diplomacy and negotiation may succeed in warding off disaster for some undetermined time, it is inevitable that eventually, some uncontrolled radical will set off a round of catastrophic attacks that will obliterate life as we know it.

With time, we will be able to recover from the cataclysmic carnage and the assault on our environment. The greatest fear is that our leaders will all die, and there will be no one alive with the knowledge to rebuild our civilization and to restore its hard-won values.

So deep in a room underground, we have gathered together the most brilliant men and women alive today-- the leading philosophers, ethicists, scientists, thinkers, and strategists. The goal is to distill the essence of all knowledge into a code that can be preserved so that the sum total of human achievement will not be lost.

No, this is not fiction, not a futuristic sci-fi movie. It is history--Jewish history. As Rome descended upon Jerusalem, there was no escape from the inevitable doom. All the familiar institutions would be eradicated: the temple and the priesthood, the academy and its oral tradition. But we had the code-keepers, the brilliant authors of the Mishnah, who worked tirelessly to find a way to distill the essence of our heritage in a form that would allow Judaism to survive.

The Talmud we hold in our hand today is that code.

One part history, one part biography, all parts inspiration, the thrilling story of Portraits in Leadership will you to the core of our identity as Jews. We invite you to follow this breathtaking tale of enduring wisdom and character, and to become a code-keeper too.

Join us on Tuesday, February 2 at the Chabad Torah Centre, as we examine the life of Hillel, a gentle and beloved man. What qualities enabled him to create a groundswell following for the preservation of the code. We’ll find out in Lesson One.