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Devarim Deutronomy

   1381: Devarim

1382: Vaeschanan

1383: Eikev

L'Chaim
July 31, 2015 - 15 Av, 5775

1382: Vaeschanan

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  1381: Devarim1383: Eikev  

One Moment  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Teachings  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

One Moment

"You give us twenty-two minutes and we'll give you the world," is the slogan of radio station WINS in New York City.

Every 20 minutes you hear a repeat and update of "traffic and weather together," sports, and local, national and world news. Yes, you too can find out many interesting, inane or important tidbits of information that may or may not affect the quality of your life.

But, what would you do if you were told that if you gave one hour, you really would be given the world or something even much more valuable?

Judaism teaches: "One hour of turning to G-d and good deeds in this world is better than all the life of the World to Come; and one hour of bliss in the World to Come is better than all the life of this world."

In simple words, getting in touch with who you really are, what your essence really is, and connecting that essence to G-d, together with being good and kind and considerate and compassionate and respectful to others for one hour, is better than the Garden of Eden.

And just how good is the Garden of Eden? Well, one hour of bliss in the Garden of Eden is better than all of the pleasure and delight - both physical and spiritual - that one can experience in this physical world!

So, let's do some Jewish math. If one hour of turning to G-d and good deeds is greater than an infinite amount (as our souls are eternal and infinite) of the Garden of Eden and one hour of the Garden of Eden is greater than a finite amount (as our bodies are limited and finite) of this world then in one hour of turning to G-d and good deeds we can acquire that which is greater than all of this world and all of the Garden of Eden.

What a deal! How could anyone possibly pass that one up?

But let's say you can pass it up and you don't want to spend sixty whole minutes in the above pursuits. What can you do?

You don't have to give one hour, nor even twenty-two minutes. You can start by giving just one moment!

Judaism also teaches that teshuva - turning to G-d and connecting our essence with its G-dly source - is an instantaneous process. For at every moment, a person can turn to G-d and he is deemed totally righteous.

At the moment that a person makes the decision to change, he has actually begun changing. It's like when we realize we're driving in the wrong direction on a highway; even before finding an exit or a place to make a U-turn, we've already begun the process of getting back on the right track simply by recognizing that we've gone the wrong way.

Of course, if we realize we've gone wrong but continue on we won't reach our destination. But the realization in itself is still part of the process.

So give an hour or even just a minute. It will make a world of difference in your life.


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah reading, Vaetchanan, contains the Shema, the fundamental prayer in Jewish liturgy. When a person recites the Shema, he is not merely declaring that there is only one G-d. The intent of the Shema is that all existence is one with Him.

Judaism does not believe that the spiritual and the physical can be separated from each other. We do not believe in a G-d who sits in the heavens and allows the world to function however it desires. Instead, the spiritual and the physical are both manifestations of a single unity.

This is what we mean when we say "G-d is one" - that G-d's oneness embraces everything that we see, hear, or become aware of.

These concepts are hinted at by echad, the Hebrew word for one. That word is made up of three letters. The first letter, the alef, stands for the Ein Sof, G-d's infinity. The second, the chet, is equivalent to the number eight, referring to the seven spiritual realms and our material earth. The last letter, the dalet, equivalent to four, alludes to the four directions of this earth. What is inferred is that the alef, G-d's infinite transcendence, permeates the chet, all eight levels of existence, and more particularly, the dalet, the four directions of our world. Wherever we go, there is nothing apart from Him.

On this basis, we can understand why the Shema is the message associated with our people's martyrs. When a martyr gives up his life for his faith, he is making a statement that he refuses to separate the physical from the spiritual. He will not live a life that does not reflect his inner G-dly essence.

If he is forced to sever the connection between the two and live in contradiction to what he believes and knows is right, then he would rather not live. For he cannot conceive of a life that runs contrary to his spiritual core. For him, the oneness of G-d is an actual - not merely a theoretical - reality.

The Shema continues with the command to love G-d. That command raises a question: How can the Torah command us to love? You either feel love or you don't. No one can tell you to feel something that you don't.

That's why the commandment to love G-d follows after the declaration of G-d's oneness. When a person understands the oneness of G-d and appreciates how He is in every element of existence, he will be spurred to feelings of love. For intellect gives birth to emotion and our awareness of G-d prompts us to love Him.

After, the Shema mentions several commandments - to study Torah, wear tefilin, and affix mezuzot on our doorposts. For it is through these deeds - and by extension, the totality of Jewish observance - that the oneness proclaimed in the Shema is made part of our everyday lives.

From Keeping in Touch by Rabbi E. Touger, published by SIE.


A Slice of Life

Chabad's Peak Experience
by Chris Leppek

Jackson, Wyoming is gorgeous, with the spectacular Tetons towering over the town, with Yellowstone National Park just a few miles away, with fresh air and open skies and a laid-back Western lifestyle.

Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn, co-directs Chabad Jewish Center of Wyoming. "We absolutely love it," the rabbi says, including in his first-person plural his wife Raizy and young children Chayale, Chanie, Rochel and Nachi.

(The rabbi inserts a moment of characteristic humor: "We made sure to include, in each of their names, a 'ch' so that way, whenever we meet people over here, they can never pronounce the names.")

Then back to Jackson, and Wyoming in general. "We can't get enough of it," the energetic and youthful rabbi says. "This is home for us." So much so that they have virtually adopted the community in Jackson which, in turn, seems to have adopted them.

"My family is the extended Jewish community and beyond," Rabbi Mendelsohn says. "We're very actively involved with all kinds of organizations locally. We ski, we hike, we participate in all kinds of local events. We're very much at home."

So how, the rabbi is asked, did he manage to wrangle such a job in such a paradise? "Chabad has been visiting Wyoming for the last 65 years. Traditionally the way Chabad worked here is to send out rabbinical students to visit places that have been underserved Jewishly, and to provide resources during the summertime." For three summers Rabbi Mendelsohn visited "all over the state."

"During my three years I found quite a few Jews. I presented Chabad headquarters with a proposal that included mention of local Jewish people that were interested in supporting a full-time presence of Chabad here and that's what made it happen."

His Jackson appointment came at the end of an arduous training period in which he "lived in about 15 different countries and visited many others over the last 15 years as part of my training."

The rabbi's early training took place in exotic locations, to put it mildly. He worked in Beijing, China for several months, for a year in Singapore and for several months in Thailand and Nepal.

"It was all part of my training to become a rabbi," he says, "and Chabad has very hands on training. This was prior to moving to Jackson so during that time I had a lot of training as part of my ordination. In each of those places I worked with the Chabad rabbi in that community.

"I had an interest in seeing different parts of the world as a rabbi," he explains.

His interest in "Jewish demographics and the different lifestyles of Jews from all over the world" eventually led him not only to Asia but to Wyoming.

"There are about 500 Jewish people who live here full-time. The community is growing," Rabbi Mendelsohn says.

"There are several hundred Jewish people who have bought homes here. They don't live here full-time, but they visit every year. Then there are about 40,000 Jewish people who visit here every year.

"So nine months out of the year we're just a little community, then for about two months during the summer and a month during the winter we're very active with visitors. We're at the gate of Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park so there are a lot of visitors."

"We operate most of our activities, including Shabbat services, in hotels. Every weekend for dinner we can have anywhere between five to 50 people joining us.

"We have a variety of classes, holidays, educational events, celebrations, children's programs. We have a Jackson Hole Jewish Music Festival which we just finished. We have a distinguished lecture series. The list goes on and on and on."

Summertime, with its mix of full-time and part-time residents and vacationers, is definitely the up season, and for a very simple reason.

"No one wants to leave Jackson," the rabbi says. "It's the most beautiful place in the world."

"We field phone calls and emails all day long from visitors coming through during the summertime or wintertime. They find us online. We have a very active website - Jewishwyoming.com - and they find us whether we like it or not. And obviously we like it. In today's day and age it's very easy for people, especially in a small town like ours, to find out what kind of Jewish services are available."

But why would these Jews - most of whom are marginally observant if at all - look up an obviously Orthodox organization like Chabad?

"It's interesting," the rabbi says. "I've found out that people who are traveling will often seek out a synagogue even if they're not active with a synagogue back home. People who don't participate in services at home will do so on a vacation where they don't have such a tight schedule. So they want to see what's available, what the Jewish community is like out there."

Rabbi Mendelsohn sees it as an obvious opportunity. "One of the things that we try to do is to get them to participate back home. They have such a wonderful time over here, so we encourage them to participate when they get home."

Rabbi Mendelsohn has no expectation that Wyoming will become the Orthodox capital of the American West.

Like all Chabad shluchim, he's not out to create Jewish duplicates of himself, merely to plant Jewish seeds that he hopes will take root.

"Every single mitzva that a Jewish person does is an infinite and endless connection to G-d," he says.

"The objective is to be able to connect with them on a one-time basis and in a most impactful and meaningful way and encourage them to participate, at their speed, their level, at their convenience.

"There are no long-term goals that we set for any individual. It's just to feel a stronger Jewish identity, to feel better about Jewish education and observance, to know that even though their Hebrew school education might have been a bad experience, to once again take a look at Judaism."

"Every time I drive past the Tetons and look out at the beautiful scene it definitely brings me closer to G-d," he says. "The same applies to all the people living here. They're a very spiritual community. It's hard not to be spiritual out here. There is a reason why they call this area G-d's Country."

Reprinted with permission from the Intermountain Jewish News


What's New

The Theory & Practice of Universal Ethics

The first part of this book, by Rabbi Dr. Shimon Dovid Cowen, sets out the idea or theory of the Noahide laws - from spiritual, philosophical, psychological, social and political perspectives. The second part of The Theory and Practice of Universal Ethics presents the concrete conduct or practice of the Noahide laws. This precise task proceeds from extensive research into the Tradition of commentary on the Revelation at Sinai, of which the Noahide laws (already previously the moral covenant of humanity, but which were authoritively restated at Sinai) form a part. The way the Noahide Laws in their detail structure the ethical conduct of the major domains of human existence is set out clearly for the general reader; and with extensive footnotes and references for those seeking further study.


The Rebbe Writes

16th of Teveth, 5715 [1955]

This is in reply to your letter of January 5, in which you ask my advice concerning the friction that arose with regard to the marriage celebration, planned in March.

Let me at once rectify your error in evaluating the situation, which I ascribe to the fact that you are personally involved right in the midst of it, for it is difficult under such circumstances to evaluate a situation more calmly and objectively, as the person who views it from a distance.

The error consists in overlooking the fact that the marriage ushers in a new life for the young couple and lays the foundations for the happiness of the entire future life, while the external aspects of the celebration connected with the hall, band, or dancing and the like, are matters of a few hours duration and of no lasting consequence, thus entirely disproportionate to the real important things which are fundamental.

Needless to say, the most insignificant thing can be blown up to assume tremendous proportions, as people sometimes make a mountain out of a molehill, with the result that it causes anxiety and heartache as if the thing was really significant. But the fact is that what appears to you as a problem of great consequence is in reality nothing that can have any bearing on the future if approached correctly.

As to the question, who is right and who has to give in, I trust that you can answer it yourself even on a little reflection. Consider the issues: on the one hand you have the local convention to make the wedding festivities in a certain way, of which your family is in favor. If your Chosson [groom] will not conform, and will try to explain why, the explanation may not be accepted, and your family will feel hurt, for a time at any rate.

On the other hand, he believes that if he did conform, he will offend the Almighty going against His will. In addition to the fact that one is always dependent upon G-d's grace, this is something which is of fundamental importance, connected with the very foundations of the entire future.

Even if there were only a remote chance of doubt as to its possible effects, it would be prudent to avoid it.

Suppose a businessman is offered a transaction which has two possibilities: either to earn a penny, or to lose a million dollars. What a reasonable businessman would do in such a case is obvious. Yet here it is only a question of money, where the differences between a penny and a million can be measured. In your case it is not a question of relative proportion, for the issues are: following an external convention, and thereby jeopardizing the spiritual and material happiness of two young lives who are about to join their lives and fate and build a home together. The choice should not be difficult to make.

Whatever justification there may be for your chagrin at not having been told about it earlier, the set up of your problem does not change thereby, inasmuch as your Chosson is not motivated by a personal whim, but something which he considers of fundamental importance, as many tens of thousands of other religious Jews do.

...If it were a valid argument to do what others do, or even what the majority does, Jews who are, and always have been, in the minority would have long ago disappeared from the face of the earth, and even within our people, too, those strictly adhering to our Torah and Mitzvos [commandments], kashrus [kosher dietary laws], etc., are unfortunately in the minority in recent times.

Let me conclude by reiterating what I told you when you were here. The preparations for the wedding and the wedding itself-this is the foundation of your future home among our people. As in any structure, the most important thing is the foundation, for all effort and money poured into a building, into the walls, decorations, interior and exterior, furniture, etc. would be to no avail unless the foundations are strong and lasting, and no chances, however remote, should be permitted to jeopardize the whole structure, especially as it can be so easily avoided.

I trust that you will find the suitable words to explain to your mother the true aspects of the situation, and that from now on there will be no more friction among all concerned, and that you will have only good news to write about.

With prayerful wishes that the wedding take place in a happy and auspicious hour, for a happy future materially and spiritually.


Teachings

Everything is for the preponderance of (good) deeds

(Ethics 3:15)

The number of times that a person performs a positive act is significant, therefore it is preferable to give charity in the form of many different gifts rather than in one lump sum of the same amount. By giving repeatedly, a person ingrains the trait of generosity in his character.

(The Rebbe)


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

"There were no greater festivals in Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur," the Mishna tells us. The 15th of Av corresponds this year to Friday, July 31. What is so special about the 15th of Av that it is singled out together with Yom Kippur from all the other festivals?

A number of special events throughout Jewish history took place on the 15th of Av. They were: 1) The tribe of Benjamin was permitted once again to marry the remainder of the Jewish people; 2) The Generation of the Desert ceased to die; they had previously been condemned to perish in the desert because of the sin of the spies; 3) Hoshea Ben Elah removed the blockades that the rebel Jerobeam had set up to prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem for the festivals; 4) The cutting of the wood for the Holy Altar was completed; 5) Permission was granted by the Romans to bury the slain of Betar.

These five events in themselves do not seem adequate enough reason to make the 15th of Av a festival greater than any other. There is another, all-encompassing reason.

The five festive events on the fifteenth of Av, are the counterpart to the five tragic events of Tisha B'Av - the day when the two Holy Temples were destroyed, signaling the start of the long exile we are still enduring - tragedies which were the result of the Jews' sins. Tisha B'Av is the nadir of Jewish physical and spiritual life. The 15th of Av transforms the negativity of Tisha B'Av to the greatest good - "there were no greater festivals in Israel than the fifteenth of Av." The ultimate goal of the tragedies of the month of Av is that they should be transformed into a greater good - the supreme festival of the 15th of Av.

But these tragedies are not without purpose. It is specifically after the awesome decline of Tisha B'Av that we can reach the loftiest heights, heights that would otherwise be inaccessible.

The common theme behind all the reasons for the 15th of Av is Ahavat Yisrael, the practice of which eradicates the cause of the exile, and therefore automatically the exile itself.


Thoughts that Count

I besought the L-rd...let me go over, I pray...(Deut. 3:23-25)

In his reproach to the Jewish nation before his passing, Moses recounted his attempt to sway the Divine decree that he not enter the Land of Israel. Moses' intensive praying taught future generations to persist in prayer. A person should never say, "What purpose is there in my praying further?" Even though G-d had clearly told Moses that he would not bring the Jewish nation into the land, and even though Joshua had already been appointed his successor, still, Moses prayed. This demonstrates to us that a person must never say, "My illness is fatal, my last will is made, and my possessions are distributed. Why shall I continue to pray?"

(Yalkut Shmoni - the Midrash Says)


And you shall teach them to your children..."(Deut. 6:7)

It is the duty of Jewish educators to remove from the child any vestige of inferiority complex about his Jewishness in a predominantly non-Jewish environment, until he understands that democracy and freedom are not cauldrons of assimilation, but rather the contrary; they offer everyone the privilege to have his place, to enjoy his rights, and to live according to his faith without compromise, the opportunity for the Jew to fulfill his life's destiny.

(Sichot Kodesh)


And you shall teach them to your children..."

Some claim that if you tell today's youth the verse from Proverbs: "He who refrains from using his rod hates his son; and who loves his son disciplines him morning by morning," they will run away. This is not true. They will only say that they want to hear this proverb from the mouth of one who conducts himself as King Solomon wished, in all aspects of his life, not only when it comes to disciplining children. They yearn for consistency, sincerity. To suggest that the solution of the problem is to "burn the rod," to eliminate authority and to abolish Jewish education, is an absolute distortion.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


It Once Happened

The grandson of the holy Baal Shem Tov was getting married. The elaborate wedding procession was a sight to behold. At its very head stood the tzadik himself, leading the bridegroom to the chupa (wedding canopy). All of the townspeople followed behind, dressed in their finest holiday clothes.

At that moment a wagon rumbled into town. This wouldn't have attracted undue attention, but when the Baal Shem Tov left the procession to speak to the driver, all the guests were astounded. Everyone watched how the Baal Shem Tov whispered something into his ear before returning to the bridegroom's side.

The driver was dressed as a simple Jew, but this didn't fool the Baal Shem Tov's Chasidim. Surely the stranger was a "hidden tzadik"; why else would the Baal Shem Tov have run over to talk to him?

The next morning they decided to get to the bottom of the mystery. They located the inn where the man was staying and paid him a visit. Maybe, just maybe, the "tzadik" would reveal some secret the Baal Shem Tov had divulged.

"Shalom Aleichem, Rebbe!" the Chasidim addressed the stranger reverently.

"Rebbe?" the man said in embarrassment. "I'm not a Rebbe, and not even the son of a Rebbe."

"Oh, please," the Chasidim persisted. "You don't have to play any games with us. If the Baal Shem Tov made it a point to speak to you, it must mean that you're a holy man."

"You're making a big mistake," the man replied. "The Baal Shem Tov only spoke to me about a personal matter." But the Chasidim were so persistent that he finally agreed to tell them his story:

"I live in a small village," the stranger began, "and my best friend lives right across the road. My friend is a peddler who plies his wares throughout the surrounding countryside. Sometimes he's gone for weeks and months. But whenever he comes home, all his friends and neighbors gather in his house to welcome him back. I always arrive first, because I live the closest.

"One time my friend returned after a long absence, and as usual I was the first to walk over. I didn't bother to knock, as we'd known each other so long we each felt at home in the other's house. Oddly enough, however, he wasn't there. The children were out in the yard and his wife was in the kitchen. Looking for something to do, I opened the cupboard to get some tobacco for my pipe. I was surprised to see a big fat moneybag just sitting there, where anyone could find it. No doubt it contained all the money my friend had just brought home.

" 'How careless!' I thought to myself. 'I'm going to teach him a lesson.' I took the bag and put it in my pocket. Scaring my friend into thinking he had lost it would ensure that he never acted so irresponsibly again.

"I sat down and waited for him, but for some reason he was delayed. Then I remembered that I had something urgent to attend to at home, so I decided to leave and come back immediately. In my mind, I was already preparing a long reprimand.

"But I never got to deliver it. When my friend came home and couldn't find his money, he let out a bloodcurdling scream. His wife and children started searching frantically. By that time the house was full of people, which only added to the tension. When I returned a few minutes later it looked like a house of mourning. My little prank had gone terribly haywire.

"I'm the first to admit that I'm a coward. I just didn't have the courage to come clean before such a large audience. How could I ever explain myself adequately? I made believe I didn't know what was going on, and pretended to share in my friend's sorrow. I resolved to wait for the first opportunity to return the money when no one was looking.

"Unfortunately, the days passed and the opportunity never presented itself. My friend was even forced to borrow money. But still I couldn't come up with a way to return the money without looking like a thief.

"Several months later the money was still in my possession. Then my Evil Inclination started urging me to invest the money so I could return it with interest. But I couldn't figure out how without arousing suspicion. I hired a horse and wagon and set out on the road...

"Shortly afterward I arrived in your town. When the Baal Shem Tov saw me he came over and whispered, 'It isn't too late to repair the damage. Go home and give back the money. I promise your friend will believe that you never intended to steal it. I'll even tell him myself, if necessary. But you mustn't waste any more time...'

"I feel as if a huge stone has been lifted from my heart," the stranger concluded. "However, I must hurry now and leave. I've learned a lesson to last me the rest of my life..."


Moshiach Matters

"I besought G-d at that time, saying...let me go over, I pray You, that I may see the good land" (Deut. 3:23-25). Concerning this verse, the Midrash relates that Moses beseeched G-d with 515 prayers (the numerical equivalent of the word "va'etchanan" - "and I besought") to be allowed to enter the Land of Israel. Even after G-d explicitly told him, "Do not continue to speak to Me any more of this matter," Moses persisted. We learn from this that we must never give begging G-d to allow us back into the land of Israel, with the coming of Moshiach, for we have been promised that we are the last generation of exile and the first generation of Redemption.

(The Rebbe Shabbat Parshat Devarim, 5751)


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