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by Dr. Velvl Greene
Many years ago a noted scientist delivered a lecture at a Space Science Conference on the broader aspects of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Program in the USA. Among other things, the lecturer drew a parallel between the problems which will face space explorers in the future and our current conditions on earth.
Using a hypothetical manned voyage to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, as an example, he emphasized the remarkable engineering, biological and sociological problems that would be encountered during the execution of this enterprise. Since the star is 4.3 light years away, a space ship travelling at 1,000 miles per second would require more than 800 years to get there and another 800 years to get back. Any original crew we launched would not survive for even a fraction of the mission's duration. Instead, we would have to "man" the capsule with men and women who would have children who would carry on the mission and would, themselves have children, and so forth for 1,600 years. Ultimately, after many generations, the remote progeny of the original crew would complete the mission.
This interstellar spaceship would have to be completely self-sustaining and self-supporting. The lecturer pointed out that the engineering and technical problems are only one side of the coin. In the space-ship, the crew would have to learn to tolerate each other, generation after gener-ation. They would have to learn, and learn quickly, that you don't blow up only part of a spaceship.
And then the speaker touched on a key topic: Would the fiftieth generation, after a thousand years, still share the aspirations of their pilgrim fathers who set out from earth so long ago? How, indeed, can you convey to a generation still unborn the basic information about where they came from, where they are going, how to get there and how to get back?
One of the scientists stood up, and to my surprise and delight, declared: "If we could figure out how the Jews have managed to survive these thousands of years we'd have our answer!"
To a Jew this story is no mere fantastic flight of imagination. Over three thousand years ago, at Mount Sinai, we were launched with specific instructions and suitable maps. For more than a hundred generations we knew where we came from, were we were going, why we were travelling, who was the Project Officer, and how to get back. And we had no real difficulty in transmitting this intel-ligence--unbroken from generation to generation--because the Torah, our Divine log book, not only contains cosmic guidance about the overall mission (and how to resolve sociological and political problems, how to approach the technical ques-tion of physical survival and well-being), but also contains the very directions about how it should be transmitted to young and old.
And despite all problems, philo-sophies, explanations and rationalizations, this log book has met the only real criterion of the empirical scientists--it worked. Our presence demonstrates that it worked.
But somehow, not too long ago, a generation of "astronauts" arose who decided that they could write a better log book. They thought the original was old-fashioned and too restraining, and too complicated and irrelevant to the problems of modern times. They lost their "fix" on the celestial reference points. They know something is wrong, but cannot pinpoint the malfunction and cannot get back on course.
There are some left--and their numbers are growing--who use the log book and can compute the origi-nal trajectory. They communicate with The Immortal Monitor and per-severe in getting the vehicle and its inhabitants back on course. It is the privilege and responsibility of all of us to become familiarized again with this program, especially since we near the completion of the "Mission"--with the coming of Moshiach.
This week's Torah portion of Bamidbar has a particular relevance to the festival of Shavuot. We can find this connection in the opening words of the portion, where G-d commands, "Count the number of all the congregation of the Children of Israel."
Rashi comments on the command: "Because they [the Children of Israel] are dear to Him, He counts them all the time: when they went forth from Egypt He counted them; when they fell because of [the sin of] the Golden Calf, He counted them; when He was about to make His Presence dwell among them (i.e., in the Tabernacle) He counted them."
When things are counted, they stand in a relation of equality; the greatest man and the least are each counted once; no more, no less. And since, as Rashi tells us, the census was a token of G-d's love, it must have been a gesture towards that which is equal in every Jew. Not his intellect, not his moral standing, but his essence: his Jewish soul. So the point of the census was to bring the soul of each Jew into prominence, to the surface of awareness.
Rashi writes that G-d counts His people all the time; and yet, as Rashi himself points out, they were counted only three times in the first year and once the month after leaving Egypt. Then they were counted only once more during their wanderings in the wilderness, and subsequently only at very infrequent intervals (according to a Midrash, only a total of nine times until today, and the tenth time will be when Moshiach comes). But, if the point of the counting was to reveal the essence of each Jewish soul, then this revelation has a depth which places it beyond the erosions of time--it is operative, literally, all the time.
The differences between the three countings which Rashi mentions were evolutionary stages in a process of revelation. In the first, the Jewish soul was awakened by the love of G-d; in the second, it began to work its influence on the external life of the Israelites; and in the third, it finally suffused all their actions.
The first census was on the Israelites' departure from Egypt, and it aroused their spirit of self-sacrifice to the extent that they followed G-d into a barren wilderness. But it left their emotions untouched.
The second was prior to building the Tabernacle. It reached their intel-lect and emotions, because they were preparing for the work that was to bring G-d's Presence into their midst. But still the impetus came from outside: G-d's command set them to their work, not inner compunction.
But with the third census came the actual service of the Tabernacle, when the Israelites--by their own actions--brought G-d into their midst. Then all their actions were a testimony to the union of the Jewish soul with G-d.
In this way, the connection between Bamidbar and Shavuot becomes clear. When the Torah was given, Israel and G-d were united in such a way that G-d sent down His revelation from above; and the Children of Israel were themselves elevated. And we read, in preparation for our annual re-creation of the event, the portion which tells us of the third census when the two modes of revelation are brought together.
From Torah Studies by Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth Jonathan Sacks. Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
COURT CASE IN GOMEL
by Rabbi Daniel Goldberg
The following is a true story related by a woman who recently emigrated to the U.S. from Russia and was present at the court case described below.
In 1924, the Russian masses, most of whom had been fervently religious before the Revolution of 1917, were in the process of being weaned away from their religion. But, there were many--even Communist party members--who remained faithful to their religions. Many Jews retained outward appearances to show that they were good Communists, but deep within them burned the eternal Jewish spark.
One such man created a sensation in Gomel. Soon after his wife gave birth to their first child, a son, he said that he was suing for divorce. The reason: his wife had the baby circumcised!
The Communists had a chance to display to Gomel's Jewish population how a young man was prepared to sacrifice family ties for his party. They immediately planned a public trial. The trial was well publicized and when the day arrived the galleries were filled to overflowing.
The judge, who was himself Jewish, called the husband first. "Tell me, Comrade, are you a loyal party member?" he asked.
"I am indeed." And the husband described his important post in the government hierarchy.
"Until now, have you loved your wife? Have you been on good terms?" asked the judge.
The husband answered in the affirmative.
"What then, Comrade, has happened that you wish to divorce her?" the judge asked.
"Comrade Judge, my wife gave birth to a son. I looked forward to bringing him up as a true Communist. One day, I came home and to my utter consternation found that he had been circumcised! Was I supposed to stand guard all day, neglecting my important work for the advancement of Communism? I hold her responsible!" The husband said emotionally.
"Let the wife step forward," the judge ordered. "Comrade, are you guilty of perpetrating this heinous crime?"
"Comrade Judge," she wept, "It isn't true. He won't listen to me. We live in a single rented room in someone else's house. One day I had to go shopping for food and I left my baby sleeping in his crib. I made sure to lock the door before I left. It took me longer than I expected. Just imagine how frightened I was when I found the door of our room wide open! I looked around and saw that nothing had been touched. But suddenly, I realized that my baby was gone!
"There was no on else in the house, no one to ask, no sign of any theft. I ran out into the street like a madwoman when I suddenly saw my parents and my husband's parents. Imagine my relief when I noticed my mother carrying the baby. She tried to calm me; they had just taken the baby for a walk, she told me.
"I believed them. But when I brought him home and changed his diaper I had a fit. How could my parents do this to me?" she screamed.
"Terrible," the judge shook his head. "Unbelievable that in the modern Soviet republic these religious practices still exist. Let the child's grandparents come forward."
All four grandparents stood together. Both grandfathers had gray beards and wore long black coats. The grandmothers' heads were covered with kerchiefs. One of the grandmothers, who knew a little more Russian than the others, spoke for them all.
"Honorable Comrade, I admit that I can't see what's wrong with our grandchild having a bris like all Jewish boys. But you should know that we didn't mean to do it. It just happened."
The public galleries reverberated with howls of laughter. The judge called for silence and asked sarcastically. "How, Babushka, does a circumcision just happen?"
"We took our little grandson out for some fresh air. We came to streets where we hardly ever go. Suddenly a man walked over to us whom we never saw before and asked, 'Do you want your grandson to have a bris like every Jewish boy?' 'Of course,' we answered. So he quickly took out a knife and before we knew what was happening our grandson had a bris!"
The gales of laughter from the galleries couldn't be contained.
"Babushka, have you finished your ridiculous story?" asked the judge.
"I have told you all," said the grandmother. "But I want you to know that I am very happy."
"Happy?" roared the judge. "About what?"
"Happy that our dear little grandson had a bris. Just like you, your honor! Aren't you proud to be a Jew?"
Try as he might, the judge could do nothing to stop the titters and snickers. Eventually the courtroom was brought to order. The husband was called back to the witness stand.
"Tell me, Comrade, Hero of Communism, if not for this most unfortunate affair, is there any other reason you have for divorcing your wife?"
"No, Comrade Judge, none whatsoever."
"If I tell you that she is not guilty, will you consider returning to her?"
"Of course, Comrade," said the husband.
"Then, here is the decision. Your wife is innocent. It is entirely the fault of the grandparents who persist in observing these religious practices. They will be fined 50 rubles. This is the decision of the Soviet Court of Gomel."
As the spectators filed out of court, they couldn't help but admire the ingenious plan of the young party-member and his wife to have their son circumcised while still retaining his high-ranking job and party membership.
The bizarre story about the stranger was, of course, to protect the mohel's identity. But, it was no secret to anyone; everyone knew the one mohel left in the city, Reb Yitzchok Elchonon Shagalow, a young man who had studied for ten years in the famous yeshiva in Lubavitch.
Reprinted from The Yiddishe Heim.
JERUSALEM SOUP KITCHEN
Every day at 1:00 p.m. about 100 indigent men and women come to eat a three-course hot lunch at the Colel Chabad Soup Kitchen in Jerusalem. On Friday evenings and Shabbat day, large festive meals are served. And on holidays, whether it be a Purim party or a Passover Seder, the Soup Kitchen remains open--literally a haven for many of Jerusalem's needy. The Soup Kitchen also reaches out to 300 bedridden or immobile elderly every day. The Soup Kitchen is just one of Colel Chabad's many projects throughout Israel.
The bound volumes of the fourth year of L'Chaim are presently available. To order a book send $28 ($25 and $3 postage and handling) payable to L.Y.O. to: L'Chaim Book, 1408 President St., Bklyn, N.Y. 11213. Some copies of the third year of L'Chaim are still available. The first two years, however, are out of print.
SHAVUOT AND UNITY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
Adapted from a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Torah from Sinai begins with the Ten Commandments, of which the first two: "I am G-d, your G-d" (the root and foundation of all positive mitzvot) and "You shall have no other gods" (the root and foundation of all prohibitions) proclaim the Unity of G-d. A precondition to the Giving of the Torah was the unity of the Jewish people (as it is written, "And Israel encamped there facing the Mountain"-- in the singular form, indicating, as our Sages explain, "as one person with one heart"). The essence of the Giving of the Torah is to realize in the material world the Unity of G-d, through the "one nation on earth," the Jewish people, fulfilling the 613 mitzvot of the one Torah.
At first glance it is difficult to understand how such unity can be achieved, considering that G-d Himself created mankind as diverse individuals, differing in their opinions ("as they differ in their faces so they differ in their minds"), living in a world which He likewise created variegated as to climate and physical features. How can a whole nation attain true unity within itself and bring unity into such a diversified world?
The explanation is to be found in the verse, "And they stood themselves under the Mountain (Mount Sinai)"--all of the 600,000 adult men, their wives, sons and daughters. This means that, as they were about to receive the Torah, all submitted themselves to it so completely, that mundane matters ceased to exist for them, as it were; their self-effacement (bitul) and joy of receiving the Torah left room for nothing else. And since the "Mountain" was the same for all, and all were permeated with the same feeling of self-effacement and joy, this brought true unity to all the individual Jews, and also unity into the world, through the one Torah.
The Jewish people began with one family, that of our ancestors Abraham and Sara, and ever since then the Jewish family has been the foundation of our people. In the family, too, each member is a separate individual, with a particular function and purpose in life assigned to him and her by Divine Providence. Unless there is unity in the family, there can be no unity of the Jewish people. How is family unity achieved? In the same way as mentioned above: When all the members of the family accept the One Torah from the One G-d in such a way that the Torah and mitzvot are the only essential thing, and all other things are merely secondary, and have a significance only insofar as they are related to the essence--then there is true unity in the family.
In attaining this family unity--bearing in mind also that Jewish families are the component parts of the Jewish people, hence the basis of the unity of the Jewish people, as mentioned above--the Jewish mother and daughter have a most important part, being the Foundation of the Home, as has been underscored on previous occasions.
Needless to say, the said unity must be a constant one, without interruptions; this is to say, it must be expressed not only on certain days of the year, or certain hours of the day, but in every day of the year and in every hour of the day. This means that a Jewish home must be wholly based on the foundations of the Torah and mitzvot, and so permeated with the spirit of Torah dedication and the joy of mitzva that this should be reflected also in the conduct outside the home, in the street, and in the entire environment.
Herein lies the essence of the "integrity" and unity of the Jewish family and of Jewish family life--the main theme of this year's Convention.
It is hoped that this point will be brought out at the Convention with the proper clarity and forcefulness, together with its aim and purpose--its realization in daily life, in keeping with the basic principle of our Sages of blessed memory: The essential thing is the deed.
The eyes are covered with the right hand when saying Shema to avoid anything that might distract one from complete concentration. For the Shema--which declares the Oneness of G-d--is the foundation of Judaism and should be said with full attention.
approaches, we are reminded of the beautiful Midrash which teaches that the Jewish children of every generation are the reason why G-d gave us the gift of the Torah:
When G-d asked what assurance the Jewish people were offering that the Torah would be studied, loved and cherished, the Jewish people offered our Patriarchs as security. But this was not accepted. We then offered the Torah scholars as the guarantors. This, too, was not acceptable. It was only when we offered our children as guarantors that G-d approved our proposal and gave us the Torah.
On the anniversary of an event, the "spiritual energy" that was infused by G-d into that event is at its strongest. This is the reason why, for example, we should do our utmost to celebrate our birthdays properly each year. This is true, too, concerning every Jewish holiday. Which means that on Shavuot--the celebration of the Giving of the Torah--the spiritual energy that was invested into that day over 3,000 years ago is at its strongest.
What is the special spiritual energy of Shavuot and how can we benefit from it? It was on Shavuot that our ancestors proclaimed, "We will do and then we will learn." So this is the time when we recommit ourselves to the actual performance of mitzvot--even if we haven't yet learned or don't yet understand their reasons.
Shavuot is also the time when the spiritual energy of our children, being the guarantors for the Torah, is at its strongest. This is the time when we must renew our commitment to providing our children with a proper Jewish upbringing and education as well as facilitating the proper Jewish education of all Jewish children, wherever they may be.
We can begin doing both of the above by going to the synagogue this Shavuot to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments and by bringing along with us Jewish children of all ages--children in age, children at heart, or children in Jewish knowledge. Be there, and be a part of a 3,000-year-old unbroken chain of Jewish commitment and pride.
You shall take a count of the Congregation of Israel (Num. 1:2)
When a count is taken, no distinctions are made between what is being counted. The great and the small are both equal, each having the value of one. The Torah portion of Bamidbar is always read on the Shabbat before Shavuot, the holiday on which the Torah was actually given on Mount Sinai, for all Jews stand equal on that day. Our Sages said that if even one Jew had been missing, the Torah would never have been given!
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Why wasn't the Torah given to the Jewish people in Israel, their final destination after having left the land of Egypt?
If G-d had chosen one location in Israel to give His Torah, it would have caused bad feelings and contention among the twelve tribes, for each would have wanted the Torah to be given in their portion of the land. G-d therefore chose a wilderness, belonging to no one, as the site at which to give His Torah.
(Midrash Lekach Tov)
And Israel encamped there opposite the mountain (Ex. 19:2)
Why was the Torah given on a mountain? The difference between level ground and a mountain is not qualitative; both are made of dust and earth. A mountain is just more of that earth collected and heaped up into a larger mass.
The fact that the Torah was given on a mountain teaches us that a Jew's purpose in life is to take that earth-- physical matter and corporeality-- elevate it, and transform it into holiness.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
The world was still
When G-d gave the Torah on Mount Sinai, no bird chirped, no fowl flew, no ox lowed. The heavenly angels were silent, the sea ceased to roil, and not a creature on earth uttered a sound. The entire world was silent as G-d said, "I am the L-rd your G-d."
Hard times had hit the land of Israel; famine stalked the land and the people looked to the heavens for respite from their troubles. The leaders of the people, the descendants of the house of Judah, lived in Beit Lechem and at their head was Elimelech, a leader of the generation.
As members of the elite of their people, he and his wife and two sons lived in comfort, possessing vast fields, animals and a store of gold and silver. But Elimelech committed a fatal sin. For, just when the eyes of his troubled brethren focused on him for help and guidance, he left and abandoned them to their fate. Taking his wife Naomi and his two sons, he settled in the land of Moab where he was received in a manner fitting a man of his exalted station. And there he lived, a prosperous and respected member of the aristocracy of that alien land, the plight of his suffering people conveniently forgotten.
For ten years life went on until tragedy struck--Elimelech died. His sons--who had married into the royal family of Moab--soon met the same fate, leaving Naomi, a grieving mother, and Ruth and Orpah, childless widows. Naomi was now finally free to act as her heart desired, as it had desired these ten long years in this foreign land. Though alone and broken, she decided to return home, to live out her life among her own people. She gave her loving blessings to her two young daughters-in-law and prepared to set out on her return journey. But their love for her was strong and deep, and they refused to part from her.
Only after many entreaties and tears did Orpah kiss Naomi a final goodbye and return to her family. But Ruth, from whom Moshiach was destined to descend, staunchly refused to budge from her mother-in-law's side: "Don't tell me to leave you," Ruth implored. "Where you go, I will go; where you stay I will stay; your people will be my people; and your G-d will be my G-d. Where you die I will die and there will I be buried; only death will part us." Of all the Moabites, only Ruth had inherited from her forefather, Lot--Abraham's nephew--the trait of loving-kindness. When Naomi realized at last that Ruth wouldn't be dissuaded, she stopped speaking about it, and the two women began their long journey back to Beit Lechem.
"Is this Naomi?" exclaimed the townspeople in their amazement. How should they greet her? Should they disdain the former aristocrat who turned her back on them in their time of trouble, or pity the suffering widow who now stood before them? No one made a move.
Poor and homeless, Ruth went out to gather the fallen sheaves in the field, those designated for the destitute. Unknowingly she went to gather wheat in a field which belonged to Boaz, a wealthy relative of Naomi. While other women who gathered wheat talked and flirted with the workers, Ruth conducted herself modestly, her eyes fixed on her work. As he passed through the fields Boaz noticed her, and discovering that she was the daughter-in-law of his relative, encouraged her to gather the wheat with his own maidservants. Boaz had heard of Ruth's incredible devotion to Naomi, and he resolved to take her under his wing.
When Ruth returned home that night Naomi marvelled at her successful gleaning. "Whose field did you work in?" she asked, excitedly. Ruth told her mother-in-law the whole story, how Boaz showered her with kindness and allowed her to gather as much as she could and even eat together with his workers. "Of course, he is one of our close kinsmen," said Naomi, smiling. Boaz was one of her closest relatives, and he was finally taking notice of their plight. In Naomi's heart was the strong and secret wish that Boaz would take Ruth for his wife, thereby providing a successor to the family of Elimelech. Could it be that G-d's mercy was beginning to shine on them once again?
Boaz, the closest near relative married Ruth in fulfillment of the mitzva of Levirite marriage, and they were blessed with a son, who was called Oved--"the servant of G-d." Naomi was exalted! Oved was the grandfather of David of whom we say, "David, the King of Israel, who lives forever." He was the forerunner of the Eternal Monarchy of Israel--and Moshiach will be descended from him.