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Did you ever do a double-take when you were in a store and you noticed a mannequin that looked alive? Or maybe you were in a wax museum and sat down next to a person only to find out that it was a wax figure.
In either case, what gives the mannequin or the wax figure away is the lack of even a small, slight, almost imperceptible movement. It could be the blink of an eye or the ever-so-faint rise and fall of the chest. Or maybe a nose twitch. But it is always some kind of movement all the same.
Movement is a dead giveaway for the existence of life. Which is one of the reasons why, according to Jewish teachings, people are called "movers" whereas angels are called "stationery."
A person moves, stretches, bends, reaches, climbs, falls.
A person moves both physically and hopefully -- and more importantly -- spiritually.
The noun "mover" when applied to people as compared to angels is specifically referring to spiritual matters. And it is in spiritual matters as well that a person stretches, bends, reaches, climbs and sometimes falls, but gets up again to climb once more.
Just as physical movement is a sure sign of life, spiritual movement is a true indication of the vitality of the soul.
How do you move your soul? Simply by making an even small, slight, almost imperceptible move.
By learning Torah concepts that stretch you. By reaching out to another person with love and compassion. By bending your will to G-d's will. By climbing, one step at a time, through the mitzvot. By falling once in a while, but then by getting up again.
Torah study (and Torah as used here is not confined to the Five Books of Moses but encompasses all areas of Jewish teachings) is limitless. It is full of joy and life and movement and excitement and mind-expanding concepts.
Mitzvot, as well, give us a chance to move. With mitzvot we cleave to G-d, we connect to another Jew, we help shoulder a friend's burden, we laugh and sing and dance.
A Midrash relates that when the dove was created she complained to G-d, "It is not fair. I am so small and I have no way of outrunning my many pursuers who would like to capture me."
So G-d added wings to the delicate body of the dove.
But once more the dove objected. "These wings are so heavy. Now I certainly have no way of escaping my predators." G-d taught the dove that the wings are not a burden but can be used to fly.
Torah and mitzvot are not a burden, something we have to shlepp along like lifeless weight. They can help us reach higher and higher. They can help us grow. They help us move in the most graceful, exhilarating way possible.
"If you will walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments...," begins this week's Torah portion, Bechukotai.
In general, the Hebrew word for statutes, chukim, refers to the 613 commandments of the Torah. Yet in this instance, chukim cannot be synonymous with mitzvot, as the second half of the verse specifically enjoins us to keep G-d's commandments.
Our Sages therefore concluded that this verse contains a distinct commandment to "labor in our acquisition of Torah knowledge.
Chukim are those mitzvot that are above human understanding, such as the commandment of the red heifer.
Why then would a word implying blind acceptance of the yoke of heaven be utilized when commanding us to use our intellectual capacities?
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, explained that the word "chukim" is related to the word "chakika," meaning engraving.
There are many ways to write, but the most permanent method is when the letters are actually engraved on an object.
Moreover, engraving achieves the highest level of unity between the letters and the material upon which they are inscribed.
A letter written with ink can later be erased; furthermore, the ink and the parchment or paper remain two separate, distinct entities.
By contrast, letters that are inscribed in stone can never be erased, and become an integral part of the stone itself.
From this we learn the proper approach to studying Torah:
Rather than two separate entities that can be split asunder, G-d forbid, the Torah is inscribed upon the soul of every Jew and is an integral part of his essence. In fact, the Jew's objective is to perceive this truth in his daily life.
But how can such a degree of unification be achieved? "If you walk in My statutes," the Torah responds. The Jew must labor to understand G-d's Divine knowledge with the simultaneous understanding that mitzvot are, nevertheless, chukim -- beyond human logic and rationale.
Although we are commanded to study the Torah with our intellectual capacities and not to rely on simple faith alone, our learning must ultimately be based on the acceptance of G-d's will, something that transcends comprehension.
An additional aspect of the relationship between the Jew and Torah is expressed in the words "If you will walk."
A Jew must never be satisfied with his previous learning and spiritual attainments, but must always strive ever higher, ascending "from strength to strength." For that which was accepted yesterday purely out of faith is today fully comprehended, bringing our faith in G-d to even higher levels.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 3
Dr. Naftali Berg of blessed memory
by Manis Lavie
Naftali Berg grew up in a traditional Jewish home in Chicago.
He attended public school until shortly after his Bar Mitzva when he went to study in the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Brooklyn. He progressed with astonishing ease.
After several years of Rabbinic study, he enrolled at the Illinois Institute of Technology to begin a career in science. His first year of undergraduate work, he returned to the yeshiva during his summer vacations to pursue his Rabbinic ordination, passing all the tests with honors.
After completing his masters degree with honors in 1966 (Dr. Berg received a Ph.D. in electrophysics from the University of Maryland in 1975), Dr. Berg began to seek employment. But no potential employer would consent to his condition that he not work on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
Dr. Berg continued his search until he received an offer from the United States Department of Defense. When he consulted the Rebbe about the offer, the Rebbe agreed with a beaming smile.
Years later when large companies in the private sector offered him more lucrative jobs, the Rebbe advised Dr. Berg to remain with the Defense Department.
By working for the Defense Department, the Rebbe told him, he would show the world that a Jew identified with Lubavitch -- who studies the Torah and observes its mitzvot fastidiously -- can be successful in the scientific world.
Dr. Berg had many opportunities to work on joint projects with the Israeli Defense Force and made several trips to Israel.
Similarly, much of his acousto-optic research was carried out in conjunction with the Israeli Defense Force.
After the Patriot anti-missile missiles had proven less effective than anticipated combatting SCUD rockets, Dr. Berg received a call from the Israeli Defense Ministry; his help was needed in working on a new anti-missile deference mechanism.
The American government had given its approval, would Dr. Berg agree.
Dr. Berg's answer was simple: "I will consult with the Rebbe and let you know."
On Sunday, Dr. Berg sent the Rebbe a fax with details of the offer. That same day, his daughter went to the Rebbe during "Sunday dollars." She did not know of the fax, and was somewhat surprised when the Rebbe told her: "Wish you father success on his new project in my name."
In Lubavitch centers throughout the world which he visited, Dr. Berg was a well-known lecturer, teacher and counselor. Particularly with regard to issues correlating science and Torah -- but in truth with regard to all fields -- he reached out to individuals and groups and showed them, both conceptually and by example, that it is possible to succeed in our society while dedicating oneself to observance of the Torah and its mitzvot.
But aside from his personal contacts, Dr. Berg had immeasurable indirect influence.
Dr. Yirmiyahu Branover relates that while visiting a university in London, he overheard two students talking. One was telling the other: "Did you know that there is a world-famous Jewish scientist working for the American Department of Defense, and that he walks through the Pentagon wearing a large yarmulka and tzitzit?"
Dr. Branover was one of Dr. Berg's closest friends and associates. The two, both scientists and devoted Chasidim, had much in common.
Dr. Branover recalls his first visit to Dr. Berg's office in the Department of Defense. "As I was being ushered through the high security passageways, I wondered who was the Army's Director of the Department of Scientific Research?
"Though prepared, I was still shocked when I met him. His large kipa, long beard, and dangling tzitzit seemed out of place in this bastion of American military power.
"As we began to talk, I was impressed -- by his scientific knowledge, by his Torah knowledge, by his commitment to the Rebbe, and most of all, by how the three were united in an organic whole."
Drs. Berg and Branover worked on many outreach projects which communicated the depth and wisdom of Torah to an academic audience.
Dr. Berg passed away at 54, having battled leukemia for 14 years. The last four years of his life were particularly painful. In 1991, he lay unconscious in the University of Maryland Hospital.
At that time, one of his daughters went to the Rebbe to ask for a blessing for him. The Rebbe asked: "Is he still at his work? Who's doing his scientific research?" "Tell him that he should hurry to leave the hospital. He still has a lot to achieve in life."
Immediately afterwards, Dr. Berg's condition began to improve. Contrary to the doctor's expectations, he gained enough strength to be able to undergo surgery and return to work.
Despite the relentless progression of his illness, Dr. Berg continued both his scientific research and his outreach activities. But in the summer of 1994 his condition worsened.
At the time of the Rebbe' passing he had been hospitalized.
Despite this, he left his sickbed to address a gathering marking the conclusion of the shiva for the Rebbe. During the 30 days of mourning, Dr. Berg passed away.
Dr. Berg's life continues to inspire many young academics who will not compromise their Jewish observance or their professional lives.
Condensed and Reprinted from the Chabad Magazine
Send a "Chain Letter"
"It would be advisable that everyone publicize the teachings of famous Torah scholars concerning the obligation to hope for and anticipate and demand the coming of Moshiach.
This can be done by sending a letter (including such quotations) to ten fellow Jews, with the suggestion and request that each of them send a copy of it to another ten Jews, and so on."
(The Rebbe - 7 Cheshvan, 5746 -- 1985)
13th of Adar I, 5727
(February 23rd, 1967)
The Honorable Joseph C. Casdin Mayor of the City of Worcester, Worcester, Mass
This is to express to you my sincere appreciation of the cordial welcome which you extended to the N'Shei Ubnos Chabad Mid-Winter Regional Convention, on the second day of Adar I, 5727, by the official Proclamation which you so graciously issued on that day.
I am equally appreciative of the honor and privilege bestowed upon me by presenting me with the key to the city, through the Presidium of the convention.
Your personal appearance at the Conference of the Chabad Women, hosted by the Women's Division of the Yeshiva Achei Tmimim Lubavitch, has demonstrated not only your genuine interest in, but also your alertness to, the need for advancing the eternal values of morality and ethics in the present-day society, and of fostering all positive spiritual forces in your city.
It is in this spirit that I welcome the privilege which was bestowed upon me through the symbolic presentation of the key to the city of Worcester.
This ancient custom has its counterpart in Jewish Law (as well as other codices) as the act of Mesirat haMafteiach (Traditio Clavium), where it is applied not only in the domain of commerce, but also in the sphere of religious life.
Moreover, in Jewish life, the Jewish woman is entrusted with the keys to the general atmosphere of the home and to the strengthening of the moral fiber of the entire family, which is to be reflected in the daily conduct both within and outside the home.
Your thoughtful gesture has thus highlighted this very basic aspect of the Conference, and has made a tangible contribution, I may confidently say, to your worthy city at large.
I send you my prayerful wishes long to serve, in good health, and with every growing success, in the best interest of your community, materially and spiritually, which go hand in hand.
Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 5722 (1962)
I am in receipt of your letter of May 21st.
With reference to your publications, you will find at the bottom of this letter the address of our London office, where you can obtain all pertinent information.
You, of course, are quite right about the need for strong action against all inimical movements and ideologies that pose a danger to the Torah view and Jewish way of life. But pessimism is not justified, and the duty to strengthen and spread Torah
Yiddishkeit is not confined to certain rabbis: Every Jewish individual is similarly duty-bound. Where there are but a few Jews who recognize and care about the state of Yiddishkeit, then the responsibility of those who do is increased manifold.
I refer to your community and your good self. At the same time it is necessary to recognize also that the duties and responsibilities which G-d imposes are, obviously, commensurate with one's capacities; from which it follows that the capacities are there to meet their challenge of the time and place, for, as our Sages say, "G-d does not deal despotically with His creatures."
I trust therefore that you will not underestimate your capacities, both those in evidence and, especially, those latent ones which have to be actualized. I shall be glad to hear good news from you.
At this time before Shavuot, the Festival of the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, I wish you an inspiring Yom Tov of Kabalat haTorah b'simcha ub'pnimius (the receiving of the Torah with gladness and inwardness).
IN THE GARDEN OF THE TORAH: Volume II
The essays in this second volume of the highly acclaimed book In the Garden of the Torah are as clear and enlightening as in the first. The weekly Torah portion comes alive and within each essay is the dynamic thrust towards personal growth that it provides. Published by Sichos in English, 788 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213
BEYOND THE LETTER OF THE LAW
Beyond the Letter of the Law is a collection of sixty essays, embracing nine generations of Chasidic exposition on the Ethics of the Fathers, based on the works of the Rebbe.
In addition to providing the "Chasidic dimension" to the Ethics, these essays embody a broad sampling of the Rebbe's teachings: his ideas on freedom of choice, good and evil, absolute and relative truth, love, language, business, food, crime and virtually every aspect of life. Adapted by Yanki Towber and published by Vaad Hanochos Hatmimim, 788 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213.
When G-d told Moses to announce to the people that they would be freed from Egypt, Moses did not start by taking a poll to find out how "popular" the Exodus issue was. He went to the people and related to them G-d's message.
Let us address the very essence of this issue: Do we believe the Rebbe when he says he is telling us, as a prophecy, that "the time of the Redemption has arrived" ? If we do, then all questions about "public relations" become invalid.
Let us delve deeper into the essence of the matter: The Rebbe says that this message is for "all the people in the generation" and that they should be informed that "the time of the Redemption has arrived and Moshiach is on his way."
The paramount question is: How can you tell people anything without actually telling them? The answer, of course, is that you can't. It's obvious that you have to tell them.
Now, let us probe further: Why does the Rebbe want you to publicize it to "all the people of the generation?" Because it is important to each and every one of them to know about Moshiach -- for his or her own benefit.
Now, ask the question again: "Is this good?"
Absolutely! What a question!
If you approach people with something that promises to bring them eternal happiness, they will be forever grateful to you.
Since G-d's eternal plan calls for the great Redemption to take place, and the time of that Redemption has arrived (just as the time arrived for the redemption and Exodus from Egypt), G-d has called upon "the prophet of the generation" to make G-d's plan known to "all the people of the generation."
That is exactly what happened in the day of Moses and that is exactly what is happening now in our time.
If ("Im") you will walk in My statutes (Leviticus 26:3)
"The word 'im' ('if') is used to imply pleading and entreaty," the Gemara states, teaching us that G-d pleads, as it were, with each and every Jew: "Please walk in My statutes! Please keep My mitzvot!"
G-d's request also endows us with the strength to overcome all difficulties that might stand in the way of observing Torah and mitzvot.
If you will walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments and do them (Leviticus 26:3)
As Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator explains, this refers to the mitzva of learning Torah. For the more Torah knowledge one acquires, the easier it is to observe the commandments, as Torah study itself saves a person from the Evil Inclination.
I will then remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember (Leviticus 26:42)
Why are the Patriarchs listed in reverse chronological order in this verse?
In general, this entire portion of the Torah relates to the future of the Jewish people, and alludes to the order of service of G-d until the coming of Moshiach:
The first period in our history was characterized by Torah (symbolized by Jacob, the pillar of Torah study).
The second period, when the Holy Temple was in existence, was characterized by avoda (literally service). After the Temple was destroyed, however, prayer came to take the place of our offerings, symbolized by Isaac.
The third period prior to Moshiach's arrival is characterized by good deeds (emphasized by the Baal Shem Tov), symbolized by Abraham, the epitome of doing good for one's fellow Jew. For it is in the merit of good deeds that we will ultimately merit the Final Redemption.
(Rabbi Bentzion of Bobov)
Rabbi Leib Sarah's was a man who never rested. How could he when there were always so many mitzvot which demanded his attention? Neither the sweltering heat nor the frozen winds prevented him from trudging along the paths of towns and villages.
His mission was to collect funds to sustain hidden tzadikim and ransom Jews held captive by rapacious landlords.
Reb Leib Sarah's was well acquainted with the whereabouts of the many beneficent Jews who never refused to contribute for these holy causes.
On one of his many trips through the countryside near Berdichev, Reb Leib Sarah's happened to meet a young man who made his living buying and selling spices.
"Young man, I have a very urgent need for 500 rubles," Reb Leib Sarah's said. The tzadik was well known, and although the young merchant had earmarked the money for purchasing merchandise, he didn't hesitate for a moment. He handed over the entire sum (which also happened to be all the money he had) and accepted in exchange a promissory note stating the date on which the loan would come due.
Reb Leib Sarah's instructed the young man to sell whatever merchandise remained in his possession and he went on his way to accomplish the holy mission which awaited him.
As for the young merchant, since he had no more money, he had nothing to do in Berdichev.
The only problem was what to tell his wife who was patiently waiting for the new merchandise for their shop.
The young man had no choice but to return, but he hesitated telling her the truth.
So he decided on a likely story; he told her that he had failed to find the proper merchandise, and that he would make the trip again a few weeks hence. That seemed to satisfy her, but the young man looked forward anxiously to the date when the loan would be repaid and he could resume his business.
Finally the due date arrived and the young man stood in his shop waiting on customers. A man he had never seen before walked in and bought a large quantity of spices. He paid the entire bill and departed, but as soon as he was out of sight, the young man noticed that the customer had left a wallet on the counter.
He dashed outside, but the man was nowhere to be seen.
"Oh well," he thought, "I will probably meet him at the afternoon prayers." So, he took the wallet with him -- certain that he would encounter the owner -- but the stranger was not in the synagogue.
The young man had just finished his prayers when he heard a familiar voice behind him ask, "Have you received your payment yet?" He looked and there was Reb Leib Sarah's.
"No, I haven't received it yet," the young man replied. Reb Leib Sarah's seemed surprised, but he said nothing and they parted.
When the young man went home he decided to open the wallet and count the money. To his surprise, it contained exactly the sum he was owed, and since this was the day on which the money was due, he began to think that this was indeed his payment.
He ran back to the shul to find Reb Leib Sarah's and tell him about the payment. The tzadik was waiting for him, and was very pleased with the character of the young man. He had not even mentioned the tardiness of the payment when they had first spoken in the shul, and then the merchant had so swiftly come to tell him of the payment. He decided to reward the generous and good- hearted young man.
"Young man," the tzadik said, "you may make any request of me, and if I am able, I will fulfill it."
The young man didn't have to think for a moment. He instantly blurted out his desire: "I would love to see one of the thirty- six hidden tzadikim who sustain the world."
"That is not easy, but I shall fulfill my promise," answered Reb Leib Sarah's. The young man was brimming with happiness at the prospect of actually seeing one of these holy men with his own eyes. The long and arduous journey was nothing to him, and when he entered the remote little town, his joy could not be contained.
"Go to that street and enter the third house. There, sitting on the floor, you will see a man holding a needle and thread. Ask him to patch up your coat. As he works, you will be able to gaze into his face."
The merchant found the house, knocked and was ushered in. There, on the floor, sat an old man holding a needle and thread as if sewing something. "Could you please mend my coat?" the merchant asked the old man.
The tzadik took the garment into hands unaccustomed to sewing and laboriously began to stitch the garment. Meanwhile the young merchant thirstily drank in the shining features of the holy man.
When the repair was finished, the merchant paid with a whole ruble and took his leave. Returning to Reb Leib Sarah's, the young man was still under the spell of what he had witnessed.
The experience of having seen the holy face of the tzadik illuminated the life of the young merchant. And because he merited to see such holiness, he was given the strength to continue his selfless love of his fellow Jews all the rest of his life.
All who died with a particular defect will be resurrected with it. One who died old will be resurrected old, with thin flesh, lest people not recognize him. Then G-d will heal the resurrected, as it is written, "Then shall the eyes of the blind be op ened and the ears of the deaf be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap like a deer..." (Isaiah 35:5-6)
(Rav Hai Gaon)