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There is a well-known Midrash concerning a dialogue the fledgling Jewish nation had with G-d prior to the Giving of the Torah on Shavuot. G-d wanted to know who would be the guarantors for His precious gift of the Torah.
The Jewish people offered the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, but G-d said it was no deal. Then they offered the Torah scholars. But G-d didn't accept the suggestion. Finally, the Jewish people volunteered the children as guarantors for the Torah, thereby in effect, promising that every Jew would receive a Jewish education.
This offering G-d approved.
And the Jewish people, from the youngest to the oldest, from those present at that moment and for all those to be born throughout the generations, received and accepted the Torah.
Meet Suzy. I did just a month ago. Actually, this was the second time I had met her, though I didn't remember our first meeting.
Suzy stopped me in a store. She said she never forgets a face. And, though it had been over two years since we had sat next to each other on a flight to Florida, she told me that our brief encounter had changed her life.
I was intrigued.
She continued, and reminded me that I was reading "a Bible" and that really impressed her. (I was studying the weekly Torah portion). In fact, it impressed her so much that she started reading the Bible herself and decided to convert.
"Oh, you converted to Judaism?" I asked her. "No, I was Jewish. I converted to Christianity," she told me.
You see, Suzy grew up in a nice, Jewish home where her parents kept some of the Jewish traditions, though they knew none of the whys or wherefores. Whenever Suzy asked why they did a particular Jewish act, her parents could only answer her that it was a Jewish tradition.
Suzy received very little Jewish education. And whatever she did learn did not include in depth study of "the Bible" or any other Jewish text. There were no discussions in her home or elsewhere about belief in G-d, Moshiach, mitzvot, love of another as a religious obligation, holiness, etc.
She was positively certain that if, as a Jew for over 30 years (growing up in New York yet!), she had never heard about any of these concepts in a Jewish context, they didn't exist in Judaism. So she started to study the Christian Bible. She didn't know of course that all of the chapters and verses that she found particularly meaningful were "borrowed" straight from the "Jewish Bible," as she had never studied the Torah and had never met any Jews who did study the Torah or lived according to its teachings.
Before too long Suzy joined a church and converted.
Suzy and I spoke a few weeks ago on the phone for about an hour. She was truly fascinated to find out that Judaism has so much depth, that Jews live according to the teachings of "the Scriptures," that there are reasons behind the mitzvot and that the mitzvot are based on chapters and verses from the "Jewish part" of the Bible she can quote by heart.
A one hour telephone conversation obviously did not undo the support of Suzy's new-found Christian friends, nor her own misconceptions about Judaism. But, G-d willing it will ultimately lead to a new beginning for her.
Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers: We are the guarantors of the Torah and the Jewish people.
How many Suzy's are out there because we have not properly fulfilled our obligation? If there is even one Suzy, if there is even a solitary Jew who leaves Judaism or chooses not to be involved with Judaism because of a lacking Jewish education, we are all responsible. "All Jews are responsible, one for another," Jewish teachings charge us.
On this holiday of the Giving and Receiving of the Torah, let each of us pledge that--at the very least--our own children will never be in Suzy's position.
With this week's Torah portion, Bamidbar, we begin the fourth of the Five Books of Moses, known as "Numbers."
Although the Hebrew word "bamidbar" means literally "in the wilderness," the name of the entire book is derived from the fact that it opens with the commandment to count the number of Jews in the Sinai desert.
Obviously, G-d did not need the results of a census to know the exact number of individuals, as Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator explains, the real reason behind the census was to "demonstrate how much they are loved" -- to express G-d's love for the Jewish people.
This seems like an illogical premise.
How does conducting a census demonstrate G-d's love for His people? On the contrary, when a census is taken, no consideration is given for differences. The illiterate and the scholar are both counted as one, no more and no less. The rich and the poor, the virtuous and the not-so-virtuous are equal in the eyes of the census taker.
In truth, however, it is precisely here that G-d's immeasurable love for every single Jew--without exception--is most amply demonstrated.
As far as G-d is concerned, a person's individual talents, personality traits or other external characteristics are unimportant. What is significant to G-d is only the essential inner quality of every Jew--his soul--in which respect all Jews are truly equal.
As human beings, the way we judge our fellow man is sometimes predicated on various conditions: wealth, intelligence, social standing, etc. Because our opinions are based on qualities that are temporary and subjective, they too are subject to modification if circumstances change, i.e., if the rich man loses his wealth or the wise man's knowledge is no longer pertinent.
If, however, we ignore external factors and value our fellow Jew solely because of his essential nature, all Jews will be equal and truly worthy in our estimation.
With this in mind, we can understand how a census is an explicit statement of G-d's unconditional love: G-d does not love us because of our superior qualities or good deeds, or because we agreed to accept and obey His Torah at Mount Sinai. If this were the case, His love would be conditional and would cease, G-d forbid, if we stopped fulfilling His commandments.
The command to conduct a census emphasizes that G-d's relationship with the Jew transcends all external considerations and stems solely from the essential bond with Him that exists by virtue of the Jewish soul.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 8
by Tzvi Jacobs
About 250 years ago, a Jewish community in Russia was suffering from a devastating epidemic. The Baal Shem Tov advised the people to write a Sefer Torah (a handwritten scroll). They wrote the Torah and the plague stopped.
Salek and Chaya Beim of Morristown, New Jersey, commissioned a sofer, a Jewish scribe, to write a Sefer Torah in the merit that their two daughters, who suffered from a severe Lupus condition, should each have a complete recovery.
On September 11, 1992, six months after the sofer started this year-long project, the Beim's son, Danny, became the proud father of a six-pound, twelve-ounce baby boy.
As an obstetrician, Danny had seen many newborns, and his bright- faced, blonde-haired baby boy looked quite healthy. Danny's wife, Pam, needed a couple of days to rest up, but she looked forward to going home with her baby and taking an extended break from her work as a dentist.
Two days after the birth, a nurse went to get the Beim baby from the hospital nursery and noticed that he was barely breathing.
She rushed him into the intensive care unit. The doctors could not find the cause. After two days of testing, they believed that the faulty breathing stemmed from a congenital metabolic disorder which, in turn, was affecting the heart.
The doctors did an EEG on the baby. "Neurologically, it doesn't look good," the neurologist told Danny and his parents. He explained that the heart apparently was not pumping enough oxygen-rich blood, resulting in a lack of oxygen to the baby's brain.
"The EEG indicated extensive brain damage. He will never walk, talk..." the neurologist said.
Later, the neonatologist advised Danny and Pam to forget about surgery and let nature take its course. "If we fix the heart, your baby may survive, but he will be institutionalized for the rest of his life," the doctor said.
That evening Danny's sister Betty called and asked to speak to Pam. Betty worked for El Al.
"I'm going to get you a bracha," Betty said. "What does that mean?" asked Pam.
"A bracha? A blessing. There's a rabbi who works in the El Al terminal at Kennedy Airport who knows a rabbi who can pray for your baby. His name is Rabbi Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe." Betty had recently met Rabbi Yekutiel 'Kuti' Rapp, the Lubavitch emissary in Kennedy Airport.
Rabbi Rapp called to report, "The Rebbe's answer is that the baby's brain will be okay; just fix his heart."
With this needed encouragement, the parents transferred their baby to Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, famous for its advanced work in neonatology. The doctors there discovered that the trunks of the two main arteries leaving the baby's heart, the pulmonary and the aorta, were fused together.
The "old" and the "new" blood were mixing together, resulting in a severe lack of oxygen reaching the brain. Many risky operations had to be performed to fix this rare defect, termed persistent trunchus arteriosus, before the baby would be able to use his own heart.
In the meantime, Danny and Pam became co-sponsors in the writing of the Sefer Torah, in the merit that their son would live and be healthy.
So with the baby also in mind, the sofer continued inscribing letters in the Torah Scroll.
The baby had been in Columbia-Presbyterian for three weeks while the doctors evaluated his condition. "This is the worst case I have seen in 22 years of practice," said the neonatologist. "You have a very sick baby. I am very sorry, but you will never be able to take him home."
"I guess I just want a miracle for my son," Pam cried.
Hanging onto the Rebbe's blessing, Danny and Pam decided to transfer their baby to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. There, a team of doctors, headed by a Dr. Norwood, specialized in operating on babies with truncus.
The doctors at CHOP scheduled surgery on the baby's tiny heart. The delicate surgery involved dividing the arterial trunk: taking tissue from the baby's lung, and creating a wall between the divided trunks of the two arteries. This procedure had been developed only four years earlier and there were only 25 doctors in the world who were skilled at doing this type of heart surgery.
The Beim's baby was not strong--he weighed less than 10 pounds-- so the surgery was doubly risky, but the Beim's gave the go ahead with it.
The sofer dipped his quill in the black bottle of ink, day after day, month after month. Then, on July 4, 1993, under an open tent on the lawn of Congregation Ahavas Yisroel in Morristown, New Jersey, the final 250 letters of the Torah Scroll were filled in by many friends of the Beim family.
Salek Beim filled in the last letter of the Torah, and exuberant singing erupted. The Torah was rolled up and covered with a velvet mantle, and everyone danced the Torah down Sussex Avenue to the Rabbinical College of America campus.
A robust, ten-month old boy, held in the arms of his smiling father, leaned over and gave the Torah a kiss. This healthy, bright boy was Avrohom Chaim "Alex" Beim.
"What can I say? You saw my baby today," said Danny, at the dinner following the Torah dedication ceremony. "I attribute Alex's miraculous recovery to the Rebbe's blessings and guidance. The Rebbe is proof that there is a G-d in this world."
Bring the kids to shul
In 5740 (1981) the Rebbe called on people everywhere to make sure that children of all ages, from infants on up, be in the synagogue on Shavuot to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments.
Thus began an annual campaign to encourage as many people as possible to bring their children to shul on Shavuot.
Many Chabad-Lubavitch Centers have "ice cream" parties for the children to make the experience even more enjoyable.
Bring your children (or grandchildren) to shul on Shavuot, and encourage other people to do the same.
UNITY IN A DIVERSIFIED WORLD
Lag B'Omer 5731 (1971)
Free translation of a letter of the Rebbe to the 16th Annual Convention of N'Shei UBnos Chabad
The Convention is taking place this year on the Shabbat when we bless the Hebrew month of Sivan, the month of Matan Torah (the Giving of the Torah). And inasmuch as everything is by Divine Providence, this is an opportune moment to dwell on one of the aspects of Matan Torah which also has a direct bearing on the convention.
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 Matan Torah was the unity of the Jewish people (as it is written, "And Israel encamped [in the singular form] there facing the Mountain" -- indicating, as our Sages explain, "as one man with one heart").
The essence of Matan 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 varied 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" -- all of the 600,000 adult men, with their wives, sons, and daughters.
This means that as they were about to receive the Torah, they all submitted themselves to it so completely that all mundane matters ceased to exist for them; their self-effacement (bitul) and joy from this brought true unity to every one of the 600,000 individual men with their families, and brought the unity of G-d into the world through the one Torah.
The Jewish people began with one family, that of our father Abraham, 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 or 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 is 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 merely secondary, having 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 too that Jewish families are the component parts of the Jewish people and hence the basis of the unity of Klal Yisroel as mentioned above -- the Jewish mother and daughter have a most important part, being the Akeret haBayit, as has been underscored on previous occasions.
Needless to say, this said unity must be a constant one, without interruption; which is to say, it must be expressed not only on certain days of the year, or certain hours of the day, but on 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 its dedication to Torah and the joy of mitzvot that this should also be reflected in one's conduct outside the home, in the street, and in one's 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."
LAG B'OMER AND 18 YEARS
Chabad-Lubavitch of Virginia recently held a spectacular Lag B'Omer Concert featuring Chasidic Superstar Avraham Fried as part of its 18 year anniversary celebration.
The Collegiate Oates Theatre was sold out and the audience was literally dancing in their seats to the selection of songs sung by Fried.
Chabad-Lubavitch in Virginia was established when Rabbi Yankel Kranz (of blessed memory) and his wife, Faye, were sent by the Rebbe to Richmond 18 years ago.
A luxurious hospitality center, a nursery school, women's study groups, summer and winter day camps, and an "on-line" rabbi are some of their multi-faceted activities.
ENGLAND, ISRAEL, S. AFRICA
New teacher's seminaries for women will be opening this fall in Johannesburg, South Africa, Bournemouth, England, and Safed, Israel, by the Rebbe's emissaries in those cities.
The establishment of these seminaries is a tribute to the Rebbe's continuing impact around the globe.
Shavuot is "the season of the giving of our Torah," the time when G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people. On Shavuot, the Rebbeiim would bless the congregation to "receive the Torah with happiness and inner feeling."
This blessing intimates that not only does Shavuot commemorate when we were given the Torah, but also the time when we accept and "receive" the Torah.
In a talk some years ago, the Rebbe explained that our personal experiences on Shavuot should reflect both of these qualities: giving and receiving the Torah.
It was during this same talk that the Rebbe urged every Jewish man, woman and child to become a teacher of Torah. The Rebbe explained that the matter was of utmost urgency and that everyone should become a teacher of at least ten other people.
The following Shabbat, and the Shabbat after that, the Rebbe reiterated his expectation that everyone involve him/herself in this campaign which was a matter of immediate necessity.
The Rebbe also explained that not only would the people being taught benefit from the Torah study, but that the teacher would benefit greatly as well.
The Rebbe explained the reason for this particular call to action: the need to reach out and involve others in study groups is particularly pressing in the present age. There are hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women and children who lack knowledge of the elemental aspects of Torah and mitzvot. These are the last moments before the coming of Moshiach, and to prepare for his coming it is necessary to extend the knowledge of Torah, both Torah law and the inner dimensions of Torah, to as many individuals as possible...
Our Sages have assured us that an increase in Torah study will bring about increased blessings in all matters. May this also lead to the ultimate blessing, the advent of the age when, "A person shall no longer teach his colleague... because they will all know Me," with the coming of Moshiach and the ultimate and complete redemption. May it be in the immediate future.
Take a census of the entire congregation of the Children of Israel (Numbers 1:2)
Our Sages note that the giving of the Torah at Sinai required the presence of all 600,000 Jews; if just one had been missing, the Torah would not have been given.
Parshat Bamidbar is always read before Shavuot, the day on which the Torah was given, to remind us of this principle.
Furthermore, it reminds us that it was not enough for all Jews to be present; it was necessary that the Jewish people be united in love for one another. "Israel camped there [before Mount Sinai] as one man with one mind."
This peace and unity is the channel for all Divine blessings, including the greatest of all -- the coming of Moshiach.
Every man by his own flag, by the ensigns of their family division Numbers 2:2
Each flag bore the symbol of a different tribe: Reuben, the form of a man; Yehuda, a lion; Ephraim, an ox; Dan, an eagle.
And the charge of the Children of Israel Numbers 3:8
The function of the Levites, which is to "guard the honor of G-d," also serves to protect the Jewish people as a whole, as it states, "G-d is your guardian, G-d is your shadow."
Why a shadow? Because G-d conducts Himself with man in the very same manner as He is served...
In the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting Numbers 1:1
All of the Divine utterances that were said during the Jews' first year in the desert, before the Sanctuary was erected, are referred to with the words "at Mount Sinai."
However, once the Sanctuary was built, the Torah uses the words "in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting," as from that point on this was where the Divine Presence rested.
Rabbi Meir of Premishlan was a great tzadik whose holiness was acknowledged by Jews from far and wide who sought advice and blessings from him.
One day a woman was admitted into his study. As soon as she set eyes on the tzadik she burst into tears. "What is troubling you?" Reb Meir asked. The sobbing woman could barely speak, but she managed to get out the words, "Rebbe, I have no children; please give me your blessing."
The Rebbe was full of compassion for the woman's pain and he replied to her, "May it be G-d's will that your request be fulfilled."
Armed with the holy man's blessing, the woman confidently went home and waited for his words to be realized. Not a year had passed by when Rabbi Meir received a letter from a distant city from a person he did not know.
When he read the letter and removed the papers contained in the envelope, he was shocked to find a bank note for the tremendous sum of three hundred rubles.
The letter read: "My wife has just given birth to a child thanks to the Rebbe's blessing. I beg the Rebbe to accept this gift in gratitude."
Far from being pleased, Rabbi Meir's distress was apparent, as he extended his hand to put the bank note on the far side of the table as if he wanted to remain as distant from it as possible. Then he called his sons to come to him at once to discuss an important matter.
When they arrived, he brought them into his room and pointed to the letter: "Today I received a letter which is brimming full of errors and falsehoods. For one thing, it refers to me as a holy man, a tzadik, and that is patently false. Secondly, the entire premise of the letter is false, for this man credits me with the birth of his son. How ridiculous! What do I have to do with such lofty matters as birth and death? Am I a tzadik that I have control over these things? I have therefore decided to return the money to him at once."
His sons were shocked. The eldest spoke first. "Father, we are very poor. Perhaps G-d has taken pity on us and decided to end our poverty through this man. Maybe it would be wrong and ungrateful of us not to make good use of it." Everyone agreed.
Only the Rebbe staunchly maintained that the money must be returned to the misguided sender.
They turned the matter over this way and that, but it became clear that no consensus could be reached. The family decided to bring their dilemma to a rabbinical court, a beit din. The judges listened to both sides of the case and then reached their decision: The Rebbe should keep the money. It was true that Reb Meir was such a modest man that he denied being a tzadik whose blessings could have helped the childless woman, but the woman and her husband obviously thought differently. In their estimation it was the Rebbe's prayers that brought about the birth of their child, and they gave the money purely as a gift from their hearts. Therefore, it was perfectly fine to keep the gift.
The Rebbe and his sons left the rooms of the beit din in very different moods. The sons were satisfied that their opinion had been upheld by the judges. The terrible poverty in which they lived would be alleviated at least for a time. Their father, however, was brought no peace by the decision. For although the rabbinical court had ruled that he was completely justified in keeping the money, his own heart was uneasy. He decided to take the problem to his wife, the rebbetzin.
As his life's companion and a woman whose vision was always clear, she would be the final arbiter of this case, for he trusted her judgment completely.
The Rebbe and his sons entered the house and asked the rebbetzin to come and sit with them; they had something of great importance to discuss with her. When the family was seated around the table, the Rebbe filled her in on all the details of the problem, leaving out nothing, but stressing his own unease with the reason for receiving the gift.
Her sons, on the other hand, stressed how much easier their lives would be now, since G-d had clearly wanted to help them out of their troubles by sending them this money.
She listened wordlessly to both sides and then turned to her husband. "My dear husband, all your life you have guarded yourself from even tasting food that had a question about its kashrut. Even when you discovered that it was a hundred percent kosher you refrained from eating it, because its permissibility had been in question. Now we are faced with the same situation, the only difference being that the question is on the kashrut of money and not on food. Why should you act any differently now?"
Rabbi Meir smiled at her. He stood up, walked into his room, took the bank note and put it into an envelope which he addressed to the sender. That very day it was deposited in the post and the hearts of the tzadik and tzadeket were content.
Shavuot marks the day when the Jewish people (the bride) was married to G-d; Mount Sinai was the chupa, the Torah was the ketuba (marriage document), etc. But the consummation of the marriage will take place when Moshiach comes.