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L'Chaim
July 14, 1995 - 16 Tamuz 5755

376: Balak

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.


  375: Chukas377: Pinchas  

The Blueprint  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  A Call To Action
The Rebbe Writes  |  What's New  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

The Blueprint

by Yanki Tauber

A person desires a home. Initially its dimensions and qualities are undefined: it is its quintessential homeness that he conceives of and desires. Then, the image of his home begins to form in his mind's eye.

Putting pen to paper, he sketches its floor plan, its furnishings, the landscaping of its grounds; he notes the type and color of its materials, the architechtural details of its facade, the precise design of its fixtures.

But the blueprint contains nothing "new."

Everything in it, down to the squiggle on the base of its door handles, in an outgrowth of his original concept of "home."

Blueprint in hand, the aspiring homeowner will now procure the necessary materials. He will entrust the blueprint and materials to a contractor whose job is to transform unhomey things such as logs and stones into the inviting sanctum he has envisioned.

The Torah is G-d's blueprint of home, His detailed description of what He wants His "contractor" (human beings) to create out of the materials He provides (the physical creation).

Each of the divine commandments of the Torah instructs us to take a specific object or resource and fashion it into an instrument of the divine will: a pair of tefilin, a sukkah, a prayer book, a candle, a check made out for charity. Each time we do a mitzva we forge another element of an "inhospitable" world into something that is receptive to and expressive of the divine truth.

With each such act, we make the Al-mighty that much less "inhibited" by the concealments and distortions of the physical universe, that much more "at home" in His creation.


The universe originated as a concept in the "mind" of G-d.

In the beginning, there arose within Him a vision of a home in a foreign land. He envisioned a world inhospitable to His presence -- a world that conceals His absolute truth, a world in which chance and caprice obscure the purpose He invests in its every entity and event.

He envisioned a being who would develop this alien environment to house and serve Him.

A being with the capacity to transcend the concealment -- to recognize the divine essence of every created thing, to transform the material world into an abode for the manifest presence of its Creator.

In the words of our Sages, "G-d desired a dwelling in the lowly realms."

The birth of this concept was itself an act of creation: G-d's creation of the "why" of the universe, of its purpose and utility. It is out of this "spiritual" reality that G-d proceeded to create the physical universe.

The task of man, G-d's "partner in creation," is to reverse the process.

Confronted with a concrete and corporeal world, he seeks its soul -- its inner essence. He seeks to uncover its significance, to realize its quintessential utility. He labors to transform the raw material of physicality into a home for G-d, to re-create from it the divine concept of creation.

Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov put it this way: G-d makes what is spiritual into a physical world, while we transform this physical world into a spiritual reality.

So the very act of serving G-d is an act of negation. The making of a "home for G-d" means divesting the world of its physical "somethingness." It means redefining reality in terms of its divine essence and function rather than its physical husk.

The same applies to the human.

Man, too, is part of creation. He is thus both the developer and the developed object: his mind, his heart, his energies and talents -- of these, too, his goal is to remake substance into spirit, to shift the focus from object to objective.

To supplant his physical identity with his role as a servant of the Al-mighty -- "I was not created, but to serve my Creator."

From: Beyond the Letter of the Law - Published by Vaad Hanochos Hatmimim


Living with the Rebbe

Of all the prophecies in Scripture that refer to the Messianic era, the one contained in this week's Torah portion, Balak, is most unusual in that it came from Bilaam, a gentile prophet.

Bilaam, the foremost prophet of his time, was forced against his will to foretell the downfall of the nations of the world and the ultimate ascendancy of the Jewish people.

The very fact that this prophecy is included in our holy Torah indicates its special significance; indeed, it contains a distinct advantage precisely because it was said by a non-Jew.

For, when Moshiach comes, the Jewish people will no longer be subservient to the nations; on the contrary, the gentile leaders will vie with one another for the privilege of serving the Jews!

Thus, the prophecy of Bilaam concerning the Final Redemption not only gave the Children of Israel cause for rejoicing over their future, it actually afforded them a "taste" of the way things will be in the Messianic era.

As far as prophecy itself is concerned, our Sages foretold its reoccurrence among the Jewish people before Moshiach's arrival according to the following chronology:

Commenting on the verse in this week's Torah portion, "At the proper time shall it be said to Jacob and to Israel, what G-d has wrought," Maimonides noted that prophecy would return to Israel after "the proper time" had elapsed after Bilaam, i.e., after the same number of years as had passed since the creation of the world until his prophecy.

Bilaam's prophecy was said in the year 2488; 2488 years after that, in the year 4976 (we are now in the year 5755), prophecy was destined to return to the Jewish people.

In fact we find that this was indeed the case, for it was then that prophetic luminaries began to appear on the Jewish horizon - - Rabbi Shmuel Hanavi, Rabbi Elazar Baal "Harokeach," Nachmanides, the Ravad (Rabbi Abraham ben David), Rabbi Ezra Hanavi and Rabbi Yehuda the Chasid and others.

More generations passed until the birth of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidut, and his successor, the Magid of Mezeritch, about whom it was said that they "could see from one end of the world to the other."

The following generation produced Rabbi Shneur Zalman, who formulated Chabad Chasidut. Had he lived in the times of our prophets he would have been on a par with them; moreover, this chain of prophecy continued from one Chabad leader to the next, until the present day, when the Rebbe has prophesied that Moshiach's arrival is imminent.

The return of prophecy to the Jewish people is therefore both a prerequisite and preparation for the Messianic era, which is due to begin at any moment.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 2


A Slice of Life

by Jack Nadelman

I used to be a Jewish Christian missionary for over a dozen years.

Convinced by Christian testament doctrine that everyone whom I knew and loved who was Jewish and didn't believe in J. was going to burn in hell for all eternity, I became very good at using the Holy Scriptures to prove that J. is the Jewish Messiah. To save their souls.

I handed out literature at the Fort Lauderdale airport and at the beach.

I went "witnessing" door to door in Jewish (and non-Jewish) neighborhoods.

I took Christian teenagers to Jewish nursing homes. I taught Jewish Evangelism (how to effectively convert Jewish people to Christianity) in various churches.

I did Passover Seders in homes and churches showing how J. is the Passover. I have led many Jewish souls astray. Is it possible that G-d could forgive me of these many sins?

And for the years that I was learning and teaching Christianity, every encounter with supposedly knowledgeable Jewish men only increased my faith in J.

I always looked for opportunities to lead lost Jewish souls to J.

But last October I began to run into some walls. When I was challenged on the computer network, Internet, to speak with Mark Powers at "Jews for Judaism," I did.

I figured, if he has an open mind, the L-rd might use me to save his soul. Well... some of the things he asked I had no answer for. And it seemed like he had reasonable answers for all of my questions. So I immediately set up meetings with my Christian 'Rabbi' and dialogues with other knowledgeable Christians.

I continued this investigation, certain that the experience would only make me a stronger Christian and possibly save some lost Jewish souls in the process. And I bought an "Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties" by Gleason L. Archer, certain that all of these questions had good answers. Some did. Many didn't.

At the same time, Yosef Kazen (Director of Activities -- Chabad- Lubavitch in Cyberspace -- info@chabad.org) sent me the testimony of a gentile Christian leader who, through an intense honest study of Scripture, came to the realization that the Rabbis are right, and became a convert to Judaism. And Renee', another Torah observant Jew who knew about my struggle, sent me two audio cassette tapes on Isaiah 53 by Tovia Singer at Outreach Judaism.

After listening I asked Tovia for a complete set. These tapes were filled with reasons why Torah Judaism is in agreement with the Word of G-d.

This was not an easy situation. I had many years invested into Christianity. I met and married my Jewish Christian wife at a Christian congregation. I've been teaching my children Christianity and they have been going to Christian school since day one. Literally. My son Aaron was listening to Christian music the first day of his little life in the hospital. And he memorized the first chapter of Jonah (he is such a genius) when he was three from my reading to him before bed. He is twelve now.

My biggest struggle was, if I do the wrong thing by rejecting Christianity, then according to the Christian testament, I would burn in hell for eternity, and could be responsible for leading my wife and children into that same fate.

But after several months of careful examination, I came to the conclusion that I'd been wrong, and that the Rabbis are right.

And it seemed that whenever it became clear during a discussion with a Christian that according to the Scriptures the Rabbis were right, the Christian would always fall back on his personal experience with G-d. Or with his or her knowing it in his or her heart. Feelings.

But, and the Christian testament teaches it, even if an angel of light comes with a message, but the message contradicts what G-d has already said, the angel is not from G-d. Now, was I going to believe the Holy Scriptures, or the feelings of my Christian friends?

I guess there is one very positive thing about Christianity. They (at least the fundamentalist groups I was involved with) teach that the Word of G-d IS the Word of G-d. And that the Word of G-d is the final authority.

With this foundation I came to the conclusion that the Christian testament could NOT be from G-d since it does not promote Tanach [the Jewish Bible, i.e. the five Books of Moses, the Prophets and Writings], but instead, contradicts it.

And every fundamentalist Christian will agree with you that Tanach IS the Word of G-d. So last Chanukah, I made a return to Judaism. My wife Anne has so far refused to join me in my return. But I know G-d is good. And He is in control. And Anne will come around.

All I can do now is thank G-d that by his mercy, I've been returned to my people to share in the inheritance. After all those I've led astray, you would think that He would not be so kind and forgiving. I am eternally grateful for His mercy.


A Call To Action

Eat more and better!

In general, on Shabbat it is a mitzva to take pleasure in material delights.

This Shabbat it is an even bigger mitzva to eat delicious foods as it is the "fast day" of the 17th of Tammuz; since it is Shabbat we push off the fast until Sunday.

"The Shabbat meals, and the meal of Melave Malka (eaten Saturday night) should be held with perhaps more happiness and celebration, thus emphasizing the connection of Shabbat and the Melava Malka to the Era of the Redemption when the fast will be transformed into a day of celebration in a full and complete manner."

(The Rebbe, 17 Tammuz, 5751)


The Rebbe Writes

DON'T OVERDO IT

5 Tammuz, 5743

I have just received your letter of 3rd of Tammuz.

To begin with a blessing, may G-d grant that henceforth you and all your family should have only goodness and benevolence --in the kind of good that is revealed and evident.

At the same time, you must make every effort to regain the proper state of mind, despite the pain.

You should remember the teaching and instruction of the Torah, which is called Torat Chayim, the Guide in Life, and Torat Emet, the Torah of Truth, meaning that what it teaches is not just to ease the mind, but the actual truth.

Thus, the Torah, taking into account human nature/feelings, in a case of bereavement, and the need to provide an outlet for the natural feelings of sorrow and grief, prescribes a set of regulations and periods of mourning.

At the same time, the Torah sets limits in terms of the duration of the periods of mourning and appropriate expression, such as shiva [the first seven days], shloshim [thirty days], etc.

If one extends the intensity of mourning which is appropriate for shiva into shloshim, it is not proper, for although shloshim is part of the overall mourning period, it is so in a lesser degree.

And since the Torah says that it is not proper to overdo it, it does no good for the neshama [soul] of the dear departed. On the contrary, it is painful for the neshama to see that it is the cause for the conduct that is not in keeping with the instructions of the Torah.

A second point to bear in mind is that a human being cannot possibly understand the ways of G-d. By way of a simple illustration:

An infant cannot possibly understand the thinking and ways of a great scholar or scientist -- even though both are human beings, and the difference between them is only relative, in terms of age, education and maturity.

Moreover, it is quite possible that the infant may some day surpass the scientist, who also started life as an infant. But the difference be tween a created human being and his Creator is absolute.

Therefore, our Sages declare that human beings must accept everything that happens, both those that are obviously good and those that are incomprehensible, with the same positive attitude that "all that G-d does is for the good," even though it is beyond human understanding.

Nevertheless, G-d has made it possible for human beings to grasp some aspects and insights about life and afterlife. One of these revealed truths is that the neshama is a part of G-dliness and is immortal. When the time comes for it to return to Heaven, it leaves the body and continues its eternal life in the spiritual World of Truth.

It is also a matter of common sense that whatever the direct cause of the separation of the soul from the body (whether a fatal accident, or a fatal illness, etc.) it could affect only any of the vital organs of the physical body, but could in no way affect the spiritual soul.

A further point, which is also understandable, is that during the soul's lifetime on earth in partnership with the body, the soul is necessarily "handicapped" -- in certain respects -- by the requirements of the body (such as eating and drinking, etc.).

Even a tzadik (righteous person) whose entire life is consecrated to Hashem [G-d] cannot escape the restraints of life in a material and physical environment.

Consequently, when the time comes for the soul to return "home," it is essentially a release for it as it makes its ascent to a higher world, no longer restrained by a physical body and physical environment.

Henceforth, the soul is free to enjoy the spiritual bliss of being near to Hashem in the fullest measure. That is surely a comforting thought.

continued in next issue


What's New

WHO, WHAT, WHEN WHERE?

If your rabbi frantically informed you, "Moshiach is coming now!" would you smile and nod politely? Pat him on the head? Give him a donation? Find a different rabbi? Or would you try to find out more?

Chabad of South Bay challenged the thinking mind with a lecture entitled, "What does 'Moshiach' mean?" last month. For info about more in this lecture series or classes on other topics call the Chabad House at (310) 326-8234.

HADAR HATORAH TAPES

Hadar Hatorah, opened in 1962, was the first of its kind. It's a yeshiva designed exclusively for young Jewish adults returning to their roots.

In over 30 years, Hadar Hatorah has hosted some of the most dynamic, fascinating and informative lecturers in the Jewish world. They have applied the principles of Jewish law, philosophy, and mysticism to the life of the contemporary Jew.

And all of these lectures are available on tape. For a new updated catalogue of Hadar Hatorah Tapes write to: 824 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213 or call (718) 735-0250.

TORAH FACTORY

Jewish students at John Dewey High School in Brooklyn got a boost of Jewish pride as they participated in a Torah Factory workshop sponsored by Tzivos Hashem held at their school.

The event was part of the school's Brotherhood/Sisterhood Day organized to promote ethnic, cultural and religious diversity.

At the hands-on "Torah Factory" they learned all about Jewish scribal arts and even had a chance to write with a quill.

To find out if Torah factory can visit your school or day camp call Tzivos Hashem at (718) 467-6630 or your local Chabad- Lubavitch Center.


A Word from the Director

This Shabbat is the 17th of Tammuz. Because it is also Shabbat, the fast usually commemorated on this date is postponed until the next day.

The Rebbe explained that there are two ways of explaining the fact that the fast is put off:

  1. It is forbidden to fast on Shabbat, because no element of sadness should be associated with this day. In particular, this applies in regard to those fasts which commemorate national calamities.

  2. On a deeper level this postponement serves as a foretaste of the revelation of the true nature of the date of the fast which will surface in the Era of the Redemption when, as Maimonides writes, 'all the fasts will be nullified... and will be transformed into festivals and days of joy and rejoicing.'

"On an overt level, a fast day is obviously undesirable. The suffering endured on a fast is surely not pleasurable, nor appreciated. Nevertheless, the inner dimension of a fast is good, as the prophet states, 'It is a day of will unto G-d.'

"This contrast is openly expressed in regard to the 17th of Tammuz. On an obvious level it is associated with negative factors, the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem, which led to the destruction of the Holy Temple. Nevertheless, its inner, essential quality is good. This is even alluded to in the date itself, for 17 is numerically equivalent to the word 'tov.' This points to the intent of the exile, that it should lead the Jews to the Era of the Redemption.

"The connection to the Redemption also relates to Shabbat which is a foretaste of 'the era which is all Shabbat and rest for eternity.' Moreover, the mitzva of delighting in the Shabbat by partaking of material delicacies is also paralleled by 'the feast which the Holy One, blessed be He, will make for the righteous in that future era.' That feast will be an actual physical meal.

"For, as Chasidut explains, the ultimate reward of the Era of the Redemption will not be on the spiritual plane. Rather, it will be experienced within this material world, as the souls are enclothed within the body."

May this take place immediately!


Thoughts that Count

He has not beheld any wrong in Jacob; the L-rd his G-d is with him (Numbers 23:21)

Even the "animal soul" of the Jew is ultimately transformed into good, by virtue of the fact that every Jew possesses a Jewish soul --- "a veritable part of G-d Above" --- giving him the power to effect this transformation.

(Sichot Kodesh)

A star steps out of Jacob and a scepter rises out of Israel (Numbers 24:17)

Although one passage in the Jerusalem Talmud states that this verse refers to Moshiach, another interprets it as referring to every Jew.

This seeming contradiction is resolved by the Baal Shem Tov, who said that every Jew contains within him a spark of the soul of Moshiach.

Furthermore, this spark is more than just a latent aspect; every Jew is able to bring that spark out into the open, bringing about the actual manifestation of Moshiach by means of Torah and mitzvot, which effect a purification and refinement of the physical world.

This will be achieved in macrocosm with the coming of Moshiach, who will reveal the world's goodness and holiness.

(Peninei HaGeula)

He couches down, he lies down as a lion (Numbers 24:9)

Even when the Jew is "asleep" in exile he is considered "as a lion," for his heart is always "awake" to G-d, to Torah and to mitzvot.

(Ohr HaTorah)

What this people will do to your people in the end of days (Numbers 24:14)

In the end of days, before the arrival of Moshiach, an attempt will be made to turn "this people" into "your people," i.e., to transform the Jewish people into a nation like any other, indistinguishable from non-Jews in custom and habit.

(Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa)


It Once Happened

There was once a chasid who was a very wealthy grain merchant. His customers were the richest county landowners. The chasid's job was to supply them with enough seed to plant their fields, and every year he would deliver hundreds of wagonloads of seeds.

Due to the harshness of the local climate, the planting season was very short and even a slight delay in the schedule would cause irreparable harm to the crops.

The system that had developed was this: the landowners would advance the chasid a large percentage of the actual price of the grain, thus enabling him to purchase it and transport it to them in time, the time element being the key to the entire transaction.

If he was, G-d forbid, late in delivering, not only would their purchase be void (and their planting season ruined), but the chasid would be required to pay a hefty fine to cover their losses.

Every year the grain was delivered to the same spot, a local inn that was mutually convenient to both the chasid and his customers.

For many years the grain was successfully delivered, and the landowners prospered as did the chasid, who became wealthy enough to be one of the greatest supporters of the Rebbe's charitable causes.

One year, as the chasid was conducting a caravan of several hundred wagons to the point of meeting, he suddenly realized that he had made a disastrous mistake.

He cried to his manager, "We forgot to bring the seeds for our biggest customer! Not only will I have to return his advance and pay a huge fine, but my reputation will be ruined! When the other landlords hear what happened, they will cancel all future orders. No one will ever trust me again to make the delivery on time! I will be in debt for the rest of my life!"

Turning around was out of the question, for there was no time to lose in making the other orders. The catastrophe seemed to be unavoidable.

Suddenly, the chasid's demeanor changed. He began to mumble something under his breath: "The whole batch must be thoroughly boiled, yes, with such-and-such an amount of sugar, fruit juice, flavoring...yes it will be very delicious and unusual ...yes it will be perfect" and so on.

The manager who sat next to his boss felt a stab of pity: "He's lost his mind under the stress of such a terrible shock," he thought. But the chasid continued his murmuring for the rest of the trip.

When they finally arrived at their destination, the landowners were waiting for their delivery. But before the wagon had even stopped, the chasid had run into the inn, speaking at the top of his lungs, "I have a terrific idea for this year's punch." For one of the high points of the annual rendezvous was the partaking of a special punch which the landowners drank thirstily. This specially delicious concoction, liberally spiked with vodka, sweetened and flavored with fresh fruit juices native to the region, had become a traditional part of the grain purchase, for wasn't this as good an occasion as any other?

And so, the punch was prepared according to the chasid's recipe. As was traditional, before getting down to business, the punch was passed around, and as the landowners began to sample the brew, word spread that it was a truly heavenly concoction, the likes of which had never been tasted in those parts. The cups were refilled with truly dazzling speed, and soon the landlords were quite intoxicated, all business forgotten. Even when the chasid tried to remind them that there was business at hand they ignored him.

Night fell and with it came a torrential downpour which soaked the hundreds of grain-laden wagons. The following morning brought the terrible realization that all had been lost.

With uncharacteristic equanimity the landlords said to the chasid "Don't worry. It's not your fault that it rained. You fulfilled your part of the bargain, and we will fulfill ours." And with that, they paid him the entire amount of money which they had agreed upon.

Filled with gratitude to the Al-mighty, the chasid mounted his wagon. Not only had he not lost money, but he had made a handsome profit. Indeed, he had witnessed how G-d "brings down the haughty and raises the humble" -- and in this case, simultaneously.

The manager, however, was at a total loss in the face of this obvious miracle. What had just occurred? he wondered. How could fortunes have reversed themselves in one split second?

"I can explain everything," the chasid began, "although at the time, I myself did not understand it.

"During my last audience with the Rebbe, he said something which surprised me, as I was just about to leave: 'Ki b'simcha teitzeiu (for with joy shall you depart). It is precisely through happiness that one is able to depart from troubles and leave them behind...'

"I couldn't imagine what the Rebbe was referring to, but as soon as I found myself in trouble, I knew the time had come to fulfill the Rebbe's wishes. Being b'simcha would bring my salvation.

"But how? How could I possibly rejoice when it seemed as if I was going to lose everything and spend the rest of my life in poverty? I decided to concentrate on the recipe for 'punch' as a means of increasing my happiness; as you can see, it was clearly the proper 'vessel' through which we were able to avoid utter catastrophe..."


Moshiach Matters

In the days of Moshiach, "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid... "Ramban takes this verse literally and documents his stand profusely. Yet he maintains that such coexistence will not necessitate great changes in creation, because wild animals were originally peaceful creatures, becoming predatory only after Adam's sin.


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