Listening to Life's Messages | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | A Call To Action
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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi Dovid Polter
Jewish teachings relate that a great teacher once called out, "Who is the man who desires life?" When a crowd was drawn to him, he added the next verse in Psalms, from which he had been quoting: "Guard your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from speaking falsehood."
There is one profession which takes the opposite approach, focussing on what will happen if a person does not live very long. This is the life insurance salesman. It is a difficult profession, involving the unpleasant task of reminding people of their mortality. Most people would rather plan for life than the opposite.
A story is told of a man who wanted to make a will leaving an extremely large sum of money to an institution after his death. He asked the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe how he should proceed, and the Rebbe answered that he would do better to plan on living a long life and derive the pleasure from making the gift to the charity immediately.
What motivates a person to become an insurance agent? The need to make a living, of course. Otherwise, the agent would not disturb his clients by reminding them of unpleasant eventualities. However, the agent believes that he has powers of persuasion which can be used to generate sales.
Of course, it is in the best interests of the life insurance company that the buyer of the policy lives for a very long time, since the company is only obligated to make payment after the customer's demise; if the customer is blessed with longevity, both the company and the purchaser of the policy will be happy. The focus on an opposite outcome is all talk, but hopefully will not actually come about. The salesman discusses death only as much as necessary to convince the purchaser to agree to the monthly payments.
These same principles apply in the relationship between body and soul.
There are two approaches. The "mussar" approach is to engage in fasting and penance to "kill" the animal soul of man with physical self-deprivation, fasting, and preoccupation with his mortality.
The second, more preferable approach is similar to the life insurance salesman. His recollection that he will not live forever is only momentary and remains just in speech. It only serves the purpose of extracting the "payments," the cooperation of the physical body in the performance of the commandments.
This second approach recognizes the preciousness of the Jewish body and the importance of maintaining its health for long and good years, just as the insurance company wants to see its clients' long life.
From: Listening to Life's Messages, adapted from the works of the Rebbe. Available from Sichos in English - firstname.lastname@example.org (Soft Cover - $8.00 +shipping).
The opening verse of this week's Torah portion, Bechukotai, "If you will walk in my statutes," is explained to mean that a Jew must labor hard in his study of Torah.
A question is asked: Why does the Torah connect the commandment to study Torah diligently with G-d's statutes? The answer is found when we take a closer look at the Hebrew word for "statutes" itself.
The phrase "In my statutes," "Bechukotai," comes from the Hebrew word meaning "to engrave."
There are two ways in which letters may be written. One way is with ink applied to parchment (or any other material); another way is to inscribe them in stone. When letters are written, the ink and the parchment remain two separate entities, even though the act of writing unites them, to a certain degree, on the same page. Nonetheless, the letters do not become part and parcel of the material on which they are written.
When letters are carved into stone, by contrast, the letters and the stone are inseparable. Each letter comes into being at the exact moment it is inscribed and can never be erased or obliterated.
The Torah commands us to learn Torah in a manner of "inscription."
A Jew who studies Torah must be so connected to what he is learning that he and Torah unite and form a single entity, just like an engraved letter does not exist prior to its inscription and can never be erased. We must learn Torah so diligently that its holy words become permanently chiseled into our souls.
The Chasidic work, Likutei Torah, explains that the literal translation of "Im bechukotai teileichu" is "If in My statutes you will walk." When a Jew studies Torah in a manner of "engraving," he merits a reward -- that he "will walk." G-d promises that if we truly apply ourselves to learning Torah we will never be immobile and stationary, but will progress and ascend ever upward, perpetually increasing our understanding and connection to G-d. A Jew whose soul is united with the Torah is thus ensured that he will always rise up the ladder of spiritual achievement.
Adapted by Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 3
by Gila Katz
My late husband, Rabbi Shabsi Katz, was the Rabbi of Pretoria, the Administrative Capital of the Republic of South Africa, for nearly 40 years. In neighboring Johannesburg, only 50 kilometers away, Jewish observance had begun to blossom in the 70's. In Pretoria, however, the Jewish community was sizeable but it was not very responsive.
The first time we came to visit the Rebbe was in the winter of 1972. The whole scene was new to me, so it was with some degree of uncertainty that I sat outside the Rebbe's office with my husband waiting for our yechidut ("private audience").
When at last it was our turn, we were told, "Only five minutes." But it was 40 minutes later, well after 2:30 a.m., when we came out. As we entered, the Rebbe stood up partially, and asked us to be seated. We said that we had been told not to sit during the yechidut. The Rebbe replied, "I won't tell if you don't tell." The Rebbe waited for me to be seated before sitting back down himself. I suddenly felt completely at ease.
My husband had written down the two questions that were causing him concern, and he handed the paper to the Rebbe. The Rebbe looked at it for a brief moment, made a couple of marks with the pencil he was holding, and started to speak.
At that time the Apartheid Laws were very much in place in South Africa, and although we were all against these laws, it was really only the Activists who spoke out against them, often courting trouble for themselves by doing so. My husband's dilemma was whether he should openly oppose Apartheid, and thus his first question was, "Should I, as an Orthodox Rabbi in the Republic of South Africa, speak out against Apartheid?"
The Rebbe began by saying that while he could find absolutely no justification for Apartheid, he wanted to point out that my husband's work in Pretoria was with the Jewish community, and he was well aware of the problems there. "You have assimilation, you have intermarriage, you have drugs," he said. "You have so many problems that weaken your community and its Yiddishkeit."
The Rebbe continued by saying that if you lived in a town and a fire was burning that threatened to destroy all the houses, it would be your obligation to put out the fire in your own house first before going to the aid of others to save their property.
He looked at my husband and said, "There is a fire in your community! You have intermarriage, you have drug abuse, you have a lack of Jewish education. You have so many things that you as the Rabbi have to attend to. Therefore, I say to you, put out the fire in your own house."
We had been living in Pretoria for nearly 20 years. Our children were growing up, and we had often contemplated the necessity of a more Jewish environment. My husband's second question to the Rebbe was whether we should consider emigrating to Israel.
In reply, the Rebbe spoke to my husband about his work with the lay community of Pretoria, the capital city. The Rebbe knew of the government contacts he had built up over the years, and he pointed out how my husband was able to use these contacts to the advantage of fellow Jews. The fact that he knew whom to contact when Jews, within his community or outside, needed assistance, was very important for the whole Jewish community.
The Rebbe spoke to us warmly, as if he had firsthand experience of what was going on in Pretoria, as he pointed out that one has to make sacrifices to be Jewish. He looked at me and said he wanted to tell me something important to me as a Jewish woman and mother. "You know," he said, "what it is to make a sacrifice to be Jewish. You know what it means when your children are invited to a birthday party and they can't eat there. That is a sacrifice for being Jewish. You know what it means when your son wants to play football but he has to go to cheder. That is a sacrifice for being Jewish."
That we must remain in Pretoria was quite clear. That my husband must continue the work he had done over the years or was the Rebbe's answer to the question of moving to Israel.
The Rebbe told us, "My experience in the military is the Navy. I learned that the last one to abandon ship is the captain.
"If you moved to Israel, you would be saving yourselves, but abandoning those you leave behind. If you stay in Pretoria and take care of G-d's children, G-d will take care of your children."
The Rebbe mentioned my husband's work as a chaplain at the army's headquarters in Pretoria. He said that in the army, the general must be there to lead, and only if the soldiers were led were they an effective force.
Toward the conclusion of the yechidut the Rebbe asked my husband if he was going to listen to what he had said.
My husband replied, "Rebbe, my experience in the military is in the army. In the army there are generals and there are privates. A private must listen to his general. Rebbe, you are my general. I will do as you say."
Immediately, the Rebbe replied, "Oh no! You mustn't do it because I said so! You must do it out of conviction!"
I remember it now, over 25 years later, as if it happened yesterday. As we were about to leave the Rebbe's presence, he said to my husband, "Remember, do it out of conviction... and with love."
Three years later, my husband returned to visit Crown Heights, and was again fortunate to have a private audience with the Rebbe. This time he took our oldest daughter, who had just turned 21.
My husband and daughter were dumb-struck when, as they walked into his room, the Rebbe said to my husband, "Well, are you doing it out of conviction?"
Bless the month: On the Shabbat before a new Hebrew month (known as "Shabbat Mevarchim") the upcoming month is blessed by the congregants as part of the morning services. Other customs of Shabbat Mevarchim are to say the entire book of Psalms and to make a communal gathering to bring down G-d's blessings for material and spiritual success.
28th of Iyar, 5720 
To the Nineteenth Annual Convention,
National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education
Your convention is taking place in the month of Sivan, at the beginning of the Three Days of Preparation before Shavuot, the Season of Our Receiving the Torah.
This coming festival of Shavuot has an added significance this year, in that the first day of the festival, the day of Matan Torah [giving the Torah] will mark the 200th anniversary of the yahrzeit-hilula of the Baal Shem Tov, of blessed memory.
As in the case of any remembrance day in Jewish life, especially a yahrzeit, the essence of the remembrance is to be inspired by the life and work of the person thus remembered.
The life and work of the Baal Shem Tov, as you surely know, were dedicated to the spreading of the inner light of the Torah (Pnimiyut HaTorah), and to making its teachings and way of life accessible to, and part of the life of, even small children. Also to permeate the nigleh ("revealed") part of the Torah and mitzvot with Pnimiyut HaTorah, so that the study of the Torah and the performance of the daily precepts will be irradiated with light, warmth and inner joy.
In the Baal Shem Tov's own life and work the two ends were unified, namely the revelation of the inner light of the Torah on the highest level was coupled with the teaching of the Torah on the most elementary level. For, as is well known, the Baal Shem Tov began his work as an assistant to a teacher in cheder [school], and culminated his activities by teaching great geonim and revealing to them the profoundest secrets of the Torah.
This idea is, of course, reflected in the Ten Commandments, which constitute the general totality of the Torah, and which begin with Anochi ["I am..."], etc.-- The essence of the idea of the unity of G-d, is to know that in heaven above and on the earth below there is nothing else, because G-d fills all the worlds and transcends all the worlds, and nothing has any reality but the Divine Word that creates everything continuously, every instant, as explained in detail in the second part of the Tanya [the magnum opus of the first Chabad Rebbe], on the basis of the Baal Shem Tov's teachings -- and continue with such down-to-earth precepts as not to murder, and so on.
The Torah was given to every Jew, and individually, as indicated also by the Ten Commandments, addressed in the second person singular. The tribe of Levi was singled out for duties which are nevertheless called Mishmeret Bnei Yisrael -- duties really incumbent on all the Children of Israel, as we read in this week's sedra [Torah portion], Bamidbar, one of these duties being "to teach G-d's laws to Jacob and His Torah to Israel."
Our Sages explain and expand on the concept of Leviim:
The tribe of Levi was selected to serve G-d and to teach His righteous ways... and not only the tribe of Levi alone but every Jew (so dedicated)... becomes holy of holies, and G-d will be his everlasting portion in the World to Come. (Rambam, end of Hilchot Shemita and Yovel)
The Released Time to which you are dedicated, teaching young Jewish children, young in years and even younger in the knowledge of Yiddishkeit [Judaism] -- during these weekly hours you act in the capacity of the "Leviim" of whom the Rambam speaks. Doing this with love and inner inspiration -- you give practical expression to one of the basic teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, which he taught by precept and personal example, as mentioned above.
May you indeed merit the fulfillment of the blessing quoted in the Rambam above, and the zechut [merit] of the Baal Shem Tov will stand you in good stead.
I send you my prayerful wishes that by concerted and individual effort you make the convention fulfill and surpass its objectives, and that each and every one of you participating in it, and your colleagues everywhere, enjoy G-d's blessings in your work for your fellow Jews, as in your own personal affairs, in a generous measure.
With blessing for a happy Yom Tov of receiving the Torah with joy and inspiration.
ICE CREAM PARTIES!
To encourage children (and parents!) to come to the synagogue on Shavuot to hear the Ten Commandments read, Chabad-Lubavitch Centers throughout the world are organizing ice cream parties (dairy foods are traditionally eaten on this festival) on the first day of Shavuot, Wednesday, June 11. Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center to find out about the ice cream party near you!
Limited quantities of bound volumes of the sixth, seventh and eighth years of L'Chaim are still available. To order your copies send $28 per book to: L'Chaim Books, 1408 President St., Bklyn, NY 11213. Make checks payable to Lubavitch Youth Organization.
This Shabbat we bless the new month of Sivan. The first of Sivan marks the day when the Jews came to the Sinai desert. At that time, Moshe began preparing the Jews for receiving the Torah. Unity amongst the Jewish people was part of this preparation.
This week's chapter in Pirkei Avot also discusses the concept of unity with a description of four different character types:
"There are four character types among people: He who says: 'What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine,' is a boor; [He who says] 'What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours,' is an average person, although some say this is the characteristic of Sodom; [He who says] 'What is mine is yours and what is yours is yours,' is a pious Chasid; [He who says] 'What is yours is mine and what is mine is mine,' is a wicked person."
On the surface, "What is mine is yours and what is yours is mine" seems to be ideal. Everyone is sharing and friendly, the epitome of unity. However, there is a teaching in the Talmud that states, "One who despises gifts will live."
If the boor had studied more, he would know this teaching and understand that the better path in life is to know how to give without taking.
One who says, "What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours" does not want to derive benefit from others, but at the same time he does not want others to derive benefit from him. Some say that this is average, while others say that this person is equivalent to the sinners of Sodom. However, these two opinions are not opposing views but rather are referring to two different situations.
The first refers to one who refrains from helping another because he would suffer a financial loss if he allowed his friend to benefit from him. This is an average reaction. The second refers to someone who refuses to help another, even if it would cause him no loss or hardship. This is the response of a sinner, and this attitude causes disunity.
May we soon merit the time of ultimate unity - of the Jewish people with each other and the Jewish people with G-d - in the Messianic Era.
If you will follow My decrees...then I will provide your rains in their time...you will eat your bread to satiety (Lev. 26:3-5)
The above three points are all connected: The Talmud says that a year when it rains in the proper season is compared to a servant who is paid on Sunday. He has the time and money to prepare for the upcoming Shabbat, and the challa can be properly baked and eaten. A year when the rains are not in their proper time is compared to a servant who receives his wages on Friday; then he is rushed and cannot prepare the challa for Shabbat properly.
I will remember my covenant with Yaakov and also my covenant with Yitzchak, and also my covenant with Avraham I will remember (Lev. 26:42)
This Torah portion deals primarily with the punishments for disobeying G-d's laws. In mentioning our Forefathers, G-d is telling the Jews, "I remember the greatness of your ancestors, and therefore I expect more from you."
Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot (Ethics, ch.4)
One should be satisfied with whatever material gains G-d has blessed him with, but the same cannot be said about spiritual gains. When it comes to spiritual matters, one should always desire more.
The reward of a mitzva is a mitzva, and the recompense of a transgression is a transgression (Ethics, ch. 4).
When a person aspires to better himself by doing a mitzva, his reward is the opportunity to do more mitzvot. If a person chooses to lower himself by sinning, his recompense is the opportunity to sin more. Each mitzva or sin leads him to the goal he wishes to reach.
(Maharal of Prague)
Reb David, a Chasid of the Baal Shem Tov, had a daughter of marriageable age. However, having no money, he had not pursued a match for her. When the Baal Shem Tov heard about the situation, he instructed two of his Chasidim to travel to the cities of Kasnitin and Novy Kasnitin where they would find two young men. They were to select one as a groom.
When they arrived at the home of the first young man, they were very favorably impressed. He was an affable young man and very well-versed in Torah. To round off his admirable qualities, he was the son of a wealthy family. What could be better?
"This young man would be a wonderful match for Reb David's daughter," they remarked to one another. "Let's finalize the match now!"
It would have been done on the spot, but one Chasid noted, "Our Rebbe clearly told us to check out both young men, and that is what we must do." The following day, after spending more time conversing with the young man and observing his behavior, they were even more certain that he was the right choice. However, just as they were about to depart, they mistakenly entered one of the rooms of the spacious mansion. To their horror, they saw the young scholar holding a cross.
The Chasidim thanked G-d for having shown them the hidden side of their chosen groom. "How could we have doubted the words of our Rebbe when he told us to meet both prospective grooms!" they concurred.
In the city of Novy Kasnitin they found the second candidate, and he was a fine young man. They concluded the engagement agreement, and the boy's parents sent a costly gift for the intended bride. Of course, custom dictated that a gift of similar value be sent to the groom as well.
Reb David and his daughter were pleased with the reports of the young groom, but as the weeks passed, Reb David could not manage to amass enough money to buy a respectable gift for the future groom.
Soon a letter arrived from the groom's father questioning the silence of the bride's family. No gift, not even a mazal tov, and the wedding date was fast approaching. Poor Reb David was at a complete loss. There seemed to be no way for him to raise the money.
With no solution in sight, he made the trip to Mezibuz to consult the Baal Shem Tov. When the Baal Shem Tov heard his tale of woe he responded, "Just go home and don't worry. It will all turn out very well."
Reb David returned home, and tried to be optimistic, even when a second letter arrived. But when a third letter came from his future in-law announcing his imminent arrival together with the entire wedding party, Reb David fell apart. What could he do, but to travel once again to the Baal Shem Tov?
As Reb David was about to enter the town, he and his travelling companions saw a heavily loaded wagon ahead of them. "There is your salvation!" joked one of the travellers, pointing to the wagon. Little did he suspect the truth of the words he had uttered in jest, for the occupant of the wagon had entered the Besht's room just a moment before Reb David.
Addressing Reb David, the Besht said: "Here is an interesting story: Once in Danzig there was a wealthy merchant named Reuven, who dealt in lumber. As did many other lumber dealers, he shipped his merchandise by sea. Once there was a terrible storm and the merchandise of all of the other merchants was destroyed. Only Reuven's was saved. Now lumber was scarce and Reuven realized a huge profit.
"His troubles, however, had just begun. For his workers became exceedingly jealous of his new-found wealth and went so far as to plot his death. They killed his driver and were about to murder him as well. He begged and pleaded for his life, but they were not swayed. They agreed only to allow him to pray for a few moments. It was during those seconds that Reuven vowed to give half of his fortune to the poor if G-d granted him his life.
"At that moment a nobleman and his retainers approached at a gallop. The would-be murderers fled and a shaken Reuven was rescued.
"Soon, he began to regret his vow. How could he give away such a fortune of money all at once? Instead he would give a little each year until he had paid his pledge. G-d, however, was not satisfied with this plan, and decided that Reuven's fortune would be dispensed of otherwise. Soon his wife took ill, and although great sums were meted out to many doctors, a cure was not found.
" 'Reuven,' said his wife, 'the doctors cannot cure me. Please go to the Baal Shem Tov, and see if he can help.' And here is Reuven, in this room!"
The man had realized that he was the subject of the Baal Shem Tov's story, and he stood in amazement at the accuracy of the details.
"How much money did you spend on doctors?" the Baal Shem Tov inquired. "Was it not more than the sum you had promised to the poor? Now, redeem your pledge and your wife will soon recover."
At that, Reuven poured all his money on the table. It contained the entire sum Reb David had promised as a dowry and more. True to the words of the Baal Shem Tov, the wedding was celebrated joyfully, and the young couple lived happy and content.
When good triumphed over evil in the past, evil was not utterly vanquished. For example, the impure spirit still pervaded the atmosphere of Egypt even after the Egyptians were annihilated at the sea. The same was true after Israel's other victories over their enemies. In the future, however, the atmosphere will be completely purged of every detrimental influence.
(Alshich on Psalm 96)