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L'Chaim
February 20, 1998 - 24 Shevat 5758

507: Muishpatim

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


  506: Yisro508: Terumah  

Need A Lawyer?  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  Rambam this week
The Rebbe Writes  |  What's New  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Need A Lawyer?

Need legal help? Look in the yellow pages under "lawyer" and you'll see that a dozen pages advertise legal services for victims of negligence, malpractice and accidents. Bankruptcy lawyers promise you that there's nothing to fear by filing chapter eleven. And, of course, legal services for criminal defense can also be found when you let your fingers do the walking.

When a lawyer takes on a case, he has one goal in mind: to bring his client a legal victory. If the client has been accused of some misdeed, the lawyer's search for evidence to the contrary takes on tremendous import. Whatever the circumstances and however flimsy the case, the lawyer puts all his efforts into building a defense which will exonerate his client.

A famous teaching of the founder of the Chasidic movement, the Baal Shem Tov, is that we can learn a spiritual lesson from everything we see and hear.

Today, we see and hear a lot of lawyers; certainly then, there is something to learn from a lawyer's modus operandi. What is it? That each of us should attempt to find all that is good and worthy in our fellow Jew. Whatever the circumstances and however "flimsy" the case, we should dig and delve and pursue any evidence that will lead us to recognize the intrinsic good in each and everyone of our brethren.

Is it possible, one might wonder, to sincerely investigate but not find positive qualities, extenuating circumstances, or hard facts that will allow one to judge one's fellow Jew favorably?

To quote the Rebbe, "If one digs for water and doesn't find any, this does not mean that water isn't there. One must dig deeper in order to find the source. The same principle applies to seeing good traits in another person. Although these may not be readily apparent, if one looks with honesty, he will certainly find positive attributes in his fellow. If, in the end, a person can only see negatives in others, this suggests that the deficiency actually lies within himself.

This is closely related to one of the key precepts of Judaism -- to judge others favorably and to always ascribe good motives to their behavior."

From "Listening to Life's Messages" adapted by Rabbi D. Polter


What's in it for you and me? Training ourselves to think and judge in such a manner won't line our pockets with hefty legal fees.

However, perhaps this teaching from the Baal Shem Tov would be sufficient compensation: "Whoever judges another, favorably or critically, is actually sitting in judgement on himself. For example, if someone remarks that so-and-so's good deed or good words deserve G-d's blessings for his needs, or if he says that so-and-so's improper word or act has earned him punishment, these very words are a verdict about himself, either condemning or beneficial. Whoever justifies another's suffering as his just due and is not agonized and does not pray for the other's relief, these very words accuse him that his own deeds and words are scrutinized. Whoever shares the other's anguish and prays for him, will be rewarded."

So, the next time you hear a lawyer touting his services on the radio, or you see a bus ad offering legal aid, think of how you can advocate for a fellow Jew.


Living with the Rebbe

One of the commandments contained in this week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, is "If you will lend money to any of My people." Lending money to a poor person is considered a mitzva.

According to our Sages, G-d performs all of the same mitzvot He commands the Jewish people to observe. "He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel." The Torah's "statutes" and "judgments" are G-d's statutes and judgments! Thus, G-d too observes the mitzva of "lending money to the poor," as it were.

Let us examine exactly what is involved in the transaction of a loan:

A loan consists of one person giving money to another, even though he is not obligated to do so. The money is a gift; the borrower does not give anything in exchange. Nonetheless, the person on the receiving end of the transaction is obliged to eventually repay the giver.

The Holy One, Blessed Be He, observes all of the Torah's commandments. G-d's "loan" to us, however, consists of the strengths and abilities He endows us with to succeed in our daily lives.

These gifts are not measured, nor does G-d grant them only to the deserving, just as monetary loans are not made solely to those in dire need. And yet, they are still "loans" and must therefore be repaid. But how do we repay our debt? By utilizing our strengths and abilities to carry out our Divinely-appointed mission in life, observing G-d's "statutes" and "judgments" in fulfillment of His will.

The second half of the above commandment reads "You shall not be a creditor to him, nor shall you lay upon him interest." It is forbidden for a lender to pressure the borrower into repaying his loan. He may neither ask for his money nor cause him distress. If the loan has not yet been repaid it is obvious that the borrower does not have the money to do so. In fact, the lender may not even show himself to the borrower, that he not be made to feel any embarrassment or shame.

G-d also observes the prohibition against being a creditor. G-d could easily demand payment by punishing His children and inflicting pain and suffering, but He does not. For it is forbidden for a creditor to cause sorrow to those who are in his debt. Instead, G-d acts toward the Jewish people with kindness and mercy, granting them all manner of revealed and open goodness.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 1


A Slice of Life

Excerpts of an article from Beis Moshiach by Dovi Scheiner about his and a friend's summer experiences as an interns under Rabbi I. Krasniansky of Chabad of Hawaii

Destination: Hawaii. Six weeks, four islands, and a three-point plan. Jewish men: Why seven wraps of the tefilin straps can be the ultimate entanglement. Property owners: How to get He who neither sleeps nor slumbers to guard your house. Jewish mothers: Why the Rebbe wants your 3-year-old daughter to start playing with matches.

At every stop people were informed that the Rebbe's prophecy for the future will come true. They were encouraged to prepare for the day when we will witness a world transformed from virtual-reality to a reality of virtue, with the coming of our righteous Moshiach.

While many American cities have been experiencing population growth and economic expansion, the Hawaiian town of Hilo has been gaining ground geographically, literally! As of 1985, Hilo is home to one of Earth's few active volcanoes, which in the past twelve years has produced enough lava to pave a two-lane highway three times around the world.

"You'll never believe what the volcano spewed in," area resident Stephen Brier called to his wife, as the door opened to reveal a pair of Lubavitcher yeshiva students. He ushered us in. Stephen informed us that the town had nothing going on religiously, stating that the only active Jewish organization is the burial society. When we recommended the mitzva of tefilin, his mood brightened. "That's a great idea," he said. "I'll go get them."

Stephen returned holding a pair of tefilin, and my partner Shmuely and I sensed that there was a story here. As it turns out, this was not the first time he had received a visit form Chabad. "A few years ago two great guys stopped by," he began with enthusiasm. "Their main mission was to get me to put on tefilin. As I had none I eagerly purchased a pair from them. At the time, I had honestly intended to wear the tefilin every day. But unfortunately I am exceedingly busy and never actually get around to it."

If New York is lemon, Hawaii is watermelon. If New York is fast pace, Hawaii is no pace. To perfect the art of walking like a Hawaiian is to succeed in convincing passing pedestrians that you are actively going nowhere.

Working for the Rebbe through these summer months, my partner Shmuely and I were privileged to witness providence with greater frequency, even coming to acknowledge that the Almighty directly involved Himself in the scheduling of our itinerary.

There will always be that sweltering moment on Maui. We had spent 3 hours knocking on nearly twenty doors, without a single success - and then our car broke down. Miles from the nearest station, we lugged our auto to the side of the road. When, from a nearby clearing, a motorcyclist appeared, we rushed to wave him down and explained that we were out of gas and requested his assistance.

"Now," he said, staring through his sunglasses, "how did two smart boys like you manage a stupid thing like that? I always thought the tribe was smarter than that!" Suspecting underlying significance to my overriding stupidity, I asked if he was Jewish. "Of course I am," he replied indignantly.

My curiosity aroused, I asked him his name. "It's Aharonson," he answered. Not fully believing what I'd just heard, I continued, "Do you mean Bill Aharonson?" He told me that was correct. "Apartment B-119?" I asked. Again I received a response in the affirmative.

He looked baffled, so we explained.

"We're student rabbis visiting the Jewish community of Maui. Some 25 minutes ago we were knocking on your door. You weren't home, but thanks for returning the call."


Our arrival was unexpected, but not uninvited. Leaving for dinner and a movie, Dr. Scott paused to ponder our offering, understanding that it would involve chicken soup for the soul. It was his decision to bite.

Heart surgeon with a heart, Scott Mandel's eyes bespoke youthful dignity, while behind his head he packed a ponytail.

From the portion of the week, our first course, we soon spun into a smorgasbord of alternative kosher topics-pleasing helpings of holiday delights seasoned with lively stories, and Scott savored every drop. Later, while feasting on dessert, Scott admitted a lack of knowledge of even the basic ingredients. At that point I requested the honor of initiating a Jewish male to the rite of tefilin.

He sat motionless, apparently moved. Just then the phone rang and he stepped out of the room. We could overhear bits of the conversation and picked up something about "a delay on account of some interesting boys." His friend was on his way to pick him up, and our time was running out.

We brought the conversation back to tefilin, but the response was negative. We were taken aback, but Scott had a delightful explanation: "In a lifetime a man only has so many Bar Mitzvas. As mine is already late, I was wondering if we could wait - so when I have it at last, it shouldn't be hurried."

He had allowed himself to be touched but refused to be rushed. As it turned out he had no qualms with our rite of passage, he only wanted to make sure the timing was right.

And so, in his appointment book a Star of David was sketched, and beside it in pencil the word "ceremony" was written. Testament to two young rabbis who made their mark and one wise doctor who taught them a lesson. To a special surgeon, who found the patience between patients, upon deciding that a brief moment of prayer just wouldn't cut it.


Rambam this week

28 Shevat, 5758

Positive mitzva 246: Laws of Claims

This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 22:8) 'In every case of trespass... in which one can say, 'This is it'.

In cases where there is a disagreement as to who bears responsibility for a loss or damage, the Torah teaches how to come to a fair decision.

The details of this mitzva are expounded upon in a total of 15 chapters in Maimonides' Mishna Torah.


The Rebbe Writes

4th of Cheshvan 5728 [1968]

I duly received your (undated) letter. Since it has just been received, I assume it was sent out recently. You begin your letter by saying that you have been confused, etc., and this is why you have not written for a long time.

Generally speaking, it is well to remember that the Torah is called "Torah Or," "The Torah of Light," because the essential nature of the Torah is to illuminate man's path in life. And when the path is illuminated in this way, one can see clearly which actions and conduct are good, and which have to be avoided.

Of course, the Torah is vast and cannot be easily mastered by all. For this reason, there is a resume of the Torah in the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] which is a concise code of daily Jewish conduct. But even the Shulchan Aruch is not easily accessible to everyone and that is why there are Rabbis to be consulted, since it is their purpose and function to teach and guide the individual Jew on how to live his daily life in accordance with the Torah.

All this gives everyone the opportunity to develop the proper and meaningful way of life, and above all, to have complete trust in G-d, whose benevolent Providence extends to each and everyone individually. Above all, it is necessary to cultivate sincere and wholehearted confidence in G-d, as it is written, "Thou shalt be wholehearted with G-d thy G-d," and thus eliminate all sorts of worries, anxieties and confusions. It develops a sense of security in that there is a L-rd and Master Who takes care not only of the world as a whole, but also of each individual, with loving care. Even if, as you write, a person sometimes fails to live up to expectation, there is always the knowledge that nothing stands in the way of teshuva [repentance].

It is surely unnecessary to elaborate to you on the above, but only to emphasize that we are all commanded to serve G-d with joy and gladness of heart. And upon reflection, it is possible to see how every happening can serve as a lesson in true Divine service.


24 Teves, 5729 [1969]

....One of the basic principles of the Chabad philosophy and way of life, is that the head and the heart (the intellect and emotions) should govern and inspire the daily life of the individual in complete mutual harmony, and in a way that the mind should rule the heart.

When this inner harmony between the intellect and emotions prevails, then all the varied activities of the person, in all details of the daily life, both the mundane and the sacred, the material and the spiritual, are carried out properly, without conflicts, without contradictions, and without vacillations.

There can be no doubt that the fearful confusion and insecurity besetting the young generation of today, in this country and elsewhere, frequently erupting in defiance and open revolt against the very elementary laws of human society, is the result of the inner split and disharmony between reason and emotions, often giving way to unrestrained misconduct. It is also a sad fact that these symptoms have affected some segments of our Jewish youth.

In these critical times there is especially a vital need to strengthen among our Jewish youth their spiritual equilibrium, and the only way to attain this is through Torah and mitzvot, with unity and harmony between the intellect and emotions, and the mastery of the mind over the heart.

For us Jews, the said inner unity is more than the secret and foundation of a satisfactory personal life. This subject is treated in depth and breadth in the teachings of Chabad.

The said unity is the key to unity in the world at large, and is intimately correlated with the concept of G-d's Unity (monotheism), the realization of which in actual life is the special task of every Jew and the Jewish people as a whole. This is alluded to in the words, "A people One on earth," which the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman] explains (Iggeret Hakodesh, 9): "The Jewish people which is one brings into reality the Oneness of G-d, to achieve oneness (in life) on earth."...


What's New

32nd FLIGHT REUNION

Mrs. K., her 12 year old son Vladmir, and her 8 year old son Pavel, were reunited for the first time in three years when Chabad's Children of Chernobyl's 32nd flight landed at Ben Gurion airport. Vladmir came to Israel with CCOC in 1995. Now that Pavel is old enough to be eligible for the program Mrs. K. sent him. CCOC paid for her flight so that she could visit Vladmir. Twenty-three children arrived on this most recent flight bringing to 1,527 the total number of children evacuated by Chabad from the Chernobyl area.

[Photo's in the printed version]


A Word from the Director

This Shabbat, Shabbat Shekalim, is the first of four special Sabbaths on which we read an additional Torah reading.

Shabbat Shekalim always falls at the advent of the month of Adar, but never after Adar has already begun.

When the Sanctuary, and later the Holy Temple stood, it was a mitzva for every Jew, rich or poor, to contribute half a shekel yearly for the purchase of the communal offerings brought in the Sanctuary.

All of the shekalim were due by the first day of the month of Nissan each year. On the first of the month of Adar public announcements were therefore made for the bringing in of the shekalim, so that each person would have sufficient time to prepare the half-shekel and to give it in the proper time.

Thus, our Sages enacted that on the Shabbat immediately preceding Adar or on the Shabbat on which the first day of Adar fell, the passage about the shekalim call was to be read from the Torah in the synagogue.

Until the Holy Temple is rebuilt, we cannot bring offerings and the mitzva of the half shekel does not apply. However, we read this portion at this time so that our reading of it might be considered like the fulfillment of the mitzva. In addition, the reading of this portion is in anticipation of the rebuilding of the Holy Temple at which time it will be necessary to be familiar with all of these mitzvot so that we will be able to perform them.

In our times, it is customary to give a half coin (for instance, in the United States a half-dollar) to charity on the eve of Purim as a remembrance of this special mitzva.

There are many beautiful explanations as to the significance of this mitzva in general as well as the reason for half a coin in particular. The Rebbe explains that this mitzva is performed with a half coin to remind us that each one of us is but "half a person" until we join together with another Jew in true love and unity. A half-shekel is given by all alike, no more and no less. In this mitzva we are totally united, those who are rich or poor in material matters and those who are rich or poor in spiritual concerns are united through the half- shekel.


Thoughts that Count

And these are the laws...If you buy a Jewish slave, he shall work for six years, and in the seventh he shall go free (Exod. 21:1-2)

These laws deal with a Jewish thief sold as a slave, and they immediately follow the giving of the Torah. If we would constantly bear in mind that G-d is the Master of the world, we would not be led to sin. We sometimes forget this basic principle and, thinking that G-d isn't looking, furtively transgress His will. To protect us, the laws of a Jewish slave follow the giving of the Torah to emphasize that each individual should strive to be a totally dedicated servant of G-d.

(The Rebbe)

When you lend money to My people, the poor among you (Exod. 22:24)

A loan can be for both the rich and the poor, but here the Torah emphasizes the poor. The Talmud teaches us that a loan given without witnesses is equivalent to placing a stumbling block before the blind because the borrower may be tempted to deny the loan, but charity should be given discreetly so as not to embarrass the poor man. The verse alludes to this important rule. "When you lend money," you should do it before "My people" - with witnesses, but when you are helping "the poor," it should be "among you," between you and him.

(Otzer Chaim)

Bring your first fruits to the house of G-d, your G-d; you shall not cook a kid in the milk of its mother (Exod. 23:19)

There is a connection between the first fruits [bikurim] and the prohibition against cooking milk with meat. The holiday of Shavuot is known as the "Festival of the Bikurim," being the preferred time to bring the first fruits. It is also customary to eat a dairy meal on the first day of Shavuot. Thus the Torah reminds us that while we celebrate the Festival of Bikurim, we should be careful when cooking for the holiday not to cook milk with meat.

(Shelah)

From Vedibarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky


It Once Happened

This is the story of a remarkable man named Ovadia, who lived during one of the worst periods in Jewish history - the Crusades. As during the terrible Roman persecutions, the time of the Crusades saw a notable number of men and women who risked their lives to become Jews. These gentiles, often from the highest echelons of society, became converts to Judaism out of love of the Torah and a desire to serve G-d according to its holy precepts.

Johannes, who upon conversion took the name Ovadia (which means "servant of G-d"), was one such man. He was a Norman nobleman and the son of a Norman knight who took part in the First Crusade under the command of Godfrey, the Duke of Lorraine.

The First Crusade, initiated by Pope Urban II, drew a motley crew of noblemen, adventurers and rogues who left France in 1096, ostensibly to free the Holy Land from the Moslem "infidels." Along the way, they seized the opportunity to rid France and Germany of the local "infidels," the Jews who lived peacefully in hundreds of communities along the Loire Valley, throughout the Rhineland, in Bohemia and in England. As the Crusaders passed through these lands they engaged in the most fearsome wholesale slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent Jews who happened to live in their path.

Johannes was introspective and scholarly, different from his brother, Roger, who fought alongside his father in the Holy Land. It is unknown whether or not Johannes also accompanied his father, but when Jerusalem was conquered by Godfrey and all the Jews in the Holy City were mercilessly slaughtered, he was living in Southern Italy and studying to become a priest. At some point in his Bible study, Johannes came to the conclusion that Judaism was the true faith, and he resolved to become a Jew. It is possible that he was moved by the staunch adherence to their faith displayed by countless thousands of Jews who chose to die horribly rather than abandon their beliefs. It is also possible that he was inspired by the conversion of another prominent gentile several years earlier.

The conversion, in about the year 1094, of no less a personage than Andreas, the Archbishop of Bari (Italy) created a great stir and caused tremendous consternation within the ranks of the Church.

In his diary, Ovadia (Johannes) wrote of Andreas: "G-d put the love of the Law of Moses into his heart. He left his country, his priesthood and glory, and went to the land of Constantinople, where he underwent circumcision. There he suffered great persecution and he had to run away before the uncircumcised, who had tried to kill him. But others imitated him and entered the Covenant of the Living G-d. And the man went to Egypt and lived there until his death, while the leading churchmen were downcast and bowed their heads in shame."

Upon his decision to convert, Johannes traveled to Aleppo, where he sought the help of Rabbi Baruch ben Yitzchak. Johannes told the rabbi that he came from a wealthy and powerful family, but he had decided to abandon everything to become a Jew. This revelation was not only quite astonishing, but frightening as well, since persecution was guaranteed to follow and death was a very real possibility for any gentile who risked conversion. Johannes replied that he was well aware of all the repercussions of his actions, having made the decision thoughtfully over many years. And so, convinced of Johannes's sincerity, Rabbi Baruch accepted him as a righteous convert.

It was impossible to continue living in France, and so Ovadia moved to the city of Bagdad, where life was far from easy, but there was more religious freedom for Jews. Ovadia had managed to bring a considerable part of his fortune with him, and in Bagdad he devoted himself to helping his less fortunate Jewish brethren. He became distinguished for his distribution of charity and was even appointed by the community to be treasurer of the community chest.

Ovadia wrote a fascinating diary during these years. In approximately 1121, he decided to relocate to Fostat (old Cairo), which had a flourishing Jewish community. He noted that while traveling, he met a certain Karaite named Shlomo Hakohen, who claimed to be Moshiach. The man tried to persuade Ovadia to become one of his adherents. Ovadia just laughed at him, countering that Moshiach would be a descendant of King David, not from the priestly tribe as was this Karaite.

Ovadia eventually settled in Egypt, where he wrote an autobiographical memoir in the year 1241. The only fragments that remain were discovered in the famous Cairo Geniza (a collection of ancient manuscripts discovered in the Ezra Synagogue in Cairo). In this remarkable cache of thousand-year-old documents were not only fragments of his memoirs, but an inscription on his prayer book and a letter of recommendation given to Ovadia by Rabbi Baruch ben Yitzchak. The bits and pieces which have come down to us, provide us with a window into that time and a glimpse into a remarkable life of faith, sacrifice and adventure.

Adapted from Talks and Tales


Moshiach Matters

The mitzvot will be annulled in the future time (Talmud Tractate Nida folio 61b) This means that the mitzvot in their present form will be of no account relative to the revelations of the future. The degree of Divine energy elicited by the performance of a mitzva today is infinitely inferior to the degree of Divine energy that will be elicited by the performance of a mitzva in the future.

(The Rebbe Rashab, Rabbi Sholom Dovber of Lubavitch)


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