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L'Chaim
May 9, 1998 - 12 Iyar 5758

517: Achrei/Kedoshim

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.


  516: Tazria/Metzora518: Emor  

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

Second Chances

When you've missed the boat there's nothing you can do but wave to the passengers. If the train has already left the station, you might as well sit down and wait for the next one to arrive. There are many things in life that depend on being in the right place at the right time; if you're late, you've missed that opportunity forever.

Likewise, the Torah tells us that there are specific times for doing specific mitzvot. There is a proper time to put on tefilin, a proper time to light Shabbat candles, a proper time to eat matza, and a proper time to sit in the sukka.

The Torah's narrative about Pesach Sheini - the "Second Passover" (always on 14 Iyar), thus expresses a very radical concept in Judaism.

Right before their Exodus from Egypt, G-d commanded the Jewish people to offer the Passover sacrifice, on the 14th of Nisan. One of the requirements, however, was that a Jew had to be in a state of ritual purity. As a result, not everyone was permitted to bring an offering, and the Jews who were excluded felt terrible. "Why should we be left out?!" they demanded of Moses. They were so eager to observe the mitzva that G-d relented, granting them another opportunity to bring an offering one month later, on the 14th of Iyar.

This story reveals the unfathomable depths of the Jewish soul and the infinite power of teshuva, repentance. It teaches us that every Jew is so intimately connected to G-d that when he makes a sincere and heartfelt demand, it "forces" G-d, as it were, to open up new channels through which to send us His abundant blessings.

As the Previous Rebbe explained, the lesson of Pesach Sheini is that it is never too late to correct the past and return to G-d. It also emphasizes the power of a Jew's initiative. When a Jew cries out, from the depths of his soul and with a genuine desire to fulfill G-d's will, G-d listens to his plea and grants his request.

There is an additional message of Pesach Sheini. What, in fact, was the cause of the ritual impurity which excluded some Jews from participating in the sacrifice? The Torah states: "There were people who were defiled by contact with the dead and were unable to offer the Passover sacrifice on that day." According to one opinion in the Talmud, these Jews were involved in the mitzva of burying a dead person found on the roadside who had no known relatives to do so. Even a kohen (priest) and even a High Priest - neither of whom is normally permitted to come in contact with the dead - is obligated to defile himself by burying the dead person.

This concept applies on a spiritual plane, as well. When we encounter another person who is spiritually "lifeless" we are obligated to get involved with him, even if it takes us away from our own spiritual pursuits.

Ultimately, Pesach Sheini teaches us that we must never despair or give up on ourselves, on others, and especially in bombarding G-d with our demand that He send us Moshiach immediately.


Living with the Rebbe

As we read in the second of this week's two Torah portions, Kedoshim, the fruit of a tree's first three years is forbidden. These fruits are considered orla, literally uncircumcised, and may not be eaten. During the tree's fourth year its fruit is permissible, but the fruits must be brought to Jerusalem and eaten in a state of ritual purity. Only in the fifth year may anyone partake of the tree's fruits and eat them anywhere he wishes.

As a reward for observing these mitzvot, G-d promises that the fifth year's yield will be quantitatively greater. A Jew who observes these laws merits to receive G-d's blessing of bounty, as the Torah states: "And in the fifth year shall you eat of its fruit, that it may increase to you its produce."

Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe, explains that the fifth year's fruits are superior to the first four years', not only quantitatively but qualitatively.

It is significant that even though the fifth year's fruits are the best thus far, it is permissible to eat them anywhere, not only in Jerusalem, and that everyone may eat them, not just those in a state of ritual purity.

To explain:

Why did G-d create the world? For the purpose of transforming it into a suitable dwelling place for Him in the lower realms.

A "dwelling place" is a permanent residence; "the lower realms" refers to the physical world, including its lowest and most mundane elements. G-d wants us to be aware of Him at all times, not just when we pray and study Torah. Even our most seemingly insignificant actions must be permeated with this consciousness. We must remember that everything depends on G-d's beneficence, and we must pray for and express our thanks for every aspect of our physical existence.

For this reason it is precisely the fifth year's fruits, the very finest, that are eaten in any place and in any spiritual condition. For the sanctity of G-d's Torah is meant to be brought to every single person and to every place on earth.

Years ago, whenever the Baal Shem Tov traveled and would meet a Jew, he would ask about his health and livelihood. Inevitably, the Jew would respond: "Thank G-d!" "Everything will be fine with G-d's help." These responses demonstrated that a Jew never forgets about G-d, even when the subject is business or health.

The Baal Shem Tov deliberately asked about worldly concerns rather than spiritual matters to accustom people to the idea that everything depends on G-d's blessing, not just things that are obviously "religious."

When a Jew maintains an awareness of G-d, everywhere and in all circumstances, s/he transforms the world into a suitable "dwelling place" for G-d.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 7


A Slice of Life

Coming Home
by Yehudis Cohen

Esther Greenberg (ne‚ Coopman) is a lively, bright young woman whose constant smile and friendly comment for all are especially refreshing in New York City. When I asked her how a nice, Jewish girl born and raised in a small town outside of Amsterdam, Holland made her way to the Lubavitcher community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, she began by talking about her parents.

"Both of my parents were in concentration camps as infants. My grandparents died in the camps," explains Esther, "and my parents were taken care of by others and they somehow survived. They were so young that they don't remember anything, but the scars are there."

After the war ended, Robert Coopman was raised by a non-Jewish family who had six daughters. Esther's mother, Jreet, was raised by a Jewish family who had adopted one other child. "My father found out at the age of 16 that he was Jewish when he saw 'Joodskind - Jewish child' written on his adoption papers. The family he lived with had wanted to adopt him to carry on the family name. When my father told them he did not want to be adopted he was no longer welcome in their home. He left for the big city, taking with him only his innate intelligence."

Arriving in Amsterdam from the Medina, the rural countryside where he had spent most of his childhood, Mr. Coopman knew that he wanted to be around Jewish people. However, the word "Joods" was the only thing he knew about Judaism. He joined the first Jewish club he found, called Beth Ami, founded by Shimon and Ans Waterman. A Jewish couple in their 30s, they had started the social club to help young Jews meet each other. It worked. The ten men and women in the club married each other. "My mother had also moved from the Medina to Amsterdam, to study nursing," continues Esther. "The Watermans found my mother and got her to join Beth Ami. In a few years my parents were married. Within a year I was born and a year later my sister, Mirjam, was born."

Soon after the girls arrived, the Coopmans moved back to the Medina which, though beautiful, was bereft of Jewish life. "We attended Catholic schools. Being Jewish was totally meaningless to us. I had never heard of Passover or Yom Kippur. But, for some reason my parents sent us to a Jewish camp each summer.

"When my sister was 16 years old, she was heavily into the partying scene. She dropped out of school and basically dropped out of our family. My parents didn't know what to do. My father searched for help and heard about Rabbi Benyomin Jacobs, one of the Rebbe's emissaries in Holland. He suggested sending Mirjam to Bais Chana Women's Institute in Minnesota for the summer. 'You'll know she's safe and that she's not doing anything crazy,' he told my parents. My parents were relieved that at least she would be in a wholesome environment, though they were skeptical that it would have an effect on her. My sister enjoyed the dynamic learning, the Jewish living, the sense of purpose she found there. She decided to continue her studies at Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva in Crown Heights. She studied there for two years and then met her husband, Ja'acov de Leeuw, who is also from Holland."

Mirjam and Ja'acov were married in Holland. Esther recalls, "Every part of the wedding, from the signing of the ketuba (marriage contract) to the mechitza (partition) made such an impression on me. Everything was rife with meaning."

The de Leeuws returned to the United States to continue their Torah studies. Esther visited them for Passover. "Everything was exciting," she remembers. "It was my own personal exodus. On Sunday they took me to the Rebbe to receive a dollar for charity and a blessing. If Passover was my exodus, then meeting the Rebbe was my splitting of the Red Sea."

But these intense experiences were not assimilated by Esther immediately. "I was very comfortable with my life and my job back in Holland, so I returned home." Despite the exodus and splitting of the sea, "I guess I was still in exile," she laughs.

Esther's life in Holland left little room for Jewish living. Yet there was an empty space that was not being filled. Over the next year and a half, Esther says, she was searching. "I spent some time traveling, to Israel, England and France. But still I wasn't satisfied. Then, one morning, it hit me. I should go study at Machon Chana. So I went. That was the best time of my life," recalls Esther whimsically. And those nine months brought to the fore her intense feelings for Torah living which had begun at her sister's wedding years earlier. A little less than a year after Esther came to Crown Heights she met her husband, Gavriel. Today, they have the beautiful children. And what about Mirjam and Ja'acov? "They are the Rebbe's emissaries in Amstelveen, a suburb of Amsterdam," Esther says proudly of her little sister.

How did the Coopmans react to their daughters becoming observant? "They are very proud of us and 100% supportive. They have never put any stumbling blocks in our paths. When Gavriel and I went to Holland to visit they made sure to have kosher food for us. 'You are our child and we do this for you because we love you,' is their attitude. Our relationship with our parents has become much stronger through Torah. The mitzva of loving one's fellow Jew begins 'at home.' And, of course, there's the mitzva to honor your parents."

Two months ago the Coopmans moved to Israel. "One of the first things my parents did was to put mezuzot up," Esther says happily. "My father told me, 'I waited 58 years to come home.' And I," Esther concludes, "waited 25 years."


What's New

IVY LEAGUE

Based in scenic upstate New York, the Ivy League Torah Study Program offers college students room and board in addition to a fellowship of $1,000 while attending an intense program of Judaic studies. Admission is based on a sincere interest in exploring the Torah. The women's program is June 17-July 27, the men's program is June 24-August 4. For applications call (718) 735-0210 or see - www.iltsp.org/

SAYING MAZAL TOV

For centuries, it has been customary for Jewish women to adorn both the birthing room and the cradle with Psalm 121 (Shir Lama'alot). The Psalm states our dependence on the Creator for our safety and well- being, and His commitment to guard us at all times. If you or someone you know is expecting a child you can get a free, full-color print of the Psalm by calling Jewels/Lubavitch at (800) 860-7030. In NYC call (718) 756-5700.


The Rebbe Writes

7th of Iyar, 5737 [1987]

This is to acknowledge receipt of your correspondence, including your latest of April 20th.

I will again remember you in prayer in the matter about which you write, and may G-d grant that you should have good news to report. Enclosed is a copy of a message, which I trust you will find interesting and useful.

P.S. Since writing the above letter, your letter of April 26th was received, in which you write about an "Ayin Hara" [evil eye].

It is explained in our Torah, called Torat Chaim and Torah Emet, because it is our guide in life and all its teachings are true, that when a Jew conducts his daily life in accordance with G-d's Will, as set forth in the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], thus keeping wide open the channels to receive G-d's blessings, then there is no room for fear or anxiety, as is frequently stated in our Holy Scriptures such as, "G-d is with me, I shall not fear," "He sends His angels to guide you in all your ways," and many others in this vein.

If you have not had your mezuzot checked recently, it would be well to have them checked to make sure they are kosher and properly affixed.


19th of Shevat, 5721 [1961]

I received your letters and cable, and no doubt you have received the cabled reply. May G-d grant that the brit take place at the proper and auspicious time-and, as my father-in-law of saintly memory used to instruct, to make the brit [circumcision] when the doctor and mohel agree - and may you bring him up to a life of Torah, Chupa and Good Deeds, together with your other children, bless them, in good health and true Yiddish nachat [Jewish joy].

With the blessing of mazel tov,

P.S. Referring to ........'s letter. You are quite right in assuming that my previous letter was not intended as an admonition to you personally, but rather to those who have misinformed you about Chasidut, either directly or indirectly. This is obvious also from the fact that I have made reference to the preface of the Shulchan Aruch of the Old Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman], and I could not have meant that you should read that preface and study it. However, those who wish to interpret a school of thought or way of life should consider it their first duty to go to the original sources and know what such school of thought or way of life truly are, and there is no excuse for those who, either willfully or out of ignorance, are guilty of misrepresentation.

May G-d grant that all efforts to strengthen and spread the Chasidic teachings and way of life should have to do with positive aspects, rather than to have to combat prejudice and antagonism, and may you and your husband continue your good work in this direction with joy and gladness of heart, as in all matters of Torah and mitzvot.

The following is with reference to .........' s letter regarding the student H.B. You are quite right that one should never despair of any Jew, especially a Jew that is still young and whose problems spring not so much from his own life as from opposition on the part of his parents.

With regard to the question of the grammar school, if it is something which should be done without delay, but cannot be carried out at once, there is nothing to do but to dismiss the matter for the time being. Therefore, the practical thing at the moment is to concentrate on strengthening those activities which are in progress and which must also be further developed, such as the building and heating system and the like. It has been said that "G-d has done everything at the right time." This, incidentally, has been said also in reference to no less an essential event as Mattan Torah, which took place twenty-six generations after the creation of the world.

On the question of youth activity (`shiurim [classes] and influence, etc.), it is a well-known principle that "Help comes with abundance of counsel," in other words, by mutual consultation and concentrated efforts with others who have had experience in this field.

Last but not least, I trust that you have participated in the observance of Yud Shevat. May the remembrance of this day inspire every one of us follow in the footsteps of the Baal Hahilula [person whose yahrzeit is being commemorated, i.e., the Previous Rebbe], to continue his work with dedication and selflessness, for the strengthening of the Torah and mitzvot and teachings and way of life of Chasidut, both within one's immediate surroundings and environment at large.

Just received your letter of 12 Shevat. Mazel tov on the birth of a girl to your sister - tichyena.


Rambam this week

Rambam for 12 Iyar, 5758

Positive Mitzva 154: Resting on the Sabbath This mitzva is derived from the words "On the seventh day you shall rest" (Ex. 34:21) and is repeated several times in the Torah.

Rambam for 13 Iyar, 5758 Negative Mitzva 320: Working on the Sabbath

By this prohibition we are forbidden to do any labor on Shabbat. It is contained in the words "In it you shall not do any manner of work" (Ex. 20:10) (Note: The term "work" refers to the 39 main categories of work forbidden on the Sabbath.)


A Word from the Director

This week, on Shabbat afternoon, we study the third chapter of Ethics of the Fathers. The first Mishna in chapter three begins, "Akavya ben Mehalel would say, 'Reflect upon three things and you will never come to sin: know from where you came , to where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and reckoning..."

It would seem that the words "judgment" and "reckoning" are interposed. Doesn't reckoning always precede judgment for misdeeds?

The Baal Shem Tov taught that, in truth, "judgment" comes first. For, when a person passes judgment on another, whatever "sentence" he decides for the other person will later be applied to himself. When a person is judgmental, condemning his fellow man for transgressing, G-d uses the same standards to judge him.

This Mishna suggests that we reflect about three different concepts, the first of which is "Know from where you came." The Hebrew term for "from where" is "may-ayin." May-ayin can also mean "from nothingness." When a person realizes that he comes from nothing, and therefore he is truly no better than his fellow, he will not judge him but realize that if he is, in fact, superior in any way, it is only because of G-d's graciousness and beneficence.

Conversely, the Rebbe explains that nothingness can also be understood as the source of the soul, that which transcends everything -- G-dliness. G-dliness is above the limits of our mortal conception. A person's awareness of this fact heightens his understanding that everything and everyone is G-dly. If we are aware that we all share the same common source then we will not be so hasty in judging another, for who can judge another person when he has such a lofty source.

May G-d make the ultimate judgment and reckoning that the Redemption is truly long-overdue and immediately bring about the revelation of Moshiach NOW!


Thoughts that Count

For in the cloud I will appear upon the ark-cover (Lev. 16:2)

This teaches that we must never despair even in the worst of the times, for G-d's Presence rested upon Israel precisely "in the cloud." No matter how dark or hopeless a situation appears we must never give up or become dejected.

(Rabbi Meir Shapira of Lublin)

With this (b'zot) shall Aaron come into the holy place (Lev. 16:3)

There are three ways to avert an evil decree: tzom ("fasting," repenting of one's sins); kol ("voice," through prayer); and mamon, ("money," i.e., giving to charity). The numerical equivalent of each one of these is 136.

The numerical value of the Hebrew word zot is 408, the sum total of all the above. In other words, with "this," by using these three methods, G-d permits us to "come into the holy place."

(Nachal Kadumim)

You shall not curse the deaf (cheresh) (Lev. 19:14)

The word cheresh is an acronym standing for "chaim ra'im shelcha - your unfortunate life." The Torah warns us against cursing or imprecating ourselves when faced with a difficult situation. For as the Zohar explains, "There are three ways a person brings about his own adversity, one of which is by cursing himself."

(Siftei Kohen)

And you shall love your fellow as yourself, I am the L-rd (Lev. 19:18)

Commenting on the mitzva to love one's fellow Jew, Rabbi Aaron of Karlin said: "I would hope that I could love the most righteous tzadikim in Israel as much as G-d loves the biggest Jewish sinner..."


It Once Happened

Rabbi Moses Ben Nachman (known as the Ramban), was a great favorite of the king, and was often invited to the palace to have learned conversations with him. One day, as the two were speaking, the Cardinal entered the room. He stood observing for some time, and although he was careful not to show it, the Cardinal was seething. How could the king take a Jew into his confidence? At that very moment, the Cardinal vowed to destroy the impudent rabbi.

Several days later, when the king was alone, the Cardinal dropped in. He began to speak about the former, lost greatness of the Jewish people. "In days gone by they had great men of wisdom and prophecy. Where are they now?" "Quite so," agreed the king. "There are no great Jews today."

The Cardinal, happy to have the king's ear, began to defame the Talmud. "You see, Your Majesty, ever since the Jews have been studying that Talmud, which is filled with all kinds of foolishness, they have become fools themselves! These books prevent them from accepting the true faith."

The king listened closely and then asked, "How could they be convinced to give up this study?" "They will never do it! The Jews are a stubborn people. The only chance is to forbid the study of Talmud on penalty of death!"

The king began to believe the Cardinal. He agreed to ban the Talmud, never suspected that this was a clever plot to destroy the Ramban.

When the king's new law became known, the Jews were panic-stricken. Immediately, Ramban sent messengers to all the Jewish communities, telling his fellow Jews that his yeshiva would remain open for anyone who wished to come. Hundreds of young scholars flocked to the Ramban' yeshiva.

The Cardinal now set his plan in action. Summoning two of the king's closest ministers, he asked, "How long has it been since the king has requested your advice on any matter?"

"Since the king befriended Ramban, he never calls for us," they replied. "And why is this?" asked the Cardinal innocently. "The rabbi is the wisest man in the kingdom," the two answered. "I'm going to tell you a great secret - the secret of his wisdom," the Cardinal whispered. "Every night angels come to him and reveal heavenly and earthly wisdom. I am going to sprinkle you with holy water. Then you will also see and hear the angels speaking to the rabbi and you, too, will possess this wisdom."

That night, after being sprinkled with the water, the ministers stealthily made their way to the Ramban's house. They stood for hours, but they saw no angels, only the many young students who went in and out of the rabbi's home.

The next day the Cardinal summoned the two men and asked what they had seen. "Your Grace, we saw not even one angel, only many young men going in and out. They spoke, but we couldn't understand one word they said."

"It seems you didn't merit to see the angels. But you did see the rabbi's students coming to study with him in open defiance of the king's law. It is your duty to report this breach to the king at once," the Cardinal said sternly. "When the king hears how his so- called 'friend' disobeyed him, he will be very angry, and you will regain you position in the court."

The two rushed to tell the king what they had seen. "What! My trusted advisor disobeyed my order!" the king cried in shock. But he could not bring himself to punish the rabbi without first allowing him to defend himself.

He summoned the Ramban to the court. "My friend, is it true that you disobeyed my law?" the king asked.

"Yes, your Majesty, I did, but with your permission. I will explain my reason by means of a story. In a distant kingdom, the king's daughter fell gravely ill. All of the doctors gave up hope. "Only G-d can help," they admitted sadly.

"The king proclaimed a three-day fast for the entire realm, during which time everyone would pray for the princess. On the second day of the fast, a Jew was caught eating and immediately arrested. He was brought before the king and questioned : "Why did you eat? Don't you desire the recovery of the princess?"

"Why, Your Majesty, I have not ceased praying for her, but, in our Talmud we have a rule: Where there is a certainty against a doubt, the certainty takes priority.

"I had a serious doubt in my mind whether my fasting for three days would save your daughter. I was sure, however that fasting for three days would kill me, because I have a weak heart and my doctor forbade it. Therefore, I decided to follow the rule of the Talmud, and I ate.

"Your Majesty, this is a similar case. I could not believe that the King, my good friend, would issue a law which would hurt me so much. I was certain, however, that if I ceased to study the Talmud, which is the very source of my life, my life would no longer be worth living. So, I followed the path of certainty. I hope that Your Majesty will understand my actions and forgive me. I am sure that Your Majesty would never have issued so cruel an order, unless you were ill-advised."

"My friend, you are correct. To my regret, I acted on the Cardinal's advice. The law is henceforth repealed." When the ban was revoked, the Jews rejoiced greatly. Ramban remained a favorite of the king, who now not only appreciated his great wisdom, but his great courage as well.

Adapted from Talks and Tales


Moshiach Matters

Yehi Ratzon-May it be Your will, L-rd our G-d and G-d of our fathers, to have mercy on us and forgive all our sins, atone for us all our iniquities, and forgive and pardon all our transgressions. May the Beit Hamikdash be rebuilt, speedily in our days ...

(From the morning prayers)


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