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L'Chaim
May 29, 1998 - 4 Sivan 5758

520: Bamidbar/Shavuos

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


  519: Behar/Bechukosai521: Nasso  

Self Esteem  |  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

Self Esteem

When parents were asked in a recent survey what they wanted most for their children, over 50% of the respondents answered "high self- esteem."

To generate a positive self-image and high self-esteem, we can study for ourselves and then tell our children the history of the upcoming holiday of Shavuot.

Shavuot is the holiday on which we relive the experience of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is on this holiday that we recommit ourselves to the Torah and its mitzvot.

When describing our ancestors' preparation and readiness for this momentous event, the Torah explains that every single Jew was present at the Giving of the Torah. Not one Jew-from the youngest child to the oldest adult-was left out or forgotten.

Every Jew was there. Every Jew wanted to be there. Every Jew had to be there.

Our Sages tell us that had even one Jew been missing, the Torah could not have been given. Each one of us is precious. Each one of us is essential. The Jewish people is incomplete when one single, solitary Jew is not present. But not only were all of the Jews alive at that time present at the Giving of the Torah; the souls of all Jews destined to be born were also there at Mount Sinai! For the Torah is the inheritance of every Jew.

At the Giving of the Torah, every Jew actually heard G-d's "voice" when He began to give us the Ten Commandments. In the very first commandment, G-d said, "I am the L-rd, your G-d."

The Hebrew word for "your G-d"- "Elokecha" -is in the singular form rather than what would seem to be the more correct, "Elokeichem," which is "your G-d" plural. "Elokecha" teaches us that G-d commanded every Jew individually to observe the Ten Commandments as well as all of the mitzvot of the Torah. Each Jew has the personal responsibility and privilege to fulfill the mitzvot. We cannot pass off our responsiblity on other people, for each one of us was present at the moment when G-d commanded him or her personally. And, of course, it follows that if G-d thus commanded us, he also gave us the ability and strength to fulfill our obligations.

Just as the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai was experienced by every Jew without exception, the revelation of the "new Torah" which G-d will reveal in the times of Moshiach will also be experienced by every Jew without exception. For each Jew alive today and all Jews who ever lived will partake of the inner peace and global peace, prosperity, and G-dliness of the times of Moshiach. For the Messianic Era, like the Torah, is the inheritance of each and every single Jew.


Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, the tribe of Levi is chosen by G-d to perform the service in the Mishkan (Sanctuary) and later, in the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple). "Bring the tribe of Levi near," G-d said to Moses. The Levites were chosen to represent the entire Jewish people, and it was through them that G-d's blessing was brought down to the nation as a whole.

The reason for their selection may be better understood in light of the Baal Shem Tov's explanation on the verse in Psalms, "The righteous shall flourish like the date palm; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon":

There are two categories of tzadikim (the righteous), one of which is likened to a palm tree, and the other to a cedar.

A cedar is an extremely tall and imposing tree. Its wood is fine and hard, but it does not produce fruit.

A date palm, by contrast, is not as physically impressive, but it has one advantage over the cedar: it bears fruit. A date palm "flourishes." Its fruit is sweet and delicious, imparting strength and health to all who eat them.

The tzadik who is likened to a cedar learns Torah and performs mitzvot, but he produces no "fruit." His learning and good deeds are directed inward, benefitting only himself without having a positive influence over the people around him. Nonetheless, he is still considered "righteous," and G-d rewards him for his actions - "he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon." However, this is not the ultimate intention of his service.

G-d prefers that a righteous person be like the date palm, that his learning and good deeds lead to tangible results. G-d wants the Jew to learn Torah not only for his own betterment, but to improve his entire surroundings. A Jew must be willing to devote himself to others, giving freely of his time, energy and unique talents in order to have a positive effect on the world at large. No effort is too great in the quest to transform another Jew into a fine "fruit," for it is only by involving oneself with others that a Jew merits the designation of "date palm" and can truly "flourish."

This was the path of the Baal Shem Tov, who passed it on to his disciples, who in turn have kept the torch aloft throughout the generations.

This too, was the path of the tribe of Levi. The Levites could be counted on to perform their service for the entire Jewish people and not just themselves, which was why they were chosen for the holy task.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 2


A Slice of Life

The Bankhalter's

"My grandfather, Menachem Bankhalter, used financial inducements, shall we say, to encourage my parents to send me to a Jewish day school," begins Yaakov Bankhalter when asked about his journey to becoming a Lubavitcher Chasid.

But, eager to dispel any misconceptions, he continues, "We were not religious at all in our own home. Of course, I had the requisite Bar Mitzva party, but that was about it. My grandfather, however, was religious. He was religious all the way back in Poland. He stayed religious when he came to the 'Golden Land' and became even more religious as he became older. Honestly, I thought he was crazy. I felt he didn't understand my life style. He was always trying to talk to me about G-d, to teach me about being religious. My grandfather was a very wealthy man, but all of his money meant nothing to him unless, as he always told us, his descendants would be religious."

To this end, the large sums of money Yaakov's grandfather gave to charity were often given with the intent that G-d should "repay" him by helping his offspring become observant. Menachem Bankhalter's desire for his family to observe Torah and mitzvot wasn't what turned Yaakov on to Torah, though. If anything, it kept him away, at least until he was a college student at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. "I attended a program through Ohr Samayach yeshiva in Israel the summer after my freshman year. The classes were interesting but there was little emphasis on applying what we learned to our lives."

That trip, however, awakened the seeds that had been planted by Yaakov's Jewish day school education and his grandfather years earlier. Another 1 1/2 years passed, though, until Yaakov decided to get more involved in Jewish life on the Ohio State campus. "I had met Rabbi Aryeh Kaltman, the Rebbe's emissary at Ohio State, in my freshman year when he had a table at a club fair on campus. I gave him my name and number and he called me every week from then on to invite me to Friday night dinner." But Yaakov never accepted his invitations until the High Holidays rolled around. "When Yom Kippur approached I decided I wanted to 'do it right' and went to the Chabad House for services. Rabbi Kaltman and I spoke then and I agreed to meet with him once a week to study Torah. Slowly I started keeping kosher and putting on tefilin."

Months later, the Chabad House sponsored a special women's program in honor of Lag B'Omer with singers/musicians Shoshana Levin and Devorah Leah Elgarten. At lunch on the Shabbat following the event, Shoshana enchanted the students with stories about her own experiences with the Rebbe. A small group of students spoke with Shoshana for hours, Yaakov amongst them. He was so inspired by Shoshana's bond with the Rebbe that he decided to write a letter introducing himself to the Rebbe. In fact, Yaakov had attended one of the Rebbe's farbrengens (Chasidic gatherings) together with his father years earlier. At the time, however, he had found the experience far from inspiring. "All I could focus on was all the people," he remembers. "There seemed to be an endless sea of black. And there was a lot of pushing. I thought, 'These people are nuts.' "

As the school year at Ohio State came to a close, Yaakov still wasn't sure what he was going to do during the summer months. "Rabbi Kaltman suggested that I attend the Ivy League Torah Study Program, six weeks of intensive living and learning Judaism for inquisitive and sincere college students with little or no Jewish education. I didn't need the money (students who are accepted into the program receive free room and board as well as a stipend) but I felt connected to the Rebbe since writing to him and wanted to learn more about Chasidut, and Torah in general. I really enjoyed the classes and the atmosphere."

That "taste of Torah" during the summer helped Yaakov decide to devote the next two years to intensive Torah study at Hadar HaTorah yeshiva in Brooklyn. "My study partner Yitzchak and I wanted to be involved in the Rebbe's outreach campaigns (mivtzoyim). Yitzchak and I had both hung out in Greenwich Village (in lower Manhattan) as teenagers and thought it would be a great place to do mivtzoyim. I called Rabbi Eli Cohen from Chabad at New York University and presented the idea to him. By the way, Rabbi Cohen was the first person I had met when I arrived at the Ivy League program the previous summer! Rabbi Cohen thought it was a great idea. 'Set up a table in Washington Square Park,' he suggested. We brought L'Chaims and tefilin with us and we had a great time. We kept going every week.

"After my wife Yosefa (see Slice of Life in L'Chaim #345) and I got married we moved to Morristown, New Jersey to continue our Torah studies. We returned to Crown Heights a year later so that I could pursue Rabbinical ordination. I started going back to Washington Square Park on Fridays and during the brief encounters with people there I discovered a tremendous interest, a real thirst, for Judaism. Yosefa and I discussed how much more effective our outreach work would be if we had something more real and practical than a table in the park on Fridays. Rabbi Cohen and I put together a plan for Chabad of Washington Square. Thank G-d, our activities-classes which go from basic Hebrew to Jewish mysticism, holiday events such as a Shofar Factory, Menora lighting in Union Square, Passover seders, as well as outreach to college students from Parsons, Fashion Institute of Technology and Baruch College - have already touched many people. We are looking for a location for a permanent center."

Yaakov's grandfather passed away soon after he became observant. "But," he says, "I know that it made him very, very happy that I returned to my roots. And I know that he is getting nachas from me, from my father who has become more observant over the years, and G-d willing, he will have nachas from our baby daughter, Shaina Basha."


What's New

CREATIVE JOURNALISM

Maimonides School in Albany, N.Y. is offering a unique course this fall. "Creative Torah Journalism," is being taught by Rabbi Yisroel Rubin, the school's dean, director of Chabad of the Capital District, the editor of "The Torah Times" and a frequent contributor to Jewish publications around the world. Maimonides accepts students from out- of-town. For info call 518-482-5781.

TORAH TEEN RESORT

The Torah Teen Resort is a summer "get-away" designed for teenage boys ages 14-17 with little or no Jewish background. Located in the Catskill Mountains the program features intense sports activities, great trips and Torah classes on a wide variety of subjects. For info call 1-800-33-NCFJE or 718-735-0200.


The Rebbe Writes

Rosh Chodesh Sivan 5715 [1955]

It is surely unnecessary to elaborate on the close relationship between the physical and the spiritual, which even modern science has become convinced of it.

Physically, at this time of the year, we find Nature again in full bloom. After a period of hibernation, it springs back to life with renewed vigor and vitality, faithfully reproducing the same elements which characterized the same period a year ago, and two years ago, and all the way back to the first seasons of the Nature cycle.

In our religious and spiritual life, also, we have the seasons and festivals which recur year after year, and reproduce the same spiritual elements which first gave rise to them. Thus, at this time of the year, with the days of sefira connecting the festival of Passover (physical freedom) with its culmination in Shavuot (spiritual freedom), we can - if we are sufficiently prepared and attuned to it - relive the experiences of our ancestors who actually witnessed the Revelation and accepted the Torah at Sinai. What a long way our ancestors covered in the course of but 50 days; from the abominations of Egyptian "culture," in which moral depravity and polytheism supreme (as recent archeological discoveries have amply brought to light) to pure monotheism at Mount Sinai, where the Jew received the Torah with the call of na'aseh v'nishma ["we will do and we will listen"]. Na'aseh first, i.e. complete surrender of man to G-d.

Through the medium of the Torah, G-d "descends" on Mount Sinai and the Jew ascends to G-d. The soul is released from all its fetters tying it down to earthly things, and on the wings of fear of G-d and love of G-d unites with the Creator in complete communion. It is then that it can fully appreciate the inner meaning of "I am G-d thy G-d, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage," and the rest of the Ten Commandments, till "Thou shalt not covet," i.e. not only refrain from taking what is not yours, but not even desire it.

This great rise from the abyss of Egypt to the sublime heights of Sinai was attained by pure and simple faith in G-d, from the day when parents and children, women and infants, several million souls in all, set out on the trek through the desert, not dismayed by the irrationality of it, but simply obeying the Divine call with absolute trust. This won special Divine favor in the words of the Prophet: "I remember unto thee the kindness of thy youth, the love of thy betrothal, thy going after Me into the wilderness." It is this faith that carried the Jews through the ages, an insignificant physical minority in the midst of a hostile world, a spot of light threatened by an overwhelming darkness. It is this absolute faith in G-d that we need nowadays more than ever before.

It is said, the whole sun is reflected in a drop of water. And so the whole of our nation is reflected in each individual, and what is true of the nation as a whole is true of the individual.

The core of Jewish vitality and indestructibility is in its pure faith in G-d; not in some kind of an abstract Deity, hidden somewhere in the heavenly spheres, who regards this world from a distance; but absolute faith in a very personal G-d, Who is the very life and existence of everybody; Who permeates where one is, or what one does. Where there is such faith, there is no room for fear or anxiety, as the Psalmist says, "I fear no evil, for Thou art with me," with me, indeed, at all times, not only on Shabbat or Yom Tov, or during prayer or meditation on G-d. And when one puts his trust in G-d, unconditionally and unreservedly, one realizes what it means to be really free and full of vigor, for all one's energy is released in the most constructive way, not only in one's own behalf, but also in behalf of the environment at large.

The road is not free from obstacles and obstructions, for in the Divine order of things we are expected to attain our goal by effort; but if we make a determined effort success is Divinely assured, and the obstacles and obstructions which at first loom large, dissolve and disappear.

I wish you to tread this road of pure faith in G-d, without excessive introspection and self-searching, as in the simple illustration of a man walking: he will walk most steadily and assuredly if he will not be conscious of his walk and not seek to consciously coordinate the hundreds of muscles operative in locomotion, or he would not be able to make his first step.

Wishing you success in all above, and hoping to hear good news from you and yours,

With the blessing of a happy Yom Tov of Receiving the Torah with inner joy,


Rambam this week

Mitzvah for 7 Sivan, 5758

Positive Mitzva 153: Determining the New Moon

By this injunction G-d commanded us concerning the reckoning of the months and years. This is the "Commandment of the Sanctification of the New Moon," and is contained in the words "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months." This duty must be performed by the Great Court in the Land of Israel and nowhere else.


A Word from the Director

On Sunday and Monday, the 6th and 7th of Sivan, (this year May 31 and June 1, 1998) we will celebrate Shavuot, when G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. The public revelation of the Torah, which occurred before millions of people, is the central and most definitive event in the history of the world.

Our Sages explained that one of the prerequisites for receiving the Torah was Jewish unity. As it is now right before Shavuot, it is an especially appropriate time to increase our Ahavat Yisrael (love for our fellow Jews) and strengthen a sense of true Jewish solidarity and brotherhood among our ranks.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that we must love every Jew without exception, regardless of merit. To illustrate, he used the following analogy:

G-d performs the same mitzvot He commands the Jewish people to observe. We keep Shabbat, He keeps Shabbat. We put of tefilin, He puts on tefilin. G-d's tefilin, however, do not consist of parchment and leather straps but are the Jewish people themselves, as it were.

G-d's tefilin "shel rosh" (the tefilin that are worn on the head) are the learned Jews, who have utilized their intellect to acquire the Torah's wisdom. His tefilin "shel yad" (tefilin that are worn on the arm) are the simple Jews who perform His mitzvot. Both the tefilin of the head and the tefilin of the arm are necessary components in the mitzva. And yet, in actual performance, the tefilin of the arm take precedence; the tefilin of the head are donned only after the tefilin shel yad have been wrapped on the arm.

From this we learn just how important it is to love every Jew, regardless of social standing or intellectual achievements. For even in G-d's scheme of things the simple Jews come first!

May our firm resolve to increase in Ahavat Yisrael tip the balance in our favor and bring about the immediate revelation of Moshiach now.


Thoughts that Count

Take the sum (literally "lift up the head") of all the congregation of the Children of Israel (Num. 1:2)

Why is this command to count the Jewish people referred to as "lifting up the head"? Because through this census every Jew became a member of Tzivot Hashem (the "Army of G-d"), a Jewish soldier dedicated body and soul to the service of the Creator. And in truth, is there any higher calling?

(The Rebbe)

According to Jewish law, "Once an object has been counted it can never become nullified, even in a quantity of a thousand." Because G-d did not want the Jewish people to become lost among the world's non-Jewish majority, He counted them to make sure it can never happen.

(Chidushei HaRim)

All that were numbered were six hundred thousand, three thousand five hundred and fifty (Num. 1:46)

Why is this number so significant? Surely many more Jews have been born over the course of generations. Rather, this number is an eternal constant that is not subject to change. Up Above, in the celestial source of all Jewish souls, there are precisely this number; accordingly, it was reflected in the number of Jews down below. Each "original soul," in turn, is capable of branching off into many more individual souls.

(Sefer HaMaamarim 5678)

All that were numbered of the Levites...were twenty-two thousand (Num. 3:39)

The tribe of Levi was the smallest in population of all the Jewish tribes. Not subject to the Egyptian enslavement with the rest of the Israelites, the Levites increased in a natural manner. The other tribes, by contrast, were blessed with a superna tural fertility, and the more Pharaoh tried to annihilate them, the more Jews were born.

(Ramban)


It Once Happened

Shavuot is the anniversary of the passing of King David

King Shaul (Saul) had lost grace in the eyes of G-d. G-d told the Prophet Shmuel (Samuel) to travel to Beit Lechem, where he would find the new king among the sons of Yishai (Jesse). Although the older sons were all upstanding young men, Shmuel asked, "Is there another son?" Yes, the youngest who was tending the flocks. When David was summoned, Shmuel knew at once; this boy would be the next king. David was quickly anointed, but many travails would precede his ascension to the throne. It was at this time that Shaul became very depressed. David was summoned to play his harp for the king and to ease his spirit with beautiful music. Ironically, Shaul couldn't know that the lad who played so soothingly would soon replace him on the royal throne.

The war against the Jewish people's bitter enemy, the Philistines, continued unresolved. One day, as the two armies lay encamped opposite each other, a gigantic soldier, completely covered in armor, appeared from among the Philistine ranks. Goliath roared out a challenge to the Jews: "Send out a man to fight me one on one." No one came forth.

David was shepherding his father's sheep at the time, oblivious to the danger confronting his brethren, until his father sent him to the Jewish camp to deliver supplies to his brothers. When he saw the Philistine giant, David volunteered to fight him. King Shaul refused to allow the slight youth to sacrifice himself. But David was persistent, and professed such a staunch faith in G-d's protection that Shaul finally succumbed to his plea.

David faced Goliath armed with only a staff and a sling. When the giant saw his opponent he scoffed at him. But David countered, "You come to me with a sword and with a spear, and with a shield, but I come to you in the name of the L-rd of Hosts, the G-d of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Everyone here will know that G-d saves not with a sword and spear. The battle is the L-rd's and He will deliver you into our hands."

Goliath advanced and David readied his sling. With a well-aimed stone, he pierced the giant through his skull; Goliath toppled to the ground. David leaped forward and cut off his head. The Philistines fled in panic.

As a reward for his courage, Shaul gave David his daughter Michal's hand in marriage. Shaul's son, Jonathan, became David's closest friend. The king, however, felt more and more threatened by the young warrior, whose popularity with the people continued to grow. Shaul's jealousy grew ever more bitter, until it hardened into a deep hatred. Shaul realized his days as king were numbered and that G-d's choice had fallen upon his young son-in-law.

It was Jonathan who alerted David to the king's implacable anger. David was forced to flee the king's wrath. He fled to the hills until he came to the town of Nob where many kohanim (priests) lived. David, known as a great hero and the son-in-law of the king, was provided with food and a sword. However, he was being watched.

As David continued his journey, the actions of the priests of Nob were reported to Shaul. Shaul summoned them, and all 86 innocent priests were condemned to death.

David's travails continued unabated, as the king hunted him across the land in between battles with the dreaded Philistines. During one chase, the exhausted king entered a cave to rest. Unknown to him, he had chosen the very cave where David and his warriors were hidden. David's loyal troops tried to convince him that this was a Divinely- planned chance to be rid of his royal foe. But, David still held his allegiance to the anointed king sacred. As the king sat tired and dispirited, David quietly approached and with his sword, cut off some fabric from the hem of the king's robes.

David bided his time. After the king left the cave, he approached Shaul with deep respect and showed him the severed cloth. The king gazed at the evidence of David's greatness, for surely David could have killed him, and said, "You are more righteous than I, for you have repayed me good for evil." The two parted, but Shaul's battle against David continued.

Another time, the king's troops lay encamped in a valley while David watched from above. Shaul was left unguarded as his soldiers slept around him, and for a second time Shaul's fate lay in David's hands. Again, David was entreated to attack, but he responded, "Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against G-d's anointed and be guiltless?"

Instead, David descended into the king's camp and stealthily approaching him, removed the king's water flask and his spear. When he returned to his perch on the opposite hill, David called out to the king's guard, "As G-d lives, you are worthy to die, because you have not guarded you master, the L-rd's anointed; now, look where the king's spear and cruse of water lie which were near his head!"

Shaul recognized David's voice and for the moment, his jealousy ebbed. Shaul countered with these words, "Blessed are you, my son David; you will undertake great things and you will prevail." Those prophetic words were the last the tragic king would ever speak to David. Divine Providence fated that they never meet again in this world.


Moshiach Matters

Return in mercy to Jerusalem Your city and dwell therein as You have promised; speedily establish therein the throne of David Your servant, and rebuild it, soon in our days, as an everlasting edifice. Blessed are You G-d, who rebuilds Jerusalem.

(The 14th of the 19 prayers said 3 times daily in the Amida)


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