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Devarim Deutronomy

July 17, 1998 - 23 Tamuz 5758

527: Pinchas

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

  526: Balak528: Matos Massei  

Golf For Life  |  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

Golf For Life

Items that always seems to be available at garage and yard sales throughout the summer, or at any other time of year, are golf clubs. Whether the avid adolescent golfer is away at college or beyond, or Dad never really took to the new pastime, or Mom has perfected her stroke and game to the point where she needs better clubs, golf clubs can easily be purchased for the neophyte golfer.

In keeping with the Baal Shem Tov's teaching that we can learn something to enhance our lives spiritually from everything we see and hear, even if you've only tried your skill with clubs and balls at the local mini-golf, there's a lot that can be learned from this mellow sport.

"Hold the club firmly with both hands," a seasoned golf expert will tell any newcomer to the game. Applied to Jewish living, this means that our approach to Torah and mitzvot has to be firm, not wishy-washy or laissez faire. In addition, Torah teaches that "the right hand brings closer and the left hand pushes away." This means that our "hands-on" approach to Judaism has to include bringing that which is beneficial and positive into our lives while pushing away that which can be harmful or negative to Jewish living.

In real golf (as opposed to miniature golf, where people sometimes skip a hole if there is a long wait and then come back to it) you must complete all 18 holes as established by the course. Similarly, a set course has been established for us by the Torah, beginning with our daily routine and encompassing our entire lives.

When we get up in the morning, we train ourselves that our first conscious thought is to thank G-d for giving us another day of life. Throughout the day we have a sequence of activities and mitzvot that we fulfill up until the time we go to bed, following the declaration that we forgive all those who might have knowingly or unknowingly wronged us, after which we entrust our soul to G-d's safekeeping. Just as our day is ordered and sequential, so is our week, month, year, and entire the Jewish life-cycle.

To truly hone our living skills (unlike when we putter around on a mini-golf course, where we can dodge the rules) we must follow the established progression of the Torah. And though the mitzvot are "written in stone" (at least the Ten Commandments, to be exact), Judaism allows for, acknowledges and even encourages individual expression and personal preferences within the established guidelines.

Any golfer worth his tee will inform you that one of the main guidelines of the game is to keep your eye on the ball. In the big golf game of life, the ball is the goal. As long as we keep our eyes on the goal and know where we're going, it's hard to get off track.

Jewish teachings have always explained that our goal is the Geula (Redemption), at which time the Goel (Redeemer, i.e. Moshiach) will lead the Jewish people out of gola (exile). No one knows which tiny mitzva-tap on the ball of exile will gently drop us into the final hole (numbered 18 perhaps for "chai-life," for after the Redemption we will experience life as G-d truly intended it to be). It might be your kind word, or his extra charity, or her heartfelt prayer, or my Shabbat candles. If each one of us tries our best, then certainly, very soon, we will get the ultimate hole in one.

Living with the Rebbe

As enumerated by Maimonides, the last of the Torah's positive mitzvot is "to adjudge the laws of inheritance," found in this week's Torah portion, Pinchas.

Maimonides' enumeration of the Torah's 613 commandments is extremely precise. If he chose this particular mitzva as the last, it must, of necessity, express the completion of all the other mitzvot that preceded it.

The mitzva of the laws of inheritance is actually an extension of the division of the land of Israel among the tribes. The Land of Israel was given to us by G-d according to three principles: 1) Inheritance; 2) a logical apportionment of land; 3) the process of determination according to lot.

The Holy Land is our direct inheritance from G-d. It expresses the deep and unique connection that exists between the Jewish people and the Creator.

There are three aspects to our possession of Israel, as expressed in the verse, "How goodly is our portion, how pleasant is our lot, and how beautiful our inheritance." Inheritance, the third expression of our relationship with G-d, is the highest level of our connection to Him.

There are three ways in which a person may acquire ownership of an object: by inheriting it, by purchasing it, or by receiving it as a gift.

The transfer of property through the process of selling depends on the will of the buyer. He pays money for an object, and it becomes his.

A gift, by contrast, is dependent upon the will of the giver. It is his decision whether or not to give the gift.

In both of these instances, the object or property passes from one individual to the other.

Inheritance, however, is an "automatic" process. The inheritor automatically assumes the place of the one from whom he inherits. This is the highest level of connection, as it is entirely independent of the will of either of them.

The process of selling is similar to the apportionment of land according to logical rules. In the spiritual sense, this refers to the connection with G-d we achieve from our own individual service - "How goodly is our portion."

The transfer of a gift is similar to the division of land according to lot. In spiritual terms, this refers to the connection we have with G-d not by virtue of our actions, but solely because He has chosen us from all other nations - "How pleasant is our lot."

But the deepest level of our connection with G-d is "How beautiful is our inheritance." This is an "automatic" connection that has nothing to do with our personal will. It is for this reason that Maimonides enumerates this mitzva last, for it expresses the very highest level of the Jew's bond with G-d.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 28

A Slice of Life

Rabbi Yehoshua Zelig Katzman, o.b.m.
by Jacob Pinsky

I suppose, in a way, I look back upon Rabbi Katzman as the grandfather I never knew, but wish I had had. It's comforting to know that on some level there was a man in the world whom, in secret at least, I could call Zeidy. I picture him covered in his talit, sharing a Torah thought, at a Shabbat Kiddush, teaching me an insight into a Mishna, tossing down a thimble glass of Loch Du Scotch whiskey and saying "Oh, that's pretty good, pass me back the bottle!", and most especially, sitting at the shalosh seudot [third Shabbat meal] teaching the special meanings of the Mishna Pirkei Avot.

The first time I met Rabbi Katzman was about ten years ago, in his Crown Heights two-family home. My wife was meeting Goldie (Baumgarten - one of Rabbi Katzman's daughters) to go someplace, and I came along for the ride. To my horror, my wife left me at the Katzmans' by myself! So there I was, sitting across the dinner table from Rabbi Katzman, absolutely scared stiff because I had never in my life sat across a dinner table from a real Chasid! Here was the real McCoy, a man dressed in a black suit, a white shirt, with a great flowing beard and a heavy Russian accent. A holy man. What do I do, what do I say to a man like this?

Rabbi Katzman was very kind to me - he didn't ask me more than two questions. I spent the quiet meal with my face in my plate, wondering how I had gotten into this mess, and when I would get out of it. When my wife finally returned, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and fled as fast as I could.

Over the years I saw Rabbi Katzman at various Chabad of Coram [Long Island, NY] functions, and he would nod at me and smile, often with a twinkle in his eye. I'll bet he was thinking, "There's that young man from my son-in-law's Chabad House on Long Island who tried to stick his face in his dinner plate." It was all I could do to say hello to him, and I would think, "Wow, there goes that real Chasid again!"

When Rabbi Katzman became our summer rabbi for the weeks that our rabbi, Leibel Baumgarten, was away conducting Shabbat services in the Hamptons, I finally learned to talk to him. There was a tremendous personal warmth and force of personality within him. There was a wry sense of humor, too. There was an admirable intelligence as well, that made sense of difficult Torah topics for me. I even started looking forward to Fridays when I would see him again.

Every Shabbat eve, Rabbi Katzman would motion me to the front of the shul to lead the services. It didn't matter if I protested with a thousand excuses; for some reason he always wanted me to lead the service. Eventually I gave up my protests, resigning myself to the fact that I was powerless against his requests. How could I argue with the person whom we soon came to call the Rav of Coram Chabad?

On Shabbat morning Rabbi Katzman would read the weekly portion for us from the Torah scroll. I found out later that he had done very little leining [chanting] prior to his summers with us, and that he invested a great deal of time in preparing the weekly portion. As anyone who has ever chanted a Torah portion knows, this is a time-consuming and difficult task.

At the Kiddush following the service, Rabbi Katzman would always have something to say on the weekly Torah portion. Sometimes the discussion would go on for half an hour or more, with our attention riveted on the words of Chasidic wisdom. Because he spoke in a low voice, and had a heavy accent, we had to gather closely around him, with our heads tipped forward in his direction. It often reminded me of pictures I had seen of intimate Chasidic gatherings. His talks took us on journeys far beyond the confines of Coram.

For me, the best part of those long summer Sabbaths was shalosh seudot, near the end of Shabbat. Those hours were spent studying from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers. Rabbi Katzman was a source of light and elucidation during those delightful late Shabbat afternoon hours, as evening fell and crickets began to sing outside the open windows. It is written that the last hours before the end of Shabbat are the holiest hours of the Sabbath. I never felt the holiness more than during those hours I spent studying with Rabbi Katzman.

When Rabbi Katzman's grandaughter, Menucha Rachel Baumgarten, took ill, Rabbi Katzman organized a class on the difficult Chasidic discourse entitled Eitz Chaim. Often, Rabbi Katzman would make the 90 minute trip from Brooklyn by himself, just to spend an hour or 45 minutes with us on a few verses. How he had the patience for us dunces, breaking our heads to understand a few words of this complex text, was beyond me. It was clear to me, though, that he understood the deepest essence of every verse and philosophical nuance we were studying.

I suppose that for me, Rabbi Katzman was the prototypical Chasid. He was exactly what I thought a Chasid should be. Here was a man whose personality was surely honed by a lifetime of devotion to Torah Judaism, the teachings of the Torah, and fierce loyalty to his Rebbe. He combined tremendous personal warmth with a sharp mind and a wry sense of humor. He was a pivotal force for his large family, and his untimely passing has been a tremendous loss for them, the Chabad community at large, for Chabad of Coram, and for me personally.

I don't think there is a day that goes by now when I fail to think about Rabbi Katzman. He still lives on in my mind, walking across the shul to wish me a good Shabbos, saying a "lechaim" on Loch Du, teaching a small group the intricacies of a single verse. This, I think, is one of the true legacies of the righteous Jew, who continues to live on in our hearts and minds after he has gone to olam haba, the next world, influencing us and encouraging us to follow in his path.

May G-d grant his soul everlasting peace, and may we be reunited with Rabbi Katzman with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our days.

Rambam this week

Rambam for 24 Tamuz 5758

Positive mitzva 94: Fulfilling all oral commitments By this injunction we are commanded to fulfil every obligation we have taken upon ourselves by word of mouth - every oath, vow, offering, etc. It is contained in the words (Deut. 23:24): "That which is gone out of your lips you shall observe."

The Rebbe Writes

Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, 5743 [1983] Dr. - M.D.,

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter of the 19th of Tammuz, and I appreciate your thoughtfulness in writing to me in detail about our esteemed mutual friend. No doubt you have already heard from your patient, who has kept in touch with me.

I am most gratified to note the personal attention and concern you have shown towards your patient. There is certainly no need to emphasize to you how important it is for the patient - also therapeutically - to know that his doctor is taking a special interest in him. This is all the more important in a case of a sensitive person, and especially as our mutual friend is truly an outstanding person who lives by the Torah, and particularly, by the Great Principle of the Torah V'Ohavto L'Re'acho Komocho [the commandment to love one's fellow Jew as one loves oneself].

The above, incidentally, is particularly timely in connection with the present days of the Three Weeks, which remind all Jews to make a special effort to counteract, and eventually eliminate, the cause which gave rise to the sad events which these days commemorate, and hasten the day when these sad days will be transformed into days of gladness and rejoicing.

Wishing you Hatzlocho [success] with this patient and all your patients, and in all your affairs.

With blessing,

26th of Tammuz, 5721 [1961] Greeting and Blessing:

I was pleased to receive your letter on the 18th of Tammuz, as well as the regards through the visitors from England. I trust that the visitors will also bring back with them regards from here, and share their inspiration and experience with their friends back home.

As requested, I will remember all those mentioned in your letter, in prayer, when visiting the holy resting place of my father-in-law of saintly memory, and may G-d grant that you will have good news to report.

I trust it is unnecessary to emphasize to you, and that you will also convey it to the others, that the daily life in accordance with the Torah and mitzvos is the channel and vessel to receive G-d's blessing in all one's needs.

As we are now in the midst of the Three Weeks, and our Sages said that Jerusalem was destroyed only because the education of young children was disrupted in it ( [Tractate] Shabbos 119b), this is the time to increase all activities designed to make amends for, and offset the failings of the past, namely, activities for kosher Jewish education.

Hoping to hear good news from you, With blessing,

What's New


According to the suggestion and directives of the Rebbe, we study all about the Beis Hamikdash - The Holy Temple - which we pray it be rebuilt speedily - during the days 17 Tamuz -15 Menachem Av.

Accordingly, the text of the book - SEEK OUT THE WELFARE OF JERUSALEM, published by Sichos In English - is available on-line at divided into a special study program.


In keeping with the Rebbe's call to hold siyumim, ceremonies celebrating the completion of tractates of Talmud during the nine days of intensified mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple (from the first day of Av through Tisha B'Av), Chabad-Lubavitch world-wide is organizing these special ceremonies. Call your local Chabad- Lubavitch Center to find out more details.

A Word from the Director

This Shabbat we continue the cycle of study of Ethics of the Fathers, going back to Chapter One, whose opening lines express a fundamental and axiomatic concept in Judaism:

"Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly."

Why is it important for us to know this chain of transmission? To teach us that the Torah we have in our possession today is the very same Torah that was revealed to Moses thousands of years ago. And, as links in the ongoing chain of tradition, it is our duty as Jewish parents to transmit the Torah to our children.

The Torah has an infinite number of facets. Some parts are narrative, others are legal codes, while other sections are allegorical. The Five Books of Moses, Mishna, Talmud, Midrashim, Shulchan Aruch, Chasidut - all are part and parcel of the G-dly body of knowledge we call Torah.

Some parts of the Torah were meant to be written down; others were transmitted orally until the proper time came to put them into writing. (This is one reason why the non-Jewish "Bible" bears little resemblance to the Torah; ignorance of the Oral Tradition has led to many false interpretations and absurdities over the millennia!)

At Sinai, Moses received the entirety of Torah with all its potential for extrapolation, "even that which the scholar would innovate in the future." An halachic decision rendered today is Torah, revealed to man according to a Divinely-inspired "timetable" of revelation. This process will reach its culmination in the Messianic era, when Moshiach will teach the world a new and deeper dimension of Torah, as it states in Isaiah 51:4: "For Torah shall proceed from Me, and I will make My judgment suddenly for a light of the people."

May it happen at once.

Thoughts that Count

The Torah portions of Chukat and Balak are sometimes read together; so are Matot and Masei. Pinchas, however, is always read alone. The Rebbe Maharash (Rabbi Shmuel, fourth Chabad Rebbe) once jested as a child, "That's because Pinchas is barbed (and no one wants to stand next to him)!" [As is known, Pinchas slew Zimri and the Midianite woman with a barbed spear.]

Of Ozni, the family of the Oznites (Num. 26:16)

The name Ozni is related to the Hebrew word for ear, ozen. Interestingly, Rashi comments that this verse refers "to the family of Etzbon" - which is related to the word etzba, finger. What is the connection between the two? The reason, our Sages explained, that man's fingers were created long and thin is to enable him to stick them in his ears the moment he hears something he shouldn't...

(The Shaloh, Rabbi Yeshaya Hurvitz)

Let the L-rd, G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation (Num. 27:16)

Conventional thinking holds that as the generations become progressively lower and more degraded, mediocrity in leadership becomes more acceptable. However, the Torah tells us that the opposite is true: the more inferior the generation, the more it needs the guidance of superior leaders. Analogously, the more ill the patient, the more he needs to see a specialist...

(Chidushei HaRim)

It Once Happened

The illustrious scholar, Rabbi Akiva Eiger (1759-1837) was traveling to Hungary for his daughter's marriage to the son of the Chatam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer, 1762-1839). He announced his intention to stop in Nikolsburg to pay his respects to the town's rabbi, Rav Mordechai Banet. Word spread quickly through the streets of Nikolsburg and the entire Jewish community thrilled at the news of a visit from perhaps the most illustrious scholar of the day. The simple folk yearned to see the holy visage of the great man; the town's scholars looked forward to hearing his brilliant reflections on Torah.

The brief visit was a real occasion in Nikolsburg, and the townsfolk spoke of it for months after. Rabbi Banet, however, was disappointed in his meeting with the scholar. There had been no brilliant, novel insight into some knotty passage of Talmud, no remarkable word to remember forever. In fact, Rabbi Banet wondered where the greatness of Rabbi Eiger lay after all. To his great disappointment, the conversation had been quite ordinary.

Not long after, Rabbi Eiger had occasion to visit Nikolsburg again on a matter of communal business. This time he made a totally different impression on Rabbi Banet, and the local rabbi invited his esteemed guest to address the congregation on Shabbat. During the speech Rabbi Banet differed with Rabbi Eiger's opinions, and interrupted with his own interpretation. Instead of arguing the point, as would be expected, Rabbi Eiger descended from the bima and quietly returned to his seat. Later in the day, Rabbi Banet reflected on the morning's events. Doubt, and even guilt, crept into his mind. "Did I offend or anger the great man, G-d forbid?" he wondered. He decided to visit Rabbi Eiger to make amends. To his surprise, Rabbi Eiger was neither embarrassed nor angry. But in a quiet manner, the scholar now embarked on a well-reasoned defense of his earlier remarks. Rabbi Banet soon realized the error of his position and apologized profusely.

"But, tell me, why did you not present your arguments at the time?" Rabbi Banet inquired.

"I thought as follows: I am only a visitor who is passing through your city," Rabbi Eiger explained. "There is no need for the townspeople to respect or honor me, but you are the Rav of the community, of the whole country, in fact, and it is vital to the welfare of the community that your honor be respected by the people. Therefore, I felt it would be improper to contradict you in public."

Rabbi Banet was overwhelmed by these words and he wanted very much for the truth to be publicized. Therefore, he called the whole community together and explained to them what had happened. "Not only have I been given an understanding of Rabbi Eiger's great scholarship, but I have received an even greater insight into his sublime holiness and righteousness. On his first visit to Nikolsburg, Rabbi Eiger concealed his greatness from me, but this time, I have merited to learn from his singular and awesome humility."

When he was already elderly, Rabbi Avraham Dov of Everitch settling in the holy city of Safed. But although he had waited many years for the opportunity to bask in the spiritual light of the Land of Israel, once there he found life in the Holy Land too difficult to bear. The hardships were all too apparent, while the holiness of the land was hard to discern.

When he felt he could bear no more, Rabbi Avraham Dov began to think of returning to his home in Everitch. "After all," he reasoned, "I left my relatives and my students behind in order to live in the land, but it's all to no avail, for I am suffering so bitterly. Let me return to Everitch, and they will be happy to see me, and I will be glad as well."

When Rabbi Avraham Dov reached the decision to return home the rainy season in Israel was approaching. One day, as he was walking to the synagogue for the afternoon prayer, he heard noises coming from the surrounding rooftops. He couldn't identify the strange sounds, and he asked the people he passed, "What is happening? Where are these noises coming from?" The people were amused that he didn't know.

"Here, in Safed," they explained, "we have the custom of performing household chores on our flat roofs. We also use the roofs for storing food and other household supplies. The noise you hear is caused by the women scurrying about, removing all these things from the roofs."

"But why are they doing that?" Rabbi Avraham Dov asked.

"Why so that nothing gets ruined by the rain, of course," was the incredulous reply. But Rabbi Avraham Dov was still confused. He looked up at a sky as blue as the sea when there are no waves in sight.

"It certainly doesn't look like rain," he said, hoping for some further explanation.

"Surely you remember that tonight we say the prayer for rain. We beseech G-d to remember us and send benign rains to water our crops and provide water for us. Since we are sure that our Father in Heaven will hear our prayers and will heed our request, we take precautions so that our possessions won't be ruined when the rains come."

The unquestioning faith of the people affected the rabbi deeply. Suddenly his eyes were opened and he saw the sublime heights of faith achieved by the simple Jews of the Holy Land. His pain and disappointment were replaced by a sense of awe at the holiness of the land and its people. At that moment, he abandoned all thoughts of returning to Everitch and began a new leg of his own spiritual journey to the holiness the Holy Land.

Moshiach Matters

Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber of Lubavitch would say: "Many people await the coming of Moshiach and the 'better days' it will bring. In truth, however, these are the best days there are. What Moshiach will do is reveal the hidden goodness of our present-day existence."

(Sefer HaSichot, 5704)

  526: Balak528: Matos Massei  
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