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531: Ekev

532: Re'ei

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L'Chaim
Aug 21, 1998 - 29 Av 5758

532: Re'ei

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


  531: Ekev533: Shoftim  

Seeing Eyes  |  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

Seeing Eyes

By Dr. Yaakov Brawer

When I was 9 or 10 I received my first serious instruction in Chasidic philosophy, although I didn't recognize it as such at the time. In those days I spent many of my Sunday afternoons with my cronies at the movie theater watching cartoons. Of the hundreds of cartoons that I must have seen, one stands out in my memory. The protagonist was a speedy, clever little bird called the Road-Runner, and the villain was a voracious and exceedingly dumb coyote. The cartoon depicted several abortive attempts by the coyote to make a meal of the Road-Runner.

In one scene, the Road-Runner raced to the edge of a cliff and hid behind a rock. The coyote, however, was so absorbed in the chase that he didn't notice the precipice and ran right off the edge. He maintained his stride, in midair, oblivious to his impossible situation and in defiance of the laws of gravity, until eventually it occurred to him that the road-runner was nowhere in sight. He screeched to a stop and turned to look back. He saw the road-runner watching him from the edge of the cliff, and he began to realize that he was in major trouble. He slowly looked down and only then, when it was crystal clear to him that he was standing on thin air, did he fall.

Although this cartoon was undoubtedly produced with no loftier aim than the entertainment of children, it contains a profound insight that I was able to appreciate only after learning Chasidic philosophy for a number of years. The coyote fell specifically as a consequence of looking down. The fact that he had no trouble until he directed his vision netherward clearly indicated that he was not subject to natural law until he accepted it upon himself. Had he not looked down, had he not shackled himself with a world-oriented deterministic view of reality, had he not succumbed to conventional wisdom as to what is possible and what is not, he could have continued walking on air.

We Jews have been trying to absorb this lesson since our inception as people over 3,000 years ago. Our father Abraham had no problem with this concept. He answered to no one, feared nothing, and believed in nothing aside from the Almighty. Fire couldn't burn him, and water couldn't drown him because he accorded them no recognition whatsoever. It was not that he relied on miracles, but rather that his vision was constantly directed upward toward his Creator and he never took earthly obstacles, laws and necessities into account. He never looked down and, therefore, he never fell down.

We are the children of Abraham. Individually and as a people we are not subject to natural limitations. Our very existence is miraculous, as historians grudgingly admit. We are governed by no agency other than the Almighty and we have been endowed by our Creator with the capacity to see through all of the impediments, restrictions, difficulties and illusions inherent in mundane life, and to perceive the Divine purpose. We have seeing eyes. Our problem is that we have trouble focusing. We are distracted by the shadows of worldly appearance. We are beguiled by world-oriented imagery and we are thus preoccupied with objectives, concerns, worries, and fears that have no substance.

The antidote to this spiritual myopia is Chasidut. Through the lens of Chasidut, we are able to penetrate the gloom of exile and to clearly perceive G-d's underlying reality.

Reprinted from Eyes that See, published by Seminary Bais Menachem, Canada


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Re'ei, opens with one of the most fundamental tenets of Judaism: the principle of free choice: "Behold, I give you today a blessing and a curse."

Why did G-d create the world in such a way as to accommodate both blessings and curses? Why did G-d create something which stands in the way of good, something which makes it difficult for us to do what is good and right?

"And you shall choose life." The reason evil alternatives exist is to allow for free choice. G-d endowed evil with the power to oppose holiness so that the Jew, by making the right choice, can defeat it and obliterate it entirely.

The ability to choose between good and bad is to our advantage. No spiritual level is too high for the Jew to attain through his Divine service. Yet for there to be free choice, every level of holiness has its corresponding challenge.

G-d gave us free will because He is the essence of good. G-d prefers to reward us for our good deeds, rather than give us "the bread of charity." This is alluded to in our verse: "Behold, I give you today a blessing and a curse." Our Sages declared, "All who give, give willingly." Even evil is given willingly by G-d, for its intention is to allow for free will, thus enabling the Jew to reach the highest levels of holiness.

Significantly, the Torah uses the word "behold" and not "listen." It's not enough to understand that we possess free will; "behold" implies a deeper consideration and contemplation of the facts. For when a Jew reflects on the existence of good and evil, he will come to the realization that evil exists for his own benefit! In truth, evil is nothing but a means of improving our Divine service.

In this light we can better understand how a "curse" can emanate from G-d, the essence of good. Indeed, seen from this perspective, evil is not a curse at all, but a very great merit that enables us to succeed and prevail.

Re'ei is always read on the Shabbat when the month of Elul is blessed, or on the first day of Elul. In Elul, G-d's Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are particularly manifest. At such a time, a person might think that his own efforts are superfluous, or that his own initiative is unnecessary. Thus, the Torah reminds us, "Behold, I give you today a blessing and a curse." No matter what the spiritual level, "blessing" is always offset by "curse." Thus it is precisely in Elul, when G-d's mercy is manifest, that a Jew must intensify his efforts to vanquish evil.

Elul is the month before Rosh Hashana, and is dedicated to teshuva, returning to our Source. Through teshuva, a Jew can transform even deliberate sins into merits, and attain an even higher spiritual level than a person who has never sinned. Re'ei thus illustrates the great power of teshuva, and the unlimited potential of every Jew.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 4


A Slice of Life

Cutlbusters
by Rabbi Shea Hecht

One afternoon, Rose Scharfman burst into my office with an announcement that some strange character was on the phone. "He just heard your father [Rabbi J.J. Hecht, of blessed memory] say on the radio that we can change anyone's mind who is thinking abut converting away from Judaism. And he asked to talk to us because he is planning to convert," Rose told me.

I picked up the phone. The voice on the other end began, "I am planning to be baptized within the coming week, and I just heard Rabbi Hecht on the radio talking about conversion. So I decided maybe I would come and speak with you before I actually convert."

After speaking to this fellow for a while, I was really taken aback. He was totally different from the type of Jew that usually gets mixed up with Christianity. He had grown up Orthodox and had gone to a top yeshiva for twelve years. He also told me that he had lived in a religious Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. He defied all the rules.

I invited him to come to my office for a talk, and he said he would, but only on one condition: "I want to bring my minister along," he said.

I arranged to meet with them, together with Rose, the next afternoon. Rose worked with us on many cases, and I felt her presence would help. Joel Mannis and his minister showed up on schedule. Both were noticeably uncomfortable. No doubt the minister had intended to expose me as a fool to Joel. But now that he saw he was dealing with a young Chasidic rabbi he was taken aback. Joel introduced us to the Reverend Lewis. The four of us sat facing one another, and there was real tension in the air. The minister drew a Bible from his set of books and opened it.

I said, "What are you jumping right into the book for? There are a few things we have to establish first." He looked at me with astonishment.

I continued, "We first have to establish whether there is a G-d and whether He gave us the Bible and whether that is the Bible He gave us."

We started discussing basic religious philosophy. Rose and I simultaneously decided to zero right in on the minister. We both recognized that the first step in bringing Joel back was to discredit the minister.

I said, "Reverend Lewis, you have told Joel that you understand Judaism." He nodded. "Explain to me, then," I said, "what is a mitzva."

"I know what a mitzva is," he retorted smugly. "It's a commandment."

"And what is a commandment?" I asked "I don't know what you mean," he answered.

"The word mitzva comes from the Hebrew expression tzvatza v'chibor, meaning that it creates a connection with G-d. By doing a mitzva, a Jew establishes a unity with G-d," I told him.

Reverend Lewis glanced at Joel unhappily. We were talking about Judaism on a higher level than he had expected.

Then I asked, "Excuse me, Reverend Lewis, but do you believe in G-d?"

"Of course, I believe in G-d. I'm a minister!" I asked, "Is there good and evil in this world?" "Yes."

"And does G-d have absolute power over evil." "No."

"Then you believe that the devil rebelled against G-d, and established a separate kingdom?"

"Yes."

"You're telling me that G-d has a limit and that there are two powers and two separate kingdoms," I said. "Anyone who believes in G-d knows that He is Master of all forces, including evil."

Lewis tried to show we misinterpreted the Bible, but nothing he said made sense. He couldn't argue away his belief in two kingdoms, G-d's and the devil's. In vivid contrast to his belief, Judaism proclaims the oneness of G-d. There is only one kingdom, G-d's; and the devil, or the evil impulse, was created by G-d and serves Him with absolute subjugation. Judaism teaches that G-d created evil to give man free choice, thereby earning reward by rejecting evil and choosing good.

Reverend Lewis said, "It's late, and I told Joel that I wouldn't be able to stay too long." Joel got up to leave.

I said, "I don't think this is right. You called us. We interrupted a busy schedule to meet with you, and now you're leaving after a half- hour."

Rose said firmly, "Sit down, Joel. What are you, his dog?" I couldn't help it, I started laughing. Joel began to laugh, too.

Sensing the victory at hand, I started talking to Joel in Yiddish. After all, he had been brought up with Orthodox Jews. The second he heard the mama-loshon his shiny veneer melted and Reverend Lewis became more agitated. Seeing that I had effected a bond with Joel that excluded him, he blew his stack.

"You Jews think you know everything," he spat, betraying an incredible hostility.

As Lewis headed for the door, Joel froze. There was a showdown of the eyes between them. Reverend Lewis opened the door, uttered a frosty good-bye and walked out.

Joel had made a mistake, and it had cost him his faith in Judaism. He had felt that if a yeshiva taught the truth, then he should have had all the answers by the time he graduated. When he met the missionaries and started asking them questions, he realized there was much he didn't understand. This raised doubts in his mind. Then, when they showed they had answers to his questions, he concluded that maybe their truth was greater.

I explained to Joel that a student goes to a yeshiva to acquire the preparatory skills and foundation for a life of scholarship and intellectual inquiry. Yeshiva doesn't prepare a person to answer Christian Missionaries. The basic purpose is to teach a young person to learn. Then, later, when he goes out into the world and has questions, he knows how to study, how to find answers.

Excerpted from Confession of a Jewish Cultbuster


Rambam this week

Rambam for 29 Menachem Av 5758

Positive mitzva 132: Resting the land during the Sabbatical year

By this injunction we are commanded to desist from cultivating the land during the seventh year. It is contained in the words (Ex. 34:21): "In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest," and is repeated many times, among them (Lev. 25:4): "But in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land." The Torah makes it obligatory only in the Land of Israel.

Negative mitzva 22: Cultivating the soil in the seventh year By this prohibition we are forbidden to cultivate the soil in the seventh year. It is contained in the words (Lev. 25:4): "[In the seventh year] you shall not sow your field."


The Rebbe Writes

26th of Elul, 5740 [1980]

I received your correspondence, and may G-d grant the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good.

Especially as we are now in the auspicious month of Elul, as explained by the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] by means of the well-known parable of "a King in the field."

Briefly: There is a time when a king is out in the field, and then everyone has an opportunity to greet the king, approach him, and present a petition, and the king receives every one graciously and fulfills everyone's request. So the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, has set aside the month of Elul - the last month of the outgoing year - as a time of special opportunity to get closer to Him through adherence to His Torah and Mitzvos, and He receives everyone graciously. May th is be so also in regard to you and yours.

Wishing you and all yours a Kesivah vechasimah tova, for a good and sweet year,

11 Tishrei, 5712 [1951]

...With regard to your question concerning the role of Aggadah in the Talmud, particularly those dealing with medicine, I want to point out that you are touching upon two distinct questions-Aggadah in the Talmud, and Medicine in the Talmud. As to the question of Medicine in the Talmud, they are not at all as fantastic as they may appear. As a matter of fact, many medical suggestions in the Talmud have been confirmed in recent years as to their therapeutic value, although medical science had long denied them.

Generally speaking however, inasmuch as the nature of the human organism has undergone many changes since those days, the medical advice contained in the Talmud cannot be applied nowadays. But it is quite certain that in their days the remedies were quite effective.

For references consult: Tosafoth Moed-Koton 11a, Kesef Mishne Ch. 4 of Hilechoth Deoth, Ch. 18, and sources mentioned in Sdei-Chemed, vol. of Kelolim, under "R" Klal 54, where it is stated that due to physical and climatic changes, medical treatment and remedies of old are no longer good generally.

In the history of Medical Science many illustrations are cited as to changes in both man's susceptibility to disease and treatment, the development of virus attack, new diseases, etc. There is quite a literature on the subject, and there is no need for me to enlarge upon this subject.

I am surprised that you do not mention in your letter anything about your activities in influencing others to bring them nearer to Torah and Yiddishkeit [Judaism], which serves also to strengthen one's own convictions.

11 Tishrei, 5712 [1951]

....Re your question as to my opinion of the theory of Evolution. You do not mention what Evolution you are referring to. Presumably the evolution of Vegetable and Animal life.

My opinion is, as stated in the Torah, that during the six days of creation, G-d created the Four Kingdoms (minerals, vegetation, animal and man) independently of each other. Our Sages have enlarged upon this question in detail. However, this Creation does not deny the possibility of evolution after that, of particular species through various mutations.


What's New

WORLD OF DIFFERENCE

On Sun., Aug. 23, Rosh Chodesh Elul, Operation Refua (refua means "healing") is seeking to help each one of us make a world of difference. The organizers of this grassroots movement, whose message has captured the hearts of Jews across the globe, are asking that on Aug. 23 every Jew unite in giving charity. The charity can be in any amount and to any organization but the giver should keep in mind that this mitzva is to help bring a complete recovery to ill people around the world. In addition, you can also send a "get well" wish to Operation Refua headquarters which will be personally delivered to a hospital patient. Send get well wishes to: Operation Refua, 1630 Vauxhall Rd. #C!, Union, NJ 07083. Fax to 908-851-0899 or e-mail to OREFUAH@juno.com

If you miss the date it not to late to do it another day.


A Word from the Director

As human beings and Jews, we all want something out of life. Each of us has his own hopes for the future, and our own individual plans on how to achieve them. Throughout our lives we try to acquire wisdom, improve our inner character, and fulfill our obligations to G-d and our fellow man. And, like any other goal, it's necessary to occasionally take time out to assess our progress. Are we really on the right track? Is there something we can correct or eliminate?

To meet this need, G-d gives us an entire month each year before Rosh Hashana - the month of Elul - for introspection and self-improvement. Putting our lives under the microscope and honestly taking stock enables us to greet the coming year head on and ensure that it be one of spiritual advancement.

The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidut, used the analogy of "the king in the field" to describe the month of Elul. For 11 months of the year the king is ensconced in his palace, surrounded by guards, isolated and remote from the common man. In Elul, however, the king goes out to the countryside to greet his constituents, and everyone is permitted to approach him with his personal requests.

In Elul, G-d is close to the Jew, and this proximity is felt by all of us. Even if we lack the spiritual vocabulary to articulate it, we all experience a spiritual arousal at this time of year - an inexplicable urge to change and improve ourselves. Furthermore, G-d grants us special powers during Elul to succeed where we might have failed before. He wants us to do better, and helps us fulfill our resolutions for good.

May we all utilize these days of Elul wisely, and take advantage of the unique opportunity for growth it contains.


Thoughts that Count

Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse (Deut. 11:26)

"Behold" is in the singular tense, addressed to each of us as individuals. Whenever a Jew is faced with a decision and must choose the right path to follow, it doesn't matter what other people are doing. In fact, the majority is usually on the wrong track...

(Gedolei HaMusar)

And if...you are unable to carry it, because the place is too far from you (Deut. 14:24)

If a Jew perceives his Jewishness as a burden, as a heavy yoke he is forced to bear, it is a sure sign that he has strayed "too far" from G-d. A believing Jew who fears G-d does not consider his Judaism an encumbrance.

(Alshich)

The blessing, if (asher) you will hearken unto the commandments... and the curse, if you will not hearken (Deut. 11:27-28)

The Hebrew word the Torah uses in relation to the blessing, "asher," is more correctly translated "when." When you obey My commandments, G-d promises, this is the blessing that you will receive. By contrast, the "if" of "if you will not hearken" implies that the curse need not happen at all. Only the blessing is a sure thing, for we know that in the End of Days, all Jews will return to G-d and observe His mitzvot.

(Panim Yafot)

When you go over the Jordan and dwell in the land...He will give you rest from all your enemies round about, and you will dwell in safety (Deut. 12:10)

If G-d gives the Jews "rest from all their enemies," isn't it obvious that they will "dwell in safety"? The seeming repetition, however, contains valuable advice: If you truly wish to "rest from all your enemies," G-d counsels, you must "dwell in safety" within your own camp - in peace and brotherhood, without inner squabbling and political strife. Declared our Sages: "Were Israel united into one group, no nation or tongue could rule over them."

(G'lilei Zahav)


It Once Happened

In the village of Aziz in Israel there once lived a poor family whose eldest daughter was Rachel. She was a responsible girl with a wonderful character and a sharp mind. She didn't spend her time moping over her poverty. Instead, Rachel devoted herself to helping her family in any way she could.

One day, Rachel mounted a rickety, old ladder to retrieve a pot, which was stored on the flat rooftop. At that moment a rung became dislodged and the girl fell to the ground, striking her mouth on a rock. Her brothers and sisters ran to help, but to their horror, blood was gushing from her mouth. Rachel stood up and ran into the house. Rachel had knocked out her front tooth. From that day on, Rachel's life wasn't the same. Always sensitive, Rachel now suffered terribly from the teasing of the village girls, who giggled every time she opened her mouth to speak. She gradually stopped joining the other girls in their work and games, and she was careful to never laugh or speak in public, lest she become the butt of their thoughtless jokes.

As her despair deepened, her distraught parents racked their brains for a way to make their beloved daughter happier. Despite the fact that they could barely put food on the table, Rachel's parents scraped together enough money to make her a false tooth. They couldn't afford the best dentist, and the false tooth made matters worse instead of better; it didn't fit well, and it was also too dark. Instead of improving her appearance, it made her look even worse. Soon, Rachel resembled a dejected, old woman.

As the months and years passed, all the other girls married. Only Rachel had no suitor, for who would be interested in a sad, withdrawn girl who never smiled. Her parents were heartbroken, but what could they do? A large dowry, which might attract a match, was far out of their reach. Finally they had an idea. Rachel had an uncle, her mother's youngest brother, who lived near Jerusalem. He was as poor as they, but he was a kind, hard working man, who would make a good husband for Rachel. He responded favorably to their message, and agreed to their suggestion. Of course, he remembered Rachel as a sunny little girl, who fluttered around the house like a cheerful butterfly.

His happy anticipation quickly turned to shock when he arrived to find a drab, worn-out looking woman who was presented as his betrothed. "No," he flatly refused. He would not honor his promise. Without further word, he quickly departed from the village.

The family was devastated, and the shocking news traveled through the village and even further. Finally, word of the shameful debacle reached the ears of Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha. Rabbi Yishmael was a saintly man who loved his fellow Jews more than anything else in life. He was especially devoted to the mitzva of dowering poor Jewish brides. He was touched by the girl's tragic situation and he offered to take the girl into his home. "My wife will take good care of her, and before long, the young man will sorely regret having refused her," he told Rachel's parents.

Rachel's parents accepted his offer and she was received like a daughter in the wealthy home of this kind family who spared no effort to make her comfortable. For the first time in her life she ate nourishing meals and was pampered with exotic lotions and fine soaps. It wasn't long before her cheeks glowed and her new found happiness radiated outward. Still, there was the problem of the tooth. Rabbi Yishmael ordered an expert dentist to make her a new tooth, this time of gold. Rachel was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. In those days gold teeth were a mark of beauty and high station. When the tooth was finished Rachel just stood before the mirror and stared in astonishment at the beauty who looked back at her.

The following week Rabbi Yishmael sent for her uncle, saying, "There is a lovely young woman I would like you to meet. I think she would make a fine wife for you. Why don't you come and meet her?"

The young man was very pleased that Rabbi Yishmael had thought of him, and he lost no time in arriving. When he entered the room and saw the attractive woman who sat next to Rabbi Yishmael's wife, an involuntary smile crept across his face, for he recognized his niece at once, but she was completely transformed. How could the person who had seemed so forlorn and undesirable before have changed so completely into a radiant, happy young woman? His thoughts were interrupted by Rabbi Yishmael's voice saying, "Isn't this the same young woman you vowed not to marry?"

The rabbi's comment caught the young man off guard, and he protested, "I made a mistake! In truth I would like to marry her very much!" When she heard his words, Rachel's face lit up with happiness.

As he smiled at her joy, Rabbi Yishmael was assailed by a stab of sorrow. He suddenly envisioned all the other poor Rachels he would never know and couldn't help. In a quiet voice he said to the young man, "I absolve you of the vow which you made by mistake. You may marry Rachel, and I pray that G-d grant you many years filled with happiness and peace." And so it was.


Moshiach Matters

Every adherent of the Law of Moses is obliged to believe in the coming of the Messiah. The Torah expressly commands us to believe the words of the prophet: "Unto him you shall hearken." But the prophets announced the coming of the Messiah, hence it is clear that one who does not believe in the coming of the Messiah denies the words of the prophets and transgresses a mandatory precept.

(Albo, Ikkarim)


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