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L'Chaim
January 29, 1999 - 12 Shevat, 5759

554: Beshalach

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Published and copyright © by Lubavitch Youth Organization - Brooklyn, NY
The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.


  553: Bo555: Yitro  

Global Ecology On The Road To Redemption  |  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

Global Ecology On The Road To Redemption

by Dr. Aryeh Gotfryd

If the science of ecology has demonstrated anything at all, it is this: No act thuds into isolation or oblivion. Everything is interwoven and responsive, with all natural processes intimately linked in a precisely balanced global ecosystem.

Each species, each creature, each organ, each cell, is finely attuned and adapted to its natural environment, and yet each one has its significant role in creating the precise environmental conditions for the next cell, the next organ, the next creature, and the whole biosphere.

The natural balance of ecosystems is so very finely tuned that a small change in just one component, be it the ozone layer, dioxin levels, tropical rain forest acreage, or blue whale survival, can make a tremen-dous impact, directly or indirectly, on seemingly unrelated systems even halfway across the world.

Examples are the environmental catastrophes precipitated by rela-tively tiny human misdeeds, such as oceanic oil spill, Chernobyl, etc.

A more positive phenomenon is the environmental movement, where surprisingly small numbers of activists have managed to galvanize and redirect companies, industrial sectors, and even whole societies to recycle, conserve natural resources, and reduce waste and pollution.

In just a few decades, the environmental movement has become a grassroots movement, and politicians worldwide are greening up. In the last few years we have seen nu-merous commissions, where in each case close to 100 national leaders achieved consensus on major global environmental problems and what needs to be done to remedy them.

All of this has been accomplished on one single, simple premise. Each and every small private activity is essential to restoring the world's natural environments to a healthy state.

The concept of "Think global, act local" neither begins nor ends with the environmental movement. It has been in the Torah for thousands of years.

Over 800 years ago, Maimonides wrote in his Mishne Torah:

"Therefore every person should continuously regard himself as though he were equally balanced between merit and guilt. So, too, the entire world is half deserving and half guilty. If he makes one wrong move, he tips the scale for himself and for the entire world to the side of guilt and causes destruction for himself. When he obeys one Commandment, he weighs himself and the entire world to the side of merit, thereby saving himself and the world from harm."

In previous generations, no one could really see or understand how this vast world could respond to the small local deeds of a single person.

It is only in our generation that this principle has become a practical reality in our lives. Earth has become one global village where the part can instantly affect the whole, not only through global ecology, but also through global communication, global economics and global politics.

The bottom line in both natural science and Torah life is that in all human deeds, speech, and even thought, one is free to choose among alternative paths leading to personal failure and ecological disaster (G-d forbid), or personal success and global well-being.

Dr. Gotfryd lectures on Faith and Science at the University of Toronto


Living with the Rebbe

The Torah portion of Beshalach contains the verse "And Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea." Notes Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, "He brought them against their will." Moses had to actually force the Children of Israel to leave the shores of the Red Sea and continue their journey on to Mount Sinai.

The Jewish people did not want to leave because they were busy collecting the gold and silver that had washed up on shore. The Egyptians had adorned their horses with silver and gold ornaments and precious gems. When they drowned, these ornaments were found by the Jews and gathered up.

The Jews were totally engrossed in collecting their spoils and did not want to move on. Even when Moses told them to go they refused to listen. In the end, Moses had to force them to depart.

The behavior of the Jewish people seems surprising and difficult to understand. When the Jews left Egypt, they were already in possession of great wealth. The Talmud relates that each and every Jew departed with 90 donkeys laden with gold and silver!

How is it possible that after experiencing the Divine revelation and miracles at the Sea they could have been interested in anything as mundane as gold and silver? But most importantly, the Jewish people knew that the sole purpose of their exodus from Egypt was the giving of Torah. How could they have been willing to delay it for the sake of personal gain?

To explain:

The Jews' behavior was not motivated by a desire for wealth, but by a burning desire to fulfill G-d's command.

Before leaving Egypt the Jewish people had been commanded to deplete the riches of Egypt, as it states, "And each man shall ask of his neighbor...vessels of silver and vessels of gold...and you shall plunder Egypt." G-d had commanded them to empty Egypt of its wealth. The Jews obeyed G-d and took with them vast quantities of silver and gold.

After the splitting of the Red Sea, however, they saw that there was still much to be obtained. They realized that they had not completely "emptied" Egypt. So eager were they to fulfill G-d's command to perfection that they began to collect the silver and gold that washed up on shore, without regard for anything else.

It was precisely because they had witnessed the revelation of G-d at the splitting of the Red Sea that the Jews wished to fulfill G-d's will in a perfect manner. Their desire to do so was so great that Moses had to force them to stop. The Jewish people didn't want the Egyptians' gold and silver for themselves; their sole intent was to fulfill G-d's command to the best of their ability.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 21


A Slice of Life

ROCKET FUEL FOR THE SOUL

Devorah Leah Elgarten

by Yehudis Cohen

"My signature, so to speak," begins Devorah Leah Elgarten, "is an analogy I heard from Rabbi Meir Chai Benhiyoun of Chabad of Lincoln Park, Chicago. Our souls, he would say, are like rocketships. They can propel us into orbit, help us explore the moon, even reach Mars. But we have to put rocket fuel into the fuel tank, not potatoes, in order to get off the ground. Monetary achievements, degrees, recognition, are potatoes. When a soul gets involved with Torah and mitzvot, the tank finally gets filled with rocket fuel and it takes off."

Devorah Leah Elgarten's initial introduction to "rocket fuel" came from a teacher in the afternoon Hebrew School she attended while growing up in Northbrook, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, who taught them about the beauty and importance of mitzvot. An especially memorable event was when she went to the teacher's house for Shabbat. "I was intrigued. Everything was special for Shabbat-a white tablecloth, china dishes, the lights taped so that no one would accidentally turn them off, even the toilet paper was cut in advance."

Devorah Leah, known then by friends and family as Debbie, remembers that every time the teacher taught them about another mitzva, she was eager to do it. "When she told us about building a suka, I convinced my parents to build one in our backyard. Before Passover she told us about searching for chametz and burning it on Passover Eve, and I made sure we did that as well."

But her enthusiasm for Judaism dwindled soon after Devorah Leah's Bat Mitzva. "When I became a teenager, I decided I had better things to do on Friday nights than light candles and try to observe Shabbat. The excitement and inspiration dwindled away, especially since I had 'graduated' from Hebrew School. I think that my parents were also a little relieved that I wasn't pushing them to do everything I was learning about."

During her college years, Devorah Leah turned her talents in acting, singing and writing music into her career choice. She received her undergraduate degree in liberal studies from the University of Iowa and obtained a Masters of Fine Arts in Acting from DePaul Theatre School in Chicago. "During college I was acting and I was also writing country music. My dream was to go to Nashville and sell my songs like 'Crying on the Shoulder of the Road' to Nashville artists until I was famous enough to sing them myself."

After finishing her degrees Devorah Leah began an earnest search for a job and for rocket fuel as well. "I was looking in a lot of different directions, including Eastern religions. I was teaching in a Jewish preschool and I had also started singing with a band whose members, I soon found out, were all Scientologists. Around that time, the mother of one of the preschoolers invited me to go with her to an art exhibition at the Chabad House. I didn't even know what Chabad was, but I went."

Devorah Leah enjoyed the art and the ambiance, and when she was invited to come back for a weekly class about the Torah portion given by Rivkah Benhiyoun she figured, Why not? "I thought she was going to retell us all the Bible stories I already knew about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But she based her classes on the Rebbe's teachings. And far from the classes being about ancient Jewish happenings, it always ended up that what Rivkah spoke about was exactly what was going on in my life that week! I was hooked!"

Despite being "hooked," Devorah Leah drifted in and out of the Chabad House as she flitted from job to job. "I was very scattered. I had been teaching in preschool, then I got a job doing singing telegram deliveries. I also started dabbling in the food service industry and considered going back to school and getting a degree in hotel/motel management-I was all over the map. When I got into the karaoke business, I saw it as a way to use my singing and acting abilities."

Devorah Leah literally became the life of the party when she invested in a karaoke, an audio-visual machine that simultaneously plays the background music and illuminates the words of popular songs. Partygoers sing solo or in groups and it's a fun form of entertainment.

Devorah Leah signed lucrative contracts with two disk jockeys to emcee at parties and operate her karaoke. And then, the road beckoned to her. But, instead of taking Highway 90 south to Nashville as she had considered in her college years, she took it north to Minnesota, and Bais Chana Women's Institute for Jewish Studies. "I studied there for a few weeks and a lot of mini-miracles happened that made me realize that I should begin keeping Shabbat."

Upon returning to Chicago, Devorah Leah decided to break her contracts with the disk jockeys, as most parties were on Shabbat. There were some tense negotiations, but she eventually parted amicably with both companies.

The Benhiyouns encouraged Devorah Leah to relocate to Brooklyn and pursue full-time Torah studies at Machon Chana Women's Institute. "They pointed out that there was nothing tying me to Chicago. They also suggested that I would meet my bashert (soul-mate) in Crown Heights."

Devorah Leah became engaged eight months later to Rashi Elgarten, a rabbinical student who is now an administrator at Yeshiva Tiferes Menachem in Sea Gate, Brooklyn. "My parents were ecstatic when I got engaged as I was already pushing 30. Although our lifestyle isn't exactly what they had hoped for me-no house in the suburbs and Rashi's not a doctor or lawyer, when they realized that this is not just another phase and that I had become settled and happy, they were very thankful. And, of course, since the births of their three stunning grandchildren, they've been totally won over."

Today, Devorah Leah is the director of special programs for Machon Chana, helping other women find the rocket fuel that will fill up their tanks and help their souls soar.


What's New

CROWN JEWELS

The mystical secrets of the Torah have been described as G-d's crown jewels, gems of His wisdom whose light lifts us above worldly existence. The essays in this collection, entitled, Crown Jewels, present several of these jewels, showing how the Rebbe projected radical insights into fundamental Jewish ideas, giving us a comprehensive appreciation of our spiritual potential and purpose. Published by Sichos in English.


The Rebbe Writes

17th of Shevat, 5723 [1963]

To All Participants in the Reunion of Camp Gan Israel

I trust you know that a few days ago (on the 10th of Shevat) we observed the Yahrzeit of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, my father-in-law of saintly memory.

Camp Gan Israel, which you enjoyed so much during the summer, and which you are now gathered to honor, is one of the important activities of the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, which the late Lubav-itcher Rebbe has created for your benefit.

In this connection, I wish to tell you a story which my father-in-law related. Some of you may have already heard it, but it is worth repeating, for its lesson can never become "out of date."

The story is as follows: The first Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the "Old Rebbe" [Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi] (and about three weeks ago, on the 24th of Teveth, we observed the 150th year since he passed away) had a son Rabbi Dov Ber, who later succeeded his father as the second, or "Mitteler," Rebbe. Rabbi Dov Ber was known for his unusual power of concentration. When he was engaged in study or prayer, he did not hear or see a thing around him.

Once, when Rabbi Dov Ber was engaged in study, his baby sleeping in a nearby cot fell out of its cradle and began to cry. Rabbi Dov Ber did not hear the baby's cries and continued learning. But the infant's grandfather, the Old Rebbe, who was in his room on an upper floor and was also learning at that time, did hear the baby's cries. He interrupted his studies, went downstairs, picked up the infant, soothed it and put it back in its cradle. Still, the infant's father did not hear or see what went on around him. Later on, the Old Rebbe told his son: "No matter how important the thing is in which a Jew is engaged, one must always hear the cry of a child."

This story was told not only to par-ents, teachers and grown-ups who have to take care of children, but also to the children themselves, because this story has an important lesson for children also.

You see, everyone has a Yetzer Tov [Good Inclination]- which puts good ideas into the head and a Yetzer Hora [Evil Inclination]- which tries to put bad ideas into the head. The Yetzer Hora is the "older" one, for it comes early in the life of every boy and girl to tempt them to do things they shouldn't. The Yetzer Tov is the "baby."

It sometimes happens that just when a boy or girl has to do something really important, such as to study, do homework, and the like, he suddenly gets an idea to do something else instead, which may also be good in its proper time, but not now. For example, when it is time to do homework, the boy or girl wants to put his room in order, or run an errand. Worse still, when the Yetzer Hora tempts them to do something they shouldn't at any time. When this happens, the Yetzer Tov "baby" feels pushed out of its cradle, unhappy, and begins to cry.

The story I told you is to remind you to hear the cry of the "baby," the Yetzer Tov, and keep it happy by doing the right thing at the right time, and not doing the wrong thing at any time....

15 Shevat-New Year for Trees, 5738 [1978]

I was delighted to receive your letter of Jan. 17 with the good news about your embarking on far-reaching Mitzvah campaigns in a personal way....

Particularly gratifying is the news of your project to foster our new Yeshiva, Or Elchonon Chabad. I am confident that the project will be fully implemented and be of substantial help to the Yeshiva, to grow and expand by absorbing ever more students, until the present facilities will be "bursting at the seams." In the spirit of this auspicious day - the New Year For Trees - each additional student at the Yeshiva means the planting of a new fruit-bearing tree whose fruits contain the seeds for reproducing trees and fruits after its kind - as more fully discussed in the enclosed copy of my message.

Coming also from Yud Shevat - the Yahrzeit of my father-in-law of saintly memory, we are reminded once again - by his lifelong experience and teachings - that when a Jew firmly resolves to do something good for Jews and Yiddishkeit, however ambitious it may seem at the moment, G-d helps him to carry it out in the fullest measure, beyond expectation. For the good resolution itself opens new channels to receive additional Divine blessings and powers....


Rambam this week

In memory of Yosef Yitzchak ben Shlomo Shneur Zalman (yblc"t)

12 Shevat 5759

Positive mitzva 246: the law of litigants

This injunction embraces the whole range of Talmudic jurisprudance. It is contained in the words (Ex. 22:8) "For every matter of trespass... whereof one says, This is it [the cause of both parties shall come before G-d]." The Oral law describes in detail the procedures which must be followed in all matters of litigation.


A Word from the Director

This Monday, Tu B'Shevat, is the "Rosh Hashana" (New Year) of trees. The Torah states, "For man is like a tree of the field." There are many ways in which a human being is similar to a tree:

A tree is made up of three main parts: roots, trunk, and fruit.

The roots are hidden deep within the earth, but it is from them that the tree draws its vitality. If the roots are sufficiently secure, even the strongest winds cannot topple it.

Our "roots" are our faith in G-d, which connect us to our Creator and provide us with our vitality. And just like a sapling that needs well-developed roots in order to grow, a human being requires a deep and firmly rooted faith as a prerequisite to increasing in wisdom.

The tree's beauty lies in its trunk, its branches and leaves. The tree's body is constantly growing. Its branches enlarge, diverging to form new ones, and its trunk grows thicker from year to year.

The tree's body is symbolic of Torah and mitzvot, the observance of which should be as plentiful and abundant as the branches of a tree. Like tree branches, some mitzvot "branch out" and contain other mitzvot. Unlike faith, which cannot be perceived by others, a person's mitzvot are visible.

However, the tree reaches its perfection only when it produces fruit, the highest degree of which occurs when its seeds germinate and grow into new trees. In truth, the entire purpose of the tree is its self-propagation.

In the same way, for a person to achieve perfection, it isn't enough for him to be engaged in Torah and mitzvot. His influence must extend to the people around him, so that they too may blossom into "trees" with their own roots (faith), trunk and branches (Torah and good deeds), and fruits, exerting a positive influence on everyone with whom they come into contact.


Thoughts that Count

And Pharaoh drew closer (hikriv)...and the Children of Israel cried out (Ex. 14:10)

The Hebrew word hikriv is a transitive verb, implying that Pharaoh caused others to draw near rather than himself. The Midrash relates that this is because when Pharaoh pursued the fleeing Jews, it caused them to become closer to G-d. In fact, the entire exile in Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea was only in preparation for the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai - the ultimate expression of closeness and attachment. (Sefer HaMaamarim Shin-Tav)

I will sing unto the L-rd, for He is most exalted (ga'o ga'a) (Ex. 15:1)

The word for exalted is repeated, indicating a double measure of pride and nobility. The ancient Egyptians were a proud people, as it states (Isaiah 30:7): "Thus I have called...Egypt...they are boastfulness." Similarly, the horse is an arrogant creature, as the Talmud relates (Pesachim 113): "Six things are said about the horse: it loves war...and its spirit is haughty." An Egyptian riding upon a horse was arrogance upon arrogance; thus "the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea." (Chidushei Agadot Maharsha)

And Pharaoh will say...they are confused in the land, the wilderness has shut them in (Ex. 14:3)

Chasidism emphasizes the importance of prayer with the proper intentions, a state of mind attained by freeing oneself from the fetters of worldly existence and immersing oneself in the holy words of the prayer book. When a person "gets stuck" on the physical plane ("they are confused in the land"), he is likely to find himself "shut in the wilderness" - that the gates of heaven are closed to his prayers. (In Hebrew, the letters of the word for wilderness, midbar, are the same as the word for speaker, medaber, i.e., the gates of prayer are shut to a person who is distracted by his corporeality.) (Tiferet Shlomo)


It Once Happened

Many years ago in the land of Israel, there lived a man named Reb Nisim. He and his family lived in a small stone house, very much like all the other houses in his village, with one exception. Next to his house there grew the most beautiful tree, which produced a crop of luscious, juicy pomegranates. People traveled from far and wide to purchase these special "Nisim" fruit. In fact, they were so much in demand that the family was able to live all year on the profits they made from selling these pomegranates.

Every summer the tree was heavy with the beautiful, red fruits. But one summer not even one pomegranate could be seen. Reb Nisim called his eldest son and told him, "Climb up to the top of the tree; perhaps there are some fruits there which we can't see from here." The boy climbed carefully to the top, and indeed, hidden from view were three precious fruits - the most beautiful they had ever seen.

When Shabbat came, Reb Nisim put two of the pomegranates on the table for a special Shabbat treat. The third, he put away to eat on the holiday of Tu B'Shevat, the New Year of the Trees.

That was a difficult year for the family, since they had always depended on the tree for their livelihood. Finally Reb Nisim's wife suggested that he travel outside the Holy Land to earn or raise some money. He was very reluctant to leave. He had lived his entire life surrounded by the holiness of the Land of Israel, and he didn't want to "shame" the land by admitting that he could not make a livelihood there. He tried in various ways to earn some money, but every effort met with failure, and it seemed that he had no choice but to do as his wife had suggested. "All right," he said. "I will go, but I will never reveal to any soul that I come from the Holy Land."

For many months he traveled from city to city, but each place had its own poor to support, and he had no luck. Since it is a great mitzva to support the poor of the Land of Israel, he would have received alms had he identified himself, but this he refused to do.

It was Tu B'Shevat when Reb Nisim arrived in the city of Koshta, Turkey. When he came to the local synagogue, a shocking sight met his eyes. All the Jews of the city were gathered there, weeping, mourning and reciting Psalms. "What has happened?" asked Reb Nisim, in alarm.

The sexton of the synagogue explained, "The son of the Sultan is very ill. He knows that Jews are accomplished doctors, and he has decreed that every Jew will be expelled from his realm unless we produce a doctor or a cure for his son. So far, we have failed." As Reb Nisim was absorbing this terrible news, the rabbi's assistant asked Reb Nisim to accompany him to the rabbi, saying, "Our rabbi says he is very happy to have a guest from the Holy Land."

Reb Nisim went as requested, but he was puzzled. How did the rabbi know? He had been so careful to tell no one where he was from. He decided to ask the rabbi directly.

"There is a special fragrance about you. I feel it is the holiness of the land which adheres to you," the rabbi replied.

"What you are smelling must be the fragrance of the pomegranate I have brought with me," Reb Nisim explained. "I carried it with me especially for Tu B'Shevat, and since that is today, I beg you to partake of it with me."

The rabbi was overjoyed. "Please, tell me your name," he asked.

"My name is Reb Nisim." When the rabbi heard that he smiled broadly. "This surely is a sign of Divine Providence. In honor of Tu B'Shevat, I have been studying about the different types of fruits which are described in the holy books." The rabbi described what he had learned. Then he said, "The acronym of the word rimonim (pomegranates) is 'refua melech u'bno nisim yaviya meheira.'-the recovery for the king and his son, Nisim will bring quickly. Let us bring some of your pomegranate juice to the king's son at once. Perhaps, in the merit of the fruits of the Holy Land, G-d will bring us success."

The two men were admitted to the room of sick prince, who was lying close to death. They approached the bed and administered a few drops of juice into the unconscious boy's mouth. Suddenly color rose into his his pallid complexion. They gave him a few more drops, and there was a weak but unmistakable flicker of the prince's eyelids.

The Sultan grasped the hand of his beloved child, and tears of joy welled in his eyes. He turned to the two Jews and said, "I will never forget what you have done for my son."

The next day Reb Nisim and the rabbi were summoned to the palace. The prince was sitting up in bed, a happy smile on his tired face. The Sultan's servants brought in large velvet bags bulging with gold coins and jewels. "Reb Nisim, this is just a small token of my gratitude to you for having saved my son. As for the Jews in my realm, they may stay and live in peace."

Reb Nisim returned home laden with riches. The next summer, the wondrous pomegranate tree produced as many beautiful fruits as ever, and its fame spread, as the story of the prince was told and retold in villages and towns throughout the Holy Land.


Moshiach Matters

Rabbi Abba said "There is no greater manifestation of the final redemption than this. As it is said: 'And you, mountains of Israel, you shall give forth your branches, and you shall bear your fruit for My people Israel, because they have come near' (Ezekiel 36). When the Land of Israel will give forth its fruit bountifully, then the Redemption will draw near, and there is no greater manifestation of the Redemption than this."


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