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L'Chaim
May 7, 1999 - 21 Iyyar, 5759

567: Behar-Bechukotai

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


  566: Emor568: Bamidbar  

Being Right  |  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

Being Right

by David Suissa

It's a drug. It's intoxicating. It tastes better than wine. It's so seductive it makes smart people go nuts, desperate for another fix. It's today's drug of choice.

It's the drug of being right.

Such simple words-"I'm right and you're wrong"-and we're off to the races. Hide the children. "I'm right and you're wrong," and boom-just like that-I'll break my own rules. I'll hit you where it hurts most, I'll break your heart.

Religious vs. secular, left vs. right, businessman vs. poet, politician vs. politician, spouse vs. spouse, parents vs. kids, driver vs. driver, it doesn't matter whom, it doesn't matter where: being right seems to give people a severe case of amnesia. Suddenly, when they're right, Torah scholars forget the Torah. Noble people can make ignoble statements. Sweet people can say bitter words. Humility? Gone. Dignity? Gone. Ahavat Yisrael (love of your fellow Jew)? Gone. All in the name of being right.

When one is wrong, humility comes cheap. It's no big deal to be humble when the judge is about to nail you in traffic court. But how about when your spouse or friend is an hour late with no good excuse? Or when we feel so terribly right about an issue because we have the law, the facts, the Torah, history, science or whatever, squarely on our side?

Can we then resist the irresistible? The rush to anger, the urge to throw stones, the love to dominate?

Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the Alter Rebbe, told his son, Rabbi Dov Ber: "Zaide (the Baal Shem Tov) said that we must exercise self-sacrifice for Ahavat Yisrael, even for a Jew whom one has never seen."

Not letting "being right" trap us into hostility would seem like a delicious self-sacrifice. "I'm right and you're wrong, but I'll still treat you with humility." How courageous. How powerful!

But it don't come easy: there's no 12-step program for Self-Righteous Anonymous. It's more a matter of reprogramming our mindsets to always remember the Big Picture. When all else fails, when issues tear people apart, humility is the great disarming agent, the Divine force that can save the day.

Can you imagine what would happen if humility and intellect were the new weapons of choice in trying to influence the "other side" to one's view? If we learned to disagree without being disagreeable? If we could all remember that the most "right" Jew of all-Moses-was also the most humble?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught us to dream big, to act big and to boldly promote what we believe is right-but to do it all with goodness and kindness. He taught us that acting right is the essence of being right.

Mr. Suissa is the founder and editor of Farbrengen Magazine, a publication of Chabad of California, where this article first appeared.


Living with the Rebbe

Behar, the first of this week's two Torah portions, contains the laws of Shemita (the Sabbatical year), the commandment to allow the land to lie fallow every seventh year. Our Sages taught that the mitzva of Shemita strengthens a Jew's faith in G-d. For six years the Jew earns his bread by working the soil; in the Shemita year he must trust in G-d alone.

The mitzva of Shemita drives home the idea that G-d sustains the world without intermediaries. When the Jew returns to his agricultural pursuits after the Shemita year, it is with the renewed recognition that G-d is the source of all blessing.

The Talmud relates that the Jew is characterized by the fact that "He believes in G-d, yet he sows." The Jew plants seeds in the ground not because he trusts in nature, but because he has faith that G-d will send him his livelihood if he does so.

This faith in G-d exists on two levels. On the lower level, the Jew trusts that G-d will continue to cause the laws of nature (which He set in place) to operate. He recognizes that all blessing comes from G-d, yet the laws of nature still have to be taken into consideration.

A higher level of faith is when a Jew "bypasses" the laws of nature, and perceives that G-d perpetually creates the world from nothingness each and every moment. Natural phenomena exist, but only because G-d desires that these phenomena exist this very minute. On this level the Jew sows the ground only because G-d has commanded him to, as a means of providing a channel for His blessing.

There is, however, a level of faith that is superior to even this, and that is the level of the Shemita year. During the six years the Jew works, regardless of how much he senses that G-d is the source of all blessing, working within nature contributes to the illusion that "natural forces" somehow play a role in the results. The Jew may correctly perceive his direct relationship with G-d, but externally it still appears as if his bread is derived through a "natural" process.

It is precisely in the Shemita year, when the Jew is freed from the responsibility of working and can devote himself to studying Torah without interruption, that the full magnitude of his faith in G-d is revealed. This faith is so pure that it transcends the limitations of the human mind. Indeed, this level of faith is required of all Jews, and will be attained by all on "the day that is entirely Shabbat" - in the Messianic era, with the Full and Complete Redemption.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 32


A Slice of Life

THAT LAST TALK

by Steven Edell

When my mother became ill nearly twenty years ago, we knew that it meant many hospital visits and treatments, and that she might not be with us a lot longer. Being in Israel, with my parents near San Francisco, meant making arrangements for a quick trip to the United States.

"Don't worry," Mom said, with a heavy bandage from the treatments across her neck and part of her right shoulder, "I'm strong and will beat this."

"Don't worry," said the doctors, "She has a good chance to live many more years." I worried a little less. But then when my mother told me that when the ultimate happens she wants to be cremated, alarm bells went off in my head.

Jewish law does not permit cremation. Your body and soul are on loan to you, Jewish teachings explain, and when you move on, you return them to your Creator. And at some time in the future (may it be speedily in our days) Moshiach, the Messiah, will come and G-d will resurrect all the souls of all time, to live on a peaceful earth forever. This is a basic tenant of Judaism. Part of Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Faith.

Being the only religious member of my family didn't help the situation.

I approached my mother to try in a simple way to explain the importance of having a proper Jewish burial, but she would have none of it. "Besides," she said very philosophically, "it is not my time yet. I will know when it is my time, and I will talk with you then."

Years passed - fifteen to be exact. And true to the doctors' and my mother's words, she bounced back from each and every illness she had. Unfortunately there were quite a few, and each time she would get ill I would worry, make preparations, and be comforted when told that the treatments worked.

But each treatment weakened her such that it was harder and harder for her to take the next one, and in late fall 1994 my sister called me with the terrifying news: Mom is again sick and she's too weak to get any more treatments. This time, the illness will be fatal.

While I made arrangements to visit as soon as possible, I started asking people, "How do I handle my mother's wish to be cremated?" Being a computer professional I asked a lot of my questions on the internet as well.

Mail-Jewish is an Orthodox internet discussion forum, and when I raised the question there I got all sorts of responses. I thought about them all, only knowing that no matter what would happen I wanted to visit and have that last conversation promised to me by my mother so many years earlier.

There were two other internet sources that I turned to, one was a large yeshiva here in Jerusalem that has a "question-answer" setup. I asked a lot of questions and got from them a tremendous wealth of understanding from a Jewish perspective of what is considered "cremation."

The other source of information was "Lubavitch in Cyperspace," or Rabbi Y. Y. Kazen, of blessed memory. I remember sending a "help" command to the "listserv" and getting back a personal message: "Hi. I'm the listserv, and help, and sysop. Basically, I do everything. What did you want? -YYK."

Soon I was explaining my difficulty to him and asking for suggestions. After quite a few emails back and forth, with YYK's help and guidance, I knew what I wanted to do. First, I needed to go and visit Mom. I would not upset or trouble any of my relatives with this, nor try to convince them to accept Torah's stance. And of course I would have my talk and show my mother Torah's viewpoints on death and dying and cremation. And I would pray. A lot and hard.

In February 1995 I visited Mom for ten days. Her brothers, her brothers' children, and my sister all came visiting during the weekdays. On Shabbat, Mom and I were alone. Friday night I prepared a traditional Shabbat as best as I could with her, with lighting candles, singing the prayers to welcome Shabbat, saying kiddush over wine and Hamotzei over the bread, having a good meal, singing Shabbat songs and saying the Birkat Hamazon after finishing to eat. Before each part I explained to Mom what each meant, what was the importance of each piece. "It's been a very long time since those things were done in my house," she said, looking on somewhat intrigued by the experience.

After Birkat Hamazon we sat down and talked. Usually Mom went to bed around 7p.m. but that night we stayed up talking until after 11. And all she said afterwards was that she'd think about it.

The next evening, Saturday night, my sister and brother came over and we all called Mom's brother, the executor of her affairs. I still remember how shocked we all were when she said to him, near the end of the conversation, "Oh, and one more thing: change my will so it says that I will have a normal burial, and not to be cremated."

My mother, may G-d remember her soul with kindness and mercy, passed away six weeks later, a little over a week before Passover 1995, 6 Nisan 5755. She was buried as per her request, in accordance with Jewish law, with all of her family present saying the Mourner's Kaddish by her grave.

May we all merit the coming of Moshiah, speedily in our days.


What's New

THE BEST CALL OF ALL

The Best Call of All, written in rhyme and colorfully illustrated, brings to life the idea that has inspired the Jewish people for centuries-the coming of Moshiach and the imminent Redemption. Written by Leiba Rudolph, illustrated by Pesach Gerber and published by Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch.

Feeding Among the Lilies

Through an eclectic mix of essays, articles and poetry, Feeding Among the Lilies uncovers relevance in the mundane and the mystical. This collection of selected readings from Wellsprings, a journal of Jewish thought, offers a survey of some of the journal's best writing over the years. Edited by Baila Olidort, published by Lubavitch Youth Organization.


The Rebbe Writes

Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 5734 [1974]

Chaplain -

Elmendorf Air Force Base

Alaska

Due to a very crowded schedule, this is my first opportunity of congratulating you on your extraordinary Zechus [privilege] of initiating the project of the first Mikveh in Anchorage for the Alaskan Jewish community, which you accomplished, with G-d's help, as I am informed by our mutual friends, the Rabbonim [distinguished rabbis] who flew in to participate in this great event.

As for the importance of this matter, I need hardly emphasize it to you, since your own initiative is best proof of being fully aware of it.

However, on the basis of the dictum of our Sages, "Encourage the energetic," I wish to express my confident hope that you are doing all you can to make the Mikveh a busy place, frequented regularly not only by the women who directly benefit from your good influence but also by their friends and acquaintances who will be induced by them to follow their example. And while this kind of religious inspiration is a "must" wherever Jews live, it is even more so in the City and State where the Mikveh has just been established for the first time. It is well to bear in mind that a "Jewish heart is always awake" and responsive to Torah and Mitzvos.

It is significant in this case that the one who merited the great Zechus of establishing the Mikveh is a person in military service. For, military service, by definition and practice, very aptly illustrates the basic principle of commitment to Torah and Mitzvos, namely, na'ase ("we will do," and then) v'nishma ("we will understand").

Moreover, the soldier's duty to carry out the orders of a commanding officer and carry them out promptly and to the best of his ability, is in no way inhibited by the fact that in civilian life the soldier may be vastly superior to his commanding officer in many respects. Nor does such a circumstance diminish in the least the soldier's self-esteem in obeying the order. On the contrary, by not allowing any personal views to interfere with his military duties, he demonstrates his strength of character and integrity.

The same is true in the area of Torah and Mitzvos. One may be a very rich man - in the ordinary sense, or rich in knowledge of the sciences, or in other achievements in public life. Yet, when it comes to Halachah, the Law of Torah conduct, he accepts it with complete obedience and dedication, on the authority of a fellow-Jew who had consecrated all his life to Torah study and Torah living and is eminently qualified to transmit the "Word of G-d-the Halachah."

A further point which characterizes military discipline also has a bearing on the subject of Torah and Mitzvos. In the military, no soldier can claim that his conduct is his personal affair; nor can he take the attitude that there are many other soldiers to carry out military assign-ments, but he will do as he pleases. For it has often been demonstrated in military history how one action of a single soldier could have farreaching consequences for an entire army and country.

Every Jew is a soldier in the "Army of G-d," as is often emphasized in this week's Sidra [Torah portion]-kol yotzei tzovo, "everyone going forth as a soldier." And he is bound by the same two basic rules: To carry out G-d's commandments promptly and fully, without question (na'ase before v'nishma), and to recognize his responsibility to his people ("All Jews are responsible for one another"), hence the consequences of one good deed. To quote the Rambam: "Every person should always consider himself and the whole world as equi-balanced. Hence, when he does one Mitzvah, he tips the scale in favor of himself and of the whole world" (see it at length in Hil[chos] Teshuvah 3, hal[achah] 4).

May you go from strength to strength in all that has been said above, in all aspects of Yiddishkeit, which includes also influence to promote among non-Jews the observance of the basic Seven Mitzvos, with all their numerous ramifications, which are incumbent upon all man-kind and the foundation of human society.

At this time before Shovuos, I wish you and all our brethren at the Base as well as the community, a happy and inspiring Festival of Receiving Our Torah, with the traditional Chasidic blessing- to receive the Torah with joy and inwardness.

With esteem and blessing,


Rambam this week

In memory of Yosef Yitzchak ben Shlomo Shneur Zalman, yblc't

24 Iyar 5759

Positive mitzva 59: blowing the trumpets in the Sanctuary

By this injunction we are commanded to sound trumpets in the Sanctuary when offering any of the Festival sacrifices. It is contained in the words (Num. 10:10): "Also in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed seasons, and in your new moons, you shall blow with the trumpets." We are also commanded to blow trumpets in times of trouble, as it states (Num. 10:9): "When you go to war in your land [against the adversary that oppresses you, then shall you sound an alarm with the trumpets]."


A Word from the Director

Continuing the practice of studying Ethics of the Fathers on Shabbat afternoons, this week we focus on Chapter Five:

"There were ten generations from Adam to Noah," we learn in the second Mishna, "to indicate how great is His patience; for all those generations repeatedly angered Him, until He brought upon them the waters of the Flood. There were ten generations from Noah to Abraham, to indicate how great is His patience, for all those generations repeatedly angered Him, until Abraham our father came and received the reward of them all."

The first ten generations were different from the second ten in how they "repeatedly angered Him." There are two types of evil in the world: evil so completely bad that the only way to overcome it is through total destruction, and evil that can be transformed into good, because it contains a spark of goodness.

We see this reflected in the wars that the Jewish people waged against their enemies in ancient times. They were permitted to derive benefit from some spoils of war, but other items had to be destroyed outright. In one instance it was a positive mitzva to transform into something holy an object that had belonged to the realm of unholiness, yet in the other it was a positive mitzva to obliterate it.

The evil perpetrated by the first ten generations was absolute. For this reason, G-d erased them from the earth with the Flood.

The evil of the next ten generations, however, was of the kind that can be elevated into good. Abraham was able to correct the failings of the previous ten generations, and thus merited the reward of all of them.

Goodness lasts forever, but evil has no true existence. Every good deed we do is added to the previous ones, accumulating from generation to generation. We therefore have the greatest merit of any generation since the world was created, and will thus merit to see this mighty storehouse of good speedily revealed with the coming of Moshiach.


Thoughts that Count

And the L-rd spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai (Lev. 25:1)

Rashi's famous question, "What is the connection between Shemita [the Sabbatical year] and Mount Sinai?" can be interpreted as follows: The "Sinai desert" alludes to the "desert of the nations," the period of exile, whereas the Sabbatical year symbolizes the Days of Moshiach. The Torah juxtaposes these two concepts to teach us that we must contemplate the imminent Redemption now, during the last moments of exile, in order to derive a "foretaste" of the Messianic era. For human nature is such that a person rejoices even before a happy event, just knowing that it is about to take place. (Likutei Sichot)

Then will I command My blessing to you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth a harvest for three years (Lev. 25:21)

"To you" - and not to others; "in your land" - and not in other lands, so that the astounding blessing of the sixth year not be misinterpreted as "accidental." The promise of a three-fold crop in the sixth year applies only to those who observe the laws of Shemita. (Ma'ayanot HaNetzach)

And if your brother becomes poor, and his means fail with you, then shall you uphold him (Lev. 25:35)

The Jewish people is likened to a single body, with all the corresponding physical components and organs: head, heart, etc. Just as when there is pain in one limb the entire body suffers, so too should every Jew experience the pain of his fellow, and take steps to alleviate it.

If you see someone floundering in the mud, the only way to help him is to jump down and pull him up. To help a fellow Jew, we must be willing to sink down into the mud up till our neck. (Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin)


It Once Happened

The Chasid stood in his inn pouring drinks and dishing out fare to his customers. Today Ivan and Grisha had gotten into a fist fight once again, and he had thrown them out the door, telling them to take their business elsewhere. Stasha had refused to pay up his bill which had mounted to a whopping five rubles. The noise, the swearing and constant drunken arguments were more than the Chasid could stand. Some days he could hardly force himself to open the tavern door to patrons. "Malka," he would tell his wife, "I just have to find some other livelihood, I can't stand it any longer." But, in truth, what else could he, a man with six growing children, find to do in the village?

"Every day and every night," the tavern keeper thought, "my whole week is spent in the company of these coarse peasants, whose hours are spent guzzling vodka, then sinking into drunken stupors or engaging in senseless, vulgar brawls. How can I help but decline in my service to G-d when I spend all my days in such a place?" Then he would once again weigh his options and fall into despair.

Finally, he decided that he would pay a visit to Rabbi Aryeh Leib, the Shpoler Zeide. The tzadik would certainly have some words of advice for him and help him to extricate himself from his terrible situation. Arriving at the home of the tzadik, he was admitted into his study and soon launched into an explanation of his problem. The Chasid explained that he stood in a tavern all day, dispensing drinks to all manner of low folks, and he was concerned that he might fall into their ways, simply by virtue of the constant contact. On the other hand, he had a family, many obligations to his children, his wife, his elderly parents; he felt trapped. There must be a way out for him...

The rabbi listened quietly to his complaints, allowing the poor, distraught man to vent his feelings. Then the tzadik said with an understanding smile, "From what you have told me, I understand you'd prefer to fulfill your obligations to your Creator in a different way. Perhaps, by being awarded a bag full of gold coins, living in an elaborate palace, filled with holy books, being clothed in the finest silken garb, with a fur hat atop your head it would be easier to be a good Jew! Were all of those conditions to be met, you'd surely be able to learn Torah and perform mitzvot with a clear mind, with a complete heart, without being burdened with every care in the world. Well, my dear friend, you have it completely wrong. No, that's not how it is at all. That's not the Divine plan. G-d wants that you, burdened with all the problems that stalk you through your days- lack of money to meet your bills at the end of the month, children to marry off, vulgar peasants yelling at you to hurry up with their drink - with all of that, He wants you to be a good Jew. My friend, it is His will that you take all of these distractions and put them aside in order to perform His will, even when you feel that you will shatter into pieces. When you cleave to Him, in the face of all these hardships and long for the rare moments of solitude when you might fulfill the desire of your heart to say a few precious words of prayer to Him, then G-d gets the greatest joy from your service. If all He desired was effortless praise, He would be satisfied with His myriad troops of angels who utter, "Holy! Holy! Holy!" without stop. No, He desires your heart, which you give Him in the face of your daily hardships - that is true service.

"I advise you, instead of complaining how difficult it is to make a living in your rough tavern atmosphere, give thanks to Him, for He has provided you with an opportunity to elevate yourself to a place of such sanctity that no other test would have afforded you. Indeed, G-d has given you a great gift, and you should cherish it."

* * *

There was a preacher who used to travel from town to town delivering fire and brimstone sermons to stir the hearts of his listeners to repentance. Unfortunately, this preacher himself left much to be desired in his own ways, swerving from the path of Torah whenever it suited his purposes.

The preacher became very well-known and his fame brought him invitations to address congregations near and far. Once he was invited to speak in Brisk. His private indiscretions, however, came to the attention of Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik, who was the rabbi in Brisk, and Rav Chaim forbade the man to speak.

When the preacher realized what had happened, he came to the rabbi to plead his cause. "Come just once and listen to my sermons. You will see that I say nothing objectionable. In fact, every word I utter is a hundred percent kosher. I quote the original sources and the stories I use to illustrate my points are well chosen and especially suited to my listeners. You couldn't have the slightest problem with my sermons!"

Rabbi Soloveichik replied, "In spite of all your protestations that your words are proper and your sources kosher, you will not succeed in making me change my mind. The Jews of Brisk are upright people, good and holy Jews who must be guarded against any improper influences that harm them. Even the most kosher meat, which has been slaughtered by an expert, soaked and salted with great care, becomes non-kosher if it is cooked in a pot which is not kosher."

The preacher understood the Rav's implications and was not seen again in Brisk.


Moshiach Matters

To ease the birth pangs of Moshiach, every individual should learn as much as possible. Each person is duty-bound to set aside time for daily study, which he should uphold unfailingly, never missing a day. (The Chofetz Chaim on Awaiting Moshiach)


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