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L'Chaim
May 20, 1999 - 5 Sivan, 5759

569: Shavuos

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


  568: Bamidbar570: Nasso  

Children Should Be Seen...  |  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

Children Should Be Seen...

by Rabbi Yisrael Rubin

Grownups say the darnedest things...about children.

"Childish," "a terror," "silly," "mischievous," "should be seen and not heard," "What can you expect from a child?" - are all common criticisms of children.

But Judaism thinks the world of children. The same Talmud that respects age also says: "The world exists only in the merit of children." "The world stands on the pure breath of innocent children learning Torah." And "Children's Torah study supersedes the building of the Holy Temple."

In fact, we would have no Torah and no Shavuot holiday were it not for the children. The Midrash relates that prior to giving Israel the Torah, G-d demanded that the Jews name a guarantor. G-d wanted assurance that the Torah would not be short-lived - but would be transmitted from generation to generation.

Israel's first choice was our forefathers. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were great men, but could not qualify as guarantors. "Yichus" (great ancestry) does not insure that Judaism lives on in its descendants.

The Jewish people then offered the Prophets as guarantors. But that was not an acceptable choice: Ezekiel and Isaiah were great and inspired visionaries, but preaching alone cannot assure the continuity of Jewish life.

Finally, the Jewish people got it right. We offered our little children as guarantors to transmit the Torah, to keep Judaism alive from generation to generation. Only with this choice did G-d consent and agree to give us the Torah.

This is where the beautiful custom of bringing children to shul on Shavuot originates. Because of their role and importance, all children, even infants, should be present as the Ten Commandments are read from the Torah scroll. Children and Torah. Where would we be without them?

Psychologists have discovered what Torah has known all along: a person learns more in infancy and childhood than he will for the rest of his life. At a tender age our attitudes and personality traits are shaped for adulthood. That is why education of our young children is our highest priority for survival. Rabbis, shul presidents, and organizations are all important, but only our children can ensure our continuity - a Jewish tomorrow. They are our key to the future.

That is also why we shouldn't wait for Bar/Bat Mitzva lessons, Hebrew High School, or advanced Judaic studies to inspire our youth. From the cradle, every Jewish child should be introduced to the beauty of Jewish life. It is crucial that parents take the first opportunity to involve children with the joy of a mitzva - putting a penny in a charity box, lighting a Shabbos candle, and even by decorating the crib and playroom in a Jewish way.

Fortunately, a rich selection of Jewish books, toys, games, computer software and videos that will hold the child's interest is available today. These creative tools inspire and make Judaism fun for our children.

Let's remember to bring our children to shul on the first day of Shavuot, so we can be at their side when the Ten Commandments are read. And may we all enjoy nachas (pride) from our children.

Rabbi Rubin is the director of Chabad of the Capital District, Albany, New York and principal of Maimonides Day School in Albany.


Living with the Rebbe

The festival of Shavuot is associated with three tzadikim (righteous individuals): Moses, King David, and the Baal Shem Tov.

The connection to Moses is obvious, for it was through him that G-d gave the Torah on Shavuot to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. King David is associated with Shavuot because it is the anniversary of his passing. Similarly, the Baal Shem Tov passed away on the 6th of Sivan, also Shavuot.

In truth, these three tzadikim have much in common, as each one was a "first" in a particular area:

Moses was the first leader of the Jewish people. King David was the first monarch of the House of David. And the Baal Shem Tov was the first leader in the dynasty of Chasidut.

Another common characteristic is that all three tzadikim were shepherds. Moses tended his father-in-law Yitro's flock; David tended his father Jesse's; and the Baal Shem Tov, who used to lead young children to cheder, was a "shepherd" of schoolchildren. A shepherd, by definition, must embody patience, mercy and dedication to his flock. By choosing shepherds to lead the Jewish nation, G-d knew they could be counted on to demonstrate these qualities.

An additional point in common is that all three tzadikim were self-educated: Moses was raised in Pharaoh's household; King David was a shepherd from the earliest age; The Baal Shem Tov was orphaned as a very young child.

Nonetheless, despite these similarities, each of these Jewish leaders was unique in embodying a different "pillar" upon which the entire world rests:

Moses was the embodiment of Torah. He received the Torah from G-d and transmitted it to the Jewish people.

King David was the embodiment of avoda, the service of prayer. It was he who authored the Book of Psalms.

The Baal Shem Tov was the embodiment of gemilut chasadim, the performance of good deeds. This is reflected in his name, which means "Master of the Good Name."

The festival of Shavuot is thus an appropriate time to strengthen our connection to each of these tzadikim, through the daily study of Torah. These studies, which every Jew should resolve to learn each day, are known by their initials, Chitas, and are alluded to in the Biblical verse "And the terror (chitas) of G-d was upon the cities."

To intensify our connection with Moses, we learn the daily portion of the weekly Torah reading, the Chumash.

To intensify our connection with King David, we recite the appropriate chapters of the Psalms corresponding to the day of the month.

And to strengthen our connection to the Baal Shem Tov, we study the daily portion of the Tanya, which elucidates the Baal Shem Tov's teachings.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 8 and Vol. 18; Hitva'aduyot 5743 and 5744


A Slice of Life

Family Ties

by Jay Litvin

"What kind of a G-d wouldn't want a son to be with his mother on a Jewish holiday?" my mother asked, exasperated when I said we couldn't drive on Yom Tov. "For 36 years you didn't care about Shavuot. Now you care, but you can't bring your children to be with their grandmother?"

I knew I was in trouble.

"I'm glad you've finally decided to be Jewish," she continued. "But do you have to be so religious that you can't eat in your own mother's house? This is what G-d wants?"

I brought the complaint to Rabbi Yosef Samuels, the Milwaukee-based rabbi who brought me to Torah.

"The Torah is not sentimental," he explained. "It deals with the truth, and sometimes the truth is not what people want to hear. But if you trust the truth-which means if you trust in G-d-it and He will eventually lead you to where you want to go, though you may never know just how you got there."

My mother didn't buy it. Neither did my sisters. Looking back, I'm not sure I did, either.

Maintaining family ties is a tricky, often painful affair for a baal teshuva [returnee to Torah Judaism]. Religious observance can impose separation from those you most love, often at the worst of times: weddings, Bar Mitzvas, family gatherings, even funerals.

The strain continued through my parents' final years. My family and I disagreed over the level of medical care to administer. The debate between "quality of life" and Jewish law was intense. My father passed away after a long illness. But heroic measures helped bring an additional six wonderful years to my mother.

Usually we avoided such disagreements, choosing to keep the peace. I did not discuss spiritual matters with my family. I learned this lesson in my first years of Torah observance. I was provocative, projecting an "I've found the truth and you haven't" arrogance. Back then, I thought that my new community of religious friends could supplant my family. But I found how wrong I was. I only have one set of parents, and two sisters. No one can replace them.

My wife and I invest a great energy in creating a Torah-observant family. I envision down the road my dining room table filled with children and grandchildren. The table stretches forward through generations. Rabbis and scholars, businessmen and teachers, mothers and fathers are seated there, all embracing the Torah. And though the Torah they embrace is a Torah of truth and not sentimentality, my vision is very sentimental. And I am very grateful for, and proud of, the life my wife and I are forging.

But no matter how wonderful my fantasy, it does not replace the love I feel for my parents and sisters, or ease the pain I feel when there is distance between us. And so whenever we can, my sisters and I share our lives.

On my last visit to the U.S., my sisters and I went to the cemetery to visit our parents. It was very intimate. My sister brought rose petals still fresh from her daughter's wedding and spread them over the grass under which lie our father and mother. I laid a stone I had brought from Safed.

One sister read a beautiful piece about how when you lose sight of a boat as it crosses the horizon, the boat still exists; and even though you can't see it, you know there are others on the opposite side waiting to welcome those on board. I brought a book of Psalms, from which I had intended to read one or two chapters. I read haltingly in Hebrew, my sisters in English. When we had finished the two I picked out, one sister said, "Let's read another one." This continued for a half-hour, as we said a dozen.

Afterwards, at lunch, my older sister told us she had recently joined a synagogue for the first time in her life. "I want to learn more about Judaism and study Hebrew," she said. "Do you think I'm too old to start?"

My other sister (also older than I) belongs to a Reform synagogue. She told us that she had started going to classes with an Orthodox rabbi, while her husband studies with the same rabbi at a "lunch and learn" several times a week. She explained that they were not planning to "become Orthodox," but enjoyed the depth of the learning.

I was pleased with these activities, but they meant less to me than the simple pleasure we were sharing at the restaurant and the closeness we had felt at the grave site. I knew now that it was intimacy I sought, not religious confluence. I basked in our family unity and marveled at my parents' ability to keep us together, even in death.

On the ride from the restaurant, we all agreed that the visit to the cemetery had been "just perfect." I was returning to Israel in a couple of hours, and when we said good-bye, we each said "I love you" to the others. At that moment I felt the presence of the other three who had come to join us in this moment of parting, the three who created the bonds that had and will continue to hold us together.

Perhaps I imagined it, but as we kissed good-bye I felt we had been joined by my mother and father, who I knew were smiling; and that all of us were being surrounded and enveloped by G-d- Whose mystery and benevolence unceasingly unfolds in the most unexpected ways.

"But if you trust the truth-which means if you trust in G-d-it and He will eventually lead you to where you want to go, though you may never know just how you got there."

Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Homemaker


What's New

I WILL WRITE IT IN THEIR HEARTS

This volume, the first of a series, gives English readers keys to the treasure store of the Rebbe's personal correspondence, the 24 volumes of Igros Kodesh. These letters are selected and translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger from the first of the 24 volumes and are published by Sichos In English.

L'CHAIM BOOKS

A limited number of bound volumes of the 11th year of L'Chaim are available through the Lubavitch Youth Organization office. A small quantity of volumes 8, 9 and 10 are also still available. To order, send a check payable to LYO ($25 plus $3 s&h per book) to L'Chaim Books, 1408 President St., Brooklyn, NY 11213.


The Rebbe Writes

18th of Sivan, 5732 [1972]

To the Students of the Junior Girls Dept.

Lubavitch House Schools

107-115 Stamford Hill

London N.16, England

I was pleased to receive your individual letters and, as requested, I will remember each and every one of you in prayer for the fulfillment of your hearts' desires for good and, above all, for Hatzlocho [success] in your studies and daily conduct.

Inasmuch as you wrote your letters only a few days before Shovuos, the Festival of Mattan Torah [the Giving of the Torah], I trust that you surely know what our Sages of blessed memory relate about the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, namely: That G-d gave the Torah to all our people Israel only after they made the children the guarantors for its study and observance in the daily life. It is therefore very clear and self-evident how important it is for Jewish children, boys as well as girls, to study the Torah with devotion and diligence and to conduct themselves in the daily life in accordance with its Mitzvos and teachings. And when there is such a determination, we have also the assurance that G-d helps one from Above.

I send each and every one my prayerful wishes that you should go from strength to strength in the above direction and that you should with true pride justify the title of every Jewish daughter - a daughter of Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah, the Mothers of our Jewish people.

With blessing,

Erev Shavuot, 5733 [1973]

I trust you received my letter of condolence, and may G-d grant that henceforth our correspondence will be exclusively in matters of Simcha [joy].

It is quite a long time since I heard from you directly, though of course, I have been inquiring and receiving reports from our mutual friends, including Prof. Yirmyohu Branover.

Needless to say, I am disappointed at the delay in the acquisition of a center in Jerusalem for the activities which are so vital and urgent. I hope and pray that the delay will also be for the good, in that it will be instrumental in acquiring an extra special place.

As we had occasion to mention in one of our conversations, when something is expected of a Jew, it is certain that he has been given the capacity to carry it out. And as in all matters of Torah and Mitzvos, a Jew is given the capacity not only to live up to them in the fullest measure, but also to live up to the principle of maalin b'kodesh, to advance in all matters of holiness, for growth is the sign of life in all living things.

It is surely unnecessary to emphasize at length the urgency of the project under discussion, for it concerns new olim [immigrants] from a certain country [the former Soviet Union], who arrive in the Holy Land with a great deal of enthusiasm and receptiveness. But unless they be contacted soon after arrival and given the opportunity and facility to translate their inspiration into concrete and tangible experience in their daily life, they are in danger of being swept away by undesirable forces, with the result that their enthusiasm might quickly evaporate and give way to disenchantment, which would then make it much more difficult to set them on the right track. And although these "derailed" olim must also not be given up, and as our Sages of the Mishna declare, "To save even one Jewish soul is to save a whole world," nevertheless, it requires far less effort to do the job at the right time and thus being able to use the excess effort in saving so many more souls. I need not elaborate to you on the importance of conservation and the most efficient utilization of resources.

Now that we are about to celebrate the festival of Mattan Torah, we are once again reminded that the first word of our accepting the Torah was na'aseh - we will do - and then v'nishma, emphasizing the principle of immediate action in all matters of Torah and Mitzvoth.

May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all above.

Wishing you and yours a joyous and inspiring Yom Tov of Kabolas haTorah [Receiving the Torah], and to receive the Torah with Simcha and Pnimius - joy and inwardness -

With blessing,


Rambam this week

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

7 Sivan

Positive mitzva 222: The law of divorce

By this injunction we are commanded that if we wish to divorce, it must be accomplished by giving the woman a bill of divorcement (called a get), and not otherwise. It is contained in the Torah's words (Deut. 24:1) "Then let him write her a bill of divorcement."


A Word from the Director

The Midrash relates that before G-d gave the Torah on Shavuot, He asked the Jewish people for a "guarantee" that they would always study and observe its laws. Several groups of people were offered as guarantors, but G-d rejected each in turn. Only when the Jews said "Our children will be our guarantors" did G-d accept them as surety, and the holy Torah was revealed.

Why did G-d ask the Jews for guarantors? Aren't the Jews the Chosen People, lovers of Torah who can be counted on to perpetuate its ways?

Certainly, but G-d recognized that the Jewish people would one day encounter difficult times. The trials and tribulations of the exile might even lead them to neglect the Torah's mitzvot. G-d asked for guarantors to ensure that this would never happen.

The first offer was the Jewish elders. "Our parents are retired, with plenty of free time to devote to Torah study." But G-d didn't want the Jewish elders as guarantors.

The next group offered was the rabbis: "Our prophets will be our guarantors." But G-d doesn't want only rabbis to study Torah; he wants each and every Jew to study Torah and fulfill its mitzvot, no matter how busy he is or how inconvenient.

Only the promise that Jewish children would always learn Torah found favor in G-d's eyes, and He agreed to reveal His holy Torah to mankind.

Providing Jewish children with a Torah education is thus extremely important. When children are given the right early foundation, it bears fruit throughout their lives. Moreover, even the youngest Jewish child can have a positive influence on the entire family when he comes home from school and repeats what he has learned.

Gut Yom Tov, and may we all merit to learn the Torah that was revealed at Sinai 3,311 years ago, as well as the "new Torah" that Moshiach will teach us very soon.


Thoughts that Count

Shavuot

According to the Torah, a chatat (sin) offering is required on every festival with the exception of Shavuot. The reason is that on Shavuot, the day the Torah was given, every Jew is considered a "convert," a newborn entity. In the same way that a newborn baby is free of transgression, so too are all Jews without sin on Shavuot. (Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)

They said,"All that the L-rd has said we will do and we will obey" (Ex. 24:7)

"We will do" refers to the mitzvot the soul is taught up Above, prior to its descent into a physical body; "we will obey" indicates our willingness to learn Torah in this world, and to follow its statutes. (Yalkut Reuveini, in the name of the Magid)

The Ten Commandments

Our Sages offered several explanations of how the Ten Commandments were perceived at Mount Sinai:

G-d uttered all Ten Commandments simultaneously, then explained each one in turn. But the Jews only understood the first two, until Moses explained the rest. (Mechilta)

The Jewish people heard all Ten Commandments from G-d, but could only make out the words of the first two. During the last eight commandments they could hear a Voice, but were unable to distinguish individual words. Only Moses was able to discern them. (Nachmanides)

Only the first two commandments were heard directly from G-d, but even those not as individual words. Only Moses heard individual words. (Maimonides)

G-d uttered all Ten Commandments at the same time, but after comprehending only the first two, the Jews fainted. The other eight commandments remained "suspended" until their souls returned to their bodies, whereupon G-d's Voice spoke to each Jew individually. (Ohr HaChayim)


It Once Happened

When Naomi arrived with her husband and two sons in Moav, she could never have imagined either the depths of tragedy which would soon encompass her or the sublime future which would unfold in its wake.

Naomi's husband Elimelech was one of the Jewish leaders of his generation. But what shame he was bringing upon himself by fleeing the desperate famine, which was engulfing his people. "All Israel will come to my door, each with his charity box," Elimelech had said, and that was his rationale for fleeing the land of Israel. But what was his destination? Moab! Was it not the Moabites who had refused to perform the most elemental kindness to the Jews as they fled from Egypt, who had "not greeted [them] with bread and water on the way, when [they] came out of Egypt"? And so, they were cursed for all eternity, never to enter the blessed congregation of G-d.

How fitting that Elimelech, who feared that the needs of his brethren would impoverish him, fled to a land whose inhabitants had been cursed for their lack of mercy and pity. Elimelech, however, did not reap rewards in the face of his abandonment of his people. He died leaving behind his widow Naomi and orphaned sons, who soon married the orphaned daughters of Eglon, the king of Moab. The young men, Machlon and Chilyon, married the women, in spite of the understanding then current that a Moabite could never enter the congregation, could never become a member of the Jewish people. The two sons of Elimelech and Naomi were satisfied to become assimilated into Moabite society, and they would have disappeared, unnoticed, except for the Divine plan which was unfolding in a most unexpected way.

When Machlon and Chilyon died childless, retribution was complete. Naomi, who remained alone and bereft of all her family in a strange land, a place she had never wanted to be, decided to return home. Her daughter-in-law Orpa, bade Naomi a sad farewell and set out to seek a new life. But what of Ruth? Naomi was puzzled over this girl. Hadn't she told her to go? Hadn't she explained to her many times that she was still young and beautiful, that she still had everything to look forward to? Yet the girl remained by her side, steadfastly refusing to depart. Nothing she said seemed to make a difference; finally Naomi gave up and accepted the fact that Ruth was hers.

As Naomi wearily traveled back to return to her people, Ruth's words echoed in her ears: "From now till death parts us, I am no longer a Moabite: I am the daughter of Naomi. I have no father and no mother; I have no native land and no people; I have neither life nor death, except with Naomi. Her people are my people; her G-d is my G-d." Ruth was her inheritance, all that remained of her former life. She could never turn the girl away again.

When the two women arrived in Beit Lechem, even the Sages of the time had yet to decipher the true meaning of the Torah's ruling against the Moabites. It was assumed that the prohibition included both the men and the women of that nation. Only with the arrival of Ruth, the future grandmother of Moshiach, did their eyes become illuminated by the truth - that a Moabitess was permitted to join the Jewish people; only the men were excluded due to their cruelty. [Since it was not customary for the women to go out to greet strangers, the women of Moab were not punished for refusing to provide bread and water to the escaping Jews.]

It was Naomi who sent Ruth to gather grain with the maidens of her relative, the great Sage, Boaz, one of the leaders and most respected men of the generation. There she attracted the great man's attention by her regal and modest bearing. Even after the truth of the law was revealed, only Boaz, from amongst all his brethren, was willing to take Ruth as a wife. From their brief marriage was born the grandfather of David, who is called "The king who lives forever," the precursor and epitome of the final redeemer. It was only for the birth of Oved (whose son Yishai was David's father) that Boaz was sustained, for Boaz was an old man when he married Ruth. Our Sages tell us that the life span of Boaz was determined only by the fulfillment of his purpose on earth, to marry Ruth who would give birth to the grandfather of David. Boaz died only one night after their marriage.

When the death of Boaz became known, many saw it as a punishment for his illegal marriage. Boaz's sudden death had re-ignited the controversy over the legality of the marriage. Many still suspected that theirs had been a forbidden union. But just the opposite was true - the birth of Ruth's son was a precious link in the realization of the Divine will. Only Naomi's neighbors rejoiced in the birth of the child, and they exclaimed, "A son is born to Naomi; and they called his name Oved."

By calling the child Naomi's son, the women conferred upon him unquestionable legitimacy, for Naomi had an impeccable pedigree - a great-granddaughter of a prince, Nachshon ben Aminadav. The birth of Oved, and all the strange circumstances which attended it, was a vital act in the great Divine drama of redemption. We anxiously await the final act, may it take place immediately in our generation.


Moshiach Matters

Shavuot is the anniversary of the passing of King David, the ancestor of Moshiach, as Maimonides' states in his Mishna Torah: If a king arises from the House of David who meditates on the Torah and occupies himself with the commandments like his ancestor David, in accordance with the written and oral Torah, and he will prevail upon all of Israel to walk in [the ways of the Torah] and strengthen its breaches, and he will fight the battles of G-d (defeating all the nations around him) - it may be assumed that he is Moshiach.


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