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Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
May 28, 1999 - 13 Sivan, 5759

570: Nasso

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


  569: Shavuos571: Beha'alotcha  

Magnetism  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  The Rebbe Writes
Rambam this week  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count  |  It Once Happened
Moshiach Matters

Magnetism

Is your refrigerator covered with notes precariously being held on by magnets of various shapes and sizes? Or perhaps your fridge is the home of shiny, plastic ABCs with little magnets wedged into the grooves? Or do you have an eclectic collection of thin, colorful magnetic advertisements from your local pharmacy, mechanic and dry cleaner?

Magnets are utilized by the medical profession for MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and for magnetic therapy.

Magnets enable maglev (magnetic levitation) trains to travel as fast as 275-300 mph/435-475 kph along specially designed guide-ways.

And, of course, kids of all ages find magnets interesting for experimentation and entertainment.

Magnetism, by definition, is the force of attraction or repulsion between various substances. Any object that exhibits magnetic properties is called a magnet.

A very wise person currently involved in Jewish communal work said, "Judaism is like a magnetic force in our lives - we can either be pulled to it or repelled from it. And like magnets, all that's needed to turn from being repelled to being pulled, is to be turned around."

Today, some Jews are pulled to Judaism while others are repelled from it. These two opposite sentiments exist across the board: At times, even the most committed Jew may feel a resistance and an estranged Jew will have yearnings toward Judaism.

In magnetism there are two poles where the magnetic forces are the strongest (a north or north-seeking pole and a south or south-seeking pole).

What does an object need to turn? It must have space. It must be free, at least temporarily, from limits and obstacles in order to move. And there must be a force that powers its movement.

A person must also go beyond his boundaries and remove restraints, giving himself space and even a momentary void, to allow himself to be pulled to Judaism. But he needn't wait for a force outside of himself to motivate him to move. For within every Jew there is a soul, an actual part of G-d (as Chasidism describes it) which has the power to propel the person.

This means that we don't need to wait for someone or something to help attract us to Judaism. It is within every Jew's power, if we only make space, to turn ourselves around and become interested and drawn to living more Jewishly.

One considerable difference exists, however, between conventional magnetism and Jewish magnetism. In Judaism, there is only one pole. Jewish teachings explain that the Jewish people, the Torah and G-d are totally one. By definition of our very existence, all Jews are connected to G-d, the Torah and each other.

Thus, in terms of absolutes, there is no polarity amongst the Jewish people, we are intrinsically and eternally one. And even though when we look with our corporeal eyes at the state of the Jewish nation it would seem like nothing could be further from the truth, this doesn't change the fact of the essential unity of the Jewish people.

In the Messianic Era, when the entire world will be attracted to the powerful magnets of G-dliness, truth, morality, this essential unity of the Jewish people, and our connection to G-d, the Torah and each other will be easily discernable.


Living with the Rebbe

"And it came to pass on the day that Moses had finished setting up the Sanctuary..."

We read in this week's Torah portion, Naso, that after the Jewish people finished constructing all of the Sanctuary's different components, they brought them to Moses so he could erect it. The massive wooden planks were just too heavy; even working together, the Jews were unable to build the Sanctuary by themselves.

Recognizing this dilemma, Moses asked G-d how human beings could be expected to perform such a difficult task. In response, G-d instructed Moses to put his hand on the enormous boards, whereupon they rose by themselves. The Sanctuary was thus erected in a miraculous manner.

But why was it necessary for G-d to perform a miracle?

According to historians, it was the Jewish slaves who built the pyramids in Egypt. Indeed, the Torah tells us, "They built treasure cities for Pharaoh, Pitom and Ramses." Each individual stone of the pyramids weighed several tons. And yet, as depicted in ancient hieroglyphics and paintings, the slaves somehow managed to drag these tremendous weights and build the colossal edifices that continue to exist even today.

The wooden planks of the Sanctuary weighed far less than these stones. Why then did the Jewish people find it impossible to lift them? Why was it necessary for the Sanctuary to be erected by means of a miracle?

The answer lies in the fact that the pyramids were built by slave labor, by avodat parech (back-breaking, rigorous work). The only reason the Jewish slaves were able to move the stones was because Pharaoh compelled them to. The Jewish people had no choice; they obeyed Pharaoh's commands out of fear. This fear motivated them to tie themselves together with rope (as seen in the paintings) and perform the seemingly superhuman feat.

Building the Sanctuary, however, involved an entirely different type of work. The Sanctuary was an edifice to be erected willingly, with joy in being able to execute G-d's command. However, the wooden planks proved too heavy for the Jews to lift.

G-d didn't want the Sanctuary to be built out of a sense of compulsion. Its erection was a happy event, not a sorrowful one. He therefore made a miracle to express this concept, and the Sanctuary was erected with a feeling of true freedom and liberation.

This same principle applies to the erection of our own individual "Sanctuaries" through the performance of G-d's mitzvot. Observing the Torah's commandments should never be considered "back-breaking labor"; rather, we must strive to carry out G-d's commands willingly and joyfully, secure in the knowledge that G-d grants us His full assistance.

Adapted from Hitva'aduyot 5745


A Slice of Life

A Most Memorable Neila

by Yakov Brawer

Shavuot has passed. As I stand before the open refrigerator, contemplating the last bit of cheesecake, I become aware of a barely perceptible, ill-defined uneasiness. The cause is not hard to identify. My nervous system is alerting me to the fact that Yom Kippur is right around the corner. Why, you may ask, should anyone worry about Yom Kippur right after Shavuot? I will tell you. As is the case with many of my problems, this one began when I started to study Chasidic philosophy.

Back in the 1960's B.C. (Before Chasidut), Yom Kippur was a relatively simple affair. On Yom Kippur I was obligated to do teshuva [repent]. In essence, this involved an apology to the Almighty for any sins that I might have committed during the course of the past year, accompanied by a request that He write them off. In order to render a perfect service on Yom Kippur, there were three requirements that had to be met: 1) I had to stay on my feet, 2) I had to say everything in the prayer book, and 3) I had to weep. The first two were easy enough, but I often had trouble squeezing out a few tears because I couldn't see that I had done much wrong, and certainly nothing serious enough to cry about. Nonetheless, I usually found something to cry about. This most satisfactory exercise stood me in excellent stead for many years, until I was introduced to the study of Chasidut, after which Yom Kippur (along with everything else) took on a completely different cast.

It doesn't take long for the initiate to Chasidic teachings to realize that Yom Kippur is no simple game. The neophyte is aware of the urgent need to utilize these precious hours to redefine his very being and to reconstruct his life accordingly. The budding realization of what is exactly at stake and Who it is that makes Himself so accessible to us on this remarkable day, engenders feelings of genuine awe. Yet, when Yom Kippur actually arrives the naive enthusiast finds himself beset by the same grogginess, inane daydreams, violent headaches and visions of a tall frosty glass of beer that preoccupied him on Yom Kippur in his pre-Chasidut days. In the old days, however, it didn't matter because the main thing was to say everything in the prayer book, stay on one's feet, and cry. To the newly enlightened of Chasidut, however, it is painfully clear that the Almighty is not interested in the activity of the mouth, feet, and tear ducts so much as that of the heart and mind; and in these organs, the pickings are mighty slim.

I began to understand that the service of Yom Kippur requires significant preparation. In fact, as I soon learned, the entire month of Elul is devoted to laying the groundwork for the Days of Awe. I looked forward with relish to the next Elul and the Holy Days that followed.

Things did not, however, work out as planned. During the month of Elul that year, undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, the admissions committee, the curriculum committee, the graduate faculty council, etc., at McGill University, all demanded my fullest attention. The yetzer hara [evil inclination] had more to say than usual. So, Yom Kippur, not surprisingly, was a repeat of the previous year.

It was then that I realized that the yetzer hara was not about to let me experience a Chasidisher Yom Kippur. This was nothing less than war, and I was determined to win. The following year, I began preparations for Yom Kippur even earlier. The yetzer hara, in collaboration with my body, responded in kind, and arranged for me to get my inevitable headache by the afternoon rather than at Neila [the concluding service]. He also distracted my benumbed brain with novel outrageous absurdities. The next year I upped the ante once again only for the yetzer hara to see my bet and raise me. And so it has gone year after year. I now start preparing for the Days of Awe right after Shavuot, and for his part, the yetzer hara sees to it that my head throbs, I am exhausted, desperately thirsty, and I have lost all control over my thoughts by Kol Nidrei, the first prayer of Yom Kippur!

It is well known that the Almighty shows mercy to all of His creatures, including befuddled would-be Chasidim. Consequently, a few years ago, He took my part and arranged for me to experience a remarkable Neila. The day had begun inauspiciously enough, and it went downhill from there, such that by mincha, I had caught myself meditating on such sublime profundities as the identity of Hopalong Cassidy's sidekick and why my favorite brand of tomato juice cost 50 cents more in Canada than in the States. I sighed in defeat. I was about to begin Neila when I was approached by a good friend. He was clutching his abdomen and his face was white with anguish: "Yankel, you've got to help." I panicked. Disaster scenarios raced through my mind; a ruptured appendix? acute colitis? Not quite. The two rear clamps of his suspenders had become detached and his pants were falling down.

I told my friend to bend over and began working my way through the multiple layers of his garments. I reached his shirt and began groping up the back, hoping that the suspender ends had retracted no farther than his shoulders. As I worked, I sensed a hundred pairs of gawking eyes. I should explain that my seat on Yom Kippur is at the eastern wall of the shul. The front, center stage location of our outlandish performance insured unobstructed viewing for the entire congregation.

I finally located the two ends of the suspenders and clamped them onto the pants. By the time I had finished, the chazan was winding up kadish. My grateful friend returned to his place and I turned to the wall and arranged my talit. My mind was simply vacant. I was no stranger to pre-Neila distractions, indeed, experience taught me to expect them, but the experience of this episode left me flabbergasted. Then out of nowhere, during the last verses of kadish, a story materialized in my mind.

One winter, the Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber, the fifth Chabad Rebbe) stayed in Menton, France. He was visited by his son, Yosef Yitzchak, later to become the Rebbe Rayatz. The two took long walks together by the sea during which the Rebbe Rashab shared many wondrous insights with his son. On one such occasion, the Rebbe talked about the importance of "thinking Chasidut," that is, immersing oneself at length in profound holy concepts prior to prayer. The Rebbe stressed that deep focused thought in Chasidut makes the heart and mind receptive to G-dliness. It refines and cleanses the natural soul of a Jew, and draws down on the divine soul lofty levels of G-dly levels of illumination. The Rebbe went on in this vein for some time, his holy features glowing with supernal bliss. Suddenly he stopped, shook off his reverie and excitedly exclaimed to his son that all of the benefits of meditating in Chasidut prior to prayer, are of no account whatsoever in comparison to one blessing, and that blessing is the aptitude for, and pleasure in doing a Jew a favor.

Although this story flashed through my consciousness in less than an instant, the message was unmistakable. The Almighty had just now, in preparation for Neila, bestowed upon me this very blessing. With a clear head, a full heart, and a joyous spirit, I turned to the wall and began to daven a most memorable Neila.

From Eyes that See, published by Seminary Bais Menachem, Canada


The Rebbe Writes

To All Who Are Active in Torah Chinuch [Torah education]

And to All Who Cherish Torah and Mitzvos in General,

Greeting and Blessing:

On this day, concluding the post-festival period of Shavuos, the Festival of Mattan Torah [the Giving of the Torah], and pursuant to what has been said and emphasized during the festive gatherings on, and before and after, Shavuos, based on the declaration of our Sages of blessed memory that only upon the assurance of the Jewish people that "our children will be our guarantors," (for the keeping of the Torah), did G-d give the Torah to our Jewish people;

I take this opportunity to reiterate an urgent call in a matter which is both a sacred duty and great Zechus [privilege] for every Jew, man and woman:

That they do everything within their ability to promote Torah-true education for each and every Jewish boy and girl, and not only during the hours dedicated to Torah study, but also during the rest of the time of the day and night, bearing in mind that the need is even greater in after-school hours.

And while this duty and Zechus are in effect all year long, the call of duty is particularly urgent in the days connected with the festival of Mattan Torah and those immediately following, which recall the corresponding days in the first year of the Liberation from Egypt, culminating in Mattan Torah, when the said guarantee first took effect.

May I also call attention to the special opportunities which present themselves in the forthcoming summer months, in this country and many other countries, where the regular school curriculum is suspended or curtailed for the summer recess:

This is the time when many teachers and instructors are relieved of their regular duties, and they would surely wish to participate in activities designed to promote and expand the work of Kosher Chinuch.

While thousands of school children, boys and girls, are released from school, thus providing a special opportunity, hence a compelling challenge, that they be helped to join appropriate summer camps, where they could benefit from a uniform atmosphere permeated with true Yiddishkeit for a considerable length of time, relatively speaking, which is not always possible during the rest of the year, when some tension is inevitable between the atmosphere at school, at home, and in the street.

This, therefore, is a very special and unique opportunity of inestimable value in terms of lasting influence and education. Hence, every effort in this direction is worthwhile. And surely these efforts will justify the promise, "Try hard and you will succeed."

May G-d grant that each and every one whose vocation is in Chinuch, or is involved in Chinuch, and everyone else who can help in this, whether through personal participation or through activating others, will do so to the utmost of his and her ability, and thus help raise legions upon legions of Jewish boys and girls who can be "recognized by all who see them as G-d blessed children," studying His Torah, "Toras Emes [the Torah of truth]" and "Toras Chaim [the Torah of life]," and keepers of its Mitzvos.

So that we may soon merit to see the fulfillment of the prophecy: "I will bestow My spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy. . . (and as it written before this:) and you will praise the Name of G-d your G-d, Who has dealt wondrously with you" at the coming of our righteous Moshiach, of whom it is written, "And he will reign from sea to sea, and from the river to the end of the earth."

With esteem and blessing,


Rambam this week

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

14 Sivan

Positive mitzva 219: The law of the defamer of a bride

This law concerns a man who brings an evil name upon a maiden whom he has married. The Torah commands that he is to be beaten and must keep her as his wife, as it states (Deut. 22:19), "She shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days."


A Word from the Director

This week we return to Chapter 1 of Ethics of the Fathers: "Antigonus of Socho...used to say: Do not be like servants who serve their master for the sake of receiving a reward, but rather be like servants who serve their master without the intent of receiving a reward; and let the fear of Heaven be upon you."

Loving G-d and fearing G-d are "only" two of the 613 mitzvot. But fulfilling them properly affects the quality and even the practical observance of all of the Torah's commandments.

As explained in the Tanya, "Love [of G-d] is the root of all the 248 positive commands, all originating in it" and "fear is the root of the 365 prohibitive commands, fearing to rebel against the Supreme King of kings."

What prompts a person to act: cold, rational intelligence, or emotion? The Torah teaches that intellect, no matter how high the level of understanding one has attained, may not necessarily be reflected in behavior. By contrast, love and awe of G-d are the only true motivations that can compel a Jew to Torah observance.

"A mitzva performed without the proper intent is like a body without a soul," wrote the Arizal. Love and awe of G-d give our performance of mitzvot their vitality and "staying power." Yes, a Jew can do a mitzva by rote, simply to fulfill his obligation, but the mitzva won't be "alive."

There are many different levels of love and fear. A person may refrain from sin because he's afraid of being punished, or afraid of the damage it would do to his soul. Then there's a higher level of awe that is closer to embarrassment, shame at the thought of going against G-d's will.

As for love, a Jew may be prompted to do a mitzva because of its spiritual or physical benefits. A higher level is when one realizes that even the greatest reward is only a token, and that "one cannot truly cleave to Him except through the fulfillment" of His mitzvot.

May we all attain "a love that is completely independent" of all self-interest, and serve G-d with the best and purest of our emotions.


Thoughts that Count

When either a man or a woman pronounces (yafli) a special vow (Num. 6:2)

A person who willingly foregoes the pleasures of this world in order to sanctify himself before G-d is extraordinary, almost a wonder. (The word "yafli" is related to "peleh," a miracle or wonder.) Most people, in fact, are propelled in the opposite direction. (Ibn Ezra)

And the kohen (priest)...shall make atonement for him, because he sinned against the soul (Num. 6:11)

The Talmud relates the question of Rabbi Elazar HaKapar: "Which soul has the Nazarite sinned against?," to which the answer is basically "his own." (A Nazarite is a person who takes a vow to abstain from wine, during which time he is also not allowed to cut his hair or come into contact with a dead body.) If the Nazarite's only "sin" is having denied himself wine, how much more so is it "sinful" to deliberately cause oneself any kind of distress or suffering? Indeed, our Sages said: One who sits and fasts is called a sinner. (Nedarim 10a)

And the one who made his offering on the first day was Nachshon, the son of Aminadav, of the tribe of Judah (Num. 7:12)

All of the other Nesi'im (princes) who made offerings are referred to by their proper title, Nasi, whereas Nachshon is referred to only by name. The reason? To "counteract" his having been first, lest he become boastful. (Chizkuni)

The numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letters of "on the first day" ("bayom harishon") is 620 - the same as "keter" ("crown"). This is an allusion to the sovereignty granted by G-d to the tribe of Judah. (Ohr HaTorah)


It Once Happened

Yishaya Shlomo (Shaya), a chasid of Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov, used to often complain to his rebbe about his poverty. The tzadik always responded by encouraging him to have greater reliance on G-d. This response never quite soothed the chasid.

Once, when Shaya complained yet another time, R. Michel told him to travel to Berdichev, and to seek out a certain rich person and ask to stay in his house. "Observe his conduct," said the tzadik, "and learn what it means to genuinely trust in G-d."

Shaya borrowed some money and made the journey. The rich man welcomed him with courtesy and warmth, and told the chasid he could stay with him for as long as he liked. Shaya settled in and began to obey the Rebbe's instructions, carefully noting as much as he could of everything that his host did.

One thing quickly became clear. His wealthy host's business involvements were extensive. Huge sums of money flowed as deals were struck, merchandise was bought and sold, and debts were paid and collected. In addition, the amount of money that he gave away to tzedaka on a regular basis was enormous.

Shaya couldn't understand what his rebbe had in mind when he sent him here. What could he possibly learn from such a wealthy man that could apply to his own life? "If I had his kind of money," he thought longingly, "I'd be able to lead a life with no worries. Then I too could sit back and trust in G-d."

Finally Shaya asked the rich man to speak to him privately. "I've observed the high-level business matters you are involved in and the extraordinary deeds of kindness that you do," he continued, "but how can a poor man like me learn from a rich person like yourself the attribute of total trust in the One above?"

"No doubt you've noticed that whenever I have to pay a large sum of money, I retreat into a certain room and stay there all alone. What do you suppose is in that room?" the host asked.

"I presume it is your treasure room," answered Shaya.

"That's right!" the wealthy man approved delightedly. "That room is where my treasure is to be found. So how about you come there with me this one time?"

Shaya followed his host into the room and glanced around. The room contained a table, a chair, and four bare walls. That was all.

"In this room," said the rich man, "is all my wealth. I have no reserves. Whenever I have to pay an obligation or donate a significant sum to tzedaka, I come in here. I sit and cry to G-d to rescue me. And He never fails me."

While they were talking, a servant knocked on the door and presented a bill for 1000 rubles that had to be paid by nightfall. The wealthy man closed himself in the room. Almost as soon as he emerged, a Jewish military officer asked to speak with him privately. He was about to go off to war, so he had brought his life-savings of 10,000 rubles which he requested the rich man hold for him and invest, and "keep 1000 for yourself as payment for the responsibility," he said.

"See how G-d's salvation can happen in an instant," the rich man toldhis guest afterwards. "Go home and from now on trust G-d completely."

His host gave Shaya a generous 200 rubles for travel expenses. Shaya set out on his way. As he thought about his host, he felt his worries about his personal economic situation being peeled away by the powerful new thoughts that were bubbling in their place. He felt a wave of simple trust in G-d and made a firm decision to flow with whatever divine providence had in store for him. At that moment, he felt as if a heavy burden had slipped off him.

Lost in thought, he looked up and saw two women being pulled in chains by armed guards. He inquired and was told that the women were being thrown in prison; their husbands had failed to pay their debts to the lord of the village. Suddenly, he took out the 200 rubles and paid the debts of the two families.

Once again he was without a kopeck to his name, but this time he had no complaints. Instead he basked in the joy of the mitzva he had been given the opportunity to do, and felt more deeply committed to completely trust in G-d.

While looking to arrange a place to sleep for the night, Shaya joined up with another traveler. The two fell to swapping plans and life-stories. After a while his companion said to him, "You could do me a favor! I just came into a major inheritance and I have to split it with a relative who lives in your town, in Zlotchov. If you would deliver his half to him, you will save me a lot of trouble."

Shaya agreed readily. As soon as he was back in Zlotchov, he asked about the man to whom he was supposed to deliver the money he was carrying, but was unable to find him. Not only that, people insisted that no such person had ever lived there. The chasid felt confused. He had to keep his promise and deliver the money, but now he didn't know how to go about it.

He decided to consult the rebbe, R. Michel. Anyway he had to report to him about his extraordinary trip. Shaya told the tzadik all that had happened concluding with the mission with which the stranger had entrusted him.

"Please relax," smiled the rebbe. "The man to whom you were supposed to deliver the inheritance has never lived here. Not only that, he was not a flesh-and-blood human! He was an angel created by the great mitzva you did of ransoming Jewish lives. You can keep the money in good conscience, for that was his intention. You earned it honestly!

"You should know," the tzadik ended, "the Baal Shem Tov taught that it is impossible for a man who trusts absolutely in Heaven to be punished by Heaven."

Translated and adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles for the Ascent Magazine, Safed


Moshiach Matters

Happy is he who does not tire of awaiting Redemption and who makes certain that he and his children increase their Torah learning and their observance of the mitzvot so that they will not be ashamed when Moshiach comes. (The Chofetz Chaim on Awaiting Moshiach)


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