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   577: Devarim

578: Vaetchanan

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L'Chaim
July 30, 1999 - 17 Av, 5759

579: Eikev

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


  578: Vaetchanan580: Re'eh  

A Politically Correct Definition  |  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

A Politically Correct Definition

Amidst the ever-raging storm over education in this country there remains one area of controversy that, though predominantly found on college campuses, is seen in slightly smaller doses from day-care age children and up.

It's called being "politically correct" and its ramifications are being felt in policies and curriculums of many of America's most august educational institutions.

In this age of political correctness, if someone asked you to define a wise person, would you have a ready reply or would it take you a few minutes to come up with an answer? Do we define a wise person by his I.Q., the number of letters after his name, or how much he knows about the ancient Incas?

In the Mishna, Rabbi ben Zoma asked the question, "Who is wise?" And he gave an answer that, had he lived in today's day and age, he might even have been able to expound upon in a politically correct commencement address: "One who learns from every person."

From Rabbi ben Zoma's concise definition of a wise person we gain much. A wise person learns-present tense. He is not satisfied with the knowledge he has under his belt, but is constantly seeking to acquire new wisdom. And he learns from every person, not only from other smart people- his equals or contemporaries-but from every single encounter he gathers new understanding, he is enriched.

Another Sage defined a wise person with a slightly different twist: "Who is wise? One who sees the result of his action." He considers the consequence of his deed beforehand and contemplates the outcome. He learns from the past and the future. Thus, the wise person is one who learns from every person, every event, every thing.

Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch once said: "Everything can teach us something, and not merely everything that G-d has created. Man-made creations also teach us much."

"What can we learn from a train?" asked a chasid.

"That because of one second you can miss everything," said the Rebbe

"And from the telegraph?" the chasid queried.

"That every word is counted and charged for," the Rebbe answered.

"And the telephone?"

"That what we say here is heard There."

Concerning education, those who are politically correct value equally each nationality's culture, ancient and modern history, literature, etc. This sounds like it would jibe well with Rabbi ben Zoma's attitude concerning a wise person-at first glance.

However, a word of caution is in order. For, we are told that that which we can learn from everyone is not necessarily always positive; what we learn from a wicked person, for instance, is how not to behave.


Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Eikev, Moses looks back upon the Jewish people's 40 years in the desert, and mentions twice the manna they ate for sustenance. Both times, Moses seems to imply that eating the manna was somehow distressing: "And He afflicted you and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna"; "[He] fed you in the wilderness with manna...that He might afflict you."

In fact, the Children of Israel complained bitterly over having to eat it. "But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes." "Our soul loathes this light bread."

At first glance their complaint is surprising, as the Torah describes the manna as being delicious - "and its taste was like wafers made with honey." Our Sages comment further that the G-dly manna was unique in that the person eating it experienced whatever flavor he wished. Furthermore, the manna was completely digested, having no waste. How then could such a wonderful food be perceived as "torment"?

However, the Talmud explains that it was precisely these qualities that left the Jews with a sense of hunger. It was hard to get used to this "bread from the heavens" that had no waste and could taste like anything in the world. The Jews wanted regular bread, "bread from the earth." They longed for food that looked like what it was.

But the truth is that the Jews' resentment was motivated by the Evil Inclination. At first, the Evil Inclination draws a person into small sins, slowly working its way to more serious ones. So it was with the Children of Israel: They started by complaining about the manna, then progressed to "crying among their families," implying transgressions in the area of family life.

The dynamics of the Evil Inclination never change, and even today, the Evil Inclination still chafes against "bread from the heavens." Symbolically, "bread from the heavens" stands for Torah and G-dly wisdom, while "bread from the earth" is secular, worldly knowledge. The Evil Inclination tries to make the Jew dissatisfied with his "bread from the heavens," and attempts to convince him that a steady diet of Torah will leave him hungry. "The Torah is endless," it whispers in his ear. "You can never learn it all; the more you'll learn, the more you'll see how infinite it is. Why not turn your mind to worldly matters? At least you'll get a feeling of fullness and satisfaction."

On an even finer level, the Evil Inclination tries to dissuade a Jew from studying Chasidut, the innermost part of Torah, which is also likened to "bread from the heavens." "Bread from the earth," the revealed part of Torah, is enough, it claims.

But the truth is the opposite. Because the Jew's essence is spiritual, he can never be satiated by worldly matters. Only Torah, and the innermost part of it, can make the soul feel full, for it is through Torah that the Jew connects to the Infinite.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 4


A Slice of Life

BASEBALL HEROES

by Rabbi Paysach Krohn

In the competitive world of the 1990's, one wonders whether the old adage still holds true: "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game." The following true story illustrates the power of human concern - even in the face of intense competition.

In Brooklyn, New York, Chush is a school that caters to learning-disabled children. Some children remain in Chush for their entire school careers, while others can be mainstreamed into conventional Jewish schools. There are a few children who attend Chush for most of the week and attend a regular yeshiva on Sundays.

At a Chush fund-raising dinner, the father of a Chush child delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended.

After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he cried out, "Where is the perfection in my son Shaya? Everything that G-d does is done with perfection. But my child cannot understand things as other children do. My child cannot remember facts and figures as other children do. Where is G-d's perfection?"

The audience was shocked by the question, pained by the father's anguish, and stilled by his piercing query. "I believe," the father answered, "that when G-d brings a child like this into the world, the perfection that He seeks is in the way people react to this child." He then told the following story about his son Shaya.

Shaya is one of those children who attends Chush during the week and yeshiva on Sundays.

One Sunday afternoon, Shaya and his father came to the yeshiva as his classmates were playing baseball. The game was in progress and as Shaya and his father made their way towards the ballfield, Shaya said, "Do you think you could get me into the game?" Shaya's father knew his son was not at all athletic, and that most boys would not want him on their team. But Shaya's father understood that if his son was chosen in, it would give him a comfortable sense of belonging.

Shaya's father approached one of the boys in the field and asked, "Do you think my Shaya could get into the game?" The boy looked around for guidance from his teammates. Getting none, he took matters into his own hands and said, "We are losing by six runs and the game is already in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him up to bat in the ninth inning." Shaya's father was ecstatic as Shaya smiled broadly. Shaya was told to put on a glove and go out to play short center field.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shaya's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shaya's team scored again - and now with two outs and the bases loaded and the potential winning runs on base, Shaya was scheduled to be up. Would the team actually let Shaya bat at this juncture and give away their chance to win the game?

Surprisingly, Shaya was told to take a bat and try to get a hit. Everyone knew that it was all but impossible, for Shaya didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, let alone hit with it. However as Shaya stepped up to the plate, the pitcher moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shaya should at least be able to make contact.

The first pitch came in and Shaya swung clumsily and missed. One of Shaya's teammates came up to Shaya and together they held the bat and faced the pitcher waiting for the next pitch. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shaya.

As the next pitch came in, Shaya and his teammate swung the bat and together they hit a slow ground ball to the pitcher. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could easily have thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shaya would have been out and that would have ended the game. Instead, the pitcher took the ball and threw it on a high arc to right field, far and wide beyond the first baseman's reach. Everyone started yelling, "Shaya, run to first! Shaya, run to first!" Never in his life had Shaya run to first. He scampered down the baseline wide eyed and startled.

By the time he reached first base, the right fielder had the ball. He could have thrown the ball to the second baseman who would tag out Shaya, who was still running. But the rightfielder understood what the pitcher's intentions were, so he threw the ball high and far over the third baseman's head, as everyone yelled, "Shaya, run to second! Shaya, run to second."

Shaya ran towards second base as the runners ahead of him deliriously circled the bases towards home. As Shaya reached second base, the opposing shortstop ran towards him, turned him towards the direction of third base and shouted, "Shaya, run to third!"

As Shaya rounded third, the boys from both teams ran behind him screaming, "Shaya, run home! Shaya, run home!" Shaya ran home, stepped on home plate and all 18 boys lifted him on their shoulders and made him the hero, as he had just hit the "grand slam" and won the game for his team.

"That day," said the father who now had tears rolling down his face, "those 18 boys reached their level of perfection. They showed that it is not only those who are talented that should be recognized, but also those who have less talent. They too are human beings, they too have feelings and emotions, they too are people, they too want to feel important.

Reprinted with permission from "Echoes of the Maggid," a collection of Jewish stories and parables, by Rabbi Paysach Krohn. Published by Artscroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd, Brooklyn, NY.


What's New

THE HEROIC STRUGGLE

The Heroic Struggle consists of the Previous Rebbe's first-hand account of his brutal incarceration and unparalleled heroism, supplemented by other sources which sketch in the historical background and allow the telling of the complete story, concluding with the Previous Rebbe's departure from Stalinist Russia altogether. Further supplemental sources from both the Previous Rebbe and the Rebbe reflect on the spiritual significance of the Previous Rebbe's ordeal, making this book the most comprehensive account of this incident. Translated and adapted by Rabbi Alter B.Z. Metzger, published by Kehot Publication Society.

BRANCHES OF THE CHASIDIC MENORAH

This second volume of biographical sketches of early Chabad Chasidim is translated from the works of the Previous Rebbe. It actually formed the response of the Previous Rebbe to the Rebbe's request to explain the uniqueness of the Chabad approach to Divine service. Translated by Shimon Neubort, published by Sichos in English.


The Rebbe Writes

15th of Tammuz, 5723 [1963]

To the Annual Convention of the Rabbinical Alliance of America -

I acknowledge the receipt of your invitation to your annual convention taking place, please G-d, on Tammuz 22-25.

I hope that the convention agenda will include items which can be practically and expeditiously implemented to take full advantage of the opportune moment now at hand. An opportunity stemming from the spiritual reawakening now exciting large segments of our people, and particularly our youth.

Those who are sincerely concerned with the development and future of our youth, are cognizant of the fact that this spiritual ardor is caused in part by a realization of the shallowness and emptiness of philosophies alien to traditional Jewish thinking, and inability of these foreign ideas to cope with the problems of our times. Many who are imbued with this new spiritual eagerness lack definitive purpose and direction; others have a somewhat greater understanding of their religious experiences and have acquired an awareness of their bonds with the foundations of traditional Judaism. In both cases, the spiritual resurgence has created a situation whereby large segments of our people are once more amenable and responsive to being guided along the true and righteous path - the way of Torah and Mitzvos.

Unfortunately, the opportunity has not been duly exploited and far too many are still groping in the darkness lacking proper direction and influence, proper leadership and guidance to proceed along the path of G-d, and especially lacking knowledge of the course of action one should pursue in his daily life.

The problem is of particular importance when it concerns our youth for they instinctively respond with zeal and determination to ideas which are novel to them. They are unafraid to alter the course of their lives if they believe that which is being offered to them is the unadulterated truth.

More particularly, the attention should be focused on the young boys and girls of school age about whom the Torah instructs: "You shall teach your children diligently" This commandment is recited in our daily prayers in the first paragraph of the Shema which is bound up with the recognition and submission to the yoke of heaven. This verse is then repeated in the second paragraph of the Shema to stress the importance of giving the children a Jewish education in general and especially - the study of Torah which is the most important "of all the good deeds."

It is incumbent to exert every effort so that each and every Jewish child should study in an all-day Yeshivah or when this is not feasible, that every Jewish child should attend a Hebrew all-day school.

But although this is the aim, we must recognize the fact that far too many Jewish children do not study Torah all day or do they even attend Hebrew all-day schools. A vast number attend public schools and to these children we must also turn our attention for we must not despair nor may we neglect them. The circumstances requires that a supreme effort be made to preserve the spark of Jewishness in each child so that it will not be extinguished, G-d forbid. At the very least, these children should recite a "proper prayer" each day so that the "name of G-d will be fluent on their lips."

It goes without saying that this is not the ultimate objective, for as stated above, the ideal situation would be for all and every Jewish child to study in a Yeshivah. But since this is not yet achieved, we must not make light of having the children in the public schools at least recite a proper prayer. While the performance of the Mitzvah of "proper prayer" in only a minimum, it must not be disregarded. Especially as there are some people who are waging a battle against the mere mention of G-d's name in the public schools and thus, regardless of their intentions, creating an appalling Chillul Hashem.

It is superfluous to emphasize again and again that what is referred to here, is a non-denominational prayer. And to insure that the non-denominational aspect is heeded in all the schools. Bible-reading in Public schools should be ruled out to prevent introduction of religious subjects non-acceptable to many.

The following precedent established by the saintly Baal Shem Tov will serve to discard the wrong stand of some misguided people, as well as those who oppose the mention of G-d's name in the public schools, supposedly, in deference to the Shulchan Aruch!

One of the Baal Shem Tov's "holy tasks" was to use every opportunity to cause people, men, women and children, to bless G-d's name. He would ask them how they are, so that they would reply: "Thank G-d", etc. My father-in-law of sainted memory, emphasized that the Baal Shem Tov would do so not only in the synagogue and at home, but also in the street and stores, and places of work; at every time and every place.

Also in the matter of Federal Aid for Parochial schools, I have spoken many times about this great need, and there is no basis for opposition to it. On the contrary, it is a holy obligation on the part of everyone to expressly demand this help....

May you achieve success in your endeavors to enhance the position of Torah and Mitzvos in the daily life, each in your community. And in matters of holiness there is always room for improvement, for their source is the Infinite, blessed be He.

May the Almighty grant that you act with the fitting warmth and inner joy in the conviction that you are in the service of G-d, and may others learn from you and follow your example.

With esteem and blessing for abundant success,


Rambam this week

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

19 Menachem Av 5759

Positive mitzva 21: Revering the Sanctuary

By this injunction we are commanded to be in great awe of the Sanctuary (the site of the Holy Temple), and to regard it in our hearts with fear and dread. It is contained in the words (Lev. 19:30): "And you shall revere My sanctuary."


A Word from the Director

This Monday, the 20th of Av, is the yartzeit of the Rebbe's father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson. Hounded and harassed by the Communists, imprisoned and exiled to Asia, Reb Levi Yitzchak's self-sacrifice and iron-will never broke. But his physical body eventually did, and after years of torture and illness he passed away in 1944 in Alma Ata, the capital of Kazakhstan.

Reb Levi Yitzchak's concern for his fellow Jew was legendary. In Russia there was a Chasid by the name of Reb Ozer Vinikorsky, who five times (!) had received a draft notice from the Red Army, with an invitation to appear before the medical board. After five close calls he still hadn't been drafted, but the constant threat was taking a psychological toll.

The Chasid went to Reb Levi Yitzchak for his blessing and advice. Touched by the man's suffering, Reb Levi Yitzchak not only blessed him, but outlined a detailed plan that would rid him of this worry forever. Reb Levi Yitzchak told him the particular day he was to appear before the board, the exact time to show up, which streets he was to take, which chapters of Psalms to recite - he even told him how many coins he should give to charity that morning! The most important thing, however, was to concentrate on G-d's holy Name Havaya before opening the door to the Ministry. If he followed these instructions, nothing bad would happen.

As Reb Ozer later related, "I followed Reb Levi Yitzchak's directives to the letter. Inside the Ministry were many tables; at each table sat a different type of medical specialist, and the potential recruits had to be examined by all of them. Afterwards, I took my files and handed them to the official who would give me my final answer. 'Poor fellow,' he said as he looked at my pityingly. 'It isn't often that every single doctor finds a different defect!' " Reb Ozer received a complete deferment.

May the memory of Reb Levi Yitzchak Schneerson inspire us all and stand the entire Jewish people in good stead.


Thoughts that Count

And you shall keep and do them [plural]...and He will love you and bless you [singular] (Deut. 7:12-13)

"And you shall keep and do them" is in the plural, as it refers to keeping the Torah's commandments, which all Jews must do equally. "And He will love you and bless you" is in the singular, as it refers to the reward a Jew receives for his observance, which is entirely individual. Although all Jews keep the same mitzvot, they do so with different levels of enthusiasm, devotion and motivation; thus they are given varying degrees of reward. (Kli Chemda)

A land whose stones are iron (Deut. 8:9)

The Torah does not praise the Land of Israel for its silver and gold, as these commodities are also found in other countries. Its stones, however, are unique, and particularly dense and heavy, as alluded to in Psalms 102:15: "For your servants hold her stones dear." (Rabbi Aryeh Leib Lipschitz)

Now Israel, what does the L-rd your G-d ask of you except to fear G-d (Deut. 10:12)

"People are strange," Rabbi Chanoch of Alexander used to say. "They beg and plead that G-d should give them 'fear of heaven,' when this is something that is entirely in the individual's control. Yet when it comes to livelihood, they imagine that they are in charge."

There are many mitzvot that require physical "objects" in order to observe them. For example, a person cannot fulfill the mitzva of tzitzit without a garment to put them on, nor can one affix a mezuza without a house and door post. An incarcerated person is also severely limited as to what he can do. "Fear of G-d," however, is dependent on nothing. A Jew can fulfill this mitzva anywhere, and at any time. (Ginzano HeAtik)


It Once Happened

The great Sage and leader of the Jewish people, Rabbi Akiva was going on a long journey. In order to make his travels easier, he took with him a donkey, a rooster and a candle.

The donkey would carry his meager possessions and afford him a ride when he was too weary to walk. The rooster would wake him at dawn and the candle would allow him to study Torah at night when the sun had long set.

Early one morning, Rabbi Akiva rose, prayed, and went on his way. He traveled the whole day, stopping only to eat and say the afternoon prayers.

At nightfall, Rabbi Akiva was very close to a town and he decided he would spend the night there. But there was no hostel for wayfarers. When Rabbi Akiva inquired as to whether he could perhaps stay in someone's home, he was rudely told by the townspeople, "We have no room. Keep on traveling."

Rabbi Akiva remained outside, late into the night, hoping that someone would notice his quandary. But no one invited him in. Despite the lateness of the hour and the coldness in the air, Rabbi Akiva said, "Whatever G-d does is for the best."

The Sage did not want to remain in a city where the inhabitants were so evil that they could not even find a place for a weary traveler. Thus, Rabbi Akiva found a comfortable spot in a nearby field, lit his candle, fed his donkey and rooster, and then began to study Torah.

So absorbed was he in his studies, that Rabbi Akiva forgot that it was the middle of the night and he was in a field, vulnerable to the dangers of the outdoors. Suddenly, Rabbi Akiva heard a mighty roar and he saw a lion bound out of the nearby forest and attack his donkey. He did not even have time to recuperate from the shock of what had just taken place when a cat, appearing out of no where, pounced on his rooster and dragged it away. Moments later, a gust of wind blew out his candle.

Calmly, Rabbi Akiva said, "Whatever G-d does is for the best."

Much later that evening, Rabbi Akiva heard loud noises and great confusion coming from the town. When dawn broke, Rabbi Akiva learned that soldiers had attacked the city, wreaking havoc and leaving death and destruction in their wake. Survivors were taken captive. The soldiers had even passed through the very field in which he had been sleeping.

Rabbi Akiva realized what had happened and said, "Now truly everyone can see that whatever G-d does is for the best. Had the lion not devoured my donkey it would have brayed; had the cat not eaten the rooster it would have crowed; had the wind not extinguished my candle it would have lit up the darkness. Then the soldiers would have found me and taken me prisoner too."

***

It happened once that the Jewish people in the Land of Israel decided to send a gift to the Roman Caesar in the hopes that he would treat them well.

They filled a box with precious stones and gems. They asked the wise and pious Nachum Ish Gamzu to bring the treasure to the Caesar. Nachum was known by the unusual epitaph "Gamzu," which means "this too," for no matter what happened he always said, "This too is for the best."

Nachum Ish Gamzu agreed to take the box and started on the long and dangerous journey. He traveled on a ship for many days. After the ship docked at its destination, Nachum found an inn to stay at overnight. He said the evening prayers and went to sleep, exhausted from his tiring journey.

The innkeeper, however, was not tired. In fact, he was quite alert and interested to see what his newest lodger had in the beautiful box he had brought with him. The innkeeper crept into Nachum's room and peaked into the box. The stones and precious gems dazzled the innkeeper. Within moments he had stealthily emptied the box and refilled it with common earth and stones.

Early the next morning, Nachum awoke, said his prayers and went to the Ceasar's palace, eager to fulfill the mission the Jewish community in the Holy Land had placed upon him.

When it was Nachum's turn to go before the Caesar, he said, "Your Majesty, I have brought you a beautiful gift from the Jews of the Land of Israel."

The Caesar was eager to open the beautiful box. But when he opened the box his face burned with rage. "Have I not enough dirt and stones! The Jews wanted to insult me! I will punish all of them. But first I will put to death the one who had the audacity to bring this 'present' to me."

Nachum Ish Gamzu said simply and softly, "This too is for the best. Whatever G-d does is for the best."

At that moment, one of the princes spoke up. "Surely the Jews would not send the Ceasar common dirt to anger him. Perhaps there is a secret in this dirt. Let us throw some into the air and perhaps it will turn into swords and arrows as it did in the time of their ancestor Abraham!"

The Caesar agreed to try. They threw the dirt into the air and it turned into sword and arrows.

The Caesar now told Nachum that he would refill the box with gold and precious gems to bring back to the honorable Jews in the Holy Land.

Nachum took the box and returned to the Holy Land. "Truly everything that happens is for the best," Nachum said as he retold the story to his brethren.


Moshiach Matters

We live in cataclysmic times, an age of drastic changes and fast-moving developments in all aspects of the human condition. They reflect with uncanny preciseness the symptoms of the advent of the Messianic era, acutely defined in the Talmud, Midrash, and other sacred writings. (From Mashiach, by Rabbi Dr. Jacob Immanuel Schochet)


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