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Devarim Deutronomy

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605: Mishpatim

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609: Avi's Bar Mitzvah Speech

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Devarim Deutronomy

February 4, 2000 - 28 Shevat, 5760

605: Mishpatim

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

  604: Yitro606: Terumah  

Happiness Is...  |  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

Happiness Is...

Who can repress a smile when seeing the joy of a small child shrieking in delight as he glides down a slide in a park? Whose gait isn't emboldened as he passes a newsstand and the headlines report good news? Or what about when you're at a wedding and the stomp of the foot on the breaking glass elicits resounding cries of "mazel tov"; the surge of simcha, or joy, is electric.

"Serve G-d with joy," King David demands. And since we are in the employ of our Boss 24-7 we must be in a continual state of joyousness.

"That's easier said than done," you might be thinking. Perhaps in the above-mentioned scenarios joy is intrinsic, but what of other times, those regular, run-of-the-mill days when there's no particular reason to rejoice? Or worse yet, those gray periods when we see everything around us through cheerless lenses? How can we sustain an upbeat feeling, an optimistic outlook?

By not thinking too much about ourselves. When a person focuses on himself, it's natural that he should start thinking about what he lacks materially or his failings in regard to self-growth and actualization. Obviously, these throughts aren't conducive to inspiring a cheerful attitude.

Also, by not thinking too much of ourselves. When a person has an inflated sense of self, he is often hurt or angered by slights real and imagined.

If a person really wants to be in a joyous frame of mind, he has to rise above self-concern. He needs to spend time reflecting on the idea that there is something deeper and great beyond him, G-d. And when a person thinks more about G-d and less about/of himself (especially if those reflections are based on the Jewish mystical teachings found in Chasidism), he will find it easier to maintain a positive and even joyous attitude in life.

And there's something in it for us, as well. When a person is joyous, he generates a new-found energy that he would not otherwise be able to muster. This doesn't mean that real problems miraculously cease to exist (though sometimes they do disappear), but rather that we are able to view them and even solve them from our new, energized positive perspective.

When our joy is more on the level of "bursting" with happiness, it's natural to want to share it with others. An instinctive part of being happy is wanting those around us to be happy as well. And share it we should, especially now, as we enter the Jewish month of Adar. The Talmud teaches, "From the beginning of Adar we increase in joyousness." So start being happy now. And this year it's even easier because it's a leap year which means there are two months of Adar-a double chance to practice being happy!

One more thought about simcha: In Hebrew it shares the same root letters as Moshiach. By actually working on ourselves to be happy, we actually hasten the time when the whole world will be happy - the time of Moshiach.

Living with the Rebbe

The Torah portion of Mishpatim contains the law of the goring ox. The Torah distinguishes between two categories: the "shor tam," a bull that is not known to be a gorer, and the "shor mu'ad," a bull that has gored three times. Such an animal is considered dangerous and likely to gore again.

Everything in the Torah can be understood on many levels. Thus not only does the law of the goring ox pertain to animals, it also applies to a person's soul. In general, the ox is symbolic of the animal soul. (According to Chasidut every Jew has two souls, a Divine soul and an animal soul.) The animal soul, by itself, is not necessarily bad. It has many positive qualities and is a powerful force that can be harnessed for good. Nonetheless, like the physical ox, it must be closely guarded to prevent it from inflicting damage.

The natural state of the animal soul is "a bull that is not known to gore." As it is created, the animal soul does not crave forbidden things, only those that are permissible and necessary to sustain life. If the animal soul falters and commits a sin, it is the exception rather than the rule, and runs contrary to its true nature. In this instance it is relatively easy to do teshuva (repent) and repair the damage.

However, if a person commits the same sin over and over again "until it seems permissible," he is considered "a bull that has gored three times." Having already been reinforced several times, his negative behavior is now second nature to him, and he is considered likely to repeat it in the future.

How does a person turn "a known gorer" back into "a bull that is not known to gore"? Simply by training it. According to Maimonides, the transformation is complete "when little children can poke [the ox] and it still doesn't gore."

The same rule applies in our service of G-d. The "repeat offender" must work hard on refining his animal soul and weakening its desires. Then, when he finds himself facing the exact same temptation, yet he remains strong and doesn't falter, his status reverts to "a bull that is not known to gore."

Of course, this not an easy thing to accomplish, so the Torah offers us another method of attack. According to Maimonides, when a "known gorer" acquires a new owner, the slate is cleaned and the animal is considered "a bull that is not known to gore." Because the new owner relates to it differently, the animal's nature also changes for the good.

In spiritual terms, any Jew who wants to undergo a similar transformation must also acquire a new "owner," immersing himself completely in the realm of holiness: learning Torah, doing good deeds and engaging in prayer. His ingrained bad habits will automatically lose their grip on him, and he will become "tam" - literally "perfect and whole."

Adapted from Volume 36 of Likutei Sichot

A Slice of Life


Isaac Jacobs

by Tzvi Jacobs

"So you've lived in Charleston all your life," a visitor remarked to my father.

"Nope, not all my life, only 82 years. Not finished yet."

To me, it seemed as if Dad would live forever.

Seven months later, in February of 1999, Dad was back in the Intensive Care Unit. I didn't panic and fly down right away. During the past 21 years, there were three other times when Dad was in ICU.

The first time was on June 19, 1978, on his 62nd birthday. Dad had quadruple bypass surgery. Most men his age would have retired after such a close call. But with two daughters in college, another who had just graduated high school and the youngest only nine years old, Dad had to "go back on the road."

Dad had worked for the past 40 years as a traveling salesman for the Jacobs Hosiery Company, the small family business. Dad traveled the country roads crisscrossing South Carolina, calling on the small-town store owners. He took orders for T-shirts, hosiery, jeans, and other "dry goods." Jewish hardware, my father called it.

On his rounds, Dad picked up watermelons for 25 cents and priceless stories, and brought them home to us for our Friday night Sabbath meal.

Dad's heart pumped blood through those bypass arteries for the next ten years, allowing him to dance at the weddings of all four of his daughters, as well as mine. But it wasn't all fun and music those years. Among heartaches, my brother Charles suffered a massive heart attack at the young age of 33 and his sweet soul returned to its Maker.

Dad took the tragic news with the strength of Job and kept the hurt inside. He recited the mourner's prayer daily for the next 11 months and wrote letters about the evils of cigarette smoking, which he felt contributed to Charles's heart attack.

About six months later, while sitting at a midday Sabbath meal, Dad was having terrible chest pains that wouldn't go away. He was admitted to the hospital for observation. That evening, Dad suffered a heart attack. Fortunately, he was in the hospital and was treated right away. That week he again underwent bypass surgery.

The last time I saw Dad was two summers ago, in July 1998. He stayed in my home in Morristown, New Jersey, for a week.He was happy for me because I had finally purchased a house.

My father was quite a handyman; I'm quite the opposite. Dad showed me how to change a washer on the handle of my bathroom sink. He showed me how to pop off the circular cover with the letter 'C' for cold. I had no idea that a screw hides underneath it. We spent a lot of time together in that little bathroom-Dad, me, and my two-year-old son.

When I think of all that my father made for us children: badmitton courts in the backyard, tether ball poles, basketball hoops-I am humbled, knowing that he worked Monday through Friday, sleeping in old roadside motels or at relatives' homes all week long and, finally, pulling in on Friday afternoon, exhausted from traveling hundreds of miles, seeing and serving his customers. On Sunday mornings he worked at Jacobs Hosiery Company, replacing his samples or turning in his paperwork. It was not an easy job, for Dad or Mom.

On February 21, 1999, it was my turn to visit Dad. Again, he was in ICU with a very weak heart. While waiting in Newark Airport, a photo of Dad flashed through my mind. Two summers earlier, at the Bar Mitzva dinner of their second oldest grandson, Dad and Mom had sat before the camera: like king and queen for a day, surrounded by their grandchildren-32 keyne hara in all. Despite the late hour, Dad's face exuded a calm smile of true happiness.

I wanted to see that smile one more time. I imagined him seeing me, whispering with his lips or eyes, "Tzvi, it's good to see you."

That morning, I had called Mom at 10:30 a.m. She was already back from the hospital. "This morning, Dad was staring at the ceiling and talking in a very low, mumbling voice. Then in a loud and clear voice, he said, 'Isaac Jacobs. Isaac Jacobs.' So I said, what do you mean 'Isaac Jacobs'?"

"Daddy pointed up. 'Someone is calling me.' 'Tell them you're not ready,' I told him." Mom laughed nervously.

Hurriedly I packed a suitcase and caught a flight. Dad had mellowed out in recent years. He had transformed himself from an over-stressed father to a happy, relaxed "zaidy." The last time I visited Charleston, he was giving out "Hug Me" stickers to all of the grandchildren. What touched me was that every night before going to bed, he would say the "Shema-Hear O Israel" and then ask G-d to bless each of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He kept a list of all 30-plus names by his bed, just in case his memory failed him due to tiredness. "Some people fall asleep by counting sheep. I just say my grandchildren's names and then I'm out," he would say with pride.

When I arrived in the Charleston Airport, my parents' neighbor met me. "I'm sorry to be the one to tell you, Tzvi. Around 1:30, your Dad had a massive heart attack..."

At the funeral home, the rabbi spoke to an overflowing crowd. "...Isaac was not a wealthy man in material goods but he was a very wealthy man with family. He and Ruth have had a lot of nachas-a lot of spiritual peace, and in this way you might say he was one of the wealthiest men in Charleston.... They had an open house to any stranger... He loved to learn Torah. He might not have been a great scholar, but many times he asked very penetrating questions. Isaac was a successful man. When you have 33 grandchildren following in your ways, a legacy that will continue on for generations, you have attained true wealth."

Dad can now say he lived in Charleston all of his life. To me, it seems as if Dad still lives on.

From the new book, From the Heavens to the Heart, by Tzvi trying

What's New



An international mitzva campaign celebrating 50 years of the Rebbe's leadership and inspiration was inaugurated with "A Week of Friendship and Kindness" this past month. Hundreds of thousands of "bricks" filled out by individuals who had done a good deed became "walls" in malls, JCC's, schools and synagogues under the banner of "Building a World of Good: Getting Ready for Moshiach." Other projects included "Recognition ribbons," art and essay contests, Mitzva Phone-a-thons (where people were asked to pledge a good deed), lectures and more. The next campaign, "A Week of Kosher Awareness" begins on March 31. For more info call your Chabad-Lubavitch Center.

The Rebbe Writes


20 Cheshvan, 5739 [1978]

Greeting and Blessing:

For technical reasons it is more convenient to reply to your letter in English than in Russian. You may, of course, continue to write to me in Russian, but let me know if you prefer to receive the reply in Hebrew, Yiddish, or English.

Now to reply to the questions in your letter of 3 Cheshvan which reached me with some delay:

Question 1: In a certain city there are Jews who converted to Christianity and some of them now feel an urge towards Judaism and would like to join a Torah-study group. What should be the attitudes towards them?

Answer: In general, each individual has to be considered as a separate case, and the criterion for admission to the study group should be an assessment of the expected result: Is the individual likely to return to Judaism by attending the Torah study, or will it have the opposite effect?

In making such an assessment, two kinds of individuals should be borne in mind. There may be one who has become a missionary. In this case, he should not be judged in "the scale of merit." Moreover, it is in the nature of such a convert to seek "justification" for his conversion at every opportunity. Hence he will not stop at deliberately distorting and misrepresenting the truth.

A further factor is this: The Torah classes are attended by Jews, not all of whom are 100 percent firmly entrenched in Judaism - some of them are rather weak and have doubts. Consequently, if these were to meet with the said element in an atmosphere of Torah learning and discussion, the association may be very harmful to them in view of the weakness of their own conviction.

On the other hand, there is a second type of convert, namely, those who converted not because they have been brainwashed, but for some foolish external reasons, and more particularly those who come under the category of Tinok Shenishbo [a child who was kidnapped and raised by non-Jews (and therefore had no benefit or knowledge of Judaism)]. In this case, the prospect of helping them return to Judaism is, of course, more promising.

The above are general guidelines, and each individual case should be considered on its own merits, as mentioned.

In addition there are other general points to be considered:

In view of the Holocaust - which was largely an outgrowth of centuries-long animosity and persecution systematically perpetrated against Jews, if there is a Jew who, despite living in such close proximity in time and place to this atrocity, yet finds it proper in his mind and heart to become a part of, and be identified with, the creed and its properties who claimed so many innocent Jewish victims, men, women and children, all in the name of Christianity - then perhaps it may be possible to bring him back to his senses in other ways, but hardly by means of Torah lessons.

At the same time, considering those among the study circle members who are so-called borderline cases, whose Jewish identity is still weak and who have to be strengthened in their commitment to Torah, it is easy to see how harmful it would be for them to come into close association with that element. All the more so since it would be difficult to limit such association to the periods of Torah study and preclude them from meeting afterwards in other situations...

Turning to the rest of your letter, I will remember in prayer those you mention, when visiting the holy resting place of my father-in-law of saintly memory, whose concern for his fellow-Jews, particularly in that country, knew no bounds, to the point of self-sacrifice. And, as our Sages of the Talmud tell us, the Shepherds of our Jewish people do not forsake their flock even after their Histalkus [passing] and continue to intercede on High on their behalf.

By the way - indeed, more than that - you surely know that my father-in-law, when he was in that country, had organized a group of young Jews of higher learning, by the name of "Tiferes Bachurim," under the successful leadership of an academician named K. (working under the guidance of Rabbi Yakov Landau, now in Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel]). I would be interested to know if that K. is related to you.

With prayerful wishes and with blessing,

Rambam this week

28 Shevat 5760

Positive mitzva 173: appointing a king

By this injunction we are commanded to appoint a king over ourselves, a Jew, who will bring together our whole nation and act as our leader. It is derived from the words (Deut. 17:15): "You shall set him king over you."

A Word from the Director

This Shabbat we will bless the month of Adar I, with the new moon occurring on Sunday and Monday. As we are now in the midst of a leap year, there will be two months of Adar instead of one (Adar I and Adar II). By including the first day of Rosh Chodesh Adar I in the reckoning, we end up with 60 instead of the usual 30 of these auspicious days.

Our Sages said, "When Adar enters, we increase our joy." The whole month (or months, in our case) is a time in which the dynamic of transformation is emphasized. In Adar, the terrible threat that hung over the entire Jewish community in the times of Haman was transformed into the joyous holiday of Purim. Adar teaches us that darkness can be transformed into light, and bitterness into sweetness.

The name Adar has various meanings, one of which is "strong." In Adar, we experience the strength, "Adir," of G-d. The Talmud relates that during the month of Adar, Jewish mazal, usually translated as fortune or destiny, is particularly potent. The mazal of the Jew is synonymous with the higher levels of his soul, which is always intrinsically bound with the essence of G-d. During Adar we have a unique opportunity to draw down Divine energy into our lives, by doing good deeds that are imbued with joy.

The number 60 is associated with the nullification of undesirable influences. When a non-kosher food is mixed with 60 times its amount of kosher food, the resulting mixture - including the non-kosher food that has become intermingled in the mixture - may be eaten. This points to not only the nullification of negative forces, but their transformation into positive ones.

May it be G-d's will that we soon experience the ultimate transformation of history, when our exile will be irrevocably changed into redemption, with the coming of our Righteous Moshiach.

Thoughts that Count

And these are the judgments (mishpatim) you shall set before them: If you buy a Hebrew servant (Ex. 21:1,2)

Why does the Torah begin its enumeration of the various ordinances with the laws of the Hebrew servant (whom the Jewish court sold into servitude after having been convicted of theft)? The Hebrew servant was, in fact, an extremely rare occurrence; why doesn't the Torah begin with something more practical? Rather, Chasidut explains that the word for judgments, mishpatim, also implies going in a certain way or manner. For the Jew, the first step along the path of truth is the recognition that he is a "Hebrew servant" - a servant of G-d, the King of kings. (Likutei Sichot, Vol. 26)

If you lend (talveh) money to My people, to the poor with you (Ex. 22:24)

The Hebrew word for lending is the same as the word meaning to accompany or escort. Thus the above verse can also be interpreted to mean that the only money that "accompanies" a person after death is the charity he gave to the poor during his lifetime. This is alluded to by our Sages in Chapter 6 of Ethics of the Fathers: "At the time of a man's passing from this world, neither silver nor gold nor precious stones accompany him, but only Torah [learning] and good deeds." (The Kotzker Rebbe)

Keep far away from a false matter (Ex. 23:7)

Although the Torah contains 365 negative commandments, lying is the only sin the Torah warns us not only to avoid, but from which to "keep far away." This teaches that it isn't enough for a person not to lie; he must actively distance himself from falsehood and flee from it. (Rabbi Zushe of Anipoli)

Said Rabbi Zeira: A person must never promise to give something to a child and then not give it to him. Such behavior will only teach him to lie, as the Torah states (Jeremiah 9:4): "They have taught their tongue to speak lies." (The Talmud, Sukka 46b)

It Once Happened

In a village near Kovno lived a Jew named Yosef, who earned his living from a small inn that he maintained. He was both pious and an accomplished Torah scholar, and was well-respected by everyone. His good name drew people to his establishment, Jew and non-Jew alike.

One day, the Russian army returned from Warsaw after a military skirmish with the Poles. One battalion was assigned to bivouac in Yosef's village for a while. After they got themselves organized and set up, their commanding officer, a general, wished to relax with a glass of good wine. Two soldiers were dispatched to the innkeeper's home. They knocked on the door and announced that they had come to buy a bottle of the most expensive wine for their general.

To their surprise, they were met with a polite but firm refusal. It was Shabbat eve, the sun had already set; Queen Shabbat had arrived. "Sorry, fellows," said Reb Yosef, "no sales today."

When the soldiers returned empty-handed, the general became angry. He was used to his orders being immediately fulfilled. The soldiers insisted it wasn't their fault. "The Jew absolutely refused to sell to us," they explained.

The general blew up. Impudent Jew! Enraged, he ordered the two to go tell the Jew that if he persisted in his refusal, terrible things would happen to him.

The soldiers left. When they came back, they still had no wine. However, they showed the general that they had the keys to the inn. "That Jew is strange," they exclaimed. "First he won't sell to us, no matter what; then he gives us the keys to his shop. He even said we can take whatever we like-and for free!"

The general's fury turned into astonishment. His curiosity piqued, he decided he would go see this strange Jew for himself.

When the door was opened for him, the general remained rooted on the threshold. In the center of the room stood a table covered with a sparkling white cloth. On it were glowing candles spreading their light throughout the entire room. The faces of the small children that turned towards him shone. The delicious smells of Shabbat wafted through the room, filling the general's nostrils. He had never partaken of such a vision in his life.

Reb Yosef warmly invited the general to join them, and instructed someone to bring a bottle of good, aged liquor. The general could contain himself no longer. "I don't understand," he cried out. "Why did you refuse to sell me even a bottle of wine and then of your own will send me the keys to your inn? And now you honor me with fancy drinks to my heart's desire?"

"It's simple," smiled the innkeeper. "G-d, who is infinitely more exalted than any aristocratic noble or other important person, forbids us to do business on the holy Shabbat. But when you honor me by visiting me in my home, then you are my guest, and I will do everything in my power to treat you well."

The general sated himself with meat and drink, and stood to go. He took a gold coin from his pocket and attempted to pay his host for the exquisite meal.

"G-d forbid!" Reb Yosef exclaimed. "I already explained to you that on Shabbat I don't have customers, only guests. And with guests I don't reckon bills or take payments."

The general wrote down the innkeeper's name in his notebook and departed, but not before shaking his host's hand in friendship and thanking him with great warmth.

Several years passed. A black carriage, instantly recognizable as one of those used to transport serious criminals, stopped in front of Reb Yosef's house. Armed policemen emerged, arrested the innkeeper, and took him away to jail.

After a while, Reb Yosef was informed of the reason for his arrest. The leader of the rebels, Jan Kanarki, had been captured. In his journal, Reb Yosef's inn was mentioned as a regular meeting place. The police deduced that, beyond doubt, the innkeeper must be a prominent member of the underground.

Reb Yosef sat in his cramped, dark cell unceasingly murmuring Psalms in a broken, weeping voice. He pleaded with the Master of the Universe to save him from the horror that had overtaken him.

While he was still praying, the door of his cell opened. The chief supervisor of the national prison system was present on an inspection tour. The official's glance took in the sobbing Jew. Much to everyone's surprise he clasped the prisoner's hand, and asked, "My good friend! What are you doing here?"

Reb Yosef's eyes were filled with tears; he could barely distinguish who stood in front of him. Suddenly he recognized the official; it was the general!

Reb Yosef told him the details of his totally unexpected, false arrest. The general pursued the investigators on the case, and firmly asserted that a terrible mistake had taken place. Based on his personal acquaintance with the accused, the general insisted that the innkeeper could not possibly be involved with a revolutionary plot.

Thanks to his position, all charges were dropped and Reb Yosef was freed. From that day on, he lavished even more honor on Shabbat than before. After all, he owed her his life.

Reprinted with permission from the Ascent Quarterly:

Moshiach Matters

Egypt is destined to bring a gift to the Messiah. He will not wish to accept it from them, but the Holy One, blessed be He, will instruct him, "Accept it from them: they furnished hospitality to My children in Egypt." Immediately, what the Psalmist prophecized (Psalm 68) will occur: "Nobles shall come out of Egypt [bringing gifts]." (Talmud Pesachim)

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