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Devarim Deutronomy

March 24, 2000 - 17 Adar II, 5760

612: Tzav

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

  611: Vayikra613: Shmini  

Holy Gefilte Fish!  |  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

Holy Gefilte Fish!

by Rabbi Berel Bell

To a few confused individuals, the primary Jewish contribution to world civilization is the bagel. Although this "gastro-centric" view of Judaism is certainly misguided, we nevertheless do find deep significance in some foods.

Take fish, for example. What's a Friday night dinner without gefilte fish? It is a dinner lacking a certain spiritual dimension.

The Talmud relates that the great Rabbi Akiva defied all Roman decrees forbidding Torah study and risked his life by publicly teaching. When asked how he could jeopardize his life in this way, he answered with a parable.

A fox once used an imaginative ploy to try to catch some fish. He argued that the water was dangerous for them, since fisherman are constantly trying to catch them. Better to come onto the dry land, claimed the fox, where he could protect them.

The fish answered, "But the water is the source of our life; without it we can't live. On land we will surely die."

So too, Rabbi Akiva explained, the Jewish people are like fish and the Torah is our water. Just as there are dangers for the fish in the water, there may be times when it is dangerous to learn Torah. But to separate from it would mean certain destruction.

Why did Rabbi Akiva pick this parable? The scenario could have been reversed. The fish could have said the same thing to some land creature - promising it refuge in the water as protection from the dangers on land. Then the answer would be similar - that at least on land where there is air, it has the possibility of living. In the water, however, it would certainly perish. Why did Rabbi Akiva prefer to compare the Jewish people to fish?

One explanation lies in another aspect of the relationship of fish to water. When one looks at a body of water, normally only the water is visible. One knows that the fish are there, but their existence is concealed, and only the water is seen.

The constant connection between the fish and the water is a characteristic shared by land creatures and the air. But the second factor, concealment, is present only in creatures of the sea.

In a spiritual sense, this second factor is clearly exhibited by tzadikim (the righteous).

The tzadik is not arrogant and does not "stick out" in any negative sense. When one looks at him, one sees a person in whose every movement is expressed a closeness with G-d. This humility and subservience is an outgrowth of his connection to his Source. G-d is his life, and to be separated from Him would be tantamount to death.

Because of this attachment, he becomes nullified to his Source and totally united with his Creator. One does not see an individual striving after his own personal goals, but rather a person spreading the presence of G-d in the world.

In the physical world, these two aspects - that the fish are united with their source (the water) and that the existence of the fish is concealed - are independent. We see this because, as mentioned above, a land creature must have air, but is nevertheless revealed as a separate existence.

In the spiritual realm, however, the two factors are connected. Since the soul is united with its source it is not felt as a separate existence.

Since, as the prophet said, "Your people are all tzadikim," the above applies to every Jew. When we see fish, we are reminded of the constant connection of the soul to its Source and the natural nullification of a Jew to his Creator.

Shabbat is the appropriate time for this reminder via gefilte fish. For on Shabbat, the soul of every Jew feels its connection with its Source in a powerful way. The gefilte fish helps us by reminding us that the soul is there.

Rabbi Berel Bell is the dean of Beis Chaya Mushka Seminary in Montreal, Canada.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Tzav, contains the laws of various offerings, as well as an account of the installation of the priests by Moses before the entire Jewish people. The thanksgiving offering - korban toda -was brought to express one's gratitude to G-d, but only in specific instances. According to Rashi, these are "after having gone down to the sea, traveled through deserts, been released from prison, or recovered from illness."

These four categories are only alluded to in the Torah portion, but are openly enumerated in the Book of Psalms, where we are told exactly which circumstances require a thanksgiving offering. After listing these miracles, the Psalmist wrote: "Let them praise the L-rd for His loving kindness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men."

In truth, if we were obligated to thank G-d for all of His kindnesses, we would be busy bringing thanksgiving offerings a whole day. Our Sages tell us that "A person should praise the Creator for each and every breath he takes."

Similarly, three times a day we say in our prayers: "We will give thanks to You and recount Your praise evening, morning and noon." But not all of G-d's miracles require a thanksgiving offering; that sacrifice is reserved for the four specific instances mentioned in Psalms.

It is interesting to note that Rashi changes the order in which they are listed. Rashi's sequence is as follows: those who have made a journey by sea, traveled through deserts, been freed from prison, and recovered from illness.

This particular order reflects the experiences of the Jewish people during their exodus from Egypt. The first miracle that occurred was "going down to sea" - the splitting of the Red Sea. Next, they traveled through the desert. Then, for 40 years they were "imprisoned" in the desert, which surrounded them on all sides. "A sick person who recovers from illness," is enumerated last, as it is a miracle that occurs to an individual rather than an entire group.

In actuality, however, we find that the Jewish people were not obligated to bring a thanksgiving offering for any of these. A thanksgiving offering is brought only in cases involving a danger; because the Children of Israel left Egypt at the specific command of G-d Who guided them, their sojourn through the desert was entirely without risk. Nonetheless, it illustrates the specific miracles that would require a thanksgiving offering in normal circumstances.

This contains a practical lesson for every Jew: Even though G-d provides us with all our needs during the exile, we must never forget that we are still "imprisoned." This awareness should increase our longing for Moshiach, who will liberate us from our spiritual and physical imprisonment and usher in the Final Redemption.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 12

A Slice of Life

Chaos, ala Crimea

Elie with one of his campers

by Elie Estrin

Looking over the list of kids, I was amazed. In four days of traveling through five cities in Crimea, Ukraine, enlisting children for our summer sleep-away camp, we had doubled our enrollment up to 80 children! The buses pulled away from the home base, Chabad of the Crimea in Simferopol. We headed toward Yalta, down the ancient streets past decrepit housing and poverty unimaginable. The sunny countryside was a sight for sore eyes.

Cities in Ukraine are still horrendously backward; when Rebbetzin Lipsycz told me that people eat from the garbage, I didn't believe her. That was until I saw it for myself, two days in a row! But now we were taking 80 precious children out of that life, into a modern camp with healthy food for body and soul. For the children ages 8-18, we had an international staff - hailing from Israel, Canada, the United States, Australia, England and Ukraine - consisting of eight counselors, ten learning teachers, lifeguards and head staff, and four translators. A camp mother and a nurse came along, and the grounds provided their own kitchen staff of five.

The campground was breathtaking. On the horizon in plain view lay the Black Sea, and directly behind us rose the heights of the Crimean cliffs. Safety-wise, we did as much as we could to rope off the abandoned houses and rotting huts, and thank G-d the hazards remained relatively untouched. We had our share of run-ins with the S.S., or the Ukrainian Board of Health, who did not like our American food. They demanded only Ukranian-approved foods. I wanted to ask them, "Does that mean like the cow's head I saw lying in a gutter in Simferopol being sold?!" But I didn't, and thank G-d, we soon learned the Russian skill of hiding food under their noses!

The children unloaded the bus, removing their lunchbox-sized suitcases filled with most of their earthly possessions. The majority of the boys had just two changes of clothing.

It soon became apparent who was here for fun and who was here for chaos: the oldest boys were steeped in a deep, agressive Russian mentality, and it took hard work for their counselor, Shmuli Brown from England, to break through their coarse exterior. The first night of camp, one 18-year-old tied up a 13-year-old for sport. He was summarily asked to leave camp. But, in general, the children were a joy to work with. Unspoiled by modern luxuries, simple and fun-loving, the kids were soon very much attached to their counselors and role models. Even the oldest eventually adjusted, and two of them even requested circumcisions.

The kitchen was where the action was happening daily. Our cooks were not fond of Jews, and it took constant supervision to ensure that the kitchen stayed kosher. With all our vigilance, they still managed to slip in a bottle of milk and prepare omelets on the plates that chicken was served the night before! (The chicken itself was an experience: Our only Ukrainian counselor, Yaakov Gusyatinsky, was also a shochet. Late Thursday night, he and other staff members combed the Ukrainian villages for ten chickens to slaughter at the campsite. Campers helped with the various tasks to prepare the chickens; plucking, draining and salting. But unfortunately, by Friday night, the chicken was not well cooked and much of it was fed to a friendly German shepherd who came by for a visit. The next week was a bigger success, however, and the third week was a triumph of originality when we roasted the chicken over a spit. It was interesting...)

The kitchen staff finally did agree to listen to our directives, but only after we had complained to the director about one worker who slapped an 11-year-old child for reaching for a second piece of watermelon.

We encountered more culture shock as time went by: we had to fire the translators for shirking their duties and for giving young children alcoholic beverages. Each counselor developed his own way of communication without translators: Benjy Portnoy had a pocket dictionary, Tzemach Klar pantomimed, and other staff members were utterly dependent on the few children who spoke English.

Every day we drove the bus to the Black Sea for swimming. Because of the steep hills, the bus driver would let the bus roll backward before attempting the climb. Sometimes, this maneuver had to be repeated, rolling back and forth, causing seasickness to take hold. There were four "policemen" with machine guns stationed on the corner entering the village. The fear that the children had of these cops was sometimes amusing to us Americans. However, on a long-distance trip, we almost felt the brunt of the power over unwitting motorists: While driving down the coastline we saw a police outpost, and to our horror, the cop waved his baton and pulled us over. The driver left the bus with our papers, and after a nerve-wracking ten- minute delay he returned, mumbling something in Russian. "What is it?" I asked Alex, our tour guide. "They found a legal clause against us. If we don't want a fine on a return trip, we must bring them two bottles of Sprite!" And so it was; I personally handed them their "hard-earned" wages, with a polite "Spasiba"!

But camp ended way too fast. Three weeks flew by like a Concorde, and the last day of camp arrived. Campers and counselors alike were emotionally disoriented, and parting was hard. Tears flowed along with the rain, and finally the staff left the bus loaded with children in Yalta. The connection remains, though, and many counselors are still in contact with their charges. Most of the staff is waiting anxiously for "Passover Camp" and summer camp soon to be, not in Yalta, but in Jerusalem with Moshiach himself as the director!

Elie Estrin is in the Teach and Learn study program of Mesivta Menachem of Amherst, NY. For more information about Chabad of the Crimea, call (718) 493-4916.

What's New


Applying the soul of Judaism to the challenges of everyday life is the "course description" of Rabbi Simon Jacobson's popular class on Wednesday nights, 8:00 p.m., at 346 West 89th St. in New York City. Rabbi Jacobson is the author of Toward a Meanigful Life:The Wisdom of the Rebbe. For more information call (718) 774-6448 or visit


A new five-day seminar from Ascent in the holy ciy of Tzefat entitled Treasures of Life includes intensive basic Jewish mysticism workshops and daily hikes throughout the beautiful and breathtaking upper Galilee. Check out their Web site at

The Rebbe Writes

17th of Adar, 5737 [1977]

I was pleased to receive your letter of the 8th of Adar, in which you write about your advancement in matters of Yiddishkeit, Torah and Mitzvoth.

As you know, the Mitzvo [commandment] of V'Ohavto L'Reacho Komocho ["you should love your neighbor as yourself"] is the great rule of our Torah, requiring every Jew to help other Jews in every possible way. I trust that you have a good influence on your friends, especially by showing a good example of how a Jewish girl should conduct herself.

Having just celebrated Purim, the story of which is told in the Megilla [scroll], it is well to remember that although Mordecai and other people were also instrumental in bringing about the miracle of Purim, the Megilla is not called after both Mordecai and Esther, nor even after Esther and Mordecai in this order, but solely after Esther. This is surely a pointed reminder of how much a Jewish girl and woman can accomplish for the Jewish people. And although not everyone can compare to Queen Esther, it does emphasize that every Jewish girl in her own way can accomplish very much if she only uses all her abilities and opportunities. I trust that the inspiration of Purim will be with you throughout the year.

With blessing,

1 Adar, 5740 [1980]

I was pleased to be informed about the forthcoming tour of "Chassidic Soul Concerts" in various cities, in the period between Purim and Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

I trust that in light of the well known adage, "Neginah (melody) is the quill of the heart," and bearing in mind that "the essential thing is the deed," which our Sages so often emphasized, these concerts will make the most of the said two teachings in harmonious combination - to touch the hearts and souls of the audiences and participants and inspire them to strengthen their commitment to Yiddishkeit, Torah and Mitzvoth in the everyday life.

Indeed, the classical Chassidic nigunim [melodies] of our Rebbes have the quality of arousing the so-called "Pintele Yid" {Jewish spark] in the heart of every Jew, the true essence of a Jew, of which our Holy Scriptures speak in terms of "I sleep, but my heart is awake" (Song of Songs 5:3) meaning, as our Sages explain, that though a Jew may be "asleep" in Golus [exile], his heart is always awake to Torah and Mitzvoth.

But with all the importance of a Jewish heart and Jewish feelings ("G-d desires the heart"), the real value of an emotional experience is in it being translated into action in terms of actual Jewish living.

Being in Golus, as the story of Purim reminds us, "spread and scattered among the nations," the Jewish people remain "one people" the "people of Mordechai who would not kneel nor bow down" to anything that is contrary to the Jewish way of life. It was this firm stand that brought about Haman's downfall, and "for the Jews there was light, joy, gladness, and honor." And following in their footsteps we may confidently add, "So will it be for us."

Since Purim is followed by Pesach, "to bring one Geulo [redemption] close to the other Geulo," may we soon see the fulfillment of the Divine promise, "As in the days of your coming out of the land of Egypt I will show you wonders" - at the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu [our righteous Moshiach].

With blessing for Hatzlocho [success] and good tidings,

Rambam this week

20 Adar II 5760

Prohibition 321: journeying on the Sabbath

By this prohibition we are forbidden to journey on the Sabbath. It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 16:29): "Let no man go out of his place on the seventh day." Tradition fixes the limit beyond which it is forbidden to go at 2000 cubits beyond the boundaries of the town. (A cubit is approximately 22 inches.)

A Word from the Director

When it comes to doing mitzvot, our natural inclination is to try to comprehend as much as we can about a particular precept. However, some mitzvot are accessible to the human mind, while others are not. Some of the Torah's commandments are completely beyond our understanding. These mitzvot are called chukim, the primary example of which is the mitzva of the red heifer, about which we read this week. Even King Solomon, the wisest of all men, declared that this mitzva was beyond his ability to grasp.

Chasidic philosophy, rather than being "troubled" by these mitzvot, derives a very important lesson from them. We must strive, Chasidut teaches, to perform even the most seemingly rational mitzvot with the same sense of nullification before G-d and "acceptance of the yoke of heaven" as the ones that transcend the human intellect. We don't refrain from stealing or honor our parents because it makes sense to us; the only reason we do these mitzvot is because G-d has commanded us to observe them.

In truth, the entire Torah is "super-rational." G-d did us a favor and made it easier for us to perform certain mitzvot by "enclothing" them in logic, but a Jew's religious observance and indeed, his intrinsic connection to G-d relate to a much higher level. The bottom line is that we keep the Torah's commandments only to fulfill G-d's will.

The human mind is a wondrous creation. G-d wants us to use our minds to the best of our ability, as the mitzva to study Torah clearly demonstrates. But at the same time the mind is flexible, and the process of reasoning can sometimes lead to false conclusions.

Chasidut also explains that because logic itself is a creation, it is therefore limited. Only G-d is unlimited and eternal.

The mitzva of the red heifer thus raises our awareness of the fundamental "super-rational" basis of all of Judaism.

Thoughts that Count

This is the law of the burnt offering (Torat ha'ola), it is the burnt offering that shall burn upon the fire (mokda) (Lev. 6:2)

The great Chasidic masters used to say: When does a person's Torah study ascend on High? [The word ola, burnt offering, comes from the Hebrew root meaning to ascend.] When it "burns upon the fire" - when the Torah is studied with a fiery enthusiasm. However, the "mem" of the word "mokda," fire, is written smaller than the other letters. This teaches that the main part of the "flame" should remain within, and not draw attention to itself. (Otzar Chaim)

And he shall take off his garments, and put on other garments (Lev. 6:4)

Comments Rashi: "A person should not wear the same clothes while cooking for his master that he wears to pour his wine." The High Priest was obligated to change his clothes before performing his service in Holy Temple; the garments he wore while cleaning the altar were inappropriate for the exalted task. Similarly, it is a mitzva to change one's clothing in honor of the holy Sabbath. (Maharsha, on Tractate Shabbat)

Parshat Para

The Torah states: "Speak to the Children of Israel that they bring to you a completely red heifer, on which there is no blemish, that has never borne a yoke." From this we learn that if a person considers himself the epitome of perfection and "without blemish," it is a sure sign that he has never borne the yoke of Heaven, and is therefore unaware of his faults. (The Chozeh of Lublin)

The mitzva of the red heifer is symbolic and representative of all of the Torah's mitzvot. For all mitzvot, even those that the intellect can comprehend, are in essence chukim - commandments derived solely from G-d's will that transcend human understanding. G-d's will "enclothes" itself in logic and reason for some mitzvot, but the fundamental "rationale" for all of them is above knowing. (Likutei Sichot)

It Once Happened

A ripple of fear spread through the Jewish marketplace. "The wicked Haman is coming!" the merchants whispered as they hastily packed up their wares. Shutters were drawn and booths were closed. Buyers and sellers scattered like a flock of birds. Within minutes the marketplace was empty.

No one had ever figured out why the town's commissar hated Jews so much, but such was the fact. He was always finding ways to make their lives miserable, imposing exorbitant taxes and confiscating their merchandise. Indeed, their appellation "the wicked Haman" was also an expression of hope that he too would meet the same end as the Biblical oppressor.

Reb Hillel was the town's local mohel. But given the oppressive atmosphere of those times, his work was carried out with the utmost secrecy. Quietly and unobtrusively he would arrive at a Jewish home to bring a new baby into the covenant of Abraham. More than once it had been intimated that the authorities were aware of his activities. But Reb Hillel considered what he was doing a holy task, and would not be deterred by the threat of punishment.

One day Reb Hillel found himself searching for an address in the wealthier section of town. He didn't know the name of the family whose infant he would be circumcising, but the neighborhood was exclusive to high-ranking government employees. Just that morning, the synagogue's attendant had given him the address.

When he found the house, the attendant was the only one there. "Seven more Jews will be arriving shortly," he was told. "Together with the baby's father we will have a minyan." One by one the others arrived, their faces etched with worry and caution. The only one missing was the father, who would be bringing the infant.

"Whose house is this?" Reb Hillel asked as they waited, but no one knew the answer. That morning, a well-dressed figure had suddenly approached the attendant as he was locking the synagogue's door, and pushed a small piece of paper into his hand with the time and place of the brit mila. But everything else was a mystery.

However, there was no time for speculation, as at that moment the father walked in carrying the infant. The man was almost completely obscured by his heavy winter coat and hat, so it was very difficult to see what he looked like. Only Reb Hillel got a good glimpse as he took the baby from his arms. For some reason the man seemed familiar, but he couldn't quite place him. The brit was conducted quickly, and the father and infant left immediately afterward.

The next day Reb Hillel found a letter on his doorstep that caused his whole body to break out in gooseflesh. This was not the first time he was being summoned before the authorities, but he had a bad premonition. "No doubt my moment of truth has arrived," he fretted.

When he reached the government building he was immediately ushered into the office of the commissar. Reb Hillel's heart beat wildly and his body trembled. And then it hit him: the dreaded commissar was the baby's father!

The commissar took a cigarette from a little wooden box on his desk and lit it. It was obvious that he was in an emotional state. "I could tell yesterday that you knew who I was," he began. "I called you here to make sure that no one else ever learns my identity."

The commissar walked over to the window and then returned to his seat. Suddenly, without any prompting, he began to tell Reb Hillel his life story:

He had been born in a tiny isolated village. His mother was a loving and caring person, but his father had been cruel and violent. At a young age he had run away from home. Three times he had regretted his action and written to his father, but had never received an answer. As a result, he had become estranged from his Judaism and eventually abandoned it completely. For years he had held a grudge against the entire Jewish people.

After serving in the army, he had continued to advance up the ranks to his present post. A few years ago he had married a woman who, he discovered only after their marriage, was also Jewish. When it came time for her to deliver their first child, the labor was extremely difficult. Her life in danger, she had made her husband promise that if the baby was a boy and lived, he would undergo brit mila. The woman's life was spared, and the baby was indeed a boy.

"Yesterday," the commissar continued, "when I saw your willingness to endanger yourself for a total stranger, something moved in my heart. I can no longer justify my behavior toward the Jews."

The town's residents noticed the immediate change. It was truly inexplicable, but the commissar seemed to have run out of animosity. He even looked different as he walked through the marketplace, less arrogant and superior.

One Purim the news spread that the commissar had died suddenly. But instead of rejoicing, people merely shook their heads. A long time had passed since the days they had called him "the wicked Haman."

But Reb Hillel was the only one who shed a tear.

Moshiach Matters

The ultimate goal of the historic process is the perfection of society. Since everything was created by G-d, all must eventually be perfected. This is even true of man's mundane world, which was created as an arena for our service toward G-d. This ultimate goal is what we call the Messianic Age. It is the focus of the entire historical process. The coming of the Messiah is a basic belief of Judaism. This yearning and expectation gives Jews great optimism concerning the ultimate future of mankind. (From The Real Messiah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan)

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