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Devarim Deutronomy

Breishis Genesis

Shemos Exodus

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   611: Vayikra

612: Tzav

613: Shmini

614: Tazria

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Bamidbar Numbers

Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
April 7, 2000 - 2 Nisan, 5760

614: Tazria

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


  613: Shmini615: Metzora  

It's A Mitzva, Sort Of...  |  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

It's A Mitzva, Sort Of...

It's heartwarming when newspapers report stories about nice people doing good things. Here's a story from the Scripps Howard news service:

A professor of accounting at a college in California used to end each semester by telling his students, "Everything you've learned here you're going to use some day, and when you get rich, you can show your appreciation by buying me a Porsche."

A former student, now a multimillionaire, did just that. He surprised his mentor by having a burgundy convertible 2000 Porsche Boxter delivered to the college's parking lot.

The millionaire said, concerning the professor, "He had faith in me. He always was there to support me."

"It's not the car-it's the graciousness," the professor commented.

"A mitzva-sort of" was the note scrawled on the story when it was brought to our attention.

But was it a mitzva? Well, sort of.

The Torah shares a number of anecdotes about our forebears which teach us the importance of showing appreciation to one who has helped us in our time of need.

For example, when Abraham and Sara were told by G-d to go down to Egypt, they were poor. During their journey the various inns they stayed in extended credit to them. When they returned from Egypt to the land of Canaan they were quite wealthy, having been showered with riches by the Pharaoh. Traveling back home, they lodged in the same inns they had frequented on their way to Egypt. The reason? That no one should think the inns were fit only for poor wayfarers, but a person of means would not want to stay there.

Another expression of gratitude can be learned from Moshe (Moses). Although Moshe was named by his parents and received ten names in all, he is known as "Moshe," the name given to him by Pharaoh's daughter Batya when she saved him from the Nile River. He retained this name as a sign of appreciation to Batya for saving his life.

A second example from Moshe of hakarat hatov - recognizing the good someone (or something) has done took place when G-d commanded Moshe to smite the Nile River with his staff. This action would bring upon the Egyptain people the first of the ten plagues, blood. Moshe argued that it was improper for him to smite the water. The Nile River had been his refuge from Pharaoh's guards when he was an infant. G-d accepted this argument and ordered Aaron to smite the river instead.

The basis for this "sort of" mitzva is the commandment of Bikurim, or first fruits. In the times of the Holy Temple it was a mitzva to bring the first of one's fruit as an offering.

Rashi, the famous commentator, explains that when bringing the first fruits, one's accompanying declaration meant that one was not ungrateful."

At the moment when everything is going right, when your are reaping bountiful "fruits" of your labor, when you sell a stock at a high and the next day it takes a dive, when you're finally sitting in your new office instead of sharing a cubicle with a dozen co-workers, that's the time to show your appreciation to G-d and say "that you are not ungrateful."

Just as we are enjoined to show appreciation to G-d, we are expected to acknowledge the good that others have done for us as well.

It doesn't have to be a Porsche. But we should show gratitude somehow.

Every mitzva we do is rewarded. The reward for bringing the "first fruits" is that the following year, one will also be privileged to bring first fruits, in even greater abundance and amidst rejoicing.

What a beautiful thought: The more we thank others for what they have done for us, the more opportunities we will have to show appreciation!

Thanks Mom and Dad for clipping articles that serve as food for thought for L'Chaim!


Living with the Rebbe

In the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Tazria, we find a short verse containing instructions for every Jewish parent of a newborn baby boy: "And on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised." This is the mitzva of brit mila, the covenant of circumcision.

In actual practice, Jews were circumcising their male children for many years before this commandment was given. Our forefather Abraham was commanded by G-d to circumcise himself "and your progeny afterward, throughout the generations." Nonetheless, we observe this mitzva today based on the commandment in this week's Torah reading, and not because Abraham was circumcised.

The difference between the two commandments is as follows: Abraham was prophetically instructed by G-d to perform brit mila on himself as an individual. It was a singular command, addressed to one person. By contrast, the commandment in this week's Torah portion is one of the 613 mitzvot given by G-d to all Jews at Mount Sinai, in the presence of the entire Jewish people.

Brit mila is one of the most fundamental of the Torah's mitzvot. Our Sages note that it involves no less than 13 covenants between man and G-d. There are many reasons given for this mitzva, among which are the following:

The main portion of a Jew's G-dly soul is introduced into the body upon the performance of brit mila. [A Jewish girl is regarded as one who is born circumcised (Avoda Zara 27a), and thus her holy soul enters immediately upon birth.] Before the brit, the connection between the G-dly soul and the physical body is incomplete. The brit mila effects the fusing and unification between these two elements. That is why, according to many codifiers of Jewish law, a Jewish male is considered worthy of the World to Come from that point on.

As its name implies, brit mila is a physical manifestation of the eternal covenant between G-d and the Jewish people. Brit mila is also unique in being a "perpetual" commandment. Brit mila is a commandment a Jew is considered to be observing at all times.

Brit mila has an additional advantage in actually being in a person's flesh. All of the other commandments relate primarily to the soul, even though our physical limbs are used to perform them. Because the mitzva of brit mila involves an observable change to the body, it is a visible sign of the intrinsic connection between man and G-d. Precisely because it doesn't depend on the individual's intellectual comprehension, the Torah commands us to observe it at the earliest possible opportunity, i.e., at the age of eight days.

Based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe


A Slice of Life

SAYING KADDISH IN A NORTH CAROLINA SNOWSTORM

North Carolina Jews gather in the rarely seen snow for a minyan. In the center are Rabbi Pinney Herman and his brother Aaron.

By Rabbi Pinney Herman

I am writing this article as the snow falls, setting Wake County records. It is the end of January 2000, the 18th ("chai"- life) of the Hebrew month of Shevat.

As you know, rabbis like to turn current events into Jewish thoughts. Sometimes G-d makes it easy. I know there is a point to be made somewhere in the midst of the swirling snow.

My brother Aaron and I are saying Kaddish for our father, the late Emil Herman. For those of you who live in large Jewish communities, you might not understand how difficult it can be to get together a daily minyan [quorum]to say Kaddish. Raleigh, NC, doesn't exactly make the top ten or even 20 list for Jewish population. So, when I awoke this morning, I didn't just ask how we would get a minyan as I usually do. It was more like, Can we get a minyan? We thought that, perhaps, changing the minyan time from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. would help.

I put on my layers-three pairs of socks, my Nike's, the overalls I use to dress up like a farmer on Purim, two coats, earmuffs and my Pittsburgh Penguins cap.

I left my house a little later than I should have (as is my custom) and began trudging through the snow to shul. No joggers to be found. As I walked down a deserted road questioning my sanity, I started thinking of the stories I had heard from older Jews who lived in Russia. They described a life that would make this snow seem like a few flurries.

I had heard about Reb Mendel and his friends who spent 18 years of hard labor in Siberia for "terrible crimes" against the government like teaching Torah to children, opening shuls and building mikvaot [pools for ritual immersion]. Despite the hardships, they kept Shabbat, holidays and kosher. It was their commitment.

Women told of travelling 12 hours by train to use an unheated mikva. Sometimes they would have to break the ice on top in order to immerse themselves, after which they had another 12-hour train ride home. It was their commitment. They never once compromised their Jewish obligations. This is the epitome of a Jewish hero, not just a hero who is Jewish.

As I waved to the 4-wheel drives that ventured onto the streets, I thought to myself that the Jews who braved the hardships of Russia would be proud.

The footprints outside the shul told me that there were six people waiting for me, and another one on his way. We made some calls, but someone suggested that we make a virtual minyan in an AOL chat room. Not kosher!

Finally we called two boys who recently celebrated their Bar Mitzva. "Now you know what it means to be a Jewish adult," I told them. "Someday you'll be able to tell your kids how you walked in snow up to your waist to make a minyan-and it will actually be true. If you can play in the snow, surely you can walk in it." They came.

Our minyan was an eclectic bunch which included a Jew from Peru, a recent convert, a former Wolfpack offensive lineman from Thomasville, NC and an assortment of Yankees from the North.

I was proud of our group. It would have been a lot easier to claim that the weather made it impossible. Even the mailman stayed home!

Sometimes Jewish commitment is expressed by walking to shul in two feet of snow or not pitching in the World Series on Yom Kippur. Most of the time it is a little less dramatic-but no less vital. Take five or 10 minutes on weekday mornings to put on tefilin, say the Shema and tell G-d that you appreciate another day on this earth. Light Shabbat candles on Friday afternoon and turn Friday night into a meaningful Shabbat experience.

Is it about infusing life, warmth and enthusiasm into Judaism.

We can all be Jewish heroes. It takes commitment, but it is not impossible. It demonstrates to you, your children and your friends that Judaism is not just important, it is vital. It demonstrates that "Am Yisrael Chai"-the Jewish nation is alive and vibrant in its Judaism.

This self-sacrifice is what connects us to our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. This is what connects us to Moses and Miriam, to David and Deborah. This is what connects us to our ancestors, who lived in good times as well as bad. This is what will connect us to the ultimate purpose of creation.

I gotta run, the sled and slopes await.

Rabbi Pinney Herman is the Rabbi of congregation Sha'arei Israel-Lubavitch in Raleigh, North Carolina.


What's New

A SEDER YOU'LL REMEMBER

Travel into Egypt. and out again at a Passover seder organized by your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center. Taste genuine hand-baked matza, maror and charoset. Drink the four cups of wine. Eat a delicious full-course meal. Sing the traditional songs, hear heart-warming stories, and be part of a lively discussion. The seders are Wednesday, April 19 and Thursday, April 20.

BOUND L'CHAIM BOOKS

Bound volumes of the 12th year of L'Chaim are now available. They make great gifts and are an excellent resource. To purchase a bound L'Chaim book, send $25 plus $3 s&h ($5 in Canada $14 elsewhere) to: L'Chaim Books, 1408 President St., Bklyn, NY 11213. Limited quantities of volumes 5 through 11 are also still available.

MIT MAZEL

Mazel Tov! Mit Mazel is a new online matchmaking service. Find your soulmate through Mit Mazel at www.mitmazel.com . Mit Mazel caters to the entire community of Jewish singles. For more details visit the Website or call Rabbi Elimelech Silberberg at (248) 855-6170. It should be Mit Mazel!


The Rebbe Writes

SPIRITUAL SPRING CLEANING

3rd of Nissan, 5727 [1967]

Greeting and Blessing:

I just received the telephone message about your condition, and am awaiting good news about your treatment and relief. May G-d grant that you should have a speedy and complete Refuo [recovery], and that everything turns out to be for the good, the visible and obvious good.

Having entered the auspicious month of Nissan, the present time is particularly propitious for good tidings for all Jews, both materially and spiritually. Moreover, if at all times throughout the year a Jew is to serve G-d in good health and with joy and gladness of heart, this is particularly true for the month of Nissan, a time of considerable preparation for the forthcoming Festival of Liberation, especially the removal of Chometz [leaven] and the bringing in of Matzoh, with all that this signifies, including a thorough spiritual "spring cleaning." There is no need to elaborate on this to you.

I had intended to write to you these days in any case, but will now take advantage of this opportunity to express my gratification at the enthusiasm which your speech evoked at the gathering in the home of Mr. and Mrs. . . ., organized at the initiative of Prof. and Mrs. . . . I am also informed that it left a considerable impact on the audience.

Similarly I have been informed by the Tzeirei Agudas Chabad about the success and lasting impressions of your other appearances.

There is a connection in this continuity of the above, since the inference is how much you can achieve in good health, both in your immediate and distant environment. Hence, it will surely stand you in good stead.

Hoping to hear good news from you in all the above, and wishing you and yours a Kosher and inspiring Pesach.

With blessing,

10th of Nissan, 5721 [1961]

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter, in which you write about your efforts to implement my suggestion in connection with Purim. I trust that you have also been active in the matter of distribution of Shemura Matza [matza made from specially watched wheat] before Pesach, together with our friend Mr. -.

With regard to the question of Gehinom [purgatory] and how it affects sinners in general, and suicides in particular, you can well imagine that this is a subject about which I do not encourage discussion, especially in the case of a young man whose whole life is ahead of him and who has to utilize the years which G-d bestows upon him, and utilize them with energy and joy and complete trust in G-d. Thus, this and similar morbid topics are not conducive to the proper attitude and activity which should fill one's life. However, in order not to leave your question altogether unanswered, let me say briefly this. Besides the fact that one who takes his own life has no share in the world to come, and this is a result which few transgressions bring about, there is the added consideration that there is no escape from G-d, and, as it is written [A verse in Hebrew the translation of which is "If I ascend to Heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in the lower world, behold! It is You" (Psalms 139:8)]

Therefore, one who takes his own life in the hope of avoiding suffering actually adds to his woes in that in addition to having to go through all the things which he had hoped to escape, he has to suffer also the consequence of having tried to escape his duties and obligations etc. However the main point is, as mentioned above, this is not a topic to be delved into, but one should be totally immersed in the Torah, which is called Toras Chaim, the Law of Life, and the Mitzvoth whereby Jews live, and to do one's utmost to spread the light and life of the Torah and Mitzvoth in the environment at large.

Hoping to hear good news from you, and wishing you a Kosher and happy Pesach,

With blessing,


Rambam this week

2 Nisan 5760

Positive mitzva 153: determining the New Moon

By this injunction we are commanded concerning the reckoning of the months and years. This is the "commandment of the Sanctification of the New Moon," and is contained in the words (Ex. 12:2): "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months." This duty is only performed by the Great Court, and only in the Land of Israel.


A Word from the Director

For the first 13 days of the month of Nisan, a special portion of the Torah known as the "Nesi'im" is read, enumerating the offerings that each leader of the 12 tribes brought to the Sanctuary. As the Sanctuary, and later the Holy Temple, occupy a central place in Judaism, let us take a deeper look at their significance.

G-d, of course, is everywhere, as the Torah states, "The earth is filled with His glory." In the same way that the soul animates the body, G-d's Divine Presence fills and sustains the world.

Nonetheless, G-d commanded the Jews to build a special Sanctuary in which His Presence would be openly manifested, to remind them that G-d was always in their midst. The instructions for erecting the Sanctuary were given to Moses on the day after Yom Kippur, in the second year after the Exodus.

The Sanctuary was a portable structure with many components: the Tent of Meeting, the Holy of Holies, the menora and altar, the ark in which the Ten Commandments were kept, etc. The Sanctuary served as G-d's dwelling place on earth for a total of 479 years: 39 in the desert, 14 in Galgal, 369 in Shiloh, 13 in Nov, and 44 in Givon.

At that point the focus turned to Jerusalem. No longer would the Sanctuary be moved from place to place. The first Holy Temple was built by King Solomon, and stood for 410 years. The second Holy Temple stood for 420, until the time of the Romans.

The third Holy Temple will be built by Moshiach. Superior to all the structures that preceded it, it will be an eternal edifice that stands forever. In the Messianic era, G-d's Divine Presence in the world will be restored, and His dwelling place on earth established for eternity. At that time, the entire world will be bathed in a G-dly light.

May we merit to see it immediately.


Thoughts that Count

And on the eighth day shall the flesh of his foreskin be circumcised (Lev. 12:3)

This verse is a continuation of the words at the end of the previous Torah portion, ".to distinguish between the unclean and the clean," which refer to the signs by which we may recognize kosher and non-kosher animals. In the same way, the mitzva of brit mila is intended to differentiate between a member of the Jewish people and one of the 70 nations. (Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz)

And it might become in the skin of his flesh the plague of leprosy (Lev. 13:2)

The Biblical plague of leprosy was a physical manifestation of a spiritual illness. Said Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani, in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: There were seven reasons a plague might occur: gossip, bloodshed, taking a false oath, forbidden relations, arrogance, robbery, and envy. (The Talmud, Arachin 15a)

And if the appearance of the plague is deeper than the skin of his flesh, it is a plague of leprosy (Lev. 13:3)

If the outbreak of the disease is limited to the "flesh," to a person's corporeal nature and the desire to fulfill his physical cravings, the damage is superficial, and there is still hope that he will recover. By contrast, once the illness has penetrated deeper and has already infected a person's thought processes and outlook on the world, it is much more difficult for him to be healed. (Tiferet Yehonatan)

The flesh also, in which an inflammation was in the skin, and is healed (Lev. 13:18)

The Torah uses words "and is healed" only in reference to a plague that occurs specifically in the "flesh." From this we learn that a person who is as humble and yielding as "flesh" will more readily recover from the trials and tribulations of life than one who is hard and inflexible. (The Talmud and Rashi on Sota 5a)


It Once Happened

One time the Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, the fourth Chabad Rebbe whose yartzeit is 2 Nisan) traveled to Petersburg by train. When he reached his destination and claimed his luggage from the baggage car, one suitcase was missing. The station was combed from top to bottom but no one could find it. The Rebbe was quite upset, as it contained several important books.

Several days later the Rebbe was visited by a young man named Avraham Eliyahu Gurary. Avraham Eliyahu had recently married a woman with a large dowry of ten thousand rubles; the new husband had promptly started a business and lost almost all of it. With only one thousand rubles remaining, his domestic life was beginning to suffer. When he heard that the Rebbe was visiting Petersburg, he rushed to seek his advice.

As soon as he entered the Rebbe's room, before he could even open his mouth, the Rebbe Rashab called out, "Aha! Avraham Eliyahu will bring me my suitcase from the train station!" The Rebbe handed him the baggage slip and sent him on his way. Avraham Eliyahu was unaware that countless others had already tried to locate the suitcase and had failed.

At that hour the station was quiet. Avraham Eliyahu was very thirsty, and decided to buy a drink from the refreshment stand. Standing and waiting for the drink, he absentmindedly took a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and was about to light one when he noticed someone eyeing him intently.

"Do you smoke?" Avraham Eliyahu asked the stranger.

"Yes," the gentile replied, whereupon the Chasid gave him a cigarette. When the man asked what he was doing in the station at such an odd hour, Avraham Eliyahu replied that he had come to retrieve a suitcase for Rabbi Schneersohn. "What a coincidence!" the man exclaimed. "I am the manager of the baggage warehouse. Let me see your claim slip."

Sure enough, after an extensive search he located the Rebbe's valise in a corner of the warehouse, hidden by a large crate. The Chasid thanked the manager profusely and returned to the Rebbe Rashab, suitcase in hand.

The Rebbe was delighted to be reunited with his precious books. "I am now in your debt," he said.

Avraham Eliyahu then poured out his heart and told the Rebbe his troubles. The Rebbe advised him to take the remaining one thousand rubles and go to the city of Koritz. "G-d Almighty will provide you with a livelihood there. Just make sure you take food along for the trip." he added cryptically.

Avrahom Eliyahu returned home, and his wife prepared a large basket of baked goods so he would have what to eat.

It was a hot summer day when Avraham Eliyahu arrived in Koritz, and he decided to take a dip in the Black Sea. When he came out of the water and sat on the shore, he noticed another Jew eyeing his piece of cake. Avraham Eliyahu offered the man a sample of his wife's cooking, and the two began to converse. In his usual candid manner, he mentioned the thousand rubles he was now looking to invest.

"Maybe I can help you," the man replied. "Meet me here tomorrow. I'll bring a friend along. Just make sure to bring more of that delicious cake."

The next day they met at the appointed spot. The third man told Avraham Eliyahu that having considered his situation, he had decided to sell him a freight load of cigarette paper for one thousand rubles.

Avraham Eliyahu gave the man the money and went to the town of Kremenchug, then a center for the production of cigarettes, where the cargo was located. One of the factories he visited while trying to negotiate a deal was owned by the Chasid Reb Tzvi Gurary, who was interested in buying up the entire carload.

The factory owner was willing to pay up to four thousand rubles for the batch of papers, but Avraham Eliyahu insisted that his price was ten thousand, and went off to find another customer.

When Tzvi Gurary learned how Avraham Eliyahu had come to purchase the cigarette paper (for in his naivet, he had told him the entire story!), he decided to travel to Koritz to see if there was another shipment available for the low price of one thousand rubles. But cigarette paper was then in short supply. Avraham Eliyahu had bought the very last shipment.

Immediately, Tzvi Gurary dispatched a telegram to Avraham Eliyahu begging him not to sell the shipment to anyone else. He returned to Kremenchug and paid Avraham Eliyahu the entire ten thousand rubles for the carload.

Avraham Eliyahu's monetary problems were over. Grateful for the Rebbe's blessing having materialized, he decided to return to him for further instructions on how to succeed in the world of business.

"But Avraham Eliyahu!" said the Rebbe this time, "My debt to you is already repaid!"


Moshiach Matters

The Zohar describes the First and Second Holy Temples as "the building of mortal man which has no lasting existence," whereas the Third Holy Temple, since it is "the building of the Holy One, blessed be He," will endure forever. The First Temple corresponds to Abraham; the Second Temple corresponds to Isaac; the Third Temple corresponds to Jacob. And since the dominant characteristic of Jacob is truth (Micha 7:20), which can be neither intercepted nor changed, the Third Temple will stand forever. (Likutei Sichot, Vol. IX, p. 26)


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