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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

May 5, 2000 - 30 Nisan, 5760

617: Kedoshim

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

  616: Passover618: Emor  

A Block Of Wood  |  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 Block Of Wood

By Yehudis Cohen

As I was walking my 3-year-old son to school recently, I noticed on the sidewalk a little wooden square with a blue Hebrew letter "hei" painted on it. Always eager to point out interesting things as we walk along, I showed him the piece of wood, almost hidden in the shadow of a trashcan, and asked him if he could identify the letter. "Hei!" he said proudly, with a beautiful grin.

So began a new morning ritual. For the next few days we remembered to look at the same place on the sidewalk where we first spotted our "hei." And every day the "hei" was there, more or less in the same location.

That week there was at least one storm and the garbage was collected three times (this is New York, after all). But each time we looked for the "hei" it was still there. A few days later we had just about forgotten our game when my son got a little whiny as we were walking along. "Let's see if we can find the 'hei,'" I suggested in an attempt to distract him. Eagerly, he looked around for the "hei" until we found it again.

Months have now passed since we first spotted the "hei." Often we forget to look for it. But once in awhile we do remember, and are gratified to see that although it is slightly weather-worn, it is still there.

Today we looked again for the "hei" but we couldn't find it. I moved a garbage can. I even kicked around a bit of the debris. But alas, it was nowhere to be seen.

Then I started searching closer to the curb, a little further from the "hei's" former address. "Look," I called out to my son, "there it is! There's the 'hei.' "

We left the "hei" in its new location. Maybe tomorrow we'll remember to see if it's still there. Maybe not.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that there's a G-dly lesson in everything we see and hear.

"Hei" is the Hebrew letter commonly used to designate "G-d." It stands for the word "Hashem," literally "the Name," meaning the unutterable Name of G-d.

On the very first day my son and I saw the "hei," I asked him what "hei" stands for. "Hashem," was his easy, certain reply.

As days passed into weeks, the "hei" turned into a symbol for me. Everything and everyone is endowed with a spark of G-dliness, a bit of Hashem. Regardless of whether or not I choose to look for the "hei," it exists. It is real; it is always there. My job, today and every day, is to remember to look for the "hei" in everything and in every one. And to respect all of G-d's creations, if only because of the "hei" within.

With this in mind, I would like to propose a name for our generation. Not the "Me Generation," the "Greed Generation," or "Generation X." I suggest we call ourselves the "Hei Generation."

As the "Hei Generation," our goal will be to remember to look for the "hei" everywhere. Even if it isn't always where we expect to find it, we'll keep on looking. Especially when it comes to finding it in our family members, our co-workers and colleagues, our neighbors. Yes, even when interacting with someone with an "attitude," we'll try to look really deep, beyond the debris and the garbage, and find the "hei."

That's what the Messianic Era will be all about. Today, we have to uncover, recognize, and remember to look for the "hei." But in the times of Moshiach, the "hei" in everything will be clearly revealed for all to see.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Kedoshim, begins with G-d's command to Moses to tell the Jewish people, "You must be holy, since I am G-d your L-rd and I am holy." It contains a number of mitzvot between a person and his fellow man, including the mitzva of ahavat Yisrael, loving your fellow Jew for no other reason than that he is Jewish. The Torah states, "And you shall love your fellow as yourself." This is one of the basic foundations of Chasidism, as established by the Baal Shem Tov. Every Jew is obligated to treat his fellow Jew with ahavat Yisrael, giving of himself to others and influencing them in a positive way.

When a Jew acts with ahavat Yisrael and draws his brother near, both parties derive benefit. The same relationship exists between the rich man who gives tzedaka (charity) and the poorer recipient. The poor man has profited in that he now has money, and the rich man has profited because G-d will surely grant him additional blessing. It "pays" for the wealthy man to observe the mitzva of tzedaka!

Yet this is also true when the wealth involved is spiritual, when a person who possesses knowledge and good character traits shares them with another Jew. For not only does the recipient derive benefit, but G-d will certainly provide the donor with all he is lacking.

How are we supposed to fulfill the commandment to love our fellow Jew? In the same way a clever merchant conducts his business. A successful merchant doesn't sit in his house and wait until the public hears he has something to sell. Rather, he opens a store in the best possible location and hangs up a big sign advertising his wares. But even that is not enough. The merchant then goes about promoting the quality of his merchandise and persuades people to become his customers. He tries very hard to interest them in buying large quantities of his product.

So too must be our involvement in the mitzva of ahavat Yisrael. We cannot sit and wait to see if an opportunity to fulfill this commandment comes our way. We mustn't idly bide our time until others seek our help. Like the successful merchant, we must go out into the world searching for "customers" and convince them to "buy." We must go out of our way to do a favor for a fellow Jew, explaining the importance of Torah and mitzvot and bringing him to the study of Chasidut.

But even that is insufficient! Our influence on our Jewish brethren must be so effective that they in turn begin to exert their own positive influence on others.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 1

A Slice of Life


by Naftali Robert Friedman

When the great literary scholar Ludwig Lewisohn wrote in Creative Life that theater was not a game but a "spiritual compulsion," he aptly described the work of actor Reuven Russell. Russell has spent more than the last decade synthesizing his lifelong love for the stage with his ever-growing commitment to Jewish living.

Like many young Jews today who have embraced a more observant Jewish lifestyle, the ensuing career conflicts can be daunting. But thanks to Russell's tenacity and a thoughtful artistic director, he has finally overcome the major (and most obvious) obstacle facing the Sabbath-observant performer: the popular Friday night showings and Saturday afternoon matinees.

While studying for his MFA in acting at the Yale School of Drama, Russell sought advice from author Herman Wouk about pursuing a career as an actor while pursuing a life as an observant Jew. Wouk replied: "How to combine [acting] with Yiddishkeit is a tough one. It can be done, I'm sure, when and if you acquire the bargaining power, due to demonstrated talent, to dictate the terms of your employment as Steven Hill has. That's a long hard road; I wish you a n'sia tova (good trip)!'"

Now, ten years later, Russell, age 37, has journeyed far along that road. In December he auditioned for a part in the Playwrights Theater of New Jersey's production of The Quarrel, a play by David Brandes and Joseph Telushkin.

The Quarrel is about two former friends, Chaim Kovler and Hersh Rasseyner, who were fellow yeshiva students in Bialystock, Poland before the Holocaust, until Chaim left to pursue a career as a writer and poet. This act of defiance triggered the quarrel that bitterly ended their close friendship. The war separated them further by sending Chaim to Siberia and Hersh to Auschwitz.

The play begins when Chaim, now living in New York, is visiting Montreal for a reading of his celebrated work. Visiting a park for a moment of quiet reflection on the afternoon of a Rosh Hashana he chooses not to acknowledge, Chaim spots a group of Orthodox Jews celebrating the annual tashlich ritual. To his amazement, he sees his old friend Hersh, who he believed had died in the war, but actually had become the head of a yeshiva in Montreal. Tears of joy flow as the two men greet and console each other. They review their wartime experiences, the fate of their family members and old friends and their divergent post-war paths.

Soon, however, they slip into the quarrel over the same issues that destroyed their friendship 15 years before.

In January, Russell, who played Hersh in a New York Theater Workshop reading, was enthusiastically offered the role in a full production by the Playwrights Theater of New Jersey. Russell longed to do the role, but after explaining that he couldn't perform on the Sabbath and requesting an understudy for those performances, the offer was withdrawn. A few days later, John Pietrowski, the Producing Artistic Director of the Theater, renewed his offer with the promise that there would be no Sabbath performances. Mr. Pietrowski said that considering the nature and content of the play and the high level of Russell's audition, he felt it was "just the right thing to do."

"We felt that Reuven would make the play come to life, so we had to do it," said Pietrowski. The Quarrel sold out most of its performances and its run was extended.

Russell grew up in New Haven, Connecticut in a show-biz family. His father, Joey Russell, is a veteran Borsht-Belt comedian. His mother, Josi, teamed up with his father to form a husband-wife comedy and dance act in the 1940s. Now she is the owner and manager of the largest theatrical costume shop in New England.

Russell's path to observant Judaism began in 1985 when, after studying acting at Carnegie-Mellon University and with celebrated acting teaches Stella Adler and Michael Moriarty, he was chosen to participate in the summer Shakespeare program at the British American Drama Academy at Oxford University.

On his way home, Russell did the obligatory student "grand tour" of Europe, visiting many Jewish sites along the way. A trip to Dachau amplified what had begun as vague spiritual longings and were now fast becoming intense, if still not quite articulate, feelings of Jewishness. Shortly thereafter, Russell met a rabbi who directed him to a Rosh Hashana service in Zurich that forever changed Russell's life.

"Unbeknownst to me, he set me up with Lubavitchers at the Chabad House. When I walked in and saw the black hats and beards, I thought, uh-oh." But he quickly became comfortable. The inspiring two days in Zurich became a catalyst for further study of Judaism. Upon his return to America to begin the Yale School of Drama's Masters program, his Jewish studies led to growing observance. Around that time, Robert Russell became Reuven Russell.

After Yale, Russell's acting career began to take off. He joined the national touring company production of Neil Simon's play The Sunshine Boys, traveling and acting alongside the show's stars, Mickey Rooney and Donald O'Connor. He also relocated to Los Angeles.

In 1992, Russell made a special trip to New York to attend a weekend in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. There he met his wife-to-be Esther Rachel Barer, who, appropriately, is a former actress from Los Angeles. With his wife, Russell developed his one-man show, Gathering the Sparks, that he has performed in more than 75 cities in the United States and abroad. The couple now lives with their four young children in New Jersey.

"When I first went out to Los Angeles," Russell says, "I wrote again for advice, this time to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe sent a blessing encouraging me to continue my acting career and pointing out that everything I do should be done in a kosher way. That's been my goal and I hope I'll attain some measure of success in achieving it."

What's New


Registration is in full swing at the hundreds of Camp Gan Israel day and overnight summer camps around the world. The Camp Gan Israel network, affiliated with the nearly 3,000 Chabad-Lubavitch Centers world-wide, is the largest camping association. The goal of the camps is to offer children a summer of fun and excitement in a warm, safe, Jewish environment. Camps offer a wide variety of activities, including swimming, sports, arts & crafts, projects to foster Jewish pride and awareness, overnights and lots of special trips. To find out about the Camp Gan Israel or Camp Chabad nearest you, call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.

The Rebbe Writes


28th of Menachem Av, 5719 [1959]

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter of the 17th of August in which you write about your difficulty to cope with the Yetzer Hora [evil inclination]. You surely know of the general advice of our Sages who stated that G-d created the Yetzer Hora but also created the Torah as an antidote. In other words, learning Torah with devotion and diligence, the kind of learning that leads to the fulfillment of the Mitzvos in daily practice, is the way to overcome the difficulty you mention. Moreover, although we are commanded to fulfill the Mitzvos without any thought of reward, G-d has promised a reward for their fulfillment, which should be an added inducement to fulfill them with sincerity and joy.

With regard to the question as to where you should continue your Torah studies, in your present Yeshivah or another one, the answer depends on the amount of success which you enjoyed in the present Yeshivah, and what are the prospects for your continued success there as compared with another Yeshivah. You should discuss the matter with someone who can give you an objective opinion.

I trust that you observe the daily quota of Tehillim [Psalms], as it is divided according to the days of the month. I also suggest that you have your Tefillin checked, and that you should set aside a cent or two for Tzedoko [charity] every weekday morning before putting on the Tefillin.

With blessing,

P.S. Since the above was written, your subsequent letter was received, in which you write about the question of your entering the Lubavitcher Yeshivah, etc. In this connection you ought inquire of the Yeshivah administration as to what would be the requirements in your case.

It would be well if at the time of the interview you would have someone from Camp Gan Yisroel, such as a Counselor or friend, who could find out for you any pertinent data, concerning your admission to the Lubavitcher Yeshivah.

15th of Av, 5720 [1960]

Greeting and Blessing:

After the very long interval, I received your letter of the 12th of Menachem Av, in addition to the telephone message, to which you received my reply. May G-d grant that you have good news to report about all the things which you mentioned in your letter.

You can well understand my reaction to your writing that you have done "very little" in your secular studies lately. Without entering upon a discussion concerning the matter itself, the fact is that where there is a sincere effort to do a thing efficiently and attain the objective fully, one finds later the opportunity to utilize these efforts in many ways. Above all, time is one of the most precious gifts which G-d has given to the human being, and which should be used to the fullest advantage, inasmuch as the loss of time cannot be retrieved. Although I can well understand the reasons which you mention, which prevented you from making better use of your time, nevertheless knowing you, knowing also the encouragement that your wife surely gives you, you ought to find the ways of overcoming all difficulties. Our Sages said, "One should not bewail the past," for the important thing is to concentrate on the future.

May G-d grant that you will fulfill the precept "Know Him in all your ways," thus putting to good advantage also your secular studies in the service of G-d. I need hardly point out to you the teachings of Chassidus on the subject from the Baal Shem Tov, whose 200th anniversary of the completion of his life's work we are observing this year, of the Old Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism], and of my father-in-law of saintly memory. I refer you, particularly, to the Maamar [Chasidic discourse] b'laylo ha'hu, Purim 5700, end of par. 4.

You do not mention anything about your studies of the Torah, both Nigleh and Chassidus, though I trust that you not only have regular study periods, but that you also make efforts to increase them.

Hoping to hear good news from you in all above, and wishing you especially a successful year in connection with your forthcoming birthday,

With blessing,

Rambam this week

4 Iyar 5760

Prohibition53: Intermarrying with a male Ammonite or Moabite

By this prohibition we are forbidden to intermarry with a male Ammonite or Moabite. (A female descendent of Amon or Moab is allowed to marry a Jew after converting to Judaism.) It is contained in the Torah's words (Deut. 23:4): "An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the L-rd."

A Word from the Director

This Friday and Shabbat are Rosh Chodesh Iyar, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Iyar. Iyar is unique in that, unlike all the other months of the year, every single day has its own special mitzva: sefirat ha'omer, the counting of the omer. We count the omer every day in eager anticipation of the giving of the Torah on Shavuot.

The mitzva of sefirat ha'omer expresses the concept of perpetual progress and spiritual ascent. On the first day of the omer we count "one day," on the second, "two days," and so on until we reach "49 days." Every day the number grows; every day we come that much closer to the Festival of the Giving of the Torah.

Accordingly, every day of Iyar we are reminded of the principle: "One must always ascend in matters of holiness." We must always strive to learn more Torah and observe more mitzvot, never being content with whatever we have already achieved.

When the Jewish people left Egypt they were "born" as a nation. The period of wandering through the desert was their "childhood," their "age of education," just like children before they attain majority. The giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai was the Jewish people's "Bar Mitzva," in the same way children are obligated to fulfill all the mitzvot as soon as they reach 12 or 13 years of age.

In the time that elapsed between the exodus and the giving of the Torah (the period of sefirat ha'omer), the Jewish people were like young children who are only obligated to observe certain mitzvot, as they had received only certain portions of the Torah from Moses. Their yearning to receive the entire Torah was so great that they counted the days that remained until the great event.

The season between Passover and Shavuot is thus the most appropriate time to make resolutions for good, for it is the "age of education" of the entire Jewish people. By promising G-d to increase our observance of Torah and mitzvot now, and actually fulfilling our promise, we thereby hasten the imminent Redemption with Moshiach.

Thoughts that Count

You shall be holy (Lev. 19:2)

As Rashi notes, this mitzva was given at a "Hakhel" gathering, when the entire Jewish people was present. This teaches that when the Torah requires us to be holy, it doesn't mean that we should become hermits and seclude ourselves from the world. Rather, a Jew is obligated to conduct himself with sanctity in the context of a full communal life. (Torat Moshe)

You shall rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin on his account (Lev. 19:17)

Rabbi Chanina said: Jerusalem was only destroyed because people did not rebuke each other, as it states in Lamentations (1:6), "[Israel's] princes have become like rams that find no pasture." Just as a ram's head is on the same level as his tail and his face is always pointed downward, the Jews averted their gaze and refused to take their brothers to task for negative behavior. (The Talmud, Shabbat 119d)

The mitzva to rebuke one's fellow is preceded by the warning "You shall not hate your brother in your heart," for it is only when this condition is fulfilled that a person's words will be effective. In fact, if the rebuke was ineffectual, it means that the words were insincere and not coming from the heart. (Hayom Yom)

You shall rise in the presence of (mipnei) an old person (Lev. 19:32)

The Hebrew word "mipnei" is related to "lifnei," meaning "before." Don't wait until you're old to take care of your spiritual needs, the Torah counsels us. Rather, rise up and do something positive for your soul before your advanced years. (Maayana Shel Torah)

It Once Happened

When it first erupted, the leaders of the Communist revolution in Russia were intent on ridding the country of everyone who opposed the new regime and its philosophy. No one could be trusted. The friendly neighbor across the street was just as likely to be an informer as one's longtime co-worker. Everyone was suddenly in danger of being "purged."

People began to stay in their homes, too frightened to venture outside. Good friends stopped acknowledging one another on the streets. The secret police were everywhere. Their eyes and ears followed one's every move, heard every word one uttered. Some people said they could even read minds.

Jews, of course, were their number one target, as their whole way of life contradicted what the authorities were trying to impose. Their belief in something higher than the physical world, rich communal life, stubborn faith in the Messiah and the Final Redemption, and aversion to informing on others marked them as clear "enemies of the people."

Added to the mix of suffering was the widespread hunger and poverty. The most wonderful thing that could happen to a person was to receive his daily ration of bread with the clerk forgetting to tear off the coupon. This was the greatest joy a Soviet citizen could hope for.

Chaim Mordechai was a "strange bird," a gaunt young man who lived by himself in a tiny hut behind the local synagogue. The sum total of his worldly possessions was a cast-off iron bedstead. Many people considered him less than entirely normal. This, however, was to his advantage, as he could never be taken as a threat to the government.

Chaim Mordechai was thin for the simple reason that he was perpetually hungry. No one ever saw him eat or drink; indeed, he had no visible means of support. Most of his time was spent in the synagogue, sitting in front of an open Gemara or book of Chasidut. There were even rumors that he had been spotted in different places at the same time. But no one suspected him of being Elijah the Prophet, disguised as a poverty-stricken young man; it was just too implausible. Nonetheless, there was an air of mystery surrounding him.

One evening, as he was sitting and studying, Chaim Mordechai's hunger pangs became intolerable. Where could he find something to eat? There were only two possibilities: the marketplace and the train station. The marketplace was the more logical of the two, but for some reason Chaim Mordechai found himself drawn in the direction of the train station.

It was late at night when he arrived, and the station was almost deserted. Chaim Mordechai was still considering his options when he was startled by the sound of a train whistle. The train pulled in, and a finely dressed and well-groomed Jew alighted from one of the cars.

Chaim Mordechai quickly ran over to greet him. "Shalom Aleichem, Reb Yid!" he said, extending his hand. Curiously, the man seemed to hesitate in responding. "Sh-shalom Aleichem," he replied, as if not quite sure of himself.

Chaim Mordechai's antennae were immediately raised, as his ability to sense impending danger was keenly developed.

"Where are you from, Reb Yid, and where are you headed?" he asked with feigned innocence, as if questions of such a personal nature were commonplace.

The stranger's confusion and uncertainty only increased. "Actually, I'm a refugee," he replied. "I had to leave my home in a hurry. I'm looking for Zalman the shochet [ritual slaughterer]."

"That's a shame," Chaim Mordechai was quick to answer. "Reb Zalman also had to flee a few days ago rather suddenly. But don't worry," he continued, "I'm sure you will find other friends here."

The stranger's face lit up. Chaim Mordechai quickly picked up his small suitcase and invited him home.

Chaim Mordechai made sure to keep a few paces ahead, lest the visitor suddenly wish to change direction. A few minutes later they arrived at the door to his humble shack. "After you." Chaim Mordechai nodded his head, pointing the way inside.

Now, the lock on Chaim Mordechai's door was broken; once it was completely closed from the outside, it was impossible to open it from within. His heart racing, Chaim Mordechai quickly slammed the door on his distinguished guest and imprisoned him.

Opening the small suitcase, he found a notebook filled with names and addresses of many of the town's more prominent Jews and Chasidim. There was no longer any doubt. The stranger was definitely an informer working for the secret police.

Like a shot from a cannon, Chaim Mordechai raced from door to door, alerting people to the danger and advising them to lay low. Only after he had warned every single Jew whose name was on the list did he return to the shack, and with "great difficulty" succeed in opening the door.

The next day, everyone was talking about the "refugee" who had left town with his tail between his legs, thanks to the ingenuity of Chaim Mordechai. Yes, he was still hungry, but the knowledge that he had saved countless innocent families gave him the courage to face the difficult times which, unfortunately, still lay ahead.

Moshiach Matters

Rabbi Shimon states: "[Elijah the Prophet will come] to heal dissension." The Sages state: "[He will come] not to include or to exclude [families], but rather to establish peace, as it is written, 'Behold, I am sending you Elijah the prophet.... He will bring back the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.'" (Talmud, Tractate Eduyot)

  616: Passover618: Emor  
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