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May 19, 2000 - 14 Iyyar, 5760

619: Behar

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  618: Emor620: Bechukotai  

Does Fake Have Value  |  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

Does Fake Have Value

By Julian Franks

Some years ago, I was reading some lectures and essays by the great Canadian author Robertson Davies, published in the book, The Merry Heart. One of those essays, entitled "Painting, Fiction and Faking," was particularly fascinating. Davies was trying to explain why we care so much about who painted a particular painting-for example, whether it was created by Van Gogh or by some other artist. He asked why a painting's origin is of such great importance to the pleasure we derive from it, and why these origins are so intricately linked with its value. Why does the proof of a fake so dramatically reduce the value of a work of art?

The questions raised by Davies are relevant to one of the great issues regarding the divinity of the Torah. There are those who sincerely accept the Torah and Jewish teachings, but who find it difficult to believe that it came directly from G-d through our teacher Moses. They can accept, however, that it was inspired by G-d although written by mortal man-or in some cases, by more than one man or woman. The argument of Davies can be applied as an analogy to show the deficiency of this position.

Davies relates the story of the artist Henricus Van Meergeren, who was accused after the war of collaboration with the Nazis. His accusers claimed he sold great art treasures to the Nazis for his own benefit. In order to clear his name, he admitted that the so-called treasures were fakes that he painted himself, a defense that had far-reaching consequences for him and the art world.

Before the war, Van Meergeren had claimed to find a very valuable picture: The Supper at Ammaus by the great Dutch painter Vermeer. Experts had authenticated his find. But with his subsequent admission that he had faked many old masters during the war, art experts revised their view and condemned the Vermeer as a fake and accused Van Meergeren of being the faker. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to prison. He died soon after.

Davies is interested in this story because it exposes how easily art experts can be duped. However, he raises a more interesting idea when he repeats a question Van Meergeren asked during his trial: "Yesterday, this picture was worth millions of guilders and experts and art lovers would come from all over the world and pay money to see it. Today, it is worth nothing, and nobody would cross the street to see it for free. But the picture has not changed. What has?" Nobody could be bothered to answer the question at his trial. The absence of an answer appears to suggest that the question is rhetorical; nothing, of course, had changed with the painting.

Davies quotes one art critic who later tried to answer the question about the fake by saying, "The magic has gone out of it." What does this mean? Unfortunately, Davies does not elaborate. The magic in this case is certainly one of history. The painting is part of our history. Like the first edition of a book, that history contains all our dreams-and in those dreams are embedded all our archetypes, with all our fears and loves.

Why are these ideas so important to the argument over the Torah's divinity? There are those who would like us to accept the Torah as a great work because of its own intrinsic qualities, rather than because of its divine origins. Like Van Meergeren, they ask us to value the painting as though it were a Vermeer even when it was painted by another. The great refinement of the Torah's ethical code, its highly advanced legal system, and the genius of its wisdom may attract the praise and even envy of the connoisseur-but to deny its Heavenly origins is to take the magic out of it.

Love of Torah cannot be divorced from its origins, or rather, from how it was given to us. Written by man, inspired by G-d, is not good enough. Given by G-d through the hands of His servant Moses is our history. And in that history lies the magic of Torah.

Professor Julian Franks, Ph.D. is a Chaired Professor at London Business School, a Senior Economist with the Financial Economics Roundtable, and an economic consultant to world leaders. Reprinted from Farbrengen, published by Chabad of California.


Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Behar, we learn about thethe Sabbatical Year. The Torah states: "Six years you shall sow your field. and harvest your crops, but the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of strict rest for the land, you must not sow your field." (Lev. 25:3)

"If you wonder, 'What will we eat in the seventh year.?' I shall command My blessing upon you in the sixth year to yield crops for three years." (Ibid. 25:20-22)

This passage, which speaks of the mitzva of shemita (the Sabbatical year for the Land of Israel), may also be interpreted in the context of the world at large and the redemption.

The six years of working the land are analagous to the first six millennia of the world's existence, when everything is prepared for the seventh millennium by means of Torah and mitzvot.

Our present generation is near the end of the sixth millennium. This raises an obvious question: Why should our generation, which is qualitatively so much lower than all our predecessors, merit to experience the Messianic redemption? What makes us more worthy than the spiritual giants of the past that we shall usher in the "seventh year," the "day that is entirely Shabbat and repose for life everlasting"? In other words, we have a metaphorical paraphrase of the question, "What will we eat in the seventh year.?"

The Divine response is: "I shall command My blessing upon you in the sixth year." The stature and deeds of the earlier generations were indeed much greater than those of now. On the other hand, the present state of moral corruption throughout the world requires an unprecedented amount of fortitude and self-sacrifice to carry out even our minimal obligations. This lends our continued observance of Torah and mitzvot a quality and blessing superseding that of our predecessors. Thus we are more than worthy to experience the redemption.

We shall merit the "crops for three years," i.e., of the three stages in the Messianic era: the initial redemption, the later stage of the resurrection of the dead, and the ultimate "seventh millennium."

From Living With Moshiach, adapted from the works of the Rebbe by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet


A Slice of Life

Guard Duty

The Chabad Center at the Ben Gurion Airport

By Elie Estrin

The sign says INTERNATIONAL - How appropriate! Nowhere in the world is there such a lively mix of nationalities converging on each other as in Israel. This cacophony of languages and mannerisms peaks in Ben Gurion INTERNATIONAL airport. Yet, it seems that any gap between Jews caused by geographical differences is spanned here skillfully by who else, but Chabad! Rabbi Nachman Maidanchik is the jovial captain of this most interesting Chabad House. His thick Israeli accent doesn't deter him a bit, and he greets every visitor as an old friend.

When my yeshiva's summer vacation started, I decided to help out in the Chabad House for a week before returning to the U.S. Flights to hundreds of destinations carry thousands of Jews daily to various points on the globe, and as they leave Israel, many stop in the Chabad House to take a piece of Israel with them wherever they may go. Some put on tefilin, others take candles to light on the eve of Shabbat, yet others stop by to engage the Rabbis in useless but enjoyable "felefalsophical" discussions. Rabbi Maidanchik deals with it all point blank: "You say you don't believe in G-d? So what?! Put on tefilin anyway, 'cause you're Jewish!"

The accomplishments of this modest Chabad House are immense. It is here that literally thousands of Jews have put on tefilin for the first time in their lives. Hundreds of thousands have been aided in the most minute religious details of their trip, such as "Is there a Chabad House in Bangkok?" [yes] or, "What time does Shabbat start in Finland?" My days at work there seemed to flip as pages in the wind, and before I knew it, it was time to return to America.

As varied as the experiences were during that short time period, one in particular stands out in my mind. My return ticket had been changed, leaving me with a stand-by ticket. Upon inquiring I was informed that the planes were full, and would remain so for at least another week. I was crushed. My sister's wedding was taking place in a week and a half! I would do whatever I could to get on the earliest flight possible. As the hours ticked by, a long line of 75 ticketless passengers built up.

I befriended two teenagers from Toronto, and we whiled away our airport hours talking. Three days passed thus, and no seats were to be expected on any flight. No matter how much I attempted to calm myself with my own words, my worry increased. To alleviate my nervousness late Thursday night, I started reading a book containing the Rebbe's teachings. My brain, however, was 7,000 miles away. I mindlessly flipped to the back of the book. I read the short letter printed on the page I had opened to: "I do not understand why you are feeling depressed; in particular since G-d has placed you in your present situation to lift the spirits of others and to teach them about His Divine Providence!" I gasped at the clear message. I felt a new thrust of courage as I closed the book and headed back towards the terminal. A few minutes later I was notified that there was room on the plane for me.

Forty-five minutes remained until take off, and passport control had yet to be visited! Egged on by the thought of missing my sister's wedding, I grabbed the ticket and hastily joined the line of travelers waiting to enter the departure waiting lounge. The uniformed guards stationed at the doorway scanned each passport with the patience of an elderly turtle. When my turn finally arrived, I dashed through the glass doors, shoved my ticket and passport into the hands of the security guard and...

"HEY! Waddya think you're doing?" Bewildered, I looked up, my eyes met by the stern gaze of the security officer. "Didn't you forget something?" I glanced around nervously. Tickets, passport, carry-on, what does he want?! Doesn't he realize I'm in a rush? "What did I miss?" I managed to blurt out. The guard pointed at the door behind me. "You didn't kiss the mezuza!" My jaw dropped as the guard explained himself. "I've watched you come in and out of these doors during the week that you've been working with the Chabad House here. Not once did you miss kissing that mezuza! Now, suddenly you're in a rush, and you forget?! Tsk, tsk!"

After I kissed the mezuza somewhat bashfully, he returned my documents with a pleasant "Bon Voyage!" and I sprinted up the escalator. Once safely seated in the Air Canada jetliner, its nose pointing assuredly in the direction of the U.S. of A., I reviewed the events in my mind. Funny, I thought, a dose of chutzpa can be refreshing every once in a while.

Talmudic wisdom puts it thus: "Even a thief prays while picking the lock of the house he is breaking into." The erstwhile burglar prays to G-d, despite the fact that G-d does not like his acts of thievery. As long as we see an advantage in having some contact or communication with G-d, we keep it up. But when the flight is leaving, or the money inside is beckoning, some of us think we can do better without the "burden." Yet, the guard so kindly reminded me, the exact opposite is true. Had I kissed that mezuza I would not have been delayed!

Sometimes we have to stop and remind ourselves just Who is in control. A quick kiss to the mezuza can help.


What's New

SHINE A LIGHT

Shine A Light is a collection of inspirational thoughts to "tear and share." The quotes in this pint-sized book are based on Jewish thought, Jewish Mysticism and contemporary folk sayings. Each one has a perforated second copy for you to conveniently tear, share and enjoy! Tuck it into a pocket, a lunch box, a greeting card, under a pillow or in a briefcase to share a special thought with a special person. By Esti Frimerman, published by Doron Publishing.

THE REBBE'S ADVICE, Vol. 5

The Rebbe's advice has been addressed to all kinds of situations literally helping thousands of people: from health to finance; from birth to marriage; from theology to psychology. The source of the Rebbe's guidance is the Torah as it applies to the individual's unique identity and his/her soul's destiny. This newest release, the fifth volume of The Rebbbe's Advice, is culled from letters and private audiences of the Rebbe by Rabbi Chaim Dalfin.


The Rebbe Writes

A SECOND CHANCE

Pesach Sheni, 5743 [1983]

To All Participants in the Annual Banquet of Chabad of the Valley

Encino, CA

Greeting and Blessing:

Since everything is by Divine Providence, it is significant that this year's Annual Banquet is taking place on the 12th of Sivan, the day that completes the period of Tashlumin (payment of one's obligations) connected with the Festival of Shovuos-the anniversary of our receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. Thus, the Torah, which is called Toras Chessed (a Torah of loving-kindness), has provided this extension (for each of the Three Festivals) to everyone who, for one reason or another, had not discharged one's obligations connected with the festival, either fully or not at all. Everyone got a second chance.

This is also one of the basic teachings of Pesach Sheni ("Second Pesach") on the 14th of Iyar, the date of this letter.

While we ponder and appreciate the great kindness of the Torah in giving every Jew a second chance, we must ask ourselves: What of those children and youngsters who, for no fault of theirs, have been deprived of a Torah education-will they get another chance if we fail them, G-d forbid? Can we, dare we, take a chance with so vital a matter?

And speaking of children and youngsters, we do not mean only those who are young in years, but also those who are "young" in terms of real Jewish experience, the experience of Yiddishkeit, Torah and Mitzvos, in the everyday life. Not to mention the fact that Torah education is a life-long process, as we declare in our daily prayers, "These (the Torah and Mitzvos) are our life and the length of our days" - the life is a continuous and uninterrupted process.

With the inspiration of the Festival of Mattan Torah still fresh in one's mind and heart, and being gathered on the auspicious day of Tashlumin, as mentioned above, it is to be hoped with certainty that all friends of Chabad of the Valley, who know and appreciate the dedicated work it is doing to spread and strengthen Torah-true Yiddishkeit in the region, will respond to the occasion with even greater involvement, both personally and financially, than before, in keeping also with the principle that "all matters of goodness and holiness should be on the ascendancy."

With prayerful wishes for Hatzlocho [success] in all above, and

With esteem and blessing,

5th of Tammuz, 5744 [1984]

Blessing and Greeting:

I received your letter of June 14th, in which you write about your communal activities, especially your involvement with a shelter for Jewish battered women and their children, and the difficulties connected with it.

I am confident that your awareness of the importance of the cause, and also seeing the help that it brings to these tragically affected women and children, makes it easier to overcome whatever difficulties you may encounter. At the same time, it is well to bear in mind that the work that you are doing demands a special sensitivity, a sensitivity also from the viewpoint of Yiddishkeit, which, under the tragic circumstances, often is a factor to be reckoned with especially.

In light of the above, I trust that you will accept my suggestion that you should consult with at least one competent Rabbi, who is familiar with the detailed and intricate factors that are involved in this activity, particularly insofar as Yiddishkeit is concerned. In this connection, one must especially bear in mind that the requirements of the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] are fully adhered to, so that everyone can benefit from the services even if one is not a very strict observer otherwise. For example, when a Glatt Kosher meal is served, everyone can enjoy it, whereas if it is not Glatt Kosher, it would present a problem to those who observe Glatt Kosher. It should also be remembered that when we are speaking about Yiddishkeit, it is something which deeply affects both the spiritual and physical aspects of Jewish life.

The Zechus [merit] of the cause of helping many Jews in need of help, will surely stand you in good stead, both in your personal affairs and certainly in the very worthy cause in which you are involved.

Wishing you Hatzlocho in all above,

With blessing,


Rambam this week

14 Iyar 5760

Positive mitzva 147: covering the blood of slaughtered birds and animals

By this injunction we are commanded to cover up the blood of a bird or animal after slaughter. It is contained in the Torah's words (Lev. 17:13): "He shall pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust." [The action cannot be performed with the foot; a person must use his hand, a knife or a vessel, to indicate respect for the commandments.]


A Word from the Director

This Tuesday is Lag B'Omer, the yartzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. The Rashbi, as he is known, was the first Jewish sage to reveal the esoteric teachings of the Torah in his Zohar, which eventually led to the development of Chasidut. The fundamental objective of all mystical teachings of the Torah is to reveal the underlying G-dliness of creation.

The essence of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's life is perhaps best expressed in a story related in the Midrash. When one of his disciples left the Land of Israel and became very wealthy, the other disciples were jealous. The Rashbi led them all to a valley outside Meron and cried out, "Ravine, ravine, fill up with golden dinars," whereupon the ravine was instantly filled with coins. The Rashbi told his students they could take as many as they liked: however, they should know that they would be taking away from their reward in the World to Come. The golden coins remained untouched.

The Torah is the source of all blessing, both material and spiritual. If we keep the Torah's laws, G-d promises us an abundance of blessing. During the exile, this direct, causal relationship is often obscured. But in the Messianic era it will be open and apparent.

Because the Rashbi was on such a high spiritual level, the exile did not prevent him from perceiving the world as it really exists. The gold coins gave his students a tangible demonstration of the Torah as the ultimate source of all blessing on the material plane.

This contains a timely lesson for our own times, on the threshold of Moshiach's arrival. By studying the Torah's mystical teachings, primarily Chasidut, we can also begin to perceive the underlying truth of existence. In fact, this is especially important now, as our Sages have likened our generation to the generation of the Rashbi.

Happy Lag B'Omer!


Thoughts that Count

And G-d spoke to Moses at Mt. Sinai (Lev. 25:1)

Rashi's famous question about the Torah's juxtaposition of Mt. Sinai with the mitzva of the Sabbatical year can also be interpreted as follows: The Sinai desert is symbolic of the "wilderness of the nations" - the time of exile; the Sabbatical year refers to the Days of Moshiach. The two concepts are juxtaposed to teach us that when a Jew keeps the imminent Redemption in his consciousness, he can actually have a foretaste of the Messianic era even now. Human nature is such that when a person anticipates a great event, the very knowledge that it is about to occur makes him happy and joyful. (The Rebbe)

And if your brother has become poor, and his means fail with you, then you shall strengthen him (Lev. 25:35)

To help another Jew who is stuck in the mire, a person must be willing to "immerse himself in mud up to the neck" in order to drag him out. (Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin)

Pesach Sheini (the "second Passover" on the 14th of Iyar)

The Passover offering is the only time-specific mitzva in the entire Torah for which we are given a second chance. When a group of Jews complained, "Why should we be held back?" (having been unable to fulfill it at the proper time), G-d relented and granted them a second opportunity. The Final Redemption with Moshiach will follow the same pattern: When the Jewish people will relentlessly and unceasingly implore G-d and demand that He send them Moshiach, the Redemption will occur. (Rabbi Shlomo Hakohen of Radomsk)

The Torah's 613 mitzvot are divided into positive and negative commandments: 248 positive mitzvot, corresponding to the 248 limbs of the human body, and 365 prohibitions, corresponding to the 365 tendons and sinews. Each limb of the body is perfected when the specific mitzva it corresponds with is performed. The argument of the Jews who were unable to bring the Passover offering (due to having come in contact with a corpse) was that if the Torah truly exempted them from the precept, why did they still feel unfulfilled, as if one of their limbs were missing? In fact, their argument was correct: they were obligated to bring one, which they did on Pesach Sheini. (Peninei Torah)


It Once Happened

As in many Jewish communities of old, the residents of Homil had the custom of visiting the local cemetery on Lag B'Omer. Every year on this day, all the Jews would pay their respects to the dearly departed: parents, Chasidim, Torah scholars and other beloved members of the community.

The Chevra Kadisha, or Burial Society, would also make its annual visit to the cemetery on the afternoon of Lag B'Omer. Notebook in hand, its members would make the rounds of all the graves and check on the condition of the tombstones. Anything requiring repair was duly noted.

Towards evening, their inspection over, the members of the Chevra Kadisha would gather together for a communal seuda (festive meal). It was always an inspirational event, dedicated to furthering the observance of "acts of true kindness" (as Jewish burial practices are called, as the dead cannot be expected to reciprocate).

It was also customary for the famous Rabbi Isaac of Homil to participate in the gathering, joining the Chevra Kadisha in their celebration. Rabbi Isaac, one of the greatest followers of the early Chabad leaders, would make a "lechaim" and deliver some appropriate words of Torah.

Before he arrived, however, Rabbi Isaac would always conduct his own pilgrimage to visit the gravesites of his predecessors. Year after year he would follow the same schedule-till one time, something most unusual occurred.

That Lag B'Omer it was already growing late when Rabbi Isaac began his rounds, accompanied by the cemetery caretaker. The setting sun elongated his shadow, accentuating his long white beard. At each grave the Rabbi whispered something audible only to him before moving on to the next one.

At the very end of the cemetery, in the newer section where the most recently deceased were interred, the Rabbi paused in front of an obviously new marble monument. Bending down, he read the inscription to make sure it was the one he was looking for before nodding his head slightly.

"Quickly!" he suddenly turned and called to the caretaker. "Go back to town and bring an ax. A strong one, with a heavy blade." The caretaker did as he was told, and few minutes later he was back.

"Now I want you to obliterate everything it says here," the Rabbi instructed him. "Take off all the words of praise, all the flowery eulogies and tributes. Leave nothing but the name of the deceased and the date he died."

The caretaker hesitated, frozen in place. But Rabbi Isaac was insistent. "Please, just do what I tell you," he implored him.

With trembling hands the caretaker lifted the ax and demolished the engraving, erasing the litany of good deeds the deceased had accomplished during his lifetime. When the deed was done, a look of satisfaction could be seen on the face of the Rabbi. "Good," he told the astounded caretaker. "Now I can attend the seuda with the Chevra Kadisha."

The news of what had happened quickly spread throughout Homil. Indeed, the rumor reached the ears of the members of the Burial Society even before Rabbi Isaac arrived at their celebration.

"Thank G-d I was able to do an act of kindness for a Jewish soul," the Rabbi announced as he walked in the door. It was obvious from the way everyone was looking at him that they were completely mystified by his behavior.

The Rabbi sat down and made a blessing over a glass of spirits. "L'chaim-to life!" he wished the assemblage before launching into an explanation:

"A few weeks ago," he began, "a simple Jew passed away in Homil. His funeral was small and unassuming. Only a few members of his family were present, plus representatives of the Chevra Kadisha. Like many others, despite the fact that he wasn't particularly learned or saintly, he was a warmhearted Jew who had many mitzvot to his credit. On the other hand, he also occasionally faltered like everyone else. In other words, he was your average Jew.

"After he died, his soul went up to the Heavenly Court, where his good deeds and bad deeds came under intense scrutiny. The judgment was about to be issued when, all of a sudden, an angel stood up holding a glistening white marble tablet. It was the tombstone that the deceased's children had erected over his final resting place.

"It seems that the man's children had decided to bestow upon their father - or upon themselves - a number of undeserved honors. The lengthy inscription described a lifetime of devoutness and piety, which, in reality, was only a fabrication. The Heavenly Court was disturbed by this miscarriage of justice.

"Today I did a very great favor for the soul of the departed," the Rabbi concluded. "When I erased all of the undeserved words of praise, the Heavenly Court ruled that the man's soul could now receive the true reward it was legitimately entitled to."


Moshiach Matters

The suggestion is the study of Torah on the topics of Moshiach and the Redemption. For it is within the ability of Torah to transform human nature. It is possible that one may be, heaven forbid, "outside" and far removed from the concept of redemption as far as one's own perception is concerned (since he has not yet emerged from his own internal exile). Yet, through Torah study on the topics of redemption, he uplifts himself to a redemption state of mind, and begins to "live" with the concept of redemption, amidst the realization and recognition that "Behold, here he comes!" (The Rebbe, Shabbat Balak, 5751-1991)


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