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620: Bechukotai

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L'Chaim
May 26, 2000 - 21 Iyyar, 5760

620: Bechukotai

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


  619: Behar621: Bamidbar  

Memorial Day Sales  |  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

Memorial Day Sales

Memorial Day Sales, Labor Day Sales, Presidents' Day Sales, Summer and Winter Clearances - if you're not desperate and your purchase can wait for a sale, you can save a bundle.

Shopping, for some, is almost like a science, or at the least a hobby. Once you get used to the routine, you know exactly when to shop for furniture, linens, clothing or major appliances. At certain times of the year you're more apt to find a bargain than at other times.

In Judaism, too, there are certain seasons which are more auspicious for "finding bargains." Rosh Hashana, for instance, is an auspicious time for introspection and repentance. Passover is when we aspire to experience freedom and to break out of our limitations or self-imposed boundaries. In the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot we work on refining ourselves and various character traits. The holiday of Shavuot, which we will be celebrating in two weeks, is an opportune time to improve in Torah study and to enhance one's Jewish education.

There is, however, a significant difference between finding bargains in Judaism and "traditional" shopping. When you shop, you have to get to the store early if you want the best selection. You often need to fight the crowds, look over the merchandise carefully lest it is damaged, wait in long lines and deal with surly, overworked salespeople. And if you're shopping with a friend, watch out if you both find that incredible buy at the same moment.

You'll find no such obstacles awaiting you when you "catch the sales" in Judaism. Like shopping on-line, you won't have to fight the crowds or wait on long lines. But what's even better, you've got a "friend" who's always ready and eager to be your "shopping buddy" - G-d. G-d promises us that if we just turn the key in the door, He will push it wide open. If we put effort into refining ourselves for the remaining weeks until Shavuot, or if in preparation for "receiving the Torah" on Shavuot we take steps to improve our Jewish knowledge and education now, the effect will be felt throughout the entire year.

Now, if that isn't a real bargain, what is?


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Bechukotai, begins with the words "Im bechukotai teileichu - If you will walk in My statutes."

The Talmud explains that this verse is a standing request G-d makes of the Jewish people. G-d is constantly pleading with His children to keep His holy Torah.

Furthermore, because the request emanates from G-d, it simultaneously imbues us with the power and the strength to fulfill it. "Bechukotai" thus also represents G-d's promise to us that we will do so. We will walk in the Torah's statutes. We will observe the Torah. And not one Jew will be cut off from the Jewish people.

* * *

There are three categories of mitzvot in the Torah: mishpatim (judgments), eidot (testimonies), and chukim (statutes).

Which mitzvot are considered judgments? Judgments are commandments that are compelled by human logic, rational laws that society would keep even if the Torah had not commanded us to observe them. Human understanding alone would have led us to realize their necessity.

What are testimonies? Testimonies are mitzvot that we would never have arrived at without the Torah. Nonetheless, once G-d commanded us to obey them, we are able to understand their rationale. These commandments are acceptable to the human mind and are comprehended by the intellect.

Statutes, however, are entirely above and beyond our understanding. We do not know why we are supposed to observe these commandments. Mitzvot falling into this category are the red heifer and the prohibition against wearing garments containing shaatnez (a mixture of wool and linen).

Although the Torah states, "If you will walk in my statutes," the intention is that we keep all three types of commandments: judgments, testimonies and statutes. Why then does the Torah specifically mention "statutes"?

The Torah's use of the word "bechukotai" contains an important lesson: that a Jew should observe all of the Torah's mitzvot for the sole reason that G-d has commanded him to do so. It doesn't matter whether we understand a mitzva rationally or not; we must demonstrate the same degree of kabalat ol (acceptance of the yoke of heaven) when fulfilling all of G-d's commandments. Judgments, testimonies or statutes - all mitzvot are to be performed in a manner of "walking in My statutes."

Thus "bechukotai" is not only G-d's plea that we keep His Torah, but instructs us in the proper manner of observing all mitzvot: obedience to G-d's will. At the same time, "bechukotai" is G-d's promise that we will succeed.

Adapted from Volume 1 of Likutei Sichot


A Slice of Life

Letters Produce Wisdom

by Michel Schwartz

From the early days of my youth, those people closest to me recognized that I had artistic talent, and to their great credit and my good fortune, they encouraged my development.

I remember my father teaching me the rudiments of the Hebrew aleph-bet, and how to make the letters, when I had started yeshiva Kindergarten at the age of four. I also remember my sister advising me to copy "Dick Tracy" from the Sunday comic pages of the Daily News, so that I would learn how to draw faces and figures of people.

Perhaps the most profound influence on my career as an artist, and I never fail to acknowledge this most reverently , was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Not only did the Rebbe encourage my work, he gave me much valuable guidance, and instruction in Jewish law as it pertains to visual graphics.

When I was on the verge of embarking on a career as an artist, a former yeshiva high school art teacher, Dr. Harold Waterston, gave me a piece of important advice. "Michel," he said, "if you decide to become a fine artist, develop something unique, something that will immediately be recognizable, so that people will say, 'That's a Michel.'"

I believe that when the time came, I fulfilled his advice by deciding to create all of my work based on the aleph-bet.

My relationship with the Rebbe began when I was 15 years old. I had the privilege of visiting the Rebbe twice a month to receive his instructions about illustrating Talks and Tales, the monthly children's magazine he had initiated. The Rebbe was then secretary to his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe. The Rebbe wanted to introduce a new feature in Talk and Tales, an illustrated page with five or six little-known Jewish facts. It was to be titled, "Curiosity Corner."

When describing the feature, the Rebbe said, "Es zol oys'zehn vee Ripley-It should look like Ripley." I was taken by surprise. For many years, there was a comic feature containing the work of Robert Ripley, entitled "Believe It Or Not." Here was this venerable Rabbi aware of a column which appeared daily in The New York Mirror, asking me to make our feature in Ripley's style.

In 1944, I was asked to design an emblem for the Rebbe's publishing division. I submitted a sketch which showed the world as a globe in two halves, superimposed by the "Tablet of the Ten Commandments." The copy around the perimeter of the design was hand-lettered in Hebrew and English, in modern face, which the Rebbe always preferred. The overall design itself was, for those days, considered avant-garde. The Rebbe supported modern trends in design and publication.

When I presented the new emblem, the Rebbe's comment was favorable as to the shape and design. In general, however, he said that the Tablets were not to be drawn with half-round cupolas at the top. The correct shape was to draw two vertical rectangles, flat at the top as well as the base.

The familiar rounded top was introduced by Roman order, derived from their architectural style, prevalent at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. The Roman desire to eradicate everything Jewish included even the shapes of our most holy symbols.

From that day on, I never again drew the "Ten Commandments" with the "Roman" shape. How I always wished that Jewish artists and architects would realize that the perpetuation of a mistake is unacceptable, no matter how long the error has been practiced.

It was on Shabbat during Sukkot 1980 that the Rebbe spoke of organizing a youth movement for children under the age of Bar and Bat Mitzva. In his infinite wisdom and his extremely practical understanding of the preference of contemporary youth, he put forth his vision of tens of thousands of Jewish children worldwide, who would "join the Army of Hashem," and begin moving up the ranks from private to general, as they performed mitzvot and acts of kindness.

At about ten o'clock Saturday night, two of my Lubavitch friends, Rabbi Yossi Raichik and Rabbi Mendel Kotlarsky, arrived at my house. It was felt that it would be appropriate to have a banner with a suitable "military" emblem for the organization and the Rebbe had told them: "Go see Schwartz. He will make it for you."

After describing the details of what the Rebbe had discussed earlier that day, they informed me that the Rebbe was waiting for them to return with a sketch of the emblem, so that they could go to press on Sunday with a flyer, brochure, patches and stickers, to launch Tzivos Hashem.

I listened in total amazement. They reminded me that the Rebbe was waiting.

Without hesitation, I started a chevron which bore the initials tzadik and hei for Tzivos Hashem. The two Hebrew letters were divided by a diagonal, each letter having its own background. The background for the tzadik was blue with stars and a moon, signifying night, while the hei had a red sun on a yellow field, signifying day. The Army of Hashem performs mitzvot day and night.

The messengers snapped up my rather rough sketch, and off they went to see the Rebbe.

At approximately 1:00 a.m. they returned, relating the Rebbe's comments. Generally he was pleased with the shape, the lettering and the format. I should remove the moon and stars from the tzadik background, as this was idol worship. Solid blue would do. The sun with its red rays behind the hei recalled the flag of Japan. Solid red would do.

I revised the rough sketch as the Rebbe suggested, and saw that he was absolutely right. It really looked better, and would be more easily reproduced even in very small sizes.

I never heard from them again that evening. The next day the presses were rolling, reproducing my rough sketch. Not long after that, the motto of Tzivos Hashem, "We Want Moshiach Now!" was added to the emblem, with the Rebbe's approval.

Today the Tzivos Hashem emblem is the single most reproduced Jewish organizational symbol in history. Estimates run into the hundreds of millions over the years.

Excerpted from Letters Produce Wisdom, published by Tzivos Hashem in honor of Michel and Josepha Schwartz's 50th wedding anniversary


What's New

SPRING YESHIVACATION

Not only do trees grow in Brooklyn, but positive Jewish learning experiences also grow out of participating in the Spring Yeshivacation program offered by two yeshivas in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Hadar HaTorah Men's Yeshivacation runs from May 25 - June 4. Machon Chana Women's Yeshivacation runs from June 1 - 11. Both ten-day programs include hands-on workshops, lectures, panel discussions and one-on-one partner study. They are open to people whose Jewish education finds them at various levels ranging from beginners to advanced. For more info call Hadar HaTorah at (718) 735-0250 or Machon Chana at (718) 735-0030.


The Rebbe Writes

20th of Iyar, 5726 [1966]

After not hearing from you for a very long time, I received your letter of May 6th, though in the meantime I inquired after you from time to time through our representatives in Philadelphia.

In your letter you ask my opinion as to whether a religious or charitable group may properly receive donations from a company which is conducting its business in an unethical way, at usurious rates of interest, etc.

Generally speaking, it is not my function to answer Shaalos [Jewish legal questions], for which there are special Rabbinical bodies in each city. Moreover, it would be impossible for me to give you a definitive answer to your particular question, in view of the fact that many important points of information are missing. For example, one essential factor is whether the acceptance of a donation from that company would be tantamount to an expression of approval of its methods, either explicitly or implied; or whether it can in no way be so mistaken by anyone, not even by the company itself, in which case it would be a question of in no way encouraging the policy of the company, but only giving it the Mitzva of Tzedoko [charity], or withholding it. It is only after you have all these facts available and ready to be presented to a Rov [a rabbinic authority], that he would be able to give you his decision.

You do not mention anything about yourself and your affairs, from which I gather that all is in good order. And "in good order," insofar as a Jew is concerned, means that it is not stationary, but is progressing and advancing.

This brings me to the timely message of the present days of Sefira, the Counting of the Omer. It has been noted that in counting the Omer we use the cardinal numbers rather than the ordinal numbers. In other words, we say, for example, "Today is thirty-five days of the Omer, etc." rather than "Today is the thirty-fifth day of the Omer." This means that it is not a case where each day constitutes merely a single additional day, but each day constitutes a part of the whole and, in fact, complements the previous days. Considering that the counting of the Omer symbolizes the counting of the days of preparation for Shovuoth, the Festival of the Giving of the Torah, the lesson of the Counting of the Omer, and the significance of each day of this period, are obvious.

With blessing,

6th of Iyar, 5735 [1975]

Miss -

I am in receipt of your letter of 2nd of Iyar, and was pleased to read the good news it contained. May G-d grant that you should have good news to report also in the other matters which you mentioned in your letter, and should go from strength to strength in all matters of goodness and holiness.

With regard to the problem of concentration in prayer, generally useful advice is to daven b'tzibbur [pray with the congregation], or at any rate at the time when the tzibbur davens [congregation prays]. It is also helpful to daven from the siddur [prayerbook], and even when one davens by heart - to keep the siddur open at the right place. Finally, it is good to follow the Shulchan Aruch's [Code of Jewish Law's] direction to give Tzedoko before davenning on weekdays - bli neder [without making a vow].

As we are now coming from the month of Nissan, the month of Geulo [Redemption], may G-d grant you a growing measure of Geulo from all distractions and hindrances.

Hoping to hear good news from you.

With blessing,


Rambam this week

23 Iyar 5760

Negative mitzva 157: violating an oral obligation, even without an oath

By this prohibition we are forbidden to infringe any obligation by which we have bound ourselves orally, even without a formal oath. It is derived from the Torah's words (Num. 30:3): "He shall not break his word."


A Word from the Director

This week marks the 51st anniversary of the founding of the Kfar Chabad settlement in the Holy Land. In honor of the founding of Kfar Chabad the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, sent a special Torah scroll to the fledgling Jewish community, together with the following letter (free translation):

"As you begin your settlement in the Holy Land.know and consider deeply, attaining an inner sense and knowledge, that it is Divine Providence that has brought you and your children to the 'land upon which the eyes of G-d rest there, from the beginning of the year till the end of the year.' [Be aware] that you are in the palace of the King of kings, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, at all times and at every hour."

After expressing the wish that the Torah scroll remind and inspire the inhabitants of Kfar Chabad to educate their children in a Torah-true atmosphere, and conferring a number of other blessings, the Previous Rebbe writes: "May each and every one of you be a candle to illuminate the darkness of the exile (which we all continue to be in) with the light of G-d, until He fulfills His promise, in the words of His holy Prophets.and gathers all our exiles and redeems us in the Final Redemption. through His righteous Moshiach, speedily in our day, Amen."

Indeed, in light of recent political developments in the Land of Israel, it is especially timely to consider the Previous Rebbe's words and take them to heart. May all Jews merit to fulfill them, and fully appreciate G-d's kindness and Divine Providence.


Thoughts that Count

If you will walk in My statutes (Lev. 26:3)

As Rashi notes, this means that G-d's wants a Jew to expend effort and labor in his Torah study. Commented Rabbi Avraham of Sochetchov: There are many ways to serve the Creator, but the best one of all is through studying Torah.

Our Sages said: "If a person says, 'I have toiled and found,' you can believe him." When a person works hard to acquire the Torah's wisdom, the knowledge he obtains will remain with him. By contrast, anything that is obtained without effort will not last, for it can also disappear as quickly as it was acquired. This is what Shammai meant in Ethics of the Fathers when he said, "Set a fixed time for your study of Torah." When a Jews learns Torah with effort and exertion, the knowledge he gains will be established within him permanently. (Rabbi David of Kotzk)

I will place My Tabernacle among you, and My soul will not loathe you (Lev. 26:11)

When Rabbi Shmelke of Nicholsburg returned from his first visit to the Maggid of Mezeritch, everyone asked him what he had learned there. "Before I went to the Rebbe," he replied, "I used to fast and afflict my body so it could tolerate my soul. But the Rebbe taught me that the soul can not only tolerate the body, but the whole point of Divine service is to transform the body into an appropriate vessel for the light of the soul - in other words, that the soul not 'loathe' the body, but work in conjunction with it."

And I will remember My covenant with Jacob (Lev. 26:42)

Why, asked Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, does the Torah suddenly bring up the merit of our Patriarchs in the middle of a lengthy reproof? Because, he explained, there is no greater reprimand than to point out that we are not behaving as befits the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.


It Once Happened

Years ago, the Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel was entirely dependent on the generosity of its brethren in the Diaspora. To that end, special emissaries would travel throughout Europe collecting donations, visiting local Jews and soliciting funds.

One time an emissary arrived in a certain city and was given a warm welcome. All of the townspeople came to the synagogue to hear him deliver his appeal. At the end of the speech, a prominent member of the local community volunteered to accompany him on his rounds from house to house.

The two men walked through the Jewish section knocking on doors and asking for donations. Not one family refused to contribute. The contributions varied according to financial circumstance, but everyone was happy to give at least something. Then the emissary noticed that they had skipped a mansion, and asked his companion why. "It would be a waste of effort," he was told. "The man who lives there is miser. He has never given even a penny to charity."

"But we have to try," the emissary insisted. "Who knows? Maybe our words will penetrate his heart."

They knocked on the door, which was opened by the wealthy miser himself. "Good day!" the emissary said cheerfully. "May we speak with you for a minute?"

"You may certainly speak, but if you've come for a donation of money you're wasting your time," the miser said dryly.

But the emissary would not give up. "You're obviously a wealthy man. Don't you want to help support the poor and hungry Jews of Eretz Yisrael? Everyone else in town is contributing generously."

"My money belongs to me," the miser declared sharply. "I worked very hard for it, and saved every penny. I refuse to give the fruit of my labors to someone who didn't expend the effort."

The emissary looked at him with pity in his eyes. "You're right, it's your money and your decision," he conceded. But before he left he added under his breath, "It looks as if you're going to be the third."

The miser closed the door with the emissary's words echoing in his ears. What did he mean? A whole day he couldn't get the comment out of his head, and that night he tossed and turned in bed. "It looks as if you're going to be the third." The third what? He had to find out.

The next day the miser searched the city until he found the emissary from Eretz Yisrael. "I must know," he pleaded with him. "What did you mean when you said that I would be the third?"

The emissary smiled. "Yesterday I honored your principle of not giving away any of your hard-earned money. So how can you expect me to share my wisdom with you for nothing? I also worked very hard to acquire it."

The miser acknowledged that he was right, and agreed to pay for the answer. The emissary insisted on a sum three times what he usually asked of the rich, and the transaction was made.

"Now I will tell you a story," the emissary began. "Many years ago there lived a very wealthy man who was as stingy as he was rich. He was even miserly when it came to himself. He even refused to marry, lest a wife and children drain his finances.

"The man worked very hard his whole life and eventually amassed a fortune. Before he passed away, he instructed the Burial Society to bury him with all his money. Even after death he refused to part from his riches.

"His final wishes were carried out, and not one cent remained above ground. When the grave was filled, the angel in charge of the deceased came to accompany him to the Heavenly Court.

"'Did you study Torah?' the man was asked. 'No,' was his reply, 'I was a businessman.'

"'Then certainly you supported those who did with your charity. Tell us,' the judges urged him, 'which good deeds did you perform with all your money?'

"'Look, there's nothing to talk about,' the man answered. 'I brought all my money with me. Do whatever you want with it.'

"'You don't understand,' they explained. 'Here money has no value. The only currency is mitzvot.' The man's fate hung in the balance.

"After much discussion the judges realized that there was only one precedent in history, when the wealthy Korach had been swallowed up by the earth with all his riches. In the end it was decided that the miser, who had also been buried with all his money, should be sent to keep him company. The lonely Korach would no doubt be delighted.

"But it's very hard to spend such a long time with even two people," the emissary continued. "I'm sure that Korach and his friend are very bored by now, and would welcome a third conversationalist into their group. When I met you I thought to myself, 'Who knows? Maybe their boredom will soon be alleviated. But now that you've given me your donation, I think that Korach and his friend will have to wait a while longer."

From that day on the former miser was always the first to contribute to every charitable cause that came his way.


Moshiach Matters

The Sages and Prophets did not long for the Messianic era so that they may rule over the whole world or dominate the heathens, nor to be exalted by the nations, nor in order that they may eat, drink and be merry; but only to be free [for involvement] with the Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to oppress and disturb them, so that they may merit the life of the World to Come. (Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Ch. 12)


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