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Devarim Deutronomy

Breishis Genesis

Shemos Exodus

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Bamidbar Numbers

   621: Bamidbar

622: Shavuos

623: Nasso

624: Beha'alotcha

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626: Korach

627: Chukat-Balak

628: Pinchas

629: Matot-Masei

Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
June 2, 2000 - 28 Iyyar, 5760

621: Bamidbar

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


  620: Bechukotai622: Shavuos  

Perceptions And Motivation  |  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

Perceptions And Motivation

Your seventy-something aunt saves wrapping paper, glass jars, and plastic shopping bags. She reuses them, as well as the cotton that comes stuffed into the top of medicine and vitamin bottles. She never has more than one light on in the house, and she is known to mumble something like "We don't need to make the electric company rich." Everyone in the family rolls their eyes. The best of you call her "thrifty," others call her "frugal," and a few shake their heads about "depression mentality" even though the depression was over more than half a century ago.

Your next-door neighbor spent her junior year abroad in Europe. She was inspired by the tremendous respect Europeans have for the environment. The streets are immaculately clean, nobody uses "disposable" dishes, and everyone recycles.

Now that your neighbor has returned home, she is trying to continue to be ecologically minded. She travels almost exclusively on public transportation, saves junk mail to use as scrap paper, and when she's washing her dishes (of course, she doesn't use throwaway) she first soaps all of the dishes and then turns on the faucet and rinses them so as to conserve water. She reuses wrapping paper, glass jars, and plastic shopping bags, as well as the cotton that comes stuffed into the top of medicine and vitamin bottles.

You marvel at your neighbor's devotion to the environment and resolve to emulate some of her earth-friendly behavior.

Is there a difference between the actions of your aunt and that of your neighbor? Not really. What separates them is not their actions but why they're doing what they're doing. Or perhaps the difference is in how you perceive or react to their motivation?!

A similar scenario can be used to illustrate attitudes to the observance of mitzvot (or our attitudes towards those who observe them).

One person views Torah and mitzvot as restrictive. "How can you limit yourself by doing a, b or c (or not doing x, y, or z)?" he asks. "Shabbat, for example," he continues. "You can't watch t.v., you can't talk on the telephone, you can't surf the net."

But another person perceives Shabbat differently. "Prohibitive?" he responds. "On Shabbat I have permission to do so many things! I can actually relax and enjoy a meal without being disturbed by the telephone. I have permission to read a book without caring if my stocks went up or down. My fingers don't itch and twitch to flip the switch on my computer this one day a week. What a pleasure!"

A Midrash describes a bird complaining to G-d that she was created with cumbersome and weighty wings. How can she possibly get anywhere wobbling along on two tiny feet while balancing her feathered appendages? G-d explains to her how she can use the wings to gracefully and swiftly soar to the highest heights and furthest distances.

Mitzvot and Torah study are like wings. With the right attitude, we can use them to carry us to unimaginable heights and distances.


Living with the Rebbe

The first mitzva in the Book of Bamidbar is the commandment to count the Jewish people: "Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel." Because of this commandment, Bamidbar is also known as the Book of Numbers.

When objects are counted, the resulting tally is not an expression of their unique content. On the contrary, the particular characteristics of the objects being counted don't matter. Every item counts for one, no more and no less. A count thus represents only quantity, without regard for quality. Indeed, the commandment to count the Jews did not take into consideration their individual differences. Why, then, does the Torah consider this census so significant that the name of the entire Book is derived from it?

One explanation is the principle that "an object that has been counted cannot be nullified"; the very act of counting imbues it with worth and significance. But this explanation alone is insufficient, as counting objects only touches upon their most superficial aspect, without regard for their true quality.

However, a strong cause and effect relationship exists between quantity and quality. In fact, a sufficient quantity can generate an improvement in the quality of the items being counted! A prime example of this is the concept of the minyan, a quorum of ten Jewish men. Although a minyan is an expression of quantity, without regard for the individual characteristics of the participants, once it is assembled a new entity is formed. The Divine Presence rests on a minyan, and the Torah may be read, certain prayers recited, etc.

Another example of the connection between quantity and quality is found in the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Torah was revealed in the presence of the entire Jewish people - men, women and children. Had even one individual been absent, the Torah could not have been given. That is why our Sages instituted a special blessing, "the Wise One of enigmas," to be recited when the entire Jewish people is gathered together.

From this we learn that numbers are indeed important, especially in our times, when quantity is actually more important that quality. With so many Jews crying out for spiritual meaning in their lives, an effort must be made to enable as many Jews as possible to perform practical mitzvot. In fact, the emphasis must be precisely on quantity, for the more Jews strengthen their connection with G-d and celebrate their identity, the more elevated the spiritual quality of the entire Jewish people will be, which will in turn lead to the Final Redemption with Moshiach.

Adapted from Volume 2 of Likutei Sichot


A Slice of Life

Jury Duty

A Memorable Lesson

By Steve Hyatt

You've heard it before. We've all heard it before. A remark so hurtful and distasteful that it makes every fiber of your body quiver with anger. It's a disparaging remark about the Jewish people intended to hurt and cause pain.

Unfortunately, no matter how hurtful and disgusting the comment, I have always found it difficult to speak up and confront someone directly. In the past, I simply shrugged my shoulders and walked away seething with anger. Of course that was before Chabad, before I learned about my people, my customs, my traditions and my heritage. Today I am proud of who and what we are and I enjoy the opportunity to share my experiences with my fellow Jews. Hopefully, by sharing my experiences, others will feel, "Well if this average kind of guy can do this, maybe I can too."

Recently, I was empanelled on a jury. We were charged with the responsibility of determining the guilt or innocence of a man charged with a very serious crime. When you are selected to become part of a jury, in a complicated case, you can expect to spend eight to ten hours a day with people who come to the group as perfect strangers. Some are rich, some are not as well to do. Some are PhDs and some never went beyond high school. Some are very young and some are mature and wise. In short, if done right, the jury represents the entire spectrum of the community.

The jury I was on listened to the case for four days and then went behind closed doors to deliberate. During the course of the first day a discussion between two jury members became very heated and animated. As I sat in my chair listening I heard one young man lash out at another member with a very disparaging remark about Jews. Immediately I was enraged. I wanted to leap across the table and get in his face. I took a few deep breaths and decided to exercise some restraint. We were in the middle of an important point and I didn't want to disrupt the jurers' concentration at a crucial moment.

At 5:00 p.m. the judge sent word that we should adjourn for the day and return the next morning. As everyone got up to leave I asked if I could have a few moments of their time. Knees shaking and voice quivering I looked the young offender in the eye and said, " I am sure you are a nice guy with a good heart but I feel the need to address something you said earlier. During the course of this morning's conversation you made a statement about Jewish people that I thought was hurtful, ignorant and derogatory. I am Jewish and was offended by what you said. You never know who is in the audience when you speak, thus you never know whom you may hurt. I'd appreciate it if you would think about this expression before you ever use it again in the presence of others." He looked at me, I looked at him, and then we all walked out of the courthouse.

The next day we reconvened at 9:00 a.m. in the jury room. The people in the room exchanged morning pleasantries, drank a little coffee and discussed the guy who won a million dollars the night before on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." As we were about to get started the young man in question asked if he could say a few words. He looked at me and said, "Steve, I got half way home yesterday and I realized that I had said something that was hurtful and ignorant. I have used that expression in all my life. Never once did I ever equate it to the Jewish faith. To me and my friends it was just an expression, we never meant to hurt anyone." His voice breaking he said, "I ask for your forgiveness and pledge to you that neither I nor any member of my immediate family will ever use that expression again." I looked at him for a moment, my eyes searching his face, and I said, "I admire your courage to say what you just said. I would be honored to accept your apology."

That said we went on about our business. Later that day after the verdict had been delivered, security ushered the jury out through a private courthouse-exit. As the jury members said goodbye for the last time, two of the women came up to me and one whispered softly, "Steve, we just want to tell you that we thought what you did yesterday was the most courageous thing we have ever seen. Too often people simply sit back and allow these kinds of statements to go by unchallenged. We will never forget that moment."

As we walked away from one another, going back to our private lives, silent tears began to fall down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed by what had just transpired. When I was originally called to jury duty I was reluctant to give up a week or two of my "precious" time. I felt I had more important things to do than hang around a court room. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be involved in one of the most meaningful learning experiences of my life.

It continually amazes me when and where Hashem provides these unexpected opportunities to learn and grow. My experiences with Rabbi Denebeim in Palm Springs, Rabbi Vogel in Delaware and Rabbi Wilhelm in Oregon have taught me that standing up for what you believe in not only educates those around you but their friends, families and acquaintances as well. Like a pebble thrown into the water, the ripple-effect can go on forever, touching people's lives and effecting change in lands and communities hundreds and thousands of miles away. Like any journey of exploration, one must however take the first step. But then, helping with first steps is what Chabad is all about!


What's New

L'CHAIM BOOKS AND SUBSCRIPTIONS

Bound volumes of this past year's L'Chaim are available through the L'Chaim office. To order a book send $25 (plus $3 s & h) to L'Chaim Books, 1408 President Street, Brooklyn, NY 11213. Limited numbers of books years 8 - 11 are also available at $25 per book. L'Chaim books, as well as subscriptions, make wonderful presents. To order a gift subscription send the name and address of the recipient (and the occasion for the gift), together with your name and address to the above address. Subscription costs are listed to the left.


The Rebbe Writes

Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 5738 [1978]

. . . I take this opportunity of expressing my regret that - for reasons you are aware of - it was impossible to talk things over with you personally and at length, nor to meet your younger daughter. However, when Jews meet at a Farbrengen [Chasidic gathering] dedicated to Torah and Yiddishkeit, in a sacred place of Tefilah [prayer] and Torah study, especially one that had been graced by the presence of my father-in-law of saintly memory [the Previous Rebbe] for ten years - this unites Jews and brings them closer together than a personal conversation.

Apropos of the above, and in connection with the forthcoming Festival of Mattan Torah [the Giving of the Torah], the unity of our people is directly related to it, as our Sages interpret the words, "and Israel encamped there facing the Mountain" (Yisro 19:21), taking note of the use of the singular person - k'ish echod b'lev echod, "like one man, with one heart." (Rashi, from Mechilta). It was the first time since the departure from Egypt that the Jewish people felt truly united, and G-d said, "Now they are fit to receive the Torah."

At first glance it seems extraordinary that a whole nation could be so united as to be described "like one person with one heart," especially as it has been said that "people differ in their outlooks as they differ in their looks," and there are various walks of life and interests. But the explanation is found in the words, "facing the Mountain." For, when the Jewish people were about to receive the Torah, they were all of like mind and heart, and all so eager to receive the Torah and its Mitzvos that in the light of it everything else paled into insignificance, and thus they all truly became like one person with one heart.

Since the Torah was given not only to our ancestors coming out of Egypt, but the souls of all Jews of all future generations were present and joined in "na'aseh v'nishma," [the Jews said, "We will do and (then) we will study"] the reading of the portion of Mattan Torah on Shovuos - most solemnly and with a Brocho [blessing] before and after - inspires every one of us to relive this experience, and rejuvenates the powers of every Jew to renew his, and her, commitment to Torah and Mitzvos with increased vigor and vitality and joy. May it be so with you and yours and all of us in the midst of all our people.

Wishing you and all your family a joyous and inspiring Yom Tov [holiday], and the traditional blessing to receive the Torah with joy and inwardness,

With blessing,

11 Sivan, 5738 [1978]

Dr. - PhD.

Greeting and Blessing:

Thank you for your letter of 2nd Sivan upon your return from Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel] and previous communication.

I am pleased to note that you and your wife enjoyed your visit in Eretz Yisroel and were impressed with the activities of Chabad there. As I have remarked on similar occasions, it is customary to bring back souvenirs from the lands one visits that are characteristic of native features and products, etc. I trust, therefore, that you, too, brought back with you the right souvenir from the Holy Land, namely, an extra measure of holiness, which will serve as a fitting memento of your visit. And, of course, there is always room for improvement in matters of holiness, Torah and Mitzvos, in the daily life. In your case this is even more important, not only for your own benefit, but also for the benefit of the many who look to you for inspiration; and one is inspired not by someone else's good thoughts and intentions, and not so much by word of mouth as by a living example, which needs no elaboration to a psychologist...


Rambam this week

2 Sivan 5760

Negative mitzva 215: sowing kilayim

By this prohibition we are forbidden to plant kilayim (diverse kinds of seed, such as wheat with oats, in the same field). It is contained in the Torah's words (Lev. 19:19): "You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed." The mitzva applies only in the Land of Israel.


A Word from the Director

Continuing our Shabbat afternoon study of Ethics of the Fathers we turn this week to Chapter Six, which opens with the following words: "The Sages taught [this chapter] in the language of the Mishna."

Ethics of the Fathers consists of five chapters of Mishna, plus a sixth chapter which was not originally part of the Tractate, but is technically "beraita" - teachings of the Mishnaic Sages not embodied in the Mishna but added later. This sixth chapter is also known as "Kinyan Torah," "On Acquiring Torah," as its teachings arouse in us a love for Torah and a desire to learn it with greater devotion. For this reason, it is precisely this chapter that is studied on the Shabbat before Shavuot, the holiday that marks the actual giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

At Mount Sinai, the entirety of Torah was given by G-d to the Jewish people, both the revealed and esoteric portions. Everything was given to Moses, even "that which scholars would innovate in the future." Whenever authentic Jewish sages issue a ruling or legal decision, that too is part of the totality of Torah, and carries the same weight and authority. For everything, including that particular ruling, was revealed to Moses at Sinai, although its specific application might not apply for thousands of years.

Thus the words "The Sages taught [this chapter] in the language of the Mishna" contain an important lesson: Despite the fact that Chapter Six of Ethics is technically "beraita," literally "outside" (the walls of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi's study hall), it is still "in the language of the Mishna" - worthy of inclusion, with the same importance and authority. And by extension, so is every other aspect of Torah that has come down to us through authentic Jewish tradition over the generations.


Thoughts that Count

Parshat Bamidbar

The Torah portion of Bamidbar (literally "in the desert") is always read before Shavuot, to teach us that a person who observes the Torah can transform even a desolate wasteland into an idyllic paradise, as it states (Isaiah 51:3): "And He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the L-rd." (Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin)

G-d spoke to Moses in the Sinai desert.Take the sum (literally "raise up the head") of all the congregation of the Children of Israel (Num. 1:1-2)

The census of the Jewish people as conducted by Moses caused the Divine Presence to dwell among them. Each and every Jew's "head was raised" with the knowledge that the individual possesses the power to determine the future of the entire world. Similarly, Maimonides writes that "Every person should regard himself as if he is half innocent and half guilty, and the whole world as if it is half innocent and half guilty. By doing one good deed, he can tip the scales for himself and the entire world to the side of merit, and bring salvation and deliverance."

From twenty years old and upward, all who are able to go forth to war (Num. 1:3)

The count included only those Jews who were both over 20 and fit for military service, excluding the elderly and infirm. In truth, however, not one Jew was insufficiently robust to be able to serve. (The Vilna Gaon)

All that were numbered of the Levites.were twenty-two thousand (Lev. 3:39)

The tribe of Levi was the smallest in population of all the tribes. When the Egyptians attempted to reduce the number of Jews by enslaving them, G-d caused them to increase in a miraculous manner, above and beyond the normal rate of reproduction, as it states, "But in the measure that they afflicted them, so they multiplied and spread out." As the Levites were exempted from the Egyptian servitude, they only reproduced at a natural rate. (Nachmanides)


It Once Happened

Reb Elimelech was one of the most respected Chasidim of Reb Chaim of Antonia. A very wealthy man, his seat on the synagogue's eastern wall was next to the rebbe's, and whenever the rebbe held a "tish" (a Chasidic gathering at which the tzadik would partake of a meal), Reb Elimelech sat right next to him. Many people considered him one of the rebbe's closest Chasidim.

Reb Elimelech, for his part, was always extremely deferential to the rebbe, and donated huge sums of money to the rebbe's charitable causes.

But the high esteem in which the tzadik held Reb Elimelech was not shared by the majority of Chasidim. Rumors abounded that despite his outward shows of piety, Reb Elimelech's personal life was not conducted with the same degree of devoutness as his public deeds would lead one to conclude.

Some people even said Reb Elimelech was increasingly drawn to the Enlightenment movement.

As long as the rumors concerned Reb Elimelech's relationship with his Maker, the Chasidim looked away and held their tongues. But when he suddenly enrolled his son in the public gymnasium, some of the more zealous Chasidim decided that the time had come to bring Reb Elimelech's spiritual deterioration to the Rebbe's attention. If it was unthinkable for a boy from a Chasidic home to abandon his Jewish education for a secular gymnasium, how much more so for the son of a Chasid so highly regarded by the rebbe.

"What kind of an example would that set for our own children?" the Chasidim complained. "How can someone who sits by the eastern wall in the synagogue, right next to the Rebbe, allow his son to be educated by heretics?"

Reb Chaim was shocked by the news. He immediately summoned Reb Elimelech and gently tried to dissuade him. But Reb Elimelech uncharacteristically refused to heed the tzadik's counsel.

When the rebbe saw that Reb Elimelech was being stubborn he changed his tone. "Chasidism and a Torah-true education go hand in hand," he said sternly. "Until you withdraw your son from the gymnasium, you are no longer welcome in my congregation."

Reb Elimelech, who was accustomed to being treated with the utmost deference, was dejected and confused as he left his rebbe's presence. What was so terrible about exposing his son to another way of thinking? "Reb Chaim is just too fanatical for me," he concluded. "I'll just have to go and find myself another rebbe."

Some time later Reb Elimelech found himself about to enter the room of the famous Rebbe Yisrael of Vizhnitz. Unbeknownst to him, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe was none other than the brother of Reb Chaim of Antonia.

The Vizhnitzer Rebbe was renowned for his hospitality and deep love for every Jew. The tzadik greeted him warmly, seated Reb Elimelech next to him in synagogue, and made sure to give him a big smile whenever they met.

Reb Elimelech's joy knew no bounds. Finally, here was the spiritual leader he'd been searching for, unlike his Reb Chaim who had treated him so shabbily.

One day the Vizhnitzer Rebbe invited Reb Elimelech to accompany him on his evening walk. The weather was warm and pleasant, with the barest hint of a breeze swaying the treetops. Reb Elimelech was enjoying every minute.

"It's funny," the tzadik said suddenly, "but the sight of these trees has caused me to recall a distant childhood memory. One year just before Passover, our teacher's wife decided to give our classroom a thorough cleaning, and asked if we wouldn't mind relocating for a few hours. The whole class went outside and sat on the grass, but as our teacher soon realized, we were too distracted by our surroundings to concentrate. We were only little boys - how could we resist the lure of the birds singing, the wagons rumbling by and the clouds in the sky?

"Seeing that there was no use in continuing our lesson, the teacher decided to capture our interest in a different way. 'This tree,' he said, pointing to the nearest one, 'is a walnut tree. That one is a pear tree, and that one is an apple tree. But how can we be sure which is which, given that the winter has just ended and the trees are still leafless?' He then proceeded to enumerate the trees' identifying signs: smooth bark, rough bark, thick or sparse clusters of branches, height, etc. At the time, we were still too young to fully appreciate what our teacher was telling us."

The Vizhnitzer Rebbe put his arm around Reb Elimelech and continued his story. "But when can we really identify a tree? A few months later, when it begins to bear fruit. At that point, we no longer need to look for identifying signs and markings. If it grows pears, it's a pear tree. If it grows apples, it's an apple tree. The fruit it yields shows us exactly what kind of tree it is.

"This taught me an important lesson in life: In order to gauge a person's true essence, just look at his 'fruit' - his children. This will reveal exactly what type of person he is."

That very week Reb Elimelech enrolled his son back in the yeshiva.


Moshiach Matters

"Behold, days are coming, says the L-rd, when I will perform those good things which I have promised to the House of Israel and to the House of Judah. In those days, and at that time, will I cause an off-shoot of righteousness to grow up for David; and he will execute justice and righteousness to grow up for David; and he will execute justice and righteousness in the land. (Jeremiah 33: 14-16)


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