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Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
July 14, 2000 - 11 Tamuz, 5760

627: Chukat-Balak

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


  626: Korach628: Pinchas  

Why Does It Take So Long?  |  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

Why Does It Take So Long?

by Rabbi Eli Cohen

We live in the age of the sound bite, short attention spans and instant gratification. In such a world, it may seem foreign to us to take out a chunk of our day to mumble passages of a 2,000 year-old text and stand in silent devotion. Wouldn't a simple "G-d is great" or "thanks a lot" be enough, and then on with our day?

Does the Infinite need to be told how wonderful He is? One would hope not. Why then are we enjoined to spend 45 minutes or more a day extolling His virtues?

Imagine writing a poem to express your affection for someone very dear, a spouse or child, for example. Would the three words, "I love you" be enough? Not very romantic. You would probably want to put into words the reasons for your love, the special qualities which endear this person to you, the wonderful feelings you get from being in his or her presence.

Consider a toast master who gets up to introduce the honoree at a banquet:

"Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Ed Forman. He's great."

That's not enough. No, we must be told every time he is honored about his presidency of the Global Jewish Association and his chairmanship of a particular national foundation and so on, in what can often become a shopping list of good works. These are recited, not because the honoree likes to hear them, but because his resume of accomplishments establishes a feeling of admiration, perhaps even awe on the part of the audience, that makes them more receptive to whatever the honoree says after such an introduction.

Our prayers are not merely a recital of our needs and wants.

When we approach G-d in prayer, we are nurturing a relationship with our Creator. It is a two-way relationship built on two emotions, love and awe. When we stand before Alm-ghty G-d on a daily basis, we give expression to our deep feelings of connection to something more vast than anything we can possibly imagine. In our prayers we cherish the link between the finite and the Infinite; between puny, insignificant man, tiny grain of dust in the entire cosmos and G-d, Who constantly gives life to the entire universe and yet cares and looks after little me.

As we pray we hear the words of praise resounding in our minds and we are filled with emotion. On the one hand, we feel that warm tingling feeling we get when you start describing someone who is near and dear. On the other hand, we are filled with a dread and respect that we might feel ten minutes before a meeting with a top corporate executive or a world leader.

The Talmud calls prayer "the service of the heart." To make it a meaningful service, it must involve painting the word pictures and taking the time to develop the emotions which comprise a real interface between man and G-d.

Rabbi Cohen is the director of Chabad at New York University.


Living with the Rebbe

This week we read two Torah portions, Chukat and Balak. Balak, the king of Moab, hired Bilaam, a gentile prophet, to curse the Jewish people. Earlier in the Torah we read of another another nation who was also a sworn enemy of the Children of Israel, Amalek.

Mystical texts state that there in an inherent connection between Bilaam and Amalek. An illusion to this is seen when writing their names in Hebrew: when combining the first two letters of Bilaam (bet-lamed) with the first two letters of Amalek (ayin-mem), it spells Bilaam; and when combining the remaining two letters of Bilaam (ayin-mem) with the remaining two letters of Amalek (lamed-kof), it spells Amalek.

Amalek's basic ability to confront the Jews was derived from his family relationship with them; Amalek was the descendant of Esau. "I too am the great-grandchild of Abraham and Isaac," Bilaam claimed. "I have the same right to voice my opinion in matters of Torah and holiness!"

The argument that was propounded by Bilaam was similar. Bilaam was a descendant of Laban, who insisted to Jacob that "the daughters are my daughters" - i.e., that the Matriarchs through whom the Jewish people would be established were his kin. With these words Laban claimed the right to have a say in Jewish affairs. Bilaam, a member of the same family, continued his forefather's argument and demanded that his opinion be given weight when it came to Torah and mitzvot.

From this we learn an important lesson that is valid in every generation: If someone comes along and makes an assertion that is contrary to Torah, it doesn't matter if he is the grandchild of Abraham and Isaac, or if the Matriarchs of the Jewish people are on his family tree. We are forbidden to heed his word.

"We have none but our Father in heaven upon Whom to rely!" we must respond to his argument. As Jews, there is only one yardstick by which we measure all things: the Torah. Nothing else, not even the most prestigious lineage, may enter the equation. The holy Torah is our sole criterion.

By definition, if a statement or directive is in accordance with the Torah it is good; if not, it doesn't matter who is saying it. If a Bilaam or an Amalek's words run counter to the Torah, they do not concern us in the least.

The best advice to a Jew who seeks to free himself from an Amalek or a Bilaam is yira (fear and awe) and ahava (love) of G-d, in that order. The Hebrew words themselves reveal this deep interconnection: combining the first two letter of yira (yud-resh) with the first two letters of ahava (alef-hei) spells yira; and combining the remaining two letters of yira (alef-hei) with the remaining two letters of ahava (bet-hei) spells ahava.

When a Jew possesses fear of G-d and love of G-d, there is nothing to be afraid of. Amalek and Bilaam will never succeed in defeating him.

Adapted from Volume 2 of Likutei Sichot


A Slice of Life

DID I THINK ABOUT YOU?

Rabbi Berel Baumgarten of blessed memory

by Eliyahu and Malka Touger

On the 12th of Tamuz, 1927, the Previous Rebbe, R. Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, was released from prison in Stalinist Russia. Ever since then, the date is celebrated as a major holiday among Lubavitcher Chasidim.

Rabbi Berel Baumgarten, the Rebbe's emissary in Argentina, cherished this occasion, and often spent the day at 770 Eastern Parkway, Lubavitch World Headquarters, attending the Rebbe's farbrengen (gathering). At other times, he used the holiday as an opportunity to spread awareness of Chasidism to others.

One year, however, he realized that on the 12th of Tamuz he would be in the middle of a journey from Argentina to Brazil. Disturbed at the prospect of spending this auspicious date far from anyone with whom he could share his feelings, he sent the Rebbe a telegram before he left home, asking to be remembered on that date.

In order to reach Brazil, Rabbi Baumgaten had to cross the Iguacu River by ferry. The ferry had an open deck covered by an awning, with several heavy-duty rafts tied together to carry cars and cargo. Rabbi Baumgarten followed instructions and drove his car onto the raft. As soon as his car was parked, he joined the other travelers enjoying the fresh air beneath the awning.

Rabbi Baumgarten was happy to find that two of his fellow passengers were Jews. But his joy was short-lived as he discovered that they had no desire to hear about anything to do with Judaism. One of them even brazenly flaunted a ham sandwich before him. Feeling that further conversation would be futile, and offended by their actions, Rabbi Baumgarten returned to his car and opened his books to study.

Suddenly, there was a powerful jolt-a banana boat had slammed into the raft. Huge beams that had been piled in a corner of the raft began tumbling down, pushing cars off the raft and into the Iguacu River. To his shock, Rabbi Baumgarten's car also began to move. He slammed his foot on the brake, but was powerless to stop his car's motion. It too crashed into the waves and started to sink!

Now Rabbi Baumgarten was a big man, over six feet tall and more than 250 pounds. Yet, he couldn't open the car door; the water pressure was simply too great.

He never knew how it happened, but suddenly his door opened, and he found himself out of the car and in the water, being pulled upward.

His troubles, however, were far from over, for Rabbi Baumgarten had never learned to swim. Frantically flailing for what seemed like hours, he was at the end of his strength when his head suddenly broke through the water. Exhausted, Rabbi Baumgarten could only bob helplessly up and down; he had no idea what was keeping him afloat. Between waves, he could see the raft close by, but was powerless to move towards it.

To make matters even worse, he could hear a rumbling thunder in the distance, and realized with horror that the river's powerful current was beginning to pull him away from the raft, and towards a waterfall! As the white water crashed over him, Rabbi Baumgarten looked up to see a man heaving a life preserver toward him. It splashed into the river just within reach.

Rabbi Baumgarten grabbed the life preserver and drew it close. Though his strength was giving out he held on to it for it was too small to fit over his body. While in the water, he pictured the Rebbe's face before him.

After he had been hauled out of the river and was able to regain his composure, the two Jews whom he had met previously approached him, overcome with remorse. They realized that it was because of them that Rabbi Baumgarten had returned to his car, and apologized for their previous conduct. The man who had flaunted the sandwich even promised to begin keeping kosher.

After Rabbi Baumgarten reached the far shore, he began to contemplate his situation. He had no explanation for the miracle that had occurred. Days later, he understood. When he called the Rebbe's office and requested that the Rebbe be told what had happened, one of the secretaries told him when his telegram had been delivered. Calculating the difference in time zones, he realized that the Rebbe must have been reading the telegram at precisely the time the accident occured!

All these calculations, however, came later; at the moment he had more immediate concerns. His personal belongings had sunk with the car, and he was far from any Jewish community. Where would he find a talit and tefilin with which to pray?

Rabbi Baumgarten found that there was a small airport nearby, but he would not be able to reach another city before sunset on the scheduled flights. He was unable to conceive of letting the day pass without putting on tefilin.

He inquired about hiring a private plane. Although the cost was exorbitant, he was able to find a pilot who could fly him to another city before sunset. He sent a telegram to the leaders of the Jewish community there, asking them to meet him at the airport with tefilin.

There was a mix-up in communications, however, and no one greeted Rabbi Baumgarten at the airport. With less than an hour left before nightfall, Rabbi Baumgarten grabbed a cab and told the driver to hurry to the nearest synagogue. Unfortunately, night fell before he could get there. Broken-hearted, he stopped the cab and sat down on a nearby park bench and cried.

At his next yechidut (private audience with the Rebbe), he asked the Rebbe how he could atone for not putting on tefilin that day.

Before answering his question, the Rebbe looked up at him and asked, "Well, did I think about you? Yes or no?"

He then instructed Rabbi Baumgarten to study the laws of tefilin in the Code of Jewish Law, and the discourses in Chasidic thought that speak about the subjugation of heart and mind-the spiritual message associated with the mitzva of tefilin.

Reprinted with permission from To Know and To Care, Vol. 2, published by Sichos in English.


What's New

FANTASY GALA

Chabad's Children of Chernobyl (CCOC) recently hosted a star-studded fantasy gala at Sotheby's Auction House. Over 600 guests attended the evening which included a silent auction, live auction and dinner. Enough money was raised to save the lives of an additional 150 children. Since 1990, CCOC has worked to save the lives of children victimized by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. To date, they have evacuated 1,946 children to Israel where they are receiving the medical attention they need. The event honored Jody Durst with a Humanitarian Award and Burt Reynolds with a Children at Heart Award. Steven Spielberg and Elie Wiesel acted as Honorary Chairs, and Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith, Jon Voight and Gene Wilder were the evening's Celebrity Chairs.


The Rebbe Writes

15th of Tammuz, 5718 [1958]

Greeting and Blessing:

I was pleased to see you at the Farbrengen [Chasidic gathering] of the 12th-13th of Tammuz, which is dedicated to the sacred work of my father-in-law of saintly memory, who disregarded every danger to his life in his work to strengthen and spread Torah and Yiddishkeit [Judaism]. As you no doubt know, he had to contend with overwhelming odds and evil forces that tried to stop him, but nevertheless he came out victorious, for he had the strength of the Torah on his side. This is also the purpose of the Farbrengen, when we all meet together to strengthen each other in our attachment to the Torah, and to the spirit of self-sacrifice in the cause of true Yiddishkeit, that we may not be afraid of any difficulties and obstacles. In reality, most of such obstacles are only in the imagination, and when there is a strong will, all difficulties disappear.

I hope that your parents encourage you in your studies and in your conduct in accordance with the Torah and your teachings at the Yeshiva, and the Alm-ghty will surely reward them with much Nachas from you.

With prayerful wishes, and

With blessing,

Under separate cover you will receive one of our publications which we trust you will read with much interest.

End of Tammuz, 5719 [1959]

Hon. --

London

Shalom U'brachah [Peace and Blessings]:

Rabbi Hodakov has conveyed to me the gist of his telephone conversation with you. Needless to say, I was gratified to hear of your reaction, and thank you also in anticipation of the information which you promised to send.

I wish to add here that according to information received, though I cannot vouchsafe for its absolute accuracy, R.- is said to have applied for a visa to Rabbi-'s place and was denied.

No doubt you are informed that the contract which is being prepared for Rabbi- is limited to himself, whereas insofar as his son is concerned, efforts are only now being made to find one for him. Common sense would indicate that Rabbi- would hardly be willing to depart and leave his son in the present situation. Moreover, even his contract has been progressing with difficulty (it is hoped that on Wednesday it will be confirmed), though the efforts began several weeks ago. From this one gathers the difficulties that would attend the obtaining of a contract for his son.

In view of the above, it would be well if you could ascertain what are the chances of obtaining a British visa for both of them together. I would very much appreciate your information on this.

I cannot conclude at this time without reference to the significance of this month of Tammuz, with its historic anniversary of the liberation of my father-in-law from Soviet imprisonment (12th-13th of Tammuz). The experiences of our leaders are surely a living lesson and inspiration to all of us, that when one fights for the truth to the extent of real mesiras nefesh [self-sacrifice], one person can single-handedly overcome the greatest power on earth.

With kind regards and with blessing,


Rambam this week

11 Tamuz 5760

Negative mitzva 99: offering a sacrifice without salt

By this prohibition we are forbidden to offer a sacrifice without salt. It is contained in the Torah's words (Lev. 2:13): "Neither shall you suffer the salt of the covenant of your G-d to be lacking [from your meal-offering]." [Our Sages explain that salt is symbolic of the enduring character of G-d's covenant with the Jewish people.]


A Word from the Director

This Shabbat is the 12th of Tamuz, which is both the birthday and day on which the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn, was liberated from Soviet prison and exile in 1927.

One of the most anti-Semitic leaders of old-time Russia was a man by the name of Stolipin, who was famous for his vicious hatred of Jews and the many harsh decrees he enacted against them.

Once, when the Rebbe Rashab learned that Stolipin was planning to issue a particularly cruel edict, he sent his son, the Previous Rebbe, on a mission to Moscow in an attempt to prevent it.

The Rebbe was given an appointment to meet with a certain minister, a friend of Stolipin. The meeting, to be held in the minister's home in a suburb of Moscow, was scheduled for Friday night, meaning that the Rebbe needed a place to stay within walking distance.

It was far too cold to walk the streets, and extremely dangerous for a Jew to go out alone in a neighborhood where not one Jew lived. With no other option, the Rebbe decided to spend Shabbat in the local public tavern.

The tavern was filled with drunken, Jew-hating Russians. Just walking inside placed the Rebbe's life in danger. But the Rebbe passed the whole day on the premises, aside from the time he left to speak with the minister. For an entire Shabbat the Rebbe had to make believe he was one of the crowd, lest the drunken revelers discover his Jewish identity. Yet the Rebbe did so willingly, in the hope of being able to nullify the evil decree.

The Rebbe's love for his fellow Jew was so all-encompassing that when he learned of the evil decree, it touched the essence of his soul. He willingly risked his life, even though the outcome was doubtful. In the end, the Rebbe was successful.

This contains an important lesson: Whenever we hear of another Jew's pain, be it physical or spiritual, it should affect us so deeply that it touches the essence of our souls. We must always do whatever we can to come to another Jew's aid, even if it is doubtful that our efforts will bear fruit.


Thoughts that Count

Speak to the Children of Israel, that they bring to you a completely red cow on which there is no blemish, that has never borne a yoke (Num. 19:14)

Comments Rashi: "It should be perfect in redness; if there were two black hairs upon it, it would be disqualified." In the same way a red heifer is prevented from being "perfect" by the appearance of two black hairs, so too is a Jew's perfection disqualified by even the slightest "hairsbreadth" of dishonesty or deception, as it states, "You shall be perfect [whole] with the L-rd your G-d." (Chidushei HaRim)

And [Moses] said to them, "Hear now, you rebels, must we bring you forth water out of this rock?" (Num. 20:10)

Calling the Jewish people "rebels" was considered a very grave sin for a person on Moses' spiritual level. For when Jews are in trouble, the proper thing to do is help rather than chastise them. (Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Barditchev)

Therefore it is said in the book of the wars of the L-rd (Num. 21:14)

The "book of the wars of the L-rd" refers to a specific volume recording all G-d's battles on behalf of those who fear Him. It is quite possible that the book dates back to our forefather Abraham, as many ancient manuscripts have been lost over the millennia: The Words and Testimony of Nathan; The Chronicles of the Kings of Israel; and King Solomon's Songs and Parables. (Ibn Ezra)

Lo, it is a people that shall live alone, and among the nations shall not be reckoned (Num. 23:9)

When the Jewish people are "alone," separate and distinguished from the gentiles, their existence is secure and they are respected by the nations. If, however, they begin to assimilate and copy their non-Jewish neighbors, they "shall not be reckoned" - they lose their importance and high esteem. (Divrei Eliezer)


It Once Happened

It was a time of relentless tension and intimidation. The noose that the Soviets had so carefully placed around the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneersohn, was tightening day by day. Everyone could sense that the situation was reaching critical mass: the Chasidim, the Rebbe's family, and the Rebbe himself. Nonetheless, the Rebbe refused to be intimidated, and persisted in his activities to strengthen and disseminate Judaism.

By Purim of 5687 (1927) the Rebbe was being harassed almost daily by the Yevsektziya (the Jewish branch of what would later develop into the K.G.B.). Members of the secret police were bursting into the Rebbe's house at all hours of the night and day, rifling through his belongings, confiscating papers and issuing threats. But the Rebbe insisted on celebrating the traditional Purim farbrengen (Chasidic gathering) in his home as always, despite the foreboding atmosphere.

The farbrengen began as usual, with the Rebbe seated at the head of the table. However, the Chasidim could immediately sense that the Rebbe was in another world. Much of the time the Rebbe's eyes were closed; from time to time his face would redden from mental exertion, and tears would roll down his cheeks. The Chasidim watched the Rebbe nervously, interspersing the Rebbe's words of Torah with Chasidic melodies.

At the height of the farbrengen the Chasidim noticed three figures slinking into the room and sitting at the end of the table. No one had any doubts about who they were. Although outwardly dressed as Chasidim, the three informers had by then become regular participants in all their gatherings.

The Rebbe was usually cautious and circumspect whenever the informers showed up, but this night would prove to be different. Several hours into the farbrengen the Rebbe suddenly rose from his seat and tore off his coat. Opening the buttons of his shirt he moved his talit katan [four-cornered garment with fringes attached to each corner] aside to expose the area over his holy heart.

"Eli Chaim!" the Rebbe called out to one of his Chasidim. "I once ordered you to do something and you refused, but I'm ordering you a second time and you must obey. I want you to go out and announce that whoever sends his children to a Soviet or Yevsektziya-run school will not live out the year!"

The Rebbe then turned to another Chasid. "Zalman! If they make a bonfire and ask you to choose between sending your children to their schools or jumping into the fire, do you know what you must do? You are to throw yourself into the flames!"

An icy fear gripped the hearts of everyone present, aware that every word the Rebbe uttered was being recorded as "evidence" against him. As if reading their minds, the Rebbe then turned his gaze on the three informers, who were clearly uncomfortable. "I know that they are here," the Rebbe said, "the men of the cursed Yevsektziya, may their name be erased. But I am not afraid of them at all!"

At that point some of the Chasidim started to sing, but the Rebbe's voice was louder. "When you see the body burning, G-d forbid, you must have no mercy. Just watch out for the head!" The Rebbe then added cryptically, "I asked my father [the Rebbe Rashab, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch], 'Just like Nikolai?' And he said, 'Yes, like Nikolai.' "

When the Rebbe saw that no one had understood his reference to Nikolai he continued. "The Kaiser Pavel once sent his son Nikolai out to war to prove his mettle. The son performed fearlessly and emerged victorious. However, when the battle was over, he began to distribute the spoils without his father's permission. The Kaiser was faced with a decision. On the one hand, Nikolai had demonstrated his military prowess, but on the other, the Kaiser wished to punish him for his disobedience. In the end Nikolai was sent to jail and imprisoned.

"I asked my father, 'The same as Nikolai?' and he said, 'Yes, like Nikolai.'" When the Chasidim grasped the Rebbe's implication they were horrified.

Hoping to impede the awful flow of words, one of the Chasidim ran into the next room to summon the Rebbe's mother, Rebbetzin Shterna Sarah, to try to calm her son. But as soon as the Rebbe saw her he began to weep. "Mother, I do nothing of my own volition. All my actions are in accordance with Father's wishes." The Rebbe and his mother both stood crying for some time.

No one could remain indifferent to such a scene, and the entire assembly dissolved in tears. The farbrengen ended when the Rebbe fell into a deep faint.

Exactly three months later, shortly after midnight on the 15th of Sivan, the Soviet secret police invaded the Rebbe's house and arrested him for crimes against the state. The Rebbe was held until the 12th/13th of Tamuz, when he was liberated in a miraculous manner - for which reason these dates have been celebrated as the Previous Rebbe's Festival of Redemption ever since.


Moshiach Matters

When Moshiach comes everyone will manifestly see how the life-force that animates the organs of the body stems from Divinity. It will then be seen that every individual organ lives from the Divine life-force that is drawn into it by the fulfillment of the particular mitzva which relates to that organ. For, as is well-known, the 248 positive commandments correspond to the 248 bodily organs. (From a Chasidic discourse of Rabbi Sholom Dovber of Lubavitch)


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