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   630: Devarim

631: Vaetchanan

632: Eikev

633: Re'eh

634: Shoftim

635: Ki Teitzei

636: Ki Tavo

637: Nitzavim-Vayeilech

L'Chaim
September 1, 2000 - 1 Elul, 5760

634: Shoftim

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


  633: Re'eh635: Ki Teitzei  

Look Ma, No Hands!  |  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

Look Ma, No Hands!

Perhaps it's as straightforward as not wanting to get hurt. Or maybe there's more to it, like being afraid of making a fool of oneself or, worse yet, failing. For a child, learning to ride a "two-wheeler" bicycle is an opportunity to acquire a new skill and taste independence. And yet, for many a youngster there is a certain reticence toward this significant childhood experience.

At first the child sits stiffly on the bicycle seat. A "bigger person" pushes the bike along as the child gets a sense of balance. After the child becomes more comfortable and secure, the spotter can let go for a second or two and the child will coast on his own for a couple of feet or yards before losing his balance.

Eventually, after a few scraped elbows and bruised knees - all of which the child takes in stride - the novice bicyclist will glide and then begin to peddle. The look of intensity and seriousness on his face is a sight to behold.

Within days the now veteran bike-rider will be maneuvering turns, confidently making short stops and riding one-handed. Each new stunt elicits shouts of "fantastic!" and exclamations of "wow!" from his fans.

A few weeks later, an utterly confident thoroughly delighted child will be calling out, "Look Ma, no hands!" as he has learned to balance the bike and his body and form them into one unit.

Getting more involved in Jewish living - mitzva observance and Torah study - is sort of like learning to ride a bicycle. For many there is an initial reticence or even wariness. "If I accept the invitation for a Shabbat meal will I end up making a fool of myself by doing something wrong?" "I'll be the only in the synagogue who doesn't know the choreography of prayer." "I know I'm going to sit in the Torah class and not understand anything or ask a question that's so basic that everyone will think I'm an imbecile."

Once we get over the initial cautiousness and actually decide to give it a try, though, we've begun the life-long journey of acquiring a new skill and tasting independence.

Of course, we shouldn't be self-conscious or shy to have a "spotter" help us out as we get a sense of Torah balance. Before long the spotter will be cheering us on, marveling at the new-found insights we share with them or inspired by our enthusiasm.

It's natural that our first encounters with Torah and mitzvot might be approached with the same intensity and determination as that of a child learning to ride a bike. We won't be coasting along effortlessly, taking in the sites, hollering to passersby.

Rather, we'll be focused, which is exactly what people do when learning a new skill or experiencing something for the first time. But before we know it, we'll be easily maneuvering around the holidays, putting on the brakes (and staying balanced) to stop and study Torah, doing a one-handed drop of a coin into a charity box.

Jewish teachings refer to people as "mehalchim"- movers (as opposed to angels which are referred to "omdim" or standing still. The Torah propels us forward, giving us opportunities to coast, peddle, shift gears or brake before continuing on our journey once more.

Enjoy the ride!


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Shoftim, speaks about the cities of refuge whence a person would flee if he accidentally killed someone. There, the unintentional killer would dwell, protected from the wrath of the victim's relatives, until the High Priest who served in the Holy Temple passed away.

But not only unintentional killers sought refuge in these cities; even someone who committed murder intentionally was expected to flee there as well. The court would then convene and issue its ruling on the death. The cities of refuge offered protection, if only temporarily in some cases, to anyone who had caused a loss of life.

After the destruction of the Holy Temple and the dispersion of the Jewish people, the cities of refuge ceased to exist in the physical sense. Yet the Torah is eternal, and its lessons apply in every generation. In our times, therefore, the concept of cities of refuge finds expression in the spiritual dimension.

Our Sages taught that "the words of Torah absorb." In other words, the Torah itself is the refuge in which all may seek asylum. In the spiritual sense, "killing" symbolizes the act of committing a sin, causing a spiritual death to the G-dly soul, for the Torah's 613 mitzvot are the "ropes" that bind the soul to G-d. Transgressing the Torah's commandments damages those ties, and threatens to cut the soul off from its G-dly source.

We learn from this week's Torah portion that it is never too late to do teshuva, to repent, no matter how grave a transgression has been committed. Even the person who deliberately sinned can do teshuva and seek protection in the refuge of Torah.

In one sense, nowadays we have a distinct advantage over our forefathers who lived during the times of the Holy Temple. In those days, repentance alone was not enough to atone for a sin. The unintentional killer had to remain exiled in the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest, and the intentional murderer (as defined by the Torah) received capital punishment. Yet after the destruction of the Temple, teshuva alone can atone for even the gravest sin.

Years ago, when Jewish courts had ultimate authority, a judge could only rule on what he himself had seen. G-d, however, can look into the heart of man and judge whether or not his repentance is sincere.

In the same way, the month of Elul, during which we take account of our actions of the previous year, is a "city of refuge" in time, offering us the same opportunity to clear the slate and merit a good and sweet year to come.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.


A Slice of Life

PROUD PARENTS

Jesse and Helen DeHay with their son, Dovid

By Jesse and Helen DeHay

We were not surprised when our son David DeHay informed us in May, 1995, that he would like to go to Hadar Hatorah Yeshiva in Brooklyn, to study more about Judaism. David had just graduated from the University of New Mexico with a major in religious studies. He had already started attending the Chabad House in Albuquerque. He said he would like to go to the Yeshiva in Crown Heights for one year. Four and a half years later we feel so blessed, so overjoyed and so in awe of his accomplishments. After continuing his studies at "770" (World Lubavitch Headquarters) our son, Dovid DeHay, became an ordained Rabbi.

We visited Hadar Hatorah once at their summer location in the Catskill Mountains (Upstate New York). We loved the experience of meeting the Rabbis and the students. But at that time we did not have a feel for the community in Crown Heights nor the path Dovid was on (especially the spirituality and the rich cultural life that exist in Crown Heights).

Our first trip to the Yeshiva at its home in Brooklyn was for this year's Parents Weekend, and we came back to our home overflowing with wonderful feelings for the Rabbis, the Yeshiva, and the Crown Heights community. We were especially overjoyed that our son was drawn to this Yeshiva and has remained there to live, worship, and give back to the community as a teacher.

Looking back over the four days we spent in Crown Heights, every moment added richly to the wonderful impressions and memories we will have forever.

A chance meeting with the dean of the yeshiva's wife, Mrs. Leah Goldberg turned out to be a delightful walk to the first grade class of their son, Zalmy, at his yeshiva. Even though we were in Brooklyn we felt like we were in a small town because the shops were small and we met so many people that Dovid knew.

Our tour of the Matza Bakery, where matza is hand-baked in the centuries-old method, and a visit to Chasidic artist Michoel Muchnik's home are wonderfully recorded in our photo album. We also were privileged to attend a wedding reception the night we arrived.

Dovid made sure we met the Zirkind family and the Harlig family who often host him for Shabbat meals. We feel so much closer to Dovid now that we are able to picture where he is on Shabbat and with whom he is celebrating this special day.

Every member of the staff took the opportunity to speak with us as a group and individually. Their sincerity, humor, and concern stood out as the highlight of the entire weekend. Their words of wisdom found open hearts and we felt blessed that our son was a part of this community. We recognized that they care for all the young men in the yeshiva as surrogate parents. Not only do these special rabbis feel the responsibility for their students' spiritual education but they also feel responsible for all aspects of their well-being.

Our Shabbat meal together was rich with words of wisdom, singing, dancing, and delicious food. At the Friday night meal, Dovid spoke about the Torah portion and it was with an overwhelming sense of love, admiration, and respect that we listened to our son. He has brought great honor to us. We all sat at the table until after 11:00 p.m.; it was wonderful to bask in the glow of the peace of this special Sabbath.

Each time we gathered, whether for meals or a visit to a home in the community, the parents had a chance to meet and get to know one another. Although we came from different parts of the world and different levels of Jewish observances we shared this common journey through our sons. It was very rewarding to spend time with other parents. In the first few days after our return home, we received e-mails from many of our new friends, including one couple who had come all the way from Oxford, England!

Sometimes the mothers attended one activity and the fathers another. Shabbat afternoon, the women gathered for an informal question and answer session facilitated by Devorah Barnett followed by a wonderful group discussion. Devorah and her husband, Rabbi Tzvi Barnett, came to Crown Heights almost 30 years ago. Rabbi Barnett studied at Hadar Hatorah and their experiences enabled Devorah to address issues with warmth and understanding.

Going to Parent's Weekend affected us in a most positive way. We returned home to Utah with an extreme appreciation for this experience. That feeling continues as we use the Hadar HaTorah tzedaka (charity) box with the Rebbe's picture on it. It continues to remind us of all the tzedaka boxes we saw in the homes in Crown Heights and in the shops on Kingston Avenue. As we light our Shabbat candlesticks that came from Poland, and had been a family heirloom from Dovid's great-grandmother, we remember the Shabbat candle lighting with the Zirkind family.

After we arrived home we contacted Rabbi Benny and Sharon Zippel, our Chabad emissaries in Salt Lake City. We have brought the richness of our experiences to our home in Ogden, Utah. We view Parents Weekend to be an extremely worthwhile event. It brings the parents into the experiences that our sons are so fortunate to be a part of. We look forward to next year's Parents Weekend. G-d willing we plan to be there. For us it was more than a weekend. It was a life-changing event.


What's New

JEWISH RENAISSANCE FAIR

Escape to an exciting world of drama, arts, comedy and music all day at the 22nd Annual Jewish Renaissance Fair. This year's fair takes place at the South Mountain Reservation in West Orange, New Jersey on Sunday, Sept. 3 from 11:00 a.m. - 6:30 p.m. The Fair stars Avraham Fried, Marc Weiner, Uncle Moishy, and Torah Tots. It includes carnival rides and games, an artists' colony, jugglers and clowns, wacky ice olympics, good food and much more. Rain date Monday, Sept. 4. For info and group rates, call (973) 731-0770. A project of the R.C.A. and the Lubavitch Center of Essex County.


The Rebbe Writes

14th of Elul, 5727 [1967]

Greeting and Blessing:

I duly received your correspondence, and may G-d grant that you should have good news to report in regard to the contents of your letters.

No doubt you remember the Alter Rebbe's [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] explanation of the significance of the month of Elul, in terms of the following analogy: There are times when a king leaves his palace and goes out to meet his subjects in the field, when everyone, regardless of his state and station, can approach the king, and the king receives everyone graciously and fulfills their petitions. The days of Elul are such a period when the King of Kings is, as it were, "in the field." This is, therefore, the proper time to strengthen the adherence to the commandments of the King, and to receive a greater measure of the King's blessings.

Wishing you and yours a Kesivo vaChasimo Tovo [to be written and sealed for good] and,

With blessing,

P.S. With regard to the question of Moshiach which you raise in your letter - I refer you to the Rambam, Hilchos Melochim [Laws of Kings], Chaps. 11-12....

Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5742 [1982]

Greeting and Blessing:

I am in receipt of your letter of the 22nd of Av, with enclosure. As requested, I will remember you in prayer for the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good with regard to yourself and all the members of your family.

There is surely no need to remind you - except in the sense of "encourage the energetic" - that there is always room for advancement in all matters of Yiddishkeit [Judaism], Torah and Mitzvos, especially as you have the great Zechus [merit] of living in the Holy Land, "The Land on which G-d's Eyes are continuously, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year."

Receipt is enclosed for your Tzedoko, [charity] and may the Zechus of it additionally stand you all in good stead. It would be advisable to have the Tefillin and Mezuzos checked to make sure they are Kosher, if this has not been done within the past twelve months.

Wishing you and all yours a Kesivo veChasimo Tovo [that you be written and sealed for good], for a good and sweet year.

With blessing,

20th of Elul, 5720 [1960]

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter of Rosh Chodesh Elul, and the previous two, which you wrote in Eretz Yisroel [the Land of Israel] and where you mention that about in the middle of Elul you expect to be back in Holland. I will be glad to receive word from you of your arrival.

You write that you are putting on Chabad Tefillin and ask if you should also pray Nusach [according to the rite of] Chabad. Perhaps you know the tradition among Chassidim that the founder of Chabad compiled his Siddur [prayer book] after carefully examining sixty different Siddurim, until he ascertained and perfected the Nusach Chabad. It is surely a good thing for you to use this Nusach. However, it should be accompanied by a firm resolution to follow this Nusach consistently. For, while it is possible to change from Nusach Ashkenaz to Sefard, and from Sefard to Ari, which is the Chabad Nusach, it should not be changed in the other direction. Therefore once you accept the Nusach Chabad, you will have to abide by it, and it is certainly a good thing to do so.

You refer again to the old problem of self-control, etc. As I have repeatedly written to you, one of the best ways to cope with the problem is to completely dismiss from your mind the whole matter. This means that you should not even dwell on it in an effort to combat it for concentration on the problem and how to overcome it is the opposite of dismissing it from your mind completely. So whenever the thought occurs to you, you should at once turn your attention to any other thing, preferably to a matter of Torah and Mitzvoth. For, as you know, even a little light dispels a lot of darkness, and certainly a lot of light dispels so much more darkness. May you have good news to report about this, and about all your other affairs.

Wishing you a Ksivo vachasimo toivo,


Rambam this week

2 Elul 5760

Prohibition 308: removing the signs of tzara'at

By this prohibition we are forbidden to remove or cauterize signs of tzara'at (the Biblical disease of leprosy) so as to change its appearance. It is contained in the Torah's words (Deut. 24:8): "Take heed in the plague of leprosy." [Concealing the signs of the malady would defeat its purpose.]


A Word from the Director

What is teshuva, and how does it work? How can a single turn in the right direction "erase the slate" and eradicate years of ingrained behavior?

Chasidic philosophy explains this by comparing the Jew's relationship with G-d to a fire, based on the verse "For the L-rd your G-d is a consuming fire." In the same way a physical fire requires certain conditions in order to burn, so too does the Jew's connection to G-d depend on several conditions in order to thrive.

A physical flame must meet two requirements in order to be sustained: it must be given a sufficient amount of material to burn, and avoid any substances that can extinguish it. A fire that isn't fed or is doused with water will eventually sputter and go out.

Likewise, there are two requirements for nurturing the spiritual "flame" that symbolizes the Jew's relationship with G-d: It must have sufficient "food" to sustain it (Torah study and the performance of positive mitzvot), and avoid any substances that can extinguish it (those things that the Torah has forbidden).

When a Jew observes positive mitzvot and is careful not to transgress the Torah's prohibitions, his "flame" flourishes and burns brightly. If he is lax about meeting the flame's requirements, the fire will sputter and grow dim.

When a person does teshuva, he is merely "re-igniting" a flame that wasn't properly tended. To do so, he must bring a fire from another source, one that has never been allowed to go out. This fire, which is completely impervious to being extinguished, exists in the innermost recesses of every Jew's heart. Like the flint rock that can always give off a spark after years of being submerged in water, the potential for a "fiery" and all-consuming relationship with G-d always exists.

When a Jew sincerely regrets his distance from G-d and contemplates his innate love for Him, he accesses this inner and eternal "fire." Teshuva, then, is the "match" that can rekindle even the tiniest flame, and cause it to burst into a giant conflagration.


Thoughts that Count

Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your gates (Deut. 16:18)

The only way to ensure that a judge will be completely impartial and render his verdicts fairly is to choose one who will not refrain from judging the person who appointed him. Following this advice safeguards against corruption. (Kli Yakar)

Justice, justice shall you pursue (Deut. 16:20)

Not only must righteousness be actively pursued, but the path to achieving it must also be virtuous and honorable. This is in contradiction to the commonly held notion that "the end justifies the means." (Reb Bunim)

You shall be perfect with the L-rd your G-d (Deut. 18:13)

Our morning prayers are prefaced by the following line: "It is proper to say before prayer: I hereby take upon myself to fulfill the mitzva, ‘Love your fellowman as yourself.' " When a Jew prays, he is symbolically offering his soul before G-d. In the same way that a physical sacrifice had to be whole and unblemished, so too must a Jew be without defect before approaching his Maker. The Jewish people are considered to be a single body; if a Jew does not properly love one of the "limbs," the entire body is affected and becomes flawed. It is therefore appropriate to accept the commandment to love our fellow Jews before prayer to ensure that the "sacrifice" we offer is perfect and whole. (Ohr HaTorah of the Tzemach Tzedek)

But if any man hates his fellow, and lies in wait for him (Deut. 19:11)

Although literally referring to a killer who has fled to one of the "cities of refuge," the verse allegorically alludes to the Evil Inclination, which disguises itself as a person's "fellow" while really "hating" him. One must therefore be aware that the Evil Inclination is constantly "lying in wait," watching his every step and hoping to trip him up. (Ohr HaChaim)


It Once Happened

It was at a routine meeting in the Polish royal palace when one of the noblemen revealed an appalling bit of news: A Christian girl had recently disappeared from one of the villages. As the girl had vanished just before Passover, there was no doubt that she had been murdered by the Jews in order to use her blood for their religious rituals.

"The Jewish problem must be solved once and for all," declared another nobleman, as all nodded their heads in agreement. It wasn't long until a proposal was formulated to expel all the Jews from Poland.

Now, the king who ruled over Poland at the time secretly appreciated the Jews for the benefit they brought to his land. At the same time, he tended to be unduly influenced by the people around him. Given the anti-Semitic views of the wealthy landowners, he decided to choose the course of least resistance and remain silent. An official order of expulsion was written up and passed around the table for everyone to sign.

When the document reached Vladek, the most senior of the king's advisors, he was about to affix his signature when suddenly, his hand froze in mid-air. His entire arm felt as if it had turned to stone. In fact, Vladek himself felt rather peculiar. His voice shook as he spoke.

"Gentlemen," he announced, "I cannot in good faith sign this document, when I know for a fact that it is based on untruth. As you all know, I am Jewish by birth, and despite my having renounced my faith I am well aware of the Jewish prohibition against ingesting blood. Under no circumstances will I sign this order of expulsion."

Everyone was surprised by Vladek's firm stance, as he had never before refused to sign an anti-Jewish edict. What was different now?

The king, who had been less than enthusiastic about the plan, was actually quite happy with Vladek's refusal. The proposal was dropped.

From that day on Vladek underwent a profound change. His mind was flooded by memories from his childhood. He remembered learning in cheder, playing with his friends, and sitting down to a festive meal in the glow of his mother's Shabbat candles. Indeed, after many years in yeshiva, little Velvel had grown up, married a Jewish woman, and become a successful businessman. But the more he mixed amongst the Polish noblemen, the more estranged he had become from Judaism. Eventually, he abandoned his wife and married the young widow of a Polish count. The transformation was complete when "Velvel" renounced his faith and became "Vladek," the Polish nobleman.

Vladek's mind allowed him no rest. After many sleepless nights he decided to return to Judaism, despite the fact that Polish law forbade a Christian to convert. It was a very dangerous plan, as his actions could endanger the entire Jewish community if they became public.

A few nights later Velvel left his mansion and made his way to a certain village where a famous Rabbi lived. The Rabbi, who had been sitting and studying, was surprised when he opened his door to find a Polish nobleman standing on his threshold.

"I am a Jew!" Velvel cried as tears ran down his cheeks. "I want to return to Judaism." In a few short sentences he related his life story.

The Rabbi, grasping the implications of such a request, was immediately suspicious. "I don't think it's a good idea," he tried to dissuade him. "You will only cause trouble for yourself and for other Jews."

But Velvel was adamant. "I will do anything you tell me - anything at all!" he insisted. "Just guide me along the right path."

At that point the Rabbi, who was still unconvinced that the nobleman's intentions were pure, replied, "I'll believe you when my walking stick sprouts buds and starts to grow!"

A deep sigh escaped from Velvel's throat. With a feeling of despair he glanced at the Rabbi's walking stick propped up in the corner - and nearly fainted. All he could do was point with his finger.

The Rabbi turned around and could not believe what he was seeing. The walking stick had sprouted a number of tiny green buds.

A miracle from heaven! The Rabbi took him under his wing and devised a plan that would not place any Jews in danger. He also gave him his blessing for success.

A few days later "Vladek" went on a hunting expedition in the forest from which he never returned. When the horse he had been riding returned home without its owner, everyone assumed that Vladek had been killed by wild animals.

The former Polish nobleman became a poor Jewish wanderer. Traveling from town to town and from country to country, he eventually made his way to Holland and settled in Amsterdam. For the rest of his days Velvel lived a life of Torah and mitzvot in anonymity.


Moshiach Matters

A majority of the mitzvot (343 of the Torah's 613 commandments) can be observed only when the Holy Temple is standing and/or when the entire community of Israel resides in the Holy Land. Furthermore, even the mitzvot we can observe today are but pale "models" of the real thing, as the optimal fulfillment of all of G-d's commandments can be realized only in the Messianic era. (Sifri, quoted by Rashi on Deut. 11:18)


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