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February 16, 2001 - 23 Shevat, 5761

657: Yisro

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  656: Beshalach658: Mishpatim  

The Soul Springs Eternal  |  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

The Soul Springs Eternal

by Yehudis Cohen

"Who has time?" I said to myself, as I placed the box with "Holland's Best Quality Appleblossom Amaryllis" on the little counter between my stove and the window. Just reading the simple instructions stating that I would have to sparingly water the pre-potted bulb warned me that this was not a project for my already overextended life.

Sure, I had silently admired the flowering plant at a friend's house. And I was pleasantly surprised when a second friend had presented me with the green, pink and white box containing the bulb. But what did I know from bulbs, when would I have time to enjoy it, and how would I find "the perfect place" for it amidst the chaos of my busy life? It would just have to wait, I concluded, not exactly sure how long bulbs can actually wait before they begin to self-destruct.

And then, just yesterday, as I was grabbing a cookbook located on the little counter between my stove and the window, I noticed it.

The amaryllis stem was protruding a good six inches from the box!

Somehow, without water or light, without love or caring, the bulb had managed to grow, had even succeeded in pushing its way out of the closed box. Without my help. Without my prodding. Unbeknownst to me!

So here I sit, with the Appleblossom Amaryllis (still in the box) now atop my printer, contemplating its tenacity and thinking that it is somehow very similar to the Jewish soul.

There's the soul, deposited in a "decorative planter." Our souls are invested in bodies, bodies that we sometimes adorn and adore, often forgetting that they are not the be-all and end-all of our existence.

But our souls are "grown from cultivated stock"; we are descendants of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel. And whether we unknowingly deprive ourselves or purposefully deny ourselves the light and water of Torah and mitzvot, our souls will ultimately push their way up through the dirt. And they will even peek their heads out of the coarse container in which they have been planted and concealed, reaching for the light, demanding water.

Every Jew is as full of mitzvot as a pomegranate is full of seeds, the Talmud states. Even if that Jew's soul is not watered or given light it will persevere. It will reach toward its Source. It is indefatigable.

"Even if he sins, he is a Jew" our Sages teach. Even a Jew who haphazardly leaves his soul on a nondescript countertop, consciously or subconsciously not really caring if that soul will ever grow or flower. He is a Jew, and his soul-stem will eventually appear. At that time, "as the bud and leaves become more visible, the Amaryllis gradually needs more water." He must take his soul out of the box and give it Torah, the "living waters."

"After that, the stem will grow rapidly...flowers start to develop." Once the soul is given the water and light it needs it will grow rapidly and its innate beauty will develop for all to see, enjoy and admire.

"All Jews have a share in the world to come as it says, 'Your people are all righteous ... they are the branch of My planting...' " states the Talmud. Every Jew has a spark of G-dliness, literally a piece of G-d, that was planted within him by the Primary Gardener. And by the mere fact that his soul exists, he will experience the ultimate reward of the resurrection of the dead. At that time, in the Messianic Era, our potted souls will be properly placed in a "warm place with direct light," the ultimate G-dly light which has been concealed since the six days of creation. May it take place immediately.


Living with the Rebbe

The events surrounding the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai are described in this week's portion, Yitro: "There were voices [thunder] and lightening...and the voice of a shofar...and the voice of the shofar...and G-d answered him by a voice." The Talmud comments: "The Torah was given in five voices." (The word "voices" appears once, and "voice" three times. Added together, they equal five.)

Every word in the Torah is significant and exact, especially in its narration of the Giving of the Torah, the single most important event in history. The Giving of the Torah is synonymous with G-d's revelation in the world; if the Torah tells us that it was accomplished in "five voices," it is obvious that this expresses something theologically essential.

The function of any "voice" is to reveal something that was previously concealed; a person utilizes his voice to express the ideas that were hidden in his mind and heart. It follows, then, that the "five voices" alluded to at the Giving of the Torah refer to five different types or levels of Divine revelation.

In general, the world is represented by the number four. The world was created through the four-letter, ineffable Name of G-d. The higher, spiritual worlds are divided into four realms: Atzilut, Briya, Yetzira and Asiya. Even the creations on the physical plane are divided into four groups: inanimate, vegetative, animal and human.

These four distinctions encompass everything in our world: The level of inanimate is the lowest, without any (visible) vitality whatsoever. Above this is the vegetative, with limited vitality. The next level upward belongs to animals, and the highest, of course, is man, who possesses the intellectual capacity to grasp profound spiritual truths. By means of his intellect, he can even grasp that there are some things that are higher than the limitations of creation.

If the Torah had been given "in four voices," it would suggest that G-d revealed Himself at Mount Sinai only as much as He relates to the framework of the natural world. However, by telling us that the Torah was given "in five voices," the implication is that G-d revealed a level of holiness that completely transcends creation's boundaries.

The number five thus represents the perfection of the natural order (the number four), with the addition of one: G-d Himself. At Mount Sinai, the very highest levels of holiness were revealed. And ever since then, whenever a Jew studies Torah, he merits to access not only the levels of holiness that pertain to the world, but even those that transcend it.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Vol. 6


A Slice of Life

The Greatest Mitzva
By Mildred L. Covert

As a member of the New Orleans Chevra Kadisha, I am often asked these questions: "Why do you do this?" or "How can you do this?" "Isn't it depressing to deal with death?" "How did you get involved?"

Knowing what the Chevra Kadisha (meaning "Sacred Society") is and what it does is paramount to understanding the answers.

Not many Jews are aware of the role of the Chevra Kadisha, and in fact because it has to do with the dead, information about it, even when available, is shunned. Yet it is a beautiful aspect of Jewish life, and if any one Jewish mitzva displays the highest level of Jewish practice, perhaps the work of the Chevra Kadisha is it.

Throughout Jewish history, Jewish communities the world over established burial societies whole sole function was the care of the deceased from the time of death until interment.

This was to ensure dignified treatment of the deceased in accordance with Jewish law, custom, and tradition.

The Chevra Kadisha is comprised of a number of dedicated men and women who perform the most sacred of Jewish rituals - the purification of the deceased body (the Tahara) prior to interment. During the process, as Judaism requires, we treat every human being with dignity and respect. The men prepare the males and women prepare the females.

This ritual of Tahara must take place before one can be buried.

Those of us who attend to the body approach the deceased with a sense of holiness and carry out our duties in awe, with reverence, respect, honor, and dignity.

The answer to the questions of "Why?" and "How?" is summed up well by this quote from an article written many years ago by Rochel U. Berman in the Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia.

"Finally when death comes... what remains is a sense of incompleteness, a need for spiritual closure. It is uplifting to know that at this venerable moment, I am able to perform the final act of love."

How did I get involved? One day over 30 years ago, my mother, of blessed memory, called me on the phone. It was neither a social call nor a call inquiring about my or my children's well-being. It was a command call. For Mother did not ask if you could do something; rather, it was "come and do it." The IT was to assist her in a Tahara, as she was short of help.

I was aware that Mother was a member of the Chevra Kadisha, for I knew how she dropped everything, from business obligations to personal appointments, whenever the funeral parlor or rabbi called her. However, I had no idea what it was that my Mother actually did. I only knew that whenever a Jewish woman died, Mother was to the first to know and off she went to the funeral parlor.

So when she called me, I too dropped everything, met her at the parlor and wondered (with trepidation) what it was I was expected to do.

Fortunately, Mother was a good teacher and I was able to follow her instruction. So began a duty I faithfully fulfill to this day.

Now, looking back over those 30 years of performing Taharot, doing them is more than following my Mother's mandate. It is an unquestioned obligation to carry on so sacred a Jewish ritual - one that brings the life cycle to a close in a most dignified, compassionate and reverential manner.

Several other dedicated workers also "drop everything" when the call for Tahara is made. They are all religious, dedicated women, possessed of the strength and courage to proceed with this often difficult mission. They are the women and men for whom the Jewish community is most grateful.

I also know, with great peace of mind, that when my times comes, I will be sent to my eternal abode with all the care, compassion, and blessings of those who will continue to uphold and perform the great mitzva of Tahara.

Reprinted with permission from the New Orleans Jewish News


What's New

Inner Rhythms

"Musicolgists the world over agree that the quintessential purity of the Jewish song has always been retained. The quality that makes is uniquely Jewish has remained untouched. What is this quality? What is it that makes a song sound Jewish?" asks Rabbi DovBer Pinson. It was, in part, to answer this question that Rabbi Pinson wrote his most recent book, Inner Rhythms: The Kabbalah of Music. Published by Jason Aaronson.

From Dawn to Daylight

From Dawn to Daylight, by Rabbi Eli Touger, serves as a springboard for discussion about two central and integral aspects of every Chabad-Lubavitch chasid's life: the Rebbe and Moshiach. In an informal style, relating unique stories and vignettes, and describing ideas in a heart-to-heart fashion, this slim volume does not dictate a laid-out doctrine or set of principles. Rather, it inspires the reader to reach his own conclusions on the foundation of guidance from the Chasidic heritage. Published by Sichos In English


The Rebbe Writes

Excerpts of a freely translated letter of the Rebbe dated 12 Sivan, 5703 (1943)

...In response to the concepts which you mentioned: with regard to melika [removal of a bird's head before sacrifice] and with appreciation for your words of wisdom on the subject.

Based on our Sages' comment on the phrase "Like a hammer breaking a rock," there are manifold perspectives to the Torah. According to explanations in the teachings of Chasidus, the parallel in our Divine service to the concept of melika can be explained as follows:

When performing melika, one approaches the fowl from the neck. One begins separating the head from the body and in particular, from the heart, from the neck, and then one proceeds to the windpipe and the esophagus (the two "signs" which must be slit for slaughter to be acceptable).

In our Divine service, the difference between the face and the neck can be explained as follows: the face refers to the Divine service stemming from intellect and reason, that a person's heart and emotions be directed by guidance from the mind in his head.

The neck, in contrast, reflects a different thrust. In this vein, the quality of "stiff-neckedness" can be expressed in a positive context, a commit-ment to kabalas ol (accepting Heaven's yoke), forcing one's conduct to be desirable even when this runs contrary to the tendencies of one's heart.

With regard to our Divine service, an animal and a fowl can be compared to benonim, people of intermediate spiritual status, and reshayim,wicked people. (Fish parallel tzadikim, the righteous.) Within a person himself, the three levels, tzadikim, benonim, and reshayim, refer to the G-dly soul, the intellectual soul, and the animal soul.

Tanya explains the true definition of a benoni and a rasha as follows: A benoni has never committed a transgression and the evil in his left ventricle cannot bring its desires from the potential to the actual, because "the mind rules over the heart." Nevertheless, the evil still retains its initial strength and might. Indeed, it has been strengthened more over time.

For this reason, the Divine service of the neck is necessary, i.e., we need to employ the power to compel our emotions without entering into intellectual rationalizations with evil - for it possesses many complete rationalizations that it is prepared to offer at any time. In particular, this applies when an individual feels a deadening of his emotional sensitivity from time to time - and even frequently; the light of his soul and his mind do not shine that intensely. The only remedy for this is crushing oneself, to raise a clamor against the yetzer hara (as explained in Tanya, ch. 29).

Needless to say, similar action is also necessary with regard to the animal, the reshayim. In this instance, evil has a hold also on the letters of a person's thought, speech, and action, the aspect of inanimate matter in the soul. To combat this, the person needs kabalas ol, the quality of inanimate matter in our Divine service. If the quality of kabalas ol ceases before the animal is slaughtered, the animal is treif, unfit to be eaten (see Chullin 19b).

When does this apply? Outside the Holy Temple. When, however, a fowl is being offered as a sacrifice in the Holy Temple, a different type of Divine service is required. For there, the souls lose their self-concern, like candles which shine before a torch. They have no other will or desire at all. This is the inner intent of the service of prostration.

Therefore, there has to be an arousal from below that reflects the arousal from above. A person must perfect the inner dimensions of his own Divine service according to his level. (This does not apply with regard to an animal even in the Holy Temple. On the contrary, for an animal, the back is important. As our Sages say: "According to its ability to carry, load it." Therefore for a bird, the neck is snipped off. Only the face remains, and one concludes with the windpipe and the esophagus.

This service is performed by the priest, with his own physical person. Moreover, the intent is not that the priests are agents of G-d, and we follow the postulate: "The agent is equivalent to the principal." Instead, through the inner dimension of Divine service, oneness is established with face-to-face communication.

Based on the above, we can also appreciate why ritual slaughter is acceptable even when performed by someone other than a priest, while melika is not. Even after the destruction of the Holy Temple, a resemblance to these concepts applies with regard to prayer and study in a synagogue and house of study, which are called "sanctuaries in microcosm."

Explanation and [a prior] basis for the above concepts can be found inTanya, which states that a benoni feels overpowering love for G-d "only at select times, for example, the time of the recitation of the Shema and the Shemoneh Esreh which is a time of the revelation of great intellectual faculties," and that "His desire is focused on the Torah of G-d... just like during the recitation of the Shema and the Shemoneh Esreh." And in the conclusion of chapter 13, it is explained that the love of G-d experienced by benonim during prayer resembles the love experienced by the righteous...

Reprinted from "I Will Write it In Their Hearts," trans. by Rabbi E. Touger, pub. by Sichos In English


Rambam this week

26 Shevat 5761

Prohibition 320: doing work on Shabbat

By this prohibition we are forbidden to do any work on the Sabbath. (The term "work" means the 39 specific categories of work forbidden on Shabbat.) It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 20:10): "In it you shall not do any manner of work."


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat we bless the coming month of Adar, a month that is associated with an increase in joy. The Talmud explains that during the month of Adar, Jewish "mazal" (generally translated as fortune or destiny) is very potent. The mazal (or source of influence) of a Jew refers to the higher levels of his soul, which are connected to the essence of G-d at all times. In Adar, we have the opportunity to draw down an abundance of holy energy through good deeds that are imbued with joy.

Interestingly, our Sages taught that "Israel has no mazal" ("ein mazal l'Yisrael"), which means that Jews are above being influenced by the stars and planets. Nevertheless, even within the sphere where mazalot have power, in Adar, their mazal is strong and healthy.

By changing the vowels under the Hebrew letters slightly, "ein mazal l'Yisrael" can be read "Ayin - the Infinite - is the mazal of Israel." The Jewish people receive their influence from G-d from a transcendent level, the transmission of which is particularly powerful in the month of Adar.

The name Adar has several meanings, one of which is cloak or mantel. This is a reference to G-d's compassion for the His people, the Jews. The purpose of a garment is to provide us with warmth. In Adar, when the holiday of Purim occurs, we experience the warmth and comfort of G-d. A garment also conceals the body of the person who wears is. Similarly, the miracle of Purim was "dressed" in a series of natural events.

The word Adar is a combination of "alef" and "dar," meaning "G-d dwells." (Just as alef is the initial letter in the alphabet, so too is G-d the "first.") G-d created the earth in order to have a dwelling place in the physical world. Through the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot, we create an abode for Almighty G-d.

May the positive influence of Adar be expressed in the advent of the true and complete Redemption with Moshiach in the immediate future.


Thoughts that Count

And Yitro rejoiced for all the goodness that the L-rd had done to Israel, that He delivered him out the hand of the Egyptians (Ex. 18:9)

What is meant by "that he delivered him from the hand of the Egyptians"? Shouldn't the Torah have used the word "them," meaning the Jewish people, rather than "him"? Yitro had served as one of Pharaoh's chief advisors, and now realized that he should have perished along with the rest of the Egyptians. Thus he was grateful to G-d for not only saving him physically, but for giving him the idea to convert to Judaism.

(Be'er Mayim Chaim)

Then you shall be My own treasure (segula) from among all the peoples (Ex. 19:5)

The Hebrew word "segula" means a characteristic or trait, i.e., something that does not depend on logic but is simply a "given" of nature. Similarly, G-d's love for the Jewish people has no rational basis, and exists solely because such was His will to choose them.

(Kadmonim)

When the ram's horn sounds long, they shall come up to the mountain (Ex. 19:13)

When the Torah was given, all vestiges of idolatry had to be removed from the Jewish people, including the idea that any creation can have its own inherent holiness; only G-d can impart sanctity. Thus in order to make sure that no one thought that the reason the Torah was given on Mount Sinai was that the mountain itself was holy, G-d commanded that immediately afterward it revert to being a "regular" mountain, with animals grazing on it, etc. The "sanctity" of Mount Sinai lasted only as long as the Divine Presence rested upon it.

(Meshech Chochma)


It Once Happened

Ibrahim the Muslim and Refael the Jew had been business partners for many years. Ibrahim, who lived in the Tunisian city of Kairoan, where the soil was excellent and the price of produce low, was Refael's wholesale supplier of wheat and barley. Refael would then resell the grain in his city of Tunis.

Although Ibrahim was outwardly pleasant and polite toward Refael, in his heart he was bitterly jealous of his success.

One day Ibrahim came up with a plan. "I'm getting too old for this business," he told Refael. "Why don't you come to Kairoan and buy the grain yourself? I'll tell you where to go and introduce you to all the right people."

Refael looked at his partner in surprise. "But you know that it is forbidden for a Jew to set foot in Kairoan..."

"Nonsense!" Ibrahim reassured him with a wave of the hand. "You speak Arabic fluently. If you dress like one of us, no one will ever know that you are Jewish."

Back in the not so distant past, Kairoan had been a bustling center of Jewish life. With its fertile soil and well-developed commercial infrastructure, the city had been an important stop along the North African trade route. In fact, there had been so many Jewish merchants in Kairoan that they had formed the backbone of the city's economy. The Arabs had even coined a clever phrase: "A marketplace without Jews is like a judge without witnesses..."

Gradually, however, the Muslims had begun to make life difficult for their Jewish neighbors. Many Jews simply abandoned their homes and businesses and settled elsewhere. But even this was not enough; they declared Kairoan a "holy" city and off-limits to anyone Jewish. The law had stood for several generations.

Despite some misgivings, Refael agreed to the plan. He dressed up as an Arab and nonchalantly walked through the gates of Kairoan. Ibrahim quickly led the Jew into a narrow alleyway.

"Stay here, I'll be right back," Ibrahim told him. A few minutes later he returned with two policemen. "There he is, the despicable Jew who dared set foot in our holy city!" he cried, pointing at Refael.

By the time Refael figured out that his partner had betrayed him, his hands and feet were in chains. The policemen then threw him into a dark cell.

For three days and nights Refael languished in his cell without anyone even checking to see if he was alive. Lucky for him, he still had his knapsack, so he was able to eat some food he had brought along.

Refael's fourth night in jail was Shabbat. After making Kiddush on the last of his bread Refael began to sing zemirot, the traditional Shabbat songs. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he thought of happier times and circumstances. When he had finished singing, he began to recite the Psalms he knew by heart.

Suddenly, there was a rustling sound from the doorway. Refael held his breath, too frightened to breathe. A minute later he could discern a thin strip of light at the edge of the room. When he went over to investigate he found that the door was open a crack. With a slight push the door was completely open.

His heart pounding, Refael crept outside and began to run as fast as his feet could take him through the darkened streets. When he reminded himself that he was dressed as an Arab, he slowed down to avoid arousing suspicion. By the next morning he was already home in Tunis.

Refael knew that his life was still in danger; the police would surely come after him when they realized that he had escaped. He decided to seek the advice of the saintly Rabbi Yeshua Bassis of Tunis. "Go to your house and wait there," the Rabbi reassured him. "Everything will be all right."

Now, at that time the ruler of Tunisia was Chamuda Pasha, a wise and temperate leader who paid no attention to the Muslims' incitement against the Jews. On the contrary, he was grateful for the Jews' contributions to society, and considered Rabbi Yeshua Bassis his personal friend. When Rabbi Yeshua told the Pasha what had happened to Refael, he immediately issued an order for "the rebellious Jew who dared to enter Kairoan" to be brought before him.

A few days later the police were forced to admit defeat. Embarrassed by their incompetence, they stood before the Pasha empty-handed.

At that very moment the Pasha sent for Refael, who was waiting in the next room. The Pasha declared to his shocked audience, "G-d made a miracle and released him from prison. No doubt, it is also a sign that He wants the Jews to return to Kairoan..."

The decree against the Jews was rescinded, and never again were the Jews of Tunisia restricted as to where they could live.


Moshiach Matters

The purpose of the Exodus from Egypt was for the Jewish people to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai, as it is written: "When you will have brought the people out from Egypt, you shall serve G-d upon this mountain." Of the Exodus itself it is said that it occurred in the merit of the pious women of that generation. Thus, when it came to the giving of the Torah, the women were given precedence. The Messianic redemption, too, will come about in the merit of the righteous women, as stated in the Midrash: "All generations are redeemed by virtue of the pious women of their generation." Thus the women will again be first to receive the wondrous teachings of Moshiach.

(The Rebbe)


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