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669: Behar-Bechukosai

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L'Chaim
May 18, 2001 - 25 Iyyar, 5761

669: Behar-Bechukosai

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Text VersionFor Palm Pilot
  668: Emor670: Bamidbar  

O Jerusalem  |  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

O Jerusalem

By Rabbi Israel Rubin

"Next year in Jerusalem!" is the wistful cry of Jews around the world at the end of the Passover Seder and the culmination of the Yom Kippur services.

But this year, the words and sentiment make a bold statement at a crucial time, when Jerusalem is surrounded by violence and political turmoil. For, when terrorists fire at passing cars, distant outposts, babies in their mothers' arms, they are really aiming for Jerusalem, the heart of this explosive issue.

But why this global struggle over a place with no strategic, industrial, com-mercial or military value? Why such tumult over an outer wall, and an old city that seems to have seen better days?

Jerusalem is etched into our sub-consciousness. Like the massive stones of the Western Wall, more of it is hidden deep below than is visible on the surface.

As we were exiled from Israel, we took an oath by the rivers of Babylon. "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its strength. Let my tongue cling to my palate..." (Psalm 137).

Historically, this is where Abraham offered his son Isaac and declared, "This is the place where G-d will be seen." Jerusalem is central to Jacob's ladder, the angelic vision that caused him to exclaim: "How awesome is this place; this is nothing else but the House of G-d, and this is the portal to Heaven."

Jerusalem is the site that G-d direc-ted King David to choose for His eternal dwelling place. The Temple Mount is where both Holy Temples, the first built by King Solomon and the later by the Prophets Ezra and Nehemia, stood.

Even after the Destruction of the Temples Jerusalem's holiness did not dissipate, being the central place where G-dliness is real and palpable. Jerusalem is the point where Heaven and Earth meet; the focus of all our prayers from all corners of the world.

As the great poet Judah HaLevy romanticized; "I am in the West, but my heart is in the East." Jerusalem is the world's heartbeat, whence Divine energy and consciousness ripple out to the rest of the world.

Jerusalem represents the world's memory. The Romans tried to crush Judaism by ruining the Temple, plowing over the city. A millennium later, the Crusaders fought their way across Europe to rewrite Jerusalem's history, expelling its Jews and destroying its synagogues. And Islamic jihads tried to erase Jerusalem's memory by expelling both Jews and Christians, and building mosques on Jewish holy sites. Only recently, the Moslem Waqf issued an edict "forbidding Jews from placing prayer papers or touching the stones of the Western Wall."

Despite and through it all, Jews keep Jerusalem in our prayers, turning to face it from whichever direction.

When Jerusalem was liberated during the Six Day War, battle-hardened soldiers wept like children. It was a moving homecoming when past became present, incredibly transforming who we knew ourselves to be. Jerusalem became united, and at the same time, united us, old and young, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, religious and secular, as the Psalmist wrote: "Jerusalem unites us together" (Psalms 122).

But some of us needed a reminder to jolt us out of complacency, as Jerusalem almost became negotiable and riddled with question marks.

Let's not forget that memory is more than just the ability to retain facts or collect memorabilia. People who suffer memory loss don't just forget phone numbers or misplace their keys. Amnesia robs its victims of their personal identity and dignity; it is not just a loss of the past, but also of the present and future.

Jerusalem embodies our future, to be fulfilled in the final Redemption with Moshiach. Our attachment to Jerusalem runs deeper than archeological concerns for old relics and artifacts.

Our destiny is rooted deeper in the Scriptures, where the Prophets predicted a future when Jerusalem's former glory will be reinstated, and even expanded above and beyond. That universal event will transform Jerusalem into the center of true peace, and the whole world will rejoice together!

Rabbi Rubin is the director of Chabad of the Capital District, Albany, NY and editor of the Jewish Holiday Consumer where this article first appeared.


Living with the Rebbe

This week we read two Torah portions, Behar and Bechukotai. Behar contains the commandments of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years: "Count for yourself seven Sabbaths of years, seven years seven times...and you shall sanctify the fiftieth year." Every seventh year is a Sabbatical year; the fiftieth is a Jubilee. Then the cycle begins anew.

Concerning the Jubilee year the Torah states, "Proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants." According to the Talmud, this means that there can only be a Jubilee year "when all its inhabitants" are living in the land. Thus, "When the tribes of Reuven and Gad and half of Menashe were exiled, the Jubilee was abolished."

Nonetheless, the Talmud relates that in the times of the Second Holy Temple the fiftieth year was still officially sanctified, even though the mitzva of the Jubilee was no longer in effect. This was done to maintain the same cycle as before, i.e., with the counting commencing again in the fifty-first year.

After the Second Temple was destroyed (and during the Babylonian exile), the fiftieth year ceased to be sanctified. The cycle of counting Sabbatical years began on the fiftieth year itself.

Thus, there have been three ways of relating to the Jubilee.

Chasidic philosophy explains that the Sabbatical and Jubilee years are symbolic of spiritual levels in a Jew's service of G-d:

The Sabbatical year relates to the negation of the sense of self. The person perceives himself as an individual, yet willingly nullifies himself before G-d.

The Jubilee year relates to a higher level, of freedom from all limitations, a level that will be fully realized in the Messianic era.

This also explains why the Sabbatical year applies today (by Rabbinic decree), whereas the mitzva of the Jubilee was only fully observed during the First Temple period. The very highest level of spirituality could only be attained at a time when the Divine Presence was manifested in the world so strongly.

The Second Temple period was somewhere in the middle. G-dly revelation illuminated the world, but in a less obvious manner. The Jubilee was therefore counted and sanctified but not observed.

The lowest level occurred after the Destruction, when it was no longer possible to even comprehend the intense spirituality of the Jubilee and it ceased to be counted.

Today, our service consists of "only" accepting the yoke of heaven and nullifying the ego, but in a sense this gives us the greatest advantage, as it enables us to access the soul's essence. It also helps us prepare for the Sabbatical of the Messianic era, may it commence at once.

Adapted from Volume 7 of Likutei Sichot


A Slice of Life

The Ties that Bind

By Shaun Zeitlin

Dad lives on Long Island, but owns and runs an auto body shop in a rough Brooklyn neighborhood, where he is probably the only Jewish person around. One day a coworker came in to tell him that his cousins were outside. Who could it be?

Dad came out and saw a group of Chasidic boys walking by carrying lulavs and etrogs. He was shocked to see not only white people in that neighborhood but ten young bearded men with black hats and suits! Dad asked them if they were lost or needed help, but they explained that they were on their way to an old shul to help make a minyan.

The boys were Lubavitcher yeshiva students from Israel, but two spoke English. They thanked Dad for his concern, said they were happy to meet him, and told him they would stop in again. They did just that, and returned every week on Friday afternoons to put on tefilin with Dad.

Known as phylacteries, tefilin are the black little boxes that a man ties on his head and arm to focus his mind and heart on G-d. Dad hadn't done this mitzva since his Bar Mitzva, and these young men were happy to help him make the connection again.

Even the non-Jewish workers enjoyed these visits. Once when I called on a Friday, one of the non-Jewish mechanics quipped, "I am sorry, but Mr. Zeitlin is all tied up," referring to his wearing the tefilin. The students also put up a mezuza on his store and brought jelly doughnuts for Chanuka and hamantashen on Purim.

Dad started to look forward to the Lubavitchers' visit and to respect them. It was nice to see Dad in the living room on Shabbat afternoon reading the weekly L'Chaim publication cover to cover. One of the boys left to a yeshiva in Peru, but the other boys continued to visit.

Dad developed a strong connection to the tefilin. He told Mom that he wanted a new pair of tefilin for Father's Day, and that's what he got. Each morning before work Dad puts them on and recites the blessing and the Shema from the card the students gave him. Even when he is traveling, Dad won't leave his tefilin behind.

One Wednesday in the summer, the Lubavitcher boys came in to put on tefilin, since they were going upstate for Shabbat. The next Friday the boys did not come, and Dad got nervous. Calling to find out what happened, he learned that the boys were in a car that had gotten into a terrible accident.

Three of the four boys were killed and one barely survived. The boy who survived was the boy he had befriended, so Dad took my brother and me to visit him in the hospital.

We drove up to Nyack Hospital in Rockland County, New York. The young man was lying in bed with his mother at his bedside. He was very pale and looked very thin. His mother told us he was in extreme pain and had just had his spleen and some ribs removed in an effort to save his life. He smiled faintly when he saw my father and they began talking. His three best friends had been killed and he was very depressed from his traumatic experience. Dad tried to cheer him up, and during their visit, asked him if he already put on tefilin.

His mother said he was still too weak, and had not put on tefilin since the accident. Dad spoke to the boy and encouraged him to put on tefilin. He agreed, and told him where to look for his tefilin bag in the suitcase.

The scene was now reversed: Dad was putting tefilin on a yeshiva boy! It was amazing to watch Dad, with dedication and love, help the young man hooked up to tubes and machines put on his tefilin.

For the next month Dad called every day to talk to the young man, ask how he was doing, and also checked if he wore his tefilin that day.

Miraculously, the boy recovered, was rehabilitated, and returned to Israel where he is now married. Dad still speaks to him every so often, and of course, they always check up on each other's tefilin progress.

It's easy to get caught up in negative cycles in life. I'm glad Dad got caught up in a good, mitzva cycle.

Shaun is a student at SUNY-Albany and gabbai of the Shabbos House on campus. Reprinted from The Jewish Holiday Consumer.


What's New

Taste of Yeshiva

Two exciting programs offered by Hadar HaTorah Men's Yeshiva give participants a taste of the exiting and intense world of full-time Torah study. The "Spring Yeshivacation" in Brooklyn runs from June 1 - 10 and the Yeshiva Summer Program in the Mountains (Upstate New York) begins June 26 and runs throughout the summer. For more information call (718) 735-0250 or visit their website at www.hadartorah.org.

Summer 2001

Beis Chana Women International is offering a variety of Torah study programs for women of all ages this summer. Based in Minnesota, the teen program runs from July 3-25 and includes Torah study, swimming, whitewater rafting, pottery, service projects and more. The women's program, July 31-August 14, will concentrate on a Jewish woman's relationship with G-d through in-depth study of ancient texts, prayers, traditions and observances. A unique Couples' Retreat runs from August 15-19. Principal lecturer Rabbi Manis Friedman and guest scholars Mrs. Rivky Slonim, Mrs. Chana Epstein, and Mrs. Sara Karmely. For more info call 800-473-4801 or email info@baischana.org. Sponsored by Upper Midwest Merkos Lubavitch

Health & Spirituality

Chabad Discovery Weekends presents a weekend devoted to exploring how the principles of holistic healing impact on our spiritual life as individuals and as a people. Join Jewish couples and famlies as they experience an unforgettable, stimulating Shabbaton featuring thought-provoking lectures, discussions and workshops accompanied by delicious, traditional cuisine amidst the unique joy of Chasidic family life. The Shabbaton (June 8 - 10) features Rabbi Manis Friedman and Mrs. Rivky Slonim and is hosted by the Crown Heights community in Brooklyn. For more info contact Lubavitch Youth Organization, (718) 953-1000 or visit www.chabadiscoveryweekend.org


The Rebbe Writes

Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 5724 [1964]

... It is worthy of note that the festival of Shovuos has no independent date of its own, like any other festival, since no month or day is specified in the Torah as the time of its celebration, but only that it is the "Fiftieth Day" of the counting of the Omer; the counting which we begin on the second day of Pesach, on the day after the liberation from Egyptian bondage.

In this way the Torah emphasizes that the festival of Shovuos is the goal of the festival of Pesach; that the Season of the Giving of Our Torah is the culmination of the Season of Our Freedom that the true and complete freedom, both for the individual as well as for the community, and both materially and spiritually, can be attained only through the acceptance of the Torah.

We live in a time and in a country where, notwithstanding external "freedom," the society in general, and the young generation in particular, are still largely "enslaved," and at a loss how to free themselves from the shackles of spiritual and mental confusion. The only hope that Jewish children should not be swept with this stream lies in a Torah - true Yeshivah education, where the golden chain of the Torah from Sinai is maintained; the Torah in all its sanctity, the Torah of Truth which must always remain intact, and cannot be subject to compromise or concession....


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 [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 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 [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 - "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" [we will do and (then) we will learn] 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, and the traditional blessing to receive the Torah with joy and inwardness,

With blessing,


Rambam this week

26 Iyar 5761

Prohibition 133: A "stranger" eating the heave-offering

By this prohibition a "stranger" (anyone not descended from Aaron) is forbidden to eat the teruma, which was a gift to the kohanim (priests). (The first fruits are also considered teruma.) It is contained in the Torah's words (Lev. 22:10): "There shall no common man eat of the holy thing."


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

Continuing the sequence that was begun after Passover, this Shabbat we study Chapter Five of Ethics of the Fathers, which contains the following Mishna:

"Ben Bag Bag said: Learn it and learn it [the Torah], for everything is in it...Ben Hei Hei said: Commensurate with the painstaking effort is the reward."

Ben Bag Bag was not the actual name of the Rabbi quoted; rather, it is a pseudonym indicating that he was a convert or the descendent of converts to Judaism. In Hebrew, Ben Bag Bag is an acronym for "ben ger, ben giyoret" ("the son of a male proselyte, the son of a female proselyte"). The Mishna refers him in this manner because the saying attri-buted to him has special significance for converts.

Non-Jews are obligated to keep the Seven Noahide Laws that were given by G-d for all mankind. In order to know what these rules consist of and how to observe them, a gentile must study the relevant sections of Torah. Nonetheless, his Torah study is not an end in itself, but only a means of acquiring practical knowledge. By contrast, when a Jew learns Torah, his study is a mitzva in its own right.

When a non-Jew undergoes conversion according to Torah law, he also assumes the obligation to study Torah as a mitzva unto itself. His study becomes entirely different in nature, intrinsically and objectively valuable. Thus the Torah study of a proselyte most graphically demonstrates the distinction between learning Torah as a means toward something else (which he engaged in before converting), and the true commandment of Torah study, which he started observing when he became Jewish.

Like everything else in the Torah, the names of the Sages quoted are extremely exacting. Moreover, the order of the above Mishna is also significant: First comes "Learn it and learn it," the study of Torah, followed by "Commensurate with the painstaking effort is the reward," the reward G-d gives us for keeping His commandments. For as our Sages taught, "Great is the study of Torah that leads to actual deed.


Thoughts that Count

When you come into the land that I give you (Lev. 25:2)

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov once commented that it wasn't until he had actually visited the Land of Israel that he understood why the Torah uses the present tense when referring to the Holy Land, e.g., "that I give you": When a Jew merits to live in Israel, his gratitude to G-d is fresh and new each day, as if the land had just been given to him.


And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants (Lev. 25:10)

Why does the Torah state that liberty is to be proclaimed to all of Israel's "inhabitants" in the Jubilee year, when in reality it is only the Jewish indentured servants who are freed? The answer is found in the Gemara (Tractate Kidushin 20): "He who acquires a Hebrew servant acquires a master over himself." By Jewish law, a master is obligated to maintain his servant in a high degree of dignity and comfort. Accordingly, both master and servant are relieved of their "servitude" in the Jubilee year.

(Pnei Yehoshua)


If you will go in My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them (Lev. 26:3)

According to Rashi, this means "that you should be laboring in the Torah, in order to serve and to fulfill (that which you have learned)." The study of Torah every day is crucial to life itself. This applies not only to the soul of the one studying but also to the souls of his family, as the home becomes an atmosphere of Torah and piety.

(HaYom Yom)


As explicated in the Talmud (Tractate Baba Kama 2a), one of the four primary damages is caused by a "bor," an empty pit. The Hebrew word has another meaning as well: a person who is illiterate or literally "uncultivated." For a Jew who does not learn Torah is likened to a neglected field lying fallow that is neither plowed nor sowed.

(Tzeva'at HaRibash)


It Once Happened

Reb Aryeh, a Chasid of the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism), had been appointed by the authorities as "burgomaster" of his town. As chief magistrate and official record keeper for the government, Reb Aryeh was responsible for keeping track of all marriages, births and deaths (G-d forbid) in the Jewish community, entering them in a special register.

It happened once that a local gentile converted to Judaism. This was a grave offense in those times and in that place. Anyone even remotely suspected of having helped in the conversion process was subject to stiff penalties. This being so, Reb Aryeh was asked to conveniently "forget" to record the name of a certain Jew who had just died. The convert, who was approximately the same age as the deceased, would be given the dead man's papers and assume his identity.

It was a clever plan, and it might have worked if not for the informer who brought the plot to light. The burgomaster was caught and a trial date was set. Reb Aryeh was in grave danger. Being a true Chasid, he went to the Alter Rebbe and explained his predicament. The Rebbe advised him to postpone the trial, and it was rescheduled for a later date.

When the second trial date rolled around Reb Aryeh returned to the Alter Rebbe. Again, the Rebbe advised him to defer it. This happened several times, until finally Reb Aryeh was unable to push it off any longer. At long last the burgomaster would be tried for his "crime." The Chasid begged the Alter Rebbe to save him.

Oddly enough, the Alter Rebbe responded by inviting Reb Aryeh to his grandchild's wedding, which was about to take place in the town of Zlobin. It was a union between two rabbinical dynasties: The Alter Rebbe's grandchild was marrying the grandchild of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. "Why don't you come and present your problem to Reb Levi Yitzchak?" the Alter Rebbe suggested. "I'm sure that he can help you."

Reb Aryeh traveled to Zlobin, but getting in to the see Reb Levi Yitzchak was very difficult, as thousands of other people had arrived with the same idea. Unwilling to give up, Reb Aryeh decided to come back in the middle of the night and stand outside Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's door. The following morning he would be first in line.

That night, Reb Aryeh positioned himself outside Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's room and peeked inside. What a strange sight met his eyes! On one side of the tzadik's bed stood a gabbai (synagogue official) with a volume of Mishnayot; on the other side stood a second gabbai with the holy Zohar. Both men were reading aloud - at the same time - while Reb Levi Yitzchak appeared to be sleeping. Yet when one gabbai mispronounced a word, the tzadik turned and protested, "Nu! Nu!" This continued for some two hours, after which Rabbi Levi Yitzchak arose from his "nap" and Reb Aryeh was allowed to enter.

The first thing Reb Levi Yitzchak asked Reb Aryeh was who had sent him. "My Rebbe," the Chasid replied.

"And who might that be?"

"The Alter Rebbe," Reb Aryeh answered.

"Ah, him!" Reb Levi Yitzchak exclaimed. "My in-law is your Rebbe? Such a tzadik and scholar, such a holy man of G-d!" He continued in this vein for some time, praising the Alter Rebbe to the skies. "So tell me," he said fondly, "what can I do for you?"

Reb Aryeh explained that he was the burgomaster of his hometown. "A burgomaster?" the tzadik repeated after him. "What does that mean?"

The Chasid described his various duties and responsibilities.

"You mean to say that a Jew is in charge of the whole town?" Rabbi Levi Yitzchak asked, duly impressed. "How can that be?"

"To tell you the truth," Reb Aryeh replied, "the only reason I took the job was that the Alter Rebbe urged me to do so."

"Ho!" the tzadik declared emphatically. "My in-law - the sage, the saint, the learned scholar, the righteous one - guided you to take this position. In that case you have nothing to worry about. G-d will surely help and guard you from all harm."

Reb Aryeh went back to the Alter Rebbe and related his conversation with Reb Levi Yitzchak. "So what do you think?" the Alter Rebbe asked. "Did I give you good advice?" He then repeated the question. "I gave you good advice, didn't I?"

On the day before the trial was due to begin a fire broke out in the courthouse. All the important documents in the building were completely burned - including the official indictment against Reb Aryeh. With no other record the case was dropped, and that was the end of the accusation.


Moshiach Matters

The Redemption is "composed," so to speak, of our service of G-d during the time of galut (exile). Just as the word geula (redemption) is not made from a separate set of letters, but from the very letters of the word galut, so too the Redemption comes through our service in exile - not through some different sort of service.

(The Rebbe, 20 Iyar, 5751)


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