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                         L'CHAIM - ISSUE # 678
                           Copyright (c) 2001
                 Lubavitch Youth Organization - L.Y.O.
                              Brooklyn, NY
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   Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.
        July 20, 2001         Matos-Masei         29 Tamuz, 5761

                         Thanks for the Mitzva

                            by Yehudis Cohen

"Thank you for getting me involved," the person said before hanging up
the telephone.

"You're welcome," I replied with a smile, placing the receiver in its

A momentary flush of pride. I was trying to help someone out of a sticky
situation and I had found a person with expertise who was willing to
take on the problem. "Job well done," I patted myself on the back.

And then reality hit. "Huh? He's thanking me for involving him in
something that will take away many hours of his already limited free
time? A job that, even if accomplished successfully, will undoubtedly be
thankless. An activity that will not include remuneration for his

Thoughts ran through my head as I tried to understand this person's
selfless behavior. "He'll be rewarded," I reminded myself, thinking of
the Jewish teaching, "G-d never remains in debt."

"Know before whom you toil, who your Employer is, and who will pay you
the reward for your labor," Rabbi Elazar teaches in chapter two of the
Mishna Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers). Although there are many
intermediaries by which G-d dispenses the reward for performing a
mitzva, a person should realize that the source for the reward is G-d.
Ahh, now I felt a little better. Surely G-d would reward this person.

In that same chapter of Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Tarfon teaches, "The day is
short, the work is much, the workmen are lazy, the reward is great, the
Master is pressing." It's true, most of us don't have enough or even
much leisure time.

It's hard to squeeze into our few free moments a kind act for another
person, to extend a helping hand to one in need. The day is so short.
There is so much work to do. Often the people with whom we work aren't
as industrious as we would hope, some seem downright lazy! But the
reward for a small act of kindness, a good deed, a smile or courteous
word, is great. And G-d, the Master, considers these interpersonal
mitzvot vital.

Rabbi Tarfon clarifies the above teaching by continuing, "It is not
incumbent upon you to complete the work, yet you are not free to desist
from it; If you have studied much Torah, much reward will be given to
you, and your employer is trustworthy to pay you the reward for your
labor. But know that the giving of the reward to the righteous will be
in the World to Come." The realization of the immensity of our
responsibility toward our fellowman and toward G-d should not lead us to
despair. Because a person is never required to do more than he can. G-d
only gives a person that which he can fulfill without having to face
challenges that he is unable to overcome.

Now I was certain that the person would be justly rewarded. But I still
wondered how he did it so naturally, so pleasantly, as if I had done him
the biggest favor in the world, to the point where he was thanking me!

Perhaps he had in mind a teaching of Rabbi Gamliel (son of Rabbi Judah
the Prince), also from chapter two: "All who occupy themselves with the
affairs of the community should be engaged with them for the sake of
heaven." I was thinking of the reward he would get. It made me feel less
guilty! But perhaps, probably, he saw this act of kindness, and the
previous one, and the next one, as part of his responsibility to the
community where he lived. And he was doing it solely for the sake of

Ah, so I was helping him! I was enabling him to fulfill his obligation
to the community. That's why he thanked me. Now I understood.

Once again, I patted myself on the back for a job well done. Why, I had
just helped two people!

But just between you and me, all "rewards" and "obligations" and "sake
of heavens" aside, don't you think that person is something special?

This week we read two Torah portions, Matot and Masei. As we read in
Matot, when the Jewish people returned from the war with Midian with
their spoils, Moses commanded them to purify themselves from their
ritual uncleanliness (caused by contact with the dead) by being
sprinkled with water containing ashes of the red heifer. Afterwards,
Eleazar the kohen (priest) enumerated the various laws of how to render
the Midianites' non-kosher vessels kosher.

Why was it Eleazar who taught these laws rather than Moses? As Rashi
explains, "Since Moses came under the influence of anger, he came under
the influence of mistaken judgment, and the laws of cleansing vessels
which had belonged to heathens were concealed from him." As related a
few verses previously, Moses had become angry when he saw the Midianite
women the Jews brought back with them.

Technically, Moses did not render "mistaken judgment," which would imply
that he had stated the laws incorrectly. However, his failure to teach
these laws stemmed from a different kind of "mistake":

Moses had assumed that the ashes of the red heifer could render the
non-kosher vessels kosher. If a few drops of the "water of sprinkling"
could remove the greatest impurity of them all, contact with the dead,
surely it had the power to kasher utensils.

That is why Eleazar prefaced his words with the declaration, "This is
the statute of the Torah." The fact that the ashes of the red heifer can
remove ritual impurity is a statute, a super-rational law that only
applies to that specific type of uncleanliness, and cannot render impure
vessels pure. For even after a vessel's impurity has been removed by the
"water of sprinkling," the forbidden foods that were absorbed into it
must be purged.

Removing uncleanliness and making something kosher are two separate
things: To remove spiritual uncleanliness, a few drops of water are
sufficient. But to render a vessel kosher, a more fundamental type of
purging is necessary, according to the particular manner in which the
utensil was used.

Symbolically, purity is an "encompassing" G-dly influence that surrounds
a person from without. For that reason, is it relatively simple to
purify oneself: immersion in a mikva, or being sprinkled with the "water
of sprinkling." By contrast, the process of making something kosher
implies an inner and essential cleansing to remove embedded evil.

Moses, who viewed the Jewish people from "on high," believed that
external purification would automatically purify the "inside" as well.
Eleazar, by contrast, whose function as a kohen was to elevate the
Jewish people from below, held that externals weren't enough. For it is
through "kashering" the various powers of the soul, each one
individually, that a Jew achieves true purification and becomes a proper
"vessel" for holiness.

                              Adapted from Vol. 8 of Likutei Sichot

                             SLICE OF LIFE

                         A Very Special Teacher

                            by Gershon Beck

The 26th of Tamuz (July 17th) is the yartzeit (anniversary of the
passing) of Rabbi Chaim Dovid Nota Wichnin. Rabbi Wichnin headed the
Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Morristown, New Jersey, for baalei teshuva or
late starters to the world of Jewish learning. He was a very, very
special teacher.

Rabbi Wichnin lived in Monsey, New York, where he served the local
community, and commuted every day to Morristown to teach. His students,
from all walks of life, number in the thousands, and continue to share
their love of Torah and mitzvot with their fellow Jews, just as he would
want. His genuine caring for people, love of the Land of Israel, and
deep desire to understand and teach Torah were just some of his truly
exceptional qualities. The following anecdotes illustrate how he
exemplified these character traits.

A relative of Rabbi Wichnin, Rabbi M., was once in Los Angeles for a
family celebration. While out and about shopping for Shabbat, he went
into one of the local butcher shops. Waiting patiently in line, he heard
a customer asking specifically for meat with Lubavitch supervision. The
customer didn't appear to be a Lubavitcher Chasid. Rabbi M. was a bit
curious, so he asked the man why he wanted to buy Lubavitch meat. "My
father is not too well and is in a hospital just outside of Monsey, New
York. If not for a certain Lubavitcher Rabbi, Rabbi Wichnin, I don't
know who would visit my father. He visits him faithfully every week
before Shabbat." For many years Rabbi Wichnin had his own "route" on
Fridays, visiting people in the hospital.

Years ago, a friend of mine who is a maintenance worker in the yeshiva
told me that Rabbi Wichnin once asked him to change a light bulb in his
office. My friend went there and began his work. In the few minutes he
was there he heard several messages asking Rabbi Wichnin to please call
them back. These messages were from people all over the world with whom
Rabbi Wichnin had a special bond. My friend remarked, "If the phone rang
that many times in the few minutes I was there, you can imagine how many
people are actually calling him for guidance and direction."

Rabbi Wichnin's deep connection with the Land of Israel could be seen in
the fact that he had a separate checkbook for charity for Israel.

Whenever he spoke about Israel in class, you could sense the special
affection. He showed special gratitude to Jews who had served in the
Israeli army and spent time with them to bring them closer to Torah.
During the Persian Gulf War, he would remind us daily about saying extra
Tehillim (Psalms) for Israel. He was absolutely elated when the war
ended (on the holiday of Purim) and Israel emerged unscathed.

Anyone who had the privilege to be in yeshiva on Sunday afternoons could
never forget Rabbi Wichnin's "Chumash [the five Books of Moses]
questions." Rabbi Wichnin would make up his own questions on the Torah
portion of the week and hand them out to his students on Sunday. Their
written answers were expected the following Sunday. The basic
expectation was that we know Chumash with Rashi's commentary. Rabbi
Wichnin was very down to earth and expected straight answers. I remember
that Rabbi Wichnin once asked a question and a student began to respond
with a very deep, convoluted explanation. Rabbi Wichnin interrupted him
and said, "Hold on a minute, I need the simple meaning first. You don't
eat the dessert before the meat and potatoes. It's like a person going
on a job interview in a fancy Cadillac, but wearing a torn suit. When
the boss sees him, he needs to look nice. The boss knows nothing about
his fancy car. The person has to come up with the basics first." That
was Rabbi Wichnin: he always gave you a concrete example to help
understand the point. A friend of mine once remarked, "He made studying
Torah enjoyable, and that's how it should be."

Rabbi Wichnin was an "inward" person. Chasidic philosophy calls this
being a "penimi." Rabbi Wichnin truly internalized the Rebbe's teachings
about living with Moshiach. So many of the ideas he expressed in class
were tied in with the coming of Moshiach. One thing in particular he
taught was how a person can be involved with his daily routine and at
the same time expect Moshiach to come at any moment.

Rather than being contradictory, the two go hand in hand.

Rabbi Wichnin's family, students and friends miss him so much. He loved
to sing a song written by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad
Chasidim, called "Keili Atah." At many gatherings we would sing this
together. On Simchat Torah he would lead the singing of "Mi'pi Keil."
Those times were like a foretaste of Moshiach. Dear G-d, it's time to
bring him back to us, and end the exile! May the entire Jewish people
soon merit to sing together on the great day of Moshiach's arrival.

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                            THE REBBE WRITES
This letter, dated 22 Av, 5739 [1979], is continued from the previous
issue. It was addressed to someone who asked the Rebbe's views on "the
care and education of Jewish retarded children."

6. There is surely no need to emphasize at length that, as in all cases
involving Jews, their specific Jewish needs must be taken into account.
This is particularly true in the case of retarded Jewish children, yet
all too often disregarded. There is unfortunately a prevalent
misconception that since you are dealing with retarded children, having
more limited capabilities, they should not be "burdened" with Jewish
education on top of their general education, so as not to overtax them.
In my opinion this is a fallacious and detrimental attitude, especially
in light of what has been said above about the need to avoid impressing
the child with his handicap.

Be it remembered that a child coming from a Jewish home probably has
brothers and sisters, or cousins and friends, who receive a Jewish
education and are exposed to Jewish observances. Even in the American
society, where observant Jews are not in the majority, there is always
some measure of Jewish experience, or Jewish angle, in the child's
background. Now therefore, if the retarded child sees or feels that he
has been singled out and removed from that experience, or when he will
eventually find out that he Jewish, yet deprived of his Jewish identity
and heritage - it is very likely to cause irreparable damage to him.

On the other hand, if the child is involved in Jewish education and
activities - and not in some general and peripheral way, but in a
regular and tangible way, such as in the actual performance of Mitzvos,
customs and traditions, it would give him a sense of belonging and
attachment, and a firm anchorage to hold on to, whether consciously or
subconsciously. Eventually even a subconscious feeling of inner security
would pass into the conscious state, especially if the teacher will
endeavor to cultivate and fortify this feeling.

I am, of course, aware of the arguments that may be put forth in regard
to this idea, namely, that it would require additional funding,
qualified personnel, etc., not readily available at present. To be sure,
these are arguments that have a basis in fact as things now stand.

However, the real problem is not so much the lack of resources as the
prevailing attitude that considers the Jewish angle as of secondary
importance, or less; consequently the effort to remedy the situation is
commensurate, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy. The truth of the
matter is that if the importance of it would be seen in its true light -
that it is an essential factor in the development of the retarded Jewish
child, in addition to our elementary obligation to all Jewish children
without exception, the results would be quite different.

Perhaps all the aforesaid is not what you had in mind in soliciting
views on "group homes." Nevertheless, I was impelled to dwell on the
subject at some length, not only because it had to be said, but also
because it may serve as a basis for solving the controversy surrounding
the creation of "group homes" for those children who are presently
placed in an environment often quite distant from the individual's home
and community, to paraphrase your statement.

Finally, a concluding remark relating to your laudatory reference to the
Lubavitch movement, "with its deep concern for every Jewish individual's
welfare." etc.

Needless to say, such appreciation is very gratifying, but I must
confess and emphasize that this is not an original Lubavitch idea, for
it is basic to Torah Judaism. Thus, our Sages of old declared that
"Ve'ohavta Lereacha Kamocha" ("Love your fellow as yourself") is the
Great Principle of our Torah, with the accent on "as yourself," since
every person surely has a very special, personal approach to himself. To
the credit of the Lubavitch emissaries it may be said, however, that
they are doing all they can to implement and live by this Golden Rule of
the Torah, and doing it untiringly and enthusiastically.

May the Zechus Horabim - the merit of the many who benefit from your
sincere efforts to help them in their need, especially in your capacity
as Regional Chairman of the Council For Mental Retardation - stand you
in good stead to succeed in the fullest measure and stimulate your
dedication for even greater achievements.

With esteem and blessing,

                            RAMBAM THIS WEEK
1 Av 5761

Positive mitzva 68: offering of a Court that has erred

By this injunction we are commanded that the Great Sanhedrin (of 71
members, which occupied the Chamber of Hewn Stone on the Temple Mount)
is to offer a sacrifice if it gives a wrong decision. It is contained in
the Torah's words (Lev. 4:13): "If the whole congregation of Israel
shall err, the thing being hid from the eyes of the assembly, etc."

                        A WORD FROM THE DIRECTOR
                         Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
One of the special haftorahs of the "Three Weeks" is an excerpt from the
Book of Jeremiah in which the prophet relates how G-d instructed him to
foretell of the destruction of the Holy Temple.

Jeremiah lived in a time when many Jews were attracted to paganism; his
function as a prophet was to arouse them to repentance. Fearful of
undertaking such a responsibility, G-d encouraged Jeremiah with the
following words: "Before I formed you in the belly I knew you; and
before you came out of the womb I sanctified you, and I ordained you a
prophet to the nations." When Jeremiah countered that he was only a
"child," G-d replied, "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to
save you."

In essence, Jeremiah's mission is the mission of every Jewish soul,
which is forced to abandon its G-dly Source and descend into the
physical world. The soul becomes frightened at the prospect; how can it
possibly contend with all the difficulties it will encounter?

G-d immediately reassures the Jew and tells him not to be afraid:
"Before I formed you in the belly I knew you." Every Jew has a Divine
soul, "a veritable part of G-d Above" that transcends the physical world
and the difficulties of the exile. Moreover, "before you came out of the
womb I sanctified you": every Jew is prepared ahead of time by having
been taught the entire Torah before he was born, as related in the

This, however, is not enough to assuage the soul's fears. "But I am only
a child!" it counters. "From where will I get the strength to be a
prophet to the nations?" i.e., to refine and elevate the physical plane
of reality?

"Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to save you," G-d promises.
In addition to the innate powers you acquired in the womb, I will give
you special strengths and abilities to be able to fulfill your mission

May we immediately merit to attain the ultimate goal of all of our
Divine service, the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption.

                          THOUGHTS THAT COUNT
He shall not break ("yachel") his word, he shall do according to all
that proceeds from his mouth (Num. 30:3)

The Hebrew word "yachel" is related to the word "chulin," meaning
secular or worldly (the opposite of sanctified). From this we learn that
a person should not only live up to and fulfill his official vows but
abide by every promise and utterance he makes.

                                             (The Magid of Koznitz)

                                *  *  *

You shall be guiltless before the L-rd, and before Israel (Num. 32:22)

A person who is innocent before G-d and at peace with his conscience
will ultimately be found guiltless by his fellow man; if he does
experience occasional difficulties, they will only be temporary. By
contrast, a person who strives to be innocent only in the eyes of man
will eventually end up being a hypocrite.

                                                     (Bina La'itim)

                                *  *  *

These are their journeys according to their goings forth (Num. 33:2)

The Midrash relates that when Moshiach comes and ushers in the Final
Redemption, G-d will cause the Jewish people to retrace the same 42
journeys they made through the desert after leaving Egypt. This is
alluded in the above verse: "And these are the journeys" - these very
same journeys - will be undertaken and repeated, when the future progeny
of the Children of Israel will "go forth" - from their final exile.


                                *  *  *

And he shall live there until the death of the high priest, who was
anointed with the holy oil (Num. 35:25)

The passing of a high priest is such a shocking event that it brings the
entire Jewish people to repent. One may therefore assume that the "blood
avenger" has also scrutinized his soul and conquered his desire for
revenge, enabling the slayer to leave the city of refuge and return home


                            IT ONCE HAPPENED
In the White Russian province of Mohilev lived a humble Jew, a Chasid of
Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch. The Chasid had
a son who was an exceptional child from the day he was born. It was
almost eerie the way the boy absorbed information; seeing or hearing
something only once was enough to imprint it in his memory forever.

The first time his father showed him the alef-beit it was already
mastered. But the most amazing thing was how the toddler was able to put
them together and read. The most complex philosophical concepts were
comprehended at once. The boy was a phenomenal genius.

His parents, fearful of an "evil eye," were afraid to send him to
cheder. A private tutor was hired, but he was rapidly outpaced. By the
age of Bar Mitzva the boy was an experienced swimmer in the sea of
Talmudic wisdom, and he steadily climbed the ladder of knowledge.

One day the father walked into his son's room and saw him reading a
small pamphlet. His blood ran cold as he realized it was a treatise
designed to lure unsuspecting yeshiva boys into the net of the

"Why do you need to search in foreign pastures?" he scolded him. "The
entire Torah is yours, the true source of G-dly wisdom. There is nothing
to be gained by looking elsewhere."

"You are right, Father," the boy apologized. "I found it lying in the
street, and at first it didn't interest me. The only reason I was
glancing through it now was to see for myself how groundless are their

The father wasn't entirely convinced, but preferred to delude himself.

Over the next few weeks and months the boy was caught several more
times. He was silent when confronted, and would not deny that the
Enlightenment had captured his heart. Eventually he left home, after
calling his father "an idiot" for his religious convictions. His
destination was Berlin, the seat of the Enlightenment.

In Berlin, the Academy of Sciences received him with open arms. In no
time at all he distinguished himself with his phenomenal intellectual
abilities. His rise through the ranks of academia was steady and swift.
After several years in Germany he went on to study in Paris.

The young man was particularly interested in mathematics and medicine,
and he decided to write a book on each of them. The mathematical
treatise dealt with an original theorem he had formulated, the other
book was on the subject of anatomy. Soon he was the darling of the
international scientific community.

Inexplicably, however, he began to feel guilty over how he had treated
his parents. He took a leave of absence and set out for home.

The long journey gave him time to think. "What good will it do to show
my father my books?" he mused. "He has no understanding of such matters.
Better I should first go to my father's Rebbe and get his approval. They
say that as a young man, Rabbi Shneur Zalman studied geometry and
astronomy. If he pronounces them worthy, my father will respect his

Rabbi Shneur Zalman agreed to see him at once. The Rebbe's door was
closed for a long time. When the young man finally emerged he was
extremely agitated. It was obvious he was in the midst of an inner

Suddenly, without warning, he grabbed one of his books and threw it into
the furnace. A minute later the second one followed. Both were quickly
consumed by the flames. Only then did he calm down.

What had happened? Rabbi Shneur Zalman had scrutinized only five pages
of the first book when he drew a line through several paragraphs. After
leafing through the rest, he pronounced the reasoning sound. "But
unfortunately, the book is based on an error in calculation at the very
beginning. As the foundation is faulty, the rest of the edifice is also

The same happened with the next book. The Rebbe pointed out a sentence
that contradicted what the Torah says about a certain juncture of veins.
"As our Sages are undoubtedly right, the entire treatise is based on an

The young man was in a mental turmoil, but eventually had to admit that
the mistakes were his. He felt he had no choice but to destroy the

The young man began to study with Rabbi Shneur Zalman. Seven weeks later
he fell ill, and a short time after that passed away.

Rabbi Shneur Zalmn later revealed that the young man was a reincarnation
of Rabbi Eliezer ben Durdia. His soul had already descended into the
world several times, each time following the same progression: As a
young man it would faithfully observe Torah and mitzvot, but as time
passed it invariably left the straight and narrow. "This time, when he
came to me, I decided that enough was enough. I refused to let him leave
until his soul had accomplished its final tikun (correction)."

(Incidentally, Rabbi Shneur Zalman gave his son, the Mitteler Rebbe, the
manuscripts of everything he had learned with the young man. It was
based on these writings that he authored his work, Derech Chaim.)

                            MOSHIACH MATTERS
Moshiach will only determine their tribal lineage, that is, he will
inform that "this one is of such-and-such a tribe." He will not
pronounce on those presumed to be of legitimate ancestry that "this one
is illegitimate and that one is a "slave"; for the law stipulates that
once a family is intermixed [with the Jewish community at large] it
remains intermixed.

                                  (Maimonides' Mishna Torah Ch. 12)

              END OF TEXT - L'CHAIM 678 - Matos-Masei 5761

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