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731: Shoftim

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August 9, 2002 - 1 Elul, 5762

731: Shoftim

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

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  730: Re'eh732: Ki Seitzei  

Nobody Can Take it Away From You  |  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

Nobody Can Take it Away From You

You'll get what's coming to you.

Sometimes these words or a similar sentiment are said with a wagging finger and a stern look. At others times the statement is an assurance that whatever (good) is meant for you, you'll get, i.e., no one can take away from you that which is destined for you.

One of our great Sages, Ben Azzai, declared in the Talmud, "You will be called by your name, you will be seated in your place, you will be given what is yours. No man touches what is meant for his fellow. No kingdom touches its neighbor by so much as a hairsbreadth." (Yoma 38 a-b)

That which is destined for you is yours. This applies to finding one's soulmate, to receiving promotions and bonuses, to making the honor roll.

So what, you might ask, is the point of trying? Why put effort, hard work and time into something if it's "coming to you" anyway?

Ben Azzai's statement is not meant to encourage us to sit back, relax, and wait for it all to happen. For, in order to actually receive all that is ours requires work. Sometimes that work is physical. Sometimes it's intellectual. At all times it is spiritual: prayer, self-growth, mitzvot (commandments). All of these undertakings help one deepen and broaden the "vessel" into which G-d can "pour" the Divinely pre-ordained blessings.

But to begin with, one must make a "vessel" for one's Divine blessings. One must make a container within oneself that is prepared to hold the G-dly goodness that is one's due. Doing mitzvot provides the material and the know-how to fashion the vessel. The vessel is created out of mitzvot that are performed in order to fulfill G-d's will, not our will but G-d's will. By nullifying one's will, one creates an empty vessel. And an empty vessel has more space into which blessings can be channeled than a full or partially filled vessel.

The concept of creating a vessel for G-d's blessing, by adding mitzvot to one's mitzva repertoire or by more scrupulously performing a mitzva, is a recurrent suggestion in the Rebbe's teachings. More than just "You do one for me and I'll do one for You," doing mitzvot creates a "mitzva tank," and "Torah treasure chest" that can be filled with unlimited good and blessings from Infinite, Unlimited G-d.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Shoftim, speaks about the cities of refuge a person would flee to 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 repent, no matter how grave a transgression has been committed. Even the person who deliberately sinned can do teshuva (repentance) and seek protection in the refuge of Torah.

In one sense, nowadays we have a distinct advantage over our ancestors 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 teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life

Everybody Is Hungarian
By Nechama Gara

I come from Hungary, a small country in Central Europe. There is an old Hungarian saying, "Everybody is Hungarian." It is true! If you dig deep into your family's past I am sure you will find a Hungarian grandmother, or great-grandfather or you have at least one friend who has some connection with my country. So now that you understand that we are really "family," I am sure that you will be interested in hearing what this young Jewish Hungarian woman has to say and how I got to New York all the way from Hungary.

I grew up in a completely non-religious way. We never kept anything, not even the main holidays. I was about 15 years old when I fully realized that I was Jewish. Until then, I had some kind of sense of being "different." I knew, for example, that at the end of World War II my mother and her father were blacklisted and almost taken away. Although I had heard the story many times, I did not really understand what that meant. Judaism was something we never talked about. Even today my mother would not admit that she is Jewish.

For years and years I had nothing to do with Judaism and all my knowledge was gained through watching films. About four years ago I felt a desire to learn a little bit about Judaism. But two more years passed before I actually turned that desire into concrete action and started reading books about Judaism. The "breakthrough" came last June when I found out that there is a Chabad House in Budapest (the capital of Hungary).

The Chabad House offers many different classes on a variety of topics. I went there one Tuesday night and started attending "Kabbala" classes. One month later, in the middle of July, I went to the Chabad House for Shabbat. For the first time in my life I went to a Shabbat service and I ate my first Shabbat meal at the home of my teacher, Rabbi Shlomo Sherman.

From the moment I decided to go, right up through the time I got to the Chabad House for Shabbat I was very anxious. I had this fear inside me as if I was doing something wrong by going to the synagogue and I was worried about what people would say if they knew where I was going. I was so excited that my heart started beating way too fast, and I had to take some medicine to calm down. Thank G-d, that was the only negative incident! The service was beautiful and the meal was delicious. I heard kiddush recited over the wine for the first time, I washed my hands in the prescribed manner before eating bread for the first time. And I even remembered not to turn off the light in the bathroom after using it since it was Shabbat and one is not allowed to turn on or off lights on this special day.

Slowly but surely I started keeping mitzvot (commandments). Then last December, Rabbi Baruch Oberlander, the director of Chabad in Hungary, asked me if I wanted to go to New York to study Torah. I asked my boss to let me take an unpaid leave of absence for two months from my job. Although I have a master's degree in English Literature, I had been working as an office manager. I thought that two months would be just the right amount of time for a Torah study vacation. But my boss refused. Now I had to decide whether I should stay put and keep my well-paid job, or quit and leave everything behind.

While in the midst of trying to come to a decision, I was reading a book called Bringing Heaven Down to Earth by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a collection of the Rebbe's wisdom. I found something in that book that helped me decide:

"There's no place for worry. You try to decide a course of action. If you do not have the experience to decide, ask the advice of someone who does - a parent, a teacher, an expert - someone reliable, but also someone who is conscientious of your spiritual path.

"Once you have decided what should be done, you follow that course and you trust in G-d that since you are doing what you believe to be the right thing, He will insure that everything will go well."

I wanted to study Torah in depth and I knew that I would have to leave my job and Hungary in order to be able to do that. I had made my decision and I started making my preparations. Sometimes you have to work hard to be able to do what you want to do and that might make you question whether you are doing the right thing or not. But sometimes things happen so easily that you know you made the right decision. And that is exactly what happened to me.

For example, everyone said I would have to wait at least half an hour when phoning the American embassy, but they took care of me right away. People said I might have to wait 2 or 3 weeks for an appointment, but in the end I got an appointment for a week later. They also said it was difficult to get a visa, (which is true, almost 80% of the people are refused) but I got mine after a short interview. Around the same time I received my first credit card, so I was able to pay for my plane ticket. Everything went so smoothly that I knew I was meant to come to the United States.

During the first few weeks of my stay, I felt like I was in a movie. All the things I saw in films - the traffic lights, N.Y.P.D. cars, yellow cabs, etc. - were all real! Everything was different from what was familiar to me from Hungary - the people, the shops, the food. Even the cash machine worked differently. It took me almost 20 minutes to use it the first time.

I got used to New York and I fell in love with studying Torah at Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva. There are great classes, even greater teachers and a lot of young women who have the same desire to learn as I have.

Originally I was planning on staying in the United States for two months but I have been here for six months now and I haven't booked my return trip yet.

What's New

New Chabad Centers


Rabbi Aaron Isaac and Chani Benjaminson will soon be arriving in Parioli, Italy, a neighborhood in Rome, to launch a whole range of Jewish educational programs. A local minyan, adult education, youth programs, and the gamut of Chabad-Lubavitch trademark programs such as the Rosh Hashana shofar factory for children are all in the works for this 300 family strong Jewish community.

University of Virginia

Rabbi Shlomo and Chana Mayer arrived recently in Charlottesville, Virginia, as emissaries of the Rebbe. Home to the University of Virginia and some 500 Jewish families. Dubbed the only public ivy-league university, UVA has a Jewish student population of 1,500.

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 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 [may you be written and sealed for good],

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, Chaps. 11-12 [Maimonides, Laws of Kings].

Enclosed is a copy of the general Rosh Hashono message, which you will surely put to good advantage.

9th of Elul, 5718 [1958]

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter of August 14th, containing the good news that you are pleased with the outcome of the court case so far, and, what is even more important, with the progress tat you and your wife have been making towards complete recovery.

You do not mention anything about your business and your public work, which I take it as an indication that all is well in those departments.

Now that we have entered the month of Elul, when we say twice daily in our prayers Psalm 27, "G-d is my light and my salvation," etc., I truth that you will become increasingly aware that this is so in your case.

Wishing you and yours a Kesivo Vachasimo Toivo,

With blessing,

20th of Elul, 5720 [1960]

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your two letter of August 22nd and 26th.

With regard to the question of the Rabbi who has left, and you ask my opinion about the candidacy of Rabbi [...], generally speaking, it seems that he is a suitable candidate. As for particulars, it depends what his duties would be, but surely everything could be arranged with the help of Anash.

With regard to the question of the merger between the two Shuls [synagogues], I do not think that this is a good idea. For one thing, there is the question of Nusach [prayer rite], and for another, this is the time when the number of Shuls should be increased rather than decreased. Furthermore, you write that the other congregation is "small-minded," etc., which seems to indicate that there would be room for friction, etc.

On the question of arranging an affair in behalf of the activities of Lubavitch, I do not see why people want to postpone it until Purim inasmuch as time is of the essence and the activities demand support and expansion all the time. Therefore, it seems to me that the sooner the affair is arranged, the better it would be. Even if it has to be connected with a festival day, surely Chanukah comes earlier, and, being for eight days, it offers an opportunity to select the most suitable day of the week for this purpose.

In this connection I might again recall to your mind the story of the fundraiser, who, on receiving a check to cover a pledge, rebuked the donor. When the surprised donor asked him why he deserved the rebuke, the fundraiser answered, "had you brought it earlier, I could have had another pledge from you since then."

As for your daughter's training to become a Hebrew teacher, you do not write how well this fits in with her studies at present. But the very fact that you ask my opinion on the advisability of her training for a Hebrew teach at this time, suggests that it can be arranged so that her present studies would not be affected, and if so, it would be advisable.

To conclude on a word of thanks, I recently had the opportunity to view the film of the Lag B'Omer parade in London which you were kind enough t send me. It gave me much pleasure, and thank you very much.

Hoping to hear good news from you, and wishing you again a Kesivo vachasimo, toivo, including, of course, a greater improvement in your business affairs,

With blessing,

Rambam this week

3 Elul, 5762

Positive mitzva 109: Immersing in a mikva (ritual bath)

By this injunction we are commanded to immerse ourselves in the waters of a mikva, to be cleansed of any spiritual impurity with which we may have been affected. It is contained in the words (Lev. 15:16) "Then he shall bathe all his flesh in water." [A mikva must contain 40 sa'ah of water (approximately 60 gallons), and cover the entire body. No water stored in a vessel or receptacle may be used; it must be taken directly from a river or spring, or from rain water which is led into the bath. No amount of washing the body can take the place of ritual immersion where such is required.]

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

"There is a time and season for everything," King Solomon taught in the book of Ecclesiastes. According to Jewish tradition, there are various times throughout the day, week, month and year that are most appropriate for reflection and personal accounting: Each evening before retiring is the time to consider ones actions throughout the day. Every Thursday night one should reflect on the week that has passed. On the eve of every new (Jewish) month, one reviews the month and in the last month of the Jewish year one evaluates the entire year.

We have just entered that final month, Elul.

Elul is the time when we look over our deeds of the previous year and make a reckoning and appraisal of our personal growth and development.

There are many customs associated with the month of Elul. During Elul it is customary to have one's mezuzot and tefilin checked by an expert scribe (sofer). One is also enjoined to be more careful in the area of the Jewish dietary laws (kashrut).

From the very beginning of the month we greet friends and sign letters with the wish that we should be "written and sealed for good" and that we should have a "good and sweet year."

In addition, we add Psalm 27 to our daily prayers as well as increasing our recitation of Psalms in general.

With all of this, it is good to keep in mind the analogy of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, that during the month of Elul "the King is in the field." This means that although at any time of year G-d is surely approachable by each and each one of us, He is even closer to us in the month of Elul.

As we are merely at the beginning of the month, let's not waste a moment. Let's get to work so that we will all truly have a good and sweet year, with the ultimate good of Moshiach NOW!

Thoughts that Count

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

Just as it is important to safeguard one's physical health, a Jew must take steps to ensure that his soul is whole and that all his spiritual "limbs" are healthy. For just as there are 613 components in the human body - 248 limbs and 365 sinews - so too are there 613 parts of the Jewish soul whose state of perfection is dependent on observing the 613 commandments of the Torah.

(Likrat Shabbat)

You shall appoint a king over yourself (Deut. 17:15)

The inner intent of this commandment is to instill in the Jewish people a sense of nullification before G-d and acceptance of the yoke of heaven. For a Jewish king is completely nullified before G-d; submitting to his sovereignty contains an element of nullification before G-d as well.

(Derech Mitzvotecha)

And this is the case of the slayer...whoever unwittingly kills his neighbor...he shall flee to one of those cities, and live (Deut. 19:4,5)

The Torah designates six cities of refuge to which a person who has inadvertently killed someone can flee and atone for his deed. When Moshiach comes and the borders of Israel are expanded to include the territory of the Kini, Kenizi and Kadmoni, three more cities of refuge will be established. But why will additional cities be necessary in the Messianic Era? If peace will reign supreme, and violence between men will disappear from the face of the earth, what purpose will these cities of refuge serve? Although no new acts of violence will occur, the cities of refuge will allow those Jews who accidentally killed someone throughout the centuries of exile to seek atonement and be worthy of the Messianic Era.

(The Rebbe, Rosh Chodesh Elul 5746)

For these nations...hearken to soothsayers and to diviners. But as for you, the L-rd your G-d has not permitted you to do so (Deut. 18: 14)

Heavenly bodies have no power over the Jew; whatever is foretold by stargazers will be nullified, for "Israel is not under the influence of the stars."


It Once Happened

For the Melave Malka meal (Saturday night meal to escort the Shabbat queen), Rabbi Hillel of Paritch would always eat chicken that had been freshly slaughtered, salted and prepared that night.

One Shabbat, he was a guest in the home of the chief rabbi, Rav Yosef Tumarkin, in Krementzug. There were two shochtim (ritual slaughterers) in town, one from Lithuanian and one from Poland. Rabbi Hillel would only eat the chickens slaughtered by the Polish chasid.

Immediatley after Shabbat, the Rebbetzin arranged for a chicken to be prepared. Unfortunately, the Polish shochet had already left for the slaughterhouse, which was located out of town.

The Rebbetzin was in a dilemma. She knew that Rabbi Hillel was known to eat only meat slaughtered by the Polish shochet. On the other hand, she did not want to return home empty-handed. "My husband," she rationalized, "is the local Rav. If he relies on the other shochet, on this one occasion, it will have to do for Rabbi Hillel as well." Quickly, she ordered the chicken form the Lithuanian shochet and soon the table was set for the Melave Malka meal.

When the chicken was served, Rabbi Hillel sniffed it slightly and set his portion aside, without touching it. The Rav realized that something must be amiss with the chicken and quickly turned to his wife. "Was there a halachic question about the chicken's kashrus?" he inquired.

"Not at all," she assured him. Taking her husband aside, she explained what had happened. "Evidently, Rabbi Hillel has his way of knowing that this chicken was not slaughtered by his usual shochet."

The Rav then turned to his guest, telling him what had happened and asking him to explain his reluctance to use meat slaughtered by the Lithuanian shochet. "If, in fact, he is not reliable, why then, I should not be eating chickens slaughtered by him either."

"He is a skilled shochet," replied Rabbi Hillel. "However, I once overheard him speaking disrespectfully about a Torah scholar. Therefore, I do not eat from the meat he has slaughtered."

The Rav knew the offended scholar. "How can the shochet atone for his folly? The man whom he shamed has since passed away."

"He should gather ten people to accompany him to the cemetery and beg forgiveness at his grave. After this, there will be no further questions about his slaughtering and I too will rely on him."

From From My Father's Shabbos Table by Rabbi Yehudah Chitrick

Looking out the window, Reb Zusya of Hanipoli once saw a wedding procession passing by his house. He immediately went out, and danced in the street with great joy before the bride and groom. When he came back inside his home, his family told him that they believed it was not dignified for him to dance out there in the street for just someone's wedding.

"Let me tell you a story," said Reb Zusya. "When I was young, I was a student of Reb Yechiel Michel, the Magid of Zlotchov. One time he scolded me very harshly. He later came over to clear up any hard feelings, and said: 'Reb Zusya, forgive me for my harsh words.'

" 'Rebbe,' I answered, 'I forgive you.'

"Before I went to sleep he came again, and said: 'Reb Zusya, forgive me!'

" 'Rebbe, I forgive you,' I reassured him.

"That night, when I lay down to sleep, but was still awake, my rebbe's father, Reb Yitzchak of Drohovitch, came to me from the World Above, and said: 'I left only one son after me in the World Below, one precious son. Do you want to destroy him because he insulted you?'

" 'Reb Yitzchak!' I protested. 'I have already forgiven your son with all my heart and soul! What else must I do?'

" 'This is not yet a perfect forgiveness,' he said. 'If you come along with me, I will show you how to forgive.'

"I followed him, until we came to the local mikva. There he told me to immerse myself in it three times, and to say each time that I forgave his son. Coming out of the mikva, I saw a light so bright radiating from Reb Yitzchak's face that I could not look at him. When I asked him where it came from, he told me that all his life he had been careful to observe the three things to which the Talmudic sage Rabbi Nechunya ben HaKanah attributed his long life: 'I never gained honor at the expense of the degradation of my fellow; I never went to sleep without forgiving everyone for the day's vexations; and I have been generous with my money.'

Reb Yitzchok added that, through joy, these three things that he had attained could also be achieved. "Therefore," concluded Reb Zusya to his family, "when I saw the wedding procession passing by our house, I hurried out in order to participate in the joy of the mitzva."

Moshiach Matters

Concerning how those who will rise at the time of the Resurrection of the Dead will fit on the earth, the Midrash teaches: "When G-d told Moses to convene the Jewish people at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, Moses complained, 'Alm-ghty G-d: How can I possibly stand 600,000 men and 600,000 youths at the entrance to the Tent which is a plot of land that is only big enough to yield two seah of grain?' And G-d replied: '...So, too, in time to come, will I do the same in Zion: All the world's population from Adam until the Resurrection will come and complain about the shortage of space, and I will broaden it for them.' "

(To Live and Live Again by Rabbi Nissan Dovid Dubov)

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