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731: Shoftim

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August 16, 2002 - 8 Elul, 5762

732: Ki Seitzei

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  731: Shoftim733: Ki Savo  

When Did That Happen?  |  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

When Did That Happen?

Standing near your front door you overhear someone exclaiming in surprise, "These trees blossomed overnight. I'm sure the flowers weren't here yesterday."

You wonder to yourself, "Hmm, were the flowers there yesterday? They couldn't have appeared overnight. Maybe I just didn't notice them!"

The next time, it's you wondering how that house on the corner lot that's been empty for years suddenly appeared. It seems to have materialized from nowhere. Why, you pass this way everyday and never noticed it before.

As you go down the aisles of the supermarket with your shopping list in hand, you stop in front of the coffee. "When did coffee get so expensive," you gasp. "Maybe it was El Nino," you mutter. Or maybe you just buy coffee so infrequently that you never noticed the prices getting higher.

Night descends slowly, though suddenly you notice that it is no longer light outside. Light creeps through your window, day dawns. But didn't darkness enveloped the world just moments before?

This phenomenon is common to many of life's experiences; though taking place over hours, weeks, months or even over the course of years, they seem to suddenly be manifest in their completeness before our very eyes.

The visual and verbal image many have for the Messianic Era is the "dawning" of a new age, a better world, a perfect world. Not surpris-ingly, sunrises seem an appropriate illustration of this concept.

Many Jewish sources discuss how the Messianic Era will materialize: Moshiach will come riding on a donkey or on clouds of glory; G-d promises that the Redemption of the Jewish people and the entire world will come "in its time" but that He will "hasten it."; The Talmud tells us that if we see certain behavior and attitudes pervading society (all of which are prevalent today) we should "listen for the footsteps of Moshiach." The Rebbe declared that the time of the Redemption has arrived, if we open our eyes we can see that the table is literally set for the Messianic banquet, all we need to do is greet Moshiach. Yet, we have yet to step over the threshold and into the actual Redemption.

There seem to be contradictions between the sources, even within a particular source, because the movement toward the Redemption is not necessarily perceived. But it's happening.

Since the creation of the world nearly 6,000 years ago, when the spirit of G-d hovered over the waters (and as the commentaries explain, the "spirit" is that of Moshiach) we have been moving toward Moshiach and the Redemption. The time for the Redemption, as the Rebbe stated, has arrived. And the Rebbe sees the dawning (not just the day but the actual process of dawning) of the Redemption with a clarity of perception and vision that most of us lack. What we can and must do it to adjust ourselves now to this new era. We can do this by incorporating into our lives at this very moment how we will naturally be living very soon: performing additional acts of goodness and kindness; studying more Torah; experiencing Jewish living more fully; trying to see G-d's hand everywhere.

Living with the Rebbe

The first verse of this week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, seems to contain a grammatical error. "When you go forth to war against your enemies," it begins, "and the L-rd your G-d will deliver him into your hands." Why does the Torah begin the verse with the plural and continue in the singular?

Every word in the Torah is exact, every letter conveying a multitude of nuances and meanings which teach countless lessons. This verse, which seemingly deals with the subject of conventional warfare, alludes to a different type of war, a spiritual war which is waged by every individual.

A Jew may face two types of enemies: one which threatens his physical existence and one which threatens his special holiness as a member of the Jewish people - his Jewish soul.

The Torah uses the word "enemies" to refer to both these threats, for the body and soul of the Jew work in tandem, united in their service of G-d. Whatever imperils one's physical well-being threatens one's spiritual equilibrium, and vice versa.

The Torah tells us how to emerge victorious over both types of enemy: "When you will go forth." A person must gird himself with the strength that comes from absolute faith in G-d, even before encountering the enemy. Next, one's approach must be that of ascendancy - "against (literally, 'over') your enemies." Know that G-d Himself stands beside you and assists you in your struggle.

Armed in such a manner, victory is assured, not only against conventional enemies, but against the root of all evil - the Evil Inclination, equated in the Gemara with "the Satan (enemy of the soul), and the Angel of Death (enemy of the physical body)."

When a Jew goes out to "war" fortified with the knowledge that there is no force in the world able to stand in the face of goodness and holiness, not only are external manifestations of evil vanquished, but its spiritual source is defeated as well. The Torah therefore uses the singular - enemy - to allude to the Evil Inclination, the origin and prototype of all misfortune.

The verse concludes with the words "and you shall take captives of them." If a Jew is not careful and falls prey to the Evil Inclination, all of his higher faculties, given to him by G-d to be utilized for good, also fall into its snare. The Torah teaches that sincere repentance has the power to redeem these captive prisoners, elevating them until even "willful transgressions are considered as merits."

Such warfare brings Moshiach and the Final Redemption closer, when the Evil Inclination will be totally vanquished and the victory over sin will be permanent.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life

Three Mitzvot
By Yehudis Cohen

"Growing up, I didn't label myself. I was just a very proud, very non-aware Jew," begins Shaina Rahmani, a warm, intelligent mother of eight who lives in Brighton, Massachusettes. "I think," continues Shaina, "I was more open to becoming observant since I had never heard any of the typical prejudices about religious Jews." I respected them.

After completing high school, Shaina went to Israel for a few months. She spent time on a kibbutz where she was exposed, for the first time in her life, to anti-religious sentiments. "I had never seen people so angry at religious Jews," recalls Shaina.

By the time she went to visit a friend who was studying in a yeshiva in Jerusalem, she was already certain that all religious Jews were narrow-minded. "When I got off the bus, I saw children in the religious neighborhood where the yeshiva was collecting rocks. I quickly made my way over to the yeshiva and indignantly berated the rabbi in charge for educating children to be so narrow-minded that they were ready to throw stones at me just because I wasn't dressed modestly. After getting me to calm down, he explained that the children were collecting rocks to make a bonfire for Lag B'Omer... I felt a bit safer but had no idea what Lag B'Omer was"

The rabbi invited Shaina to spend Shabbat with his family. Shaina agreed and had one of the most meaningful Jewish experiences in her life. It changed the way she looked at Judaism. "He had an amazing wife and neat kids. The rabbi stayed up all night talking with my friend and me. I couldn't believe that I had been a Jew for so long and did not know what I was, what Torah was. I didn't know about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. My Jewish education until that time had been based on family traditions, a lack of definition that needed to be defined.

"There was a meaning to being Jewish much deeper, much more profound and intelligent and sensitive than I had ever been exposed to. When I got ready to return to the United States and enter college, I knew that I could not just turn my back on it. I had to either explore it or reject it. And every time I wanted to reject it, my grandmother's image would appear in my mind's eye. My grandparents had been living examples of Judaism in our family. As a youngster I always found myself getting into conversations with my grandmother about Jewish things. My grandfather led our seders. He was the head of the Burial Society in Port Jervis. Images of my grandparents intertwined with Jewish motifs would float through my head."

Shaina planned on exploring Judaism and becoming more observant while studying at Boston University. A few months into her first semester there, she met Moshe Rahmani. "We intersected as we were going in different directions in regards to religion. He was from Iran and had come from a very religious family with 12 brothers and sisters.He used to tell me about how his father would sit with them on Shabbat afternoons and tell them stories from the Bible and about great Jewish leaders. When I would ask him why he doesn't wear a kipa he would answer, 'Why do I need to wear one? It's in your heart.' He knew so much about Judaism and it was such a deep part of him, but he wasn't observing mitzvot. He transferred to the University of Massachusetts and we went our separate ways."

Shaina went to Israel and studied at Machon Alta Yeshiva in the mystical city of Safed. "When I came back to Boston U. from Israel I moved into the Chabad House. I was completely immersed in a Lubavitch growth pattern. I knew I wanted to marry someone very, very religious.

"There was a rabbi at the Chabad House, Shmuel Klatzken, with whom I would explore really deep concepts. In fact," Shaina says with a laugh, "I used to walk with him to his home, a 45 minute walk, after services on Shabbat morning just to be able to discuss things with him. Then I would walk all the way back to the Chabad House for the Shabbat meal."

Before graduating, Shaina reconnected with Moshe. "I knew Moshe was still the same person he had been when I met him at age 18. He wasn't connected to Judaism through Chasidut and the Rebbe. But I also knew that his deep-seated Jewish upbringing would be an anchor for me. He grew up in a very real Jewish home. Shabbat morning was going to synagogue, coming home and hearing stories of Torah. His mother was a tzadeket. Every word that came out of her mouth was a blessing.

"I decided that I really wanted to marry Moshe but he was hesitant. My heart was telling me he was right for me but my mind was telling me he was wrong. I wrote a letter to the Rebbe, asking him for his blessing that we get married. The Rebbe's answer came back after a few days. 'This person about whom you speak, if he will promise to keep kosher, Shabbat and allow you to keep Taharat Hamishpacha [the laws of family purity], and if he will continue to learn and grow in this direction, it will be a good shidduch [match] and in a good time and I will remember you at the resting place of my father-in-law.' I cried bittersweet tears when I got the Rebbe's answer. I had the Rebbe's blessing to marry Moshe if Moshe would agree to observe those three basic mitzvot (commandments), but I also felt like I was saying goodbye to the Rebbe as Moshe's background is deeply rooted in the Sefardic tradition."

After they married, Shaina arranged a class in Chasidic philosophy for men on Thursday nights at their home. "Rabbi Gurkov taught and my husband would fall asleep. Eventually, though, he started staying awake. Through the study of Chasidut Moshe became aware that mitzvot are how we connect to G-d. Slowly my husband became more sensitive to the idea that it is not enough to be culturally Sefardic, that traditions are not enough. There needs to be a sense of obligation and responsibility."

Shaina marvels at how "natural" Torah and mitzvot are for Moshe. Little by little, according to Shaina, Moshe began to appreciate that there is a tremendous light within the teachings of Chasidut. "Moshe didn't have any problem gravitating to the light once he recognized it. It was a natural expression of his soul. He saw that it is a really beautiful way to express Judaism."

What's New

Jewish "Peace Corps" on Global Outreach Tour

One hundred and thirty rabbinical students are in the midst of a summer "tour of duty" in Jewish communities worldwide. The students are visiting small Jewish communities and individual Jews in places as remote as Vietnam, Surinam, and Peru. Established by the Lubavitcher Rebbe 57 years ago, the "Lubavitch Peace Corps," known as "Merkos Shlichus," enables Lubavitch rabbinical students to share their knowledge, enthusiasm and Jewish pride with world Jewry. The students teach classes in Jewish tradition, Talmud, Kabala and the Jewish life cycle, adapting the program to the specific needs and interests of each respective community.

The Rebbe Writes

The date of this letter was unavailable

Sholom U'Brocho [Peace and Blessing]:

Recently you brought to my attention a letter addressed to you by a student at Colgate University, Hamilton, New York.

In this letter the writer professes to be a true scientific thinker and an unbeliever in the supernatural; he also asserts that all facts seem to be in contradiction to the existence of G-d, profess to be a "liberal Jew" etc., etc.

Not knowing the background of this student, nor the field of science in which he specializes, I cannot deal with the subject in detail, especially in the course of a letter. There are, however, several general observations that I can make, which the said student has apparently overlooked, and which he would do well to consider carefully:

  1. Science does not come with foregone conclusions and beliefs with the idea of reconciling and adjusting facts to these beliefs. Rather the opposite, it deals with facts then formulates opinions and conclusions. To approach a subject with one's mind made up beforehand, is not true scientific thinking but a contradiction to it.

  2. Science requires that no conclusion can be valid before a thorough study and research was made on the subject. The question therefore presents itself: How much time and effort had the above-mentioned writer devoted to the study of religion to justify his conclusion on the subject?

  3. A fact is considered any event or phenomenon testified to by witnesses, especially where the evidence is identical and comes from witnesses of varied interests, education, social background, age, etc. Where there is such evidence it is accepted as a fact which is undeniable, even if it does not agree with a scientific theory. This is the accepted practice in science even where there are several reliable witnesses, and certainly scores of them, hundreds and thousands.

The Divine Revelation at Mount Sinai was a fact witnessed by millions of people, all of whom reported it to its minutest detail, accurately, for the whole people of Israel stood at Mount Sinai and witnessed it.

We know that this is a fact because millions of Jews in our day accept it as such, because they receive it as such from their own parents, and these millions in turn received the evidence from the previous generation, and so on, in an uninterrupted chain of transmitted evidence from millions to millions of witnesses, generation after generation, back to the original millions of witnesses who saw the event with their own eyes.

Among these original witnesses there were many who were initiated in the sciences of those days (i.e. Egypt), many achievements of which are still baffling nowadays; among them were philosophers and thinkers, as well as ignorant and uneducated persons, women and children of all ages. Yet all of them reported the event and phenomenon connected with it without contradiction to each other.

Such a fact is certainly indisputable. I do not believe that there is another fact which can match it for evidence and accuracy. To deny such a fact is anything but scientific; it is the very opposite of science.

Parenthetically, it is unfortunate that this basic difference between the Jewish religion and those of others is so little known, for the Jewish religion is the only one that is not based on a single founder or a few, but is based on the Divine Revelation witnessed by all the people, numbering several millions.

This answers also --'s statement that "the acceptance of the Torah as being the only truth is dangerous" since "its authors were only men. . . and as men they could not have been incorrigible (infallible)." Jews accept the Torah precisely because it was given by G-d, not by man, and it was given in the presence of millions of people who have seen it and heard it with their own eyes and ears. That is why the Torah is the absolute truth, for G-d is absolute.

I am enclosing an extra copy, should you wish to forward it to your correspondent.

With all good wishes,


Rambam this week

10 Elul, 5762

Positive mitzva 241: The law of damage by fire

By this injunction we are commanded concerning the law of damage caused by fire. It is derived from the Torah verse (Ex. 22:5): "If fire breaks out, and catches in thorns, etc." [We are responsible for damage insofar as it is in our power to prevent injury.]

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This week's Torah portion contains a commandment involving safe-guarding one's roof lest someone fall from it. "When you build a new house, you must place a guard-rail around your roof. Do not allow a dangerous situation to remain in your house, since someone can fall from [an unenclosed roof]."

A guard-rail is placed around the roof not only for self-protection, but even more to protect others from falling from one's roof.

A roof - the highest part of the house - is indicative of egoism and conceit. Placing a guard-rail around the roof means that one must confine these undesirable traits. This needs to be done "since someone can fall [from an unenclosed roof]"- i.e., the trait of egoism and conceit is at the root of every spiritual downfall; all evil traits stem from them.

The "guard-rail" placed around egoism and conceit is important to protect the person himself from negative traits. It is also important as it relates to a fellow Jew; it is necessary to assure that the person not be filled with conceit when teaching or involving his fellow Jews with Judaism.

We are assured that the guard rail will do its job. As the command begins with a blessing and an injunction, "You shall build a new house." A Jew can and must build a house to G-d by creating an environment of Judaism. He cannot rely on others but must build a "new house"- a house which is uniquely his. A guard-rail can and must be made. The affirmative language assures us that we will be successful in this endeavor.

Thoughts that Count

When you build a new house you shall make a parapet for your roof... if anyone fall from it (Deut. 22:8)

When a couple marries and makes the transition from their parents' homes to their own, the need to earn a livelihood brings them into contact with many new things. They must therefore make a "parapet" beforehand, setting the proper limits and spiritual standards, to ensure that no harm comes from their involvement in worldly matters.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

You shall surely lift him up (Deut. 22:4)

When a person helps his fellow Jew, he himself is thereby elevated. Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism, wrote that when one does a spiritual favor for another, "his mind and heart are purified one thousand-fold"; his grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek, added that this is no exaggeration!

When you go forth to war against your enemies, and the L-rd your G-d will deliver him into your hand, and you have taken them captive (Deut. 21:10)

These words refer to the descent of the soul, "a veritable part of G-d Above," into the physical world. Its mission, enclothed within a physical body, is to wage war and conquer the material world by infusing it with holiness, learning Torah and observing its commandments. This conflict will reach its successful conclusion with the coming of Moshiach, when G-dliness will reign triumphant.

(Peninei Hageula)

You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together (Deut. 22:10)

G-d has mercy on all His creations, big and small. The smaller donkey is unequal in strength to the mighty ox, and is unable to pull a plow with the same force. Yoking them together would cause the donkey to exert itself beyond its natural capacity, and is therefore forbidden.

(Ibn Ezra)

You shall not give interest to your brother...anything that is lent upon interest (literally, "anything that bites") (Deut. 23:20)

Usury is likened to the bite of a serpent. Just as it takes the body a few minutes to react to a snake's poison, so too does it take time for the full effect of the compounding of interest to be felt by the borrower.

(Baal Haturim)

It Once Happened

Two brothers, Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech, were very pious and learned men who were amongst the most prized chasidim of Rabbi Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezrich, successor of the Baal Shem Tov. With the passing of time and difficulty of communication, Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech lost contact with a third brother, who was not a chasid.

The two brothers, throughout their many travels, would ask about their brother and try to ascertain his whereabouts. They were intrigued to know what type of lifestyle he was living. Was he religious like themselves, or had he, G-d forbid, abandoned the teachings of the Torah? And even if he was religious, was he exacting in his practice, concerned only for the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law?

And so, in each town and village they visited, as they spread the teaching of their master, the Magid, they asked if anyone knew the whereabouts of their brother. Try as they might, they could not find out any information. Yet, they still persisted on their self-imposed mission.

When finally they did hear some information concerning where their brother lived, Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech rejoiced. And yet, there was a certain amount of hesitation in their rejoicing for, after over a dozen years of separation, they had no idea what their reunion would bring.

And so, with slight trepidation, the two brothers made their way to a small village where their brother was an innkeeper. Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech entered the inn and observed their brother at work. He was busy the entire day greeting guests, preparing rooms, and cooking food. He ran from person to person, task to task, with a cheerful countenance and dealt with each guest, rich or poor, graciously. With his long beard, tzitzit, and long black coat, Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech were assured that their brother had indeed remained true to the Torah even in this isolated village.

But still, a question remained unanswered for Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelch. These two chasidic masters were known for their humility. But, of course, humility doesn't preclude the fact that they understood that there was something special about themselves. They might have considered themselves undeserving of the remarkable qualities which G-d gave them, but to outright deny their uniqueness would be like denying a precious gift. And so, they wondered, was there something exceptional about their brother, too, and the way he served his Creator?

Evening came at their brother's inn. Most of the guests had already arrived and the furious activity of the daytime hours had slowed. Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech observed as their brother entrusted his wife with the inn's duties and entered his study. In the study, he prayed the evening service and then poured over his holy books until it was quite late.

The brothers were reassured by this sight, but not awed; it was not uncommon for a Jew to put in a full day's work and then spend his "leisure" hours in prayer and Torah study. However, their brother's next activity was indeed unusual. Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech watched as their brother began to say the Shema before bedtime. In the middle of the prayers before retiring, their brother took out a worn ledger and opened it toward the end of the book.

For long moments he sat motionless, pouring over a page of his ledger. "How much could be written on one page that it takes him so long to read it?" they wondered. They continued to watch, transfixed. As the minutes ticked away, they saw their brother begin to shake. Tears rolled down his cheeks and onto the page of the ledger in front of him. In a quiet, trembling voice they heard him read from the ledger, "I didn't serve this guest today with as much honor as is befitting a fellow-Jew...I was too quick to answer this person when they asked me a question..." On and on went the list of their brother's "sins" which he had written into the tear-stained ledger.

Reb Zusia and Reb Elimelech watched as their brother continued crying and reading from the ledger until the words on the page literally disappeared. Whether it was his tears or a miracle that washed away his "sins," the brother knew that when his sins were no longer on the page, his sincere repentance had been accepted.

The brothers thought of their parents, and wondered at what great deeds they had done to merit raising such a remarkable child.

Moshiach Matters

The Messianic era will comprise two distinct periods. 1) From the arrival of Moshiach until the Resurrection: During this period there will be no obstacles to the full observance of the commandments. Indeed, their fulfillment in this world will be at its zenith. 2) The period of the Resurrection: This is the time of reward for the observance of mitzvot. The ultimate reward will be the fusion of the Commander with the commanded, resulting in the suspension of the commandments. Instead of prohibitions and obligations, the world will be so filled with the knowledge of G-d that it will fulfill the Divine will spontaneously. At that time a mitzva will not be perceived as a step towards a Divine reward: a mitzva will be its own reward - the immersion of man in the Divine will.

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

  731: Shoftim733: Ki Savo  
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