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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
March 14, 2003 - 10 Adar II, 5763

761: Vayikra

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  760: Pekudei762: Tzav  

The Sudden Turn Around  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Rambam this week  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

The Sudden Turn Around

You've seen it happen, probably more than once. The home team - your team - is losing, by a lot. Fourth quarter, less than ten minutes to go, down by three touchdowns. Top of the ninth, one out, the score's 5-0. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, things begin to happen. An interception, a big-run, a two-run double - and your team is back in the game. What looked like a sure-fire loss turns into a maybe.

And as the impossible becomes more and more likely, you become more excited. At this point, the team can't lose. It better not lose. The disappointment over such a loss, after such a great comeback, would be bitter, indeed - more bitter than if they'd just put forth an effort and couldn't get it done. More bitter than if they had just given up.

Imagine your elation, then, when they do manage to win. And of course, the bigger the comeback - a last buzzer-beater from almost half-court, a game-winning field goal or better, a broken play turned into a touchdown, a bases loaded, bottom-of-the-ninth, two out homer - the bigger the thrill, the greater the ecstasy of player and fan alike.

The sudden reversal is a standard of literature, as well. The cavalry charges over the hill, the hero arrives in time, the real villain cracks under pressure and confesses - it can be done well, it can be done poorly, but we expect, anticipate, even demand some last minute revelation, some reversal, some twist of the plot. If it's not there, if the story's end is predictable, we feel cheated. Whatever build-up the story had, whatever our interest in the characters, if the ending doesn't work - if it doesn't provide us with satisfaction and surprise - the story fails.

Without the unexpected, life is dull.

The sudden twist, the turn of the plot, the astonishing denouement occur in "real life," too. The gravely ill who has a miraculous recovery, the loved one who walks away from a serious accident unscathed, the business about to close when an old friend calls looking for a deal - are not our lives filled with such moments, such dramatic reversals? Who has not had a desperate moment - an upcoming exam and no notes - only to find "relief and help from another place"?

Shall we recall Gulf War I, with the desperate warnings, the gas masks in Israel, the billions of dollars of damage from the Scud missiles - and not one Jew died in Israel as a result?

We cannot anticipate these moments. We do not know when they will come. Of course, for if we did, they would not be unexpected.

Nor do they come at our bidding. The "royal palace" we seek as a sanctuary may be the dungeon of our souls. The path to leisure and security may be a trap.

But history, like sports and literature - and science - tells us that the upside down, the mirror perspective, the reversal, the sudden turn around - these are real and revealing, revealing of an inner essence. As one mystic put it, what is valuable in this world is worthless in the world to come, and what is thought of little value here is priceless there.

This, then, is the theme of Purim. Not a "fairy tale," a "folk story," but a look within - a seeing of the hidden truth that opens the eyes.

The key moment comes when Mordechai tells Esther: "Do not imagine that in the palace you will escape the fate of all the other Jews. If you remain silent at this time, relief and help will come to the Jews from another place..."

The reversal can come only if the players are in place, if we prepare for it, believe it's possible, anticipate the "relief and help" even knowing not from whence it will come.

This is the story of Purim.

The sudden turn around.

And this is the story of Moshiach.


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Vayikra, is the first portion in the book of Leviticus. It discusses the various types of sacrifices the Jewish people were commanded to offer during the times of the Tabernacle and later the Holy Temple. In the description of the first few types of sacrifices, the wood used for the fire on the altar is mentioned numerous times.

The Talmud relates that when the Jews returned to Israel from the Babylonian Exile, after the destruction of the First Holy Temple, they found no wood for the altar in the Temple's storehouses. Several families banded together and donated wood. Later, these families were given the permanent honor of supplying the wood for the altar. The Sages decreed that the days when the wood was donated should be celebrated as a minor festival by the families.

Interestingly, there is another instance in which celebrations are connected to wood. The Mishna states: "There were no other holidays as great to all of Israel as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur." One of the reasons for the joy on the 15th of Av was that this day marked the end of the harvest of trees whose wood would be used to burn the sacrifices.

What is so significant about the wood for the altar that its donation mandated an actual holiday, and its harvest brought such joy to the entire Jewish nation?

The wood was not merely fuel for the fire by which the offerings were burnt; it played a far deeper role in the spiritual function of the Holy Temple, and was an essential element of the sacrifices themselves.

But to grasp the importance of wood, we must first understand the significance of the sacrifices. According to Nachmanides, an individual bringing an offering was to have in mind that the animal being slaughtered was in his stead. Only through G-d's good will did He accept an animal in exchange.

There were many different types of offerings, and the thoughts accompanying each of them varied. For example, when a person brought a sin offering, he was required to dwell on thoughts of repentance and make amends for his wrongdoing, whereas the thanks-offerings aroused a deep love for G-d. Each offering was to be brought with its appropriate reflections and meditations.

But the most fundamental thought of all, no matter which offering was brought, was that of giving oneself totally over to G-d. This absolute self-sacrifice transcended any personal emotions or motivations. Only after this requirement was met could the individual go on to express the emotions demanded by the particular offering.

This self-sacrifice was expressed by the burning of the wood on the altar. The Torah likens man to a tree. The burning of the wood symbolized the willingness to sacrifice oneself without personal considerations. For, when bringing an offering, the donor might derive some degree of satisfaction, personal glory or benefit from the act. However, the burning wood reminded him that there should be no such ulterior motives. The celebrations surrounding the provision of wood for the altar therefore epitomized the purest and most lofty aim of the sacrifices themselves.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe


A Slice of Life

PURIM SNAPSHOTS
by Roiza Weinreich

I am looking through the Purim pictures that we took several years ago. My nine-year-old daughter Chavy is a "fancy lady" on Purim. She is wearing my old fur jacket. Chaya Rivky is a Queen. Sholom is a very cute cowboy. He has a costume with fringe, a red bandanna, a cowboy hat and, of course, a toy gun in his holster. Aaron is a very kissable Torah scroll. We made his costume out of blue velour and painted a crown and the Ten Commandments on the front with fabric paint.

What can we learn from Purim? How can we add new meaning to a very holy and precious day. What can we do to make this day extraordinary? How can we share our joy even more? How can we feel that G-d is with us, right here? I'd like to share some Purim snapshots with you and hope that you will find them as meaningful as I have.

An Open House

My former landlady is called "Nenie" by everyone. "Nenie" is aunt in Hungarian and this special woman is everyone's aunt. She has an open house policy; everyone can come and visit. Nenie looks forward to surprises and means it when she says, "I'm so happy to see you."

Nenie shows me a Purim picture. Her ("real") nephews took it at 1 a.m. on Purim morning. Nenie is in the center of the photo. Her face is brilliant with a radiant smile. Towering around her are seven 15-year-old boys dressed like soldiers.

Nenie explains, "My nephews are studying in a yeshiva in Upstate New York but they all wanted to be in Boro Park for Purim. They needed a place to stay." She smiles and then adds matter-of-factly, "So they stayed here. They left their mishloach manot (food gift packages for friends) here between deliveries. They stopped in during the day for a snack and then came back later for the Purim meal. Finally, at 1 a.m. they came back to sleep for the night. They were so happy because they had collected money throughout the day for a worthy tzedaka (charity fund). They wanted to take a picture with me and this is the picture. Then I prepared a place for them to sleep on the living room floor."

I look at the picture again. "Do I know anyone who needs a home base?" I ask myself.

Remembering Our Neighbors

About 20 years ago I remember my friend showing me this picture in camp. Her mother's dining room table is covered with hundreds of tiny mishloach manot. "We live in Long Island," Batya explains. "There are many elderly people in our community who live alone and their families are far away. My mother gives out about 200 mishloach manot to the neighbors. For some it's the only mishloach manot they will get on Purim."

I was so taken by the photograph Batya shared with me that when I was a newlywed, I prepared about 50 mishloach manot and distributed them in the old age home on Foster Avenue. On my first Purim it took my husband three and a half hours to deliver all of our mishloach manot. That's when we decided to make a shorter list. Now I send a letter and a donation to tzedaka instead of mishloach manot to friends whom I know get dozens of packages anyway. However, I still have my private list of people whom I known don't receive many mishloach manot.

Many of us are so inundated with mishloach manot that we don't know what to do with them after Purim. But what about those who sit alone all day on Purim and their homes are quiet, too quiet?

Friendships and Thank You

Ah, here is a photo of two smiling friends wearing funny hats. They are holding champagne glasses filled with ginger ale and saying, "L'Chaim and Happy Purim." If you feel shy to stop in all year but you want to revive a friendship, Purim is the perfect opportunity to do that. Surprise someone. If you used to keep in touch and haven't called in months, call on Purim; it's a good day to say "hello." Purim is a great "thank you" day. Say thank you to the mother who does car pool. Say thanks to the neighbor who helps you in neighborly ways. Stop in and say thank you to the person who keeps your spare key in case you get locked out.

An Open Hand

Here is a picture of people giving tzedaka (charity) dressed in Purim costumes. One of the special mitzvot of Purim is to give tzedaka to at least two people. In addition, it's traditional to give tzedaka to anyone who asks. We're told that on Purim, G-d says, "My hand is open too, to grant your requests." Because of G-d's open hand Purim is also an auspicious day for prayer.

I know a woman named Esther who takes this message to heart. "Because my name is Esther, like the heroine of Purim, I have a special feeling about praying on Purim. Every year there are people who call and ask me to pray for them on Purim morning. One woman called me who didn't have any children yet. My whole family woke up early on Purim morning and prayed with the sunrise. A year later the woman who had called me had a child."

We should all strive to have an open hand.

Be Happy. It's Purim!

Here is a photograph from the Gulf War in 1991. Do you remember? Do you remember the miracle of the SCUDs that fell into the ocean and on the sandy desert? Iraq was defeated on Purim over a decade ago. Let's not forget the miracles. This is the time for surprises; the time for joy. What will this year's Purim be like?

We rise each morning and discover to our dismay that the perfect peace, prosperity, knowledge and health that Moshiach will bring has still not commenced. So many miracles, glorious miracles, have already happened. But please, G-d, send us the most joyous, wondrous miracle of all. Send us Moshiach!

Roiza Weinreich is the author of numerous books as well as a weekly Torah e-mail that you can receive by contacting rdwhom@aol.com

What's New

Educational Materials in Russia

The Ohr Avner Resource Center in Moscow, Russia, develops Jewish educational curricula and teaching aids for use throughout the FSU. The center recently released a number of materials, including "Purim," a tape of Purim songs translated into Russian performed by the children's choir of Lugansk, Ukraine. The tape comes with a sing-along book and information about the holiday of Purim.


The Rebbe Writes

Purim, 5719 [1959]

To all the Members and Friends of the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch in Detroit, Mich.

G-d bless you all!

Sholom u'Brocho [Peace and Blessing]:

On the occasion of the eventful convention of the Members and Friends of the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch in Detroit, taking place on the 19th of Adar II, I send my prayerful wishes to all of you who have joined the ranks of dedicated workers for Torah and Tradition and Torah-true Jewish education under the auspices of the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch. By participating in the work of this outstanding worldwide organization, you have become partners in a great movement which is dedicated to the revival and strengthening of true Yiddishkeit not only in your community, but also in other communities, countries and continents, including our Holy Land.

On this day of Purim, I welcome you all into the happy family of "Mordechai's men." Mordechai, as our Sages tell us, was the head of the Sanhedrin; and at the time when Haman's terrible decree of annihilation hung over the heads of all our people, Mordechai gathered 22,000 Jewish children and taught them the Torah. Moreover, he taught them a certain part of the Torah which seemed "out of time and out of place," for he taught them about the Omer offering, though the Jews were in exile, the Beis Hamikdosh [Holy Temple] in ruins, and the Omer had been disrupted. Nor did this study of the Torah seem to have any bearing on the problems of the day, nor could it apparently serve as a natural cause for Haman's downfall. Yet precisely this kind of dedication to the Torah and Torah education brought about Haman's downfall and the salvation of all our people in all the 127 provinces of the Persian Empire ruling the world at that time.

The lesson is obvious: The survival of our people in a hostile world can be assured only by virtue of our attachment to the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] - even though this may seem to some misguided individuals as impractical, unreasonable or "out of time and place." For our attachment to G-d, His Torah and his Mitzvos, is our very life and strength.

Following in the footsteps of Mordechai the Jew you will surely be blessed by G-d, you and your families, to enjoy "light, gladness and honor," [from the Megila read on Purim] materially and spiritually.

With blessing,


Rambam this week

12 Adar II, 5763 - March 16, 2003

Positive Mitzva 114: Donating the Value of a Person to G-d

This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 27:2) "If a man makes a singular vow, to give to the L-rd the estimated value of persons." If someone wants to make a donation to a holy purpose in the service of G-d, he may decide that his contribution will be equal to the value of a person. Set values are affixed for all men and women according to their age. This is the amount that the donor is commanded to give. The three mitzvot for 13 Adar II, 5763 - March 17, 2003 (Positive mitzvot 115-117) concern one who wishes to donate the value of an animal, house or field; the amount of the donation is set by the priest according to guidelines of the Torah.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

Over 2,000 years ago in ancient Persia, the wicked Haman schemed to destroy the Jewish People. But through a miraculous sequence of events, involving Mordechai and Queen Esther, the tables were turned; Haman and his henchmen were hanged on the gallows, instead.

Haman, in those days, did not need to resort to newfangled inventions in his attempt at the first "Final Solution." With the mere signing of a royal proclamation giving him the power to do as he pleased, our fate as a people seemed to be sealed.

But, Haman's plans were foiled by Esther, who had been placed in the palace by G-d to deflect Haman's evil decree.

Modern-day Hamans try to wreak havoc on the Jewish people in the Holy Land and on all people throughout the world.

Every year the victory of the survival of the Jewish people, despite all odds, is celebrated on the joyous Festival of Purim. And although the story of Purim happened so long ago, its lesson of faith and trust in G-d is as relevant today as ever.

This year, celebrate Purim. And send a message of true Jewish strength - that trust in G-d is stronger than anything. For, with each special Purim mitzva or general mitzva we do, we are strengthening ourselves, the Jewish people, and the entire world.


Thoughts that Count

One who reads the Megila backwards has not fulfilled his obligation (Mishna, Megila)

The Baal Shem Tov offered a Chasidic interpretation of this law: A person must not view the story of Purim as just an historical narrative, something that happened long ago in another time and place. The purpose of reading the megila on Purim is to ensure that "these days are remembered and kept throughout the generations." The events of Purim are not only relevant to the present time, but each detail of the story contains lessons to be applied in our daily lives.


A person who brings close [offers] from you a sacrifice to G-d. (Lev. 1:2)

Grammatically, "A person from among you who brings close a sacrifice," would have been more correct. But, the Torah teaches us a lesson from the order of the words. If you wish to be close, it comes "from you" - it is only dependent on you. Any Jew who wishes, can reach the lofty heights of closeness to G-d attained by our great forebears.

(Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch, the Previous Rebbe)


Writes Rabbi Shenur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism: "A person who brings close" - in order that a person becomes closer to G-d - "from you a sacrifice to G-d" - he must bring the offering of himself. He must sacrifice his personal "animal," the desire for evil that is called the animal soul.

(Hayom Yom)


Do not leave out the salt. (Lev. 2:13)

The salt was an integral part of the sacrifices. Though not edible on its own, salt adds flavor to the entire meal. The same is true regarding Torah. Chasidism, the inner secrets of Torah, though not widely understood because of its profundity, provides the flavor and background for the remainder of the Torah.

(Rabbi Shneur Zalman)


You may not burn any leaven or any honey as a fire offering to G-d. (Lev. 2:11)

"Any leaven" is a person who is moody or melancholy. In the morning or evening, on Shabbat, holidays or weekdays, he is always sour. "Any honey" is one who is always pleasant and sweet. Whatever happens, he's always smiling. "You may not burn [either of them] as a fire offering to G-d!" You cannot properly bring a sacrifice to G-d from either of these emotions. A person must rule his character traits, even his positive attributes. For surely there are times when one must be "leaven" and times when one must be "honey."

(Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch)


It Once Happened

The last rays of the sun had already disappeared, marking the end of the "Fast of Esther," and the beginning of the holiday of Purim. The synagogue of Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev was filled to overflowing. Everyone waited patiently as Reb Levi Yitzchak ascended the lecturn to begin the evening service and then the reading of the megila, the story of Purim recorded in the Scroll of Esther.

The sexton approached Reb Levi Yitzchak and whispered something in his ear. The Rebbe immediately went out from the shul into an adjoining room.

There, a poor women was standing with a ritually slaughtered chicken. When salting the chicken before cooking it, she had noticed what seemed to be a broken bone and had come to ask the Rebbe if it was kosher. Reb Levi Yitzchak examined the chicken and found it to be not kosher. "Oy, what will I do? My husband is sick and my children are starving. I spent my last few coins on this chicken, hoping the soup would help my husband and satisfy my children. What shall I do?" the woman sobbed.

"Do not worry, my daughter. G-d helps everyone and will certainly help you, too," said Reb Levi Yitzchak compassionately. "Now go to the shul and listen to the megila," he added.

When the woman had left, Reb Levi Yitzchak put on his overcoat and went quickly to his home. There he gathered up everything his wife had prepared for the Purim feast the next day; fresh hamentashen, fish, chicken, soup, challah, and all kinds of delicacies. He tied it securely in a large, white tablecloth and made his way to the home of the poor woman.

Reb Levi Yitzchak entered the house and immediately heard the voice of the sick husband. "Is that you Sara? What happened with the chicken?" he asked in a weak voice.

"A good Purim, happy Purim," answered Reb Levi Yitzchak. "G-d has sent you a Purim gift." The Rebbe set the table neatly and then hurried back to the shul. The prayers and megila reading had not continued without the Rebbe; despite the late hour, no one wished to miss hearing Reb Levi Yitzchak read the megila.

That year, the megila reading seemed to take on new meaning for those gathered in the shul, especially when the Rebbe read the words about sending mishloach manot - gifts of food to one's friends - and giving extra charity to the poor. Everyone understood the implications of love and unity that were inherent in these mitzvot [commandments].

When Reb Levi Yitzchak's wife returned home, she was more than a little surprised to find that everything she had prepared for the Purim meal was missing! She entered her husband's study and found him deeply immersed in a holy book, his face aglow. The Rebbetzin intuitively understood what had happened. She managed to pull together a suitable meal from leftovers here and there.

When the poor family told the town excitedly that Elijah the Prophet had visited their house and brought "mishloach manot from G-d" the townspeople also understood where their Rebbe had been. He had substituted for Elijah.

That year, the unusually generous people of Berdichev were even more generous than usual. They sent food in abundance to Reb Levi Yitzchak for his festive Purim meal, and extra food and charity to all the poor of the city.


Moshiach Matters

The Midrash (Mishlei 9:2) teaches: "All the festivals will be annulled in future time, except for Purim." The future revelation of Divinity will be so intense that the revelation currently evinced by the festivals will be as insignificant as a midday candle. Purim, however, will be the exception, because the Purim miracle was called forth by the year-long self-sacrifice of the Jewish people of that time. (They could have averted Haman's decree by apostasy.) Their self-sacrifice evoked a Divine reaction so sublime that even in the future time it will never be annulled.

(Sefer HaMaamarim 5626, p. 34)


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