The Thrill of Victory | 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
by Dovid Y. B. Kaufmann
In our town we have a synagogue softball league. Two years ago our shul fielded a team for the first time. We had a lot of fun. And last year - well, let's just say adjustments and growing pains sometimes stretch over a couple seasons.
But this year, so far, we're doing pretty well. Last week we played one of the toughest teams in the league. All their players can power the ball into the outfield - quite an accomplishment in softball. We led 6-2 at one point. They came back and tied the game, and in the last inning went up two runs. We had a great comeback, got the bases loaded and won on a three-run RBI double.
And our team erupted. We cheered, we celebrated, we shouted. Why not? That had been "the team to beat" - and we beat them. We were gracious winners and they were gracious losers. But oh, the exultation! The enthusiasm! The joy and the triumph! The discussion, the replays, the analysis continued afterwards, as well.
Life presents us with many moments of excitement. Some accomplishments exhilarate us; for instance when we meet or exceed expectations, excel while performing, or successfully transition through a rite of passage. The degree of enthusiasm is often - but not always - related to the transformational level of the event - a bar mitzva or a wedding elevates to a higher scale of delight than getting an "A" on a test or finishing a project.
Still, a competitive triumph generates a joy quite unique. The degree of delight does not correspond to the significance of the victory. The achievement justifies itself; success, being unqualified, produces pride. And pride, being personal, cannot be proportional. At the moment we won that game, we were so "into" the triumph, our elation equaled that of World Series winners.
But in order to feel the triumph, we had to both want to win and involve ourselves in the struggle to win; we had to be focused and dedicated. We had to anticipate victory, envision it in our minds, before we could realize it, sense it and experience it.
Shouldn't that desire, that eagerness, that hunger, that "will to win" inform our Jewish living? In Tanya (the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy - see chapters twelve onward) that we are engaged in a constant conflict with our animal souls - our urges and selfish desires. There's a competition between the Divine soul and the animalistic. We "win" every time we perform a mitzva (commandment), every time our actions and words bring G-dliness into the world. Shouldn't we feel that victory, exult in it?
On a deeper level, shouldn't we also anticipate the victory of the Messianic Era? Shouldn't we imagine the triumphant feeling that will pervade not just the Jewish people, but the whole world, with the coming of Moshiach? As a team that has not yet won the "big game" must dedicate itself completely to the task and must envision the triumph, so too must we dedicate ourselves to preparing for the age of Moshiach, a time when there will be no sickness or suffering, no poverty or illiteracy, when the whole world will be suffused with goodness and G-dliness. And then, when the "victory" comes - oh, the true triumph, the true exultation, the true joy in G-dliness revealed.
The fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar, which literally means "in the wilderness," is known as the Book of Numbers. This is because the very first commandment recorded there is that of conducting a census of the Jewish people in the desert.
The Biblical commentator Rashi explains that G-d surely knew how many Jews there were without needing to count them. But, He gave the commandment to show His great love for the Jewish people.
How does counting express love? On the surface it would appear to imply the opposite. When a census is taken, no distinction is made between a simple person and a great one. A person's innate qualities and characteristics are totally ignored, each individual being equal in the count. The mighty and the humble are both counted as one.
Yet, it is with the very act of counting that the concept of love is expressed. When a census is conducted, one does not consider the talents and qualities of the people being counted. Rather, what is considered is the innate, essential quality that is common to all of them. Each Jew is worth precisely one because, from the point of view of the essential quality, every Jew is exactly equal to another.
How do we measure our fellow man? We can judge him according to his talents and abilities, his likes and dislikes, his social standing, or his economic situation. According to these standards people are genuinely different from one another, and each person is characterized by the circumstances in which he finds himself. But these characteristics are only temporary. The rich man will lose his standing if he loses his wealth, and the wise man will be forgotten if there is no further need for his knowledge.
But if we judge our fellow man not according to these external criteria, but rather by that essential common quality which classifies him as a "person" - then there is no difference between one and the other. Each of us has the very same traits to the same degree.
Now we can begin to understand how the mitzva (command) to count the Jews showed the love G-d has for them. We might err, and think that G-d only loves the Jews because of their personality traits, or because they accepted His Torah, or because of their good deeds. If that were so, G-d's love for the Jews would be limited and dependent upon these traits. What would happen if the Jews ceased to carry out the will of G-d? Would G-d stop loving them?
When G-d gave the commandment to count the Jews, He was emphasizing that His relationship with them is not based on external qualities. It is based on the fact that each person has this essential Jewish quality which is present and equal in all of us. It is as if G-d were saying: "From My standpoint, I love all of you equally, and there is absolutely no difference between you, even between the righteous and the sinner. I love each of you to the same degree, as I love that inner Jewish quality which each of you possesses to the same degree."
This concept further serves to prepare us, through unity and love of our fellow Jew, for the giving of the Torah on Shavuot. This week's Torah portion of Bamidbar reminds us of the true worth of each Jew and the equality of each member of the Jewish Nation.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Yearning and Learning
From a speech by Sophie Tabak at this year's annual awards dinner of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education.
My journey to find the essence of traditional Judaism is a long one, but can be summed up very easily!
I was raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, without any exposure to traditional Judaism. However, I always knew that there was so much more to Judaism than what had been taught to me; I just didn't know how to find it.
It wasn't until a friend of mine asked me to move with her to Austin, Texas that I was able to become involved in a vibrant Jewish experience; I was exposed to more Judaism than ever before. Once I moved to Texas, I began attending the University of Texas at Austin. I started going to functions at Hillel and slowly moved to the Chabad House. I was so thirsty for Jewish knowledge that it was hard to balance my college studies with my Jewish yearning and learning. But it was not until my last three months in Austin that I really started getting involved. My appetite had been whetted with all the new things I had learned, though I had not started observing any mitzvot (commandments).
Rabbi Yosef Levertov of the Chabad House strongly encouraged me to attend a summer Torah study program called the Ivy League Torah Study Program. He told me a little about it, but for the most part, I was going on his recommendation that it would give me just what I needed.
The moment I arrived at the quaint campus in the Catskill Mountains, New York, I knew that the six weeks I would be spending there would be a positive experience. I was greeted by Mrs. Baila Hecht who directs the women's division of the ILTSP and she made me feel comfortable immediately.
Our studies began the very next day. The schedule was intense and the classes were incredible. At Ivy League, I was able to immerse myself in Torah study without any outside distractions. We had a very diverse group of wonderful mentors and teachers.
Rabbi Dr. Alter BenTzion Metzger taxed our brains in his lectures on science and Torah. Rabbi Dr. Immanual Schochet shocked us and put us on the edge of our seats when he informed us that he did not believe in G-d. Over the course of the next few lectures, though, he went on to explain very rationally and methodically how he knows that, in fact, there is a G-d. Mrs. Cipi Junik took us to places in the textual study of Chumash that we never knew existed. Mrs. Hecht was always there to answer our burning questions that arose after we had digested what we had learned in class. There were other wonderful teachers, as well. But it wasn't just what we learned from them during classes or lectures, they were always willing to spend time after hours to continue discussions and to encouraged deeper thinking and more questions.
At Ivy League, I formed what I think will be life-long friendships with other women in the program. Through one of the women I even met my husband Jonathan. To my knowledge, everyone who attended the program turned their studies into action by adopting at least one mitzva into their lives, such as prayer, Shabbat, or keeping kosher.
Ivy League was an extremely pivotal experience in my life. Not only did it facilitate my becoming more observant, it enabled me to understand why I am doing what I doing. Through the friends and connections I made at the program, I have been able to continue learning and growing in Judaism. I still keep in touch with several other students and teachers from the program.
When I look back at how much I've grown as a person and Jewishly over the past two years, I am astonished. It feels like so much more than two years has gone by. The amount that learned at Ivy League is unbelievable.
For more information about this summer's Ivy League Torah Study Program call the Ivy League office at (718) 735-0200.
The Life of Rabbi Akiva
The Ohr Avner Resource Center in Moscow, in conjunction with the Ohr Menachem School in Nikolayev, recently published a children's book about the famous Sage Rabbi Akiva. Through beautiful illustrations and a simple text "The Life of Rabbi Akiva" tells the story of this famous Jewish scholar.
Thirty-One Cakes teaches children about the important mitzva (commandment) of "hashavat aveida"- returning lost items. Join Estee, the little heroine, as she discovers that, "Someone with Hashavat Aveida to do, is someone I'm certain will really come through." Bright colors, exciting images and rhythmic text make reading the book aloud a joy for reader and child alike! Written by Loren Hodes, illustrated by Harvey Klineman, published by HaChai Publishing.
14th of Elul, 5720 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your letter of the 23rd of Menachem Av, which reached me with some delay. You write about the problem of Parnosso [livelihood] , and about the idea of starting a mail order business, about which you ask my advice.
Generally speaking, economic and commercial conditions vary in different countries, and, although here in the U.S.A. such a business is generally considered a good approach, I do not know what the conditions are in England for this kind of business. For the English as people are known as conservatives, and may require more effective means of persuasion and salesmanship than through the mail alone. On the other hand, it is very possible that the post-war years, which have brought about many changes, have also changed this attitude. Therefore, you ought to discuss the matter with some friends who are familiar with the situation, and then decide accordingly. And may G-d, Whose benevolent Providence extends to everyone individually and Who is the Essence of Goodness, guide you in the way that is best for you, your family, both materially and spiritually.
You write about your having to participate in disputes in order to defend Chassidus [Chassidic philosophy], etc. If this is so, then you are in good company and on the right side, inasmuch as Chassidus is part of the Torah, and defending Chassidus means defending the Torah. Those who take a negative attitude towards Chassidus, seem to live in a bygone era of some two centuries ago, when Chassidus first made its appearance, was unknown and suspected. However, nowadays there can be no doubt as to where Chassidus stands, and that all suspicion was unfounded, and that Chassidus is one of the strongest foundations of the Jewish people. Everyone acknowledges that it is one of the four aspects of the Torah, which includes the four sections of "pardes" [i.e., the "orchard" of Torah] (Pshat, Remez, Drush and Sod). The saintly Ari and his disciple and successor, Rabbi Chaim Vital, were recognized and venerated not only by the Old Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, known in Yiddish as the Alter Rebbe], the founder of Chassidus, but also by the Wilna Gaon, who emphasized in their holy writings that especially in the latter generations of the Golus [exile] it is a Mitzvah [commandment] and necessity to disseminate the teachings of the inner aspects of the Torah. This is also emphasized in Tikkune Zohar, which is recognized by Chassidim and non-chassidim alike, that the closer we approach the end of the Golus, the greater is the necessity to disseminate these fountains. Knowing that you are defending the truth, you can be sure that eventually the truth will succeed.
May you carry on your good work in good health and a happy frame of mind, and with complete trust in Divine Providence, as taught by the Baal Shem Tov, whose 200th anniversary has been celebrated this year, and who also emphasized joy and gladness of heart as the basic ingredient of Divine service....
June 1, 2003 - Sivan 1, 5763
We are forbidden to exchange one animal that has been designated for a sacrifice with another animal
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 27:10) "He shall not exchange it or transfer it." If a person has set aside an animal to be offered as a sacrifice, that animal is considered special. Once it has been designated as a sacrifice, it can only be used for that purpose. We are not allowed to exchange or substitute another animal for one that has been set aside to be sacrificed.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Many are familiar with the Midrash describing how the Jewish people designated their children as the guarantors of the Torah.
It is perhaps in this vein that the Rebbe stresses each year that all Jewish children must be present in the synagoguel on Shavuot to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments.
We bring the children so that they can become familiar with the "terms" of the guarantee. The children's presence in shul actually confirms our guarantee.
In Hebrew, the word guarantor is "Orev." Orev can also mean pleasant or sweet. What sweeter guarantors can we have than our children, who can help influence our own deeds to be pleasing.
One of many beautiful concepts in Judaism is that the Jewish soul can comprehend long before the mind does. With this in mind, we see how imperative it is to bring even babies to shul; though their minds might not yet comprehend where they are, their souls certainly do.
Shavuot is next week, beginning Thursday evening June 5 and ending Saturday night, June 7. Let us all bring our guarantors to hear the Ten Commandments during the reading of the Torah on Friday, June 6.
To the guarantees and guarantors,
A very happy Shavuot
And G-d spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai... (Num. 1:1)
G-d purposely chose a desert in which to give the Torah. He spoke to the Jews in a place where everyone enjoyed free access, to show us that every Jew has an equal obligation and share in the Torah.
(Bamidbar Rabba and Michilta B'Shalach)
Count the heads of the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses... (Num. 1:2)
In order to know the number of people in each tribe, first they were counted according to their families and then each member of the family was counted. This shows us the importance of the family. The existence of the Jewish people is based on and dependant on the actions of each family.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Count (literally, "Raise") the heads of the congregation... (Num. 1:2).
When Moses was commanded to arrange a census of the Jewish people, the word used was "se-oo" more literally meaning "raise." This indicates that the counting was actually an elevation for the Jews. The census brought about the resting of the Divine presence on the Jewish nation because it indicated that each individual could affect the destiny of the entire people. Similarly, Maimonides writes: "Each person should consider the entire world as balanced between good and evil deeds. His one action could sway the world to the side of good, bringing salvation to the whole world."
Those who pitch [their tents] on the east are the standard of the camp of Judah...the tribe of Issachar...and the tribe of Zevulun...(Num. 2:3-7)
The tribes of Judah, Issachar and Zevulun camped near Moses and Aaron. For this reason, they all became great scholars. This shows us the importance of choosing righteous neighbors.
"Each person to his flag with signs for the house of their ancestors" (2:2).
Every individual must ask himself, "When will my deeds reach the level of those of my ancestors?" Our goal should be that our ancestors' achievements will act as a "signpost" for our own actions.
In the winter of the year 1592, the Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Yehuda Lowe, was called to see Emperor Rudolph II. The famed Rabbi spent a long time with the Emperor, but no one knew what it was all about. Many years later, this story was told about the visit and a strange dream that the Emperor had.
At the Emperor's court there were some ministers who were envious of the great respect and honor that the famed Maharal was enjoying. Both Jews and non-Jews knew that the Maharal was a holy man and they respected him greatly. The courtiers of the Emperor planned to drive the Rabbi out of Prague and send him and all his flock into exile. Knowing that the Emperor would not hear of such a thing, they turned to the Empress, who promised to induce the Emperor to carry out the plan.
In the evening, the Empress handed the papers containing the harsh decree to her husband and asked him to sign them at once. At first, the Emperor hesitated to sign the decree, but when his wife persisted in her request, he said that he would "sleep on it," and sign the papers in the morning.
That night, the Emperor had a strange dream...He was waging war, but was captured and placed in prison, where he was told he would spend the rest of his life.
For many years the Emperor remained in prison, living on bread and water, with no one taking any interest in him.
One day an old Jew passed the prison. He was a venerable-looking man, with kindly eyes. The Emperor called out to him. The old man stopped and looked at the prisoner behind the bars.
"I am the Emperor," the prisoner exclaimed. "Don't you recognize me?"
"You have changed, Sire," the old man replied.
"I swear to you that I am the Emperor Rudolph. Please get me out of here," the prisoner begged desperately.
The old man knocked at the prison wall with his cane, and immediately there appeared a passage in the wall. The Emperor walked out and went with the old man to his home.
"You cannot return to the palace in this state," the old man told him, "for no one will recognize you. I will send for a barber and a tailor to groom you and to prepare royal robes for you. In the meantime, lie down and rest."
Then the old man placed two plates near the bed.
"What are these for?" the puzzled Emperor asked.
"One is for your nails and the other for your hair," the old man replied.
"How can I ever thank you?" the Emperor asked, with tears of gratitude rolling down his cheeks.
The Emperor awoke and wiped the tears from his cheeks. He sat up in bed and saw two plates on a little table near his bed. His thoughts turned to his strange dream. "Only the saintly Rabbi, Rabbi Lowe, could explain to me the meaning of the dream," the Emperor thought. At that moment there was a knock at the door. "You ordered the Royal Barber to report this morning," the Chief Chamberlain said on entering.
"Request Chief Rabbi Lowe for an audience immediately!" the Emperor called, and the puzzled Chamberlain withdrew.
As soon as the Maharal entered, the Emperor, who had never seen the Rabbi before, recognized him as the old Jew he had seen in his dream.
"In my dream last night you did not recognize me," the Emperor said reproachfully.
"You had changed, Sire," the Maharal answered.
"Tell me more about my dream."
"You went to bed with unkind thoughts last night. What did you have under your pillow?"
The Emperor now remembered that the empress had placed the decree under his pillow, to be ready for his signature first thing in the morning.
"I promise you that no harm will befall the Jews of Prague," Emperor Rudolph said, and immediately tore up the papers containing the cruel decree.
"You spared my brethren much suffering," the Maharal said, "but you have spared yourself even greater pain."
Once Moshiach comes, and serves as the leader of the entire Jewish people, what will be the role of all the resurrected spiritual leaders of the preceding ages who had successively headed their respective generations as leader? It goes without saying that the coming of Moshiach will not cause them to slip from their respective spiritual rungs; on the contrary, his coming will upgrade the spiritual status of all things and all people, including these leaders too. In evidence of this: The Sages teach that in future time Moses will come to the Land of Israel "at the head of the people, " i.e., at the head of the generation of the wilderness.
(The Rebbe, Parshat Pinchas, 5745)