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Devarim Deutronomy

June 5, 2003 - 5 Sivan, 5763

772: Shavuos

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

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  771: Bamidbar773: Nasso  

A Torah Scroll's Thoughts  |  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

A Torah Scroll's Thoughts

I still remember some of the amazing lessons I learned from the elder Torah scroll as we stood quietly in the ark at the eastern wall of the synagogue.

Having been free to roam over plain and valley just a few years before as the hide of a kosher animal, I had a hard time adjusting to what I considered the restricted life of a Torah scroll.

I was the upstart Torah scroll - born and bred in America. Not only was I made in America, but even the scribe who wrote me was born and trained here. So you can understand why at first I didn't really subscribe to the whole humble and modest lifestyle that we Torah scrolls lived. I didn't feel like I belonged with the other half-dozen scrolls in the ark - a few survivors of the Holocaust, another scroll straight from one of the ultra-Orthodox sections in Israel, and another of unknown but strictly kosher and ancient origins.

"Why can't we just hang out in the synagogue, like the prayerbooks?" I asked one of the elder scrolls. I explained to him that I wasn't used to all of these restrictive coverings. First there was the regal but-oh-so-hot-on-summer-days velvet that totally covered my skin - except on Mondays, Thursdays and Shabbat when I was uncovered and unrolled in order to be read.

Then there was the big ark itself that I and the other Torah scrolls were placed in. "I feel like a prisoner in the ark," I told the kindly scroll.

I complained incessantly that the only time we had fun was on Simchat Torah when we were all taken out on the town. Well, not really on the town but at least around the synagogue where everyone sang and danced with us. But even then - even at the height of our rejoicing - we were still covered up.

Little by little, the elderly scroll took me under his wing. He gently explained that even for a scroll proudly "made in America" there was something called tzniut - one of those impossible to translate words (though I'm an expert in Hebrew), often rendered "modesty," but meaning a whole lot more.

"The first tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them were given amidst fanfare, fuss and noise," the elderly scroll whispered. "And those tablets were broken. But the second set, given quietly and unpretentiously, remain eternally with the Jewish people. Why, even now they exist, secreted away with other treasures from the Holy Temples under the Temple Mount where the Third Temple will very soon be built."

The scroll also gave me examples from everyday life and they made sense to me. He told me that the most precious items are kept under lock and key. Not as a punishment but in deference to their value. Vaults in banks overflow with people's jewels that sit there much of the time - rather than being worn. Original paintings by famous artists are carefully watched and monitered because they are priceless. They, too, never go "out on the town." Little by little, I began to see my velvet coverings as royal cloaks. I acknowledged the ark was my castle and even my refuge.

"That which is precious is not flaunted, not unnecessarily exposed, for in so doing it is often cheapened, the scroll would remind me. I remember the old scroll stating one day, 'People don't go around sharing and exposing that which they truly care about. For some, it is their innermost thoughts. For others it is their bank accounts-though they'll share everything else. And if you really care about yourself, if you really value yourself,' the old scroll told me, "you will take pride in the fact that most of the time you are covered, hidden, out of public view."

It's been a long time since I've been out in the public eye like this. It sort of goes against my grain by now to stand here and sermonize-especially since that's the rabbi's job. But in honor of Shavuot, the day when all of the Jewish people received the Torah from G-d on Mount Sinai-which by the way was a very humble and modest mountain-I decided to share with you the intimate thoughts of just one little Torah scroll, proud to be Made in America, and even prouder that my preciousness to the Jewish people and to myself is symbolized by my multi-layered coverings."

Living with the Rebbe

Shavuot is the holiday on which we celebrate the giving of the Torah, when G-d Himself descended on Mount Sinai before the entire Jewish people. The world stood still as G-d's voice thundered the first of the Ten Commandments: "I am the L-rd your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt."

Our Sages ask a pointed question: What was so special about the exodus from Egypt that G-d chose to mention it in the very first Commandment? Why not "I am the L-rd your G-d, Who created heaven and earth"? Is not the creation of the world more fundamental than an isolated historical incident involving only a few million people?

In addition, the exodus from Egypt - although a great miracle - involved only that generation. The existence of the physical world, however, is a phenomenon which each generation can point to as evidence of G-d's greatness. Why then did G-d give the exodus such prominence at the moment of His revelation to mankind?

Chasidic philosophy explains that in certain respects, the Jewish people's liberation from bondage in Egypt was an even greater event than the creation of the world. G-d created the world ex nihilo - substance out of nothingness - something which we, as created beings, cannot comprehend. Although the creation of the world was a wondrous event, for an all-powerful, eternal and infinite G-d, it was no particular feat.

Furthermore, the Torah states that the world was created by G-d's speech. "By the word of G-d the heavens were created, and by His breath all of their hosts." Speech is an external power, produced without exertion. The world was created in such a way as to express only the outermost fraction of G-d's true might.

The exodus from Egypt, however, was a miracle of a totally different order. In order for the Jews to leave Egypt, G-d had to supersede the laws of nature He had already created to run the world. G-d Himself, not an angel, led the Jews as they departed. Abrogating natural law to free the Children of Israel involved an even higher level of Divine intervention than creating the world in the first place! The exodus from Egypt was therefore given the top billing it deserved in the Ten Commandments.

Likewise, in our own lives, we sometimes find that it is harder to change ingrained and established habits than it is to begin a completely new undertaking. When G-d took our ancestors out of Egypt (Mitzrayim), He gave each and every Jew the strength to break through the boundaries and limitations (metzarim) which stand in his way. This innate power, bestowed upon the Jewish people when the Torah was revealed, gives us the ability to overcome any negative habits or character traits which prevent us from serving G-d with a full heart.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life

Shabbat 1000
by Elizaveta Zviaguin

Shabbat 1000 is a unique program initiated by Rabbi Aaron and Rivkah Slonim, founders of Chabad of Binghamton at the State University of New York. In this special, once a year, Friday night event, various Jewish clubs on campus unite to bring as many students together as possible. Some other campuses where Chabad has spearheaded this event include New York University, University of Texas, University of Arizona, Denver University. The following article describes Shabbat 1000 this past semester at SUNY Binghamton.
It is difficult to imagine a thousand peaceful people in one room, especially knowing that those people are college students. It is even more difficult to imagine all of those students doing something meaningful together, and being in sync with one another. The scenario becomes a little easier if it involves a celebration. On April 4th there was exactly such a festivity. It is ironic that regardless of how many sport teams we have in our school, the East Gym saw its highest attendance during events such as Purim, or in this case Shabbat 1000.

As I was approaching the gym that evening, I saw students walking from all over campus dressed in Shabbat outfits. Some were in large groups, others in pairs, or alone. It was touching to see a procession of so many students coming to the same place with the same purpose. When inside the gym I noticed many familiar faces, more importantly I saw people from classes and campus that I would have never thought to attend such an event. And suddenly we, friends and strangers, were there together - we all had a connection. Externally everyone had a different reason to be at Shabbat 1000. Some came on their own volition; others were persuaded, maybe even coerced by friends. Some might regularly observe Shabbat, others only when they are home, and still others might have come for their first Shabbat meal. Intrinsically, however, we were all there for the same reason - to celebrate our gift from G-d, our Jewishness.

When I was in my sophomore year of college here at Binghamton University, I remember leaving FitSpace one spring night and seeing hundreds and hundreds of students in holiday dress. There was a sense of happiness and excitement surrounding them. One might think that they would have seemed out of place in the utilitarian building that is East Gym. Instead I, wearing my sweats felt misplaced. I clearly remember wondering what could have brought all these young men and women together. I knew very little of Shabbat, and knew even less that it was as much a part of me as a part of all the people that were there celebrating it. I don't remember if that April night I realized that what I saw was Shabbat 1000. I do know that the excitement I felt from having had a great work out faded when I saw the excitement of the congregation in the basketball court where the dinner was held. My plans for going out to a party that night also did not seem attractive.

Maybe I realized it then, or maybe I just know it now, in a moment of reflection - but ultimately I felt as if I was doing something other than what I should be. I knew that there was a void. Very often, on Friday nights during that year as I returned to my room from a day of classes, I realized that another week came to an end with little to mark it. The partying, the going out, which occurred every weekend, was fun, but not in the true sense of fun. It was fun because everyone who I knew thought that it was what we have to do as college students for at least two nights a week. So instead of being restful, "partying" became another responsibility. To go "downtown," to meet new people, to get dressed up, all that became routine, obligatory - it had no meaning behind it.

A few months after that awakening experience of Shabbat 1000 I went on the Birthright Israel trip and celebrated Shabbat for the first time. It was so special to have my first Shabbat celebration at the Western Wall.

Well, it was technically the second. The very first Shabbat that I ever celebrated was in the first year of my family being in America. It was also in the springtime, in 1993 - 10 years ago. A Jewish family from the Upper West Side invited my family, as newly arrived Russian immigrants, to celebrate Shabbat with them. They explained to us that by doing that they fulfilled a mitzva - commandment. What was Shabbat, or what was a mitzva, we had no idea. But we appreciated the warm reception.

A year after my first encounter with Shabbat 1000 in 2001 I was an active participant of it in 2002. I was so excited about the whole event. I knew that it was a big deal for everyone, and for me personally it was important because I used Shabbat 1000 as a benchmark. I knew that compared to where I was a year before, I have made positive changes in my life and more importantly began to acquire something priceless: the gift of Shabbat. I have started my discovery of what it means to be Jewish. I remember looking around the gym and in the same way as this year seeing hundreds and hundreds of students. There were so many people there who did not know exactly why they were celebrating Shabbat, but that precisely is the value of the grandiose event that is Shabbat 1000. It gives a chance for every Jew on campus to be part of something that is already a large part of them, whether they know it or not. We all have the opportunity to have Shabbat, and as with most other such things in life, it is up to us to step up and take it. Accepting this huge present can be intimidating, but that is what Judaism is so much about - knowing that we are worthy of such gifts.

From my own experience I know that the immense effort that is put into Shabbat 1000 is very much worthwhile. It provides a branch that anyone can grab. A person can be interested in Judaism without knowing it, and what they need is someone who cares that they are Jewish and can provide some exposure to the Jewish way of life.

What's New

New Center for Chabad at Harvard

Chabad at Harvard recently dedicated its new $1.5 million Banks Street campus center. Chabad activities on campus began in 1997 in a small apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded by Rabbi Hirsh and Elkie Zarchi, the couple is popular with a students from a wide spectrum of Jewish observance. Chabad Center activities include classes, holiday programs, Shabbat services and meals, social service projects and other events. The spacious new center boasts a dining room with seating for more than 100, a large common area suitable for study or prayer, offices for administration and student leadership, a student lounge and a courtyard to accommodate large events.

The Rebbe Writes

Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 5721 [1961]

Greeting and Blessing:

Thank you for your letter of May 8th.

Now that we are approaching the Festival of Shovuoth, the Season of Our Receiving the Torah, I send you my prayerful wishes for a happy and inspiring Yom Tov, and, the words of my father-in-law of saintly memory, to receive the Torah with joy and inwardness.

With Blessing,

I trust that the enclosed copy of my recent message to the delegates of the Chabad Women will be of particular interest to your wife and daughter.

P.S. The letter has been delayed for technical reasons. In the meantime I just received yours of May 23, in which you write about your desire and suggestion that Rabbi Shemtov join and lead the group visit. Now, although it is my custom to wait in such a case to hear also directly from the party concerned but in view of the importance and urgency of the request, I will make an exception. My reply is that the suggestion is a very good one, unless there are some compelling reasons to the contrary. May I add that I am gratified to note that Rabbi Shemtov's work and leadership in the Lubavitch affairs in England is so well appreciated.

Freely translated letter

Wednesday, 9 Sivan, 5704 [1944]

Greetings and blessings,

In response to the invitation to your wedding, may it take place in a good and auspicious hour, I am sending my blessings of Mazel Tov, Mazel Tov. May you build a house in Israel on the foundations and the inner dimensions of the Torah and its mitzvos [commandments].

The universal marriage, the bond between the Holy One, blessed be He, and the Jewish people is the holiday of Shavuos. As our Sages comment in the Mechilta, in the Torah portion of Yisro (quoted by Rashi in his commentary to the Torah, the beginning of Parshas Berachah), G-d came out to greet the people as a groom goes out to greet his bride.

We rule that the Torah was given on 6 Sivan, as the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidim] writes in his Shulchan Aruch (494:1). (This is reflected by our custom with regard to the reading of the Torah, as indicated by Rashi's statements in Megillah 31a, entry viha'idna.) Thus the seven days of the wedding celebrations extend until - and including - the twelfth of Sivan. This can be related to the concept that compensation for the Shavuos offerings may be brought until - and including - that date (Chagigah 17a). A connection can be drawn to our Sages' statement (Yoma 4b) that according to the opinion that the Torah was given on 6 Sivan, the days until and including 12 Sivan were distinct - on them Moshe was set aside [in preparation for ascending to Mount Sinai during which he received Divine revelations] - from the days that followed.

Thus everyone agrees that these days are included in the seven days of the wedding celebrations of the Groom, the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

Our Sages' state (Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer, the conclusion of ch. 16): "Just as a king's face shines like the orb of the sun;" - as it is written: [Proverbs 16:15] "There is life in the light of the king's countenance" (Rav David Luria) -; "so, too, the face of a groom shines like the orb of the sun." Similarly, may it be His will that G-d shine His countenance upon you, enabling all the blessing granted to you by my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe Shlita, to be fulfilled.

With blessings of mazal tov; "Immediately to teshuvah [repentance]; immediately to Redemption,"

Rambam this week

June 10, 2003 - Sivan 10, 5763

Positive Mitzva 113

The Red Cow

This mitzva is based on the verse (Num. 19:1-9) "Have them bring you a red cow...It shall be kept for the congregation of the Children of Israel." The Torah commands us to use this rare cow for a unique mitzva - the purification of a Jew from the impurity of contact with a dead body. This cow must have no blemishes and have never been used for other purposes. It is burnt and its ashes are mixed with the Nida water. This water is sprinkled on the person purifying himself. The person who burns the cow helps purify someone else, but, at the same time, he himself becomes impure.Since creation, only nine red cows have been used for purification. Moses prepared the first one. The tenth will be prepared by Moshiach.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

The holiday of Shavuot is a special day for numerous reasons. It is the day on which the Jews stood before Mount Sinai, unified as one people, to receive the holy Torah. It is also the holiday on which the first fruits were brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem; thousands of pilgrims descended on Jerusalem for that special event.

On a more individual level, Shavuot is the yahrtzeit of the Baal Shem Tov-founder of the Chasidic movement, and King David-one of the greatest Kings of Israel and author of the Psalms.

What more appropriate time is there, then, to re-dedicate ourselves to the study of the Torah and the observance of its precepts. As individuals, we can use as our role models the saintly Baal Shem Tov and King David.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that the sincere feelings with which the simple, unlearned Jew performed the mitzvot was of great worth to G-d. In re-dedicating ourselves to Torah, we needn't be concerned that we are unlearned or might have to start at the beginning with the alef-bet. Doing it with a whole heart is what matters.

King David, too, was involved with the emotions of the heart. Countless people have been uplifted by his beautiful, poetic Psalms. The words of the Psalms, in fact, were so comforting and soothing that they became the beacon of light for Jews throughout the ages during times of trouble or difficulty.

As individuals, and as a unified Jewish nation, let us rededicate ourselves to Torah this Shavuot-Torah study, Torah precepts, Torah ethics.

Thoughts that Count

The Name Shavuot

"Shavuot" comes from the word "shvua" - oath. On the day that the Torah was given, both G-d and the Jewish people made a mutual vow to each other. We swore to G-d that we would never exchange Him for another god and He swore to us that He will never exchange us for another nation.

(Or Hachaim Hakodesh)

Torah and Water

The words of Torah are likened to water, and indeed there are many similarities: Water naturally flows from a higher place to a lower place. So, too, words of Torah flow from a person who is on a high level and is understood by someone on a lower level. Water does not keep well in a container of gold or silver, but rather a simple earthen container holds it best. Similarly, Torah cannot exist in a haughty person; the person must make himself into an "earthen vessel," humble and modest.Water comes down drop-by-drop in the rain, gathers together and forms rivulets. Torah, too, is studied little-by-little, until a person becomes a deep repository of Torah knowledge.

The Additional Day of Yom-Tov (the holiday) in the Diaspora

After the Redemption, when the advent of the New Moon and the proclamation of Rosh Chodesh will once again be determined by the testimony of eye-witnesses, there will no longer be any doubt as to which day was sanctified as such because it will then be possible to inform all Jews of this instantly. It could be argued that even then we will celebrate the Additional Day of Yom-Tov - simply because Jews have been accustomed to doing so for so long. This is similar to Shavuot, concerning which there is no doubt, since its timing hinges not on a particular date in the month, but on the counting of fifty days from the fifteenth of the month of Nissan. By then, the emissaries from the Holy Temple were surely able to reach any outlying community and to inform them which day had been sanctified as Rosh Chodesh Nissan (and consequently which day was Passover). Nevertheless, even though Shavuot thus involves no calendric doubt, an additional day is celebrated so as not to discriminate between the Three Pilgrim Festivals and downgrading it.

(The Rebbe, Simchat Torah 5749)

It Once Happened

In honor of the anniversary of the passing of King David on Shavuot, we present this story from his youth.

Once there lived in the Land of Israel a very wealthy Jew. Upon his death, he passed on to his wife all of his great wealth. The widow decided to leave her city in search of a place with less memories. Her main concern before going on her journey, was to find a place where she could safely leave her vast inheritance.

She came upon the idea of hiding her gold coins in earthen containers, which she filled with honey. She then asked one of her late husband's close friends if he would watch over her jars of honey while she was away. The friend was happy to oblige.

Months passed. One day, the friend was preparing a festive meal for his son's forthcoming marriage and they had run out of honey. The friend remembered the honey which had been left in his safekeeping by the widow. "Certainly there can be no harm in my borrowing some of the honey," the friend conjectured. "I will replace it tomorrow," he assured himself.

Imagine the friend's surprise when he dipped a large spoon deep into the honey and it came out with two gold coins stuck to it. Again and again the friend dipped the spoon into the honey, and each time it came up with a small fortune. "No one but the widow and myself know that there is money in these earthen jars," thought the friend. And with that, he emptied the jars of all the gold. The next day he quickly refilled the jars to the very top with the sweet, golden syrup.

A few weeks passed and the widow returned to her home-town. She had found a suitable home in a different village where she was certain she would be able to start a new life for herself. When she asked her husband's friend for the honey jars back he was only too happy to return them to her. She thanked him for having 'guarded' them for her all this time.

The widow hurried home with the jars and, once inside, set out to retrieve the gold coins she had placed there months before. At first, she did not become alarmed when the spoon came up empty. But as the minutes passed, and she did not come up with one gold coin, she became hysterical. She took each jar to the back of the house and poured out the honey. She searched inside the jars but found nothing.

Beside herself with grief, the widow ran to the "friend's" house, only to find that he denied any knowledge of the gold coins. "You left jars of honey in my care and I have returned the exact jars of honey that you gave me."

The widow had no choice but to take him to court. The judge, however, noting that there had been no witnesses to the widow's claims that she had put gold in the jars, could not come to a verdict. He sent the case to a higher court, which eventually referred it to King Saul, himself. King Saul, however, also had no clue as to how to decide the case.

While on a walk in the countryside, the widow began to sob bitterly. A young shepherd noticed her bent and broken figure, and approached to offer his assistance. The widow smiled at this innocent lad, and told him her sad story.

"I have an idea that might help prove that the jars were filled with gold," said young David. 'Go to King Saul, and tell him that David, son of Jesse, would like to come to his court and to help settle this matter.'

The widow was touched at the young boy's sincerity. "My dear child," she said, "I have been sent to the King by the highest court in Israel, for they could not reach a decision. How, then, do you think that you will be able to help me?"

"Certainly G-d will help you. Just maybe, that help is meant to come through a young, simple shepherd such as I," David replied. The woman went to King Saul with David's request.

King Saul was intrigued with the young boy's offer and invited him to come to the court. The "friend" was also summoned to the court. Over and over, the thief swore on all that was holy that he had returned the exact same jars that he had been given.

"What do you say about this, my son?" asked King Saul to the young shepherd.

David asked that one of the jars be brought to him and in this way he would be able to prove the truth in the widow's words. David lifted the jar above his head and smashed it against the floor. He then carefully inspected the shards of pottery that were at his feet. Triumphantly, he help up one piece of the jar and waved it in the air. Stuck to the pottery was a gold coin that had been overlooked by the thief, and the widow.

The thief's evil deed had now been proven. All of Israel heard of the wisdom of the young shepherd, David, who later became one of the greatest kings of the Jewish people and from whom Moshiach is descended.

Moshiach Matters

Chasidic philosophy explains that Moshe was humbled when he saw the Divine service of the "generation of the heels of Moshiach." Moshe, who received the Torah from Sinai and spoke with G-d face to face, certainly had no problem attaining the loftiest level of Divine service. Nevertheless, when he saw a simple Jew thrown about in the diaspora, fulfill Torah and mitzvot (commandments), he was humbled. At the time of the "heels of Moshiach," in that terrible darkness, and suffering inconceivable problems, when a Jew keeps Torah and mitzvot even Moshe gives homage.

(The Rebbe, Shavuot, 5746)

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