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Devarim Deutronomy

July 11, 2003 - 11 Tamuz, 5763

777: Chukas-Balak

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

Text VersionFor Palm Pilot
  776: Korach778: Pinchas  

The Torn Coat  |  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 Torn Coat

A children's tale that haunts the memory: Living with a wealthy merchant was his aged father and young son. The merchant, concerned with his position and status, had little time or patience for his old father. But his son, his heir, he spoiled and indulged.

The old man tried to stay out of the way, but the infirmities of old age made him clumsy. He dropped things, burned pots, tripped and broke furniture. The more he tried not to be a nuisance, the more worried he became he might do something wrong, and like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the more of a burden and a bother he seemed to be. And of course, each incident only added to the merchant's irritation and ire.

The merchant's son observed all this. As much as he loved his father, he was devoted to his grandfather. His father was not really a cruel man; but somehow, the merchant had become so involved in his business, his status, his pursuits, that he couldn't see that the old man living in his house was still his father.

The tension in the household grew until one day, after the grandfather had shattered yet another glass - it having slipped from his hand - the merchant lost all patience and threw the old man out of the house, giving him only a torn coat.

The son was distraught, but said nothing, hoping that his father would realize what he had done and change his mind. But the next day, his father went to work without a word. The son quickly found where his grandfather was staying, brought him food and spent time with him. How could he make his father see?

That night, the merchant came home to find his son with scissors in hand, cutting in shreds one of the merchant's best coats. Astounded, but not angry because his son could do no wrong, the merchant asked what he was doing. The son replied that he was preparing a coat for his father's old age. He saw how shabbily the merchant treated his own father - showing him no respect, not taking into account the frailties of old age, being miserly with the food and giving the old man only rags to wear. This, obviously, was how a son should treat his father. So he was tearing the coat to have it ready when his father, the merchant, got old.

The merchant immediately realized what he had done. He brought his father back into the house, begged forgiveness and did his best to make amends.

The story contains many lessons and emphasizes several mitzvot (commandments): the importance of honoring one's parents, respecting the elderly, children learn by observation, etc. But the Chasidic perspective may not be as obvious.

In Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, written by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, it is explained at length that the soul is clothed in the mitzvot (commandments). The body consists of 248 organs and 365 [major] blood vessels. These each have a spiritual source in the person's soul. The 613 components (248 plus 365 = 613) of the body and soul correspond to the 613 commandments. When a person fulfills the mitzvot actively and according to his ability, then "all of his soul's 613 'limbs' of his soul are clothed in the 613 commandments of the Torah."

Knowing this, perhaps we can see a deeper story within the story. Too often it seems we treat Judaism like the merchant treated his father, sending our soul into the world with only a torn coat, i.e., mitzvot half-done or done half-heartedly, without love and fear of G-d. But even so, we have to remember that we always possess an "inner child," one that will show us that the coat, the garments of the soul, has been torn. That knowledge itself leads to teshuva - a reconciliation and a reparation of the "torn coat."

Living with the Rebbe

This week we read two Torah portions, Chukat and Balak. Of all the prophecies in Scripture that refer to the Messianic era, the one contained in the Torah portion of Balak is most unusual in that it came from Bilaam, a gentile prophet.

Bilaam, the foremost prophet of his time, was forced against his will to foretell the downfall of the nations of the world and the ultimate ascendancy of the Jewish people.

The very fact that this prophecy is included in the Torah indicates its special significance; indeed, it contains a distinct advantage precisely because it was said by a non-Jew.

For, when Moshiach comes, the Jewish people will no longer be subservient to the nations; on the contrary, the gentile leaders will vie with one another for the privilege of serving the Jews!

Thus, the prophecy of Bilaam concerning the Final Redemption not only gave the Children of Israel cause for rejoicing over their future, it actually afforded them a "taste" of the way things will be in the Messianic era.

As far as prophecy itself is concerned, our Sages foretold its reoccurrence among the Jewish people before Moshiach's arrival according to the following chronology:

On the verse in this week's Torah portion, "At the proper time shall it be said to Jacob and to Israel, what G-d has wrought," Maimonides noted that prophecy would return to Israel after "the proper time" had elapsed after Bilaam, i.e., after the same number of years as had passed since the creation of the world until his prophecy.

Bilaam's prophecy was said in the year 2488; 2488 years after that, in the year 4976 (we are now in the year 5755), prophecy was destined to return to the Jewish people.

In fact we find that this was indeed the case, for it was then that prophetic luminaries began to appear on the Jewish horizon - Rabbi Shmuel Hanavi, Rabbi Elazar Baal "Harokeach," Nachmanides, the Ravad (Rabbi Abraham ben David), Rabbi Ezra Hanavi and Rabbi Yehuda the Chasid and others.

More generations passed until the birth of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chasidut, and his successor, the Magid of Mezeritch, about whom it was said that they "could see from one end of the world to the other."

The following generation produced Rabbi Shneur Zalman, who formulated Chabad Chasidut. Had he lived in the times of our prophets he would have been on a par with them; moreover, this chain of prophecy continued from one Chabad leader to the next, until the present day, when the Rebbe has prophesied that Moshiach's arrival is imminent.

The return of prophecy to the Jewish people is therefore both a prerequisite and preparation for the Messianic era, which is due to begin at any moment.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 2

A Slice of Life

A Prince in Prison

The following is excerpted from the Previous Rebbe's diary concerning his arrest in Communist Russia. He was eventually released on 12 Tammuz (this year July 12).
Entering the gateway we turned right, into a gloomy corridor lit by small lamps. Instead of merely requesting, I now literally pleaded with the guard that he should allow me to put on tefilin, and added that it was difficult for me to walk so fast.

He told me that he knew very well what tefilin were. He once lived in a small town near the local synagogue and knew what prayers were, too - but he would still not grant me my request.

I therefore put on my hand-tefilin as I continued to walk behind him, but before I managed to put on my head-tefilin he turned around and struck me. In doing so he pushed me down the iron staircase, but I broke neither hand nor foot, thank G-d.

Laboriously and painfully I managed to climb up a few steps. Evidently the metal component of my belt broke as I fell; it now tore at my skin. My heart froze with pain; I felt about to faint.

"Just wait and see what a delicious dish the chief of the sixth division is going to serve you!" shouted the guard. "Then you'll forget about your requests and your prayers! After you spend three or four nights lying among the mice in the dark muck and mire, then you'll understand that Spalerno is no place to turn into a Jewish house of prayer!"

I was forced to sit down to rest on one of the steps. In addition to the pain, I felt that my abdomen was bleeding from the injury. Walking was extremely difficult. Swallowing my pain, I held on to the iron balustrade and raised myself with difficulty from step to step. The guard had already reached the third flight, while I made my cumbersome way upstairs like a broken old man.

He peered down at me and called out: "Old man! What's delaying you? My time's precious!"

I climbed up to the landing, holding the tefilin.

The beast called Petia emerged from one of the cells at the end of the landing and approached me, looked me up and down, and muttered to himself: "Just look what rags they've started to send here! No doubt about it - a real parasite, a bearded Jew!"

Then he said to me: "Old man, go along and get searched. Don't you worry: here we'll clean you up good and proper! These guys'll dismantle your bones one by one!

"Why are you limping?" he asked. "Is the air of Spalerno affecting you?! For parasites like you we have perfumes that make them fall flat on their faces on their first day here, as if they had suddenly fallen ill. They lie about for a few days until the doctor arrives. Sometimes he comes too late, and then all he has to do is to write down the cause of death."

I was wounded and walking with difficulty; I had to stop to rest after every step; I was losing blood; my heart was stressed with pain.

We all know the Baal Shem Tov's teaching - that every word or syllable, every sight or image, that a man hears or sees, is a directive in some area of his divine service. A man of even limited understanding can grasp that words like Petia's can very likely arouse feelings of penitence, of the awe of heaven, an awareness of Divine Providence, an experience of faith and trust. But there is also an Evil Inclination; there, too, Satan frolics; there, too, there is someone who prevents a man from being what he should be.

The pain was now so intense that I could not take one more step forward. I stood still.

"Here you are," said Petia to the chief. "The rag is all yours. In an hour's time he won't be alive."

Petia's eloquence made the chief smile with glee.

He turned to me: "Okay, so let's get on with our search." HIn my bag he found the tefilin of Rabbeinu Tam and Shimusha Rabba, a gartl (belt worn during prayer), and my books. These he took, but I held the tefilin of Rashi in my hand.

As he checked through my belongings with his back to me, I pleaded with him to allow me to say my prayers, but he answered with a furious "No." Without losing an instant I quickly put on the hand-tefilin then the head-tefilin and recited "Shema." However, at the very moment that I began to say the first blessing of Shemoneh Esrei prayer, he turned around and discovered me wearing my tefilin.

His eyes opened wide in astonishment and horror. His face filled with angry blood and he turned into a wild beast.

"Jewface!" he shrieked, as he seized my head-tefilin with both hands. "I'll hurl you into the dungeon! Devil that you are, I'll smash your face!"

"Petia!" he roared. And to me he said, "I feel sorry for you, old man. Even without my help you're going to die pretty soon." It was clear that the main task of these officials was to intimidate their prisoners and alarm them. They played with their yarliks like a little boy plays with picture-cards.

"Okay," said the chief to Petia, "I've finished. Take yarlik 26818 to Room 160, no. 4."

"Your name, old man," he now said to me, "is now 'no. 160, the fourth.'"

"Petia," he ordered, "take no. 160, the fourth, and sign here that you've received him. That's that."

I reached out to take the tefilin which all lay on the table in confusion, and thanked G-d that the chief had not opened up the boxes containing the little scrolls. I began to take them in order, with a distant hope that he might perhaps allow me to take them with me to my cell.

When I entreated him to let me have them, he laughed out aloud: "Old man, forget all that! Just get it clear that you are a prisoner and forget all your nonsense. I'm not going to give you more than I have given you - your clothes, your handkerchiefs, and that's all. If you want to ask for more, then you can address a request to the top officials."

I told the chief that I wanted to write my demand in a telegram (which was within my rights). I wrote out three identical telegrams: "I hereby request that the chief of the sixth division be ordered immediately to hand me my tefilin. Rabbi Y. Schneersohn, sixth division, room 160."

As I proceeded to my room, I was accompanied by Petia, who vigorously cursed me and everyone else on the face of the earth and tried to terrorize me with the fear of death.

Reprinted from A Prince in Prison, published by Sichos in English

What's New

The Dancing Shul

A delightful children's book by singer/songwriter Chaim Fogelman. The Dancing Shul tells the story of a congregation that celebrates the writing and arrival of a new Torah scroll into their synagogue. Illustrated by Miriam Nemenow and available at Judaica stores.

The Rebbe Writes

14th of Tammuz, 5719 [1959]

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter of July 15th...

It happens that promises before elections are not always kept after elections.

Therefore, even if the said person will not always abide by his promises, I trust that it will in no way affect your work for the benefit of the community. Furthermore, the Zechus Horabim [merit of the many] will stand you in good stead and you will be successful, which will at the same time also provide additional channels to receive G-d's blessings in all your affairs, public and private.

Your letter reached me during the auspicious days of 12-13th of Tammuz, marking the Liberation of my father-in-law of saintly memory from imprisonment and persecution in Soviet Russia for his work for Jews and Yiddishkeit [Judaism] there. My father-in-law had declared that his liberation was not a personal affair, but it was a victory of all the holy things for which he had fought, namely, the strengthening and spreading of Yiddishkeit in general, and of the teachings of Chassidus in particular.

Therefore, these days are auspicious for everyone who is associated with his work, and a source of inspiration and blessing.

I was pleased to read in your letter of your successful business activities, and my you continue to do successful business in an ever-growing measure.

I was also particularly pleased to note in your letter that you took advantage of an opportunity when you were called upon to make a public speech at the grammar school, and you made a declaration on the importance of higher Jewish education for boys and girls.

May G-d grant that this fundamental and vital idea has taken root in the hearts of all the listeners, and will bring question of education, the time element is of the essence, and opportunities lost are rarely retrieved.

On this day of "Isru Chag" [the day after the holiday] of the Liberation Festival, I send you my prayerful wishes that you enjoy liberation and freedom from all anxieties and difficulties, and that you carry on your good work with true inner joy and gladness of heart, going from strength to strength both materially and spiritually.

With blessing,

15th of Tammuz, 5723 [1963]

Blessing and Greeting:

I was pleased to receive your letter with the enclosure. I am gratified to note that you found the children well and happy, and that all is well also in the educational work.

I was, of course, also pleased to note that after our conversation, you felt much encouraged in regard to your work for spreading Yiddishkeit. In regard to your writing that you had the feeling that you could conquer the world, may I add that this is not only a manner of speaking, but has a basis in fact, as indicated in the Gemara (Kiddushin 40b), and also the Rambam states something to that effect, as a matter of halachah [Jewish law], when he says that a person should always consider his positive and negative deeds as equi-balanced, and so the whole world. If one does an additional mitzvah, he places himself, as well as the whole world, in the scale of zechus, outweighing the negative side.

The above is true, of course, also in the matter of spreading Yiddishkeit , and not only for the purpose of out-balancing. For the activities in Chinuch [Jewish education], starting in a sincere and hearty way, create a chain reaction, and eventually the students themselves become sources of influence, whether as teachers or in other active capacities, with the same enthusiasm and inspiration.

I trust that you observed in a suitable way the auspicious days of 12-13th of Tammuz. These days marked the liberation of my father-in-law of saintly memory from Soviet imprisonment, where his life was in jeopardy as a result of his relentless and sustained battle for the preservation of the Jewish life and institutions even under that totalitarian and anti-religious regime. His selfless dedication, as well as miraculous triumph, is an inspiration to every one of us, and proves once again that where there is a will and determination in matters of Torah and mitzvos, no obstacles are insur-mountable. May the inspiration of these days be with you throughout the year.

With blessing,

Rambam this week

16 Tamuz, 5763 - July 16, 2003

Positive Mitzva 109: Immersing in a Mikve

This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 15:16) "He shall bathe all his body in water"

Just as the Torah defines the different types of impurity - it also outlines the process for purification. The Torah describes the purification process, commanding the impure person to immerse himself in a mikve. A mikve is a special pool of water of a specific size. Its water must come from a natural source, rain or a spring. In the beginning of the universe, the entire creation emerged from water. After an impure person dips in the mikve, he rises up as a new creation; purified and prepared to serve G-d.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat, July 12, is the 12th of Tamuz. On this day in 1927, the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, o.b.m., was informed he would be released from prison.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok had been imprisoned by the anti-religious Communist regime for his efforts to strengthen Torah and Judaism in Russia. Originally he was sentenced to death; later, through American intervention it was commuted to three years in exile and finally all charges were dropped.

It is told that KGB agents once burst into his home, "warning" him to stop his work.

"My activities are legal according to Soviet law. I see no reason to stop them," he calmly replied.

One of the agents waved a gun at him. "This little toy has made many a man change his mind!"

"This little toy," retorted the Rebbe, "can intimidate only a man with two gods and one world. I, however, have one G-d and two worlds."

Such was the indomitable spirit of the previous Rebbe, leader of Russian Jewry and staunch champion of the conviction that America could also become a center for Torah and Jewish life.

The life of this great leader can be inspiring for us, today. Let us emulate the unflinching, resolute determination of the previous Rebbe, in all matters pertaining to our "one G-d and two worlds." And let us each do all we can to continue the work of the Rebbe, in strengthening Torah and Judaism all over the world. Then, the celebration of the 12th of Tamuz will be not just someone else's day of liberation, but indeed our very own.

Thoughts that Count

You shall take to yourself a red heifer" (Num. 19:2)

We find a puzzling aspect to the laws of the red heifer which is unique among the laws of the Torah. The same ashes which purified the spiritually impure rendered unclean the pure. A similar uniqueness can be found in the trait haughtiness. There are some who justify their lack of adherence to the laws of Torah by saying that they and their acts are of little significance to G-d. For them a little pride would be in order. On the other hand, if one who does observe the Torah allows his piety to go to his head he will undoubtedly drag himself down.

(Baal Shem Tov)

This is the Law: a man... (Num. 19:14)

The Torah law is arranged like a human body. There are 248 limbs and 365 sinews in the human body just as there are 248 positive commandments and 365 prohibitions in the Torah. In fact, each part of the body draws its spiritual energy from the corresponding commandment.

(Likutei Torah)

Who can count the dust of Jacob (Num. 23:10)

Why are the Jews likened to the dust of the earth? Within the earth there are great hidden treasures, most of which have not yet been discovered. In addition, simple earth is so great for all the creatures of the world depend on it for their sustenance and the water in it. However, in order to uncover these great treasures, one must labor and toil. One must dig deep, plow, plant seeds, etc. Every Jew has within him wonderful and numerous treasures - his faith in G-d, and the love and fear of G-d - but one must work hard to uncover them.

(The Baal Shem Tov)

The L-rd, his G-d, is with him (23:21)

A Jew is never alone. Wherever he goes and wherever he stands, the L-rd his G-d is with him.

(The Baal Shem Tov)

And Balak the son of Tzipor saw all that the Jews did to the Emorites (Num. 22:2)

He saw what the Jews did to the Emorites, but he did not see what the Emorites had done to the Jews. This is the way of the Nations of the World. They only see what the Jews are doing to the non-Jews, but the deeds of the non-Jews that led to the reactions of the Jews, these they do not see.

(Iturei Torah)

It Once Happened

This Thursday, the 17th of Tammuz (July 17 this year) is a fast day. It is the beginning of the Three Weeks of Mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple.
The heavenly decree was sealed: "The Holy Temple should be destroyed, and the Jews should be driven out of their land!" Then G-d said: "But the Western Wall should not be destroyed, so that there should always be a reminder that G-d's Glory resides there!"

The Jews could not and would not forget their Holy Temple. Every year on the ninth of Av, the Jews assembled at the Western Wall to pour out their hearts about the destruction, and to beseech G-d to rebuild the Holy Temple.

The Romans could not bear to see how resolutely the Jews kept to their religion, and how holy they regarded the Western Wall. The Romans hit upon a plan of how to remedy the situation; they issued an order that all gentiles who live in Jerusalem must dump their garbage daily near the Wall.

Day in, day out, the heap of garbage grew. Bit by bit the whole Wall was covered. The Jews mourned anew.

Many years went by. A very righteous Jew from outside of Israel came to Jerusalem to pour out his heart to G-d over the destruction. He walked through the streets of Jerusalem, seeking the Wall, but the could not find it. Everyone he asked shrugged their shoulders; they had never in their lives seen the Wall.

The Jew, however, did not give up hope. Day and night he looked for the Wall. Once, he came upon a huge hill of rubbish and wondered how so much garbage came to be accumulated at this place. He noticed a very old woman carrying a heavy sack on her back.

"Old woman, what are you carrying?" the Jew asked her.

"I am carrying a sack of garbage to throw on the hill."

The Jew inquired, "Do you have no room closer to home for garbage, that you are forced to bring it here?"

"It is an old custom for us to bring the garbage here. Once there stood here a huge stone wall that the Jews regarded as holy, so we were ordered to cover the wall." She emptied her bundle and returned home..

Tears poured from the Jew's eyes. "I will not move from here until I find a plan how to remove the dirt and reveal the Western Wall once more."

Suddenly an idea came to him. The Jew started back to town and whispered to everyone he saw: "They say that a big treasure lies buried beneath the hill of dirt over there."

He took a shovel and a bucket and began digging in the dirt. A short while later many more people arrived. The whole city of Jerusalem was aroused at the announcement of a huge treasure lying beneath the hill. They dug for a whole day till the upper stones of the Wall came into view. The sun set and the people went home to rest from their day's labor. The Jew then took out some golden coins, covered them with dirt and left.

The next morning, soon after dawn, there was an uproar by the hill. Someone had found a golden coin, and so did a second, and a third. The people started to dig with even more enthusiasm.

Every day they dug deeper and deeper. Every day a few golden coins were found. But, they were certain the real treasure lay at the bottom. The Jew spent his entire fortune on his mission to uncover the Western Wall.

For forty days the people dug around the Wall and sought the treasure. Finally the whole Wall was cleared of garbage. They did not find the treasure, but in front of their eyes a big stone wall appeared.

Suddenly a great storm broke out and a torrent of rain came down. It rained for three days, washing the Wall clean of any traces of dirt. When the people came out to see what they had unearthed, they saw a handsome wall with huge stones, some of them as much as ten feet high.

On the spot where Abraham brought Isaac to be sacrificed, where the first Holy Temple, built by King Solomon stood, and the second Holy Temple, built by Ezra and Nehemiah - on this very spot the third and final Temple will be built, when Moshiach comes.

Moshiach Matters

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, once said. "We are standing close to the top of mountain. There is only a small amount left to go. Moshiach is standing beyond the door, and he who has good hearing can already hear him and see him. It is known that before the light of day, sleep intensifies. We must stay strong and not give into sleep, in order that we be vessels that can accept the light of day. Every Jew must know this and when he meets a fellow Jew he must tell him 'listen my brother - do not fall asleep before the light of day.' "

(Sefer HaSichot 5689)

  776: Korach778: Pinchas  
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