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Devarim Deutronomy

July 18, 2003 - 18 Tamuz, 5763

778: Pinchas

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  777: Chukas-Balak779: Matos-Masei  

Misreading  |  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


Have you ever read an article, story or poem, thought you understood what it meant, only to find out later that you completely misread it? Or, have you ever written a piece, thought its meaning was perfectly clear, only to find out later that readers completely misread it? It's a frustrating feeling either way. Authors and readers both can get defensive, testy, even angry. "That's not what it means. Don't you know how to read?" "That's what it means to me. Can't you write?"

What causes a writer to be misread? The author can be lazy, inexperienced or inattentive. A lazy writer doesn't do the background research. He doesn't know the subject thoroughly. He doesn't know his audience. He just throws something out there and hopes he'll be understood; when he's not, he defends his subconscious ramblings as genius. Our Sages warn against this kind of communication: "Do not make an ambiguous statement which is not readily understood [hoping] that ultimately it will be understood" (Ethics of the Fathers 2:4).

The author can be inexperienced, not knowing, not having learned what works, what conventions, rules, boundaries govern the discourse. He can be inattentive, ignoring the details, the "small matter" of grammar, usage and logic that convinces a reader he has something worthwhile to say.

But assuming the writer is competent, that he avoids the obstacles to clear thinking and effective writing, why is he misread? Or, from the other side, what flaws can a reader have? Some of course parallel those of the writer: the reader can be lazy, reading superficially. The reader can be inexperienced, missing textual signals and clues. The reader can be inattentive, skipping over small but significant details.

A reader can misread in another way. He can come to the text - the article, story or poem - with his own agenda. He can read into the text instead of reading out of the text. Thus he distorts the text because all he can see is his own message, his own scheme, his own thoughts; or he distorts the text because the clear, plain simple meaning makes him uncomfortable. He doesn't like the idea, he doesn't understand the concept, he can't reconcile previous conceptions - or misconceptions - with the newly revealed information or perspective.

Why is it a serious issue? To invent an aphorism: to misread is to mislead - one's self and thus others.

How can we tell who's at fault - the writer or the reader? To verbally imitate Hillel, that is, to answer metaphorically on one foot: the competent judge competence. Just as doctors, lawyers, plumbers, electricians, ballplayers know, by and large, where to place their peers on the hierarchy of excellence, and just as, by and large, the public verifies that opinion, so too with writers.

OK, now that we have the mashal - the analogy - what's the nimshal - the analog? Simply this: The Rebbe has said this is the last generation of exile and the first generation of Redemption. That being so, we have to be careful not to misread - and remember, to misread is to mislead - what the Rebbe has said.

A sampling:

"... all matters of Divine service have already been concluded and complete and we stand ready to greet our righteous Moshiach."

"The essential point in the life of every Jew and that of the Jewish people as a whole throughout all the generations has been: 'All the days of your life to bring about the days of Moshiach.' This requires extra emphasis in this generation and in our times..."

"And the only thing missing is that a Jew should open his eyes as he should, when he will see that all is ready for the Redemption."

Yes, we must be careful not to misread the Rebbe. How so? Simply by reading more of what the Rebbe says - or, in his own words: "What this means specifically is an increase in the study of the inner teachings of the Torah (with intellectual explanations) including the subject of Redemption and our righteous Moshiach."

So go online or contact your nearest Chabad House - and start reading!

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Pinchas, an incident with the five daughters of Tzelafchad is related. Tzelafchad, an Israelite who died in the desert, had no sons. Only sons were entitled to an inheritance; therefore, the daughters of Tzelafchad were not permitted a portion in the Holy Land.

The daughters of Tzelafchad, who were all known to be righteous women, objected to the thought that their family would not have a part in the land of Israel. They went before Moshe, who presented the case to G-d. G-d said to Moshe, "The daughters of Tzelafchad speak right. You shall surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father's brethren" (Numbers 27:7).

The above-mentioned episode is just one example in the Torah of the relationship of the Jewish women to the Land of Israel.

When the spies returned from the land of Canaan with reports of fortified cities, armies, and giants, the men decided to turn back to Egypt. But the women remained steadfast in their desire to enter the land. Consequently, only the men of military age were punished; they were to die in the desert. The women, however, entered the Land.

Tzelafchad's daughters were descendants of the tribe of Menashe, who had asked Moshe for permission to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan. They could easily have obtained land on that side, since the land there was distributed through Moshe personally. But, they were not content with such a portion. They loved the Holy Land and wanted a share in it.

The task they had set for themselves was not easy. The established judicial system was comprised of judges over fifty, one hundred, one thousand, etc. The daughters had to approach various judges, each one referring the matter to higher authorities until it was finally brought to Moshe, himself.

Tzelafchad's daughters were willing to try to overcome such a seemingly impossible and tiring obstacle to receive their portion.

This incident can serve as a lesson to us in our daily lives, too. G-d demands that we conduct our lives according to certain guidelines. Yet at the same time, He created and organized the universe in such a way that it seems to preclude proper fulfillment of our obligations of Torah study and performance of mitzvot.

But, with the right approach, we too, can merit a portion in our rightful inheritance. We must be willing to try to overcome the seemingly "impossible" obstacles, just as Tzelafchad's daughters did. If we undertake it with the same attitude of love as Tzelafchad's daughters, then certainly we will achieve our goal.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

It's A Camp of Laughter...."
by Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz

It is visiting day in Gan Israel Overnight Camp in Samara, Russia. As the parents get off the buses, they are greeted by a lively tune being sung by their children, "Ochen schaslivy ya potomushto ya potomushto ya yevrey - I am happy because I am a Jew."

Rabbi Zalman Deutsch, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's emissary to Samara and director of the city's Jewish Community Center, quiets down the excited children and begins to welcome the parents. He notices Assia Dubrovina's grandfather weeping quietly. "Was the drive too much for you? Are you feeling all right?" Rabbi Deutsch inquires of the elderly man.

The grandfather stands up and, in a voice filled with emotion, exclaims loudly for all to hear, "I was lucky enough to have lived somewhat of a Jewish life in our little shtetl before the War. My granddaughter is here, being infused with Jewish pride.

"I am crying for the middle generation, for the lost generation, for my daughter's generation that never received any kind of Jewish experience. Thank G-d for the Camp Gan Israel which ensures that, despite everything we have suffered here, the Jewish people live!"

Sochi, the Russian resort city on the Black Sea, is like the French Riviera. President Putin has his summer residence there, as do other prominent people. "Last year, our first summer, we had 300 children in our overnight camp. This year we have 500," Rabbi Ari Edelkopf, the Rebbe's emissary to Sochi and directory of the Jewish Community Center there, tells me excitedly. The children have come from all over the southern region of Russia: Krasnodar, Stavropol, Pyatirgorsk, Mahachkala, Nalchik, Derbent, Vladikavkaz, Novorossiysk, Rostov, to name a few.

I tell a friend of mine back in the United States about these two camps sponsored by the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS (just two of 56 camps throughout the Former Soviet Union). When I mention that we charge the parents 500 rubles (the equivalent of $12.50) for two weeks of wholesome, Jewish fun, he says to me, "It's mind-boggling.!"

Running an overnight camp anywhere is a big job. Running one in the Former Soviet Union is an even bigger job. We rent campsites, hire physicians and dentists to provide much-needed services, purchase vast quantities of sports equipment and arts 'n crafts supplies. We feed the children three nutritious meals each day and plenty of healthy snacks in between. We often give them clothing to supplement the one set of clothes they bring with them. We frequently have to provide bed linens, blankets, pillows, even toothbrushes and shampoo. (Tell that to your child when he's complaining that he can't possibly fit everything he needs for camp into an oversized suitcase, duffle bag and carry-on bag.)

When parents cannot even pay the minimal fee, we still accept the children. On visiting day the kitchen prepares a hearty lunch and invites the parents to join in. For many of the parents, the vast majority single-mothers, the meal they will eat on visiting day will be their only substantial meal the entire week!

When the FJC opened a center in Omsk in Western Siberia last spring, the first program Rabbi Asher and Chana Krishevsky organized was an overnight camp. The camp, situated in the mountains outside of Omsk ("like the Catskill Mountains in New York," Rabbi Krishevsky tells me), attracted children from Omsk, Tomsk, Nizhnevartovsk and Tumen. It was very successful and twice as many campers are expected this year.

Rabbi Krishevsky tells me about one lively young girl, Ana. "Like all of the campers, Ana returned home very enthusiastic about her Jewish experience. She told her parents, her grandmother and her great-grandfather everything about camp. She sang Hebrew songs for them. She told them how happy she was that she had not spent her summer roaming the city streets." Ana's mother called Rabbi Krishevsky, saying that Ana's great-grandfather wanted to meet him.

"I visited Natan Aronovich Krivinsky before the High Holidays last year. He cried when I walked through the door. He told me that until the age of 16 he had only spoken Yiddish. In his wildest dreams, he told me, he could not have imagined that his great-granddaughter would have the opportunity to attend a Jewish camp!"

Unlike many other Jewish families in Siberia, the Krivinsky family has always lived comfortably, thanks to the job that one of Natan's children had as manager of a factory. The family lives all together - four generations - in a large house in Omsk. "I don't visit Natan often because the family says he gets so excited when he sees me that they fear for his health. But I do call him periodically, especially before the holidays. And on his 100th birthday I called to wish him many more long, healthy years filled with Yiddishe nachas (Jewish pleasure) from his descendants."

It's not just Ana and her 100 year old great-grandfather who have reconnected with their Jewish roots. The entire family has begun attending programs at the Jewish Community Center in Omsk, including Shabbat and holiday services, adult education classes, and Jewish social events.

I speak to other FJC representatives and counselors throughout the length and breadth of the Former Soviet Union about summer camp. Names and locations are different, but the basic facts are all the same: Tens of thousands of Jewish kids in the FSU who attend the FJC sponsored summer camps return home excited, enthused and invigorated by their Camp Gan Israel experience. As one mother told me, "If I had known that my daughter would have such a good time I would have sent my other children!"

Rabbi Berkowitz is the executive director of the Federation of Communities of the Former Soviet Union, headquartered in Moscow.

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The Rebbe Writes

Free Translation

15th of Tammuz, 5733 [1973]

To Each and All of the Campers,
Boys and Girls, of pre-Bar
(Bas)-Mitzvah Age,
In All Summer Camps, Everywhere -
G-d Bless You All

Greeting and Blessing:

I hope and pray that you are making the fullest use of the present summer days to gain new strength and strengthen your health - both the health of the body and the health of the soul, which are closely linked together. And since the health of the soul is bound up with the Torah, which is "our very life and the length of our days," and with its Mitzvoth [commandments], "by which the Jew lives," you are surely doing your utmost in regard to Torah study and the observance of the Mitzvoth; in which case you may be certain of the fulfillment of the promise - "Try hard, and you will succeed."

I wish to emphasize, particularly, one point in connection with the forth-coming "Three Weeks"[1] -

And you are, no doubt, familiar with the events and significance of these days.

The point is this: I want you to consider carefully the special Zechus (privilege) which Jewish children have, a Zechus which affects our entire Jewish people, to which King David refers in the following words: "Out of the mouth of babes and infants You have ordained strength (oz)... to still the enemy and avenger" - including also the enemy that has caused the "Three Weeks" and still seeks vengeance to this day. In other words, the way to vanquish and silence the enemy is through the study of the Torah, called "strength" (oz), by the mouths of young children. Indeed, so great is their power that our Sages of blessed memory declare: "The whole world exists only by virtue of the (Torah) breath of little Jewish school children, whose breath is pure and free of sin," referring to children who have not yet reached the age of responsibility for wrongdoing, that is, boys and girls of pre-Bar (Bas) - Mitzvah age.

In this connection it is necessary to bear in mind the words of our Prophet Isaiah (in the first chapter) "Zion will be redeemed through Justice (Mishpot) and her returnees through righteousness (Tzedoko)." "Mishpot," here according to one interpretation, refers to the Torah. This means that through the study of the Torah and the observance of its Mitzvoth, especially the Mitzvah of Tzedoko, the Redemption (Geulo) is brought closer.

And Tzedoko - in the light of what has been said in the beginning of this letter - includes both Tzedoko for the body and Tzedoko for the soul: Tzedoko for the body is, simply, giving Tzedoko to a poor man, or putting money in a Tzedoko box; Tzedoko for the soul is to help one's classmates and friends spiritually - that is, to encourage them in matters of Torah and Mitzvoth, through showing them a living example of how a Jewish boy and girl should conduct themselves, and also by talking to them about these things.

Since it is my strong wish, and also great pleasure, to be your partner in this Tzedoko activity, I have sent out instructions to give each and everyone of you a token amount of money in the currency of your country, which is to be my participation in the said Tzedoko campaign.

May G-d bless each and everyone of you and grant you Hatzlocho [success] in all above, especially in your Torah learning and practice of Tzedoko, in a steadily growing measure, so that also when you return home from summer camp and throughout the next school-year (may it be a good one for all of us) you will - with renewed vigor and in good health, in body as well as in soul - go from strength to strength in your study of the Torah with diligence and devotion, and that your studies should be translated into deeds - in the practice of the Mitzvos with Hiddur [beauty]; and all this should be carried out with joy and gladness of heart.

And may we all very soon, together with all our Jewish brethren, merit the fulfillment of the prophecy that these days of the Three Weeks will be transformed from sadness into gladness and joy,

With the true and complete Geulo through our righteous Moshiach,

"Who shall reign from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth...

"And all the earth will be filled with G-d's Glory."

With blessing for Hatzlocho and good tidings in all above,



  1. (Back to text) [The Three Weeks of mourning for the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples]

Rambam this week

22 Tamuz, 5763 - July 22, 2003

Positive Mitzva 238: Injury Caused by an Obstruction

This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 21:33) "And if a man shall open a pit...

The Torah holds a person responsible for digging a hole in public property and leaving it uncovered. This mitzva also includes other similar situations which could cause damage to a person or his belongings.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

We are currently in the period of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem known as the "Three Weeks." It began this past Thursday on the 17th of Tammuz and continues through the 9th of Av - "Tisha B'Av" (July 17 - August 7, this year).

If, G-d forbid, Moshiach has not come by Tisha B'Av, we will read the book of Lamentations (Eicha) on that day. In Lamentations it says, "Come and sing in the night." Chassidic interpretation explains this to mean that during the "night" of exile one can come and sing; despite the fact that it is dark.

The beauty and specialness of the Jewish people is that we can find reasons to "sing" in the night. While the whole world is enveloped in total darkness, we find a reason to sing.

What exactly is that reason? We view the darkness of night, the darkness which surrounds us, as if it were a tunnel. At the end of every tunnel, no matter how long, there is a light shining bright. And it is because of the fact that we are surrounded by the darkness of the tunnel that we can see the brightness of the light at the end. We realize, too, the darker the tunnel, the closer we are to the light at the end.

When the redemption and Moshiach will come, these days are going to be filled with the light of joy and happiness and glory. This is what we are waiting for, what we are hoping for. This is the reason we can and must sing and dance in the night. After all, we are already at the end of the tunnel.

Thoughts that Count

My shall observe to offer to me in its time (Num. 28:2)

The Hebrew word used here for "observe" is often used to imply hopeful anticipation of a future happening. Though we do not have the opportunity to observe the laws of sacrifice while in exile, our constant anticipation and hope for the rebuilding of the Temple gives us a portion in the sacrifices which were previously offered there.

(Sefat Emet)

Let the L-rd, the G-d of all living souls, appoint a man over the congregation (Num. 27:16)

Rashi explains that Moses was asking G-d to appoint a leader who would be able to understand each person according to that person's needs. Moses referred to G-d as the "G-d of all living souls." This was to underline that the leader should be one who loves all Jews in an equal and fair manner, regardless of their fear of G-d, or position.

(Kedushat Levi)

And the Children of Korach did not die (26:11)

They did not die, and in every generation Korach's "inheritors" - those who rebel against the Moses of that generation - are alive and well, continuing in his path.

(Sefer HaSichot)

My sacrifice ... you shall keep to offer to Me in its season (28:2)

Keeping something, as in "you shall keep" implies waiting for or anticipating something. Thus are we able to keep the commandments of the sacrifices even in Exile, after the Holy Temple has been destroyed. We "keep" the laws associated with the Holy Temple by anticipating its rebuilding. Through our great longing for the Temple we have a part in the sacrifices that were brought in those times.

(Sfat Emet)

It Once Happened

Jerusalem. It was hours before daybreak in the year 1660 and Rabbi Klonimus Hechasid was making his way in the dark to the Kotel, the Western Wall, to pray to the King of the Universe. It was his unvarying custom to pray every morning at that early hour, when the world was completely still and he could meditate on the greatness of G-d and His wondrous creation.

The day seemed like every other day. But as he walked in the darkness, he became aware of some almost undiscernible movement in the surrounding blackness. It was with terror that he saw a street filled with Arabs brandishing knives and swords. They were crying out, "Death to the Jewish murderers!"

Rabbi Klonimus approached them, and their leader told him that an Arab youth had been discovered murdered near the Jewish quarter, and they were going to punish every Jew they could find. He somehow found the right words and convinced them to wait before commencing their bloodthirsty plan.

"Please, allow me to go the Kotel to pray. When I am finished, I will tell you the identity of the killer of the boy."

Rabbi Klonimus took a quill, a small bottle of ink and a piece of paper. He then proceeded to the Kotel followed by the Arab mob bearing the body of the dead youth in tow. Draping himself in talit and tefilin, he prayed for a short while and then wrote something on the paper. Then he took the paper and placed it on the forehead of the dead Arab child.

To the astonishment of all present, the dead youth opened his eyes, stood up and scanned the crowd. Then he pointed to one of the Arabs in the mob and announced, "That is the one! He is the one who murdered me!"

A loud murmur went up from the mob as the accused man was dragged forward. Trembling with terror, the man admitted his guilt before his resurrected victim. As soon as he had confessed the youth sank to the ground, as dead as before.

The parents of the dead boy ran to Rabbi Klonimus, begging him to bring their child to life again, but he just shook his head. "I am not G-d, that I should be able to either grant or take away life. The miracle that just took place was granted in the merit of the holy Kotel so that you could see that 'the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.' He is waiting just behind the Wall to rescue His children."

The crowd dispersed, bearing the murdered youth to his grave.

After the destruction of the First Holy Temple, many of the Jewish people lived in exile in Babylonia, where they built great Torah academies and established flourishing Jewish communities. Rabbi Zeira was amongst those who lived in exile, learning Torah from the greatest scholars. Though he had a satisfying life, he wanted one thing more - to live in the land of Israel and to study Torah from the great Sages there.

Even though Rabbi Zeira longed to live in the Holy Land, he was torn in making his decision, since his teacher, Rabbi Yehuda ben Yechezkel was opposed to returning to Israel. It was his belief that the Jews were obligated to remain in exile in Babylonia, since they did not yet merit to return. Not only did Rabbi Zeira not want to oppose his teacher, he had doubts as to whether his own personal merits were sufficient to allow him to live in the Holy Land.

One morning Rabbi Zeira woke up feeling assured that he could live in the Holy Land; he had had a dream in which he received Divine assurance of his worthiness. But he still had to solve the problem of his teacher's opposition. Then, one day, he happened to hear Rabbi Yehuda speaking and he caught a few wise words which made him feel ready to depart for the Land of Israel.

Journeying by foot, Rabbi Zeira came to a river with no bridge. Usually crossed by ferryboat, the boat was nowhere in sight. Rabbi Zeira spied a foot-bridge consisting of a narrow plank secured by ropes. Rabbi Zeira was not a young man, and this shaky bridge was used only by workers who had no time to wait for the ferry. Rabbi Zeira felt a great urgency to proceed and he grabbed onto the rope and mounted the slippery bridge. He slipped and slid his way across, occasionally falling into the river until he finally reached the other side.

When he mounted the other bank, Rabbi Zeira was greeted by a smirking gentile who said, "You are a rash and thoughtless race! Right from the beginning you acted without consideration. You said, 'We will do and we will understand.'

"That's not the normal way of approaching a situation. First you find out about something, and only then you make a commitment to it. Why didn't you have the patience to wait for the ferry?"

Rabbi Zeira explained, "I'm on my way to Israel. To live in Israel was the greatest wish of Moses and Aaron, but they were not permitted to realize their dream. I am no longer a young man. Who knows if I will live long enough to reach the Land of Israel. Every minute that I will live in Israel is precious to me. How could I lose time waiting for the ferry?"

Rabbi Zeira reached Israel where he settled in Tiberius and studied in the famous yeshiva of Rabbi Yochanan.

Moshiach Matters

The Zohar describes the First and Second Holy Temples as "the building of mortal man which has no lasting existence," whereas the Third Holy Temple, since it is "the building of the Holy One, blessed be He," will endure forever. The First Holy Temple corresponds to Abraham; the Second Holy Temple corresponds to Isaac; the Third Holy Temple corresponds to Jacob. And since the dominant characteristic of Jacob is truth, which can be neither intercepted nor changed, the Third Holy Temple will stand forever.

(Likutei Sichot, Vol. IX, p. 26)

  777: Chukas-Balak779: Matos-Masei  
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