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784: Shoftim

785: Ki Seitzei

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August 29, 2003 - 1 Elul, 5763

784: Shoftim

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  783: Re'eh785: Ki Seitzei  

Look At Me  |  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

Look At Me

Do you want people to notice you? How often do you want to be watched?

At first glance (so to speak), most of us would probably admit that we like to be looked at. We don't want constant gawking, but an occasional stare of incredulity would be nice. You know, the kind where someone's head turns, the jaw drops open, their eyes widen - the amazement is obvious. Is that really you?

Why do we crave it so much? In part it's the ego-boost, the glory; it's another picture in the mental album of nostalgic highlights we'll review in years to come. But also we want fame and recognition - at least a moment of both - not just because the adoration makes us feel good but because it validates us. We become significant by reflection. To a degree, being noticed gives us power.

But there are times when we don't want to be seen: If we're going to be embarrassed, for example, or if we're trying something new. When first we learn to ride a bike or roller skate, we don't want an audience because we know we're going to make mistakes or we might just "wipe out." So don't watch me when I'm learning. But a week or a month later, when I've mastered the skill - don't take your eyes off me.

There's another time when we don't want to be seen - when we're doing something wrong and we know it's wrong. It doesn't have to be a crime. Surely at some time in our youth we've all stayed up past our bed-time, reading one last chapter or sneaking into the kitchen for one last chocolate chip cookie.

But of course the sneaking-in-the-dark, behind-closed-door privacy isn't really private. Our consciences are there. And so is G-d. When Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was on his death-bed his students asked him for advice, guidance they could treasure after his departure from the physical world. He told them, "Would that you feared heaven as much as you feared men." Surprised they asked, "Only so much?" And Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai replied, "Would that it were so much. For when a person seeks to transgress, what does he say? 'Let no one see me.' He forgets that there is an Eye that always sees."

As Jews, we confront this dilemma of "don't look at me/watch me" - so familiar to us from observing our young children, who alternate between the two with the frequency of an electromagnetic current - all the time.

A funny story: a religious Jew from the old country went to an American city on business. He wore a long black coat, had a flowing beard with long sidelocks, a big yarmulka - no mistaking who he was. His host was also Jewish, but more modern in his dress. On Shabbat, as they were leaving for the synagogue, the visitor took off his tall, fur-lined hat - which his host knew was a special Sabbath hat. "Why are you leaving your hat?" he asked. The visitor answered gravely, "I don't want people to stare at me."

Since we're proud to be Jewish, let's be proud to look Jewish and be looked at as Jewish.

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, Shoftim, we read of the cities of refuge, to which a man who had killed accidentally could flee, find sanctuary and atone.

We have just entered the month of Elul, the month in which this portion is always read. Elul is in "time," what the cities of refuge were in "space." It is a month of sanctuary and repentance, a protected time in which a person can turn from the shortcomings of his past and dedicate himself to a new and sanctified future.

Although all the cities of refuge were to be in the land of Israel, they were not all in the same territory. There were three in the land of Israel proper - the Holy Land. Three were in trans-Jordan, where, according to the Talmud, "unintentional killing was common." And, in the Time to Come "the L-rd your G-d will enlarge your borders" three more will be provided, in the newly occupied land.

This means that every level of spirituality has its own refuge, from the relatively lawless trans-Jordan to the Holy Land, and even in the Time to Come. And this is true spiritually as well as geographically. At every stage of a man's religious life there is the possibility of some shortcoming for which there must be refuge and atonement. Even if he never disobeys G-d's will, he may still not have done all within his power to draw close to G-d. This is the task of the month of Elul. It is a time of self-examination when each person must ask himself whether what he has achieved was all he could have achieved. And if not, he must repent, and strive towards a more fulfilled future. Businessman and scholar, he who has lived in the world and he who has spent his days under the canopy of the Torah - both must make Elul a time of self-reckoning and refuge.

It is the way of the Western world to make Elul - the month of high summer - a time for vacation from study. The opposite should be the case. It is above all the time for self-examination, a time to change one's life. And the place for this is the city of refuge, in the Holy Land, which means for us, in a place of Torah. Each Jew should set aside Elul, or at least from the 18th onwards (the last 12 days, a day for each month of the year), or at any rate the days when selichot are said, and make his refuge in a place of Torah.

A refuge is a place to which one flees: that is, where one lays aside one's past and makes a new home. Elul is the burial of the past for the sake of a better future. And it is the necessary preparation for the blessings of Rosh Hashana, the promises of plenty and fulfillment in the year to come.

From Torah Studies by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

by Rabbi Ben-Tzion Kravitz

It was Sunday afternoon, July 6, 2003, and I was approaching the end of a successful three week mission to Israel dedicated to responding to a new wave of missionary activity. In addition to lectures, news interviews and meetings with government officials, my colleagues and I distributed thousands of copies of a new Hebrew version of Jews for Judaism's Counter-Missionary Handbook "The Jewish Response To Missionaries." That day I was traveling by car, with my wife Dvora and our son, from the northern town of Tsfat to Tel Aviv.

Around 4 p.m. we decided to take a rest stop. Just before the Zikhron Ya'akov interchange we exited Highway 70 and pulled up to a small restaurant located about 50 feet from the highway. As we exited our vehicle we heard the sound of screeching tires and turned toward the highway to witness a horrific accident. A white taxi traveling at high speed ran straight into a pedestrian who was walking along the side of the highway. I saw and heard the impact and watched as the pedestrian was thrown into the air and did a complete somersault over the car, landing on the pavement head first.

I've been Police Chaplain for more than 10 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the Los Angeles Airport Police, and LAPD and have responded to numerous crisis situations. My training includes First Aid and CPR as well as Crisis Counseling and advanced Critical Incident Stress Management. Thanks to this training I didn't panic and within seconds the years of training kicked in and I helped take control of the situation.

People around me were staring in shock and disbelief. I yelled to them to call for help. My command shook them out their stupor and they immediately ran inside the restaurant and called for emergency services.

I turned my attention back to the highway and ran the 50 feet, jumped the guardrail and kneeled next to the victim. The 14-year-old girl was lying motionless on her side with blood pouring from the back of her head and mouth. I was joined by Danny Eitan, a retired paratrooper and officer of the Israeli army, who had been driving in the opposite direction when he witnessed the accident. Together we checked for breathing and a pulse. Once I realized both breathing and circulation were absent I shouted that we must start CPR. Danny opened the airway and handled the breathing and I started chest compressions.

Each time I finished the chest compressions I shouted "Od Paam" ("Again") to Danny indicating that he should give her two breaths. This continued for about four repetitions until we revived her.

I did a physical assessment for additional body damage and did not notice any other major external bleeding. A doctor visiting the country arrived on scene and, realizing that the victim was being monitored, I turned my attention to the victim's three friends who were standing by the side of the highway, shaking uncontrollably, crying and going into shock. I removed them from the accident scene and took them inside the restaurant. I had them sit down, supplied them with cold water and offered words of hope. After finding out the victim's first name "Hadas" I offered a brief prayer and left her friends under the supervision of my wife who is a licensed therapist.

Since it was extremely warm outside we wanted to shield the victim from the sun. I requested that some form of material be brought to the side of the victim and a makeshift canopy was erected out of a large cardboard box.

Returning to the victim's side I held her head in my hands to prevent further trauma. She kept trying to pull my hand away, but with the help of several individuals who held her arms I stabilized her head and neck. Using her first name we spoke reassuring words of encouragement until the ambulance arrived.

In critical condition, Hadas was taken to a hospital in Hadera where they treated her internal injuries. She was then transferred to a Tel Aviv trauma center for her head injuries. After four days of treatment she was listed as "out of danger" and is expected to make a full recovery. Thanks to my training I was able to react professionally, but it was more then training that saved her life.

After the ambulance took Hadas to the hospital, Danny, who is not observant, turned to me and said, "I was not supposed to be in this spot at this time." I responded that in a million years I would never have expected to be here either. In fact, the "shortcut" driving directions given to me that morning by Rabbi Saul Leiter of the Accent Institute in Tsfat took me on nine different highways until I reached the accident site.

I shared with Danny the words of the Baal Shem Tov, concerning divine providence and how "the footsteps of men are established by G-d." As we embraced in the middle of the road we cried knowing that G-d had directed us to this spot to safe a young life.

I helped Danny put on tefilin in the merit of Hadas' complete and speedy recovery and we pledged a bond of brotherly friendship for the rest of our lives. Hadas is now at home and according to her grateful parents she is on her way to making a complete recovery.

Divine providence put us in the right place at the right time. I thought I was going to Israel to counteract missionaries and save Jewish souls from conversion, little did I know that I was sent to help save Hadas' life.

Rabbi Ben-Tzion Kravitz lives in Los Angeles and is the founder of Jews for Judaism International. He can be reached at: Jews for Judaism was created with the blessing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

What's New

White House Hospitality

Rabbi Mendel and Mrs. Sara Pewzner were guests of Mrs. Laura Bush at the White House. The Bushs had met the Pewzner during their visit to S. Petersburg, Russia, for that city's tri-centennial. The first Lady was eager to hear about developments of Jewish life in S. Petersburg. During the visit, the first lady signed a copy of a book on Jewish culture that will be placed in the library of the Grand Choral Synagogue in S. Petersburg. Rabbi and Mrs. Pewzner are emissaries of the Rebbe in S. Petersburg and Rabbi Pewzner is the Chief Rabbi of that city.

The Rebbe Writes

Free translation of a letter from the Rebbe

22 Elul, 5703

... To conclude with a matter of immediate relevance: Our Sages noted that the verse "Ish L'Re-eihu U'matanot L'Evyonim" ("Each person [gives food gifts] to his friend and presents to the poor") serves as an acronym for the name Elul indicating that in Elul, we should eagerly give to tzedaka. The Rambam [Maimonides] writes (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 3:4) that "It is customary for the entire House of Israel to give profusely to charity from Rosh HaShana until Yom Kippur more than throughout the year." If this applies to charity that endows a person with life in this world, it certainly applies to charity that endows a person with life in the World to Come, as reflected in the Mishnah (Bava Metzia 33a).

It is possible to explain that there is an added advantage to giving tzedaka that has spiritual intents over tzedaka which endows a person with life in this material world. With regard to the latter, at times, there may be drawbacks, because [at times], the poor who [receive the charity] are not worthy. As our Sages commented (Bava Basra 9b): "They were caused to blunder, because of people who were unfit, so that they would not receive reward." Certainly, this applies if the charity is used to sway young children away from the Jewish faith.

When, by contrast, the charity is used to endow people with the life of the World to Come, there are no possibilities of such shortcomings. How much more so does this apply when the tzedaka is being used for the education of children and the strengthening of the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos [commandments] by adults?! In such instances, there is no suspicion that one will be teaching a student who possesses an unrefined character (Chullin 133a; in particular, it is possible to explain that this prohibition applies only when there is an alternative, as the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman] writes in his Shulchan Aruch, Hilchos Talmud Torah, Kuntres Acharon, ch. 4, note 1).

May it be G-d's will that through "G-d, tzedaka is Yours," [This phrase begins the main body of the Selichos prayers which are recited before Rosh HaShanah.] we - and the entire Jewish people - be inscribed for a good and sweet year.

Friday, 5 Adar II, 5703 [1943]

Our dear and special friend, Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak Hecht, appraised us of the news of your decision to put on tefilin on every weekday.

From the depths of my heart, and with feelings of ahavat Yisrael (love of a fellow Jew), I recognize and appreciate the important resolve you have taken upon yourself.

A head on which tefilin have been placed thinks like a Jew, and a heart next to which tefilin have been placed feels like a Jewish heart should feel. And a hand upon which the tefilin [straps] have been wound is far from undesirable acts. On the contrary, it will always perform good deeds.

The Torah and its commandments are "our lives." Thus your putting on tefilin is auspicious for you and for your family. It is of benefit to our entire people and protects the land in which we are found.

"One mitzva [commandment] leads to another." We extend our wishes that you proceed further and further spiritually and that in a material sense, you enjoy good health and good fortune.

With the blessing "Immediately to teshuva [repentance], immediately to Redemption,"...

From I Will Write It In Their Hearts, translated by Rabbi E. Touger, published by Sichos In English

Rambam this week

7 Elul, 5763 - September 4, 2003

Positive Mitzva 243: The Paid Watchman

This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 22:91) "If a man gives his watch"

This Positive Mitzva outlines his obligations when the entrusted article is lost or stolen. A person who rents an article is also bound by these same responsibilities.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

We presently find ourselves at the beginning of the month of Elul, a month, according to our sages, to be used for introspection and repentance.

There is a beautiful allegory relating to this month, and the special relationship between G-d and the Jewish people which exists at this time:

A king had a son whom he loved dearly, who wished to travel amongst the king's many lands. The king, an indulgent father, allowed his son to travel.

Months passed. No word was heard from the prince. The king was worried. One day, a ragged looking young man approached the gates of the king's palace. He walked toward the entrance but was stopped by the guards.

"Don't you recognize me?" the young man cried out. "I am the prince. You must let me pass."

The guards laughed. Could this common beggar possibly be their beloved prince?

The young man reasoned, cajoled, demanded, that he be allowed to enter. Out of total desperation he began to cry. From deep within the palace the king heard the crying. Something sounded familiar. He listened until he was certain that, indeed, it was the voice of his own son. The king himself came running out to open the palace gates for his beloved son.

The Jewish people are, of course, the prince. Though we travel far, we ultimately return to the palace. And when we return, the sound of the shofar - a simple, wordless cry - brings the King to listen and open the gates of the palace and let us in. For this reason, it is customary to hear the cry of the shofar every day during Elul.

Let us all cry out to the King, with the shofar and with our own voices, that He let us into the palace. We will then be happiest, and, indeed so will He.

Thoughts that Count

You shall be perfect with the L-rd your G-d. (Deut. 18:13)

One must always be concerned that the soul should be whole and perfect, and not "missing any limb." For it is known that just as there are 613 parts of the human body, 248 limbs and 365 sinews, so are there 613 "limbs" of the soul. The wholeness and integrity of the limbs of the body are dependent on the keeping of the 613 commandments in the Torah.

(Likutei Torah)

It is not all that difficult to appear to be perfect and whole to other people. That is why "with the L-rd your G-d" is specified - your uprightness and honesty should be genuine and not just for show.

(Rebbe Bunim)

You shall prepare the way... that every slayer may flee there (Deut. 19:3)

The commentator Rashi explains that at each intersection was a sign directing "Refuge, Refuge." Cities of refuge were established to save from revenge those who unintentionally killed another person. Each of us must stand at the crossroads, wherever Jews are found who do not know in which direction to go, to point them in the path of Torah. Torah is the spiritual refuge from the "blood avenger," the evil inclination, which causes us to sin and prosecutes us, as our Sages say (Makot 10), "The words of Torah are a refuge."

(Likutei Sichot, Vol. 2)

It Once Happened

The Baal Shem Tov had a young disciple by the name of Mordechai who had a burning desire to study sorcery. Of course, Mordechai knew that according to Jewish teachings, the practice and study of any kind of witchcraft or sorcery is utterly forbidden. But Mordechai's evil impulse got the best of him and he made up his mind that he was going to leave the holy environs of the Baal Shem Tov and begin a new life.

Mordechai had determined to spend one last Shabbat with his master, the Baal Shem Tov, before taking leave of him and his fellow Chasidim forever.

That Friday night, Mordechai prayed, sang, ate and listened to the words of Torah that flowed from the Baal Shem Tov's holy lips. But Mordechai's mind was somewhere else entirely. He was already far away, with the group of sorcerers he had contacted and arranged to meet the following morning.

Suddenly, Mordechai became very warm. He removed his fur hat but he was still uncomfortable. He unbuttoned the collar of his shirt and removed the long black overcoat that he wore. But still, he was perspiring profusely. Mordechai looked out the window and saw that the icy winter wind was howling through the trees, and deep snow covered the ground outside. But here inside he was sweating and felt as though he was about to faint.

"I think I will step outside for a moment," Mordechai said to the Baal Shem Tov. "I need some fresh air."

"But just for a minute, no longer" answered the Baal shem tov "it's dangerously cold outside."

It was already getting hard for Mordechai to breathe; he opened the door and stepped outside. "Another minute and I would have surely fainted," Mordechai thoughts to himself. But suddenly he felt hot again. He began running and the biting wind was refreshing. He ran and ran like a madman through the woods. The trees, the stars, the moon were racing and whirling with him. And then, suddenly, everything went black.

He woke up in a strange place. An old farmer and his wife were standing over him. "We thought you were dead when we saw you laying in the snow" He said, "You've been sleeping for over a week. Are you all right? Do you want some warm soup? Where are you from?"

Mordechai didn't remember anything, but he took up the offer on the soup. In a few days he was already learning how to work behind the plow. Gradually the farm began to change; new workers were hired, new fields were purchased and cultivated, and five years later the simple farm had become a massive estate.

One day, the old farmer returned from a trip into town and showed the young man a flyer from the post office. "They are looking for new officers in the army," he said, "I think you should apply; it's your chance to be someone really important. Just look at the miracles you have done here. Don't waste your life here on this farm. It's time to move on."

The young man took to the army like a fish to water. He passed all the entrance requirements with flying colors, and after two years of officer's training, when the war broke out between his country and Poland he found himself a captain in the Royal cavalry.

Several chapters would be necessary to describe the many fierce battles and brave accomplishments of our hero, his innumerable brushes with death, his brazen spirit, split-second decisions, and impressive victories against impossible odds. Five years later, he had already been promoted to the rank of Major-General and was seated on his fine horse, reviewing the ten thousand mounted lancers at his command, when suddenly from nowhere he remembered... that night twelve years ago when he left the Baal Shem Tov's Shabbat table!

He paused for several minutes, deep in thought remembering every rich vivid detail, and every emotion that passed through his mind back then. Suddenly he came to himself and announced, "Dismount! Return to your tents, and prepare yourselves for a journey. In one hour we are beginning a three day march!"

It was late at night three days later, when the huge army reached the forest surrounding the small synagogue of the Baal Shem Tov. The General turned to face his soldiers and shouted: "Light your torches!"

The entire forest was flooded with an eerie flickering light. "Draw swords!" The ringing of the swords and the glistening blades were everywhere.

The General dismounted, approached the small synagogue, drew his sword and began pounding with its hilt on the closed door. "Open in the name of the King! See what becomes of a chasid who leaves the Holy Master!"

No one answered, but he heard someone speaking within the house and he got angry. He furiously stuck his sword in the ground and began pounding on the door with both fists and screaming "Open! Open for a General in the King's army!"

Slowly the door opened, the Baal Shem Tov stuck his head out and said "Mordechai, you have been outside for almost five minutes! Do you want to get sick? Come in immediately!"

"Five minutes?!" the General screamed "Look at all my troops and tell me about five minutes!" He turned around and.... there was no one there. Even his horse had disappeared! The wind was howling through the trees and deep snow covered the silent forest. Even his uniform and sword were gone! He was in the same garments as he was twelve years ago, it was all an illusion.

Mordechai humbly reentered the Baal Shem Tov's synagogue and the Baal Shem Tov's world, realizing that no magic or sorcery was as strong as the powers of the Baal Shem Tov that he derived from holiness.

Moshiach Matters

In the present era, ikvesa diMeshicha, the time when Moshiach's approaching footsteps can be heard, we can certainly apply our Sages' statement (Sanhedrin 97b): All the appointed times for Moshiach's coming have passed, and the matter is dependent solely on teshuva (repentance) and good deeds. It is incumbent upon each and every person to invest effort in ahavat Yisrael (love of a fellow Jew) in the place where he lives and in cherishing the Torah and its commandments with more intensity and power.

  783: Re'eh785: Ki Seitzei  
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