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Devarim Deutronomy

February 20, 2004 - 28 Shevat, 5764

808: Mishpatim

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

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  807: Yisro809: Terumah  

Window Shopping  |  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

Window Shopping

It's something we've all done - window shopping. Sometimes we do it intentionally. We get in our car, drive to the mall and walk around. We have no intention of buying; we just want to see what's there, what we could purchase if we wanted to - or had the money. It's a pleasant pastime, a harmless way to indulge the imagination - perhaps even motivate us, give us a goal. "That dress looked so nice. It would be perfect if I just lose a few pounds..."

Sometimes we don't intend to window shop; we just get caught up in the moment, so to speak. "What took so long? Yes, dear, I know I just went to the hardware store to get some batteries for the children's alarm clock. But on my way to the battery aisle, I passed the tool aisle. They had a great set of wrenches at a reasonable price. And the hammers were on sale. Of course I didn't buy anything, I know we don't have much storage space. But on my way out I passed the electronics store - the batteries made me think of it - and so I stopped in and browsed and, well, sorry I'm late."

Nowadays we window shop inside the stores. The open access of the malls - many stores don't have doors, just openings -makes that possible, inviting us in to browse. But the display window still attracts us and even the stores without doors have some sort of display - sale items, eye-catching items - to make us stop, turn, hesitate, stare and maybe, just maybe, go inside for a deeper look.

Although the store owners hope their display windows entice us to come in and buy, the term "window shopping" connotes something else. It means there's a barrier - a window - between us and the merchandise. The "window" protects us from getting involved. We know the dress, the tool, the book, the car is there. We can see it any time we want. And because we know it's there, we can buy it any time we want.

That gives us a sense of security, a false one, but a sense of security. As proof, imagine the feeling of passing a store and seeing the display changed, of not seeing that dress or computer in the window. We have an immediate sense of panic - am I too late? Did I miss the sale? And then we rush into the store, quickly find a clerk and ask - has that dress been sold? Is it off the market? Has the price gone up?

If the answer to all the questions is no, we feel relieved. We still won't necessarily buy the dress or computer, but we're reassured and comforted it's still there. But if the answer to one of the questions is yes, we feel great remorse and regret. How could I miss it? I should have done this or that.

So many times it seems we go "window shopping" when it comes to Jewish observances, Torah classes, mitzvot performance. Services will always be there. The class will always be there. I can call the rabbi anytime. I can do something special for Shabbat - next week. The holidays don't change. Etc. We browse, but we don't buy. We stand on the outside looking in, just looking through the window, daydreaming what if ...

But now's the time to "buy," to seize the opportunity to do a mitzva. The display window changes - the opportunity for this mitzva at this time - doesn't come again.

Moshiach can come at any moment. The mitzva that brings Moshiach may be the one you're currently contemplating. Who knows how long the "sale" will last?

Living with the Rebbe

The Torah portion this week is Mishpatim - statutes. Included amongst the many mitzvot found in the portion is one which discusses how to behave toward an enemy in distress. "When you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden, you might want to refrain from helping it, but you must make every effort to help him [unload it]." (23:5)

The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, translated and explained this commandment in a unique way which makes it relevant to each one of us. It is important to note that the Hebrew word for donkey - chamor is similar to the word for materiality - chomer.

When you see a donkey - when you carefully examine your materiality, your body, you will see...

your enemy - for your materiality hates your Divine soul since it is the Divine soul which longs for G-dliness and spirituality. Furthermore, you will see that it is...

lying under its burden - it is overwhelmed and overloaded with the command placed upon it by G-d, namely, that it should become refined through the study of Torah and performance of mitzvot. But, the body, like a donkey, is lazy and stubborn to fulfill these commands. It may then occur to you that...

you might want to refrain from helping it - to enable it to fulfill its mission. And instead, you might follow the path of mortification of the flesh to break down the body's crass materiality.

Hundreds of years ago, it was indeed considered proper to subordinate the body through afflicting it with ascetic practices, but the Baal Shem Tov rejected this path. He saw the body not as an obstacle to the spirit, something intrinsically evil and ungodly, but as a potential vehicle for the spiritual, a means for the soul to attain heights otherwise inaccessible.

The light of Torah will not reside fully in this method. Rather...

You must make every effort to help it - purify the body, refine it, but not to break it.

Thus the "enemy" is transformed into an ally, an instrument through which to perform mitzvot. In great measure the mitzvot employ gross physical matter to fulfill G-d's will, e.g. leather for tefilin thongs, wool for tzitzit, etc. We must care for our physical selves in order to fulfill G-d's commandments. Indeed, it is a commandment to watch over the health of one's body.

Adapted from Hayom Yom, compiled by the Rebbe from teachings of the previous Rebbes.

A Slice of Life

There was a Hasid who had a farm
By Jennifer Fishbein

With interest in environmental sustainability burgeoning, organic farmers are finding more and more buyers - with kosher-keeping consumers among them. It's all possible thanks in part to a growing number of Hasidic Jews who are swapping their black coats for overalls, citing the Torah and a Jewish farming tradition as their mandate.

"The Torah is the original environmental primer," says Shmuel Simenowitz, a Lubavitch rabbi, lawyer and Jewish educator who began farming about 17 years ago on Long Island. "Fifty years ago, all our grandparents had chickens. So we're not coming from outer space."

Simenowitz says the fast-paced atmosphere and superficial mind-set at his former New York law firm prompted him seven years ago to move to bucolic Readsboro, Vt., and establish Sweet Whisper Farms, an organic educational farm and maple syrup business.

"Many said I was crazy," he says of his former colleagues. "All said, 'We wish we had the guts to do what you're doing.'"

Yosef Abrams has a similar story. Fed up with an unfulfilling 26-year law career, Abrams - who once argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court - bid farewell to his Chicago firm in 1998 and bought a 800-dunam farm in Waukon, Iowa. His mission: to join nearby Postville's 50-family Lubavitch community and create a premium-quality kosher cheese.

"I never looked back," says Abrams, proprietor of Mitzva Farms, which produces such cheeses as Yetta's Chedda, A Bis'l Swiss'l and Mazel Rella. "It was like walking away from Sodom and Gomorrah."

In embracing farm life, both men have rejected modern conveniences in favor of Old World technology. Simenowitz heats his home with wood-burning ovens and tends his farm with horse-drawn plows. "Not everything is press a button and it happens right away," he says. "The attitude today is, if it takes more than 10 seconds, it's not worth doing."

Abrams says the no-frills quality of farm life appeals particularly to Lubavitchers.

"In many ways, farm life rejects a lot of the secular world," he says. "The frills, the fluff, the insincerity. It's all about hard work and a handshake - no written documents. You wear overalls, not a $500 suit; you go to Wal-Mart for your dishes, not Saks Fifth Avenue. That's the nature of Chabad - you return to the simple things. You throw your TV in the trash, basically. It's a perfect fit."

Indeed this "perfect fit" inspired seven Lubavitch families to found America's first kosher organic farming community in 2002. Named Eretz Ha-Chaim (the living land) the 280-dunam farm in Sunderland, Mass., harvests about 25 varieties of produce, tends cows and chickens and boasts a synagogue, school and ritual bath.

"The Ba'al Shem Tov [the founder of Hasidism] encouraged simpletons to put their hands into their work," says 26-year-old Tuvia Helfen, chief farmer at Eretz Ha-Chaim. "Even scholars should work with their hands to leave their minds free for Torah."

But Helfen says farming possesses a universal appeal that enhances the faith of all Jews, not just Lubavitchers.

"There's nothing like the farming, the magic of creation," Helfen says. "No matter how much work you put in, you're amazed at what goes on there. It also enhances the holidays." For example, he said, fall is a time of renewal: "The leaves are changing, we read the Torah again, it's kind of like the creation process is starting anew."

The men say their zeal for farming stems from the Torah's prescription of environmentalism and social justice.

"The Torah says we are to dominate and command the land, and it's our charge to take care of it," Abrams says. "If there was any document that was environmentalist 3,000 years ago, it would be the Torah."

The farmers do observe the commandments to let their animals rest on the Sabbath, leave the land fallow every seventh year and grow certain crops apart from each other. But modernity has rendered other laws - such as the commandment to designate a corner of one's field for the poor - obsolete. "I would be surprised if I saw people gleaning in the corners of my fields," Simenowitz says. "I would be happy, but society doesn't lend itself to that. Would you approach homeless people and tell them to scour through your garden?"

To compensate, the farmers have crafted what they see as modern-day equivalents. They hold environmental and Jewish education classes for children and adults, donate food to local families and participate in the Community Supported Agriculture program. This last effort allows nonfarmers - neighbors and nearby city dwellers - to buy shares in a farm's produce at the start of the farming season and in exchange enjoy a steady supply of fresh fruit and vegetables.

More than 1,000 CSA farms exist in the United States and Canada, but so far Eretz Ha-Chaim ( is the only kosher farm to participate. Another one is on its way, however, at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Conn. Adam Berman, executive director of Camp Isabella Freedman, says his wish to live in a nondenominational Jewish farming community inspired him to initiate Adamah, a six-month environmental leadership training program at the center. In the summer 2003 pilot program, six young adults built a garden that featured chickens, bees and fruit trees. A five-acre farm is in the works for this spring, with a CSA program to follow. "There are thousands of young Jews out there who are much more compelled by environmental issues than they are by Judaism," Berman says. "It's very sad for me. To me, they're intricately linked - passion for environmental sustainability and love of Judaism."

Reprinted with permission from the Forward.

What's New

One Shabbat - One World

Chabad-Lubavitch Centers have initiated next Shabbat, February 27-28, as "A Shabbat devoted to Unity and Redemption." The Talmud states that if every Jew observes one Shabbat, it will usher in the Redemption. "One Shabbat, One World" emphasizes increasing one's Shabbat observance. The main things is to participate; do something on your own, include some friends, or contact your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center to join with them.

The Soul of Marriage

What does Kabala have to say about soulmates, marriage, and meaningful relationships? Find out at a special Shabbaton Feb. 27-29 hosted by the Chabad-Lubavitch in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. An incredible Shabbat with Rabbi Yosef Y. Jacobson from beginning to end: Learn, sing, pray, dine, dance, and grow. Call (718) 953-1000 or visit

The Rebbe Writes

8th of Elul, 5717 [1957]

Greeting and Blessing:

I was pleased to receive your letter, with enclosure. Needless to say that in the future too, you can write in English. The important thing is that the contents of the letter should be satisfactory.

I have read your letter and enclosure with much interest, and I trust that you, yourself, have drawn the proper inferences that they imply. By this I mean how much can be achieved, even under the most adverse circumstances, in the field of Kosher Jewish education; how much even one single family can do in creating a completely new atmosphere in a remote corner of the earth. Although the selflessness of Lubavitcher Chassidim, seasoned under the Soviet regime, certainly contributed a great deal to the success of the work, it would have been extremely difficult to do much without the aid of local residents, in this case your family, with your late father of blessed memory, at its head. All this emphasizes once again that where there is a will there is a way.

It is generally recognized that nothing in this world gets lost, even in the physical world, how much more so in the world of the spirit and soul. Thus the belief in the immortality of the soul is not just a belief; it is a conviction. It is therefore self-evident that the greatest thing you can do for your father's immortal soul is to carry on his good work, especially as this kind of work cannot be placed on anybody else's shoulders, and, moreover, inasmuch as your family has been doing the pioneer work in Australia, to make that continent also a fitting place for the Divine presence.

I trust also that all the members of your family will make a concerted effort to continue this work, disregarding any difficulty or financial problem, and not to hesitate to increase the budget of our institutions, even where a deficit is implied. For a deficit can always be retrieved in due course, whereas any opportunity in education that is lost is hard to retrieve.

With prayerful wishes and regards to you, and all the members of your family and,

With blessing,

[P.S.] thank you for the enclosed letter from Mrs. , contents of which were conveyed to the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, in order to come in contact with Rabbi Serebransky.

In the days of Selichoth, 5729 [1969]

Greeting and Blessing:

I am in receipt of your letter of September 8th.

I was gratified to read about the advancement which you have made in matters of Yiddishkeit. I trust that you will not rest content with this progress in the past, but will continue to go from strength to strength in this direction. In addition to it being a must for its own sake to keep all things of holiness on the ascendancy, this is also the way to receive additional Divine blessings, which each and everyone needs, and which you in particular need in regard to the various matters about which you write.

And the way to advance in the said direction is simply and first of all, to fulfill the practical Mitzvoth [commandments] in the daily life and conduct, such as putting on Tefillin, eating Kosher, observing Shabbos and Yom Tov [holidays] and so forth. In the final analysis this is a matter of will and determination, as our Sages say, "Nothing stands in the way of the will."

The present days of the year are particularly auspicious for the above, in the light of the explanation of our Sages in regard to the verse, "Seek G-d when he can be found, call unto Him when He is near," that G-d is particularly accessible and near at this time of the year.

May G-d grant that you should have good news to report....

Rambam this week

1 Adar, 5764 - February 23, 2004

Prohibition 217: It is forbidden to breed two types of animals together

This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 19:19) "You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind"

We are not allowed to breed one type of animal with another animal of a different species. This is also known as Kelayim.

Prohibition 218: It is fobidden to work with two different kinds of animals together

This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 22:10) "You shall not plow with an ox and donkey together" This is another type of "forbidden mixture" or Kelayim, concerning animals. We are not allowed to do any work while harnessing two different kinds of animals together.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat is the first of four weeks when we read a special Torah portion following the Torah reading. The special portion for this week, "Shekalim," deals with the command to every Jew to contribute half a shekel toward the building of the Sanctuary in the desert.

This half-shekel was not only a tax but served the additional purpose of being an atonement for the sin of the "golden calf." After hearing the command from G-d, Moses was perplexed as to how it was possible for a half-shekel to atone for such a horrendous sin.

The requirement to give half of a coin, indeed, had significant meaning. It signified to each Jew who gave - and every Jew did give - that G-d and the Jewish people are one whole. We are not, as mathematicians might think, two separate entites that join together - one plus one equals two. Rather, we are a half and G-d, as it were, is a half. It is only when the two halves are added up that there is one, unified, complete, whole individual.

In addition, there is a more "down-to-earth" implication to this analogy of a half-shekel. Each Jew, as we mentioned before, is a half. Only when one Jew joins together with another Jew - another half - does either Jew become whole. Whether the mitzva of charity, Torah study, visiting the sick, hospitality, or numerous other mitzvot, it is only through connecting with another Jew that we become whole.

Thoughts that Count

When you purchase a Jewish slave (Ex. 21:2)

Surely you do not purchase a slave; you purchase a man and he becomes a slave. The verse wishes to indicate that slavery does not mean complete ownership of another person. Even before he was sold he was already a slave to the Alm-ghty and must be treated with proper respect.


For six years he shall serve and in the seventh year he shall be set free. (Ex. 21:2)

These six years hint to the six kingdoms in which the Jewish people "served," i.e. were enslaved: Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Media, Greece and Rome (the "exile" in which we presently find ourselves). Soon we will be "set free" by Moshiach, who will redeem us from our present exile.

(Sefer HaParshiot)

If the stolen article is found in the thief's possession... he must make double restitution. (Ex. 22:3)

It is possible to utilize for G-d's service, according to the Torah, all behavior-traits. This includes those traits that are unwholesome, and even those that are evil. For example, Rabbi Meshulam Zusya of Anipoli learned a number of methods of serving G-d from a thief: a) He works quietly without others knowing. b) He is ready to place himself in danger. c) The smallest detail is of great importance to him. d) He labors with great toil. e) Alacrity. f) He is confident and optimistic. g) If he does not succeed the first time, he tries again and again.

(Hayom Yom)

Keep away from anything false. (Ex. 23:7)

Rabbi Mendel of Kotsk used to say: It is written, "Truth sprouts from the land." But we know that nothing grows if it isn't sown first in the ground. The seeds of truth are lies; when one buries a lie in the dirt, the truth will always sprout from it.

And Moses was on the Mountain forty days and forty nights (Ex. 24:18)

"Not until after forty years does a person fathom the full intent of his teacher" the Talmud tells us. One day "Above" is equal to a year in this world. Moses was on Mount Sinai - "Above" - for exactly forty days and nights. Thus he was able to fully fathom Torah and wholeheartedly accept its obligations.

(Ohr HaTorah)

It Once Happened

Two simple tailors from the city of Vilna, worked the neighboring villages as partners. Their work was not particularly beautiful, but it was good enough for the common folk. One time, they stopped in a village and called on the Jew who collected taxes by contract with the local squire.

The tailors asked the obviously downcast man what troubled him. "The squire is about to marry off his daughter and has ordered me to find him an expert tailor to make the gown. He has not been satisfied with anyone I have brought him. If I do not provide him with what he wants, he will drive me out of the village."

The two tailors listened quietly. "We are both tailors. Tell your squire about us. Maybe he will give us a chance at his daughter's bridal outfit."

The tax collector finally agreed and the squire allowed them to sew him a sample. He was satisfied when it was completed, and commissioned them to make up the entire bridal wardrobe. He paid them generously, and before they left called in his Jewish tax collector to thank him for having found him such fine workmen.

The squire's shrewd wife took her husband aside: "Those Jews were overjoyed that you were so gracious with their fellow Jew, the tax collector. Why don't you tell them about our other Jewish tax collector, the one we threw into the dungeon with his family? They may feel like paying the ransom."

The squire took his wife's advice. "How much does he owe you?" they asked.

"Three hundred silver rubles."

The two tailors spoke to each other privately. "Listen, brother," said the first tailor to the other. "Let us dissolve our partnership. Let's work out how much my share comes to, and I'll take it in cash."

They made their calculations, and each man's share came to three hundred silver rubles. With the money divided, the first tailor gave the squire his three hundred silver rubles. The prisoners were freed.

The two tailors continued their journey home to Vilna. The one who brought his savings with him opened a business and prospered, while his friend, who had come empty handed, fell on hard times. He had to beg for his daily bread, but never once did he reveal his great mitzva.

One day, when the impoverished tailor stopped someone for a little money, the stranger asked him: "What will I get from giving you money?"

"I can give you my blessings," he said.

The man thought, "The blessing of some fool." But he gave the tailor some small change, and forgot all about it.

This man was a flax merchant, and on the day that he had met the tailor, he went to a particularly tough customer. This time their transaction was completed quickly and profitably. The flax merchant wondered if the blessing of the pauper had actually helped him.

The next time he had to meet a difficult customer, he found the tailor, gave him tzedaka and asked for his blessing. Again things worked out well. Seeing that it was the poor man's blessing that made his affairs prosper, the merchant made it a rule to repeat the procedure, and quickly became a wealthy man.

One day, the merchant told his friends and relatives the secret of his success. Soon, everyone knew about the tailor and his blessings. People thronged to him.

The Baal Shem Tov heard about the tailor and sent two of his disciples to convince him to visit. They succeeded in persuading him to come with them.

The Baal Shem Tov asked how he had been granted this gift from heaven. Since the tailor had no answer the Baal Shem Tov asked him to recount his life story.

The tailor proceeded to tell of all the ups and downs of his life, until he came to the episode of the squire, and the bridal gown, and the prisoners, and the ransom...

"That's it!" cried the Baal Shem Tov.

He asked the tailor to stay with him, and personally taught him both the revealed and the hidden aspects of the Torah. In time, the tailor became a great tzadik himself, and wrote a book on the sacred mysteries of the Kabala.

Moshiach Matters

The verse (Exodus 23:31) "I will set your borders from the Red Sea to the Philistine Sea, from the desert, to the river" referes to the days of Moshiach when our borders will be expanded, as it says: "May he have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the world."

(Torah Shleima)

  807: Yisro809: Terumah  
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