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                         L'CHAIM - ISSUE # 820
                           Copyright (c) 2004
                 Lubavitch Youth Organization - L.Y.O.
                              Brooklyn, NY
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   Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.
        May 21, 2004            Bamidbar           1 Sivan, 5764

                       The All & Nothing of Torah

Shavuot is, by comparison, a quiet holiday. Every other holiday has a
lot of activity, a lot of hustle and bustle surrounding it. Pass-over?
Clean the house, make a Seder, read the Hagada, eat matza. Rosh Hashana?
Blow the shofar, listen to the cantor and the rabbi. Yom Kippur? Don't
eat or drink - so do a lot of both the day before. Sukkot? Outdoors
eating and the lulav and etrog. Chanuka? Light the menora, celebrate in
public, get gelt. Purim? A big Megila! Shalach Manot (food gifts), a big
feast, etc.

But there isn't a specific ritual, a separate, concrete mitzva
associated with Shavuot. Every holiday we go to the synagogue and read
the Torah, but only on Passover do we eat matza, only on Sukkot do we
dwell in the sukka, etc. But what's special about Shavuot?

Exactly what's special about Shavuot? You see, Shavuot commemorates the
giving of the Torah, so its rituals have to reflect its historical and
spiritual uniqueness. Matza on Passover, because that's what the Jews
ate; it instills in us humility and submission to G-d. The sukka on
Sukkot, because that's what the Jews lived in and it unites us, bringing
us together as one.

And that's exactly what's special about Shavuot. You see, Shavuot
commemorates the giving of the Torah, so its rituals have to reflect its
historical and spiritual uniqueness. Matza on Passover, because that's
what the Jews ate; it instills in us humility and submission to G-d. The
sukka on Sukkot, because that's what the Jews lived in and it unites us,
bringing us together as one.

And on Shavuot - nothing, because when the Torah was given we were
overwhelmed. Our souls fled our bodies when G-d began speaking the Ten
Commandments. And nothing, because Torah transcends specifics.

The Torah is not just a collection of laws prescribing or proscribing
certain activities. The Torah is the blueprint of life, enveloping a
person from his first moment to his last, directing all the details in

Torah is a living Torah because it is dynamic and whole.

In other words, one lesson of Torah is Divine Providence, His conception
and vision of the whole of creation and His comprehension of all the
details of creation. G-d's knowledge encompasses the intricacies of man,
the "chosen of creation," as well as the minutest particle of matter.

On Shavuot, G-d gives us the Torah and we're confronted with the
nothingness of everything else. Creation is irrelevant without Torah.

We must therefore serve G-d in all our ways and in all ways - in
whatever situation or context. Learning Torah, fulfilling the 613
mitzvot (commandments), simple actions and encounters of daily life -
all reveal the word of G-d, the "I am the L-rd your G-d." For when G-d
says, "I am," it follows that we are not.

Perhaps we can understand this better by an analogy. A child truly and
wholly devoted to his parents does not see himself as independently
significant. He is, in a sense, only an expression of his love and awe
of his parents.

So, Shavuot commemorates the historical and spiritual uniqueness of the
giving of the Torah. That uniqueness reveals not a specific part of our
relationship with G-d, but the fact of the relationship itself.

One might say that when it comes to Torah, when it comes to G-d's giving
and our receiving, it's all and nothing.

This year, the upcoming holiday of Shavuot takes place in the week
between the two Torah portions of Bamidbar and Naso. One of the subjects
found in both of these portions is the Sanctuary in the desert and the
distribution of the duties connected with it, when the Sanctuary was
carried from place to place.

This emphasizes the fact that even when Jews find themselves in a
desert, they have the ability to erect a Sanctuary for the Divine
Presence to dwell among them, and in every one of them.

Just as there is a desert in a physical sense, a place of desolation,
where extreme climatic conditions prevail, a place of poisonous snakes,
etc., so is there a "desert" in a spiritual sense, created by harmful
ideas; and such a spiritual desert can be found also in a land which is
materially a flourishing garden.

Our Torah teaches us that when Jews find themselves in such a spiritual
desert, it is possible, necessary and imperative to erect a Sanctuary,
carry it, and go forward, step by step, until eventually the environment
and situation change from a spiritual desert - into the blessed and holy
land, with the complete redemption.

In the spiritual desert, in which some of us find ourselves, where a
desolate aridity and void prevail in matters of Judaism, we must all
help each other to make this environment into a sanctuary, a fitting
place for G-dliness.

                                *  *  *

The portion Bamidbar is the beginning of the whole book of Bamidbar,
which is called "Sefer HaPikudim - the Book of Numbers." Both in the
beginning of this book as well as towards its end, the Torah tells us
how the Jews were counted: First in the desert of Sinai, after receiving
the Torah, at the beginning of their wanderings through the waste and
terrible desert; and the second time at the end of the 40 years'
wandering, on the eve of their entry into the Land of Israel.

The soul descends into this world to make an abode for G-d in this
material and earthly world. When a Jew looks around and sees that the
world around him is a spiritual "desert" full of materialism and
sometimes even crassness, the thought may occur: How is it possible to
carry out this mission? So the Torah tells us that there is no cause for
apprehension, for this is the way Jews began their mission when they
became a nation and received the Torah at Mount Sinai. With the strength
derived from the Torah, they made it through the vast and terrible
desert - a bleak wilderness in every respect, where in the natural order
of things there is no bread and water, but only difficulties and trials.
Moreover, wherever they made their way through the desert, they
transformed the desert into a blooming garden - through Miriam's well
that caused the desert all around to bring forth all sorts of vegetation
and fruit.

This is also one of the significant teachings of the above-mentioned
countings, where each was counted individually, regardless of his
station and standing in life, and each was counted as no more than one
and no less than one, to underscore that everyone has his mission as a
"soldier" in G-d's army. And, although in an army there are various
ranks, from an ordinary soldier to the highest in command, each one
individually and all together carry out the Divine mission to make for
G-d an "abode" in this world, even in a desert. Indeed, precisely those
who were counted in the second census - those who were brought up in the
desert - merited to enter the Land of Israel.

                      Adapted from letters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

                             SLICE OF LIFE

                              Family Ties
                             by Jay Litvin

"What kind of a G-d wouldn't want a son to be with his mother on a
Jewish holiday?" my mother asked, exasperated when I said we couldn't
drive on Yom Tov. "For 36 years you didn't care about Shavuos. Now you
care, but you can't bring your children to be with their grandmother?" I
knew I was in trouble.

"I'm glad you've finally decided to be Jewish," she continued. "But do
you have to be so religious that you can't eat in your own mother's
house? This is what G-d wants?"

I brought the complaint to Rabbi Yosef Samuels, the Milwaukee-based
rabbi who brought me to Torah.

"The Torah is not sentimental," he explained. "It deals with the truth,
and sometimes the truth is not what people want to hear. But if you
trust the truth - which means if you trust in G-d - it and He will
eventually lead you to where you want to go, though you may never know
just how you got there."

My mother didn't buy it. Neither did my sisters. Looking back, I'm not
sure I did, either.

Maintaining family ties is a tricky, often painful affair for a ba'al
teshuva. Religious observance can impose separation from those you most
love, often at the worst of times: weddings, Bar Mitzvas, family
gatherings, even funerals.

"Okay, he's getting married in a Reform synagogue. Can't you come to the
wedding anyway?"

"I'm sorry the anniversary dinner will be at a non-kosher restaurant.
But we'd really love for you to be there."

"We're not Orthodox. We think her conversion is fine."

The strain continued through my parents' final years. My family and I
disagreed over the level of medical care to administer. The debate
between "quality of life" and halacha [Jewish law] was intense. My
father passed away after a long illness. But heroic measures helped
bring an additional six wonderful years to my mother.

Usually we avoided such disagreements, choosing to keep the peace. I did
not discuss spiritual matters with my family. I learned this lesson in
my first years of Torah observance. I was provocative, projecting an
"I've found the truth and you haven't" arrogance. Back then, I thought
that my new community of religious friends could supplant my family. But
I found how wrong I was. I only have one set of parents, and two
sisters. No one can replace them.

My wife and I invest great energy in creating a Torah-observant family.
I envision down the road my dining room table filled with children and
grandchildren. The table stretches forward through generations. Rabbis
and scholars, businessmen and teachers, mothers and fathers are seated
there, all embracing the Torah. And though the Torah they embrace is a
Torah of truth and not sentimentality, my vision is very sentimental.
And I am very grateful for, and proud of, the life my wife and I are

But no matter how wonderful my fantasy, it does not replace the love I
feel for my parents and sisters, or ease the pain I feel when there is
distance between us. And so whenever we can, my sisters and I share our

On my last visit to the U.S., my sisters and I went to the cemetery to
visit our parents. It was very intimate. My sister brought rose petals
still fresh from her daughter's wedding and spread them over the grass
under which lie our father and mother. I laid a stone I had brought from

One sister read a beautiful piece about how when you lose sight of a
boat as it crosses the horizon, the boat still exists; and even though
you can't see it, you know there are others on the opposite side waiting
to welcome those on board. I brought a Book of Psalms, from which I had
intended to read one or two chapters. I read haltingly in Hebrew, my
sisters in English. When we had finished the two I picked out, one
sister said, "Let's read another one." This continued for a half-hour,
as we said a dozen.

Afterwards, at lunch, my older sister told us she had recently joined a
synagogue for the first time in her life. "I want to learn more about
Judaism and study Hebrew," she said. "Do you think I'm too old to

My other sister (also older than me) belongs to a Reform synagogue. She
told us that she had started going to classes with an Orthodox rabbi,
while her husband studies with the same rabbi at a "lunch and learn"
several times a week. She explained that they were not planning to
"become Orthodox," but enjoyed the depth of the learning.

I was pleased with these activities, but they meant less to me than the
simple pleasure we were sharing at the restaurant and the closeness we
had felt at the gravesite. I knew now that it was intimacy I sought, not
religious confluence. I basked in our family unity and marveled at my
parents' ability to keep us together, even in death.

On the ride from the restaurant, we all agreed that the visit to the
cemetery had been "just perfect." I was returning to Israel in a couple
of hours, and when we said good-bye, we each said "I love you" to the
others. At that moment I felt the presence of the other three who had
come to join us in this moment of parting, the three who created the
bonds that had and will continue to hold us together.

Perhaps I imagined it, but as we kissed good-bye I felt we had been
joined by my mother and father, who I knew were smiling; and that all of
us were being surrounded and enveloped by G-d - whose mystery and
benevolence unceasingly unfolds in the most unexpected ways.

"But if you trust the truth - which means if you trust in G-d - it and
He will eventually lead you where you want to go, though you may not
ever know just how you got there."

    Jay Litvin was the medical liaison for Chabad's Children of
    Chernobyl program. He passed away recently after a long battle with

                               WHAT'S NEW
                               Be There!

Each year on the festival of Shavuot we relive the giving of the Torah
to the Jewish people by G-d at Mount Sinai by hearing the Ten
Commandments read in the synagogue from a Torah scroll. It is a special
mitzva for every man, woman and child to be in the synagogue on Shavuot
to hear the Torah reading. This year, the Torah reading that tells of
the giving of the Torah will be read on Wednesday, May 26, in synagogues
around the world. Many Chabad-Lubavitch Centers sponsor "ice cream"
parties (in keeping with the ancient tradition of eating dairy products
on Shavuot) for the young and the young at heart. To find out about the
closest Shavuot ice cream party call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.

                            THE REBBE WRITES

                        Freely Translated Letter

                    Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 5735 [1975]
                      To All Active Friends of the
                    Beth Rivkah Schools, and to the
                   Participants in the Annual Dinner,
                             in particular,

Greeting and Blessing:

I was pleased to be informed about the forthcoming Annual Dinner, on the
25th of Sivan - the month of Mattan Torah, when the Torah was given to
us at Sinai.

Mattan Torah has a special relevance to Jewish women and daughters, as
has often been emphasized. According to our Sages of blessed memory,
when G-d was about to give the Torah to the Jewish people, He told Moshe
Rabbeinu [Moses] to speak about it first to the women, and then to the
men, as it is written, "Thus shall you say to the House of Jacob (= the
women) and speak to the sons of Israel (= the men)." In this way, the
Torah (meaning "in struction"), which is eternal, has given us an
everlasting in struction, for all times and places, that Jewish women,
mothers and daughters, have a special mission and task to help ensure
that the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments] will always be "received" and
kept with devotion and joy.

Also in the portion of the week in which the Dinner is taking place,
there is a distinct relevance to Jewish women in the Mitzvah of Challah*
- which is one of the special Mitzvoth that have been given to Jewish
mothers and daughters; a Mitzvah which is connected with generous Divine
blessings for themselves and the entire household.

Another Mitzvah which has likewise been given specially to Jewish
mothers and daughters (including the very young who have reached the age
of training in Jewish living) is the Mitzvah of lighting the candles to
usher in the holy Shabbos and Yom Tov [holidays]. We have had occasion
to point out how particularly significant this splendid Mitzvah of
candle-lighting is, not only for the mother and daughter lighting them,
but for the whole family. This is clearly reflected also in the direct
beneficial effect of the shining candles in the home and for all seated
at the table.

The said Mitzvoth, together with the other Mitzvoth given specially to
Jewish women - in addition to all the Mitzvoth which are incumbent upon
Jewish women equally with men - underscore the importance of
Torah-education for girls, especially in preparation for the time when
each of them becomes Akeres Habayis, the "Foundation of the Home," the
ba'leboste who largely sets the tone and pace for the conduct of the
Jewish home.

This is what the Annual Dinner is all about.

The Beth Rivkah Schools provide true Torah-education to many hundreds of
girls (may their numbers grow), to enable them to carry out their
G-d-given mission in life, in the best and fullest measure. It is
therefore an extraordinary Zechus [privilege] for the friends of Beth
Rivkah to be partners in such a vital cause. I hope and trust that all
friends of Beth Rivkah will know how to express their privilege and
responsibility, by generously helping Beth Rivkah not merely maintain
its facilities but also to expand them in order to meet the urgent
challenges of the present times.

May G-d bless each and all of you, with your families, and prosper you
in all your needs, materially and spiritually.

With the traditional blessing to receive the Torah with joy and
inwardness on the Festival of Mattan Torah and throughout the year,

* to separate a portion of dough when making bread in remembrance of the
portion set aside for the priests in Temple times

                            RAMBAM THIS WEEK
1 Sivan, 5764 - May 21, 2004

Positive Mitzva 112: Proclaiming the Impurity of a "Metzora"

This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev 13:45) "His clothes shall be
torn, and the hair of his head shall grow long and he shall put a
covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry; Impure, impure." Tzaraat was
a leprosy-like disease that no longer exists. One who contracted
tzaraat, known as a "metzora," became ritually impure. In order to
prevent the impurity from being transferred to another person, it was
necessary that the impure person stand out so others would take notice
and be careful. A person who has become impure by tzaraat is commanded
to have a tear in his clothes, grow his hair long and let people know -
by declaring himself impure. Other types of impurities must also be made
known to the public.

                        A WORD FROM THE DIRECTOR
                         Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
There is a Midrash which tells of how the Jewish people designated their
children as the guarantors of the Torah. It is perhaps in this vein that
the Rebbe stresses each year that all Jewish children should be present
in the synagogue on Shavuot to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments.

Shavuot this year will take place on the evening of May 25 through the
evening of May 27. The Ten Commandments will be read on the first day of
Shavuot in synagogues around the world on Wednesday, May 26.

Why do we need to bring the children? So that they can become familiar
with the "terms" of the guarantee. The children's presence in shul
actually confirms our guarantee.

In Hebrew, the word for guarantor is "orev."  Orev can also mean
pleasant or sweet.  What sweeter guarantors can we have than our
children, who can help influence our own deeds to be pleasing?

One of many beautiful concepts in Judaism is that the Jewish soul can
comprehend long before the mind does.  With this in mind, we see how
imperative it is to bring even babies to shul; though their minds might
not yet comprehend where they are, their souls certainly do.

This Shavuos, on Wednesday, May 26, let us all bring our guarantors to
shul to hear the reading of the Torah.

To the guarantees and guarantors,

A very happy Shavuos.

                          THOUGHTS THAT COUNT
Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their
families, by their fathers' houses...(1:2)

In order to know the number of people in each tribe, first they were
counted according to their families and then each member of the family
was counted. This shows us the importance of the family. The existence
of the Jewish people is based on and dependant on the actions of each

                                            (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

                                *  *  *

And G-d spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai...(Numbers 1:1)

G-d chose a desert in which to give the Torah. He spoke to the Jews in a
place where everyone enjoyed free access, to show us that every Jew has
an equal obligation and share in the Torah.

                            (Bamidbar Rabba and Michilta Beshalach)

                                *  *  *

A man of every tribe, a man who heads his family division (Num. 1:4)

It is easier for a person to be considered great by strangers than by
his own family, who know his faults well. If a person is appreciated by
his "family division" - those who know him well - it is a sign that he
is worthy of being at the head of his tribe.

                                                (Otzrainu Hayashan)

                                *  *  *

As they camped, so shall they set forward (Num. 2:17)

The Jews were told to behave in the same manner while they were
traveling as they behaved in their own dwellings when they set camp.
This was emphasized before starting out on their journey, because some
people tend to become lenient about observing mitzvot when traveling.

                                                   (Mikra Meforash)

                                *  *  *


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

                                             (Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh)

                            IT ONCE HAPPENED
A group of Chasidim of the Shpoler Zeide from a rural area had been
suffering for years under the heavy yoke of their cruel landlord, a
high-ranking member of Poland's nobility, who owned all the land in that
area. He was constantly raising the rents on their homes and the leases
for their businesses.

What hurt most, though, were his vicious anti-Semitic twists. He had
tried to force them to open their businesses on Shabbat. But his most
recent depravity was the worst: he had issued a degree that in all
buildings on his extensive properties, a depiction of the Christian god
had to be displayed. The Shpoler Zeide's Chasidim travelled to their
Rebbe to tell him this latest tale of woe.

"I've waited a long time for that wicked man to change his evil ways,"
said the Rebbe furiously. "He must be taught a lesson. It is time for
him to hear the Ten Commandments. This is what you must do: Gather for
the Shavuot holiday at the home of the Chasid with the largest property.
But first, invite the landlord and all of his noble friends to come hear
the festival morning prayers. As for you, prepare yourselves for the
holy occasion of Receiving the Torah. I will come to join you. So, go in
peace and don't worry."

The Chasidim were eager to carry out the Rebbe's instructions. The
villagers who went to invite the poritz were received pleasantly, much
to their surprise. He promised that he and his associates would attend.
He immediately launched preparations for a huge party for all the
noblemen in the region, the highlight of which would be the spectacle of
the Jewish prayer to which they were all invited.

The Shpoler Zeide arrived in the village on the eve of Shavuot. They
quickly realized there would not be enough room on the largest farm for
so many people. The Rebbe told them to go to the nearby hill, and raise
up a large tent there.

On Shavuot morning, the grassy lands around the hill were crowded with
hundreds of Jews, waiting in nervous anticipation. A significant number
of non-Jewish landowners and nobility in the region also waited eagerly,
looking forward to the wonderful spectacle their host had promised them.

The Rebbe approached the platform to lead the prayers himself. The Jews
began to pray with enthusiasm. The gentiles - seeing an old man with a
long beard, covered with an oversized white shawl, chanting loudly the
words of the prayers  - all laughed heartily. But when the Rebbe called
out powerfully, "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad," their
laughter ceased. It was as if a lion had roared. They were gripped by
terror. How could a puny, absurd Jew make them afraid? But they couldn't
shake the mood. It was as if the Rebbe's voice continued to reverberate
off the hillside. A few minutes later, the praying Jews stood silently,
reciting the Amida prayer, after which followed the joyous singing of
Hallel and chanting of the Akdamot. The festival joy was palpable. The
Rebbe signaled for the Torah scroll to be brought out. The Shpoler Zeide
then summoned a very tall, distinguished man to be the Torah reader.

The reader's voice was both musical and powerful. When they reached the
section of the Ten Commandments, the atmosphere altered radically. It
had been a beautiful, clear, spring morning. Suddenly, the heavens
darkened, and tremendous peals of thunder boomed out. Fright took hold
of everyone.

The reader's voice rose in volume and intensity. "I am G-d who brought
you out of Egypt." Though he did not know even a word of Hebrew,
amazingly, the landlord understood everything that was being read. "You
shall not have other gods before Me. Do not make any statue or image..."
The landlord trembled as he thought of how he had demanded the Jews put
up graven images.

When he heard "Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy," his knees buckled.
Why had he tried to force the Jews to open their businesses on the

His friends were similarly affected. They too felt they understood the
commandments directly. Each one thought about his sins and was seized
with fear. Their faces were deathly white. Many of them fainted. After a
few moments which seemed like an eternity, the reading drew to a close
and the noblemen recovered somewhat. Deeply embarrassed, they slipped
away one by one.

After the prayers were concluded, the Jews sat down to the traditional
dairy meal. The Shpoler Zeide related: "I assure you that the poritz and
his friends will remember today for the rest of their lives and they
will never afflict you again. To accomplish this I was forced to trouble
Moses himself to come and read the Torah. You have a great merit, my
friends, to have been here today.

The Rebbe continued, "Know that your landlord has in him a spark of
Jethro, Moses' father-in-law and the priest of Midian, who came to the
Jews in the desert  and acknowledged the existence of G-d...and that
Israel is His chosen people."

After the holiday ended, the duke requested that the Rebbe come to see
him. The two men spent hours together alone and the next morning the
Shpoler Zeide returned home.

From that day on, the landlord's attitude towards his Jewish tenants
changed dramatically. They were able to live in peace, without any
unfair pressure from the landlord. Not only that, but with his own money
he paid for the construction of a synagogue for the Jews on his estates,
insisting, though, that it be built on the hill where the holy rabbi had
come to pray.

      Translated and adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles.

                            MOSHIACH MATTERS
Shavuot shares a connection to the culmination of the initiative begun
at the giving of the Torah: the era of the Redemption. Our Sages compare
the giving of the Torah to the forging of the marriage relationship
between G-d and the Jewish people. The era of the Redemption, they
explain, serves as the consummation of that bond.

                        (Keeping in Touch, by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger)

               END OF TEXT - L'CHAIM 820 - Bamidbar 5764

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