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Devarim Deutronomy

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Shemos Exodus

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   820: Bamidbar

821: Nasso

822: Beha'aloscha

823: Sh'lach

824: Korach

825: Chukas

826: Balak

827: Pinchas

828: Matos-Masei

Devarim Deutronomy

May 28, 2004 - 8 Sivan, 5764

821: Nasso

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

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  820: Bamidbar822: Beha'aloscha  

Back Up  |  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

Back Up

Funny how expressions have different meanings, depending on what we're talking about. For instance, take the expression "back up." In baseball or other sports, it means "provide support." You back up the player when the ball is hit; in case he doesn't catch it or it gets by him, you're there to provide support, to get the ball and throw it in.

In a ballgame, the "backup" only provides support. He doesn't do the job of the other player. We assume and expect each player to do his job. It's just that sometimes, by mistake or misjudgment, it doesn't get done.

The same applies in Judaism. No one can do our mitzvot (command-ments) for us or get a Jewish education for us. We each have to do our "Torah jobs" ourselves. But we can always make sure to provide support, to "back up" each other Jewishly. In a ball game, each player plays with more confidence knowing the other players will back him up. In Judaism, we can learn Torah and do mitzvot with confidence, knowing that our fellow Jews will be there to back us up, to help us if we get stuck.

"Back up" also means to move something backward. In a heated debate, for instance, we might say, "back up," meaning let's retrace our steps, re-discover the true issue, and start again. In this sense, "backing up" Jewishly means going back to the original situation, the original status. We call that teshuva.

We also use the term when the normal flow is obstructed. The sink is "backed up" - clogged with debris; the water behind a dam is "backed up." And in a similar sense, sometimes our Judaism gets "backed up." Things get in the way - work, worries - and we get behind. Instead of learning the daily section of Torah and Rashi each day, we skip a day and catch up. Our mitzvot get clogged, log-jammed. Which to do first?

Of course, we unstop our Judaism the same way we unstop the sink - we pull out the obstruction - and often we only need to pull out a little bit, just enough to get the water - or mizvot - flowing again - and whoosh! - the blockage is swept away, resulting in a strong, steady flow.

"Back up" has another meaning, namely, to provide proof. When we make a claim, we have to back it up with evidence, to prove that it's true. The same thing in Judaism: it's beautiful and important to "feel Jewish" or have a "Jewish heart." But we have to "back it up" with proof, with evidence, with action - the action of mitzvot.

There's one other meaning of "back up," a fairly recent one. Nowadays, when we say "back up" we're often referring to our computers and the procedure of making a copy of our data in case something goes wrong. If the original file gets corrupted, if the computer crashes, if any number of disasters strike, we always have the "back up" - the extra copy.

What does this teach us? The value of duplicating and double-checking. Almost all computer users have experienced the crisis and panic that follows the loss of important data not backed-up.

So, too, in Judaism: it's important to pay attention to the details, to double-check that the product is still under kosher supervision, that there are enough candles for Shabbat before it's time to light them. When taking an account of where we are and where we are headed Jewishly, we have to double-check our self-assessment, make sure we haven't overlooked anything.

And doing a mitzva once is a good start. But it doesn't end there. We need to duplicate it - in ourselves, and encourage others to do so, as well.

So however we look at it, it's time to "back up" our Judaism.

Living with the Rebbe

The name of this week's Torah reading, Naso means "Lift Up." It is always read either imme-diately before or after Shavuot, highlighting how the Torah enables a person to elevate himself. It gives him the potential to rise above mortal understanding and to relate to G-d on His terms.

There is, however, an implicit difficulty in such a concept: Generally, when we speak of transcending our personal identity, this usually connotes letting go of our individuality; conforming to a G-d-given code of conduct and thus abdicating our individual wills and personalities.

This is not Judaism's approach. Judaism teaches a person how to lift his self above himself: to conduct himself in a G-dly manner, not by forgetting about who he is and what potentials he has been given, but by using those potentials for a G-dly purpose.

This fusion of individual effort and Divine direction is reflected in the concluding passages of this week's Torah reading which describe the sacrifices brought by the leaders of the tribes. Each leader brought an identical offering: the same number of animals, the same measure of incense, the silver bowls of the same size, and yet the account of the offerings is repeated verbatim for each leader.

The commentaries pose a question. The Torah is careful never to use an extra word or even an extra letter. Why then does it repeat the entire passage 12 times? It could have stated the passage once and then said: "These same offerings were brought by each tribal leader."

The commentaries explain that the Torah is teaching that the sacrifices of the leaders were indeed different. Although they brought the same items, each one had a different intent. Each one saw the sacrifices as representative of the Divine service destined for his particular tribe. When bringing these offerings, he was expressing the particular mission and nature of his ancestral heritage. The deed was the same; the spiritual commitment differed from leader to leader.

These concepts apply to every one of us. We are all going to put on similar tefilin, light similar Shabbat candles, and keep all the other universally applicable laws of the Torah. This does not, however, imply sheep-like conformity. Instead, it opens up a broad channel for each person to serve G-d, but rather than doing it according to the whims of our fancy, we will do it on G-d's terms.

If we were to follow our own inspiration, one person might decide to serve G-d through meditative prayer, another through deeds of kindness, and a third, through contemplating the oneness found in nature. Every person's approach would be different. Each person would be relating to G-d as he or she desires. The very beauty in that approach, however, implies a drawback, because since it is "as he or she desires," an enormous amount of subjectivity is involved. Ultimately, the "as he or she desires" is not necessarily as G-d desires.

When, by contrast, a person is observing the Torah and its mitzvot (commandments), he is doing what G-d wants. Nevertheless, within that framework, he has unlimited room for self-expression, for the intent and the mode of observance are left to his choice and his initiative. Again, the same deed can mean many different things to many different people.

From "Keeping in Touch" adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi E. Touger, published by Sichos In English.

A Slice of Life

"Tripping" in New York
by Eilon Gabel

For the most part I am an ordinary kid who wears ordinary clothes and sometimes tries too hard to fit in. I was brought up Jewish, but in no way would I consider myself anything but Reform. I have always wondered how I transitioned so well into a group that is known for being ultra-Orthodox. My justification is that Chabad is not one of those ordinary organizations that fester at the University of Southern California (USC). Chabad is not an interest group, club, or secret society.

Chabad is a family of students and friends that connect much differently than I have ever experienced before. Through Chabad, I now have a rabbi who knows my name and doesn't just recognize my face. Chabad has helped me figure out many things about my own beliefs and is continuously molding me into the Jew I want to be, not the one anyone else wants me to be. I truly believe that Chabad is an essential part of a well-rounded college experience, and I know that I wouldn't have it any other way.

Last winter, Chabad of USC was able to put together a trip to Brooklyn, New York for four days over a long weekend. When first asked to go, my automatic answer was no; why would I ever willingly turn myself Orthodox for an entire four days without an "out?" Over the course of the following month I was convinced by numerous peers to come along - a combination of guilt and peer pressure (a Jew's specialty).

When we arrived at Newark airport something came over me that made me excited for the rest of the weekend. It could have been a lack of sleep, the extremely cold weather freezing my blood, or my insuppressible craving for a good bagel and lox. The rabbi made a good choice and took me to get the bagel-before I reached my complaining potential.

When we finally got to Crown Heights, I felt as if I had been taken to another country. Houses were sporting various signs in Hebrew which called for the Messiah. The sidewalk was worse than Los Angeles rush hour traffic with people going to morning services; I know it's hard to believe. At that point I couldn't wait for Friday night services. For the next few hours before sundown, we met our hosts and got a feel for the neighborhood.

By now it was only minutes away from the Sabbath starting and we cleaned up for the long night we had ahead. All of us USC runts dressed in our black slacks and white shirts; even I was surprised at how well I fit in. The group met up and walked over to the synagogue together. As a bit of background information, 770 Eastern Parkway is the international Chabad headquarters. The synagogue's size was in no way proportional to the number of people inside. After spending five minutes just to get everyone inside the door, I felt like a penny in a popular wishing well.

After getting situated and finally claiming a place to stand I looked around at the hundreds of people there. Although the numbers were there, it seemed as if we all combined into one. Everyone in the room began to sway, everyone began to sing, and everyone began to believe. I became spiritually high in a matter of minutes. I didn't care that I was being pushed in every direction. I didn't care that the temperature of the room was enough to boil an egg. I didn't care that I wasn't the most observant Jew in the room. I was enjoying myself and feeling something that was quite different and invigorating.

That evening I made a connection with G-d that I have never been able to recreate. I am not trying to say that that night was better that any other Sabbath eve, it was just different. The Chabad New York trip gave me a new perspective that I am eternally grateful for. The greatest thing that came out of that trip was the need for me to go again next year.

What's New

The Key Under the Pillow

The Key Under the Pillow is a story about honoring parents. The key to Dama's chest of precious gems is hidden under his father's pillow. Will Dama wake his father to get the key and make the sale of a lifetime? Just how much must we do to honor our parents? Leah Shollar, author of A Thread of Kindness which was a finalist in the National Jewish Book Awards competition and received a Storytelling World Awards Honor, retells this classic tale based on a story in the Talmud. Illustrated by Harvey Kleinman and published by Hachai Publishing.

The Rebbe Writes

Freely Translated Letter
26 Kislev, 5712 [1951]

I wish to reemphasize that which you yourself write - that the most important matter of all is finding a shidduch [marriage partner].

You write that your feeling is that you are not finding any fitting proposals regarding a shidduch.

My hope, however, is that when you will have the proper approach to the suggestions you receive, then G-d will provide you with the shidduch that is most appropriate for you both materially and spiritually.

One must always remember that there exists nothing in the world that is absolutely perfect. The same holds true with regard to human beings; there is no person who possesses all possible good qualities. Thus, it is pointless to wait or expect to find such a "dream" individual.

Since no person possesses all possible good qualities, it follows that the same is true regarding oneself - surely the person himself or herself is not perfect as well. However, regardless of our own imperfections, when it comes to looking at ourselves, we do so with a "good eye."

This should also be taken into consideration when looking upon another. One should view the other person as well with a good eye, and be ready to overlook and let pass imperfect and deficient qualities. Hopefully, with the passage of time, these imperfections - real or imagined - shall pass or straighten themselves out.

With this approach, it will be much easier to attain a shidduch - the choice becomes much greater and your entire attitude with regard to a shidduch will be much happier and more positive.

I would also like to add that it is nigh impossible to truly assess and measure how these two individuals will be after they marry each other, inasmuch as marriage makes specific and marked changes in the two individuals who marry.

Thus, it is only up to a certain degree that we have free choice in the matter, while with regard to the rest we have to rely on G-d that He will lead the married couple in the path of joy, contentedness and goodness.

We verily observe that people do in fact act in this manner - placing their ultimate fate in G-d's hands and go on to live happy and successful lives until "120 years."

The same is true with regard to yourself - it is impossible to calculate with one hundred percent accuracy how each suggestion that is made to you will work out in the future, subsequent to getting married.

We must rely on G-d, realizing that if He is capable of properly conducting such a gigantic world, He surely is able to conduct the microcosmic world of each individual person that it be good for him or her materially as well as spiritually.

I hope that you will read this letter once and again and ponder the matters that I have written here.

My main purpose in this letter, however, is to try to see to it that from now on you change your approach to a shidduch - do not approach it with the disposition and bias that the shidduch is not for you; nonetheless, it is still necessary to make the requisite inquiries.

Rather, you should approach it in an entirely opposite manner - that G-d will surely provide you with a shidduch that is good for you, and quite possibly this may be the shidduch suggestion that is currently being presented to you.

Consequently, it is very important to inquire and know the various details regarding the shidduch suggestion.

I wish for you that in the near future you will find a shidduch that is appropriate for you both in a material as well as a spiritual sense, and that you erect an edifice in Israel on the foundations of Torah and mitzvot [commandments].

From Eternal Joy, translated by Rabbi S. B. Wineberg, published by Sichos In English.

Rambam this week

12 Sivan, 5764 - June 1, 2004

Positive Mitzva 97: Impurity of Creeping Animals

This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 11:29) "These also shall be unclean to you among the creatures that creep upon the earth" There are eight types of creeping animals listed in the Torah. Contact with their dead bodies makes one impure.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This week we continue the cycle of study of Ethics of the Fathers on Shabbat afternoons, going back to Chapter One, whose opening lines express a fundamental and axiomatic concept in Judaism:

"Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets passed it on to the Men of the Great Assembly."

Why is it important for us to know this chain of transmission? To teach us that the Torah we have in our possession today is the very same Torah that was revealed to Moses thousands of years ago. And, as links in the ongoing chain of tradition, it is our duty as Jewish parents to transmit the Torah to our children.

The Torah has an infinite number of facets. Some parts are narrative, others are legal codes, while other sections are allegorical. The Five Books of Moses, Mishna, Talmud, Midrashim, Shulchan Aruch, Chasidut - all are part and parcel of the G-dly body of knowledge we call Torah.

Some parts of the Torah were meant to be written down; others were transmitted orally until the proper time came to put them into writing.

At Sinai, Moses received the entirety of Torah with all its potential for extrapolation, "even that which the scholar would innovate in the future." An halachic decision rendered today is Torah, revealed to man according to a Divinely-inspired "timetable" of revelation. This process will reach its culmination in the Messianic era, when Moshiach will teach the world a new and deeper dimension of Torah, as it states in Isaiah 51:4: "For Torah shall proceed from Me, and I will make My judgment suddenly for a light of the people."

May it happen at once.

Thoughts that Count

G-d should make His face shine on you (Num. 6:25)

"Face" always symbolizes good will, closeness and love. The blessing that G-d's "face" should shine on us indicates that G-d should give His gifts to us with a full desire. Even though everything is ultimately sustained by G-d, there is a difference as to whether the life forces are given with enthusiasm or just the minimum absolutely necessary.

(Kuntres U'Maayan)

The four wagons and the eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merori (Num. 7:8)

The four wagons mentioned here were needed to transport 48 15-foot panels, in addition to pillars, connecting rods, ropes and pegs. Why were so few wagons provided? The explanation is that if it was possible to carry out the job with four wagons, it was important to use each one fully. If another wagon had been provided, the others would only have completed part of their appointed task. The lesson for us is clear. "G-d did not create one extra thing in His world." This applies also to our abilities and strengths. In everything we do we must give our all.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

They shall confess their sin... and he shall made restitution (Num. 5:7)

The commandment of confessing the sin is in the plural, but making restitution is in the singular form. This, unfortunately, is the way of the world. To confess with our lips, to enumerate our sins, everyone is willing to do. But, when it actually comes to doing something concrete about our sins - to make restitution - not everyone jumps at the opportunity. The plural becomes singular.

(Rishpei Aish)

The L-rd bless thee and keep thee (Num. 6:24)

The Priestly blessing is said in the singular because it is mainly the blessing of unity that the Jews need.

(Ol'lot Efraim)

It Once Happened

In the time of King Solomon there lived in the Land of Israel a poor widow and her children. Their home was a wretched, tumble-down shack, and their sustenance was sparse and hard to come by. But the widow managed to keep high spirits and their poor existence was marked by the great joy they took in the simplest pleasures of life.

The widow and her children tended a small garden outside their little house and were able to harvest some meager vegetables, but their main meal consisted of the bread which the woman baked every day. For each day she went to the fields and there gathered the wheat stalks which, according to the dictates of Jewish law, were reserved for the indigent; she then ground them and brought home the flour which she baked into three loaves.

One might think that a woman in these circumstances would jealously guard her hard won food, but such was not the way of this particular woman. She was quite unusual, in that her greatest pleasure was performing the mitzva of receiving guests, and so, it was her daily custom to give away two of her three loaves of bread to people even poorer than herself.

One day, the widow had followed her usual routine and was removing the fragrant loaves from the oven with her hungry children standing around her in happy expectation. As the bread was cooling, a man knocked at the widow's door. He was local beggar, well known to the good woman, a frequent benefactor of her open-handedness. Again, this time, he left her small hut with an entire loaf of fresh bread under his arm - food to quell his hunger a whole day.

Shortly after, the old beggar was followed by a woman, another frequent recipient. She was not as old, but the dullness of her eyes and the drag of her feet identified her as a member of the small group of indigents who received the widow's kindness. She too, left with a whole loaf of bread in hand, blessing her benefactors.

Finally, the children were gathered around the table as their mother took a knife to divide the third loaf amongst them. Their anticipation as well as their hunger had peaked; how delicious it smelled.

But just at that moment there was another knock at their door. They opened it to see an emaciated young boy standing at the threshold. He had been directed to their door by one of the woman's customary "patrons," knowing that she would see to his needs. When she heard that he hadn't eaten in days, she gave him the last loaf of bread. To her disappointed children, she quietly said that she would get more grain and bake more bread.

The widow again headed of the fields where she picked some stalks from the corners reserved for the poor. She was headed home with her pack of wheat when all of a sudden, a great gust of wind tore the sack from her hand and carried it off far into the air. This was too much for the exhausted woman to bear; she sat down on a tree stump and wept in heartbreaking sobs. How could she return to her starving children empty handed?

Instead, she decided to go to the palace of King Solomon. His throne room was open to all of his subjects and he, the wisest of men, would surely have an answer for her. She entered the sumptuous palace and soon stood in a cavernous hall, the likes of which she had never even dreamed of. Before her in the distance sat King Solomon, and he beckoned her to approach. She walked steadily toward the great king, emboldened by her pain. When she stood before him she related her whole story, leaving no detail untold.

As she reached the end of her tale, three merchants approached the king, carrying a heavy chest. And they, too, were eager to tell their tale. The leader of the three began: "We were sailing far out at sea, when a sudden violent storm arose. Our ship sprung a leak, quickly filled with water and was in danger of sinking. We began to pray to G-d to save us, and we made a vow that if we were allowed to come to dry land, we would give half of our treasure to charity. Praise be to G-d, we were saved, and now we are here to fulfill our vow."

King Solomon heard them out, and responded by telling them to return to their ship, look for the hole in the boards, and bring him whatever they would find.

They left and returned sometime later carrying a piece of material, very wet, but unmistakably a sack. The King turned to the widow who had been instructed to wait and said, "You see, it was your sack of grain that stopped the leak in their ship. This chest of gold belongs to you. Because you always helped others, G-d has helped you. Now, go home to your children in peace."

Back at her house, the hungry children waited and worried; where could their mother be? When she arrive their concern turned first to relief and then to joy, as she related her wondrous experience. As she served them a festive meal, she quietly promised to honor the mitzva of receiving guests in a manner equal to her new circumstances. And her following of poor, dejected and hungry also had ample reason to celebrate and bless her forever after.

Moshiach Matters

It is known that Moshiach is called "David" because David epitomizes selflessness, as does Moshiach. Similarly, regarding Moshiach, though the spirit of G-d will rest upon him and he will teach Torah even to Moses - he will have the ultimate humility and will teach simple people. To bring about his arrival, a commensurate activity is required: teaching of Torah to every Jew. In addition, this must be done in a humble and selfless way - not for the gains to be had from teaching, but for the sake of the recipient. This brings closer the day when "my servant David will rule over them," may it be now.

(Sefer Ma'amarim Melukat of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)

  820: Bamidbar822: Beha'aloscha  
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