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Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
June 25, 2004 - 6 Tamuz, 5764

825: Chukas

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


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  824: Korach826: Balak  

Just Foul  |  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

Just Foul

Consider the foul ball.

Not the one hit back behind the catcher, high in the stands. And not one lined into the dugout or straight into the bleachers. Rather, let's look at the ball that sails toward the fence, looking like a home run all the way until, at the last moment, a gust of wind pushes it just to the outside of the line. Or one ripped down the base-path, a shot along first or third, hugging the chalk, a clear base hit - until, just before the bag, it curves, and curves ever so slightly, outside the bag.

Now consider what happens on the next pitch. Too often, we see the batter "caught looking" at a ball or swinging at air.

What happened? One swing and it's almost the play of the game. The next pitch and - whiff - or even worse - wave to the ball as it goes by.

Coaches will tell you that late swings lead to foul balls. So if the ball's just foul, it means the swing's just a little bit late. Then, instead of making a minor adjustment, for the next pitch, the hitter hasn't recovered his equilibrium; he's still in shock that the last hit - wasn't a hit. He's still in the past, reliving - mentally still trying to change - the hit that wasn't.

This happens to us all the time in "real life." We're negotiating a contract. Everyone agrees we've done a brilliant job, but for some reason, at the last minute, things didn't work out. The next time "up" we're not so sure of ourselves and bungle it.

And we can find numerous examples of exponential errors - how one slight mistake multiplies manifold times.

If we can train ourselves not to be shaken by failures but to brush ourselves off and get back up again, then we can recognize the source of the error, and correct it, instead of letting it reverberate itself.

What applies in our business and recreational lives, applies too in our interactions with others and in our lives as Jews.

Too often, when we're trying to get more into our Judaism, we "swing late" and end up "just foul." For instance, when we start keeping kosher, we might buy something we think is kosher, but, as it turns out, isn't. If we'd have taken the extra second - if we'd "waited on the ball" - we'd have noticed the problem (no kosher sign on the label).

Rather than get discouraged, focusing on our slip-up, we need to "correct our swing" - meaning look more carefully next time.

An infrequent synagogue visitor finally takes the plunge and attends a service. Does he get all flustered when he realizes that he's lost in the prayerbook, or does he attribute it all to the learning curve with the confidence that "next time up" he'll do better?

A more experienced prayer could be frustrated by seeing his attention wander rather than focus on the meaning of the prayers. Does he retreat into "how could that happen?", or does he refocus his attention on his Creator and at least find meaning in the rest of the service?

When learning Torah we can encounter a difficult concept and grow frustrated that we're didn't really get it. Next time, we can stand there and "take a called strike" - not go to the class, not put forth the effort, not ask questions. Or, we can "get our timing right" - we can be there to meet "ball" - that is, the idea.

When we hit the ball "just foul" we can look at it as the first step away from the base path and toward a sure strike out (even if delayed by another foul ball or two). Or we can recognize that Jewishly we have to keep growing, keep "perfecting our swing."

With practice, concentration and attention to details, we can turn a 'just foul" into a hit (more kosher food, more Shabbat, more charity) - and maybe even a Home Run (that would be Moshiach, of course).


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Chukat, tells of the death of Aaron, Moses' brother, in whose merit the miraculous "Clouds of Glory" used to accompany the Jews on their journey through the desert. When Aaron died the clouds disappeared, but later reappeared in the merit of Moses. Two other outstanding miracles that accompanied the Israelites during their 40 years in the desert were the Manna that fell daily, and the "Well of Miriam" which supplied them with water.

Each of these three miracles had very different characteristics.

The Clouds of Glory protected the people externally. The clouds protected them from harsh winds, snakes and serpents. They smoothed out the mountains, and kept the Israelites' clothes clean. All of these are external functions.

The Manna was a wonderful food in which one could experience any taste one desired. Food is something that is absorbed internally and provides nourishment and sustenance.

The Well of Miriam was a source of water - which is not, in itself, nourishing. The principal function of water in the body is to act as a medium to carry food to all parts of the body.

Three different aspects or "dimensions" of Torah are signified and paralleled by the Clouds, the Manna and the Well. There is an aspect of Torah which is absorbed internally like the Manna; there is an aspect that provides external protection, like the Clouds of Glory; and there is that aspect of Torah that carries the "external protection" and the "nourishment" to all Jews - like the water of Miriam's Well.

There is another way in which the "Clouds of Glory" are similar to the Torah, for they encompassed and protected all the Jews - even those few who still clung to idolatry - from the crossing of the Red Sea until their entry into Israel. In a similar way, the Torah encompasses each and every one of our people from the greatest to the smallest; it gives us the strength to go through the wilderness, not to fear the snakes and serpents, and to be constantly imbued with a spirit of self-sacrifice.

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, related how he was once standing with a large group of diverse Jews taking shelter from the Nazi bombardment of Warsaw. The group was made up of Jews from every spectrum and every level of spirituality, from great tzadikim such as the Rebbe, to simple Jews, and even those who had no connection with Judaism. But when a bomb exploded not far from them, the entire group cried out in unison, "Shema Yisrael."

Through studying the Torah, even if one understands no more than the simple explanation, one receives the nourishment (Manna) and protection (Clouds of Glory) of Torah.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.


A Slice of Life

From Ballerina to Baalat Teshuva
by Bracha Cegla

From a speech at the Lubavitch Women's Organization annual convention

I would like to give you a glimpse of my journey from being a ballerina to a baalat teshuva (newly observantant of Torah and mitzvot), and the effects it has had on the people around me.

Being a professional ballerina I spent years of my life immersed in the ballet world. There was nothing more rewarding than to perform in a theater filled with people, or to rehearse long and hard until my body could reach perfection of movement. Nevertheless, three years ago, I began to wonder, "What am I doing in this world?" All of a sudden a plie didn't seem so important anymore.

At the same time as this question began occupying my thoughts, my family moved from Paraguay, South America, to Great Neck, New York. So it turned out to be not so hard to stop dancing since I was in a new environment, and people didn't know me as a ballerina.

Nevertheless, I didn't know what to do with that voice that bothered me with so many questions about the meaning of life. I kept quieting the voice throughout my first year of college. (Although I do remember hearing a different voice saying, "This is the college experience? What a waste of time!")

My family began attended Chabad regularly every Friday night. It gave us a homey feeling (since back in Paraguay we also attended Chabad). We established a relationship with the Rebbe's emissaries, and when the summer came Rabbi Geinsinsky suggested I should go to Machon Chana Women's Yeshiva in the Catskill Mountains. I'd never heard about it but I decided, Why not? The learning was intense and sweet, the two weeks flew by and I was back home in no time.

At home, I made up my mind I wanted to go to yeshiva for six months. Thank G-d, when I shared my intentions with my parents, they encouraged me to do it! They weren't surprised, and told me, "You always had that idea of yeshiva in your mind. Give it a try." I remember running to Rabbi Geisinsky with this exciting news and he said, "Good, good. What about your sister? Now you have to make sure your sister goes to yeshiva." It was already August and for sure too late. Nevertheless I made all the phone calls, and since then she has been attending Hebrew Academy of Nassau County.

In the fall I began the full-time Machon Chana program with fears and preconceptions. I kept telling myself, "Don't let them brainwash you." I wanted to learn, but not let any of the classes affect me. Several times I went to the principal, Rabbi Majesky, just to double-check with him that I wasn't being brainwashed. I asked many questions in class, and amazingly the teachers and rabbis always had an answer, even for the questions I thought were "unique" ones. Soon I learned I wasn't being brainwashed, I wasn't escaping reality or anything like that. On the contrary, I was dealing with the real stuff. Where else are we forced to look high to the heavens and keep our feet on the ground at the same time? Where else are we forced to look deeply inside, to make an account of who we are, and to make real changes in our lives?

The first year in Machon Chana I studied regularly and hard, but I protected myself and kept firm to my promise that I wasn't going to let any of this affect my life.

Neverthless, I returned to Machon Chana for a second year. Wow! At some point during this, my second year, I realized that Torah is truth, it's from G-d, and it's even applicable to me! Thank G-d, I now see how learning and time allow one to internalize the whole experience in a very real way.

Mine, as you can see, wasn't a miraculous jump, it was a slow and gradual intellectual approach to the world of Torah. Nevertheless, at one point I realized there are times you have to jump. Like when you're at the ocean and it's freezing cold. If you just touch the water with your foot you are never going to go in, you just have to jump! Machon Chana is an amazing place. The learning is superb, the teachers are so patient and sensitive, and the experience is a life-transforming one, even though when you are in it you don't realize it.

My growth has had a tremendous impact on my family as well. Thank G-d, we have a kosher home and keep Shabbat. My sister goes to yeshiva, and my mom says the "Shema" each day. My dad puts on a kipa in the morning in order to say a blessing on his cereal. My grandparents have also been touched. They came from Paraguay for Passover and we got to share many new concepts with them. Whenever we speak now with my Grandma on the phone, she mentions how her "neshume" (soul) goes to rest every night, and G-d gives it back to her every morning for a new start. That idea really got ingrained in her mind.

I would like to end by telling you about my Mom. Everything I tell her she takes to heart and applies it in her life. Recently, however, she told me that she knows that belief in Moshiach is one of the fundamental principles of the Torah, and she wants to believe in Moshiach with all her heart. But, she told me, she has so many questions. Are we going to move from Great Neck? Are the dead really going to come alive? She decided the best way to get her questions answered is to get a class going with the Rabbi about Moshiach. Let's all learn and teach others so Moshiach can come now!


What's New

Correction

The name of the author of the Slice of Life article in issue 823 of L'Chaim entitled "The Book My Soul Had Been Waiting For" is Gedalia Ferdman.

New School in Lugansk

The 110 students of the Beit Menachem School in Lugansk, Ukraine, recently moved into their new school building. The school is part of the Ohr Avner Chabad School network, which has established and supports over 70 educational institutions in the Former Soviet Union including Jewish day schools, universities, kindergartens and camps with an enrollment of over 13,000 students.


The Rebbe Writes

Tammuz, 5740 [1980]

Greeting and Blessing:

I duly received your correspondence, and may G-d grant the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good in all the matters about which you wrote.

At this time, in proximity to the anniversary of the Geulah deliverance of my father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe, of saintly memory, from the tyranny of the Soviet regime, fifty-three years ago, on the 12th-13th of this month, it behooves us to reflect again on those history-making events and how they relate to every one of us here and now. For, as he indicated in his first letter on the occasion of the first anniversary of his Geulah, and as we clearly see it now, his deliverance was more than a personal one, but a turning point in the survival of Russian Jewry, and is of lasting significance for every Jew everywhere.

This timely reflection should make every one of us all the more deeply appreciative of the blessing of freedom to live a full life of Torah and Mitzvos [commandments], and, what goes with it, the sacred obligation to do one's utmost to spread and strengthen Yiddishkeit [Judaism] with enthusiasm and love - the love of G-d, love of the Torah, and love of our Jewish brethren, which are inseparable.

Moreover, by his total Mesiras Nefesh [self-sacrifice] even in the face of over- whelming odds, and by his eventual triumph, with G-d's help, he has shown the way, and trodden the way, for every Jew to follow in his footsteps, with complete assurance that when a Jew is firmly resolved to work for Torah and Yiddishkeit, he or she will overcome whatever difficulties there may be, and be matzliach [successful] with G-d's help.

I hope and pray that the inspiration of the Baal Hageulah [lit. "the one who was liberated, i.e., the Previous Rebbe] and Chag Hageulah [holiday of liberation] - especially as this year's Geulah anniversary also marks his 100th birthday on the selfsame day of the 12th of Tammuz - will stimulate you and yours to redouble your efforts in the said direction in the days ahead, which will also widen the channels to receive G-d's blessings for yourself and all yours, in all needs, both materially and spiritually.

With blessing for good tidings in all the above,


3rd of Tammuz, 5740 [1980]

To All Participants in the
First Annual Dinner of Machanaim
G-d Bless You All!

Greeting and Blessing:

I was pleased to be informed of this important event, and extend congratula-tions and good wishes to the Chairman, Honored Guests and all who are involved in ensuring its success, both materially and spiritually. Materially - to help provide the means, indeed substantial means, for the continuation and expansion of the edu-cational facilities of Machanaim in our Holy Land; and spiritually - by being involved, with heart and soul, in this sacred cause.

It is very significant that this event is taking place in the week that is highlighted by the anniversary of the Geulah deliverance of my father-in-law, the Rebbe of saintly memory, from his arrest by the Soviet regime - on the 12th-13th of Tammuz, fifty-three years ago. His triumph, with G-d's help, over that regime's attempt to stamp out Jewish education in Soviet Russia was a turning point in the survival of Russian Jewry, and it is largely due to his indomitable struggle, in the face of over-whelming odds, that we have a vibrant Russian Jewry today.

Recalling this history-making anniversary should make every one of us all the more deeply appreciative of the blessing of religious freedom in this land, and wherever it exists - a blessing that carries with it the sacred obligation to do one's utmost for the furtherance of Torah education and the support of Torah institutions, both here and wherever our help is needed, especially in the Holy Land, of which the Torah declares that "G-d's Eyes are upon it continuously, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year."

I am confident that, appreciative as you are of the vital importance of the work of Machanaim in the Holy Land, and further in- spired by the timely message of the Geulah Anniversary, every one of you will generously and enthusiastically respond to the call of those lovely children who depend so much on your kind patronage. And since G-d rewards in kind, He will surely bless each and all of you, and yours, in a generous measure, both materially and spiritually.

With esteem and blessing,


Rambam this week

9 Tamuz, 5764 - June 28, 2004

Prohibition 244: It is forbidden to steal

This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 19:11) "Do not steal" We are forbidden to steal money or goods.

Prohibition 239: Penalties for Robbery

This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 21:37-22) "If a man shall steal..." It details the various penalties inflicted upon the thief. A thief must restore the stolen article and also pay a fine for breaking the law.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming week, on the 12th of Tamuz (this year Thursday, July 1) we commemorate two events in the annals of Chabad history. It is the birthday of the previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. The 12th of Tamuz is also the date on which Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak was released from imprisonment by the Bolshevik government.

When the Rebbe was taken into custody one month prior to his release, he knew that he was being arrested on trumped up charges of anti-government activities. His real crime: teaching Torah and bringing Jews closer to Judaism.

Before being taken off to the infamous Spalerno Prison, the Rebbe said: "I demand permission to put on tefilin and pray and also that kosher food be made available to me from my own home."

He was answered, "You may take your tefilin, religious books, paper and pen, and I give you my sincere assurance that no one will disturb you from your prayers, from reading and from writing. This very day you will return home."

The Rebbe knew that these promises were lies, just as all the charges upon which he was being imprisoned were lies. Indeed, he informed his family before being taken away, "Ask all of my followers to recite Psalms during the first days."

Once in jail, the Rebbe was, in fact, not given his tefilin. He went on a hunger strike until he received all of his religious articles.

The Rebbe's sentence was commuted from the death sentence to ten years of hard labor in the Arctic, and then to three years of exile. After just a few days in exile, he was told that this punishment, too, had been commuted, and he was to leave Russia immediately.

The Rebbe left Russia a broken man physically, having been tortured in Spalerno. But they were not able to touch him spiritually in the least. When he settled in New York, some 20 years later, he set about establishing the first Jewish Day Schools in the United States. Many other groups followed the lead of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, thus ensuring that the flame of Judaism remains alive.


Thoughts that Count

Therefore it is said in the book of the wars of G-d (Num. 21:14)

The strength and uniqueness of the Jewish People lies in the following: While the nations of the world wage war with conventional weapons, the "weapon" of the Jewish People is the Book - the Torah which they learn and in whose light they live their lives. Zecharia the Prophet said: "Not by might and not by strength, but with My spirit, said the L-rd of Hosts."

(Rabbi Meir Shapira)


This is the torah (law), a man...(Num. 19:14)

The Torah is arranged in the same form as a man's body. Just as there are physically 248 limbs and 365 sinews in the body, correspondingly there are 248 positive and 365 negative commandments in the Torah. The 248 limbs of a person receive their sustenance from the 248 positive commandments, and the 365 sinews draw their sustenance from the 365 negative commandments.

(Likutei Torah)


Have them bring a completely red cow, which has no blemish on it, upon which no yoke has ever come (Num. 19:2)

If a person considers himself perfect, without finding the smallest trace of fault, this is a sign that he has never borne a yoke - the yoke of Heaven. He who accepts the yoke of Torah is always cognizant of how far he is from perfection.

(Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak of Lublin)


The priest shall take some cedar wood and hyssop ... and throw it into the midst of the burning cow (Num. 19:6)

The cedar wood and the hyssop were also thrown into the fire. Cedar symbolizes excessive pride, and hyssop symbolizes excessive humility. Both of these character traits are not seemly in a person. The same way that one should not hold himself too high, one should also not walk around depressed all the time. A person needs a certain amount of enthusiasm and pride, as it says, "And he lifted his heart in the ways of G-d."

(Kli Yakar)


Along the same lines, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk used to say: A man should have two pockets. In one he should put the concept of "I am but dust and ashes," and in the other, "For me the world was created."


It Once Happened

by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe's birthday and the anniversary of his release from imprisonment by the Communists are both on the 12th of Tamuz. The following stories took place during and immediately after the Previous Rebbe's imprisonment.

Immediately after being arrested the Previous Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn) made a firm resolution in his mind that he would pay no attention to his captors, as though they posed no threat to him at all. Several days later, after he had been exposed to the murder and sadism of the prison, he was taken into a room and ordered to sign certain papers. As per his resolution he paid no attention to the demand and was beaten. But still he remained unmoved. Furious, one of the interrogators pulled out a pistol, put it to the Rebbe's head and said, "This little toy has convinced everyone to do what we say."

This fellow, like all the other prison staff, was a murderer and there was absolutely no reason for him not to simply pull the trigger. He had obviously done so many times before.

The Rebbe replied matter of factly, "That 'toy' scares people like you who have only one world and many gods. But I have one G-d and two worlds [physical and spiritual] so it does not scare me."

The guard inexplicitly did nothing.

After a few days, the Rebbe's fate was sealed. He was found guilty of subversion and was sentenced to death. Through world pressure, the sentence was commuted to three years in Siberian exile.

Then, even more inexplicitly, the Rebbe was given special permission to leave the jail three days early, visit his family for several hours and then travel, at his own expense, to Kostroma, his town of exile.

This was a true miracle. Every instant in the prison was a true danger to his life; he was easy prey for the anti-Semitic guards and prisoners. Hundreds of Jews "disappeared" or "died" daily and he could easily be one of them.

But to everyone's amazement, as soon as he realized that according to their itinerary he would have to travel on Shabbat, he refused to leave until after Shabbat ended. He actually stayed extra time in that hell so as to not desecrate the Sabbath.

Why did the Rebbe do this? According to Jewish law he was permitted to travel on Shabbat in order to leave that place, as every additional moment there was a threat to his life. But the Rebbe was determined to show even his evil captors that G-d, not Stalin, is the Boss of the world. And that they were powerless against the Torah.

The third story took place that Sunday as he boarded the train to leave the prison. We must remember that the Rebbe was imprisoned for teaching anti-communist doctrines and everyone connected to him was immediately suspected of the same.

Nevertheless, a large crowd of people threw caution to the wind and came to see him off. They could not forego the opportunity of drawing inspiration from the Rebbe.

Just moments before the train left, the Rebbe made a stirringly emotional and revolutionary speech;

Here is a translation (from Yiddish) of some of what he said.

"We must make one thing known to all the nations are on the face of the earth: That only our bodies are in exile and servitude to the gentiles, but our souls never entered exile and were never servants to the other nations.

"We must announce and advertise before the entire world that anything that relates to our Jewish religion, the Torah, the commandments and even the customs, can never be changed by opinions. We Jews have no outside forces or opinions that can change us. We must declare with the greatest Jewish stubbornness with thousands of years of Jewish self-sacrifice, 'Never touch My anointed and My prophets do not harm.'

"We must pray that G-d give us the proper strength to not be affected in any way by these physical tribulations but rather to treat them with joy! That every, punishment we receive, G-d forbid, for opening a children's school, teaching Torah or doing the commandments should give us more enthusiasm in our holy task of strengthening Judaism. Remember! The jails and camps are temporary. But Torah, the commandments and the Jewish people are eternal..."

In other words, to a crowd filled with informers and secret police he exhorted Russian Jewry to continue the very "subversive" work for which he was imprisoned.


Moshiach Matters

Nine red heifers were prepared from the time this precept was ordained until the Second Temple was destroyed: the first was prepared by Moses our Master, the second Ezra prepared, and there were seven from Ezra to the destruction of the Temple. The tenth will be prepared by King Moshiach - may he soon be revealed, amen, may this be (G-d's) Will!"

(Hilchot Para Aduma 3:4)


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