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July 23, 2004 - 5 Av, 5764

829: Devarim

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  828: Matos-Masei830: Vaeschanan  

The Two Sides of Tisha B'Av  |  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

The Two Sides of Tisha B'Av

Tisha B'Av is the darkest day on the Jewish calendar, observed this year on Monday night, July 26 through Tuesday night, July 27.

Tisha B'Av is a day of intense mourning for the destruction of the two Holy Temples and for Jerusalem.

Today, the saddest thing about Tisha B'Av is that many people do not know about it or care to observe it. We don't know what we're missing. Unfortunately, we are split and divided, suffering from the same senseless hatred that caused the tragedy of Tisha B'Av.

Tisha B'Av climaxes three weeks of mourning, beginning with the fast of the Seventeenth of Tamuz.

But there is another side to Tisha B'Av.

The Talmud tells the story of Rabbi Akiva and the Sages tearing their garments in mourning upon seeing Jerusalem in ruins. Their anguish increased upon seeing a fox strolling where the Holy Ark once stood. The Sages burst into tears, but Rabbi Akiva laughed. The Sages were shocked. "How can you laugh when animals desecrate our Holy of Holies?" Said Rabbi Akiva: "The Torah connects the fall and rise of Jerusalem. Zechariah the prophet predicted that 'Zion will be plowed under,' while Uria the prophet foresaw 'elderly men and women relaxing in the streets of Jerusalem with small children happily playing nearby'... Now that the negative has actually come to pass, the good prophecies will truly be fulfilled!"

The Sages conceded, saying: "Akiva, you have comforted us!"

Tisha B'Av is negative - but once we have the negative, it takes only time and effort to develop it into a positive and see the full picture in the words of Zechariah (8:19): "These very days of sorrow and fasting will turn into days of joy and feasting for the House of Israel."

Tisha B'Av expresses strength rather than weakness. Other nations celebrate only their red-letter days and triumphs, yet we have the strength to dedicate a day to our tragedy, and that is the secret of our long survival that enables Israel to outlive the greatest empires that have long since vanished. Tisha B'Av directs us to positive, constructive action of rebuilding through Torah and charity.

It is a Sephardic custom to rise on Tisha B'Av afternoon and clean the house, showing our renewed faith and hope.

On the positive side, some sources say that Tisha B'Av is the birthday of the righteous Moshiach, bringing about the potential for a most important Jewish principle: "I believe with complete faith in the arrival of the Moshiach. And though he may tarry, I shall wait each day, anticipating his arrival" (Maimonides, Principles of Faith).

Last but not least, we conclude the Lamentations on a high positive note as we loudly declare: "Return to us, O G-d, and we will return to You; renew our days as once before!"

By Rabbi Yisrael Rubin, emissary of the Rebbe, Chabad of the Capital District, Albany, New York.


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah reading marks the opening of the fifth book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, or Devarim in Hebrew. Devarim is also called Mishneh Torah, meaning "Repetition of the Torah." Moses began reviewing the Torah with the Jewish people in preparation for their entry into the Holy Land.

During their years of wandering in the desert all their needs, food, water, clothing, and shelter were miraculously provided. The delicious white manna fell daily; the well of Miriam provided a constant supply of water, while the Clouds of Glory sheltered them from harsh winds, made the mountainous paths flat, killed the poisonous snakes, serpents, and scorpions that abounded in the desert, and miraculously kept the clothes of the Israelites fresh, clean, and pressed.

Now the Jews were on the verge of leaving this place where for years they had had no material cares, and were about to settle in a land and a way of life which necessitated all the mundane preoccupations of life. It was now that they were exposed to the Repetition of the Torah, for they needed an additional and special measure of spiritual inspiration, so that they would not become materialistic and debased in the material world that lay ahead. On the contrary, the whole purpose of their coming into the Land was to instill holiness, to elevate and make more spiritual the material aspects of daily life - thereby transforming the material into the spiritual through Torah, worship of G-d, performance of His Divine precepts, giving charity and doing acts of loving kindness.

The Divine purpose of our entry into the Holy Land - to elevate the environment and transform the material into the spiritual - is the very same purpose that every individual Jew has in his mundane activities. As Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism expressed it: "The material things of Jews are spiritual; G-d gives us material things, that we may transform them into spiritual." G-d grants the Jew livelihood and he, in turn, utilizes the money for the performance of mitzvot (commandments). In this way we truly convert the material (money and worldly possessions) into the spiritual.

Transformation of the material to the spiritual can be achieved in other ways also, such as through elevating and refining one's business or professional environment by setting a personal example of Torah-guided honesty and good conduct. Some people think that the main purpose of a Torah education is to train Rabbis, teachers, and other religious functionaries. This is not so; the essential and main purpose of religious training is to prepare Jewish laypeople who, before going out into the business world, are imbued and permeated with Jewish values. Such laypeople elevate their entire environment by inspiring every Jew with whom they come in contact, with love of G-d, love of Torah, and love of one's fellow - in actual daily practice.

In all matters of sanctity one must go from strength to strength, constantly increasing holiness; one must strive to produce more and more spirituality out of material things. In this way the blessing of "Prosperity through charity" becomes realized, with G-d giving material blessings in a growing measure, enabling us to create more, and still more, spiritually, at a reciprocal pace from strength to strength.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.


A Slice of Life

Abba, Why Are They Crying?
by Yitzchak Kohn

The seven-year-old woke with a start; his senses were suddenly alerted to the strange noise that had shaken him loose from his deep slumber. He looked around in the dimness of the room. The cuckoo clock chimed a few times and he knew it was three o'clock in the morning. His little sister in the next bed stirred restlessly. Very quietly, he slipped into his slippers and gingerly walked across the floor to the window. Pushing the curtains aside, he pressed his face against the window pane, and stared into the darkness. The noise was coming closer; there, straight ahead, he thought he saw the blinking lights. He was now fully awake; Abba had said that they were coming.

Quietly, so as not to wake his sister, he opened the door and disappeared down the hall to his parents' room. Both parents were awake and peering out of their own bedroom window.

"Abba, they are coming! I saw the lights."

The father bent down and, in a swoop, picked the boy up in his arms. "Yes, my son, they are coming. I can see the shadows of many soldiers on six or seven military trucks. Soon they will reach us and...."

He fell silent. Mother left the room to tend to the crying little girl who just woke up. In this vast, sparsely populated land, where noise carries far and seems louder; the shifting gears of the truck were quite audible, as they continued their climb up the slope, towards the few houses on the hill. They were still a few kilometers away. Steadily, the caravan on the horizon continued towards the mission; the orders have been signed.

"Pay close attention, my son; they'll be here soon and I want to make sure you'll never forget it," the father said, as they all sat down on the bed. "Jewish history, my son, is replete with hundreds upon hundreds of expulsions - the forced evacuation of Jews from their homes and lands. It began with the Ten Tribes, continued in the days of destruction of the First Holy Temple, and transpired yet again when the Second Temple was burned. We were not given too much time to catch our breath. The list is long, my son: Babylon, Rome, Spain, England, Portugal, Sweden, Poland, Italy and Bohemia. There were so many, I doubt any country can be spared."

The little boy shivered and moved closer. The sounds of the trucks and marching feet were distinctly audible now.

"And usually, they came at night, to wake us, to frighten us into submission; and we never fought, we couldn't. So we left everything behind and moved on. Dogs braying at our feet, soldiers with bayonets ready to prod us on, the multitudes of Jews moved on. The long lines of forlorn, beaten men, desperate women and wailing children was a common sight. We were jeered and laughed at and urged to move on. And then came the Nazis. Their expulsions encompassed most of the civilized world. Their solution envisioned no more evictions. Theirs was to be the last expulsion of Jews, ever. Had they succeeded, perhaps you and I would not have been here today to witness, once again, the expulsion and evacuation of Jews. We are the remnants that survived that unimaginable march. We came here... so that never again will we be expelled from our homes; or so we thought."

The little girl, head slumped on her mother's shoulders, slept peacefully, oblivious to the growing noise. The boy's eyes were glued to his father's lips, and his mouth hung open, swallowing every word.

Abba continued, "And all those expulsions and forced evacuations combined didn't hurt as much as what is about to transpire."

"We must be stronger than ever, my son, because this time the pain is worse than all combined. Because, son, they are our own."

The boy nodded his head as if that said it all. He seemed to understand.

The noise of the many engines suddenly died, and their headlights lit up the room. There was a loud knock on the door, and three soldiers stepped into the house..

The child's eyes moved from soldier to father, to mother, and back again.

"We are ready to go," the father addressed the captain, and silently, they all moved towards the door.

The soldiers moved aside. As father, mother, and sister exited, the boy looked back at the soldiers and stopped. He was baffled, confused.

"Why are the soldiers crying, Abba?"

Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine


What's New

Jewish Teens from FSU Travel to Israel

Over 200 students from Ohr Avner Chabad High Schools in 25 cities throughout the Former Soviet Union have travelled to Israel. The July tour was the inaugural "Mekorot" trip sponsored by Federation of Jewish Communities of the C.I.S. president Lev Leviev. The all-expense paid trip to Israel aims to enable the participants to become acquainted with the history and culture of Israel. One student shared, "After coming on Mekorot, Judaism has suddenly become alive for me. When I touched the Western Wall I began to cry." Additional groups are scheduled to visit between August 2nd and 20th.


The Rebbe Writes

Excerpt of a letter, the date of which was not available

I trust you will not take it amiss if I will quote in this connection the words of the wisest of all men, King Solomon, "G-d made man straight, but they sought many accounts." In other words, man often confuses himself with delving, unnecessarily, into inquiries and accounts of things which should be taken for granted and which do not really present any problems. Needless to say, that the more intellectual a person is, the more he is inclined to seek "accounts" and, consequently, the more apt he is to get confused.

This reminds me of the episode which a professor of medicine once told me. On one occasion when he was learning anatomy, and particularly the anatomy of the leg, describing the various muscles, etc., amounting to hundreds, all of which are so perfectly coordinated in the motion of the leg during walking, he became so engrossed in the details (all the more so being a man of great intellect) that momentarily he found his walking difficult and quite complicated as he began to analyze the working of each muscle and joint, etc. The moral is obvious.

Now to your question:

I will first briefly state here the logical basis of the Truth that the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] have been given to us Jews by Divine Revelation. This is not very difficult to prove, since the proof is the same as all other evidence that we have of historic events in past generations, only much more forcefully and convincingly.

By way of illustration: If you are asked, how do you know there existed such a person as Maimonides (whom you mention in your letter) author of Yad HaChazakah, Sefer HaMitzvos, etc., you will surely reply that you are certain about his existence from the books he has written, and although Rambam (Maimonides) lived some 800 years ago, his works now in print have been reprinted from earlier editions, and those from earlier ones, still uninterruptedly, going back to the very manuscript which the Rambam wrote in his own hand. This is considered sufficient proof even in the face of discrepancies or contradictions from one book of Rambam to another. Such contradictions do not demolish the above proof, but efforts are made to reconcile them, in the certainty that both have been written by the same author.

The same kind of proof substantiates any kind of historic past, which we ourselves have not witnessed, and all normal people accept them without question, except those who for some reason are interested in falsification.

In many cases the authenticity of an historic event is based on the evidence of a limited group of people. Even where there is room to suspect that the witnesses were perhaps not quite disinterested, if there is nothing to compel us to be suspicious (and especially if we can check the evidence and countercheck it) it is accepted as fact.

Now suppose that 600,000 parents would today say to their children, "This morning you and we were all gathered at a certain place, and we all heard a Heavenly voice proclaim the Decalogue." The children would not accept this for they would say: "If we were there with you, why did we not hear or see anything?" Now, making the single assumption that human reactions have not essentially changed in the course of centuries, I assume that such would have been the reaction also in the previous century, and two centuries ago and so on, until we reach the generation whose parents witnessed the event of the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

And let it be emphasized again that during this long chain of tradition, there has been no break, nor has the number of transmitters at any time been reduced to less than many hundreds of thousands, for at no time was there less than one million Jews in the world, Jews from all walks of life, who had no personal ax to grind, etc., yet in each generation of the uninterrupted and unbroken history of our people, this event was accepted as authentic history and the text of the Decalogue remained exactly the same. This is certainly undeniable evidence according to all the rules of scientific proof accepted today.

The same cannot be said of any other religions in the world, which you mentioned, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Islam. In the case of all these religions, there is a definite break, or the tradition narrows down to a single person such as Buddha, Mohammed, or the founder of Christianity, who transmitted his teachings to a group of 12 Apostles.


Rambam this week

5 Av, 5764 - July 23, 2004

Prohibition 252: It is forbidden to hurt the feelings of a ger (convert)

This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 22:20) "You shall not wrong a stranger" A ger is a person who converted to Judaism and took upon him - or herself to keep the Torah and mitzvot. We are commanded not to hurt his feelings or say anything that may cause the Ger to be embarrassed or feel uneasy.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, occurs this year on Tuesday, July 27. Tisha B'Av is a day of fasting and mourning. While this sad day is most noted for being the day of the destruction of both of our Holy Temples, we see that throughout our history, both before the era of the Holy Temples and after, the ninth day of Av has been a day of sadness and loss.

During the time that the Jews traveled in the desert from Egypt to Israel, they sent spies to survey the land of Israel before entering. When the spies brought back an untrue, negative report, the Jews complained to Moses about being brought to Israel. For this, the Jews were punished by having to remain in the desert for 40 years. This punishment was meted out on the Ninth of Av.

In 1492, during the Spanish Inquisition, the Ninth of Av was the deadline by which all Jews who had refused to be baptized had to leave Spain. Those Jews who did leave often suffered great difficulties until finding a new home, and many didn't survive the journey. Of those who did remain and allowed themselves to baptized, many continued to retain their Jewish identity, and became known as Marranos. Many of them were discovered and burnt at the stake in mass Autos-de-fe.

In more recent history, World War I broke out on the ninth of Av, causing a great upheaval among the European Jewish communities. It brought about the Communist Revolution, which systematically set out to destroy Judaism in Russia. The economic conditions in Germany following their defeat in World War I led to the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust.

Our Sages teach us that in the future, when Moshiach comes, Tisha B'Av will be transformed from a day of fasting and mourning to a day of great joy. In this darkest time, the spark of redemption is born. May this happen soon.


Thoughts that Count

These are the words which Moshe spoke to all the Jews... (Deut. 1:1)

When Moses spoke to the Jews he allowed himself several words of rebuke with regard to their conduct during the travels in the desert. However, only when speaking to the Jews did he rebuke them. When Moses spoke to G-d on behalf of the people, he was a pure advocate. This is a true lesson for every Jewish leader.

(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)


G-d should add on to you accordingly one thousandfold (Deut. 1:11)

Why did Moses bless the Jews after rebuking them? It is told that the "Seer" of Lublin once berated himself in very harsh terms as if he were the most renegade sinner. Hearing this, his disciples were seized with fear: "If our teacher is worthy of such, what is our lot?" The Seer felt their uneasiness and remarked, "May your grandchildren be no worse than me." So too with Moses. Having rebuked the Jews, he continued with words of encouragement, "Even though I rebuked you, I still ask that it be G-d's will that there be many like you in generations to come.


You have tarried long enough on this mountain - turn and take your journey (Deut. 1:6)

G-d told the Jews that they had spent long enough at Mount Sinai, it was time to move on. A person is not permitted to enclose himself in the Tent of Torah and be satisfied with only working on himself. He must go out to places far from established Jewish centers and bring the light of Torah there, also.

(Likutei Sichot)


Hear the causes between your brethren and judge honestly between each person (Deut. 1:16)

"Hear" - he who hears and feels the great love of the Creator for each Jew - will behave in a manner of "between your brethren" - getting along with people and appreciating each Jew. Another explanation: If you truly want to hear and feel this love of fellow Jews, you should relate to people in a manner of "between your brethren" - you must be sociable and civil with them.

(Baal Shem Tov)


It Once Happened

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses all stood before G-d when they were told about the destruction of the First Holy Temple.

"Why have I been singled out from among all the people, that I have come to this shame and humiliation? Why have You exiled my children, and why have You delivered them into the hands of evil robbers, who killed them with all manner of horrible deaths? You have laid waste to the place where I brought my sons as a sacrifice."

G-d replied: "They sinned, transgressing the entire Torah and the message of the entire alef-bet."

Abraham then said: "Master of the World, who shall bear testimony against the Jews, that they have transgressed?"

"Let the Torah come and testify," said G-d.

The Torah came and wanted to bear witness. Abraham said to her: "My beloved daughter, are you not ashamed before my children? Remember the day that you were given; how G-d carried you to all of the nations, and none wanted to accept you, until my children came to Mt. Sinai and heard you. And today you want to offer testimony against them, during their troubles?"

The Torah was too ashamed to bear witness.

G-d said, "Let the 22 letters of the alef-bet come forward."

The letters came forward, wishing to testify. The alef was first. But Abraham told her, "Remember the day when G-d gave the Torah and began with an alef - Anochi - I. None of the others nations wished to accept you except the Jews. And now you want to witness against them?"

The alef slinked back in shame. But the bet came forward. Abraham said to her, "My daughter, remember the Torah which begins with bet - b'reishit - In the beginning. No one but the Jews would accept her and you wish to bring testimony against them?"

When the other letters saw this, they all remained silent and none would come forward.

Then Abraham said to G-d, "In my hundredth year You gave me a son. When he was 37 years old You commanded me to bring him as a sacrifice and I bound him! Won't You remember this and have pity on my children?"

Then Isaac spoke to G-d, "When my father brought me, upon your command, as an offering, I willingly let myself be bound. I stretched out my neck to be slaughtered. Will you not have pity on my children for my sake?"

Jacob, too, spoke to G-d, saying, "For twenty years I worked for Laban so that I could leave him with my children and my wives. And when I left Laban I was met by my brother Esau who wished to kill my entire family. I risked my very life for them and bore much suffering because of them. Will You not have pity on them?"

Finally, Moses approached G-d. "Was I not a faithful shepherd over Israel for forty years, leading them in the desert? And when the time came for them to enter the Holy Land, You commanded that I die in the desert and not lead them there. Yet, I did not complain. You expect me to watch them go into exile?"

Then Moses called to Jeremiah the prophet, who stood together with him and the Patriarchs. "Come with me. I will take them out of exile."

When, by the rivers of Babylon, the people saw Moses together with Jeremiah, they rejoiced. "Look, Moses has risen from the grave to redeem us from our captors!"

But just then, a heavenly voice rang out, "It is a decree from Me and can be no other way."

Moses wept as he spoke to the people and said, "My beloved children, I cannot take you out for it has been decreed by the Master and only He can redeem you."

Then Rachel, our mother, came before G-d and said, "Your servant, Jacob, loved me dearly and worked for my father for seven years on my behalf. But my father wanted to trick him and give my older sister, Leah, to him instead. I heard of this and told Jacob. And I gave him a sign to that he would know which sister they were giving him.

"But I took pity on my sister and did not wish her to be humiliated. So I taught her the signs and even spoke for her so that Jacob would not recognize her voice. And I was not jealous.

"Master of the World! I am but flesh and blood and I was not jealous of my sister. You are merciful, G-d. Why are you 'jealous' that Israel served idols? And because of this, you have exiled my children and the enemy has killed all that they wanted."

Immediately G-d took pity on her and said, "Rachel, for your sake I will return your children to the land of Israel."

About this the Prophet Jeremiah says, "A voice is heard on high, lamentations and bitter weeping, Rachel weeps and it is said: 'Refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears for there is reward for your labor... and there is hope for your end, and the sons shall return to their boundary.


Moshiach Matters

The book of Lamentations, recited on Tisha B'Av, contains two contradictory verses: "She [the Jewish people] cries in the night," and "Get up and sing in the night." It is obvious how the first verse fits into Lamentations. But how does the second passage relate to the melancholy, mournful tone of the book? The answer to this question lies in understanding the eternity of our people. Although we are still in exile, we have the strength and capacity to pull ourselves out from the depths and sing longingly of the final Redemption.


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