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We all know about the rhythms of life, the daily ups and downs, the seasonal swings, the yearly ins and outs. Certain events mark life's peaks, others life's valleys. Between them, though, smaller rhythms cycle in and out.
Nature has its rhythms, astronomical and otherwise, and we have ours. The science of bio-rhythms tells us we have three cycles. Throughout our lives we traverse a wave, from high to low, emotionally, physically and intellectually. Like the daily rising and setting of the sun, like its yearly traversal of the sky, like the moon's monthly disappearing act, we move through personal cycles.
And Torah has its cycles, times when the performance of mitzvot dominate, times when the study of Torah dominate. Within each, there are cycles, as well.
And each cycle has a mid-point, two actually. Mid-points - when a wave reaches halfway up or down in the cycle - are critical points, moments of crisis. Every cycle has its "mid-life" crisis.
The "mid-life crisis" for the lunar cycle is the 15th of the month. On that day the moon is halfway through its journey. Until then, the moon is becoming full; after then, it loses its fullness. Every day the moon either waxes or wanes. Except the 15th.
Chasidic teachings explains that: "The fifteenth represents the visible completeness of the moon, but the moon is still only a recipient of light."
But on the 15th of Av (Monday, August 2 this year), something unique happens, something which distinguishes that 15th from the 15th of all other months.
Two cycles intersect.
The moments of conjunction, when rhythms of different cycles intersect, create a unique force, a contrapuntal harmony, the beauty within contradiction.
During the month of Av, "the sun's power is weakened." The intensity of summer has already begun its descent; the full force of summer wanes. The cycle of the sun has begun to descend.
But on the 15th of Av the cycle of the moon reaches its apex.
This, then, is the only day of the year when the monthly lunar cycle is full - at mid-life - and the yearly solar cycle begins its descent. This moment, when the sun weakens and the moon's fullness fills the sky, emphasizes the light of the moon.
In Jewish teachings, the Jews are compared to the moon and the nations to the sun. After Tisha B'Av, after the descent, the moon becomes full - a sign that the Holy Temple, the light of the Jewish people will be renewed.
The 15th of Av also emphasizes the strength of this renewal because "the sun is weakened." The calendar of nature, of those who calculate within the framework of man's mind, weakens, so to speak. The calendar of G-dliness becomes more prominent.
On the 15th of Av, the full moon after Tisha B'Av, there is a tradition to increase learning Torah at night. As the nights lengthen, one's Torah learning lengthens.
In this week's Torah portion, Ve'etchanan, Moses describes the Revelation at Mount Sinai to the younger generation of Jews who were about to enter the Land of Israel. He describes the voice of G-d, saying: "A great voice, which did not continue." One of the explanations that the Midrash offers for this is that G-d's voice did not have an echo.
The Midrash's answer seems to present a few problems. How does the absence of an echo indicate greatness? If the voice was indeed strong, would it not have produced an echo? Furthermore, why did G-d perform such a miracle? Since miracles are not performed unnecessarily, why would G-d seemingly change the laws of nature just so that His voice would not produce an echo?
An echo is produced when sound waves hit an object. When the sound waves reach a wall, a mountain, or any such obstacle, they are bounced right back. The only condition necessary to produce an echo is that the object which deflects the sound waves must be strong and rigid. If the object is soft and yielding, the sound will just be absorbed and no echo will result.
This physical phenomenon will explain why G-d's voice on Mount Sinai had no echo. When G-d said, "I am the L-rd your G-d," His voice was so overwhelmingly powerful that there was nothing in the world that was strong enough to deflect the sound. G-d's voice actually penetrated the physical world. Every object in the world, from the inanimate to the higher forms of life, absorbed the G-dly voice and was affected by it.
The phenomenon of the Revelation at Sinai is akin to what will take place after Moshiach's arrival, in the World to Come, which is described in these words: "And the Glory of G-d will be revealed, and all flesh will see." Even our very bodies will be able to perceive G-dliness. So it was at the Revelation. All of physical reality absorbed the Revelation of the G-dly voice.
This is why G-d's voice had no echo. This was no miracle, and the laws of nature were not at all abrogated. It is, indeed, in keeping with physical law that when a sound is absorbed, no echo is produced. And since the voice was totally integrated into physical reality, there was nothing which could bounce the sound back. Therefore, the absence of an echo shows the infinite strength of the voice, rather than the opposite.
This phenomenon did not occur only once in the history of the world. Whenever a Jew studies Torah, the holy voice of Torah penetrates the physical surroundings and elevates the world. Our Rabbis say that in the World To Come, "the very beams of the house will bear witness," for they have been absorbing all the holiness produced when a person learns Torah in his home. (This explains why many tzadikim commanded that their coffins be made from the wood of their desks and tables where they learned Torah and gave food to the poor, for the Torah and mitzvot were "absorbed" by the very planks themselves!)
The power of Torah is such that nothing can stand in its way. The world was created in such a manner as to enable the continuing voice of Revelation to penetrate the corporeal world even today.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Family Tradition in the Grindel
The traffic is rushing down the four-lane road. Shops and cafes are lining one after the other. The unobtrusive house entrance is hidden between a travel agency and a drugstore. Chabad Lubavitch/Bistritzky is written on the doorbell. A young rabbi opens the door on the fourth floor and invites me in. Two little girls, one and two years old smile at me out of the kitchen. Eight months now Shlomo Bistritzky lives with his family in Hamburg.
The apartment is still looking somewhat bare, a bookshelf and a long table with ten chairs dominating the living room. A sofa has been bought but not delivered until now says the young man in the dark suit almost apologetic. But the twenty-seven-year-old has not come to Germany to set-up himself comfortably. "I am here as Chabad, not as Rabbi Bistritzky" he explains the doorbell sign.
He represents the organization of Chabad-Lubavitch, the living room is also public space. Here lessons are taught, advice seekers received or even kosher food served to travellers. Everywhere where jews are living Chabad wants to be there for them. This is the case for many places, now also in Hamburg.
"I am a shaliach, an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe," says Bistritzky pointing at the big framed portrait of Menachem Mendel Schneerson. In another corner of the room a smaller one, the picture of the father is attached.
Levi Bistritzky was chief rabbi of Tzfat in the north of Israel. He too was sent as emissary from New York by the Lubavitchers in 1976. His children grew up in Israel and now the six sons follow the example of the father who passed away two years ago. The oldest brother is today Rabbi in Tzfat, a second one founded a foundation there and Shlomo was sent by Chabad to Germany, who had already studied at the Yeshiva in Berlin for a year.
It is by accident that the apartment is located at the Grindel. Shlomo Bistritzky only wanted to be able to reach the synagogue by foot. But now he lives in exactly the quarter that was the pulsating center of Jewish life until the Holocaust. Several synagogues were here, schools, social institutions and many small businesses. The "Stolpersteine" (stumbling blocks) embedded in the sidewalk by the artist Gunter Demnig draw his attention first. Each square metal block remembers a former Jewish resident and his fate. "This is something very special", says Shlomo Bistritzky. "Everywhere you can see who lived here."
Also his great-grandfather had taken residence in the Grindel quarter, the grandfather grew up here. More and more traces Shlomo Bistritzky finds of his ancestors. A thick binder with copies of the municipal archive lies in front of him. Around 1920 Markus Bistritzky, coming from Königsberg had opened the "Scandinavian Corporation Bistritzky & Co.". The business of oil and train oil apparently ran well. His office was superbly situated in the Levante House at the Mönckeberg Street. After some time he bought a house in the Innocentia Street. His son Yehuda Loeb went to the Talmud-Tora-Secondary School at the Grindelhof until he was thirteen. Then, being on a business trip Markus Bistritzky sent a telegram to his family ordering them to Rotterdam. That was the beginning of 1938, only a few months before the November pogrom. From Holland the family went to New York. All were saved.
The great-grandmother of Shlomo Bistritzky came from Lubavitch. She had gone together to the kindergarten with the Rebbe's wife. In Brooklyn the old contacts revived. The grandfather and father learned in the Chabad Lubavitch Yeshiva and also the next generation stayed faithful to this tradition. To the 10th anniversary of the Rebbe's death on June 22 the young Hamburger Rabbi himself travelled to New York.
Can Hamburg become "heimat" (home) to him? Probably always passers-by will look inquiringly at the Rabbi with the kippa and beard in front of his entrance - also in the Grindel quarter, also today the most jewish part of town. Especially for his wife life in Jerusalem was easier than in Hamburg. Some kosher foods must be sent to them from Israel. Also the language is still foreign. But in fact that is not the question. "We are not here for us, but for the town, for the Jews," says Shlomo Bistritzky. He offers a little bit of "heimat" to others, and then he sometimes forgets his own difficulties of settling down. "The doors to our apartment are open anytime; everyone is welcome to come in." But the shaliach is also coming to the people. He organizes summer camps for the children, visits the old, the sick or prison inmates. His wife teaches religion and the Hebrew language three times a week.
Their duties will increase, similar to the Jewish community of Hamburg, counting meanwhile about 5000 members. A bookstore and a kosher restaurant are still dreams. But when Jewish children move into the Talmud-Torah-School next year, Chabad will also be present. And when Shlomo Bistritzky's daughter starts school, also grandfather Yehuda Loeb wants to be there. Father and Grandfather will say: "The best answer to the events of the Holocaust is that Jews are going again to school in the Grindel."
Reprinted from the Hamburg News
Three New Centers
Three young couples recently moved to various locations throughout the United States as shluchim - emissaries - of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to start new Chabad Centers. Rabbi Moshe and Sara Gourarie have arrived in Toms River, New Jersey, to establish a Chabad Center that will serve the Jewish community of northern Ocean County. Rabbi Avi and Chana Rubenfeld have established a new Chabad Center in Chesterfield, Missouri. Rabbi Berry and Nechama Farkash moved to Washington state where their Chabad Center will serve the Jewish residents in Issaquah and Sammamish. The new Chabad Centers, like all Chabad-Lubavitch Centers throughout the world, will offer adult education classes, Shabbat and holiday observances, hands-on Jewish living programs, and an open, warm environment for Jews of all backgrounds and levels of observance.
15th of Av, 5735 
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleased to be informed about your steady advancement in matters of Torah, called "Toras Chaim," because it is the Jew's guide in life, and also "Toras Emes," because it is the truth. This is doubly gratifying inasmuch as persons of your standing have an impact on the community, for people look up to you and try to emulate you. Thus, your going from strength to strength in matters of Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] is greatly multiplied through those who are inspired by your example, not to mention the direct impact on children and through them on their children in an everlasting chain reaction.
In light of the above, even if there are some difficulties to overcome, it is surely worthwhile to make the effort, inasmuch as the effort involves only the individual, while the benefit is for many. Add to this also the fact that this is also the channel to receive G-d's blessings in all needs, and that G-d rewards in kind, and in a most generous measure.
The above refers to all matters of Torah and Mitzvos, but has a special significance in regard to Kashrus [Jewish dietary laws]. As a doctor you know the immense knowledge that has been accumulated recently in the area of nutrition and diet, and how much the quality of food affects physical and mental health.
For Jews, the Dietary Laws have come down with the Torah itself, which revealed the true meaning of monotheism, of which the Jewish people have been the bearers ever since. It was relevant not only in those days of old, when paganism and idolatry were the general practice in the world, but is just as relevant in the present day and age, since it is only the Torah and Mitzvos that are the basis of pure monotheism, rooted in the absolute unity of G-d.
This means that the Jew brings unity and harmony into this, the physical world, eliminating any departmen-talization in the daily life, or having occasional practices; or, as some misguided and misconceived individuals might think, that they can practice Judaism at home, but must make concessions and compromises outside of the home.
All such differentiation's are contrary to true unity, pure monotheism. For the concept of pure monotheism is not confined to One G-d, but at the same time it requires unity in the personal life of each and every Jew, who is a member of the One People, of which it is said that it is "One People on earth." According to the explanation of the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad, "One People on earth" means that they bring oneness and unity also in earthly things, and it is only in this way that the individual can achieve complete personal harmony and unity of the body and soul, at all times, whether in the synagogue, at home, or in the office.
Thus, it is obvious how important Kashrus is for a Jew, since the food and beverages that he consumes become blood and tissue and energy, and food that is not suitable (Kosher) for a Jew can only alienate him from matters of Yiddishkeit [Judaism], and only the right and Kosher food can nourish him physically, mentally, and spiritually. As already mentioned, there is no need to elaborate this to you, a physician, although your specialty is not directly in the field of nutrition.
The most desirable blessing that can be expressed in this case is that you should indeed serve as a living and inspiring example for others to emulate, and that through your inspiration many others will go from strength to strength in matters of Torah and Mitzvos in the daily life.
May G-d grant that you should always have good news to report.
17 Av, 5764 - August 4, 2004
Positive Mitzvah 245: Conducting Business
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 25:14) "And if you sell something to your neighbor, or buy something from your neighbor" The Torah deals with every aspect of our lives; not only with the way we pray and study, but also the manner in which we carry out our business. This mitzva establishes guidelines for our business dealings and governs the way we buy, sell, and transfer ownership of property. These guidelines include writing business contracts, paying for goods with money, or exchanging one item for another.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
"There were no greater festivals in Israel than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur," the Mishna tells us. What is so special about the 15th of Av that it is singled out together with Yom Kippur from all the other festivals?
A number of special events throughout Jewish history took place on the 15th of Av. They were: 1) The tribe of Benjamin was permitted once again to marry the remainder of the Jewish people; 2) The Generation of the Desert ceased to die; they had previously been condemned to perish in the desert because of the sin of the spies; 3) Hoshea Ben Elah removed the blockades that the rebel Yerobeam had set up to prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem for the festivals; 4) The cutting of the wood for the Holy Altar was completed; 5) Permission was granted by the Romans to bury the slain of Betar.
These five events in themselves do not seem adequate enough reason to make the 15th of Av a festival greater than any other. There is another, all-encompassing reason.
The five festive events on the 15th of Av are the counterpart to the five tragic events of Tisha B'Av. The 15th of Av transforms the tragedies of Tisha B'Av to the greatest good - "there were no greater festivals in Israel than the 15th of Av." The ultimate goal of the tragedies of the month of Av is that they should be transformed into a greater good - the supreme festival of the fifteenth of Av.
The common theme behind all the events of the 15th of Av is Ahavat Yisrael - love of a fellow Jew - the practice of which eradicates the cause of the exile and therefore automatically the exile itself.
May we merit this year to celebrate the 15th of Av in the most joyous manner, in the third Holy Temple with Moshiach, NOW!
You shall not add to that which I have commanded you nor shall you subtract from it, to observe the command of G-d (Deut. 4:2).
The purpose of the "Enlightenment" was to reform the Torah and mitzvot. One of the proponents of that approach once suggested to Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer that it was necessary to change certain detailed practices to make the observance of the commandments easier. Rabbi Hidesheimer replied "That is the meaning of the [above-mentioned] verse. Even when your purpose is to observe the command of G-d, you still may not subtract."
In the heavens above and on the earth below (Deut. 4:39)
When contemplating one's heavenly or spiritual condition one should look "above" to those who have attained a higher level; one can never be satisfied. However in "earthly" matters of wealth and so on, one should look "below," to the less fortunate, and be thankful for the blessings one has.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
"I stand between your G-d and you" (Deut. 5:5)
Early Chasidim used to explain that the "I," the awareness of self, the ego, stands between the person and his efforts to come closer to G-d.
And I besought the L-rd...let me go over, I pray Thee...(Deut. 3:23-25)
In his reproach to the Jewish nation before his passing, Moses recounted his attempt to sway the Divine decree that he not enter the Land of Israel. Moses' intensive praying taught future generations to persist in prayer. A person should never say, "What purpose is there in my praying further?" Even though G-d had clearly told Moses that he would not bring the Jewish nation into the land, and even though Joshua had already been appointed his successor to complete this task, still, Moses prayed. This demonstrates to us that a person must never say, "My illness is fatal, my last will is made, and my possessions are distributed. Why shall I continue to pray?"
(Yalkut Shmoni-The Midrash Says)
And He repays those who hate Him to their face (Deut. 7:10)
G-d repays the wicked in their lifetime for any good they have done, thereby depriving them of the spiritual rewards in the World to Come.
In the ancient city of Aleppo, Syria there lived a Jew named Shimshon. He was well-known as a bully and half-drunk most of the time.
In the marketplace he walked from stall to stall, placing groceries in his basket, and leaving without paying. If anyone dared ask for payment he glared at them or made menacing comments. If he really got angry, he would overturn the produce or grocery cart and even give the stall keeper a big wallop.
Word eventually got to the rabbi of the town, who called Shimshon in and severely rebuked him. Shimshon, feigning innocence, asked, "Did anyone complain to you about me?"
The rabbi had to admit that no specific complaint had yet been brought. But, of course, the people were too frightened to accuse him and start up with Shimshon.
One day an older woman brought beautiful fruits and vegetables to the market. Shimshon came up to her stall, choose several items and walked away.
"Stop, come back. You haven't paid me," yelled the woman.
Shimshon turned around, looked at her threateningly and shouted, "You'll keep quiet if you know what's good for you." Then he continued on his way.
The stall keepers nearby encouraged her to go to the rabbi, who was relieved that there was finally a charge against Shimshon. The rabbi immediately sent for the culprit.
"Did you take produce from this woman without paying?" the rabbi asked Shimshon.
"Who says I'm not going to pay her?" was Shimshon's insolent reply.
"Pay her immediately or return her goods," was the rabbi's stern response. "If this ever happens again you will also have to pay a heavy fine," the rabbi added.
Shimshon took out his money and silently paid the woman. But as he was leaving, the rabbi's attendant, Levi, overheard him muttering, "I'll get even with the rabbi!"
A few days later the rabbi was invited to a circumcision in a nearby village. Along the way, Levi kept a sharp look out. When he noticed a man hiding behind some shrubs in the distance he was certain it was Shimshon. He now told the rabbi of Shimshon's threat and urged him to turn back.
Instead, the rabbi noted the time and told Levi to stop the carriage so they could say the afternoon prayers. He prayed intensely and longer than usual, then climbed back into the carriage and told Levi to drive full speed ahead.
In a matter of moments, Shimshon appeared in the middle of the road and stopped the carriage. Rushing over to the rabbi, Shimshon grabbed his hands, and with tears in his eyes begged forgiveness. The rabbi forgave him on the condition that he change his ways. Shimshon promised he would and they parted like best of friends.
Levi was amazed and puzzled. The rabbi explained what had just happened with a commentary from the Torah. "When Esau threatened Jacob's life, Rivka, their mother, instructed Jacob, "When your heart is free from any anger that you harbor against your brother for the trouble he has caused you, then you will be sure that his anger has turned away from you."
"You see," the rabbi concluded, "I was very angry with Shimshon, but I prayed to G-d to help me free my heart from any anger against him, and to help him free his heart from anger and evil. When I felt I no longer had ill feelings toward him, but rather compassion and a strong desire to help him mend his ways, I was certain that his heart, too, was pure. That is what actually happened. Thus, our sages teach us: As water reflects a face, so does one heart respond to another!
"It is presently 'dark' for you, but G-d will in the future illuminate an eternal light, as it says, 'G-d will be for you an eternal light' (Isaiah 60:19). When will that be? When all of you will be united. Israel will be redeemed when they will be united, as it says, 'In those days and in that time the children of Israel will come, they and the children of Judah together..' (Jeremiah 50:4); and it says, 'In those days, the house of Judah will walk with the house of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north to the land I have given as a legacy to your fathers' (Jeremiah 3:18). When they are united they will receive the Divine Presence!"