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L'Chaim
August 13, 2004 - 26 Av, 5764

832: Re'eh

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  831: Eikev833: Shoftim  

Pay Attention!  |  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

Pay Attention!

It happens to all of us. Those momentary lapses. That concentrated daydream. It can happen anytime, too. "Would you like salt with your coffee, dear?" "Yeah, sure, two spoonfuls as usual."

Inattention, distraction, negligence - these are classic props and comedic prompts. Think of how many skits depend on distracting the "straight man" for their humor.

But of course, paying attention is no laughing matter. Serious problems can result from a lack of concentration. In some circumstances and professions, concentration is a pre-requisite. A fireman, a policeman, a surgeon who doesn't pay attention while on the job can't do the job and endangers lives, G-d forbid.

Most of the time, though, when not faced with immediate, critical life or death decisions, it seems that concentration can be a luxury. We don't have to fully engage our minds.

This hold true especially for the routines of life. We've all been distracted during phone conversations, letting the other person blither away while our attention is elsewhere. We've all felt free to let our minds wander while going through the motions. If old habits die hard, as the cliché goes, it may be because we never stop to examine them.

But of course there are times when it's fine, even desirable, if the mind disengages from the body's practiced movements. We can brush our teeth mechanically while plotting a corporate takeover, solving a mathematical equation or a crossword puzzle, refining a formula or sales pitch.

Too often, though, we may focus on the secondary, the stimulus, and let our attention wander from the primary purpose. Speculation replaces concentration.

A mitzva (commandment) such as prayer, for example, when it becomes routine and repetitive, may end up being one of those times when our minds drift off into an idle, endless swirl of speculation. We've said the words before, over and over; now their power, if any, seems to come not from their meaning, the reverberating connections between realms of being, but from the dulling of our senses and the drifting of our awareness.

But setting our focus adrift doesn't get us where we need to go. We may think of a rowing crew, repeating the same action over and over. Each stroke requires attention to detail - precise movements, awareness of the other rowers, careful timing - and only through focused repetition do they get where they're going.

And this sports truism - focused repetition, concentrating on the routine - leads to "victory" in prayer as surely as it leads to victory in sports.

Thus Rabbi Shimon said (Ethics of the Fathers): "Be meticulous in reading the Shema and in prayer. When you pray, do not make your prayer perfunctory, but rather an entreaty for mercy and supplication before G-d."


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, R'ei, opens with a verse that establishes a foundation of the Jewish religion - free choice. G-d says to the Jewish people, "Look, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, that you will hearken to G-d's commandments...; and the curse, if you will not hearken to G-d's commandments..." (Deut. 11:26-28)

Why did G-d create the world so as to necessitate blessings and curses? Why did G-d create something to stand in the way of good, to make it difficult for us to do what is appropriate and right?

Evil alternatives and negative opportunities exist to allow for free choice. If there was only good in this world - no chance for a person to behave in a questionable manner - a person could not freely choose to do good; he would be forced to do good for lack of alternatives, by default. In order to have options, there have to be at least two different routes. Then, a person can use the power of free choice given to him by G-d to choose the correct path.

Freedom to choose one path of action over another is a fundamental principle of Judaism. It is at the very core of the advantages of a human over other created beings. Other creatures do not have this option of free choice; their actions are based on natural instincts and environmental training. Only man has such an advantage.

The concept of reward and punishment revolves around free choice. If there is no choice, there is no room for reward and punishment. A person can only receive a reward for his good deeds because he has freedom of choice.

It is therefore understood that the existence of the opportunity to do "bad" is not to make a person evil, but the opposite. Wrong exists only to allow a person to choose right.

The opportunity to do that which is not good, therefore, wasn't created to prevent a person from accomplishing what he needs to. In fact, it is to push the person toward the correct path, a path to be traveled on in the midst of freedom of choice and desire.

Knowing that "bad" exists only to encourage us toward the good, also gives us the ability and strength not to be intimidated or overwhelmed by it.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.


A Slice of Life

Yehoshua's Jewish Blog

The follows posts are excerpted from "Yehoshua' Jewish Blog" (web log) subtitled, "My Experiences Becoming an Orthodox Jew."

Monday, February 16, 2004
Yarmulke, tzitzis, earrings?

So I've been approached on this issue twice now by 2 completely random people. I wear a large knit black yarmulke, tzitzis (out) and I still have my earrings in! I've had them for about 4 years now.

The first time i was approached on this was in one of my classes at the University. This guy leaned over and said, "I don't want you to think I'm patronizing you, but what do people say to you, being so outwardly Jewish and having your ears pierced." I explained to him that I got my ears pierced years ago and that I wasn't always religious.

The next occasion was when I was at the library. A woman was there with her young daughter and kept glancing over and looking at me. She finally said, "I've never seen a Jewish boy with a yarmulke and his ears pierced." I smiled and explained the same thing to her that I had to the guy in my class.

I'm still wearing the earrings right now. I don't know why I haven't taken them out yet. I never really got my ear pierced (twice) for any particular reason. It was just something I wanted to do. I'll probably take them out soon. However for me right now it's not the biggest deal.


Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Brother back home

My brother arrived home from Iraq back in Feb. He is now OUT of the army for good and back in Houston, TX - his home for 6 years before entering into the military. I don't know yet if he knows I'm becoming frum [religious]. I've mentioned a few things, maybe my parents have said something to him too, maybe?


Sunday, April 04, 2004
Ready for Pesach...

I'm pretty excited about the upcoming Yomim Tovim [holidays]. This will be my first Orthodox Pesach experience!


Wednesday, April 21, 2004
We're going to Yeshiva, we're going to Yeshiva!

That's right! I'm going to Yeshiva in Morristown, NJ full-time starting sometime this summer. I'm so excited!


Monday, May 03, 2004
"The words of our religion...Of our G-d."

A few months ago I started calling my grandmother regularly. We hadn't spoken in a while and I thought it'd be nice and somewhat of a mitzva to call her every once in a while and chat. When I told her I was going to Yeshiva she got very excited and told me how beautiful the Torah is and how great it's going to be for me to be able to learn such beautiful and inspiring words...I wanted to cry when I got off the phone with her. I never heard her talk that way before. I can tell that she is sincerely proud of me and really happy about what I am doing. I told her I would call and write when possible from Yeshiva and share some words of Torah - we are both looking forward to it.


Wednesday, May 05, 2004
Being frum and college professors

My experiences this past semester with the professors has been overall very good. With my English class I've had a couple times where I was able to write about my experiences, about being Jewish and becoming frum. When I told the prof I was going to Yeshiva she asked what I would do, learn, etc. In my Race and Ethnicity class I've often talked with the prof about being Jewish, Judaism, etc. In that class we had to give a presentation on anything so as long as it related to race and ethnicity. Most people talked about their family history, background, etc. I did the same. I talked about the being Jewish, my family, and becoming frum. I also talked a little about Chabad and the Rebbe. When someone asked why I became more religious I said that I saw the beauty and truth of Torah.


Friday, May 14, 2004
New tefillin!

I got my new tefillin yesterday! Yay! I was so excited when my rabbi sent me an IM saying they had arrived. Ah, the smell and feel of new tefillin!


Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Leaving for Yeshiva

I'm leaving for Yeshiva Tiferes Bachurim a Chabad-Lubavitch Ba'al Teshuva Yeshiva located at the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, NJ one week from today.


Sunday, July 25, 2004
First Shabbos at Yeshiva

This past Shabbos was my first at Yeshiva. Friday night davening [prayers] was just what I was looking for too. The highlight as always was a very joyous "Lecha Dodi."

For Friday dinner I went to one of the rabbis' houses with two other bachurim [students]. We got back to the Yeshiva around 1:00 a.m. and there was a farbrengen (Chasidic gathering) going on. I stayed up 'til 4 a.m. shmoozing [chatting] and farbrenging.

For Shabbos lunch I went to one of the guys in Kollel [advanced yeshiva for married men]. He invited four bachurim and a Kollel couple. We sat around at lunch singing, discussing concepts in Chasidus - especially Ahavas Yisrael [love of a fellow Jew]. The meal was excellent too! After we got back to the Yeshiva I learned for a little bit then after Mincha there was a farbrengen led by the head of the Yeshiva. It was quite inspiring. The emphasis was on our ability to do Torah and mitzvos in this world and how it will be when Moshiach comes.

It was a great Shabbos all in all. This coming week I'm going to see what other guys will be doing. I'm considering either going to Crown Heights or staying and eating with a family who has graciously given me an open-ended invitation.


What's New

New Shluchim - Emissaries

Three young couples will be establishing new Chabad-Lubavitch Centers in the next few weeks. Rabbi Yehuda and Nechama Andrusier have established Chabad of Pembroke Pines, Florida, and are offering educational programs, outreach services and community wide special events to the Jewish families in the area. Rabbi and Mrs. Yisroel Goldberg will serve as directors of Community Outreach and Education for Chabad-Lubavitch of Rockland County in New City, New York. Rabbi Motti and Chaya Wilhelm will be arriving soon in Miami, Florida, where they will be involved in the crucial area of Jewish education for youth. May all of these new emissaries of the Rebbe have much success in all of their important endeavors.


The Rebbe Writes

Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5732 {1972]

Greeting and Blessing:

I am in receipt of your letter of the 27th of Av and the preceding correspondence.

May G-d grant that you should have good news to report in all the matters about which you write.

Now that we have entered the auspicious month of Elul, you surely know the explanation of the Alter Rebbe about the auspiciousness of this month, by means of the parable of the King in the Field. Before entering the city, the king's loyal subjects go out to welcome the king in the field, when everyone has an opportunity to greet the king, and the king, on his part, welcomes everyone graciously and with a smiling face, and grants their petitions (Likutei Torah, Re'eh 32). Similarly, the month of Elul is the time when the King of Kings is in the field, as it were, and offers an extraordinary opportunity to everyone to get closer to Him, and thus ensure that the New Year will be a better and happier one materially and spiritually.

Wishing you and all yours a Kesivo v'Chasimo Tovo [that you be written and sealed for good],

With blessing,


24 Tammuz, 5739 [1979]

Greeting and Blessing:

I was pleased to see from the report in "Maariv," supplemented by the report from your Uncle, our esteemed friend R' Schneur Zalman Jaffe, that the concert you conducted in London was a great success, not only from the musical viewpoint, but also in having impressed the audience with your personal conduct - in fulfillment of the imperative, "Know Him in all your ways."

I have in mind, of course the fact that you appeared with your Tzitzis showing and with head covered, with dignified Jewish pride.

Since Tzitzis is a reminder of all G-d's Mitzvos [commandments], and head-covering symbolizes Yiras Shomayim [awe of Heaven], as our Sages declare, the impact on the audience, and subsequently on the readers who read about it, could not have been more fitting.

All the more so, as it was linked with music, which touches most deeply the heartstrings of human beings in general, and of Jews in particular. Or, as my father-in-law of saintly memory expressed it, that Neginah [melody] is that medium which puts a person in direct communication, by way of the heart, with the inner soul - much more readily than the spoken or written word, since the latter involve attributes of the cool intellect, and certain things can be better perceived emotionally than intellectually.

May G-d grant that the above mentioned influence on your Jewish audience will be translated into practical effects, in terms of strengthening their commitment to Torah and Mitzvos in the everyday life, and that you should continue to enjoy Hatzlocho [success] in all above, and in a growing measure.

As for the non-Jewish audience, there is the well known instruction of the Torah (= meaning, "teaching") that a Jew is also obligated to encourage gentiles in their observance of the Seven Laws given to the children of Noach (i.e. to all humanity) in respect of justice, morality, kindness etc., which - with all their ramifications - constitute the very basis of any human society.

Thus, your personal conduct at these public appearances helps to promote also the above.

Knowing of your family background no further elaboration is necessary.

While on this subject, I would like to add that I trust you have regular daily Shiurim [lessons] in Torah. I mention it only in compliance with the principle, "Encourage the energetic," for there is always room for advancement, either in quantity or quality, or both.

This would also be in keeping with the spirit of the Chag Hageuloh [holiday of liberation] of my saintly father-in-law on the 12-13th of this month. The history of this anniversary is surely known to you, as also its significance for all of us, in terms of increased activity in all matters of Torah and Mitzvos, both in the personal life as well as in promoting Yiddishkeit [Judaism] without compromise in one's surroundings, by example and precept.

Wishing you continued Hatzlocho in all above, with blessing.

Reprinted with permission from Mr. Manchester


Rambam this week

28 Av, 5764 - August 15, 2004

Positive Mitzvah 197: Lending Money

This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 22:24) "If you lend money to any of My people that is poor among you"

Lending money to a needy person is a greater act of chairty than actually giving it as charity. Giving money to a person who has fallen to the point where he must beg for help is important. However, by giving a fellow Jew a loan, you prevent him from begging for help. We are commanded to lend money to people who need it. By doing so, we are assisting them to stand on their own two feet and help them pull out of their difficulties.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

As we are about to enter the month of Elul, the month of preparation for the High Holidays that commence with Rosh Hashana, it is appropriate to discuss customs of the month.

It is customary during Elul to have our mezuza parchments (the actual mezuzot) examined by a knowledgeable person or scribe to ascertain that they have not become unfit.

The Zohar, which contains the more esoteric aspects of Judaism, explains that the effect of having mezuzot on one's doors is to provide protection by G-d from the time a person leaves his home until he returns.

This aspect of "protection" is hinted to by the Hebrew letter "shin" that appears on most mezuza covers. The shin is the first of three letters, shin -- dalet -- yud, that spell out one of G-d's names. Those letters are also an acronym for Shomer Daltot Yisrael - Guardian of the Doors of Israel.

We must keep in mind, though, that the mezuza is not a charm or amulet; it is also not just a symbol or quaint ritual, to tell the outside world that this is a Jewish home.

A mezuza can be compared to a helmet. A soldier wears a helmet to protect him from enemy bullets and a mezuza, too, protects us, our family and our possessions from harm.

Yet, "bad" things do sometimes happen to someone with mezuzot on his doors. How is this possible? If, while wearing a helmet, an enemy bullet does manage to wound a soldier, it is the enemy bullet, and the enemy bullet alone which has pierced him. The helmet provides added protection, but is not the only factor involved in the soldier's safety.

Have your mezuzot checked soon. If you don't have mezuzot or you need more, purchase them from a reputable Judaica store or certified scribe. Or call your local Chabad-Lubavitch center for more info.


Thoughts that Count

And G-d will allow you rest from all your enemies around and you will dwell in security (Deut. 12:10)

The usual precision in the wording of the Torah gives way here to an apparent redundancy. Obviously rest from our enemies will result in security. However this verse may in fact be giving us instruction on how to achieve "rest from our enemies." If "you shall dwell in security" between one Jew and the next, without infighting and fragmentation, we will have no reason to fear from our enemies around us. (Glilei Zahav).


From when the sickle begins to cut the upright corn (Deut. 16:9)

Once a group of chasidim complained to the Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, that their spiritual mentor was being unduly harsh. The Rebbe told the mentor later in a private audience, "True one must attack all wanton pride in accordance with the verse 'when the sickle begins to cut the upright [corn].' However that is only with regard to one's own character. Otherwise apply the verse, 'You shall not wave a sickle on the upright [corn] of your neighbor.'"


But be strong not to eat the blood...in order that He do good for you, and for your children after you. (Deut. 12:23-25)

The Sages learn from this that if G-d specifies a reward for refraining from eating blood, a thing which a person has no desire for because it is disgusting, how much greater a reward is there for refraining from that which one desires but is not permitted.

(Tzena U'rena)


You are children to the L-rd, your G-d; do not tear yourselves (Deut. 14:1)

The heathens used to tear their hair and their bodies, over the dead. They believed that this world is the most important and so they mourned the dead excessively. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk said, "Death is nothing. It is similar to when a person moves from one dwelling place to another. But the shrewd person picks himself a better dwelling place than the first.


Take tithes, you shall take tithes (Deut. 14:22)

Rabbi Yochanan said, "Give a tenth so that you will become wealthy." In general, we are not permitted to test G-d, but with the giving of tithes and charity we are allowed to test G-d as the prophet Malachi says, "Bring the tithes...and test Me in this...to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing for you..."


In the Hebrew, this verse is written, "Aser t'aser." Our Sages explain it can also be read, "Aser sheh-t'ta-asher - give a tenth so that you will become rich." Concerning other mitzvot (commandments), we are told not to perform them in anticipation of the reward. However, for the mitzva of charity (specifically the required amount of one tenth of one's earnings) the Torah itself tells us of the reward we will receive in this world - riches.

(Milei D'Chasiduta on Pirkei Avot)


It Once Happened

Many years ago, when the Roman Empire reached the land of Israel, decrees against the Jews abounded. One such decree forbad the circumcision of Jewish boys. The punishment was severe for those who disobeyed.

Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel was the Nasi - the "prince" - at this time. He was known and respected by Jew and non-Jew alike, including the Emperor. When his wife had a baby boy, their desire to obey G-d's commandment was greater than their fear of punishment. In secret, they performed the circumcision.

Before long, the government found out. Rabbi Shimon was ordered to appear before the governor of his town. "What do you have to say for yourself?" asked the governor angrily.

"I have obeyed the King of Kings, Who has ordered us to circumcise our sons on the eighth day after birth," answered Rabbi Shimon confidently.

"I am sending you, your wife, and the baby to the Imperial Court. For if other Jews see that you have circumcised your son and are not severely punished, then they will do the same," roared the governor.

Rabbi Shimon and his wife set out on the long journey to the Imperial Court. They stopped often along the way, and were warmly received in the homes of Jews and non-Jews alike, for Rabbi Gamliel was respected by all. At one home, Rabbi Gamliel's wife and the non-Jewish hostess soon realized that they had both given birth on the same day to sons. The hostess immediately offered to exchange her son, Antoninus, for Rabbi Shimon's baby, Yehuda. Rabbi Gamliel and his wife gratefully accepted the offer.

With renewed hope, they continued on to the palace. Upon their arrival they were shown into the emperor's court who, upon hearing the charges, ordered the baby examined. To everyone's astonishment, there were no sign that a circumcision had been performed. "It's a miracle," whispered the people of the court. As soon as possible, the babies were re-exchanged, with no one the wiser.

Numerous stores are told of the intimate friendship between the Roman prince and the young Jewish child whose life he saved; a friendship that never ceased, even when the former became the Emperor of Rome and the latter the Patriarch of the Jews.

During one of their many discussions, Antoninus asked Rabbi Yehuda: How is it possible for the soul to be punished in the "World of Truth"? The soul will cry out, "How am I guilty? I am a part of G-d! It is the body that committed the sin, without him I wouldn't be able to transgress." Then the body will complain, "Without the soul I can't exist, I am but dust and ashes. I can't sin without him!"

Rabbi Yehuda answered the Emperor's question with a parable:

A man had a beautiful garden. He hired two men to guard it; one was a cripple and the other blind. When the cripple saw the delicious fruits in the garden he called out to the blind man, "Let me get on your back. I will direct you where to go, and together we will be able to get the fruit and eat to our hearts' content. And that is what they did.

When the owner cam back and saw his fruit missing, he immediately apprehended the guards. Said the cripple, "I am not guilty, without the other man I could not have reached the fruit." The blind man objected, "I can not even see the fruit. Without the cripple I could not have gotten the fruit." The owner put the cripple on the blind man's shoulders and punished them as one entity.


Moshiach Matters

Yehudah ben Tema said: Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion, to carry out the will of your Father in Heaven... May it be Your will, L-rd our G-d and the G-d of our ancestors, that the Holy Temple be rebuilt, speedily in our days, and grant us our share in Your Torah.

(Ethics 5:20)


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