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833: Shoftim

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L'Chaim
August 20, 2004 - 3 Elul, 5764

833: Shoftim

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  832: Re'eh834: Ki Seitzei  

The Annual Check-Up  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Rambam this week  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

The Annual Check-Up

Going in for a yearly physical has become a common routine for most adults. The check-up can detect potential problems before they become major, guide us in changing or altering our lifestyle, give us clues to what adjustments we should make in our diet and exercise regimen. Consulting with our doctors, we get a snapshot, so to speak, of our physical health - where we've been in the past year, where we're headed and what we need to do.

Spiritually, too, we should have an annual check-up. Instead of consulting with a doctor, though, we consult with a mashpia, a spiritual mentor (friend, rabbi, teacher) we turn to for advice, someone we trust to have our best interests at heart but who can also give us a realistic assessment.

And just as the physical exam tests several parts of our bodies, so too the "spiritual exam" should test several parts of our souls. In fact, we might even be able to find some parallels:

  1. Reflexes: We've all sat in the doctor's office and been banged on the knee with that little hammer. Without our thinking about it or controlling it our legs would swing outward. A proper set of reflexes means our autonomic nervous system is in good working order: our instincts work.

    There are situations where we simply have to react, where thinking takes too long - jumping out of the way, for instance, or pulling someone back.

    We also have spiritual reflexes and these too need to be in good working order. There are times when our first response, our impulse, must reveal the essential nature of our Jewish soul. When we see someone in need or when our paycheck comes and we sit down to pay the bills, does the charity-impulse, a natural Jewish instinct, "kick in" automatically, or do we try to resist it?

  2. Blood tests: The nurse draws a sample of blood and sends it off to the lab for testing. Is our cholesterol too high? Triglycerides? What about blood sugar - any early warning signs for diabetes, G-d forbid?

    Spiritually, blood represents the life, the enthusiasm, the purpose and vibrancy of a person. We can have spiritual high cholesterol - too much "fat" clogging the channels mitzva-observance, of attachment to G-dliness and Judaism. We can have spiritual blood sugar problems, being unable to properly digest the sweetness of life, to recognize the goodness within others and G-d's creation.

  3. Internal organs: Open your mouth and say, "ahhh." The light in the ear and the eye. Cough. Pressing on the abdomen to feel the liver, etc. Jewish mysticism explains that the physical structure corresponds to a spiritual anatomy. Each organ parallels a Divine emanation, a human characteristic. For example, the right arm corresponds to chesed, the attribute of kindness, and the left arm to gevura, the attribute of discipline. Are our spiritual organs in balance? Do they function properly?

  4. Blood pressure: A big one. What's our spiritual pulse?

Which brings us to the timing of the exam. While getting a check-up, physically or spiritually, is appropriate any time, the month of Elul, the month of preparation before Rosh Hashana, is particularly auspicious to take a spiritual accounting. This month, Elul, why not make an appointment with your self, and your mashpia, to give your soul its annual check-up?


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Shoftim, contains the command to appoint a king. "When you come to the land... and you will say, 'I will set a king over myself, like all the nations that are around me.' " (Deut. 17:14)

The idea of a king as an absolute monarch - not merely a ceremonial figurehead - is foreign to our world-view. We are not willing to subjugate our lives to the rule of another human being.

On the other hand, we are starving for genuine leadership. We are disgusted by candy-coated figure-heads who lack integrity; who stand for themselves and their personal image and little else.

King David was the exemplar of Jewish monarchy and yet, as he says of himself: "I did not lift up my heart; my eyes were not haughty... I stilled and silenced my soul." This absolute humility made him a fitting medium for the manifestation of G-d's Kingship.

This serves as an example to our people as a whole; for the purpose of Jewish monarchy is to teach the people self-nullification. The purpose of paying homage to a mortal king is to infuse kabalat ol, "the acceptance of G-d's yoke," into every dimension of our people's Divine service, deepening the intensity of our commitment until it affects our very essence.

Many of us are fascinated by royalty. Queens, princes, we read whatever we can about them.

Moshiach, the Torah teaches, will re-institute true monarchy. Admittedly, this is a radical, even abhorrent notion to a world prided on its independence. But let's think for a second. A desire for short-term satisfaction over long-term growth and purpose plagues most democracies. This can be overcome only through inspired leadership, a leader who has no desire to show authority, no fear of being unpopular, no immediate desire to be loved, and whose devotion to his people is selfless.

Honestly speaking, what are the chances of such a person being elected - and maintained in office - in a democratic society? How would such a person convince people to follow his plan if doing so involves sacrificing opportunities for immediate success and satisfaction?

These are among the reasons that in the era of Moshiach, monarchy will be reinstituted. The intent will not be to take away man's power of independent decision, but rather to use the advantages of monarchy to elevate our decision-making to a higher rung.

From "Keeping in Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe


A Slice of Life

What You Are Needed For

Rabbi Moshe Feller and his wife Mindy were one of the first couples to begin the tradition of shlichut, becoming emissaries of the Rebbe. Before leaving for the twin cities of Minneapolis-S. Paul, they went to yechidut, a private audience with the Rebbe, to receive the Rebbe's blessing and advice.

At that audience, Rabbi Feller was a little surprised. The Rebbe spent most of the time speaking to Mrs. Feller, telling her that since she had studied mathematics, graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Hunter College, she should continue her studies and try to get a university position. This would not, the Rebbe emphasized, compromise her position as a shlucha (emissary). On the contrary, having a post at the university would facilitate outreach activities there.

Shortly after arriving in Minnesota, Mrs. Feller was able to secure a position at the University of Minnesota. The head of the mathematics department was Paul Rosenbloom, soon to become famous for developing the "new math."

Besides being a mathematical genius, Prof. Rosenbloom had a vibrant Jewish heart, and a sincere desire for spiritual growth. His discussions with the new faculty member soon went far beyond mathematics, and he established a close relationship with the Feller family and a growing interest in Judaism and Chasidism.

In 1963, Prof. Rosenbloom was called to Brooklyn College for consultation. When he told Rabbi Feller about the upcoming trip, Rabbi Feller suggested that he visit the Rebbe for yechidut. Rabbi Feller assured him that the Rebbe would find subjects which would interest both of them, and arranged an appointment.

The meeting was scheduled for 11:00 p.m. Prof. Rosenbloom realized that the Rebbe would be seeing many people before and after him. Feeling that the area in which he shared the greatest common interest with the Rebbe was chinuch (Jewish education), and to save the Rebbe time, he wrote down some of his ideas and gave them to a secretary of the Rebbe.

When he gave him the note, Prof. Rosenbloom told the secretary the general thrust of his thinking: that the programs of Torah studies and secular studies in Jewish day schools should be integrated.

The secretary reacted with shock. "There must be," he told the professor, "a distinction between the holy and the mundane! A child must know what is sacred and what is not."

When speaking to the Rebbe, however, Prof. Rosenbloom received a different picture. "Children should be taught to appreciate that everything is connected with the Torah," the Rebbe told him. "When they perform an experiment in a science lab, they should know that it is G-d's creative power that is causing the chemical reactions they observe.

"There are some," the Rebbe continued, "who have two sets of bookshelves, one for sefarim [sacred texts] and another for secular books. That is the wrong approach. If a person thinks of secular wisdom as being unrelated to the Torah, he does not understand the Torah, nor does he truly understand the secular subject he is studying."

This yechidut spurred Prof. Rosenbloom to continue his progress in Jewish observance and deepen his connection with Lubavitch. Several years later, when he moved to New York to accept the mathematics chair at Columbia University, Prof. Rosenbloom was an observant Jew with a strong connection to the Rebbe. At first, they lived close to the university, but he and his family felt the lack of Jewish community there, and he asked the Rebbe if they should move to Crown Heights.

"Absolutely not," the Rebbe answered. "You should live near the university. A Jewish professor on campus should see that he has a colleague who wears a yarmulke; a Jewish student should see a young boy who walks proudly with his tzitzit hanging out."

Although the Rebbe wanted Prof. Rosenbloom to serve as an example of Jewish practice, he made it clear that this was not to be done at the expense of his professional advancement. On the contrary, he urged Prof. Rosenbloom to forge ahead with his research. At one point, he invited him to bring a new mathematics paper to every farbrengen, Chasidic gathering, he attended.

Prof. Rosenbloom faithfully adhered to this directive. On many occasions when some people chose to offer gifts to the Rebbe, Prof. Rosenbloom would present him with a mathematics paper.

Prof. Rosenbloom shared a birthday with the Rebbe, Yud-Alef Nissan. Year after year, at the farbrengen held on that date, he found a unique way to celebrate together. He would present the Rebbe with a mathematical problem that he had devised in the course of weeks of work, then wait a few brief moments until the Rebbe responded with its solution.

At a yechidut before their son's Bar Mitzva, the Rebbe showed an interest in Mrs. Rosenbloom's activities. She told the Rebbe that she was involved with the Speakers Bureau of the Lubavitch Women's Organization, arranging talks at meetings of Jewish organizations in an attempt to heighten the awareness of Torah Judaism.

"And do you speak yourself?" the Rebbe asked.

"Oh no," Mrs. Rosenbloom answered, explaining that she shied away from public speaking.

"That's a shame," the Rebbe told her. "It would be far more effective if women could hear the Torah's message from someone who came from the secular world and understands that perspective."

The Rebbe did not content himself with merely making a suggestion. The following day, the Rosenblooms received a message from his office asking that Mrs. Rosenbloom be the primary speaker at their son's Bar Mitzva, announcing the establishment of a free loan fund in honor of the Rebbe's mother. After making this speech, Mrs. Rosenbloom found public speaking less daunting, and began speaking at many of the functions.

The Rebbe gives people a sense of mission, enabling them to see what they are needed for. Commitment to a purpose beyond self empowers a person to redefine his sense of self.

From To Know and To Care by Eliyahu and Malka Touger, published by Sichos in English


What's New

Jewish Renaissance Fair

Sunday, Sept. 5, is the date for the 26th annual Jewish Renaissance Fair sponsored by Lubavitch Center of Essex County and the RCA. Live musical entertainment by Shlock Rock and Uncle Moishy are just part of the excitement at the fair, which is set at South Mountain Reservation in West Orange, New Jersey. Puppet shows, magic, vaudeville show, carnival games and rides, holiday crafts, Israeli artists and vendors and, of course, kosher food, make the fair the place to be. For tickets and info call (973) 731-0770 or visit www.JewishFair.com


The Rebbe Writes

25th of Menachem Av, 5725 [1965]

Greeting and Blessing:

In addition to the regards which I conveyed through your daughter and son-in-law, I want to confirm receipt of your recent correspondence. May G-d grant that your travels should bring the desired results, even better than you expect.

Especially as we are approaching the auspicious month of Elul, the auspiciousness of which is explained by the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism]. Although I may have mentioned this explanation to you in the past, it is a thought worth repeating and remembering.

The Alter Rebbe explained the month of Elul by means of the following analogy. A king, when sitting in his palace, is not easily accessible to everyone. However, when the king goes out to meet his people, when the king is "in the field," then it is easy for everyone to approach him and to present him with one's petition, and the king receives everyone with grace and fulfills everyone's request.

During the month of Elul the King of Kings is, as it were, "in the field," whereas on Rosh Hashanah we say, "The King is sitting on His exalted Throne," etc. Surely no further elaboration is necessary.

Hoping to hear good news from you always,

With blessing,


3rd of Elul, 5726 [1966]

Greeting and Blessing:

After not hearing from you for a long time, I received Mrs.-'s letter. In the meantime I also was told of the telephone conversation with Rabbi Hodakov, who also conveyed to you my concurrence in regard to Mr.-'s visit here during the month of Tishrei.

As requested, I will remember you and yours in prayer when visiting the holy resting place of my father-in-law of saintly memory, for the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good in all the matters about which you write.

Now that we are in the auspicious month of Elul, may G-d grant that you should have good news to report - "good" that is obviously and evidently good.

In accordance with [the] good Jewish custom, I wish you and yours a Kesivo VaChasimo Tovo [that you be written and sealed for good].

With blessing,


14th of Elul, 5727 [1967]

Greeting and Blessing:

I duly received your correspondence, and may G-d grant that you should have good news to report in regard to the contents of your letters.

No doubt you remember the Alter Rebbe's explanation of the significance of the month of Elul, in terms of the following analogy: There are times when a king leaves his palace and goes out to meet his subjects in the field, when everyone, regardless of his state and station, can approach the king, and the king receives everyone graciously and fulfills their petitions. The days of Elul are such a period when the King of Kings is, as it were, "in the field." This is, therefore, the proper time to strengthen the adherence to the commandments of the King, and to receive a greater measure of the King's blessings.

Wishing you and yours a Kesivo vaChasimo Tovo,

With blessing,

P.S. With regard to the question of Moshiach which you raise in your letter - I refer you to the Rambam, Hilchos Melochim [Maimon-ides' Laws of Kings], Chaps. 11-12...


Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5736 [1976]

Greeting and Blessing:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 17th of Menachem Av etc. I will remember you in prayer for the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good in the matters about which you write.

As I have mentioned it before to you, strengthening Bitochon [trust] in G-d, in addition to this being a basic tenet of our Torah, also increases and speeds G-d's blessing in all needs. At the same time, the Bitochon minimizes, and indeed dispels, all anxieties and worries.

With regard to matters relating to the community, Chinuch [Jewish education], etc., you should discuss them with Askonim Yirei Shomayim [G-d-fearing communal workers], who are familiar with the local situation - as I have also advised you this in the past.

Wishing you and yours a Kesiva vaChasimo Tovo,

With blessing,


Rambam this week

5 Elul, 5764 - August 22, 2004

Prohibition 237: It is forbidden to participate in a loan in which interest is charged

This mitzva is based on the verse Exodus 22:24 "Neither shall you take interest from him"

This prohibition cautions us not to take part in any deal or loan that involves interest. For example: We may not serve as guarantor (person responsible if the borrower doesn't pay) or a witness in such a deal. Nor may we provide our services to write up the contract between the borrower and lender.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This past Shabbat we blessed the month of Elul, which began on Wednesday, August 18. In Elul we prepare for the upcoming High Holidays by blowing the shofar each morning, having our mezuzot and tefilin checked to make sure they are still fit, being more careful about keeping kosher and saying special selichot (penitential prayers) toward the end of the month.

Why do we do all of this in the month of Elul? Can't it wait until we're closer to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur - most of us "work" better under pressure anyway!?

These questions can be explained by a beautiful parable:

Once each year, a very mighty king leaves his palace, his guards, his finery, and goes out into the field to meet with his subjects. At that time, they can ask of him anything they wish. They do not need to wait in long lines, go through security checks, be announced ceremoniously. They can speak with him without hesitation. When the king returns to his palace, his subjects will once again have to go through all kinds of protocol to meet with him. So, of course, his subjects make the most of the opportunity.

During the month of Elul, G-d is "in the field." We don't need to go through all kinds of red tape to reach Him. We need only come out to meet Him, as it were, with a humble heart, and He will listen to us. He will accept our repentance and consider our requests most carefully.

The King will soon be in the field. Make sure not to miss this opportunity.


Thoughts that Count

You shall be perfect with the L-rd your G-d. (Deut. 18:13)

One must always be concerned that the soul should be whole and perfect, and not "missing any limb." For it is known that just as there are 613 parts of the human body, 248 limbs and 365 sinews, so are there 613 "limbs" of the soul. The wholeness and integrity of the limbs of the body are dependent on the keeping of the 613 commandments in the Torah.

(Likutei Torah)


You shall prepare the way... that every slayer may flee there (Deut. 19:3)

Rashi explains that at each intersection was a sign directing "refuge, refuge." Cities of Refuge were established to save from revenge those who unintentionally killed another. Each of us must stand at the crossroads, wherever Jews are found, to point them to the path of Torah. Torah is the spiritual refuge from the "blood avenger," the evil inclination, that causes us to sin and prosecutes us. The Rabbis say in the Talmud (Makkot 10): "The words of Torah are a refuge."

(Likutei Sichot, Vol. II)


You shall be perfect with G-d your G-d (Deut. 18:13)

In some prayer books it is written: It is appropriate to say before prayer "I hereby accept upon myself the commandment, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" Prayer is in place of the sacrifices that were offered in Temple times. This is true because the person offers his soul to his Creator during prayer. The animals offered as sacrifices in the Temple had to be perfect, without blemish. So, too, we must be without blemish when standing before G-d. The Jewish nation is considered as one body, each individual being a particular limb. We must therefore ensure before we begin our prayers that we are in no way severed from another limb of our body thereby rendering us unfit to be a sacrifice. It is for this reason we begin by uniting ourselves with all Jews through this introduction to prayer.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


For man is the tree of the field" (Deut. 20:19)

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidism, once told a young man: The Torah tells us "For man is the tree of the field." A tree which does not yield fruit is an empty tree, a tree of the desert. It is possible to be familiar with the entire body of Jewish teaching and yet be like an empty tree. A person must give fruit. What is the value of all your learning and Divine service if you do not bear fruit by inspiring another Jew?


It Once Happened

One of the Chasidim of the founder of Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidism, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, was a young teacher who taught the children of a simple, uneducated villager.

The villager considered the teacher his "rabbi." When Elul, the month before Rosh Hashana arrived, the teacher told the villager that it was his yearly custom to visit the Rebbe for the High Holidays.

"I will return after the High Holy Days, with G-d's help," he said.

The villager was disturbed. He did not like the idea of his "rabbi" going to another "rabbi" and leaving at this time. Anyway, he had assumed the teacher would remain to conduct the services for the High Holy Days.

The teacher patiently explained to the villager that Rabbi Shneur Zalman was no ordinary "rabbi," but the head of many rabbis, which was like the "head" which tells the rest of the body what to do.

The villager listened with interest, then suddenly exclaimed: "Alright. If it's good for you to go to the Rebbe, then I'll go along too!"

The villager got prepared, readied his horse and buggy, and off they went to visit Rabbi Shneur Zalman. When they arrived at the study hall, they found a large crowd of Chasidim already standing in line, awaiting their turn for a personal, private audience with the Rebbe.

The villager was a little bewildered, but he decided to join the people in line and took his place at the end of the line. When the villager's turn came to enter the Rebbe's study, he went in but remained silent, not knowing what he was supposed to say or do.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman looked at the newcomer, considered him quietly for a few moments, then gently said: "Nu?" ("Well?")

The villager still said nothing.

The Rebbe again said: "Nu?"

"Why do you keep on saying 'Nu'?" retorted the villager impatiently.

The Rebbe regarded the ignorant villager kindly and replied: "It sometimes happens that a Jew does certain wrong things, thoughtlessly or unintentionally, not realizing that they were bad and sinful. For example..." And here Rabbi Shneur Zalman went on to give some such instances, which just happened to fit some of the villager's failings!

The villager was dumfounded. "So, my rabbi must have reported to the Rebbe about me! I'll teach him a lesson!" he promised himself, as he left the Rebbe's room, abruptly, in an angry mood.

Losing no time, he set off to find the teacher. As soon as he saw him, he began abusing him in front of everyone. "How dare you tell tales about me to your Rebbe!" he screamed. "After I treated you so well in my home! You're fired! I'll find another teacher in your place."

"What are you talking about?" asked the teacher, at a loss to understand why the villager was so angry and excited.

The villager then told him about the Rebbe's talk.

"You are mistaken. I haven't said anything about you to the Rebbe."

"So, I see that you are not only a tale-bearer but also a liar," cried the villager. "How else would the Rebbe know what I had done wrong?"

The teacher, seeing that he could not convince the villager otherwise, asked for another audience with the Rebbe and explained his dilemma.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman sent for the villager and told him that he had no reason to be angry at the teacher. "The teacher had not said anything about you to me," the Rebbe assured him.

"Then how is it that you know about those things that I had done?" asked the villager, unconvinced.

"I never said that you did those things," said the Rebbe. "I said it sometimes happens that a Jew does those things. How could I know that the 'cap fit' you?"

"So, nobody told you..." he began, his voice trailing off. Recovering, he said in an eager tone, : "Please help me, Rebbe! I did, in fact, do all those things you mentioned. I have not been as good as I thought. What shall I do?"

The Rebbe spoke to him encouragingly, gave him some instructions, and assured him that G-d would readily accept his sincere repentance and He would bless him and his family with a truly good year.

With a much lighter heart the villager hurried off to tell the teacher that he was now convinced of his innocence, and that he would gladly welcome him back as a teacher for his children.

From then on, there was no more loyal follower of Rabbi Shneur Zalman than the hitherto ignorant, simple villager, who now revered the Rebbe with all his heart and soul, and tried his best to live up to his expectations.


Moshiach Matters

The Tamud (Shabbat 12b) relates that Rabbi Yishmael once inadvertently desecrated the Sabbath. Since in the times of the Holy Temple one would have to bring a sin-offering for such an action, he recorded in his book that when the Holy Temple will be rebuilt he will offer a sacrifice at that time.


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