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Devarim Deutronomy

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852: Vaera

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Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
February 25, 2005 - 16 Adar I, 5765

859: Ki Sisa

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


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  858: Tetzaveh860: Vayakhel  

The Winter Cold  |  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 Winter Cold

No, we're not talking about the weather in the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year. We're talking about the illness. The winter cold.

We've all had them. Colds. The runny nose, the itchy eyes, the constant sneezing, the stuffy head, the coughing, the lethargy - too run down to do anything productive, not sick enough to be able to sleep all day.

Doctors tell us the average cold lasts about a week. And while we can do some things to reduce the symptoms, make ourselves feel better, there's nothing we can do to get rid of it fast.

That's because colds are caused by viruses and the only thing we have that kills viruses (without really, really hurting us) is our own immune system.

So we have to wait until our immune system can identify which virus it is. Then our immune system has to manufacture enough antibodies to overwhelm the fast multiplying viruses.

Still, there are a few things we can do to reduce the chances of getting a cold, if not prevent one.

Viruses are spread by contact. So preventive measures include frequent washing of the hands. And exercise, which boosts the immune system. And eating the right foods, which also help the immune system.

The soul can get a cold, too, if we think about it. It can get "run down," not "sick" enough to "sleep" through life, but just disinterested. We're spiritually cold and lethargic.

Our "head" is stuffed with the nonsense of the physical world, our vision of reality - G-d's presence - is blurred - and we can't breathe the air of pure, unadulterated, joyous Jewish life because our immune system - the essential spark of G-dliness within each Jew, the pure, uninfectable part of our soul - is manufacturing spiritual antibodies to protect us.

Maybe we can't prevent spiritual colds - the illnesses that distract us from our Divine mission of making the world a dwelling place for G-dliness.

But we can reduce the chances of getting a spiritual cold. And the "prescription" is the same as for preventing a physical cold. When we're most vulnerable, i.e., when we are less involved in acts of G-dliness and more involved in making a living in the "cold world," we need to "wash our hands more." We need to remove even the edge of infection and impurity. Do we really need to listen to the news (for the tenth time) on the drive home? Why not some Jewish music or educational tape?

We need to exercise - do mitzvot regularly to fortify our souls, so when we do get cold symptoms, our "immune system" is prepared and ready to fight. Exercise, to be effective, must be consistent and just beyond our tolerance. ("No pain, no gain" actually comes from the Talmud.) A little extra charity, an extra prayer, welcoming a guest - the mitzvot strengthen the soul against the "winter cold."

And finally we need to eat right - kosher food, of course. Doctors tell us diet may be the most important prevention - getting the right nutrients and plenty of vitamins. Well, Torah is the "vitamin C" in the battle against spiritual colds. Lots and lots of Torah classes, Jewish books and websites - that's the prescription for the winter months (and year round). Jewish learning guards against the spiritual infections that fatigue us, wear us down, and divert us from enjoying life - physically and spiritually.


Living with the Rebbe

This week, in the Torah portion of Ki Tisa, we learn about the sin of the Golden Calf, which occurred after the Revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Torah proceeds to relate what the atonement was, and how the damage was corrected: by the giving of a "half shekel."

The Children of Israel had reached tremendous spiritual heights both during their preparation for and after having received the Torah. The world was permeated with light, purity and holiness in a measure unknown since before the time of Adam and Eve had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge. And then, with one unfortunate act - the sin of the Golden Calf, and its subsequent idol worship - the world was plunged into spiritual darkness and impurity. This transgression affected not only the Jews, but the entire world. Even today, after more than three thousand years, the taint of this sin still remains, and will only be removed by the coming of Moshiach.

However, G-d has given the Jews a way to atone for their great sin, and that is by giving the "half shekel," to be donated towards the building of the Tabernacle. The Midrash relates that when Moses heard this commandment, he was astonished. How could a Jew find atonement for himself in this way, by giving such a small sum? The Midrash continues by explaining that G-d took a coin of fire from under His throne, showed it to Moses and said, "They shall give one like this."

What kind of answer is this to Moses' bewilderment, and what is the significance of "a coin of fire"? Why were they commanded to give only half a shekel? Don't we find that the Torah always seeks to promote wholeness and unity?

The answer to these questions lies in the nature of the commandment of the "half shekel". A Jew is supposed to feel that alone he is incomplete. His other half is G-d, who completes every Jew's existence and makes him a whole being. Without the connection to G-d, a Jew can only be half of his real self.

Not only must he seek out that other half, but the "coin" itself must be made out of fire. Every Jew has within him a flame of love for G-d which can never be extinguished. This core is the Jewish soul. The love toward G-d needs only to be revealed. When a Jew ponders the fact that he is incomplete without his Creator, he atones for the sin of the Golden Calf. The sin of idolatry caused the Jews to be separated from their Source; the commandment of the "half shekel" unites the Jew with his Maker.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.


A Slice of Life

From One Passport to "Passport One"
by Rosa Katzenelson

From all the different definitions of art there is one that really touches me. "Art is what brings down the defenses erected against good." (Tarkovsky).

Artists are known for expressing the time that they live in. A Jewish artist in our modern time can choose to devote himself or herself to awakening the Jewish identity in his or her fellow Jews.

Just before a juried art show in 2003, I traveled to Argentina for a brief visit to observe my father's first yartzeit (anniversary of passing). My Argentine passport was due to expire and I had to renew it while in Argentina. My flight back home was scheduled for Sunday morning and I was given an appointment to come pick it up on Saturday.

I told the woman in the passport office that I could not come on Shabbat. She said she was sorry, she could not change that date, but if I couldn't make it, I could send someone else. I did not want to proceed with this option as I was not sure if this is permissible according to Jewish Law.

In the time of my childhood in Argentina, a person would be afraid to ask for a supervisor. But this was now and I tried to overcome my fear. The supervisor was a virulent anti-Semite. When I said I wanted to pick up my passport on Friday because I observe the Jewish Sabbath, he lost his temper completely. He grew red in the face and couldn't stop screaming. Everybody in the large passport office grew quiet and afraid. He came around the desk and shouted right in my face, "You can't come because you keep Shabbat? BECAUSE YOU KEEP SHABBAT?!?!? Believe me, you are not going to keep this Shabbat. I will make sure you are not going to keep this Shabbat."

I said, "I want to speak with your supervisor. I come from the United States and I am used to religious freedom."

This infuriated him even more. He said he had no supervisor, that he was the sole authority in that office. He swore he would see me break Shabbat: "I will personally make sure that nobody else but me knows where your passport is, that only you can pick it up and only on Shabbat."

Although Videla was in prison and Argentina had become much more free and safe than in my childhood, I saw that anti-Semitism was far from eradicated.

I called my husband and children who were expecting me back on Sunday. I had made a calendar for them and they were filling in the days until I would return. And here I suddenly did not know when I could come. If I missed my Sunday morning flight, I would have to find another flight, perhaps later I the week...

I had several people intercede on my behalf, to no avail. Finally on Friday, two days before I was supposed to fly home to my husband and children, I hired a lawyer to go down there. The lawyer demanded and received (!) my passport, and thank G-d I was able to come home just as the last square on that calendar was colored in by my little girls. I felt it was a triumph for Shabbat, for Torah and for Judaism.

I arrived home on Monday morning. I rushed to get ready for the art show that was taking place that same week. What a contrast: in America you can enter a Jewish painting in an art show! And what a surprise: in this country a Jewish painting can even win! From over more than 60 contestants, my painting of the Rebbe entitled "Passport One" was awarded First Prize.

I felt that G-d had rewarded the courage I had shown with regard to my own passport by letting me win the prize for this painting which is based on the passport photo of the Lubavitcher Rebbe when he was a young man.

Do we appreciate how lucky we are to be living in the United States and other free countries? The painting was obviously Jewish. And yet in this country, not only do I proudly show this painting, but I win First Prize for it.

One woman came three times to see Passport One. She explained that she was not religious but that she could not stop looking at the painting. "The picture of the Rebbe touches your Pintele Yid, your Jewish soul," I told her. After that she went away and then came back with her 90 year-old father. The crowd around the painting continued throughout the entire show.

To be accepted as a Jewish artist in the United States is a new kind of challenge. Soon after the show, a collector came to visit my studio. She wanted me to paint Tango pictures and told me that it would be very lucrative. "A Jewish Tango?" I asked.

Clearly, I would make more money doing other types of paintings, but I do not want my art to only be a means to make a living. I want to do something good with my art, something for Judaism.

I thank my father, of blessed memory, for the impression he created in our home by hanging a Jewish picture in our living room, an impression from when I was a child that continues in me until today. My father was the happiest person that I ever met, and I dedicated this article to him.

Rosa Katzenelson can be reached at rkatzenelson@mindspring.com She lives and paints in New Jersey with her family.

What's New

Correction

In the Slice of Life column in L'Chaim issue 856 the following postscript to the article The Best Advice the Rabbi Ever Gave by Rabbi Chaim Mentz was erroneously omitted: Rabbi Chaim Mentz is the director of Chabad of Bel Air.

Extreme Makeover: Soul Edition

Do your inner challenges stand in the way of the life you really want? What if you had the keys to unlock your true potential? Come and experience how Torah and Kabala can help you create a life of joy, power and peace of mind at a weekend featuring Shimonah Tzukernik and Rabbis Yosef and Shalom Paltiel. The Shabbaton takes place Feb. 25-27, and is hosted by the Lubavitch community in Brooklyn. Join Jewish couples, singles and families as they experience an unforgettable, fulfilling and stimulating Shabbaton weekend featuring thought-provoking lectures, discussions and workshops - accompanied by delicious, traditional cuisine, amidst the warmth of Chassidic family life, song & dance.To register visit shabbaton.org or call 718-774-6187.


The Rebbe Writes

13 Tishrei, 5740 [1979]

Greeting and Blessing:

Because of the intervening High Holidays, my acknowledgment of your letter of Sept. 19th has been somewhat delayed.

Of course you have my permission to disseminate my letter, if it can serve a useful purpose in promoting the cause of education in general, and of the "special children" in particular. Indeed, since every child is special and deserves special attention, how much more so those who are "slower" than others.

However, if the letter is to be disseminated, an important reservation must be added, which though self evident to a person like yourself may not be self evident to others, and therefore must be clearly stated to them, hence was not mentioned in my letter to you.

It is that in all that has been said in regard to Jewish children - it is first necessary to clarify the requirement of the Halacha [Jewish law] in regards these children - depending on their age and their level of comprehension to make sure that the facilities meet these requirements in terms of Kashrus, Shabbos, Teffilin, etc.

To add a timely note a propos of the new year, which is a "seventh Year, a Year of Shemittah" (Sabbatical Year), and also began on the day of the holy Sabbath, the main characteristic of the Sabbath day is that it is a day of "delight" (Oneg) for young and old, as it is written, "You shall call the Sabbath a delight," which, by extension, also characterizes the entire New Year.

Hence, if there are children and adults who, for whatever reason, are in a situation which precludes them from enjoying the "Sabbath" delight, it behooves anyone who becomes aware of this to do everything possible to enable them to participate in this delightful experience. The fact that the knowledge of the existing situation has reached certain organizations and individuals - and everything is by Divine Providence, is a further indication that they are in a position to act on this knowledge. Should there be any difficulties, even real ones and not exaggerated or imagined, it only means that they have been commensurate capacities to overcome them. For as with all Divine commandments, the obligation is given together with the capacity to carry it out.

Thus, in the final analysis, it is largely a matter of personal will and determination.

With esteem and blessing of Chag Someich [Happy holiday]


13th of Marcheshvan 5729 [1968]

Greeting and Blessing:

I duly received your letter of October 27th, and was pleased to read about the inspirational way in which you spent the festivals.

I was also gratified to note that there has been an improvement in business matters, and although you write that the improvement has been slow, the important thing is that it is moving in the right direction. May G-d grant that in this new year the Parnosso [livelihood] should steadily and substantially continue to improve, until you will be blessed with ample sustenance - "From His full, open, sacred and ample Hand"

You conclude you letter with a notation that you have exhausted all the news. However, it is surprising that you omit one of the most essential items of good news, namely the satisfactory progress of you children in their studies and daily conduct, especially as I now have a primary responsibility, at least in regard to your son, whom you enrolled in the Lubavitch School. Consequently, my interest is even greater now that it was formerly.

Hoping to hear further good news from you in regard to all matters of interest,

With blessing,


Rambam this week

18 Adar I, 5765 - February 27, 2005

Prohibition 72: Priests and Levites are prohibited from carrying out each other's service

This mitzva is based on the verse (Num. 18:3) "They shall not approach so that they shall not die, neither they nor you"

Both Priests and Levites serve in the Holy Temple. There are specific duties that are entrusted to the priests and other duties entrusted to the Levites. The priests are forbidden from doing any service assigned to the Levites; and likewise the Levites are forbidden from doing any service assigned to the priests.


Leviticus 21:8 You shall sanctify him...he shall be holy to you"

Mr. White and Mr. Lawrence are neighbors.

They both take an early bus to work every day.

They spend their day at their jobs and often arrive home at the same time.

Mr. White works in a department store while Mr. Lawrence works for the State Department.

Because Mr. Lawrence has such an important job, people treat him with extra respect.

The priests carry out the service of HaShem in the Beit HaMikdash.

Therefore, we are commanded to regard them in a special way and treat them with honor and respect.


Positive Mitzvah 36: Rotating the service in the Beit HaMikdash

Deuteronomy 18:7-8 "Then, he shall serve in the name of the L-rd, his G-d as all his brothers, the Levites, do...They shall have like portions

Ari is in third grade. He likes school and finds many of class activities fun and enjoyable.

There are many projects and displays in his classroom that must be cared for.

The weather chart has to be arranged daily, the gold fish have to be fed, the plants watered, books passed out, stars stuck on bulletins and much more.

In order to take care of all these projects, Ari's teacher appoints monitors. All the pupils take turns doing the different activities and in this way everyone gets a chance.

The priests and Levites represent the Jewish people, carrying out the service of HaShem in the Beit HaMikdash.

This is a great honor and privilege.

They are commanded to make sure that all priests and Levites have equal opportunities to serve in the Beit HaMikdash.

The priests and Levites were divided into twenty-four groups and organized in work shifts which rotated weekly.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

In this week's Haftorah, we read about Elijah the Prophet and his famous confrontation with the prophets of Baal. Elijah addressed the Jewish nation and said, "How long will you waver between the two? If G-d is truly G-d, then follow Him, and if it is Baal, then go after him."

Elijah told the Jewish People: your inability to choose between the two alternatives is the worst possible spiritual path, even worse than choosing outright idolatry.

How can anything be worse than idolatry - ascribing G-dly powers to an object? Is it not better to reach some sort of compromise, to maintain a belief in G-d, but to nevertheless incorporate some elements of paganism? Why did Elijah say that it is preferable, G-d forbid, to actually worship idols?

When a person worships an idol, be it one made of stone, or the planets and stars in the sky, he thinks that by placating these objects he will receive more blessings in his life. This, then, is the difference between a true idolator and a Jew who straddles the fence, never making a clear choice between idolatry and worship of the One, true G-d.

An idol worshipper may one day arrive at the conclusion that idolatry is wrong and return wholeheartedly to G-d, after having admitted his error. But it is far more difficult for a person who is "straddling the fence" to realize the error of his ways and see that he is committing a sin.

A person who vacillates is also more detrimental to those around him. An idol worshipper is more easily avoided, and not likely to lead others astray, who could be deceived by outward appearances.

Elijah's message holds true for us today. It is far easier to avoid obvious pitfalls in spiritual matters than to stand on guard against finer, less conspicuous compromises. But it is these finer points which ultimately define our intellectual honesty and our faith.


Thoughts that Count

And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy (Ex. 33:19)

The way an individual acts towards others is the way he himself will be treated by Heaven. If one is merciful to his fellow man, and behaves in a good and kind manner, G-d will be merciful towards him, even if he is really not deserving. "And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious" - G-d will act accordingly to the person who always says "I will be gracious," and will be merciful to the person who always says "I will be merciful."

(Razin D'Oraita)


This shall they give, every one that passes among those who are numbered (Ex. 30:13)

The commentator Rashi explains: G-d showed Moses a coin of fire and said, "Like this shall they give," to teach us that when a person gives charity he should do it with fiery enthusiasm.

(Sefer HaDarush)


G-d showed Moses a "coin of fire" to show the similarity that exists between money and the phenomenon of fire. Fire is a vital element without which the world could not survive, but it is also capable of great destruction. So, too, are the characteristics of wealth. When a person utilizes his money in the proper way, it brings great benefit to many, but when it is used improperly terrible damage may be inflicted.


They shall give, every man, a ransom for his soul to G-d (Ex. 30:12)

The Hebrew word for "they shall give" - "venatnu," is spelled the same from left to right or right to left. This teaches us that when a person gives charity, he should not worry that he will suffer any lack, for the goodness he sows will be returned to him as in return.


It Once Happened

Reb Mendel had just visited the Baal Shem Tov, and had stopped in the town of Zolochov. His visit was no accident, though, for he had been asked by the Baal Shem Tov to pass through the town and convey his warm regards to Reb Michel, the water carrier of the town. Reb Mendel was honored to perform this favor for the Besht, and was himself very anxious to meet this man who was most certainly one of the hidden saints and mystics - members of the Baal Shem Tov's circle of followers.

He entered the town and immediately stopped one of the residents and asked for directions to the home of Reb Michel. Following along the main road, he turned and turned again through the winding alleys until he had left the more prosperous looking streets, and found himself in the poorest section of the town. Here the houses were no more than toppling huts which barely could withstand the elements. Reb Mendel again inquired after the water carrier, and was directed to one shack which stood amongst this sad lot.

He approached the door and knocked, and a women appeared at the door. Reb Mendel lost no time in relaying the message: "I have come to give regards to your husband from the Baal Shem Tov from whom I have just come."

A bright smile flashed across the woman's features, and she replied, "My husband is not at home right now, but I expect him to return shortly. If you wish, please come in and sit down." Reb Mendel carefully entered the dark recesses of the hut and located a shaky chair on which he lightly perched.

As his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, he was able to make out his surroundings. The shabbiness and poverty of the dwelling were all too apparent. The wooden walls were peeling and split and many of the window panes were cracked. The furniture was sparse and what there was was literally on its last leg. Small children, unaware of their ragged appearance, scurried happily about playing their games, occasionally casting a furtive smile at their guest.

He had no more time to study the room because in walked his host, Reb Michel, exclaiming with joy, "Shalom Aleichem! How happy I am to receive greetings from the Baal Shem Tov! My wife, you must prepare a festive meal in honor of our esteemed guest. Why, it's quite an occasion when we receive regards from the Tzadik [righteous one]."

His wife hurried to a corner of the room and prepared a modest repast while the two men chatted about the situation in the court of the Baal Shem Tov. Finally she reappeared with two small plates, each one bearing a small portion of fish and a slice of bread. Reb Mendel made the blessing on the bread and ate together with his host, and soon, the woman returned with steaming cups of tea. She offered Reb Mendel a sugar cube to sweeten the beverage, and he was about to slip it between his teeth, as was the custom, when he heard the children whispering: "Surely he will save some of the sugar for us. After all, it's bad manners to eat up everything. And won't that sugar be a great treat!"

Reb Mendel put down the sugar and sat without drinking, seemingly absorbed in his own thoughts. "What is wrong, my dear friend? Why don't you drink?" asked Reb Michel with great concern.

"Forgive me, but I cannot help feeling great pity for you and you family. How difficult it must be to have to endure such terrible poverty," Reb Mendel replied.

"Before you reach that conclusion, please let me explain our situation to you using a parable. Once, there was a rich man who planned a wedding for his only daughter. It was to be the most sumptuous and elegant occasion which the town had seen in years. All of the townspeople were invited, and the town's paupers, especially, were counting the days until the great feast would be served. Finally the great day of celebration arrived, and the town's poor gathered in huge numbers to enjoy themselves at the celebration.

"Suddenly, just as the bride was being led to the wedding canpoy she collapsed in a faint. The panic-stricken family surrounded the girl and tried to bring her to. The town's doctors were summoned to help, but alas, no one could revive her. The shaken wedding guests were at a loss for what to do and they began to leave in small groups. Only the paupers, who had anticipated the wedding with such longing sat down to partake of the feast. The tragedy of their host did not dampen their spirit, 'After all,' they said, 'the food is all prepared; why shouldn't we enjoy ourselves and eat it?' One of the paupers, though was a more sensitive soul, and he couldn't bring himself to even look at the food, so deeply did he identify with his host's pain."

"My wife and I are like the sensitive pauper in the story. And the wedding is meant to represent the Holy Temple where the guests, that is, the Jewish people used to gather to rejoice with their host, the Holy One, Blessed Be He. We, the sensitive guest, are so anguished by G-d's tragedy, the destruction of the Holy Temple, that we cannot bring ourselves to enjoy the offerings of this world. So, my friend, we refrain from feasting at our host's table, knowing how much He is suffering because of the pain of His children in the long and bitter exile. In this world we make do with the minimum, but we are waiting to rejoice together with Him in the Eternal Holy Temple."


Moshiach Matters

The Shpoler Zeide once prayed: "L-rd! Your people say to You, 'Return us, O G-d, to You, and we will return!' You say, 'Return to Me, and I will return to you.' And because of this deadlock You withhold the Redemption. I swear that Israel will not repent before the Redemption!" His student, Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin added: "I agree, but one thing I can promise. When Moshiach comes the Jews will certainly repent, but until then they have a justifiable claim. For we say in our festival prayers, 'Because - mipnei - of our sins we were exiled from our Land.' But 'mipnei' really means 'before.' Even before we sinned exile was decreed upon us for when You made Your covenant with Abraham You decreed exile on his descendants. Thus, just as You decreed exile upon Your children before they sinned, so should You redeem them before they repent!"


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