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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

April 1, 2005 - 21 Adar II, 5765

864: Shmini

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  863: Tzav865: Sazria  

Precise Measurements  |  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

Precise Measurements

In Judaism, there's a concept called maaseh rav - the actions of the teacher. It means that we can learn life-lessons from the way a righteous individual conducts himself.

On March 1, 1992 (26 Adar I 5752) Rabbi Dov Lavnuni presented the Rebbe with a model of the Holy Temple, based on the detailed description of its design found in Maimonides' Mishneh Torah. Rabbi Lavnuni was writing a book on Maimonides, to which the model was a companion, and had come to ask the Rebbe for a blessing.

While examining the model, the Rebbe asked, "Where is the ramp?"

Rabbi Lavnuni repeated the question, and the Rebbe clarified, "The ramp to the altar."

Rabbi Lavnuni then pointed out the location of the two altars, the large and the small, and showed where the ramp was.

The Rebbe said: "It should be much bigger."

Rabbi Lavnuni: "It is proportionate. It's only so big. It's 1/200."

The Rebbe: "You probably measured it." Pause. "May it go well. Have great success."

Before printing the book, Rabbi Lavnuni checked and corrected the ramp. For it was off by 3 millimeters - more than half a meter according to the scale.

So what lesson can we learn, other than that, indeed, the ramp should have been much bigger?

The first thing to note is how good an eye the Rebbe has. He saw at once the miniscule error in measurement. To detect that error, the Rebbe had to know, in precise (and visual) detail, Maimonides' large scale measurements, and then see, with but a glance, that the miniature was off-scale. It takes a good eye indeed to detect such a slight inaccuracy, millimeters, one two-hundredth of real life.

But let's continue on with the "good eye" idea. It seems that at first the Rebbe didn't see the ramp at all, because he asked, "Where is the ramp?" From the exchange, it seems that the ramp was properly placed and easy enough to see. But because it was incorrect, it's as if the Rebbe didn't see it.

Rabbi Lavnuni obviously put a lot of work - a tremendous amount of time, labor, his very soul in a sense - into building that model. He was justifiably proud of his accomplishment. Perhaps, then, we might say that since the Rebbe was looking at it with only a good eye, in a sense he didn't see the error. Can you imagine the reaction of a person who invested so much of himself into this project if the Rebbe had "seen" the mistake right away? Pointed it out?

And so by asking, "Where is the ramp?" the Rebbe drew attention to the problem, in a way that made it seem as if he didn't see, not that there was a mistake.

Only after, when the ramp was pointed out, did he "see" the miscalculation and point it out.

And when Rabbi Lavnuni explained his method, the Rebbe did not press the issue, but seemed to concede the point. "You probably measured it."

Surely there's a profound lesson here. If we look at others with a good eye, if we see the love in their labor, the dedication of their very being, and the power of our acknowledgment of those efforts - then how can we "see" a miscalculation at all? Rather, it must, in a sense, be pointed out to us. And even then, we grant them their expertise - and their dignity. "You probably measured it." For from our concession, we create trust. The others, knowing our focus is too much on them, on their concerns, their triumphs, will trust us - and our responses - and act accordingly.

You cannot embarrass someone if you see even his slightest miscalculations, but see them with a good eye.

Of course, as mentioned above, Rabbi Lavnuni took the hint - and corrected himself.

And perhaps, that is another of the life lessons from this maaseh rav - that even when we precisely measure what others do we should express what we see only with a good eye.

Living with the Rebbe

The number seven is a recurring motif in the Torah: Shabbat is the seventh day of the week; Shavuot falls exactly seven weeks after Passover; the Shmitta year is the seventh year; and the Jubilee year comes after every seven Shmitta years. We see the significance of this number in many other instances as well.

Seven symbolizes the cyclical nature of the world, which was created in six days; the seventh day completed the creation. The whole cycle of the world revolves around the number seven.

At the end of last week's Torah portion, we find mention of the number seven - the "seven days of consecration" of the Sanctuary.

But at the beginning of this week's portion, Shemini, we come across an entirely new theme, the concept of eight. Shemini - which means "eighth" begins with the words: "And it came to pass on the eighth day."

The seven days of consecration culminated in the dedication of the altar on the seventh day. The next day, referred to as "the eighth day," the dedication of Aaron and his sons took place - something not directly related to the consecration of the Sanctuary itself. Why then is this considered the eighth day, since there seems to be no connection to the previous seven?

The question appears even more valid when we look at what eight symbolizes. While seven stands for wholeness and completion within nature, eight symbolizes that which is on an even higher level than nature - the aspect of G-dliness which is not confined to the laws of creation. We learn that on the eighth day "G-d appeared unto you" - there was an even greater revelation of G-dliness. If this is so, why did the supernatural revelation (the number "8") come as a continuation of what occurred on the first seven days? Why did the supernatural revelation come only after the revelation of G-d in nature?

Furthermore, all of the great revelations of G-dliness that are to take place after Moshiach comes, are dependent upon our deeds now. How can it be that our actions, which take place in this limited, finite world, can bring about revelations of holiness that are above the laws of nature?

G-d asks of us only that which we are capable of doing. If we give G-d our whole effort, our complete dedication, then we receive the G-dly revelations as a gift from Above. If we give G-d the whole "seven" of our natural abilities, He will grant us the revelations of holiness indicated by the number eight.

The revelations in the Sanctuary which occurred on the eighth day were only possible after the Jews did all that was required of them during the first seven. Even though G-dliness, as it exists above nature, is infinitely higher than what we can attain through our own deeds alone, G-d supplied the rest after we did our part.

And this power every Jew has - the ability to relate to G-d even as He exists above natural law.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

Two Centuries Later
by Steve Hyatt

At some point in time, about 125 years ago, a relative of mine purchased a volume of Mishnayot published in Zurich, Switzerland in 1814. Printed in vivid colors and bound in a grand cover, it must have looked spectacular when it first rolled off the state-of-the-art Gutenberg Press.

What happened to the book for the first 125 years will probably forever remain a mystery to us. What we do know, however, is that at some point in his life, the book came into the possession of my great-uncle Ben. During his long lifetime, my great-uncle held myriad jobs, including working as a poultry farmer, a master mechanic and a sales person. Unfortunately life was difficult and challenging for Uncle Ben and he never pursued a life of Jewish study and scholarship. This family heirloom, that must have been studied by countless individuals over it's lifetime, was stored away in a dark, dusty closet in Uncle Ben's home.

Wars were fought, American presidents were elected, the state of Israel was established, children were born, young boys and girls had their bar and bat mitzvas, and all the while the book sat patiently in the dark gathering dust.

At the ripe old age of 89 Uncle Ben passed away, leaving behind his wife of 69 years and a modest home. My Uncle Mel and my dad lovingly assisted their aunt with pressing matters and eventually helped her find a beautiful place to live at a nearby assisted living community. When they went to her home to help her get her affairs in order they found the majestic old book in the back of the dark, dust-filled closet. Literally blowing the dust off the book, Dad carefully examined the pages of the ancient manuscript. Since it was printed entirely in Hebrew, it was not something he could decipher.

My great-aunt's medical condition precluded Dad from questioning her about the book so he carefully packed it up and sent it to me, telling me to speak with the local Chabad emissary to Northern Nevada in Reno, Rabbi Mendel Cunin.

When I first saw the book, I immediately thought it was a Chumash, the Five Books of Moses. But after a closer examination I realized it looked very much like the text we use in shul when we study the Talmud. Given the age of the book and its importance I looked forward to bringing it to the rabbi for a closer inspection.

A day later I received an e-mail from the Rabbi informing our small but growing congregation that someone's mother had passed away and he needed to say the "Kaddish" prayer. I took this opportunity to bring the book to the Chabad Center and show it to the rabbi before the start of the evening service.

Rabbi Cunin told me immediately that the book was a volume of Mishnayot published at least 191 years earlier. He pointed out that the pages were actually made from cloth, not paper, and that it was in remarkable shape for such an old manuscript.

A few minutes later the service began and we joined in to support our friend and neighbor in his time of need. Toward the end of the service the rabbi shared with us that it is a tradition to study from the Mishna when a member of a minyan is saying Kaddish.

Catching my eye the rabbi said, "Let's use the Mishnayot that Steve has brought with him tonight, a book that is over 191 years old." And with that he picked up the book written just a few years after the signing of the American Declaration of Independence and discussed a passage about searching for chametz before the start of Passover.

When Rabbi Cunin completed the portion of Mishnayot, he slowly closed the text and tenderly handed it back to me after which we concluded the service. The next morning we met again so our friend could once again say Kaddish. Before we started we talked about the book and how wonderful it was that after all these years in seclusion it once again was used as a source of learning and inspiration. The rabbi explained that the Hebrew letters comprising the word "Mishna" are the same letters that spell the word "neshama" - soul. He went on to say that both the Torah and the soul are eternal.

His words tore through me like an electric charge, for each letter, word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter of the Torah are indeed eternal. The words we read today are the exact words our people studied under Moses' tutelage in the Sinai desert. Handed down generation after generation these words that bring light to the world have never changed and never will. It is a constant that has united the Jewish people for centuries. And now, decades after it was first printed, and at least three decades after it was stored away in a dark, dusty storage closet, the words of wisdom once again had an opportunity to illuminate the minds and souls of a congregation in the "Biggest Little City in the World" - Reno, Nevada.

This exquisite book, has impacted many souls since a family member first acquired it so many years ago. It has passed from hand to hand, from relative to relative, it has been transported thousands and thousands of miles, it has resided in many different cities from Zurich all the way to Reno. And yet, more than 191 years after the ink first caressed the pages of this very special book, it arrived just in the nick of time to comfort a grieving son and his friends in a little shul in Reno, almost as if it had a pre-destined 191-year-old reservation to join a minyan of ten.

Coincidence? I think not!

Steve Hyatt is the Human Resources Director of the Reno Gazette-Journal and can be contacted at

What's New

New Centers

Chabad of Venice

A new Chabad Center will be opening soon in Venice, Florida, under the directorship of Rabbi Sholom Ber and Chaya Schmerling. The center will be serving this Southwest Florida Jewish community.

Chabad of Phuket

Last month Chabad of Phuket, on Phuket Island, opened. Their first event was a traditional Shabbat dinner for Jewish relief workers, Israeli backpackers, and Phuket residents. In addition to Friday night Shabbat services and dinners, Chabad of Phuket, under the auspices of Chabad of Thailand headquartered in Bangkok, is continuing its relief work on the island.

The Rebbe Writes

17 of Teves, 5747 [1987]

Greeting and Blessing:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 20th of Kislev, with enclosures.

I was, of course, impressed with your efforts to disseminate Yiddishkeit [Judaism], etc. However, a word of caution is in order, and I trust you will not take it amiss.

I trust you are aware that there is a wealth of Rabbinic literature by leading Torah scholars of past generations, including highly inspirational texts, timeless in their appeal, and not, G-d forbid, "dry commitment" as you put it. These great works, and their authors, present a well-trodden path that has helped our Jewish people overcome trials and tribulations in times of crisis as well as prosperity. Surely this great treasure should be fully utilized, before seeking new and uncharted ways. Indeed, experience has shown how the respective seekers fared, those who followed the well-trodden path and those who tried new ways.

I do not wish to elaborate on the above, as I do not know you personally, and your letter was informative rather than advice-seeking. But my impression is that you could provide your own elaboration if you so desire.

One final remark: It is well to bear in mind that one of the outstanding and redeeming characteristics of the contemporary young generation is that when they are presented with, and see, authentic Yiddishkeit, their response is a positive one, even if not instantaneous but sooner or later it bears fruit.

With blessing,

Erev Pesach, 5745 [1985]

Greeting and Blessing:

Thank you for your letter and telegram with the birthday greetings, which I heartily reciprocate in the words of our Sages, "Whoever blesses others is blessed by Hashem [G-d] Himself."

Accordingly, may HaShem bestow His blessings on you and your wife and family in a generous measure, both materially and spiritually.

With regard to the problem concerning your nephew, there is no need to emphasize to you the great tragedy of intermarriage, a Jew marrying a non-Jew. Therefore, no effort should be spared to save both parties from such a situation. Indeed, if there is true feeling between the two persons involved, neither of them should wish to drag the other into such a tragedy and should not let a personal desire or passion, which in most cases is short-lived in any case, blind him and her to one's elementary human duty, not to mention the religious aspect and the fact that it is entirely unacceptable from the Torah viewpoint.

I am aware, of course, of the common argument that there seem to be many intermarried couples who are apparently happy. But the bitter truth is that in most, if not all, such cases, this is only because such couples are too ashamed to reveal the true situation at home and in their private life, for obvious reasons, especially if they had been warmed about it and chose to ignore such warnings.

The same may be said of another common argument that since both parties involved are adults and are prepared to take their chances, no one should interfere with their decision. The fallacity of such an argument is obvious if we consider a simple illustration of a person standing on top of a bridge and preparing to jump, claiming aloud that it is no one's business to stop him, etc. In any civilized society, it would be the duty of anyone who can do something about it to save the person from committing suicide, or harming himself, and, indeed, very often the fire department and police department are mobilized to save the person despite his or her protestations.

There is surely no need to elaborate on the above.

To conclude on a happy note, especially as we are now about to celebrate Pesach, the Festival of Our Liberation, may Hashem grant you and all yours, in the midst of all our people, a growing measure of liberation from all negative aspects and distractions, materially and spiritually, so as to serve Hashem wholeheartedly and with joy.

Wishing you and all yours a joyous and inspiring Pesach and shnas hatzlocha (a successful year)

With blessing,

Rambam this week

23 Adar II, 5765 - April 3, 2005

Positive Mitzva 70: The Guilt-offering for questionable guilt

This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 5:17) "Though he did not know it [if he sinned for sure], yet he is guilty, and shall bear his iniquity" If a person is unsure if he committed any of the 43 acts punishable by Karet he is commanded to bring this offering for his questionable guilt.

25 Adar II, 5765 - April 5, 2005

Positive Mitzva 71: The Guilt-offering

This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 5:6) "He shall bring his guilt-offering to the L-rd" There are four forbidden acts listed in the continuation of this verse. A person who commits any of these transgressions is commanded to bring a guilt-offering.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

In this week's Torah portion we read of the death of two of Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu, after they brought a "strange" fire before G-d.

According to some commentators, the brothers brought an offering in accordance with the sacrificial laws as they had been practiced by our ancestors before the Torah was given by G-d to Moses. This, then, is what was strange about it.

Chasidic philosophy offers a unique explanation as to what was strange about the fire. A Jew's soul is likened to a flame, or, at times, a candle. Though placed in a body, it strives to reunite with its source, the G-dly flame. Nadav and Avihu's longing to be united with G-d was so great that they allowed their souls to leave their bodies, "consumed" by the G-dly fire.

However, the true purpose of the soul's descent into this world is not to leave the body and be reunited with its source. That union is meant to take place only when the soul has completed its mission. Rather, it descends to this world in order to transform and elevate its surroundings. If the soul leaves the body it cannot accomplish this.

Many stories have been told about great and holy people whose souls transcended this world and traversed other spiritual planes. They revel in the experience of enjoying the spiritual light and revealed G-dliness of these other worlds. But when the time comes for their souls to return to their bodies, they accede, knowing that this was the true purpose of their life to begin with.

Nadav and Avihu allowed their longing for G-d to supersede their mission in life - to bring G-dliness and holiness into this world.

Thoughts that Count

And Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people, and blessed them...(Lev. 9:22)

On the eighth day of the consecration of the Tabernacle, Aaron blessed the people with the priestly blessing: May the L-rd bless you and guard you. May the L-rd make His countenance shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the L-rd turn His countenance toward you and grant you peace.

(Rashi; Sota 38)

Yet these you may eat (Lev. 11:21)

The Torah does not content itself with giving us signs of purity to look for when it tells us which animals are kosher, it actually lists each and every one which is permissible. In the thousands of years which have elapsed since the Torah was given, not one animal, bird or creature has been discovered by man to possess those signs, which were not specifically mentioned in the Torah.

(Kuzari Hechadash)

And Moses said: "This is the thing that G-d has commanded that you do - and the glory of G-d will appear to you." (Lev. 9:6)

Every mitzva in the Torah has myriad inner, esoteric meanings, which each Jew understands according to his or her intelligence and level of Torah learning. Even the most learned scholar cannot fully grasp these secrets, for human comprehension and understanding of the infinite is limited and finite. This is why Moses commanded the Jews - "This is the thing that G-d has commanded" - no matter how much one has studied and no matter how many inner meanings a person has learned, the real reason to do a mitzva is because G-d has so commanded. When your intent in performing a mitzva is solely because G-d wants that particular act to be performed, then "the glory of G-d will appear to you."

(Tiferet Shmuel)

It Once Happened

Reb Leib Sarah's was born with the blessing of the Baal Shem Tov (Besht). Early on, he became famous as a miracle-worker, and he was sent on many missions by the Besht to aid Jews.

One day, as he stood in the marketplace of Berdichev, a Jew approached him and exclaimed, "Thank G-d, I've found you!" The Jew, named Reb Binyomin, was the head of the community of Kobrin, and he had a serious problem.

The small town of Kobrin belonged to the Count Upinsky. While the old count had been friendly to the Jews, inviting them to settle on his lands rent-free, his son and successor was a bitter anti-Semite. The young count was now threatening to expel the Jews and seize all their property unless they paid him both rent and interest for all the years they had lived on his estate.

Reb Leib listened attentively to this terrible story, and then promised to try to intercede with the count. The very next day Leib Sarah's travelled to Kobrin and stood before the nobleman, ready to plead the Jew's case. The count was momentarily startled by the sudden unexpected appearance of the stately old Jew, but he recovered quickly and demanded immediate payment of the "debt."

Reb Leib replied in measured tones: "Sir, your father never expected or demanded rent from the Jews, and I ask you in all fairness to cancel their debt, for payment had never been intended. In return they will pray for your success and well-being all the days of your life."

"I do not need their prayers, but their money I cannot do without!" was his angry reply.

Leib Sarah's shot the count a burning, penetrating look that had the effect of calming his anger. The count soon regained his composure and continued: "Listen, I am going to make you an offer in the strictest confidence; take care no Jew betrays me. Our Polish people are tired of the Russian Czar's oppression. We are organizing a rebellion and we want Jews to join our side. If you agree, the debt will be cancelled."

"No, sir, this we cannot do. Our religion commands us to support the government under which we live. We may not join you."

His reply enraged the count. "Get out," he screamed. "You will pay dearly for this!"

Reb Leib returned to Binyomin with news of his failed mission. "Now, I will send you to someone who can indeed help. But you must keep this strictly secret."

Deep in the forest was a small hut where a poor broom-maker lived with his wife. It was here Binyomin was to go with all his provisions for Shabbat. Arriving at the hut Binyomin saw an old woman sitting in a poorly-furnished room. Just then her husband arrived, his face showing no surprise at the unexpected guest.

Binyomin prayed under the fragrant fir trees, and then entered the hut to find the old man reading the Grace After Meals slowly like a small child. After quickly eating, Binyomin lay down on a bench outside and fell asleep.

In the middle of the night he was awakened by the sound of a voice singing Shabbat melodies. The voice came from the hut, but a heavenly voice seemed to echo back. The hut shone with a burning light; Binyomin quickly shut his eyes, and when he opened them again, it was morning.

The night's vision convinced Binyomin that the broom-maker was no ordinary man. He could hardly wait for the end of the Shabbat to reveal his mission.

But before he could relay his request, the broom-maker came to him and said: "The Guardian of Israel has heard the prayers of the Holy congregation of Kobrin. The count's decree is null and void. Go in peace, but never tell anyone about this Shabbat."

The next morning Binyomin returned home to hear what had occurred. On Shabbat morning a refinement of Russian cossacks stormed the count's castle, arresting him for treason. The governor it seems, had suspected Upinsky of traitorous activities. One day a letter was intercepted which said that the count had been unsuccessful in enlisting the support of the Jews for the rebellion. With this evidence the castle was seized and the rebellion quashed.

In appreciation of their loyalty, the Czar awarded the Kobrin Jews the land of the Upinskys as a perpetual free hold, rent and tax-free.

Adapted from Talks and Tales

Moshiach Matters

The miracles of the ultimate Redemption will be considered as "wonders" even in comparison with the miracles of the exodus from Egypt

(Or HaTorah)

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