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Devarim Deutronomy

July 15, 2005 - 8 Tamuz, 5765

878: Balak

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  877: Chukas879: Pinchas  

The Pyramid Scheme  |  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 Pyramid Scheme

Perhaps you've seen these before. They come in many forms: "gifting clubs," multi-level marketing (sometimes known as a product-based pyramid), etc. And of course there's the popular chain mail, now making its umpteenth circuit across the internet. These chain e-mails all follow the same pattern: send it on to ten friends (usually after sending a dollar back to the last ten people on the list).

Pyramid schemes are not only illegal and immoral, they're insidious. They rely on recruits recruiting ever more recruits: The new recruits give money (or send emails) to their recruiters and then in turn become recruiters themselves, getting money from the new recruits.

The problem with pyramid schemes is that there's a finite number of new recruits. At any layer, almost 90% of those involved lose out: ten below give to one above, but have not yet received from the hundred below. Simply, the bottom layer has to grow contin-ually, exponentially, and it can't. People, and their financial resources, are limited. Since about 90% will always be on the bottom layer, that 90% will receive - nothing because they will receive it from - no one.

Pyramid schemes are always frauds, not because people recruit people or because money is exchanged. That happens in all legitimate business. They're frauds because they require the finite to produce the infinite. And there's a limit to the number of people in the world and the money or products they can produce.

But "G-d created one thing opposite the other." There is a pyramid of holiness, a "scheme" that recruits people not to defraud them of their money or other goods, but to increase their share in G-dliness.

This is the concept of a shliach - an emissary. A shliach acts as the one who sent him would have acted, had the sender been there. The shliach is more than a representative, acting as almost a channel.

But instead of funneling money from those below to those above, the shliach directs an awareness of and enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvot (commandments) from those "above" (above in awareness and observance, for no Jew is truly above another) to those below.

The "Jewish pyramid scheme," the positive, holy transference, is expressed in the aphorism, shliach oseh shliach - one shliach makes another.

For when we come in contact with a shliach, when we become inspired, when we receive and become more involved in Judaism, inevitably we too will affect another, pass on that inspiration and involvement, help another Jew to learn Torah, to do a mitzva.

And so one shliach makes ten shluchim (that's the plural). And those ten shluchim make a hundred - each shliach adding to the group of mitzvot being done, passing spiritual credit back up the line, true, but receiving even more from those just entering the "scheme."

But wait! Didn't we just say that a pyramid scheme must fail, because it requires the finite to produce the infinite?

That's true, if we're talking about producing money or manufacturing goods. But the amount of Torah or the number of mitzvot a Jew can generate - ah, that indeed is infinite.

So after you read this, do a mitzva and send it to ten friends. We guarantee doing so will bring us closer to the ultimate Redemption.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah reading, Balak, focuses on the blessings given the Jewish people by the non-Jewish prophet Bilaam. Balak, the king of Moab, feared that the Jews would attack him and his people on their way to Israel, and so he hired Bilaam to curse the Jews. Although Bilaam sought to do Balak's bidding, whenever he prepared to deliver curses, G-d put blessings in his mouth and he was forced to utter them. So powerful were his blessings that they are recorded in the Torah for eternity and some are part of our prayers.

When Bilaam saw that G-d would not allow him to curse the people, he sought to harm them in another way. "Their G-d," he told Balak, "hates immorality. Have your women seduce their men."

Balak did that and as a result, a plague beset the Jewish people, killing thousands.

Our Sages ask, "Why did G-d bestow spiritual insight and gift of prophecy upon a wicked man like Bilaam?"

They explain that in the future, the non-Jewish nations will complain to G-d, telling him that the Jews were granted prophets and therefore they were able to advance spiritually. G-d will answer that it was not the gift of prophecy alone which caused the Jews to advance. For He also granted the gentiles a prophet, Bilaam, and what did he do? Instead, of helping the people advance spiritually, he encouraged immorality.

Implied within the narrative is an important lesson for all time. Spiritual insight cannot be seen as separate from a person's conduct. The concept of a knowing wizard, aware of spiritual reality and yet living a depraved existence, runs contrary to Judaism's fundamental thrust.

Judaism sees spiritual awareness as a tool to enhance and intensify one's day-to-day experience, not merely a lofty spiritual plateau. Whatever spiritual insight and experience one has must be applied in deeper and more meaningful conduct. Spirituality is not a high to be enjoyed, and then ignored. Instead, it must be incorporated in the way we build our relationships, establish our families, and forge our role in society at large.

The lesson is two-fold:

Those seeking spiritual experience must realize that this should lead to a deeper commitment to moral life at home and at work.

Those who work to promote family values and moral truth should focus on the spiritual component of these values and truths and understand that such awareness can enhance and intensify the power of their message both for themselves and for their students.

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

A Slice of Life

The Best of Times
By Lewis Bokser, Philadelphia

Even today, so many years later and despite the anemia of old age, I blush when I recall the chutzpa displayed by six of my friends and me towards Rabbi Schneersohn, and how we were gently turned around.

It was the best of times (1929) - we had no idea of what was to come. Several articles appeared in various Jewish newspapers available in Philadelphia in those days about one Rabbi Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who had been given the use of a house on 33rd Street by Mrs. Faggen-Miller, a woman well-known for her charitable nature. These newspapers articles quoted the Rebbe at great length and in much detail. My friends and I read these articles and wondered amongst ourselves whether the Rebbe was actually planning to replace the Alm-ghty. We discussed this with an official of our synagogue, and he suggested that we visit the Rebbe and ask him what he had in mind.

Accordingly, late one Saturday evening we all piled into the car and went to the 33rd Street address. Our intention was to confront the Rebbe and show him that we thought he was trying to displace G-d. As we climbed the steps to the front porch, we saw through the window that the living room was crowded with men. We rang the doorbell and a dignified, bearded man came to the door and inquired what we wanted. One of us responded:

"We'd like to speak to the Rebbe. We have an important question to ask."

All this time the man was taking notes. He said, "The Rebbe must know the question before he can see you."

"We'd like to know how he expects us to keep an old-fashioned religion in a modern country."

"You'll have to wait," he said. "You see there is quite a crowd before you. But come in."

We told him we'd wait on the porch as there wouldn't be room for all of us in the packed living room. In a few minutes he returned and said that the Rebbe would see us at once. He ushered us into the house, through the crowded living room, and up the stairs. We wondered why we had been admitted before all those people downstairs who had been there before us.

At the top of the stairs stood the saintly Rabbi. He was tall, handsome, with gleaming, bright eyes. He wore a large fur hat. His hand was outstretched in greeting. I was surprised since I never knew that Chasidic Jews extended their hands in greeting. "This is the happiest moment I've had in Philadelphia," he said as he started to arrange chairs around his desk. We tried to help him but he insisted that he wanted to do this task himself. Once we were seated he took a long look at each one of us and then began, "You look like very intelligent young men, and therefore I must speak on your level. You are wondering about those people downstairs who were here before you. Well, here are some of the problems for which they are asking help.

"One man's daughter is seriously ill. What can I do? Nothing more than he can do, provided he approaches G-d. He should be able to ask for a complete recovery. Another has a law suit and wants me to pray that he will win. I do not know who's right, but he can pray that the L-rd will give justice. There's a man who wants to buy a business and wants me to intercede to make sure it succeeds. If I could do that, I'd be a rich business man. But if I could not answer your question, I'd have no right to be a rabbi.

"First, I must admit a great secret which you will most likely keep. There are 613 mitzvot; while the Lubavitcher Rebbe tries to keep them all, he finds it impossible to keep them all. So what does he do? Discard 613 mitzvot? No, he keeps as many of them as humanly possible."

With these few words he removed the venom we had brought with us. Then he asked us to try and keep as many mitzvot as we could. If we kept as many as we could, then we'd be doing the same thing as the Lubavitcher Rebbe!

Then we were asked for our Jewish names and the names of our mothers. We also offered our legal names and addresses but he said he had no use for them. Several of the boys put their hands in their pockets, but he stopped them with a gesture, thanked us, and said he had no use for money. He wanted mitzvot. He asked us whether we put on tefilin every day. Several admitted they had given it up. He even offered them tefilin so they could fulfill the mitzva. All of us promised to try to live up to his suggestions. He then blessed us individually, shook hands again, and we left.

We stood on the porch for nearly two hours digesting the visit. Everyone agreed to pray at least once a day. One said he would give up his Saturday work as a dental technician and some months later he even prevailed upon his employer to do the same.

One of us, Gabriel Lowenthal, of blessed memory, attached himself to a synagogue and taught what he had learned from the Rebbe's philosophy to many others. I have lost track of some of the boys, but I'm sure the ten minutes we spent with the Rebbe strengthened the spirit of Judaism in all of us. The Depression and later World War II gave me little hope of ever gaining more light from Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak. However, I found the continued inspiration from his son-in-law, the present Rebbe, to keep as many of the 613 mitzvot as I can.

Reprinted from the Jewish Press

What's New

New Emissaries

Rabbi Mendel and Raizel Rosenfeld will be arriving soon in Aventura, Florida, to help with the rapidly expanding programs of the Aventura Chabad Center there as well as opening a new center in a different area of this fast-growing Jewish community.

New Soup Kitchen

A new soup kitchen, under the auspices of Kollel Chabad, a Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess institution in Israel, opened recently in Safed, Israel. The soup kitchen is expected to feed daily hundreds of elderly and impoverished Jews in the Safed community.

The Rebbe Writes

A freely translated letter written by the Rebbe during the lifetime of the Previous Rebbe

10 Tammuz, 5709 [1949]

Greetings and blessings,

It has been a long time since I heard from you. You and your household are all well, no doubt. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that we have lost touch. In sacred texts, there is an allusion [to the separation that exists in the realm of holiness] brought from the verse: "Those who pursue sinful counsel draw near; they are far from Your Torah." That verse can be interpreted as] "Those who pursue sinful counsel" - i.e., politicians - "draw near" - to each other. Those who identify with "your Torah" are "far" - from each other.

We have just now published a pamphlet for Yud-Beis/Yud-Gimmel Tammuz [the birthday and anniversary of release from Communist incarceration of the Previous Rebbe]: a copy of which is enclosed.

With regard to concepts relevant to the present time: There are several levels regarding the laws of acknowledging a miracle (as noted in the commentaries to the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, sec. 218). They include:

  1. a miracle that occurred to one's teacher; but the connection between teacher and student is merely intellectual;

  2. a miracle that occurred to one's father; but the connection between father and son is only through the garment of the soul and does not involve the essence of the soul (see the statements from the writings of the AriZal quoted in Tanya, ch. 2);

  3. a miracle that occurred to oneself; in this instance, however, there is a need for concern that one's merits will be reduced (Shabbos 32a); hence, one's happiness is not complete.

Higher than all the above with regard to all the details mentioned is a miracle that occurs to one's Rebbe. For the soul of a chassid is a particular dimension of the Rebbe's collective soul. And the happiness experienced as a result of the miracle is felt in a full sense, as is understood. May we, speedily in our days, celebrate in the rejoicing that will accompany the complete and encompassing Redemption led by Moshiach.

With wishes for all types of everlasting good,

3 Teves, 5709 [1949]

Greetings and blessings,

Your undated letter was duly received. Because of my many concerns... I am unable to answer all of your questions. Thus I have answered only some of them. Over the course of time, I will, without making a promise, add my understanding of the issues with regard to your other questions.

Hashgachah Peratis (Divine Providence): This concept applies to all inanimate matter, plants, animals, and humans, in an individual sense. Through G-d's knowledge of Himself, He knows them. In addition, according to the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, there is a special Divine intent in every individual occurrence involving inanimate matter, plants, animals, and humans.

In response: In my previous letter to you, I wrote that such concepts are stated in the Chasidic discourse entitled Al Kein Yomru HaMoshlim, 5696. In all four forms of being, there are four dimensions of relation to G-d: how He brings the object into being, His providence, His knowledge, and His intent. Even before the revelation of the Baal Shem Tov, Jewish thinkers acknowledged and knew that G-d brings into being and knows even the individual dimensions of inanimate matter, plants, animals, and humans. The new concept revealed by the Baal Shem Tov is that there is Divine providence in all these matters and he negated all concepts of chance occurrences entirely.

Since each and every event is watched over from Above, we can be certain that these events are happening because of a Divine intent. For even a thinking person would surely not do anything without having an intent behind it. How much more so does this apply with regard to G-d?...

With good wishes to all the members of our brotherhood,

From I Will Write it in Your Hearts, published by S.I.E., translated by Rabbi S.B. Wineberg

Rambam this week

13 Tamuz, 5765 - July 20, 2005

Positive Mitzva 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 considered a greater act of charity than actually giving it as charity!

Giving money to a person who has fallen to the point where he must ask 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

The 12th of Tammuz (which occurs this week on Tuesday, July 19), marks the birthday and the release from Bolshevik imprisonment of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.

At a Chasidic gathering that took place about six months after his release, the Previous Rebbe offered a parable on the unique times in which we live:

For the greater part of the journey, a train runs along a solitary track. There are curves and tunnels, steep climbs and sharp drops. All the while, it remains on a single, clearly-defined path. One need only have a basic knowledge of the route, keep to the tracks and observe the rules, and one steadily nears one's destination.

However, as the train approaches its destination, there are a proliferation of switching stations, railroad yards, side tracks, and even dead ends. Here great care must be taken, for the choices are many, the railways misleading, the maps and signposts vague. A most solid looking track might, in fact, be a dead end, while an obscure turn might be the correct path.

We are now in the final leg of our journey through history, fast approaching its ultimate destination - the perfect era of Moshiach. As the train approaches its final station, there is much joy and excitement. But it is also a time of great danger - one wrong turn and the train is grounded, or going nowhere fast. It is a time when great vigilance is required to discern the proper track and bring the journey to its triumphant conclusion.

May we all have the skill and wisdom to remain on the right track or get on track until we reach the ultimate destination, may it be NOW!

Thoughts that Count

Balak saw and the people of Moab were afraid (Num. 22:2-3)

When Balak, the king and leader of the Moabites, saw the approach of the Jews his fear quickly spread to his people. This contrasts sharply with the behavior of Moses, leader of the Jewish nation. When he was afraid of Og, king of Bashan, it was only "in his heart." He did not allow his fear to show even to himself, let alone to others. This is a lesson for Jewish leaders in all times. Even in the most difficult times they must exude only hope and encouragement.

(Divrei Chachamim)

May my soul die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like him. (Num. 23:10)

A Jew once came to the tzadik Rabbi Yehoshua of Belz, and while speaking to him expressed the desire that "at least I should die like a Jew." The Rebbe interrupted him and said, "That is what the non-Jew Bilaam requested when he said, 'May my soul die the death of the righteous.' He wanted to die as a Jew but to live as a non-Jew. We must ask G-d to grant us to live as Jews."

How goodly are thy tents Jacob - thy dwelling places, Israel. (24:5)

It is a good for Jacob to build tents - synagogues and houses of learning. But only on the condition that they become "thy dwelling places, Israel" - that Jews should actually be in them. A synagogue should not be built solely for its beauty, standing empty a whole week and only with difficulty finding a minyan on Sabbaths and Festivals.

(Rabbi Yaacov Yosef of Polonye)

It Once Happened

Even at the tender age of five, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, had a fixed daily schedule. At eight o'clock in the morning, the Previous Rebbe jumped out of bed, and half an hour later he was in the synagogue praying with the congregation. From 9:30 until 10:00 was breakfast. Then, for four hours the Previous Rebbe studied in yeshiva. Then came lunch for an hour and another hour devoted to writing. From 4:00 until 8:00 there was yeshiva again, then supper and some free time to spend in his room, before retiring to bed.

Shabbat, of course, was different. Most of the morning was spent praying in shul. In addition, he had a special treat, a visit to his grandmother, Rebbetzin Rikva. There he would find the elder members of the Chasidic community, white-bearded chasidim who came to pay their respects to the "Grand Old Rebbetzin." They would stay for a while and relate stories about the lives of older chasidim or even of the Rebbe, the Previous Rebbe's grandfather.

When everybody went home to eat the Shabbat meal, the Previous Rebbe went back to the shul. There all the worshippers had long since finished their prayers and gone home - all except his father. He sat with his head near the ark. He was still praying. The Previous Rebbe approached his father quietly in order to listen to his prayers. His father prayed very slowly, as if he were counting the words. Sometimes he paused, and then would slowly continue.

The Previous Rebbe wondered why it took his father so long to pray, which even he, a boy of five, knew so well and could read so fluently. But his heart throbbed as he listened to the soulful melody which his father hummed now and again, and the singsong of the words. Once, the Previous Rebbe asked his uncle, Rabbi Zalman Aaron, his father's brother. "Why does Father pray so slowly?"

His uncle smiled as he answered with a twinkle in his eyes, "Your father finds it difficult to read the words from the siddur very quickly. He has to say each word separately, and can't pray very fast. That's why it takes him so long."

The Previous Rebbe turned away without saying another word. But he felt a deep pain and a burning shame that his father couldn't pray more fluently.

The following Shabbat, the Previous Rebbe silently approached his father and listened carefully. His father was saying the Shema. "Shema Yisrael..." His father said slowly, then he paused. The Previous Rebbe was startled to hear his father sobbing. His father said another couple of words, and sobbed again, and when he said "Hashem Echad - G-d is One" the words seemed to burst from his heart, with a flood of tears.

The Previous Rebbe couldn't listen any more. His heart was bursting with pity for his father. He went home, and with tears in his eyes, appealed to his mother, "Mother, Father is crying in the shul. Why does he pray so slowly, and why is he crying? Come, see for yourself. I can't bear it."

"There is nothing to be worried about," The Previous Rebbe's mother consoled her little son. "Go to your grandmother and tell her about it. She is a very wise lady, maybe she will be able to explain it to you."

The Previous Rebbe lost no time and went to his grandmother, certain that the wise, old Rebbetzin would find a remedy to help his father learn to read the prayers more quickly, perhaps even as quickly as all the other Jews in the synagogue.

When he came to his grandmother, the Previous Rebbe told her about his poor father's difficulty saying the prayers. "Mother said that you could do something about it," he concluded hopefully.

Grandmother looked at him seriously and said, "Your father is a great chasid and a righteous man. Before he reads any word from the prayerbook, he thinks about it carefully. What it means and to Whom he is saying it. And when he thinks about the holy words of the prayers, his heart is filled with love for G-d, just as a son loves his dear father who is near and yet far away. So your father longs to be closer to Him and the tears just come. I cannot tell you more now, but when you grow older you will understand this better, and you will know how it feels."

With his grandmother's explanation, the Previous Rebbe felt as if a tremendous weight came off his heart. So it wasn't that his father couldn't read the prayers quickly. It was because his father was such a great person that he prayed differently. Yes, he realized that his father was different, in the way he spoke, the way he acted, the way he studied, the way he prayed. That very day, the Previous Rebbe resolved that as the only child of such a great person, he too must act differently, to merit being his child.

Moshiach Matters

At the present time, when the world trembles, when all the world shudders with the birth-pangs of Moshiach, for Hashem has set fire to the wall of the exile... it is the duty of every Jew, man and woman, old and young, to ask themselves: What have I done and what am I doing to alleviate the birth-pangs of Moshiach, and to merit the total redemption which will come through our righteous Moshiach.

(From a letter of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe written during World War II)

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