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Although Katrina made landfall several weeks ago, we still feel the effect of its passing. The cleanup has begun, but the physical devastation remains. It will be a long time before New Orleans is habitable again. We cannot begin to calculate the economic toll, not only on the Gulf South region, but on the U.S. and indeed the entire world.
More terrible still are the human costs. The emotional distress affecting everyone, children, the elderly, even the strongest of men. How many tens of thousands remain vagabonds? How deeply have despair, hopelessness, desperation penetrated? How many lives have been lost? Will loved ones' bodies every be recovered?
And what of those of us on the outside? Whatever we have done, whatever we can do, seems insignificant and insufficient. We stand by watching, feeling helpless and irrelevant. Of course we gave to a relief fund and encouraged others to give and of course we will make other contributions. But it's just not enough, or so it seems.
To both, to the desperation of the victims and the helplessness of those who would aid, support and comfort them, our tradition has an answer. Judaism provides guidance. In the Mishna Pirkei Avot, our Sages tell us that the world stands on three things, on Torah, on Avoda - service or prayer, and on Gemilut Chasadim - acts of loving-kindness.
These are the pillars of the world. These are the support system, the rescue team, the foundation and restoration. Our Sages told us these are the pillars not just to inform us of facts. They told us so that we could - and would - act, so that we would strengthen, each of us, these pillars.
And how so? In reverse order:
The primary act of loving-kindness is, of course, tzedeka, charity. There are other ways, such as visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, etc. But the term itself tells us why it's a pillar: Gemilut Chasadim is not an act or acts; it is the bestowal of kindness. For the act itself may be just, it may be the right thing to do. And a "good deed" may be done with a resentful or even malicious heart. But the bestowal of kindness, allowing kindness to flow through the act, that sustains the world.
Do we need to say much about prayer, its power and ability to transform? But note that the word used is avoda, which means work or labor. The world endures because we work hard at transforming ourselves, growing, constantly gaining a new, higher spiritual perspective.
This explains why avoda, prayer, comes before bestowal of kindness. The quality and quantity of the bestowal depends on the character, the spiritual perspective, of the one bestowing. We can only bestow from where our avoda has taken us.
And finally there's Torah, the "blueprint of existence." The world is simply the manifestation of Torah, much as a building is the manifestation of its blueprint. But the Sages tell us something more: the deeper and broader our understanding, the more firmly established the world. The better the builder understands the plans, the sturdier, the more functional and the more beautiful the building.
Torah comes first, because it is the source, the connection, the explanation. The study of Torah equals all the other commandments, the Sages say.
Here then, is an answer to despair and a way to succor: learn, grow and bestow.
Inspired in part by Rabbi Mendel Dubrawsky, Dallas, Texas
This week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, contains a commandment involving safe-guarding one's roof lest someone fall from it: "When you build a new house, you must place a guard-rail around your roof. Do not allow a dangerous situation to remain in your house, since someone can fall from [an unenclosed roof]."
A guard-rail is placed around the roof not only for self-protection, but even more to protect others from falling from one's roof.
With the help of Chasidic philosophy, this commandment can be understood in spiritual terms also. A roof - the highest part of the house - is indicative of egoism and conceit. Placing a guard-rail around the roof means that one must confine and limit these undesirable traits. This needs to be done "since someone can fall [from an unenclosed roof]" - i.e., the trait of egoism and conceit is at the root of every spiritual downfall; all evil traits stem from them.
The "guard-rail" placed around egoism and conceit is important not only to protect the person, himself, from negative trait, but it is also important as it relates to a fellow Jew; it is necessary to assure that the person's own ego not bring about another Jew's spiritual downfall.
When a Jew involves his fellow Jews with Judaism and bringing them closer to G-d, he might be filled with conceit. Then, not only is he lacking in terms of his own spiritual service, but his conceit may cause the person whom he is trying to teach to wonder, "What can I learn from a person whose personal gain and self-gratification are foremost in his mind?" This person might actually become distanced from Judaism.
Therefore, an egotistical person might wonder how he can embark on encouraging another Jew in his Jewishness. "How do I know," he asks himself, "if I will be able to build a proper guard-rail around my ego, thereby forestalling my own, or my friend's spiritual downfall?" Maybe it would be better not to "build a new house" - encourage other Jews - at all!
This, though, is not the case. The command begins with a blessing and injunction, "You shall build a new house." A Jew can and must build a house to G-d by creating an environment of Judaism. He cannot rely on other but must build a "new house" - a house which is uniquely his. A guard-rail can and must be made.
The affirmative language assures us that we will be successful in this endeavor.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
by Dovid Kaufmann
We left New Orleans about 1:30 p.m. Sunday, August 28, less than twenty-four hours before hurricane Katrina made landfall. It took us 19 hours to reach my brother's house in Dallas, just twice the normal time for such a journey.
The urgency gave us little time for reflection and little time to take more than a few necessities. The government had ordered an immediate mandatory evacuation. So three of my children, my wife and myself crowded into our compact car and joined the exodus of exiles from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
Three million people, by one estimate, fled the oncoming hurricane, over a million from the greater New Orleans area alone.
And these numbers put me in mind of another exodus - the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt, obeying a mandatory evacuation order from G-d. And as we drove north, from south Louisiana into Mississippi, then west across all of Louisiana - in a mirror of the Jewish people's journey to Israel, who went east, then north - several parallels came to mind.
In five years, ten years, at most a generation - but probably within twelve months - there will be no trace left of our passage. Six hundred thousand men, and so, counting women and children, over a million and a half people - wandered through the wilderness of Sinai for forty years, and we have no physical record, no evidence of their journey. Here, a number of "Biblical proportions" also left a devastated city. And there will be no long-term debris or residue to mark our passing.
How long will the effects of the hurricane itself last? How long before trees again reach heights double the size of a man? How long before the borders between rivers and land become clear?
Even the cities, yes, even New Orleans, will rebuild. We will have markers of a flood, as the new uses the old as a foundation. But still, this will not be evidence of the evacuation, only of the destruction.
But there will be evidence of the evacuation - the testimony of those who lived through it. And that evidence will be passed on from generation to generation, establishing for all time the truth of our passage. Realizing this reminded me how Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, in his critical work, The Kuzari, proved the historical truth of Torah.
And to what will we testify? We will testify that faith endures through tragedy. On the drive up I-55, as we passed under the cross bridges for local traffic, we saw people at the railings, watching, waving encouragement, the concern and the hope discernable even at a distance.
We will testify that there is a basic goodness in humanity. When the traffic ground to a halt - an accident, the merging of four lanes to two, etc. - we found patience for endless miles, courtesy, as motorists made room for those who had to pull over, and community, as people looked out for each other, total strangers. (Yes, there were a few selfish individuals, who thought only of themselves, but they were few, very few and, when discovered, ostracized.)
When the lines at the gas stations and rest stops grew long, tolerance increased. People shared stories, commiserated, and realized the fragility of civilization. People realized, instinctively, that without the basic laws of humanity, the seven Noahide commandments that civilize all humanity, the peaceful stream of exiles would become a snarling mass of bestiality. People realized, instinctively, that there was need for an increase, even a slight increase, of goodness and kindness.
And in everyone's eyes we saw the hope, the prayer that this would be the last such disaster, that no one should ever again suffer the loss of home, of security, of hope, whether the destruction came from nature or man.
We saw the anticipation for and the expectation of Moshiach.
David Kaufmann and his wife Nechama, are shluchim (emissaries) of the Rebbe in New Orleans together with four other couples. Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin, senior shluchim, and Rabbi Mendel and Malkie Rivkin, evacuated to Houston, Texas. Rabbi Yochanan and Sarah Rivkin evacuated to Gainesville, Florida. Rabbi Yossi and Chana Nemes of Chabad of Metairie evacuated to Memphis, Tennessee. The chabadneworleans website is constantly being updated with information about New Orleans Jewish community members who have contacted Chabad Houses throughout the area and whose friends and relatives can find out about their whereabouts through the website.
The Times-Picayune (Louisiana) wrote: The three men clad in black fedoras, black suit pants and bushy beards were unmistakable: Orthodox rabbis. As they searched inside the Astrodome and circled the outdoor perimeter of the building, they were on a mission.
"Are you from New Orleans?'' one of them asked.
They were looking for evacuees - Jews and non-Jews alike in need of help.
Zelig Rivkin and his son, Mendel, serve as rabbis at the Chabad House, the synagogue on Freret Street that during Hanukah lights the oversized Menorah.
Zelig Rivkin, who 30 years ago started the synagogue with a congregation up to 150 Tulane students and 35 local families, said he and his son remained in New Orleans as long as possible to help others who stayed behind.
But by Tuesday, when their land lines and cell phones went out, they realized it was time to leave. The Rivkins loaded their 13 family members into three cars and local firefighters helped them navigate around the downed power lines and fallen trees on Broadway Avenue as the rabbis and their family made their way to Houston. Instead of seeking shelter at the Superdome, they called Chaim Lazaroff, the rabbi who oversees the Chabad community in Houston, and moved into his house.
"We always preach, 'Love your fellow as yourself,' " Mendel Rivkin said. "But here we see it in practice. These people have opened up there homes and given up an office."
While reaching out to the Jewish community, the Rivkins said they were reaching out to evacuees regardless of faith. In fact, they spent a couple of hours inside and outside the Superdome speaking mostly to non-Jews.
The Jerusalem Post wrote: Chabad has been the most active on the ground so far, mobilizing its emissaries in communities near New Orleans and the rest of the affected region. Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff of Chabad in Houston, for example, has been working around the clock to help in a range of ways. He was one of the first people to offer help in organizing relief efforts at the Astrodome, where thousands of New Orleans residents were brought last week.
To find out what you can do to help, contact www.JewishHurricaneRelief.com
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Freely translated and adapted
18 Elul, 5744 
To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel, Everywhere
G-d bless you all!
Greeting and Blessing:
Bearing in mind that the last twelve days of Elul, beginning with Chai ((18) Elul, are days of introspections relating to the months of the outgoing year, each day corresponding to its respective month -
It is especially appropriate to extend to each of you, in the midst of all our Jewish people, the traditional and all inclusive blessing of "a good and sweet year" both materially and spiritually.
All the more so, since the said introspection, although it is a personal one, made by every Jew for himself, it is at the same time also an introspection which everyone makes as part of the whole Jewish people.
The purpose of the said introspection, an honest self-appraisal, is that it should determine most resolutely one's correct behavior in the everyday life of the coming year. This is also indicated and emphasized in the name of the festival - Rosh Hashana - meaning that in addition to being the "beginning" of the year, it is also, and essentially, the "head" of the year: Just as the head directs all the organs of the body, and it is only in this way that each organ carries out its purpose in the fullest measure, also as an organ per se - so should Rosh Hashana direct and animate each and every day of the year, in all particulars of the daily life, in order that the person should attain his or her fulfillment according to the design of the Creator.
Through the fulfillment of the human being, also the entire created order in all its four divisions: domem, (inanimate), tzomeyach (vegetable), chai (animal), and medabber (man, the "speaker") - attains its fulfillment, both individually and collectively .
This is also underscored by the fact that Rosh Hashana has been designated to take place not on the first day of Creation, but on the sixth - the day when the first man, Adam, was created; and with his creation, the entire created order was concluded and completed, and through man's fulfillment all of Creation is fulfilled.
Because the order and purpose of Creation is that the inanimate (mineral), in addition to its task of serving its own end, should sustain (and be absorbed into) plant life, and thereby be elevated to the "world" of the vegetable; and the latter should sustain, and thereby be elevated to, the animal world; and all three - animal, vegetable and mineral - should support and serve mankind, and thereby become part of, and be elevated to, the world of man, "the chosen one of all creatures."
And through man's serving the Creator, man and (through him) all the said four divisions of Creation, attain their complete and perfect fulfillment.
Indeed, as our Sages of blessed memory declare, this was attained in the very same day that the first man was created, when Adam immediately called upon all creatures, himself included: "Come, let us worship, bow down, and kneel, before G-d our Maker."
The said concept, namely, that the central point and original purpose of the whole created order is that it should attain perfect fulfillment - as it was attained when the Creator completed His creative work of the Six Days of Creation, in preparation for, and then by, the creation of man (Adam), and also that this fulfillment should be attained every day, year after year, through man's conduct in compliance with the teachings of the Torah -
[Can be actualized in] man's everyday service to his Creator:
After awakening from sleep, during which a person, with his intellect, abilities, knowledge, etc., is like an inanimate - yet it is the time when all forces of the soul and body should be refreshed and invigorated for serving G-d - one must rise from one's sleep, "immediately, with alacrity, to serve the Creator." Then one begins to grow ever higher through the fulfillment of the Creator's commandments, such as washing the hands, reciting the Morning blessings, etc., in preparation for the Morning Prayer; then one goes on to carry out the Divine edict, "and conquer (the world)," going about one's worldly affairs in the manner of "All your actions shall be for the sake of Heaven" - actions that involve all four categories of Creation (inanimate, vegetable, animal and man), the world all around, which one accomplishes with the aid of one's nefesh habehamis ("animal soul"). Thus, one attains the complete fulfillment expected of the "chosen creature" by "creating an abode for Him, blessed be He, in this lowest world," which is the ultimate purpose and fulfillment of the whole created order.
All this also brings closer the true and com-plete Redemption through Moshiach Tzidkeinu,
With esteem and blessing for success in all above, and that you be written and sealed for a good and sweet year, both materially and spiritually,
13 Elul, 5765 - September 17, 2005
Prohibition 32: You shall not use Astrology, or any other method of reading the stars to predict the future.
This mitzva is based on the verse (Deut. 18:10) "There must not be found among you... a soothsayer" We are forbidden to use Astrology or any other method of reading the stars to predict the future. The Torah tells us that our lives are in G-d's hands. The movement and function of the many suns and planets are determined and designed by G-d. They do not act on their own, nor do they have any power over us. Information gathered from their movement must not be used to try to determine the future. Included in this prohibition is an additional warning against practicing magic. This forbids us to trick people into seeing things that are not actually true.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
An individual's birthday has a very special meaning for that person. The birthday of a tzadik (righteous individual) has deep significance for everyone who attempts to live according to the tzadik's teachings.
A tzadik's birthday is, in some ways like the spiritual birthday of his followers.
The birthdays of two great tzadikim are this coming Thursday, the 18h of Elul (corresponding this year to September 22).
On 18 ("Chai") Elul, the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman, disciple of the the Baal Shem Tov's successor and founder of Chabad Chasidism, were born.
These great men dedicated their lives to teach the value of every single Jew. Ahavat Yisrael - unconditional love of each Jew - was at the forefront of their philosophy.
Today, nearly two centuries later, we benefit from the guidance and teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Shneur Zalman. The date of their birth, then, is not only their birthday - it is also our birthday.
On one's birthday it is fitting to take time out to reflect on one's achievements of the past year and one's goals for the future. It is fitting that on the birthday of these tzadikim, we reflect on how well we have followed and benefited from them and their teachings. This will help us make our resolutions for the New Year.
We will, in their merit, be blessed with a
Chativa Vachatima Tova, a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.
If a man will have a sin worthy of death and he will be put to death, You shall hang him on a tree (Deut. 21:22)
In the eulogy which the Holy Ari delivered on the passing of Rabbi Moshe Kordevero he translated this verse slightly differently. The word for "sin" is properly translated as "lacking." So, he said, "When you see a person who is lacking any reason that he should have been put to death and nevertheless he dies, hang it (his death) on the tree," - on the decree following the sin of the tree of knowledge that even the most righteous will not live forever.
You shall not see your brothers ox or lamb wandering and hide from them. You shall surely return them to your brother (Deut. 22:1)
In this verse we are commanded to return a lost article. If we are instructed to be so careful not to ignore our neighbor's monetary loss, how much more the loss of his soul. We surely have a double duty to attend to the welfare of a Jew who has wandered from the path of Torah and return him to his creator.
If a bird's nest chances to be before you...you shall not take the mother with the young ones. You shall send away the mother, and then you may take the young ones. (22:1,2)
We learn from this that we should have mercy on people. If G-d commanded that we show pity to birds, how much more must we have pity on people.
A woman once came to the Baal Shem Tov and begged him to bless her with a child. The Baal Shem Tov was unwilling at first, but when pressed, he finally assured her that within a year she would bear a son.
A son was born to the woman and her husband that year. The little child was a source of great joy to them. When her son was two years old, the woman brought him back to the Baal Shem Tov to receive a blessing from the tzadik. The Baal Shem Tov held the baby and kissed him before returning him to his mother. As soon as the woman returned home, however, the baby became sick and, within a few days, passed away.
The woman returned to the Baal Shem Tov and asked bitterly, "Why did you bless me with a child who would only live for two years?"
The Baal Shem Tov answered her: "Listen carefully to the story I am about to tell you."
"A childless king once asked his wisest advisor how he could solve the dilemma of not having an heir.
" 'No one can help you except for the Jews,' said the advisor. 'You must tell the Jews that if within a year your wife does not give bear a son, they will be expelled from your kingdom. They will then pray that you beget a son.'
"The king issued the advisor's decree. The Jews gathered to pray, recite Psalms and fast. They entreated G-d to save them from this decree and their voices reached the heavens.
"A very lofty soul in heaven heard the outcry and told the Alm-ghty that it would be willing to be sent to the world below and live as the king's son. In this way it would save the Jewish people from being expelled from their homes and their land.
"Within the year, the queen gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. At a young age the prince's genius was evident. Everything that he was taught he grasped immediately.
"One day, the prince told his father, 'I have learned all I can from the teachers in this kingdom. Please find me a new teacher with whom I can study something in which I can delight!'
"A call for a unique tutor went throughout the king's empire and beyond. Soon after, a wise and saintly looking scholar approached the king and offered to teach the prince. 'I have only one condition,' demanded the scholar. 'When I am alone in my study no one, not even the prince, is to enter.' The king readily agreed, caring only to please his beloved son.
"The prince was enchanted with his new teacher. Day and night he studied with the scholar, always thirsting for more. The prince was only separated from his teacher while he slept and at those times that his teacher insisted on being alone in his study.
"One day the prince succumbed to his curiosity and entered his teachers' quarters. He opened the study door and was astounded to see his teacher swaying back and forth, covered with a white and black cloth, and leather straps around arm. He gasped and the teacher turned around to see his shocked disciple.
" 'You were not to enter,' the teacher said firmly. The prince just nodded mutely. 'Now that you know my secret, I must leave the kingdom,' said the scholar sadly.
" 'But I know nothing,' cried the prince, for he had never seen a Jew in talit and tefilin.
" 'I am a Jew,' explained the scholar.
" 'Then I too will be a Jew,' said the prince.
"Try as he did, to dissuade the prince, the scholar was unsuccessful. Eventually he agreed to teach the prince Torah. As soon as they began studying, the prince realized that he had found that which had seemed to elude him his entire life. Years flew by, with the prince always at the scholar's side. He drank in the words of Torah, never tiring of it.
" 'It is time for me to become a Jew," said the prince, now a young man, to his teacher.
" 'You can not remain prince if you were to become a Jew,' warned the scholar. 'Is it not better for you to stay here and eventually become a benevolent and just ruler?'
"The prince was adamant. He told the king that he needed to learn first-hand about his father's vast country. With the king's reluctant permission, the prince and scholar traveled away from the palace toward the border of the kingdom. The prince crossed the border, converted and settled down to a fully observant Jewish life.
"When the prince died, his soul ascended to the World Above and not a single count could be charged against him. What could be said about a soul that had the self-sacrifice to descend to the world in order to save a Jewish community from a terrible decree, and who had rejected the royal crown to become a Jew?
"But then, one angel said, 'For his first two years he was nursed by a non-Jew.' It was decreed that this soul, being so lofty, would need to descend into this world once again and be nursed by a Jewess."
The Baal Shem Tov said to the woman compassionately, "You need not be sad that you merited, for two years, to nurture this lofty soul."
The Baal Shem Tov writes in a letter to his brother-in-law that on Rosh Hashana of the year 5507/1746, his soul ascended to the heavenly realms where he was granted the privilege of entering the palace of the soul of Moshiach. He asked Moshiach, "Master, when are you coming?" Moshiach responded, "When your wellsprings [teachings] will be disseminated outward."