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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

March 3, 2006 - 3 Adar, 5766

910: Terumah

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  909: Mishpatim911: Tetzaveh  

Unfinished Business  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Customs  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Unfinished Business

If you look at your daily schedule, often what's most striking is not how much you got done, but how much is left over. Whether you sit and make to-do lists, whether you actually use the to-do lists, whether you multi-task, whether you take it one job at a time, whether you prioritize or crisis-manage, at the end of the day, there's a long list of unfinished business.

And that unfinished business can range from the trivial to the crucial. A bill unpaid, laundry unfolded, a report to work on, phone calls to family, business calls to return, emails to write, emails to read, websites to visit, change the oil in the car, call the plumber, call the synagogue secretary to check on a Bar Mitzva date, cancel a dinner date, make an appointment, get some exercise - and these are only the things you didn't get to today that will have to be done tomorrow, or should have been done yesterday. This doesn't count all the unfinished business business - parts of projects past due, analysis, forms, government requirements to be met, the business of meetings missed to attend to.

But when you go to sleep at night, only a few items of unfinished business really bother you. They may be the trivial ones or the crucial ones - that email that must be answered, that bill that was supposed to be in the mail yesterday, that article you need to report on, that you had no time to read another chapter in that book - for really, the line between trivial and crucial is often thin and, in either direction, sometimes no more than a night's sleep.

If you step back from all the details of your life, you'll see that some unfinished business remains - unfinished, while some of it seems so urgent you can't let it go. It take priority. And there are some types of unfinished business that are both always urgent and always unfinished.

And every day we have another bit of unfinished business: the Torah and mitzvot (command-ments) we didn't get to. Some of the mitzvot really just take a moment - a blessing before or after eating, a coin in a charity box, tefilin wrapped around the head and arm, modeh ani - a one sentence prayer thanking G-d for giving us another day - when we wake up. Others are "bigger" ones - some aspect of Shabbat or kosher we've meant to get to for a while, but...

And Torah? Studying Torah's always unfinished business. Because Torah is infinite and unending. Even if we got through today's daily dose (in print, or on the web - in places like or or or, by the time we wake up, we've got some unfinished business with the daily Torah reading.

Of course, the ultimate unfinished business we have is that of bringing Moshiach. That's our job right now, "to prepare the world to greet Moshiach," as the Rebbe said, to do it in a pleasant and acceptable way. Until we "do all we can do" - all of us - and, through our actions, really bring the Redemption, we still have some unfinished business.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Teruma, communicates the command to build a Sanctuary. G-d told the Jewish people: "Make Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell within...." The Sanctuary, and later the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was "the place which G-d... chose... to place His name there." This was His home on earth, as it were. Just like a person can relax and express himself without inhibitions in his own home, so too, the Temple was - and will be - the place where G-dliness was revealed without restrictions.

In every person's individual world, his soul rests in his mind, and that makes his entire body human. Similarly, in the world at large, G-d's presence rested in the Temple, and that made it possible for us to appreciate G-dliness in every element of existence. The existence of the Temple makes the entire world His home.

Our Rabbis teach us that the Hebrew word for "within" b'tocham, literally means "within them," not "within it." Building a Sanctuary for G-d did not mean merely erecting a structure where His presence would be manifest. Instead, the intent was that every single person would become "a sanctuary in microcosm," for G-d would dwell "within them," within each and every individual.

All the details about which the Torah portion speaks have parallels in our relationship to G-d. They are not just particulars that existed in the Sanctuary long ago, but are instead ongoing motifs relevant to our bond with G-d. The ark in the Holy of Holies where the Divine Presence rested refers to the inner reaches that exist within our heart. For in each of us, there is a resting place for the Divine.

Similarly, the Sanctuary and the Temple contained:

-the Menora, the golden candelabra; this points to the potential we all possess to shine forth G-dly light and illuminate our surroundings;

-the table, on which the showbread was placed; this points to our potential to earn a livelihood; this is also a holy endeavor deserving of a place in the Sanctuary; and

-the altar, where sacrifices were brought. Korban, Hebrew for sacrifice, relates to the word karov, meaning "close"; through the sacrifices, we draw close to G-d.

Although we no longer have the Sanctuary built by Moses, nor the Temple in Jerusalem, the sanctuary in every Jewish heart remains. The home for G-d within us is an inseparable element of our existence.

From Keeping In Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life

Kosher Ambrosia, Spark Struck of G-d
by Marc Wilson

Put down your pastrami on rye. And your chopped liver. And your lox and bagels. And even your chicken soup. Let me wax rhapsodic over an authentic Jewish delicacy. Not one that is consecrated merely by nostalgia and sensory gratification, but by divinely inspired mandate.

Cholent - proof positive that the Jews, not Louis Sullivan, first discovered that wondrous gifts ensue when form is allowed to follow function. For, cholent is the ingenious, robust, aromatic answer to the Biblical admonition not to kindle a fire on the Sabbath day. How, some valorous hausfrau of bygone ages asked, can the Children of Israel have a warm, nourishing Sabbath lunch without kindling a fire? And in the Council of Sages, a solution was born: cholent.

Friday afternoon, set the oven very low, take a little beans, a little barley, a little meat, a few potatoes, a sprinkle of salt, and abundant garlic. Water it down well, cover it tight, and cook ad infinitum. When the spirit has finally been sated by a morning spent in Sabbath worship and song, it is time to sate the ravenous appetite with more earthy delights.

The house is permeated by a seductive aroma that entices us to the dining room. The lid is lifted, the mystical pillar of cloud ascends, and we are transported simultaneously back to Sinai, to Jerusalem, to Anatevka, to dingy tenements on Delancey Street, and at the same time, forward to the long-awaited Messianic era.

Some folk-linguists theorize the origin of cholent is in the German schule ende, meaning "synagogue is over." More likely, however, cholent takes its name from its most essential religious calling card: It is hot, on a day when hot foods are at a premium. Caliente in Latin, to chaud in French, to cholent in Yiddish, the mother tongue of Eastern European Jews.

My brethren of German extraction tend to call it schalent and use it more generically to speak of anything that is cooked for a long time in a deep dish. The Germans are especially devoted to what they call apfel schalet, conclusive proof that, along with the dirigible balloon, Brunswick stew, and the crockpot, Jews also invented deep-dish apple pie.

The magic of this savory stew engaged the hearts and minds of the most profound poets and philosophers. Heinrich Heine, who spent the better part of his life vacilating ambivalently between Judaism and Christianity, maintained that cholent should become the secret weapon in Christendom's arsenal to make their conversionary efforts toward the Jews more effective. He went so far as to pen a parody to Schiller's "Ode to Joy," in which he extols cholent as "kosher ambrosia, spark struck from G-d." His colleague, Moritz Sappir, who did actually embrace Christianity, nonetheless wrote an entire treatise on the glories of cholent.

Theologians have propounded that one's ability to awaken after Saturday afternoon's cholent-induced coma is definitive proof of the doctrine of resurrection.

My own encounters with cholent have been less philosophically sublime, but no less passionate. As a young yeshiva bochur, I routinely risked a month of in-house suspension just to steal down to the dormitory kitchen late Friday night and surreptitiously skim off the crusty goodies that were forming on top of the cholent destined for Saturday's lunch.

My grandmother, who otherwise shunned the deeper theology of Judaism, indulged my cholent fixation by nestling gefilte helzel atop the bubbling cholent. Gefilte helzel: skin of the chicken neck, stuffed with a mixture of matzo meal and cornflake crumbs, sewn shut meticulously as only a woman from the garment trade could, so as to resemble a miniature football.

Not inclined toward needle and thread, I replace gefilte helzel with a dumpling-like mixture of matzo meal, cornflake crumbs, oatmeal and Grape Nuts, which my mother remembers being called a jakoi, presumably a Slavonic word meaning "rest-in-belly-like-cannon-ball."

The following is my favorite (only!) cholent recipe. I give no proportions, because cholent must of necessity be an uncharted adventure. Tinker with it until it touches your ethnic core. Definitive research by Yeshiva University has concluded that cholent served occasions other than Saturday afternoon descends to the taste of, G-d of Abraham forgive us, cassoulet.

  • Cholent ala Wilson

  • Mixture of beans (navy, pinto, lima, kidney, and/or great northern)

  • (At least) 8 ounces of barley

  • Sizable chunks of short ribs, brisket, and/or chuck

  • Handsful of chopped onions

  • Chunks of potato, peeled

  • Salt, pepper, paprika

  • Lots of garlic, preferably fresh crushed

Layer bottom of heavy Dutch oven or crockpot with chopped onions and garlic. Add meat. Season. More onions and garlic. Add barley and beans. Season again. More onions and garlic. Add potato chunks. Season again. Sprinkle liberally with paprika. Cover with water 'til the tips of the potatoes peek out like the crest of Ararat above Noah's flood. Cover with heavy lid and cook at 225 degrees from Friday afternoon[1] 'til after synagogue Saturday noon. Don't peek!

Eat. Enjoy. Remember the most fitting epitaph for a hearty Sabbath dinner of cholent, first spoken by the brother of my grandfather's second wife: "That was delicious. Would anyone care for a Tums?"

Marc Wilson is a rabbi, syndicated columnist and organizational design consultant in Greenville, SC. A collection of his essays may be found at, and he may be reached at



  1. (Back to text) Note: To conform with Jewish law, cholent must be partially cooked before Shabbat begins. Consult your rabbi for details.

What's New

Faige Finds the Way

In this newest release from HaChai Publishing, 11-year-old Faiga lives with her family on a small farm on the outskirts of Kiev. They certainly aren't rich, but Papa has always been able to give charity and provide his family with all their holiday. But this year, money is tight and things look grim. Faiga is so anxious to help her family. But just what can a young girl do on her own? This historical fiction story gives the reader a glimpse into the daily life of a family in Eastern Europe in the early 1800s. Designed for the newly independent reader, this "fun to read" book is written by Batsheva Brandeis and illustrated by Alexander Levitas.

The Rebbe Writes

3 Menachem Av, 5714 [1954]

Greetings and Blessings!

This letter is a response to the undated letter in which you write that though you[] are pleased that you moved to ..., at the moment your salary does not quite suffice to meet your needs, and this is affecting your mood.

This is most surprising. After having palpably witnessed G-d's kindness toward you, do you really not have enough faith in His absolutely certain ability to guide you with His acts of loving-kindness in the future, too, and to free you from your straits? And even if, for reasons not understood by us, this is delayed, it is only the Creator of the universe, Who knows the future and Who knows what is truly good, that is able to decide in what manner - the manner that is best for a man and his household - He should bring them to their true happiness both materially and spiritually.

If the above applies even with regard to people whose present situation is less positive than it was previously, and also less positive by comparison with their environment and their acquaintances, how much more obviously does it apply with regard to people whose situation has improved from what it was. And in these difficult months, your situation is certainly better than that of quite a number of people around you, who nevertheless are not despairing, G-d forbid. Most certainly, therefore, neither you nor your wife ought to be dispirited or saddened, G-d forbid. We have seen it proved in practice that the greater a man's trust, and the more he looks toward his future with joy, the faster do these things materialize on a practical level.

I hope that you will soon gladden me with good news concerning all of the above, both in relation to yourself and in relation to your wife.

With blessings,

12 Menachem Av, 5714 [1954]

Greetings and Blessings!

In response to your letter dated Wednesday of the week of the Torah portion of Matos, in which you write that the state of your livelihood is not as it ought to be and that you have many debts, etc. etc.:

The end of your letter, about your lack of joy, contradicts the beginning of your letter that describes what you have been through. To use your words: by means of miracles, literally, you remained among the surviving refugees and built a family, and so on.

Make yourself a calculation. If G-d was able to save you from the events of past years and enabled you to succeed in building a Jewish home based on the foundations of the Torah and the mitzvos [commandments], how much more certainly can He, Who "provides nourishment and sustenance for all," see to your livelihood and that of your family.

This depends only on bitachon [trust] and on the mitzvah of tzedakah [charity], for vis-a-vis Heaven, perfect trust - that G-d will provide for your needs and the needs of your household - is effective. This is particularly so when this trust is accompanied by contributing to tzedakah. For concerning tzedakah it is written, "Put Me to the test, please, in this," in fulfillment of the teaching, "Tithe in order that you grow rich."

May G-d enable you to give good tidings concerning all the above...

29 Kislev, 5720 [1959]

Blessings and Greetings!

...As we heard from my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe, when a soldier sets out to the battlefield, he strides forth to the joyful rhythm of a triumphal march. This makes it possible for the victory to be greater and speedier.

The same applies to the subject mentioned above. If you, and all those who are active together with you, step out with a joyful certainty that your efforts will be victorious, that victory will be easier, sooner, and greater....

Above all, one must strengthen one's trust - that Chassidus will hold its ground everywhere, including [your hometown]. Accordingly, happy is your lot that you are involved in this task, a task that should be carried out "with joy and with a gladsome heart," in the spirit that our forebears, the Rebbeim, expect of every individual.

With blessings for good news in all the above,


Why do we kindle the Shabbat candles first and then shield their light with our hands while reciting the blessing?

Many authorities consider that the blessing over the candles is also the acceptance of Shabbat. Therefore, the normal sequence of first reciting the blessing and then performing the mitzvah would result here in the impermissible lighting of the candies on Shabbat. Thus we cover the light immediately after the kindling so that we will not enjoy it until after the blessing has been made.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming Thursday, the ninth of Adar, is the anniversary of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe's arrival in the United States.

In honor of this occasion, I would like to share with you an explanation of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, on a point from this week's Torah portion.

In this week's portion, we read the verse, "Make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell within them." Why does G-d say He will dwell in "them" and not in "it"? Within them, as explained by Chasidic literature, means within every Jew. For, within the soul of every Jew is a place devoted and dedicated to G-dliness.

The Previous Rebbe explained: The site of the sanctuary remains sacred, even in times of exile and desolation. The Midrash says that the Divine Presence never departs from the Western Wall. The destruction of the Temple is limited to its building alone. This is true, too, of the personal sanctuary within every Jew. For, the foundation of every Jew is whole. Every form of spiritual desolation found in the Jewish people is only in those aspects of a person analogous to the part of the building above the foundation. The foundation of the individual sanctuary, however, remains in its holy state.

Expanding on this idea, the Rebbe spoke on numerous occasions about the need to turn our homes into mini-sanctuaries. This is accomplished by turning our homes into sanctuaries for Torah study, charity, and prayer. In addition, we would do well to fill the house with true Jewish furnishings - Jewish books and a charity box attached to a wall so that it becomes part of the actual structure.

Each family member, including children of all ages, can also participate by making their own rooms into mini-sanctuaries. Torah study, prayer, and charity can all be practiced in the mini-sanctuary, as well as other mitzvot.

Within every Jew, within each Jewish home, is that spark of G-dliness that remains totally indestructible. It is the sanctuary that G-d commanded us to make in this week's Torah portion. May we all merit to beautify and enhance our own personal sanctuary.

Thoughts that Count

From the cover (itself) shall you make the cherubim (Ex. 25:19)

The cherubim were made with the faces of small children, one a boy and one a girl. From this we learn that providing the proper Jewish education for even our tiny children is a basic principle necessary for our keeping the Torah.

(Rabbi Yosef Ber of Brisk)

Within and without shall you overlay it (Ex. 25:11)

A true Torah scholar is one whose "inside" matches his "outside." Merely learning the lofty principles contained in the Torah is not enough - its lessons must also be internalized. That is why we say in Psalms (45:14), "All the glory of the king's daughter is within." The splendor and glory of the Torah is the internal purity it leads to.

(Kiflayim L'Toshiya)

The menora shall be made (Ex. 25:31)

Rashi explains that the words "shall be made" are passive, indicating that the menora would be made by itself, and not by Moses, who was in the midst of receiving instructions from G-d how to fashion all the other utensils to be used in the Sanctuary. Rashi states that Moses did not fully understand how the menora was to be formed, so G-d told him to throw the gold into the fire, and He would make the menora Himself. Why was Moses so perplexed by the menora, but not by any other command even more complex? Our Sages said that the purpose of the menora was to serve as a testimony to all who saw it that the Divine Presence rested among the Jewish People. Moses, for his part, had difficulty understanding how it was possible for one small menorah to light up the entire physical world. G-d answered him: "You are right - this is beyond the power of mere flesh and blood. Therefore, throw the gold into the fire and I Myself will make the menora."

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Of a talent of pure gold shall it be made (Ex. 25:39)

Man's purpose in life is to illuminate his surroundings with the light of Torah and mitzvot. This responsibility holds true no matter what the individual's circumstances or mood may be. The numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word for talent, "kikar," is 140 - the same as the numerical equivalent of "mar" (bitter), and "ram" (lofty). No matter what our situation, our task remains the same.

(The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe)

It Once Happened

In the vicinity of Lizensk in Galacia lived a number of Jews who made their living from orchards, taverns and inns that they rented from the local Polish Squire.

Every year, when the Jews came to renew their leases, the Squire demanded higher rents. But the poor Jews pleaded with him and the Squire would soften. Some times he even reduced the rent and gave them more time to pay their debts.

Each time this happened, the Squire felt miserable. Why was he such a softie when it came to the Jews? He decided to ask the priest. The priest told him: "It is because of the Rebbe, Rabbi Elimelech. The Jews always go to him before they are to appear before you and ask him to pray for them." The priest explained that this was why even the stony heart of the Squire melted like wax in his dealings with the Jews. "The only thing to do, " the priest told the Squire, "is to banish Rabbi Elimelech from Lizensk. The Jews will no longer be able to turn to him for help and you will be free to do as your heart desires."

The Squire liked this advice and sent word to Rabbi Elimelech that he must be out of the province in 30 days. The Squire was very pleased with himself and celebrated by going on a wild boar hunt in his forests. For hours, he and his entourage rode deeper into the forest.

When the Squire grew tired, he stopped at a river, threw off his clothes and plunged into the cool, refreshing water. Upon reaching the other side, he lay down and fell asleep in the warm sun. When he woke up, he swam back. But, when he reached the shore he saw that his servants and horses were nowhere to be found. Even his clothes were gone.

The Squire had no choice but to make his way back to his castle on foot. It wasn't until he reached a small hamlet and the children stood laughing at him that he realized his true predicament. No one would believe that he was the squire. Why, he was only wearing his undergarments, he wasn't even wearing any clothes! Someone had pity on him and gave him some old rough clothing. He walked and begged his way back to Lizensk.

The Squire arrived on Sunday and went immediately to the church. There, he was amazed to see that one of his servants had put on his clothes that had been by the river, and was now pretending to be the Squire.

Suddenly, the Squire remembered that his trouble started right after he had ordered the holy Rebbe out of his town. He decided to go to the Rebbe and ask for forgiveness. He vowed that he would always be good to the Jews if the Rebbe would restore him to his former state.

After the Squire finished telling the Rebbe what had transpired, the Rebbe took out a large amount of money and handed it to the Squire.

"I'm loaning you this money. Go to your Jewish tailor who made your Sunday clothes and have him make an exact copy by next Sunday. Next Sunday, you will walk over to your coach, which waits behind the church, and drive back to your castle. After that, you will know what to do," Rabbi Elimelech told the Squire. The Squire did exactly as the Rebbe advised. When the imposter arrived on foot at the mansion, puzzled why the coachman had not waited for him, the real Squire had him seized and punished.

Now, the Squire was once again the old squire. But, having lived through the experiences of the past few days, he was not his old self anymore. After experiencing the pain of hunger, ridicule and helplessness, he could better understand his Jewish subjects. He became very friendly toward them, and especially their saintly Rebbe.

From Talks and Tales.

Moshiach Matters

An aerial view of a Jewish cemetery often discloses that the plots are arranged in such a way that the foot of each grave is directed towards the Holy Land; within the Holy Land, towards Jerusalem; within Jerusalem, such as on the ancient Mount of Olives, towards the Temple Mount - so that the body of every departed Jew is laid to rest "as if ready to arise and go up to Jerusalem" with the Resurrection of the Dead in the Messianic Era. (In some cemeteries, for the same reason, the custom is that the foot of each grave is directed toward the [path leading to the] gate through which one leaves.)

(Gesher HaChaim)

  909: Mishpatim911: Tetzaveh  
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