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Devarim Deutronomy

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Bamidbar Numbers

Devarim Deutronomy

May 19, 2006 - 21 Iyyar, 5766

920: Behar-Bechukosai

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

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  919: Emor921: Bamidbar  

How We Learn  |  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

How We Learn

Learning takes place in three stages: Emptying the vessel, Becoming a vessel, and Filling a vessel.

Emptying the Vessel: Before we can learn, we have to empty our minds of preconceptions, ideas, thoughts - any knowledge we had before we came to the class. Even responses and questions have to be removed. In short, we must have room in our minds to receive. To the extent that we have thoughts, of our own or from previous lessons, to that extent we cannot receive what the teacher wishes to give us in this lesson.

(In this regard, it is said of Rabbi Zera that he fasted a hundred fasts so he could "forget" the Babylonian Talmud, in order to learn the Jerusalem Talmud.)

So to learn, we must come with an open, or empty, mind. And sometimes that means we must first unlearn ideas or "facts."

Becoming a vessel: The first stage by its nature is passive. It requires a negation of the self, a removal of the ego. Yet if all we do is listen and receive, we haven't really absorbed the lesson, made it our own. The next stage, then, requires us to work with the material, question it, argue about it, struggle with it. In this stage, we must use our intellect; we must activate and engage our ego.

Filling the vessel: The final stage of learning occurs when the student reaches the level of the teacher, when the student understands not in digest or summary or by allusion, but grasps the full implications of an idea. The student that comprehends the concepts in depth, and even more so, the student that can provide his own insights, that student has become an equal with the teacher. In order to do so, however, the student must extend himself, transcend his intellectual limitations and, in a manner of speaking, exceed himself.

If learning in general follows this three-stage process, then all the more so does this procedure apply when the subject matter to be acquired is the G-dly knowledge contained in our holy Torah.

First, we must nullify ourselves, put aside our conceptions - or pre-conceptions - of what Torah is or what Torah requires. As we declared at Sinai, "we will do and we will learn" - first, like a servant, we follow the instructions, not because we understand or agree with them, but because that is what we must do.

Next, though, we must struggle to comprehend, to understand, to possess Torah on a personal, intellectual basis. But if we stop there, our understanding of Torah risks becoming measured by and limited to our own intellectual capacity.

Our human minds, even of the greatest among us, cannot contain Torah. Therefore there must be another, final stage - the "quantum leap" of Divine inspiration. Through the first two stages we create the conditions for the third, a mini-revelation, so to speak a re-enactment in miniature within each Jew, of the giving of the Torah.

Living with the Rebbe

This week we read two Torah portions, Behar and Bechukotai. Behar begins with the words "G-d spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai...and the land shall keep a Shabbat - shmitta - to G-d." The commentator Rashi asks: "What does the subject of shmitta have to do with Mount Sinai? Were not all of the commandments given at Sinai?" He answers his own question: "Just as all the details and minutiae of the laws of shmitta were given at Sinai, so were all the details and specifications of the other commandments given at Sinai."

If the Torah has chosen the particular commandment of shmitta to illustrate the fact that all mitzvot and their details were given to Moses by G-d on Mount Sinai, it must be that this mitzva expresses the Jewish approach to life in general.

The mitzva of shmitta deals with the cyclical nature of the world for the Jew. On the one hand, a Jew is enjoined "six years shall you sow your field and six years shall you prune your vineyard." A Jew must conduct himself and his affairs according to the laws of nature. One must plant and toil in order to eat. A Jew is not required to sequester himself only in Torah study and prayer; on the contrary, he must fully participate in a normal lifestyle.

At the same time, the Torah commands that every seven years the Jew must abandon the land and allow it to have a Sabbath, and devote himself fully to Torah study and prayer. He then asks, "What will we eat during the seventh year, if we don't sow and reap our grain?" The Torah answers: "I will command My blessing to be on you during the sixth year, and the land will produce enough grain to last for three years." Here the Jew is being asked to rely solely on G-d for his sustenance.

At first glance the two approaches appear to be contradictory. How can we be required to conduct ourselves according to the laws of nature, and in the same breath, be asked to refrain from doing things the natural way and rely on the supernatural? But this is exactly what the Torah wants from us. We must synthesize both approaches to life. We must do everything humanly possible according to natural law, at the same time believing in the supernatural power of G-d and His ability to sustain us.

The cycle of six years of active work followed by one of rest brings this approach home to the Jew in his daily life. The six years of work emphasize the obligation we have to elevate the mundane world by imbuing it with holiness through our actions. The shmitta year allows us to recognize that despite all of man's accomplishments, we are ultimately dependent upon G-d for our well-being, and that trust in man and nature is misplaced. Once in every seven years we sever ourselves from the natural world and rely solely on G-d. A Jew draws spiritual strength from the shmitta year, rededicating ourselves to the task of ruling over the natural world and imbue it with holiness.

Similar cycles are to be found within a Jew's daily life as well. All day long a Jew works to earn a living. But he must also dedicate certain times of the day for learning and praying, thereby elevating himself from the mundane and connecting to G-d. Jews live their lives with a special combination of the natural and the supernatural.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

A Trip to the Top
by Aliza Karp

I had been staying in Hevron for a few days already. When I awoke on Friday morning, I walked over to Maarat HaMachpela (the Cave of Machpela) to daven (pray). To be standing in the burial place of our Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when reciting their names in the prayers, what can I say? - it is very uplifting!

When I finished praying I decided I would go to the Gush Etzion winery and pick up some local wines for my Shabbat in Hevron. At the winery there were a number of other English-speaking visitors and we started discussing different wines. The store tender offered us tastes of various wines. He did not, however, have an open bottle of the wine I was most interested in, made with organic grapes grown by the Ferenzi family in Bat Ayin.

I bought one bottle of that wine, but wanted to taste it to decide if I should buy more. As the other customers were also interested in tasting the wine, I decided to do a little pre-Shabbat "hospitality" and gave everyone a taste. Meanwhile, a young Israeli couple wandered in and they joined our impromptu wine-tasting party. (Does this happen anywhere other than in Israel?)

In my conversation with the young couple, Tzvike and Yehudit, I mentioned that I wanted to make a quick trip to Gva'ot Olam. I had something that I wanted to drop off there but I was worried about being back in Hevron in time for Shabbat. Tzvike and Yehudit assured me that traffic would be light on Friday afternoon. They had never been to Gva'ot Olam and said they would love to accompany me.

Gva'ot Olam, which means "Hills of the World," is the farm of Avri Ran and his family. Avri is known as the father of the outposts that surround the settlements in the Shomron (Samaria). More than ten years ago, to counter Arab aggression, Avri moved with his family outside the security fence of the Shomron community of Itamar. Other families joined him and as the outpost became established, Avri moved his family a kilometer further away from the settlement.

Avri kept moving until he reached what he has named Gva'ot Olam. It is perched at the height of a mountain overlooking miles of the ancient hills where our ancestors walked. It has a lookout instead of a security fence. The Arabs in the vicinity have respect for the Jews who do not hide behind fences.

Gva'ot Olam operates as a farm. Spread out on the hilltop are a number of barns housing sheep, goats and chickens, a building where milk products are made, a beautiful circular structure which is the communal kitchen and dining room, along with homes and a shul. In the vicinity there are fields of organic vegetables and olive and apricot groves. All the work is done by Jews, including caring for the animals, cleaning the barns, farming the land and constructing the buildings.

Much of the work is done by youth who are attracted to the farm as an alternative to the establishment in which they are uncomfortable. At Gva'ot Olam they become productive and self-confident. The youth love and revere Avri.

I had visited Gva'ot Olam with a friend a few days earlier. It was one of my first stops upon landing in Israel. During our visit, we had toured the shul and the communal dining room. Wood, stone, colorful materials and dried flowers give the spacious room a modest, rustic feeling. Near the entrance is a rack for rifles.

I had noticed a large picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe's expression was very intense. I had felt that this place should have a more benevolent picture of the Rebbe.

I left Gva'ot Olam Wednesday and had planned on spending most of Thursday in Jerusalem. I was going to be visiting with a friend whose birthday was coming up soon. I went into a bookstore to buy her a gift and right near the check out, a picture of the Rebbe caught my eye. I realized it would be perfect for the communal dining room at Gva'ot Olam. Even though I had no plans to return there, I had decided to buy it.

I had returned to Hevron Thursday night and now it was Friday afternoon and it looked like I would get the picture to Gva'ot Olam after all.

Tzvike and Yehudit were thrilled with the breathtaking scenery throughout the trip. At some point in our travels my young companions confided in me that they were considering getting engaged. While driving to the Shomron and back, we had plenty of time to discuss life.

We pulled into Gva'ot Olam and asked where to find Avri. When I presented the picture of the Rebbe to Avri, I saw that he looked straight into the Rebbe's eyes. Then he looked up and asked if the picture was for his home or the communal dining room. I said either place. I had the feeling he would have liked the picture in his home but he wanted to know my intention, so I told him. His wife Sharona came with me to place it in the communal dining room. Avri said he would hang it properly after Shabbat. (I managed to travel back to Gva'ot Olam on Sunday before leaving Israel to bring the Rans a picture of the Rebbe to hang in their home, as well.)

There was just enough time for Tzvike and Yehudit to take a quick tour. We visited the sheep barn just as a teenage girl was going into the pen and feeding the sheep. Yehudit went along and got a chance to cuddle a young lamb. As it was erev Shabbat, we left soon after.

The drive back to Hevron went smoothly. Tzvike got off in Jerusalem and Yehudit in Efrat. A little while later I was back in Hevron with an hour to spare until Shabbat.

Aliza Karp is a freelance writer living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. She has written numerous articles about Hevron and travels there as often as possible.

What's New

New Emissaries

Rabbi Yakov and Shayna Borenstein will be moving soon to Longmont in Boulder County, Colorado, where they will be opening a new Chabad-Lubavitch Center there.

Rabbi Yossi and Sara Touger will be moving to Mequon, Wisconsin, where they will establish a new adult education center.

New Center

Chabad Student Center at Columbia University, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, recently purchased a new facility. The five story building will feature student lounges, classrooms, a library, computer lab, and dining hall. Located just one block off campus and surrounded by student housing, the new center, under the directorship of Rabbi Yonah and Keren Blum, will open next fall.

The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated letters of the Rebbe

25 Shvat, 5715 [1955]

Greetings and Blessings!

This reply relates to your letter of 12 Shvat. There you write of the financial state of your family and of your difficulties in earning a living, particularly since you have to support other family members, and hence you ask whether the gates of Heaven have been closed (G-d forbid) and why the way of the worthless prospers.

There is surely no need to explain at length that the question of not only why the way of the worthless prospers, but even the way of the wicked, was already asked by Moshe Rabbeinu [Moses] (see Berachos 7a). Now, since that time a few thousand years have passed.

During this time the Jewish people have been following the path of the Torah and its commandments, and specifically for that reason our nation has survived. As it is written, "And you who cleave to the L-rd your G-d" - specifically for this reason and only for this reason - "are all alive today."

The same applies to every one of us, man or woman. If there are things that are achieved with difficulty, especially with regard to making a living, this is not (G-d forbid) because one observes the Torah and its commandments. Quite the contrary. By fortifying one's trust in G-d, Who "provides nourishment and sustenance for all," "with loving-kindness and with mercy," one lessens these difficulties, and ultimately the state of one's livelihood also improves. The spiritual remedy to secure this is likewise an increase in one's Torah study and in one's observance of the mitzvos [commandments]. As it is written, "If you walk in the ways of My statutes and observe My commandments...," then "I will grant [your rains in their season, and the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will yield their fruit]."

You no doubt know of the practice instituted by my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe - a daily reading from the Book of Tehillim [Psalms], as apportioned for the days of the month. From now on, at least, you should observe this practice, and may it be G-d's Will that this, too, will bring about a speedier improvement in your situation.

With blessing,

24 Iyar, 5715 [1955]

Greetings and Blessings!

Further to our conversation concerning a united religious front [...]:

One of the directives given by my revered father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe, concerns what the world calls optimism, and what Chassidus calls trust - trust that ultimately the true good will prevail, and not only in the distant future and for the community at large, but also for the individual and for the immediate future. [...]

The Sages teach that "a man is not be judged harshly when he is pained." Accordingly, you will no doubt not be disturbed by a few of the above expressions that are perhaps a little sharp, and let me thank you in advance if you will give me good news on the central issue.

And may G-d grant that my trust in the ultimate victory of good and truth will be vindicated - even with regard to political parties.

With respectful greetings,

Translated by Rabbi Uri Kaploun, reprinted from In Good Hands, Sichos in English


Why is a boy's hair not cut until he is three years old?

Cutting a boy's hair at three and leaving the side-curls (peyos) teaches the child the mitzvah, "You shall not round the corners of your head"-shaving the peyos or sideburns was an ancient custom among idol-worshippers. The age three specifically is related to the verse, "Man is like a tree in the field." Just as the fruits from a tree's first three years are not cut and eaten for they are holy, a boy's hair is not cut during his first three years. After his first haircut, opshernish in Yiddish, he is brought to yeshiva and formally begins his Jewish education.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

The first words of the Torah portion, Bechukotai, are, "If you will walk in my chukot - statutes..." According to Rashi, this verse refers to the study of Torah. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad Chasidism, explained that chukot is from the same root as the word for "engraving" - chakika.

Combining these two meanings for the word chukot, one arrives at an interesting discussion on Torah study. One's study of Torah should be as letters that are engraved in stone.

Letters of ink are connected and united with the paper on which they are written. This is like the level of Torah study in which the student becomes united with the Torah; his actions reflect what he has learned.

However, the letters of ink are still an entity distinct from the paper. But, letters engraved in stone have no separate existence. The letter and the stone are one. In the same way, one's study of Torah should ultimately reach the level of the engraved letter.

The summer months are approaching. Summer is a time when many people have a tendency to relax and let matters slide. It is, therefore, important for us to make Torah study a priority. And what kind of Torah study? Classes, lectures or individual, private study time which will inspire us and enable us to truly become one with the Torah, like letters engraved on stone.

Our summer, then, will be a healthy one, both in body and in spirit. And, may I venture to say, also a more enjoyable one.

Thoughts that Count

My soul shall not loathe you (Lev. 26:11)

After his first trip to the Maggid of Mezritch, Rabbi Shmelke of Nicholsberg was asked, "What did you learn there?" He answered: "Until I went to the Rebbe I used to afflict my body so that it could tolerate my soul. However, in Mezritch I learned that the soul can carry the burden of the body, and that indeed all of our spiritual work is to make the body a vessel for the light of the soul. That is why it states, 'I will set My dwelling among you, and My soul shall not loathe" - that is, G-d wants that the soul should not loathe the body."

And I, even I, will chastise you (Lev. 26:28)

When a father hits his son, he too feels the pain and suffers. That is why it states, "and I, even I, will chastise you." Even G-d suffers through the afflictions of the Jewish people.

(Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev)

And they shall stumble one over the other, as before the sword, without one pursuing (Lev. 26:37)

"One will stumble over the sin of another," comments Rashi, "as all Jews are guarantors (arevim) for each other." The Hebrew word for guarantor has the same root as the word for sweetness and pleasantness. Every Jew must look upon his brother and fellow guarantor with a kindly eye and seek what is good and worthy in his neighbor. The same Hebrew root also implies intermingling one with the other. Every Jew is part of the greater whole of the Jewish nation.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and my covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember (Lev. 26:42)

The Patriarchs are not mentioned in chronological order in this verse, but rather in the order of the attributes and eras they personified. After the Torah was given, the Jews entered the era of Torah, personified by Jacob who was the pillar of Torah. When the Holy Temple was built they entered the era of "service" and Isaac embodied the attribute of service. And these last generations of the era before Moshiach are connected to Abraham who was the epitome of loving-kindness. The Baal Shem Tov explained that now, in the final era before Moshiach, emphasis must be placed on deeds of kindness to hasten the redemption.

(Rabbi Ben Tzion of Bobov)

It Once Happened

Two Jewish businessmen settled in a remote province of Russia, far away from any of their brethren. As the years passed they prospered greatly. But, too, they started observing fewer and fewer mitzvot until they lived just like their gentile neighbors.

After some time they decided to return home. On their way back, they stopped for the night at a village in Kursk. The gentile innkeeper offered them tea and prepared a place for them to sleep. The two travelers were hungry and requested a full supper.

"But my meat isn't kosher," their host said.

"That doesn't bother us," they laughed.

"Fine," replied the innkeeper. "It will take a little while to prepare everything though."

A little later, they were shocked to see their host pointing an axe menacingly in their direction.

"Prepare to die. I am going to kill you," he screamed at them.

"What have we done wrong?" cried the shocked men.

"Don't waste your words," he told them. "I rob my rich guests." He stomped out of the room and locked the door behind him. They heard him tell his son how he was planning to dispose of them at daybreak.

There was no way out for the two men. As they looked back over the past few years of their lives they asked themselves why they had traveled so far from their homes.

The innkeeper entered the room once more. "It will soon be dawn. If you want to pray or something, I will give you a special room." With that, the innkeeper led them into another room.

As soon as they entered the room, they were filled with a profound sense of regret for their past behavior. How could they have strayed so far from the path, they asked themselves. And now, they were to die out here in this place, with no relatives around, nor any reminders of where they had come from - where they really belonged. They recalled bits and pieces of the daily prayers which had, at one time, been so much a part of their lives. Humbly, they recited the prayers confession and wept bitterly.

Some time later, the innkeeper appeared at the door. No longer was his face distorted with anger. "You are both free to go," he told them with a smile. "I never really intended to kill you, G-d forbid. Let me explain to you what this was all about.

Many years ago, a certain holy Jew passed through our village, and stayed in my inn. He took sick, and died in this very room. Before his death, he blessed me with long life and said: 'I have one request of you. Whenever Jewish travelers pass through your village, receive them cordially. But if any one of them wants to eat meat that is not kosher, threaten them harshly. They will come to repent and return to their faith through this.' The holy Jew passed away soon after that his family buried him. I locked this room up, and I never let anyone in, unless it is a Jew who wants to pray.

"So now you know why I threatened to kill you," explained the innkeeper.

The two businessmen were awestruck. They immediately began to investigate who this great rabbi was. They found out it had been Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the first Chabad Rebbe). He and his family had fled from the onslaught of Napoleon and his armies in 1812. He died in this village and was buried in Haditch.

The two men went straight to Haditch, where they poured out their hearts at the resting place of the holy rabbi. At that very spot they resolved to make a fresh start of their lives.

Moshiach Matters

With the advent of Moshiach, there will be revealed the superior quality of the traits of simplicity and wholeheartedness found in the service of simple people who pray and recite Psalms with simple sincerity

(Hayom Yom)

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