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Devarim Deutronomy

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   921: Bamidbar

922: Shavuos

923: Nasso

924: Beha'aloscha

925: Sh'lach

926: Korach

927: Chukas-Balak

928: Pinchas

929: Matos-Masei

Devarim Deutronomy

June 1, 2006 - 5 Sivan, 5766

922: Shavuos

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Published and copyright © by Lubavitch Youth Organization - Brooklyn, NY
The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  921: Bamidbar923: Nasso  

Youth!  |  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


The Midrash relates that before G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people, He asked for guarantors. The nation offered several options - the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and the other prophets, but G-d rejected them all. The people then volunteered: "Our children will be our guarantors."

G-d agreed and gave the Torah.

On one hand, the concept is obvious. If you want an idea or a practice to be perpetuated, you must involve youth. Perhaps the point of the Midrash then is the nature of the involvement asked of our children. A lot of times people say, "I will show my children an approach. I'm sure that they'll appreciate that it's good. But I won't force them. I'll let them make up their own minds."

Judaism takes a much different tact. Before the Jews received the Torah at Mount Sinai, they told G-d: "We will do and we will listen," making a commitment to observe the Torah, before they knew what G-d was commanding them.

This practice is mirrored in the way we train our children to approach the Torah. The first thing is actual deed. They observe the mitzvot (commandments) without understanding their rationale. Instead, they grow up practicing them as an integral part of their existence. They do not see Judaism as merely a set of beliefs whose value they comprehend, but a fully integrated way of life that encompasses every dimension of their existence.

"Brainwashing," someone might protest. "Denying the children free choice."

But it is not. Our children will always have a choice. They grow up in a world where material things are openly evident to all of us, and the existence of spiritual truth is only in books. Is there any question that they will hear the other side?

And raising them without a thorough involvement in Judaism as a way of life is also a message. It teaches them that Judaism is secondary, perhaps a nice pastime, but not one of the fundamental elements of life. What kind of choice does that leave the child?

Shavuot is the anniversary of the giving of the Torah, an appropriate time for each of us to renew and deepen our connection with it. The Lubavitcher Rebbe instituted the custom of recreating the Sinai experience by having all Jews - men, woman, children, even infants - gather in the synagogue to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments on the first day of Shavuot.

Following that custom brings home the above concepts. For whether or not they understand the reading, everyone attending will appreciate that it is special. A child will know that even if he did not comprehend the reading, he did establish a bond with the Torah.

And the truth is that the adults should take precisely that message home. For the truth of the Torah is G-dly, beyond human conception. No matter how much we do understand, there is always infinitely more which is beyond our understanding.

From Keeping in Touch by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos in English.

Living with the Rebbe

The preparations for receiving the Torah, and the "receptacle" for it, are peace and unity, as our Sages explain in the Mechilta in reference to the words "And Israel encamped there facing the mountain" (Ex. 19:2) - in the singular, as one man, i.e., "all Israel, like one man, with one heart."

The Midrash expresses the same thought in this way: "The Holy One, blessed be He, wished to give the Torah to the Jewish people immediately upon leaving Egypt, but they were divided and lacked unity. When they came to Sinai, they were all united into one unity. Said G-d, 'The Torah is all peace; I shall give it to the peace-loving nation.'"

Such peace and unity must be directed toward the purpose of Torah and mitzvot (commandments), as indicated in the words of the Torah quoted above: "And Israel encamped there facing the mountain."

Unity and peace are powerful enough, even where misused in the quest of unworthy objectives, as was the case with the Tower of Babel episode. However, such unity cannot be long-lived, and this is not the way to bring G-d's blessings. But in the case of the Torah - G-d's Torah, and mitzvot - G-d's mitzvot - peace and unity are the means by which to attain unity with G-d; such unity can be attained only through the Torah and mitzvot. This feeling of unity must express itself in mutual love and in efforts to unite with the rest of our people through the study of our one Torah and the observance of its precepts.

During the forthcoming days, until the Festival of Shavuot, every one of us should explain to those whom we can influence, that it is the duty of every Jewish man, woman and child to practice ahavat Yisrael - loving your fellow Jew - especially at this time, over and above the duty to practice it daily.

It is necessary to explain further that ahavat Yisrael is the preparation for the Giving and Receiving of the Torah and to disseminate and explain the words of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad, that "Love your fellow as yourself" is a receptacle for "You shall love G-d your G-d."

Thus, love of G-d, love of the Torah and love of the Jewish people all become one.

The Maggid of Mezritch, explained the words of the Mishna: "Know, what is above - (from) you," to the effect that everything coming from Above is dependent on you, and each good deed may tip the scale.

This is especially so in the case of a good deed done in the cause of peace and ahavat Yisrael, which the Baal Shem Tov made an integral part of the foundation of Chasidut, since in this way, the individual Jew becomes united with all the people of Israel.

This, then, is the true preparation for receiving the Torah; for the Torah was given for the purpose of bringing peace into the world - the big world, and the small world (i.e., man), bringing peace and unity between man and his Maker.

Let every one, and especially those who speak publicly, disseminate these thoughts far and wide.

In this way may we be certain that all of us, in the midst of all our people, will merit - in the words of my father-in-law of saintly memory - to receive the Torah "inwardly and with joy."

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A Slice of Life

The Best Birthday Present
by Rabbi Eli Hecht

I had just gotten off the phone with my sister Estie in Brooklyn, New York. She told me it was time to visit my father who has been living by himself since my mother's passing a year and a half ago. My father was not feeling well.

My sister had told me, "Your father is sick and we are all overwhelmed and there are no children or grandchildren available to help."

Just the thought of a trip to New York filled me with concern. My last few trips to New York from my home in California had been due to unpleasant circumstances; the funeral of my mother, followed by a second trip for the unveiling. A year later I was back for my mother's first yahrzeit. So you can imagine why I was approaching a trip east with trepidation.

Also, to be honest, I was not looking forward to celebrating my birthday by visiting an ailing parent. But, sometimes we are not given choices and I was resigned myself to having a quiet birthday.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I recognized that there was no bigger or better mitzva than to spend a few days with my father who has spent his entire life caring about everyone else. "I can have the first good deed of of my personal new year be to perform the great mitzva of the Ten Commandments: Honoring your Father and Mother." I told myself.

I called Estie back and told her that I would be very pleased to fly to New York and help care for our beloved father.

I quickly bought the last seat on Jet Blue from Long Beach, California. I told my guests that were coming for Shabbos that they could have the house to themselves and could even invite some guests of their own. Being blessed with a wonderful Chabad staff I knew my community was in good hands.

Before leaving home, there was one more thing I had to do. On my computer I keep a list of many members of our community. I have their names, their children's names, and mother's names. Over 100 names are on the list. I quickly printed out the list and took it with me. Why? The first thing many a chasid does when travelling to New York is to visit the resting place of the holy Lubavitcher Rebbe at the "Ohel." Whenever I go to New York I bring this list with me to the Ohel. I pray to G-d on behalf of our community members and I ask the Rebbe to intercede for them in the heavenly realms.

I went straight from the airport to the Ohel. After the prayers at the Ohel I went on to Brooklyn to visit my father. I called my sister from my father's apartment and told her, "I'm here and I will be here for the next four days to help." And so it was.

The next four days were busy. The first day was filled with hot tea, and more hot tea. I needed to remember the pills and the cough medicine. I made supper, then filled up the vapor machine and offered my father more hot tea. I washed the dishes, adjusted the heat, answered the phone. I still had to deal with the shopping and then the doctors' appointments. Wow, my sisters have been doing all of this for weeks!

By the second day of my visit, my father felt well enough to shed his pajamas and robe and to get dressed. I made him his favorite French toast and we had a father and son breakfast. (The next morning it was bulls eye eggs, something I hadn't made in 30 years.) Then more hot tea and pills, a doctor visit, and dishes to wash.

Suddenly my father remembered that he had a "Dvar Torah" (Torah thought) to write and we entered into a two and half hour discussion on Torah. Book after book was pulled off the shelves. I marvelled at how much better he was doing, though still recovering from being sick.

On my birthday, after a long day of tea, medicine, phone calls, and errands, I thought to myself, "It's my birthday, and how lucky I am to have this mitzva of caring for my father on this special day."

Before we knew it, it was Shabbos and my son Zalman joined us. Around the Shabbos table there were songs, a few "l'chaims," stories, and Torah thoughts. Suddenly my father was back to himself.

After Shabbos my father said the words that I had so hoped to hear: "Eli, I am feeling better." My four-day visit was coming to a close and I would soon be on a flight back to California. But I was sure that when I looked back on this visit it would be with joy and happiness that I had been able to fulfill the mitzva of honoring my father.

Since returning home, I have thought about the trip a number of times. I realized that many of us only remember to visit parents when there is sickness or sad times. Wistfully I wished I could be geographically closer so that I would be there for the good times, as well. Then I came to the conclusion that one doesn't have to "wish," one just needs to do it.

The mitzva of honoring one's parents is one of the few commandments in the Torah whose reward is explicitly stated: one's own life is lengthened. Thanks, Dad, for giving me the chance to perform this great mitzva.

Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice-president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita, CA, which houses a synagogue, day school, nursery school and chaplaincy programs.

What's New

New Emissaries

Rabbi Avi and Dena Rabin have recently moved to Southern California to open a new Chabad House in West Hills, in the San Fernando Valley. Rabbi Yossi and Tzivi Kivman will be moving to Mansfield, Massachusetts, where they will establish a new Chabad House serving the needs of the Jewish residents in the greater Mansfield - Attleboro area.

Building Wins Award

The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce chose the Tzivos Hashem Jewish Children's Museum on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn as one of its winners in the Building Awards Competition. The award noted that the museum is "an interactive, multi-media repository of cultural narratives and artifacts, as well as an urban community center that will encourage an understanding of Jewish history and culture through collective instruction and interaction."

The Rebbe Writes

28 Iyar, 5703 [1943]

Greetings and blessings,

...The holiday is called Shavuos, which means "weeks," recalling the verse: "And you shall count seven weeks for yourselves." The day of the holiday itself is not counted. Nevertheless, all the days leading up to the holiday must be counted; only then is the holiday celebrated.

This is one of the differences between Shavuos and the other pilgrimage holidays. The Torah associates Passover and Sukkos with a specific date. With regard to Shavuos, in contrast, the Torah merely states that it is to be celebrated on the fiftieth day after we begin counting (see Rosh HaShanah 6b).

What is the lesson we can derive from this?

Shavuos is the holiday commemorating G-d's giving us the Torah. Before the giving of the Torah, the Jewish people also studied the Torah. Our Sages (Yoma 28b) relate: "Abraham - the first Jew - was an elder, sitting in a yeshivah." This pattern continued in subsequent generations. At that time, however, the Jews were not commanded to study; they were acting on their own initiative, with their own powers. Since they were not commanded to study, they were able to proceed only as far as possible according to their own potential. Even those who had greater powers and were able to advance higher and higher, were nevertheless limited in their degree of progress. For every created being is limited.

When, however, G-d gave the Torah, He said (Shmos Rabbah, ch. 12): "The lower realms shall ascend to the higher realms, and the higher realms shall ascend to the lower realms. And I will begin." Through taking this initiative, He invested His own self in the Torah which He gave (Shmos Rabbah, ch. 33), and this granted the Jewish people the potential to ascend higher and higher without limitation.

Afterwards, from the giving of the Torah onward, this potential was granted to everyone, whether a small child or a man of developed intellect. For every Jew has a portion in the Torah.

For this reason, the event is called "The giving of the Torah," like the giving of a present. For one can only receive the Torah - and more specifically, the "light of the Torah" - as a present; it cannot be earned through one's own powers.

On this basis, we can appreciate why when Moses our teacher was on Mount Sinai, he would study the Torah and forget. He finally said: "I don't know anything," and then G-d gave him the Torah as a present (Shmos Rabbah, ch. 41). Now we know that throughout our ancestors' days in Egypt, the existence of a yeshivah did not cease; while they were in Egypt, there was a yeshivah with them, as indicated by the verse: "Go and collect...." Thus Moshe had studied Torah for several decades and nevertheless, the giving of the Torah represented a new plateau which he could not reach with his own power.

Although the Torah could not be earned, a present is not given to everyone. One must be worthy, as our Sages say: "If he had not generated pleasure for him, he would not have given him a present."

What did the Jews do to earn the gift of the Torah?

  1. They possessed the merit of the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos by their ancestors. For it was in the merit of the Patriarchs that the Torah was given (Shmos Rabbah, ch. 28).

  2. The Jews had also prepared themselves by leaving Egypt, "the nakedness of the land," and counting the days until they would receive the Torah, preparing themselves for this (the Midrash).

We must remember this at all times. We must remember that when we study the Torah, we are studying G-d's Torah. Therefore, a blessing must be recited before studying the Torah, declaring "Blessed are You G-d, who gives the Torah," using the present tense. For G-d is giving us the Torah as a present now, at this moment, just like He gave it at Mount Sinai.

Therefore we must approach the Torah with reverence, as our Sages commented (Berachos 22a): "Just as at Sinai, there was awe, fear, and trembling..., so too, at present, there must be awe, fear, and trembling...." A person's fear of sin must precede his wisdom, for then "his wisdom will be perpetuated" (Avos 3:9).

We must work hard and generate light so that a person will attain all the 49 Gates of Understanding that he can acquire with his own strength. Through this he will merit to "Count 50 days," i.e., be granted a revelation of the Divine potential which surpasses his understanding. When he studies the Torah, "G-d will be with him," "the halachah (Jewish Law) will follow his view at all times (Sanhedrin 93b). When he studies, he will appreciate the Torah's inner truth, and will be granted very sublime spiritual] lights to advance his Divine service and knowledge of G-d.

I wish you success in all your efforts, and bless you to receive the Torah with joy and inner feeling; "Immediately to teshuvah, immediately to Redemption,"

From I Will Write it In Their Hearts, translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger, published by Sichos in English


Why do we eat dairy products, like blintzes, on Shavuos?

Until the Torah was given, the Jews were permitted to eat non-kosher meat. After the giving of the Torah, the Jews received the laws of kashrus and they were therefore not permitted to use any of their cooking utensils. They ate dairy food which needed no preparation. Another explanation is that Moses, as a baby, was drawn out of the water on the sixth of Sivan (Shavuos) and refused to be nursed by anyone but a Jewish woman. Also, milk is one of the main parts of an infant's diet. By eating milk products we intimate that no matter how much one has studied the Torah, he is like an infant who has not even begun to fathom its depth.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

The Holiday of Shavuot is a special day for numerous reasons. It is the day on which the Jews stood before Mount Sinai, unified as one people, to receive the holy Torah. It is also the holiday on which the first fruits were brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem; thousands of pilgrims descended on Jerusalem for that special event.

On a more individual level, Shavuot is the yahrtzeit of the Baal Shem Tov - founder of the Chasidic movement, and King David - one of the greatest Kings of Israel and author of the Psalms.

What more appropriate time is there, then, to rededicate ourselves to the study of the Torah and the observance of its precepts. As individuals, we can use as our role models the saintly Baal Shem Tov and King David.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that the sincere feelings with which the simple, unlearned Jew performed the mitzvot was of great worth to G-d. In rededicating ourselves to Torah, we needn't be concerned that we are unlearned or might have to start at the beginning with the alef-bet. Doing it with a whole heart is what matters.

King David, too, was involved with the emotions of the heart. Countless people have been uplifted by his beautiful, poetic Psalms. The words of the Psalms, in fact, were so comforting and soothing that they became the beacon of light for Jews throughout the ages during times of trouble or difficulty.

As individuals, and as a unified Jewish nation, let us rededicate ourselves to Torah this Shavuot - Torah study, Torah precepts, Torah ethics.

Thoughts that Count


Shavuot comes from the word shvua - oath. On the day that the Torah was given, both G-d and the Jewish people made a mutual vow to each other. We swore to G-d that we would never exchange Him for another god and He swore to us that He will never exchange us for another nation.

(Or Hachaim Hakodesh)

Why is festival of Shavuot called "the time of the giving of our Torah" and not "the time of the receiving of our Torah"?

The Torah was given several thousand years ago on a specific date, the 6th day of the month of Sivan. But the time of our receiving the Torah is every day. Each day a Jew receives the Torah anew.

(Chidushei HaRim)

The words of Torah are likened to water, and indeed there are many similarities:

  1. Water naturally flows from a higher place to a lower place. So, too, words of Torah flow from a person who is on a high level and is understood by someone on a lower level

  2. Water does not keep well in a container of gold or silver, but rather a simple earthen container holds it best. Similarly, Torah cannot exist in a haughty person; the person must make himself into an "earthen vessel," humble and modest.

  3. Water comes down drop-by-drop in the rain, gathers together and forms rivulets. Torah, too, is studied little-by-little, until a person becomes a deep repository of Torah knowledge.

The holiday of Shavuot has four names, one of which is "Chag HaShavuot" - commonly translated as "The Festival of Weeks." Shavuot also means "oaths"; at the Giving of the Torah, G-d promised that he would never choose another nation over the Jewish people and the Jewish people swore their belief in G-d.

"I am the L-rd your G-d."

Why did G-d use the singular form when giving the Ten Commandments to millions of people? To teach us that each and every Jew must say to himself, "The Ten Commandments were given to me, and I must keep them." One should not think it is sufficient that the Torah is kept by others.


It Once Happened

Matzliach "the Antique Dealer," as he was known, lived long ago in Tunisia. He was a great lover of Torah, though not an outstanding scholar. And, though he was not very rich, he gave charity generously.

He was particularly known in the Jewish community for his special custom in connection with Shavuot, the festival of the Giving of the Torah. Every year he invited ten scholars to his home on the first night of Shavuot. He prepared a fine feast for them, and after the meal they would recite the special "Tikun" prayers and study Torah the entire night.

Matzliach started this tradition when, years earlier, he learned of the custom to stay awake on the first night of Shavuot. At the time, he was greatly surprised to hear that the night before G-d was to give the Torah to the Jews at Mount Sinai, they did not stay awake! Indeed, they slept soundly, so that when G-d descended on the mountain early in the morning, His chosen people were not there! It wasn't that the people were not eager to receive the Torah, but rather that they wanted to be well rested and refreshed for the great moment of Divine Revelation.

And so it became the custom of Jews everywhere to make up for this by staying awake the night of Shavuot, in this way "correcting" what had happened. In fact, this is what "Tikun" means - correction.

One year when Shavuot approached, Matzliach found himself in a difficult situation. Business hadn't been good and not only didn't he have money for his usual feast, but he didn't even have the funds for food and wine for the holiday. Sadly he told his wife Mazal about his predicament.

"I still have my precious earrings," Mazal said, taking them off and giving them to him. "Take them to the pawnbroker to get a loan until things improve."

Matzliach took the earrings to the pawnbroker and received a tidy sum.

As he was walking home, Matzliach met the chief rabbi of Tunisia, Rabbi Hai Tayeb.

"You saved me a trip," the Rabbi said. "I'm going around collecting for our poor, so they can celebrate Shavuot with joy."

Without hesitation, Matzliach gave the Rabbi the money he had just received from the pawnbroker.

On his way home, as Matzliach wondered what he would tell his wife, he heard his name called.

"His Majesty sent me out to buy a set of antique coffee-cups. I have no idea where to get them," said one of the servants of the ruler. "But you are an antique dealer. Get them for me, and you will be amply rewarded."

"I will try my best," Matzliach promised. The dealer he went to had such a set and was happy to sell them off cheaply to Matzliach.

Matzliach went to the Royal court and was introduced to the King. "Just what I wanted," he said. Then he asked how much he owed for the cups.

After hearing the price, the surprised king asked, "That's all you paid for these precious cups? The ruler of Tunisia is not looking for bargains. You shall be paid their full value!"

Matzliach left the king's palace with a large sum of money. Walking home, he met the Chief Rabbi again.

"I can now afford to double my donation," Matzliach said happily.

"Thank G-d, we both did well today," the Rabbi said. "Have a happy Shavuot."

Indeed, it was a happy holiday for Matzliach and his wife Mazal. And what made them happiest was that this year, too, they could observe their custom of celebrating Tikun-night as before.

Moshiach Matters

At Mount Sinai, we consecrated ourselves to G-d as His bride, the first stage of our marriage. Our bond with Him will be complete only in the era of Moshiach, at which time G-d and Israel will unite completely. For 33 centuries, we have been creating the "space" of our marriage with G-d and zealously defending its borders. We have remained faithful to Him in the face of all the cultures and "isms" that have sought to seduce us. We have established our identity as His people, consecrated to Him alone. Now we are ready for the real thing - for an actual experience of the divine as the most intimate truth of our lives.

(From The Week in Review by Rabbi Yanki Tauber)

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