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Devarim Deutronomy

May 18, 2007 - 1 Sivan, 5767

970: Bamidbar

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

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  969: Behar-Bechukosai971: Nasso  

The First Word  |  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 First Word

by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton

Once, the chasid Reb Mendel Futerfas saw one of his friends coming out of the room in the synagogue where pages of holy books are stored until the are buried (as it is forbidden to dispose of them in a disrespectful manner). The friend had a pile of torn pages in hand.

"What are you doing with those?" asked Reb Mendel.

"I take them home and sew them together and make a book!" the friend answered. (This was during the day of Communist rule in Russia when there was a tremendous shortage of holy books).

"But what kind of book will that be?" Reb Mendel asked, "There will be no beginning and no end, just unrelated pages! How can you read a book like that?"

His friend replied simply, " There are three aspects to the Torah: studying the Torah, understanding the Torah, and the holiness of the Torah. The first two are accessed through wisdom and understanding, but the holiness of the Torah is in the letters themselves, and that's what my book will be about"

The upcoming holiday of Shavuot is one of the most important of all the Jewish Holidays. It celebrates the Giving of the Torah. Without the Torah not only would we not know the commandments, but by now there would be no Jewish people (G-d forbid).

In fact, the famous commentator Rashi (Gen. 1:31) states that if the Jews hadn't accepted the Torah on Shavuot, the whole world would have ceased to exist.

If so, Shavuot is actually the most important day in the history of the world.

Yet, if we examine what happened on the day that the Torah was given, it seems anticlimactic: The Jews did not receive the entire Torah or even most of it; they heard only ten simple commandments.

One would think that after 210 years of Egyptian slavery, mind-boggling miracles including the plagues, the splitting of the sea, manna from heaven, and more, they would get something a little more impressive or at least more mystical than ten obvious commandments, Don't kill, Don't steal, etc.; statutes which can be found in even the most primitive of cultures!

But the answer is that on that first Shavuot, G-d gave.... Himself.

The first word of the Ten Commandments sums it all up: "Anochi - I."

G-d has many names. According to Kabala each name corresponds to a different facet of G-d's infinite "personality." But the name "Anochi" ("I") is not one of them. It refers to something that is above all names or facets; it is the essence of G-d himself. And this is what the Jews received at Mount Sinai - G-d Himself.

The experience was so unique that until this day no one can even begin to understand it. In fact no religion has ever even claimed that such a thing happened to them!

With the first commandment alone, with "Anochi Hash-m Elokecha - I am the L-rd your G-d" G-d united Himself with each and every Jewish soul for all time.

"Anochi" became "Elokecha," literally "your G-d," singular.

What this means today is that when a Jew studies Torah, any aspect of the Torah, or does any mitzva (command-ment), s/he can feel that G-d is very, very close. In fact, closer than we are to our own selves.

It's called "The Jewish Feeling" or, the G-dly Soul. It's what draws people to Jewish experiences. That is what we are celebrating on Shavuot.

Rabbi Bolton is the assistant dean of Ohr Tmimim yeshiva in Israel. From

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion of Bamidbar has a particular relevance to the festival of Shavuot. We can find this connection in the opening words of the portion, where G-d commands, "Count the number of all the congregation of the Children of Israel."

Rashi comments on the command: "Because they [the Children of Israel] are dear to Him, He counts them all the time: when they went forth from Egypt He counted them; when they fell because of [the sin of] the Golden Calf, He counted them; when He was about to make His Presence dwell among them (i.e., in the Tabernacle) He counted them."

When things are counted, they stand in a relation of equality; the greatest man and the least are each counted once; no more, no less. And since, as Rashi tells us, the census was a token of G-d's love, it must have been a gesture towards that which is equal in every Jew. Not his intellect, not his moral standing, but his essence: his Jewish soul. So the point of the census was to bring the soul of each Jew into prominence, to the surface of awareness.

Rashi writes that G-d counts His people all the time; and yet, as Rashi himself points out, they were counted only three times in the first year and once the month after leaving Egypt. Then they were counted only once more during their wanderings in the wilderness, and subsequently only at very infrequent intervals (according to a Midrash, only a total of nine times until today, and the tenth time will be when Moshiach comes). But, if the point of the counting was to reveal the essence of each Jewish soul, then this revelation has a depth which places it beyond the erosion of time - it is operative, literally, all the time.

The differences between the three countings which Rashi mentions were evolutionary stages in a process of revelation. In the first, the Jewish soul was awakened by the love of G-d; in the second, it began to work its influence on the external life of the Israelites; and in the third, it finally suffused all their actions.

The first census was on the Israelites' departure from Egypt, and it aroused their spirit of self-sacrifice to the extent that they followed G-d into a barren wilderness. But it left their emotions untouched.

The second was prior to building the Tabernacle. It reached their intel-lect and emotions, because they were preparing for the work that was to bring G-d's Presence into their midst. But still the impetus came from outside: G-d's command set them to their work, not inner compunction.

But with the third census came the actual service of the Tabernacle, when the Israelites - by their own actions - brought G-d into their midst. Then all their actions were a testimony to the union of the Jewish soul with G-d.

In this way, the connection between Bamidbar and Shavuot becomes clear. When the Torah was given, Israel and G-d were united in such a way that G-d sent down His revelation from above; and the Children of Israel were themselves elevated. And we read, in preparation for our annual re-creation of the event, the portion which tells us of the third census when the two modes of revelation are brought together.

From Torah Studies by Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth Jonathan Sacks. Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

My First Yizkor
By Yosef Y. Jacobson

For the first 33 years of my life I was lucky enough to be expelled from the synagogue during yizkor services, when congregants pray for the souls of loved ones who have passed on, and those with both parents alive leave the synagogue.

I never probed the reason for this custom. As a child, even as an adult, I was happy to be legally expelled from the synagogue, to catch a fresh breath of air and enjoy a schmooz with a fellow yizkor-evacuee. As children, it often meant that my friends and I could return an hour or two later without our fathers getting angry.

All of that has changed for me now. My father, a pioneer of the Yiddish press in America, died at 70. Two weeks later came the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, when we commemorate the giving of the Torah at Sinai. It is also a day when synagogues throughout the world hold yizkor services.

Synagogues, unlike churches, are often noisy. The synagogue I attended for that holiday and yizkor service was small, but particularly diverse, opinionated and loud. One hundred people filled this humble, 60-year-old synagogue in Brooklyn, and at every pause in the prayers they were engaged in vibrant conversation and debate. As the congregation was finishing the reading of the Torah, the arguments - typical Jewish arguments - reached a crescendo. In one corner, a fierce debate ensued about Israel's pending withdrawal from Gaza. In another corner, an item of religious law was being heatedly argued. Children were kvetching, older men were getting annoyed. Others were attempting to concentrate on their prayers with closed eyes and open hearts.

Then came time for yizkor. More than half the people in the synagogue left. The sacred Torah scroll was brought to the center of the room. One of the worshippers made sure all that all who had to leave left and that the door was solidly shut so no one could enter. He then gave a knock on the table to signify that the yizkor service would now begin.

Suddenly, an eerie silence filled the room. A vibrant space, just moments ago pulsating with social zest and heated debate, was transformed. A sense of mystery, awe and dormant pain surfaced. You could cut the rawness of the emotions with a knife. Something profoundly authentic united all those standing in the room.

My heart shifted to my late father, whom I loved and adored so deeply. My flow of tears found solace in the knowledge that his was a life well lived. My dad was a man who utilized his journalistic wisdom and skills to become a voice for causes others left behind; he was a man of conviction, and a truly original personality, one hell of a guy. I recalled my father's last hours and the dignity with which he departed on his final journey. And I wept for my children who would not have the privilege to know the unique grandfather they had.

I lifted my eyes and gazed around at the people in the room. Near me stood a young man, my age, who lost his mother at the tender age of 5. Life without yizkor was inconceivable to him. Near him, stood others who lost parents in their teens or in college and needed to struggle to fill the unfillable void. Then there were the older men, in their 70s and 80s, whose parents perished more than six decades earlier in Stalin's gulag or Hitler's crematoriums. They are in a class of their own. Then of course there were the majority of middle-aged worshippers who at some point in their lives were forced to confront the reality of loss.

A strange oneness pervaded all of us standing in that room during yizkor. The connection did not need to be articulated in words; you could see it when you peered into the eyes of the person standing near you. It took me some time till I put my finger on what that connection consisted of: A piece of each of us was not to be found any longer in this world. An integral part of each of our hearts was elsewhere.

I understood why for 33 years I was asked to leave the synagogue during yizkor. Life for those who stay behind in the synagogue has a very different meaning, one that cannot be shared by those who have not seen the earth close up on a loved one.

This Shavuot I will again stand in the synagogue during yizkor. I will think of my Dad, which will make me both laugh and cry at the same time. I will ask him to look out for me and my family. And I will pray that I merit to internalize my beloved father's zest for life and for truth.

Reprinted with permission from The Algemeiner Journal. Yosef Y. Jacobson is the editor-in-chief of the international Yiddish-English weekly The Algemeiner Journal ( and one of the most sought after speakers in the Jewish world today. To subscribe to his weekly essay, please send an e-mail message to:

What's New

Be There!

Each year on the festival of Shavuot we relive the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people by G-d at Mount Sinai by hearing the Ten Commandments read in the synagogue from a Torah scroll. It is a special mitzva for every man, woman and child to be in the synagogue on Shavuot to hear the Torah reading. This year, the Torah reading that tells of the giving of the Torah will be read on Wednesday, May 23, in synagogues around the world. Many Chabad-Lubavitch Centers sponsor "ice cream" parties (in keeping with the ancient tradition of eating dairy products on Shavuot) for the young and the young at heart. To find out about the closest Shavuot ice cream party call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.

New Emissaries

Rabbi Levi and Brynie Stiefel recently arrived in in Voronezh, Russia. Their first priority will be to startin a Jewish day school for the children of the 10,000 Jews residing in the city. Rabbi Levi and Fraidy Vogel will be establishing one of the newest Chabad Houses in America's oldest city, S. Augustine, Florida, to serve the needs of the local Jewish population. Rabbi Sendy and Rochel Dubrawsky are establish a new Chabad Center in Radlett, England.

The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated from letters written during the years of leadership of the previous Rebbe

4 Sivan, 5705 [1945]

Greetings and blessings,

You are certainly aware that our friend Mr. S- sent a check for Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch. I would like to take this opportunity to again express our heartfelt thanks for your efforts, trouble, and work in this matter in the past, present, and also, we hope in the future. The fundamental yasher koach ["well done"] comes to you from the work itself which is achieved and can continue through this donation.

The first of the Ten Commandments communicated at the time of the Giving of the Torah states: "I am G-d, your L-rd, who took you out of the land of Egypt." The commentaries (e.g., Ibn Ezra) ask: Why doesn't the Torah mention an even greater feat, the creation of heaven and earth? Moreover, not only is the creation of heaven and earth a greater achievement, it is relevant to all generations. The Exodus from Egypt, by contrast, was witnessed only by that generation and was important primarily to them.

Chassidus answers this question as follows: The creation is a yesh [a material entity]. Making such an entity from absolute nothingness was accomplished by the ray of G-dliness that relates to the worlds. The Exodus from Egypt, by contrast, was possible only through "signs and wonders" (Deut. 4:34), i.e., removing that yesh from the logical principles and limitations which govern the creation. This is hinted at by the Hebrew term Yetzias Mitzrayim ("the Exodus from Egypt"). For Mitzrayim, Egypt, shares the root of the word meitzarim, meaning "boundaries and limitations" as in Eichah 1:3. This requires a much higher revelation of G-dliness. Therefore, the Exodus is mentioned in connection with the Giving of the Torah, which transcends the limitations of creation.

We find, to make a distinction, a similar pattern with regard to human conduct. Teaching - either oneself or a colleague - to adopt a new positive behavioral pattern is comparatively easy when compared to changing and remaking one's principles. The latter involves going out of the norms that one has established for oneself and which have shown themselves to be valid with regard to one's personal matters, although they create difficulties in a particular situation. This involves an exodus from one's boundaries and limitations. And it is much more difficult.

In this, I hope, my dear Mr. K-, you will help Mr. S- step beyond his limitations and governing principles and accept in a complete manner the directives from my revered father-in-law.... Certainly, as has been the pattern until now, you will have success in this endeavor.

With good wishes and with holiday blessings,

Eve of Shavuos, 5709 [1949]

Greetings and blessings,

...We are approaching the day of the receiving of the Torah. "'Love your fellow as yourself 'is a great general principal in the Torah" and "You shall certainly help him" is one of the Torah's commands. And so, until when? Either I should help you in your paint business or it's time - indeed, it is overdue - that you should work together with me in Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch.

What is the purpose in delaying and procrastinating another week or another month?

Gevald! Reb Avraham, when will I begin thinking about what is genuinely good for me? And when will you do that for yourself?

May you have a happy holiday and may all the Rebbe's blessings be fulfilled.

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


Why is it customary to decorate synagogues and houses with flowers and foliage on Shavuot?

We decorate our synagogues and homes to commemorate the giving of the Torah, which took place on Mount Sinai which was flowering and verdant. In addition, according to the Mishna, Shavuot is the day on which it is decreed whether the trees and their fruit will be plentiful that year.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming Tuesday night through Thursday night is the holiday of Shavuot, celebrating when G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai.

Three people in Jewish history are particularly associated with Shavuot: Moses, King David and the Baal Shem Tov. And these three great leaders were also intimately connected with Moshiach and the Redemption.

As the one through whom the Torah was given to the Jewish people, Moses is intimately connected with Shavuot. The Torah is even referred to as "The Torah of Moses" - Torat Moshe. Moshiach will be so like Moses in his leadership qualities, humility and Torah scholarship, that our Sages even stated, "Moses is the first redeemer and the last redeemer."

Shavuot is the birthday and anniversary of the passing of King David. One of the functions of Moshiach is that he will restore the Davidic dynasty, for Moshiach will be a descendant of King David, a human king.

Finally, we come to the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov, too, passed away on Shavuot, on the second day of the holiday. In a famous letter to his brother-in-law, the Baal Shem Tov described a spiritual "journey" when he visited the chamber of Moshiach. He asked Moshiach, "Master, when will you come?"

Moshiach replied, "When your wellsprings--your teachings - will spread forth to the outside."

The Baal Shem Tov's teachings - Chasidut - were recorded and expounded upon by his various disciples. They are a foretaste of the new and deeper revelations of Torah that we are promised will be revealed and taught by Moshiach, himself.

This year on Shavuot, when all Jews, young and old, gather in our synagogues to reexperience the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, let us also reconnect with the essence of the holiday and cry out for the ultimate revelation of the Torah and G-d through Moshiach.

Thoughts that Count

He who learns from a colleague a single chapter, a single Torah law, a single verse, a single statement or even a single letter, must show him honor (Ethics of the Fathers, 6:3)

This teaching refers to a colleague whose conduct is not above reproach. When a person's own conduct is flawed, it is natural that despite the rational self-justifications that stem from self-love, he would recognize his own failings and humbly look down on himself. One may not, however, view a colleague from whom he has learned Torah concepts in such a manner. For even when the other's conduct is unworthy he should be honored for the sake of the teachings he communicated.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Bamidbar 5738)

Rabbi Meir said: Whoever occupies (osek) himself with [the study of Torah] for its own sake merits many things (Ethics, 6:1)

The Hebrew word for "occupies-osek" relates to the word for "businessman," "baal esek." A person's occupation with the study of Torah must resemble a businessman's preoccupation with his commercial enterprise. Just as his attention is never totally diverted from his business, so too should the Torah always be the focus of our attention.

(Likutei Sichot, Vol. XVII)

Whatever the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He created only for His glory (Ethics, 6:11)

A heretic once came to Rabbi Akiva and demanded proof that G-d created the world. "Come back tomorrow," Rabbi Akiva told him. The next day, when the heretic returned, Rabbi Akiva asked him what he was wearing. "A garment," the man replied. "Who made it?" the Rabbi asked. "The tailor," was his answer. When Rabbi Akiva demanded proof, the heretic demanded, "How can you not know this?" Said Rabbi Akiva, "And what about you? How can you not know that G-d created the world?" Our Sages commented: "Just as a house indicates a builder, a garment indicates a tailor, and a door a carpenter, so too does the world tell of the Holy One that He created it."

(Midrash Tanchuma)

It Once Happened

Shavuot is the anniversary of the passing of King David. The following is a famous story of King David from his youth

Before King David was anointed king, he was a shepherd and he spent his time tending his flocks in the hills, fields and forests of the land of Israel. His brilliant mind delved into all that he saw, and he tried to understand G-d's world. Many of G-d's creatures were beautiful, others were useful to man.

One day David saw a madman wandering through the fields. His clothing was torn, and the distracted look in his eyes bespoke a total loss of reason. David began to reflect on the man's condition. "G-d, you have created a world filled with beauty and perfection. Your creatures are wondrous to behold, but this I do not understand. Why did You create madness, which is good for nothing. Here I have seen a poor, destitute man who wanders completely bereft of reason. What purpose could insanity serve in Your world?"

G-d replied to David, saying, "David, do you really believe that I have created insanity in vain? One day you will see what it is for. One day you, yourself will be in need of madness and you will pray that I grant it to you."

When David was anointed by the prophet Samuel he was force to flee from King Saul who sought to kill him. David fled to the land of the Philistines, where King Achish gave him refuge. Achish didn't know that David was the new king, and he had hoped that David would help him defeat Saul.

Others in the king's court, namely the brothers of Goliath, whom David had slain, recognized him. They bided their time until they felt that the king would give David over to them, and said, "This is the very same man who killed our brother. Let us have our revenge on him."

But the king was unwilling to have his guest murdered. After all, it was likely that the young warrior would help in the war to defeat the Jewish king. He responded to them by denying their identification of young David. "It couldn't be David. He would never come to us for help. Besides, even if it was him, he killed your brother fairly, in battle."

The two brothers were angrier than ever and determined to get their revenge. They stirred up discontent among the other members of the king's royal guard, and taunted the king, saying, "Since one of the conditions of David's battle with my brother was that the winner would rule over the loser. Are you willing to become David's vassal?"

The king began to fear for his crown. He called David into his private chamber and cross-examined him about the death of Goliath. David saw that the king was no longer his ally, and he was frightened. He turned to G-d and prayed, "Please, Master of the Universe, help me now."

"What are you asking of Me; what kind of help do you require?" G-d responded.

"Let me become truly mad so that the king will not want to kill me."

"Do you remember when you asked Me why I created insanity? I told you that one day you would ask me to make you insane. Now, that has happened and you understand very well."

Immediately, David became obviously insane. The brothers of Goliath tried to bind him and bring him before the king, but he whirled and spun in circles. He spit and screamed and tore at his hair. He took a piece of charcoal and scribbled all over the palace doors, "Achish owes me a hundred times ten thousand pieces of silver. His wife, the queen, owes me fifty."

David ran through the palace from end to end. Achish had a daughter who was insane. She was kept in a locked room in the palace. When she heard David scream, she would scream back, and when she would scream, David would answer. The ruckus was unbearable to the king.

"Aren't I surrounded by enough insanity? Do I have to have this madman here as well? Get him out of here! It is obvious that this can't be David. David is a brilliant scholar and soldier; this man is completely insane."

Everyone at court agreed with him. Even Goliath's brothers saw that this was the wrong man. David was forcibly expelled from the palace. When he found himself free and no longer threatened his sanity returned to him. And he understood that everything that G-d does is good and has its purpose in the world.

Moshiach Matters

Jerusalem will be rebuilt! The Exiles will return; the Gates of the Garden of Eden will re-open, and all their brilliance will be revealed to us. We will enter those gates and take pleasure in the radiance of the Divine Presence, Whom we will point to and say, "Here is our G-d, in Whom we hoped, He will save us!"

(From Akdamut, a poem written by Rabbi Meir ben Yitzchak during the Crusades, read in some communities before the Torah reading on Shavuot)

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