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Devarim Deutronomy

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1059: Mishpatim

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Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
February 20, 2009 - 26 Shevat, 5769

1059: Mishpatim

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


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  1058: Yisro1060: Terumah  

Stay Focused  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  A Call to Action  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Stay Focused

There's a story told by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev about a particularly pious shochet (ritual slaughterer). One time he was preparing to slaughter a chicken. Now, the laws of kosher are quite strict about all aspects of the process. The knife has to be free of any nicks, the stroke has to be a single motion, severing the jugular vein and nerve instantly, etc. Needless to say, taking the animal's life cannot be done casually, indifferently. The shochet must concentrate, approach his task with a degree of trepidation. A shochet must be a G-d-fearing individual.

Since slaughtering an animal according to the laws of kosher is a mitzva (commandment), naturally, a shochet has to say a blessing beforehand. Not only this, but, as with every mitzva, the act contains mystical elements and reveals deep spiritual truths. We can well imagine that someone who has studied the mystical literature would meditate on these hidden, awe-inspiring, Divine aspects of an otherwise mundane task.

And so it was with our shochet. In preparation for reciting the blessing, he begin to meditate on the kabbalistic implications of the act. This in turn brought him to a state of rapt deveykut - attachment to the Divine. His soul soared, his whole being, it seemed, concentrated on its connection with G-d. When his meditations had at last plumbed the mystical depths of the act he was about to perform, he opened his eyes, prepared to recite the brocha and - discovered that in the meantime the chicken had taken advantage of his other-worldly pre-occupation to make its escape.

The startled shochet looked around and, in amazement cried, "Where's the chicken?"

The simple meaning of the story is obvious: stay focused on the task at hand. For all of the shochet's lofty meditations, when it came time to perform the mitzva, to slaughter a chicken so that a family could have a kosher meal, for Shabbat, let's say, it didn't happen. Indeed, even the chicken that flew the coop - its spiritual purpose went unfulfilled; perhaps it was supposed to feed a poor family?

It's not that the shochet did anything wrong - on the contrary! He was trying to reach sublime spiritual levels. We can even say that he was trying to elevate the "spark of holiness" residing in the chicken he was about to slaughter.

But, because he got distracted, because he forgot his primary task - nothing happened.

The point is, it's easy to lose focus even, especially when concen-trating on good things. We can't fault the man's intentions. And he did, in fact, obtain high mystical insights. But - where was the chicken?

In this regard, we need to also remember that each of us has a Divine task, a part of the world to transform into a dwelling place for G-dliness. That is our goal - with our Torah study, our mitzvot, our encouragement of others to "live with the Torah."

If we get side-tracked, for whatever reason or secondary purpose, we may end up asking ourselves, in our own way, "Nu, where's the chicken?"

As the Rebbe has emphasized on numerous occasions, the main thing is - action!


Living with the Rebbe

The Torah portion of Mishpatim contains the law of the goring ox. The Torah distinguishes between two categories: the "shor tam," a bull that is not known to be a gorer, and the "shor mu'ad," a bull that has gored three times. Such an animal is considered dangerous and likely to gore again.

Everything in the Torah can be understood on many levels. Thus not only does the law of the goring ox pertain to animals, it also applies to a person's soul. In general, the ox is symbolic of the animal soul. (According to Chasidut every Jew has two souls, a Divine soul and an animal soul.) The animal soul, by itself, is not necessarily bad. It has many positive qualities and is a powerful force that can be harnessed for good. Nonetheless, like the physical ox, it must be closely guarded to prevent it from inflicting damage.

The natural state of the animal soul is "a bull that is not known to gore." As it is created, the animal soul does not crave forbidden things, only those that are permissible and necessary to sustain life. If the animal soul falters and commits a sin, it is the exception rather than the rule, and runs contrary to its true nature. In this instance it is relatively easy to do teshuva (repent) and repair the damage.

However, if a person commits the same sin over and over again "until it seems permissible," he is considered "a bull that has gored three times." Having already been reinforced several times, his negative behavior is now second nature to him, and he is considered likely to repeat it in the future.

How does a person turn "a known gorer" back into "a bull that is not known to gore"? Simply by training it. According to Maimonides, the transformation is complete "when little children can poke [the ox] and it still doesn't gore."

The same rule applies in our service of G-d. The "repeat offender" must work hard on refining his animal soul and weakening its desires. Then, when he finds himself facing the exact same temptation, yet he remains strong and doesn't falter, his status reverts to "a bull that is not known to gore."

Of course, this not an easy thing to accomplish, so the Torah offers us another method of attack. According to Maimonides, when a "known gorer" acquires a new owner, the slate is cleaned and the animal is considered "a bull that is not known to gore." Because the new owner relates to it differently, the animal's nature also changes for the good.

In spiritual terms, any Jew who wants to undergo a similar transformation must also acquire a new "owner," immersing himself completely in the realm of holiness: learning Torah, doing good deeds and engaging in prayer. His ingrained bad habits will automatically lose their grip on him, and he will become "tam" - literally "perfect and whole."

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 36


A Slice of Life

Icy Goodness
by Naomi Zirkind

It is nighttime. Roads are slippery due to freezing rain earlier in the day. I have a choice of two ways to drive home from work. The short way involves driving on some narrow, steep roads. The long way is mainly highway driving. On the long route, I can count on the roads being clear, but it is a much longer drive. After some contemplation, I decide to go the short way, figuring that since the morning, the roads have probably been cleared. Actually, the narrow, steep road is not bad. The trip is going fine, and I'm on the home stretch, less than five minutes from home. Suddenly, I see that the road in front of me is blocked, and a police car is there to ensure that nobody goes through.

Now where do I go? I turn off onto a side street and park. I look at a map to figure out directions how to get home. The map shows that I should keep going straight and take the second left... The street I'm on is dark and narrow. The street signs are small posts in the ground, and the street names are barely visible. I start driving, and see a street on the left. Thinking that maybe I missed the first left and this is the second one, I turn left. Wrong turn - this was actually the first left. I turn around on the very narrow, dark, slippery road and continue further. At the next left, I turn, but soon see a "Dead End" sign. This must not be the street I need. Again, I have to turn around, but this road is really narrow and icy. It's getting frustrating as I inch back and forth, trying to turn around. I'm lost on a dark, narrow, icy road.

A thought occurs to me: this situation seems so awful, I just can't see any good in it. In such situations, I say to myself emphatically, "Wow, this event is so spectacular! This is just so good, its goodness is on such a high level that I cannot comprehend it!" As Chassidic philosophy (Tanya) explains, everything G-d does to us is good. Sometimes we can appreciate the good in it. But sometimes the good is from the so-called "hidden world," the level at which G-d's thoughts are entirely beyond our comprehension, so that we cannot perceive any good at all with our human intellect. After I say this to myself a few times, I feel calmer, and continue on the difficult drive home. A little while later I arrive safely, finally home.

The next day, my husband tells me that he heard on the radio that a wire had fallen on the road, and that is why the road was blocked. I was amazed that a major New York radio station would tell about a fallen wire on a minor road in our small city of Morristown. But I was not so amazed, because Chasidic philosophy explains that if one truly believes that a seemingly unpleasant event is really good, then G-d soon reveals to the person what the goodness is. Now I could see how fortunate I was in not driving by that fallen wire. Driving on the dark, narrow, icy road really was spectacular.

This story illustrates the effectiveness of having a positive attitude. G-d shows us the goodness when we are ready to recognize that it is there. However, I don't need to wait until I am in a big mess to say that G-d's ways are spectacular. Truly everything G-d does, even the seemingly small kindness of awakening each day, is good. Realizing this makes a person constantly happy. And it transforms every event from "icy goodness," something that seems cold, hard, and dangerous, into "I see goodness!" - we can actually perceive the kindness with our own mind.

In the merit of our attempting to see the good in everything, may G-d transform the exile into the kindness that we can see and enjoy - the true and complete Redemption.


What's New

A Car that Goes Far

A young boy discovers that using our possessions to help others will really take us far! Join his family in their little car, as they offer rides to all their friends and neighbors. What will happen when they can't fit everyone in? This newest release from HaChai Publishing is written by Yael Mermelstein and illustrated by Vasilisa and Vitaliy Romanenko.

Thirty Two Gates of Wisdom: Awakening Through Kabbalah

Kabbalah holds the secrets to a path of conscious awareness. In this book Rabbi DovBer Pinson presents 32 key concepts of Kabbalah and shows their value in opening the gates of perception. Intended for everyone, those wanting to know what Kabbalah is all about, and also for deeper readers who wish to understand the Kabbalistic worldview.

The Teacher and His Pupil

Rabbi Yekutiel Green has compiled advice from our Sages in light of Chasidic philosophy. The book contains much food for thought in today's day and age when education is, or should be, a high priority for everyone. The book is intended for the teacher as well as the student.


The Rebbe Writes

12 Kislev, 5725 (1964)

I received your letter in which you describe the state of your [physical] health, as well as your [sad and despairing] state of mind.

From what I can ascertain from your letter, I must emphasize that there are various aspects of your life for which you can be truly grateful to G-d.

Understandably, this does not mean that the tormented state in which you now find yourself is completely without basis. Nevertheless, a person must be able to see the complete picture [including all the good that has transpired in his life, and] not only the negative part.

It should not be difficult for a woman with a background like yours and possessing faith such as you do to contemplate G-d's benevolent providence, which He provides to each and every one individually. Moreover, G-d is the Essence of Goodness, and "It is in the nature of he who is good to do good."

When one ponders these thoughts, one must inevitably come to the same conclusion as did King David, the author of the Psalms, who declared: "G-d is with me; I shall not fear."

To the contrary, you have all the reasons to be joyous and glad of heart, particularly since a joyous attitude on your part will have a beneficial effect on your entire family. Merely, it is important for you to bear in mind, as mentioned above, that you indeed possess many things for which you should be grateful and which should cause you joy.

It happens quite often that an individual whose mood is similar to yours seeks to discover the basis for his [unhappy] frame of mind, thinking that the answer he comes up with is the true cause for all his problems [and unhappiness], when in truth the root cause may be something else entirely.

This is particularly true of a Jewish man or woman whose true joy is entrenched in living a full Jewish life, i.e., a life that is in complete harmony with the path of Torah and mitzvos [commandments] given to us on Sinai and that made us into a holy nation. The particulars of how to live a Jewish life are meticulously detailed in the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], a book that spells out Jewish law and daily conduct.

If for one reason or another one's daily life is not in complete accord with the Jewish way of life as commanded by G-d, it is impossible for a Jew to be completely happy and content, inasmuch as something vital is missing from his life. It is possible that the person is unaware of this, for which reason he will search for the cause of his discontent and unhappiness in other areas.

On the other hand, when a Jew is steadfast in his outlook that he will live in complete harmony with the Jewish way of life, then he is capable of being completely happy and content.

The above is something that can be achieved by every Jew, although for some it may be easier than for others. This capacity surely exists since G-d, the Creator and Conductor of the world and the Commander of these commandments, also provides the person with the capacity to fulfill His commands.

Of course I am aware of the question of how it is that there are many individuals who are seemingly detached from the path of Torah and mitzvos and nevertheless seem to be completely happy, and so on.

The answer is simple. No one really knows what is transpiring in the heart and mind of another individual. Additionally, a person can conceal his inner dissatisfaction and unhappiness, although sooner or later this must come to the fore.

It would be worthwhile for your husband to check his tefillin, and before he puts them on each weekday morning he should give a small coin to tzedakah (charity). It would also be worthwhile that the mezuzos in your home be checked to assure that they are kosher according to Jewish law. You as well should give a small coin to tzedakah prior to lighting candles.

I hope to hear from you good news.

From Healthy in Body, Mind and Soul, compiled by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English


A Call to Action

Tzedaka Box

Have a tzedaka (charity) box ("pushka") in every room in your home and even in your office. By having one in your place of business, the Rebbe explains, one "involves G-d as an active partner in one's business and enhances his potential to distribute G-d's blessing to others." Any container can be used as a tzedaka box; one can also make decorating suitable containers for one's home and place of business into a family project.

In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat is "Shabbat Shekalim," when we read about the mitzva of the "half-shekel" the Jews were commanded to give as atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. The half-shekalim were used to bring the communal offerings on behalf of the entire Jewish people. Every person had to give the same amount, "ten gera," which was the equivalent of half of "a holy shekel."

It didn't matter if a Jew was rich or poor - everyone was required to give a half-shekel, and in fact, it was forbidden to give more. For the Jewish people and G-d are one entity; without G-d, they are only half of a single whole.

According to Chasidic philosophy, the "ten gera" are an allusion to the ten powers of the soul. The mitzva teaches that our ten soul powers are only "half a shekel," and that in order to be a complete entity, one must join together with another Jew.

The half-shekels were used to conduct a census of the Jewish people. A census emphasizes the unique importance of every individual. At the same time, it also underscores the fact that every Jew's true existence is bound up with his fellow man's. It is only when a Jew fulfills the commandment to "Love your fellow man as yourself" that he can reach his own individual fulfillment and potential.

This is one of the reasons Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, placed the declaration, "Behold, I accept upon myself the fulfillment of the mitzva, 'Love your fellow man as yourself,' " at the very beginning of the prayer book. Indeed, this principle should be the foundation of all our daily activities.

When Moshiach comes, the communal sacrifices will again be purchased from the half-shekels we will give. Yet even now we can still perform a service representative of the half-shekel - giving to tzedaka (charity). When we recognize the fundamental unity we share with others, it prompts us to increase our donations to tzedaka and give generously.

May all our efforts hasten the rebuilding of the Holy Temple with Moshiach, immediately and at once.


Thoughts that Count

If a man digs a pit... the owner of the pit shall make it good, and return money (kesef) to the owner (Ex. 21:34)

Every person "digs a pit" with his sins into which other people fall and get hurt. The way to correct this situation and "make it good" is by "returning kesef (related to the word kisuf - longing and yearning) to the owner" - with a sincere desire to return to the "Owner" of the world in repentance.

(Likutei Sefat Emet)


If fire breaks out and finds thorns, and shocks of corn are consumed, or the standing corn, or the field (Ex. 22:5)

It states in the Talmud: "Punishment comes to the world only on account of the wicked, yet begins with the righteous." When G-d brings punishment ("fire") into the world, it is directed primarily against the wicked ("thorns"). However, as long as righteous people exist, their merit protects everyone. Therefore, if G-d determines that punishment is absolutely necessary, the righteous are often the first to be stricken, so that their merit can no longer shield others.

(Pardes Yosef)


If you afflict them in any way, and they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry (Ex. 22:22)

It is forbidden to chastise anyone too harshly, even if one's intentions are good. Because Penina inadvertently caused pain to Chana (the mother of Samuel) in trying to influence her to pray to G-d for children, we find that she was punished. One must be very careful not to cause someone to "cry out" to G-d, for He will "surely hear their cry."

(The Vilna Gaon)


And holy men you shall be to Me (Ex. 22:30)

G-d wants us to sanctify that aspect of us that makes us human, and to perform holy, "humanitarian" actions. G-d desires good and holy people, as He already has plenty of angels to do His bidding.

(The Kotzker Rebbe)


It Once Happened

When the stranger entered the little shul (synagogue), the regulars were curious -who was he and why had he come to their town. But he was in a great hurry and so, he was relieved to see a quorum of men already assembled, ready to begin the morning prayers. There was no rabbi there, and not wanting to wait, the stranger ascended the lectern. The "regulars" were surprised and offended that this unknown man presumed to lead the prayers. After all, who was this fellow, who didn't even have the courtesy to wait a few minutes for the rabbi or the president of the congregation?

The stranger had already begun the morning service when the president arrived. Seeing a stranger at the lectern, he rushed up to him and said, "What a chutzpa (audacity)! Who do you think you are to begin the prayers before the rabbi or I have arrived!" And he continued berating the man in this fashion.

The stranger, however, just kept silent. But his refusal to respond infuriated the president even more and he blurted out, "Don't you see who's speaking to you?"

Finally the stranger replied in a quiet voice, "You also do not see to whom you are speaking."

No sooner had those words been uttered than everything went dark before the president's eyes. He rushed to a doctor, then to a specialist - to several specialists - but no one could find a cause for his sudden blindness. He tried every treatment that was suggested to him, but nothing proved a cure.

Then, it dawned upon him: when had his blindness begun? After he had angry words with the stranger in the shul. Undoubtedly he had offended a hidden tzadik (righteous person) with his words, and this was the consequence of his anger.

In despair, he decided to travel to the Baal Shem Tov. He had heard about this great tzadik; maybe he could help.

"Rebbe, I have heard that you can perform miracles. I have been blind since I angered a certain hidden tzadik. My problem is that I don't know who he is or where I can find him."

The Baal Shem Tov replied, "The man is my disciple, Reb Yaakov Koppel, and you sinned against him with your angry speech. Go to him and beg his forgiveness. If he forgives you, your blindness will be cured."

The man indeed traveled to Reb Yaakov, who accepted his apology. His sight returned as quickly as it had vanished.


The morning prayers had just ended. The Baal Shem Tov, who was an esteemed visitor in the town, was about to wash his hands before partaking of a meal, when a distraught woman approached him. She had waited throughout the whole service and could contain herself no longer.

"Rebbe! My husband has been missing for a very long time. I have done everything I can think of to try to find him, but I have no idea where he went. What will happen to me? Please, Rebbe, help me find him," the woman wept.

The Baal Shem Tov stood there, his washing cup poised to pour water on his hands in preparation for the blessing on bread, but instead of continuing, he stopped and responded to the woman.

"You will find your husband in the city of M."

Infused with new hope, the woman departed. But the rabbi of the city, who had heard a great deal about the Baal Shem Tov, had been watching the exchange. Now he had what seemed to him to be a serious question of Jewish law.

"I beg your pardon," began the rabbi, "I was watching your exchange with the woman, and it seems to me that you were saying words of prophecy to her. If that was true, I think you were required to have washed your hands before speaking."

The Baal Shem Tov responded to the rabbi with a question: "If you saw chickens suddenly fluttering about your table set with expensive glassware, what would your reaction be? I think you would automatically reach out to chase them away."

The rabbi acquiesced, but he clearly was not following the Baal Shem Tov's logic.

"I did what came naturally to me," the Baal Shem Tov continued. "I saw standing before me a woman who was in utter despair almost to the breaking point. I knew where her husband was. Do you imagine that I should have continued washing my hands while she stood suffering before my eyes?"


Moshiach Matters

The half-shekel represents man's service to G-d, the making of a sanctuary for G-dliness. It is this service which leads us to merit the building of the third Holy Temple in the future.

(Days of Destiny)


  1058: Yisro1060: Terumah  
   
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