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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

May 22, 2009 - 28 Iyyar, 5769

1071: Bamidbar

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

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  1070: Behar-Bechukosai1072: Shavuos  

Ice Water  |  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

Ice Water

What's the difference between water and ice? Ice is solid water. Ice is less dense than water. (That's why it floats in a glass of water.)

Actually, "ice" has a technical definition. It's the solid phase (or state) of a substance that is liquid or gas at room temperature. So there can be ammonia ice or methane ice, for instance. But of course when we say "ice" without qualification, we mean water-as-a-solid.

What makes water into ice is the removal of heat, or energy. As a result, the free-flowing water molecules become rigid, forming a crystalline structure.

This might be easier to visualize if we talk about snowflakes. Snowflakes form in clouds, which are huge collections of water droplets suspended in the air.

In the winter, as the clouds get colder, the water droplets start to freeze. So now there's a small particle of ice surrounded by liquid water droplets. A snowflake is born! Then more water condenses - becomes solid - and the ice crystal (the snowflake) grows. The droplets that don't become part of the snowflake evaporate into the air and, if it's cold enough, "hook up" with another ice crystal - snowflake - forming elsewhere in the cloud.

Snow (ice) melts when heat - energy - is added to the system, infused into the molecules.

Torah explains that wisdom ("chachma" in Hebrew) is compared to water. Knowing this can help us understand an important principle about learning. Just as the water-snow-water process involves a condensation - a lessening of the density - a rigidity of structure (freezing in place) - followed by a thawing, a warming, an infusion of energy, and a return to the flexibility and other unique features of water, so too the process of learning.

The teacher, who has wisdom (chachma) must condense his knowledge in order to transmit it to the student. He must slow down his thoughts (remove some of the energy) and present his knowledge in a highly structured manner (frozen in place, as it were). Thus, teachers use analogies and examples, an apparently "less dense" expression of the ideas than as those ideas might be originally, in the teacher's own understanding. Also, as you may have noticed, teachers often engage in lengthy explanations, going into great detail to convey information or a method of analysis. Such explanations slow down - remove the energy from, maybe even freeze - the teacher's own thought processes.

What happens next? The student absorbs this "frozen information," these snowflakes of wisdom become part of the student's mind, his or her way of thinking. As a result, the student infuses his or her energy and enthusiasm into them. The more he or she understands, the more energy pored into the "snowflakes of wisdom," until they melt, and become water - Wisdom. But now, it is not the teacher's wisdom. It is the student's own wisdom, revealed and accessible.

And what's the therefore? Now that we know something about the learning process, so what? Just this: often when we start to learn Torah, it may seem confusing. It may not make sense. But that's because at that stage it's like the "water" that's not yet crystalized into "snow". Through the stories and explanations (one reason Chabad rabbis and rebbetzins like to tell stories and explain things) Torah knowledge condenses to a state we can comprehend. But then, we have to "melt" it - infuse that knowledge with our own energy and enthusiasm, so that it's our knowledge of Torah, a knowledge and understanding we can apply in our daily lives.

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion, the tribe of Levi is chosen by G-d to perform the service in the Mishkan (Sanctuary) and later, in the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple). "Bring the tribe of Levi near," G-d said to Moses. The Levites were chosen to represent the entire Jewish people, and it was through them that G-d's blessing was brought down to the nation as a whole.

The reason for their selection may be better understood in light of the Baal Shem Tov's explanation on the verse in Psalms, "The righteous shall flourish like the date palm; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon":

There are two categories of tzadikim (the righteous), one of which is likened to a palm tree, and the other to a cedar.

A cedar is an extremely tall and imposing tree. Its wood is fine and hard, but it does not produce fruit.

A date palm, by contrast, is not as physically impressive, but it has one advantage over the cedar: it bears fruit. A date palm "flourishes." Its fruit is sweet and delicious, imparting strength and health to all who eat them.

The tzadik who is likened to a cedar learns Torah and performs mitzvot (commandments), but he produces no "fruit." His learning and good deeds are directed inward, benefitting only himself without having a positive influence over the people around him. Nonetheless, he is still considered "righteous," and G-d rewards him for his actions - "he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon." However, this is not the ultimate intention of his service.

G-d prefers that a righteous person be like the date palm, that his learning and good deeds lead to tangible results. G-d wants the Jew to learn Torah not only for his own betterment, but to improve his entire surroundings. A Jew must be willing to devote himself to others, giving freely of his time, energy and unique talents in order to have a positive effect on the world at large. No effort is too great in the quest to transform another Jew into a fine "fruit," for it is only by involving oneself with others that a Jew merits the designation of "date palm" and can truly "flourish."

This was the path of the Baal Shem Tov, who passed it on to his disciples, who in turn have kept the torch aloft throughout the generations.

This too, was the path of the tribe of Levi. The Levites could be counted on to perform their service for the entire Jewish people and not just themselves, which was why they were chosen for the holy task.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 2

A Slice of Life

In Good Hands
by Cheryl Spangenthal

My husband, Selwyn (Shlomo) and I are originally from South Africa. As a child, I attended a Reform synagogue. We followed some Jewish traditions, but Judaism itself had very little meaning for me. Whenever I would ask my rabbi spiritual questions, he would answer, "Jews do not ask these questions." Eventually, I felt that Judaism did not have any answers to philosophical questions. I thought that Judaism was a religion of cold, dry laws, lacking any type of warmth or spirituality.

We moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, 23 years ago, in 1986. I was searching and knew already that I would not find what I wanted at the local temple. I began to follow the teachings of an Indian guru who I thought had the answers to many of my deep philosophical questions. I even had some small Buddha statues in our home.

Rabbi Yossi and Rebbetzin Mariashi Groner had moved to Charlotte not long before us to establish Chabad Lubavitch of North Carolina. I happened see an advertisement in the Charlotte Jewish News for fresh challah. I called the number and after purchasing the challah, the Groners invited us to join them for Shemini Atzeret. This was the beginning of our relationship. After inviting us over for several holiday and Shabbat meals, Rabbi Groner offered to study Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy, with us. The first time Rabbi Groner walked through our door, he saw the Buddha statutes and said, "I have a lot of work to do here!"

We began to study regularly with the Groners. Through these study sessions, I realized that Torah and Tanya were the source of all the truths in the other "spiritual paths" I had experimented with. I did a complete turnaround. I became hooked on Judaism.

After many years of learning, my husband and I decided that we would give our four children what we had been missing growing up: an authentic Jewish education steeped in the teachings of Chasidic philosophy. The Groners founded the Charlotte Hebrew Day School, which my youngest three children were able to attend. But for high school, there was nothing for them locally. After an extended search, we chose to send our four children to the Yeshiva School in Pittsburgh. It was the hardest decision my husband and I have ever had to make, as we had no family or support system there. We are so thankful that under the care of Mrs. Batsheva Deren, the girls' principal, our daughters thrived. Mrs. Deren went out of her way to find appropriate housing for the out-of-towners. She was a real mother-figure to them. Rabbi Yisrael Rosenfeld, principal of the boys' yeshiva, also made a special effort to look out for our son.

The Jewish education they received led to our children's tremendous growth and success and made all our sacrifices worthwhile. They know who they are and why G-d put them on this earth, which is the biggest gift we could have ever given them. They are continually teaching us through sharing what they have learned.

Last year, before Passover, we drove from Charlotte to western Virginia where our daughter Rivkah and son-in-law, Rabbi Elazar Bloom, were leading Passover seders.

On Friday evening, we lit the Shabbat candles, not realizing that they were too close to each other, and went out to the porch to pray. We were outside when we heard the children screaming. Running into the house, we saw a huge blaze where the candles had melted and joined together. Someone threw water around the candles onto the tablecloth to prevent the table from catching fire. Some water mixed with the wax from the candles and this turned the flames into a torch of fire. I grabbed a pot from the kitchen and stifled the flames.

We went on to have a beautiful Shabbat meal full of words of Torah and singing. However, my daughter Rivkah had an uneasy feeling about their new, industrial gas oven. She thought it was too hot. We tried to allay her concerns.

After the rest of us had retired for bed, Elazar and Rivkah decided to review the laws regarding extinguishing fires on Shabbat, to make sure that everything had been handled properly earlier and to know what to do if a similar situation, G-d forbid, ever arose again.

Forty minutes later, as they sat and studied, Rivkah heard a crackling sound coming from the kitchen. Walking into the kitchen, Rivkah saw flames leaping inside the oven. Some flames were beginning to escape from the oven. Elazar quickly turned it off. (Although it is normally forbidden to turn off an oven on Shabbat, in a situation such as this he was permitted to do so.)

That the wax from the candles caught fire earlier was by Divine providence and led to Rivkah and Elazar sitting up late to learn the relevant laws. This was the first in a series of events which ultimately prevented a major disaster. There were 12 people sleeping in the house. I dread to think of what might have happened had there not been an earlier fire!

Through these happenings, I was once again reminded that I have little control over the daily events in my life and their outcome. The only choices I have are the decisions between right and wrong, and my attitude toward what G-d may have planned for me. Whatever happens to me is in G-d's hands. Even though I may not understand why certain things happen, I know that G-d is always with me and guiding me.

Reprinted with permission from the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter. With thanks to Dvora Lakein for her help with this article.

What's New

85th Flight

The 85th Chabad's Children of Chernobyl emergency airlift touched down in Israel on April 28, just two days after the 23rd anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. The 17 children, including twin sisters, bring the total number of children saved to 2,612 since 1990. On CCOC campuses in Israel, the children receive life-saving medical care, nutrition, education and everything a child needs to heal and grow strong. To date, over 2,000 of the children have been reunited with their parents. This flight was sponsored by Mrs. Lily Safra and the Edmond J. Safra Foundation in memory of CCOC's beloved director, Rabbi Yossie Raichik, who passed away last year.

The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated and adapted

13 Teves, 5726 (1966)

I am in receipt of your letter of the 4th of Teves, in which you write about the problem of laziness, etc., and you ask my advice as to how you can overcome it:

One of the effective ways of overcoming this difficulty is by deeply contemplating the notion that G-d is Omnipresent, at all times and in all places, as the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] explains in the beginning of chapter 41 of the Tanya:

"Behold, G-d [Himself] stands over him and scrutinizes him and searches his reins and heart..., [i.e., his innermost thoughts and emotions, to see] if he is serving Him as is fitting. Therefore he must serve in His presence with awe and fear like one standing before the King."

The point is to remember that inasmuch as G-d gives one the great gift of time and of mental capacity, etc., one must not waste these great gifts granted to him by G-d.

By way of illustration: Suppose a great and majestic king personally and graciously gave you a gift and he stands next to you in order to see what you will do with his gift; what would it look like if you would ignore his gift and go out for a walk or engage in some other pastime, etc.?

Surely it is unnecessary to emphasize to you this idea at greater length.

I will only add that the yetzer hara [the evil inclination] is never lazy, and is very busy and industrious in his efforts to distract a Jew from his service to G-d. Therefore, you must have a ready weapon with which to combat him.

For this reason, I suggest that you learn well and commit to memory the beginning of chapter 41 to which I referred above. Do so until these sacred words are engraved in your mind and consciousness, so that you will always be able to recall and ponder them whenever the need arises to overcome the temptation [to be lazy,] etc. ...

From a handwritten response of the Rebbe

... Self-pity is one of the most successful enticements of the evil inclination, whereby the person says to himself: "Since G-d created me in this manner, since my situation is such, and since I am to be pitied more than any other human being - it is therefore impossible for me to do anything [constructive]; I am free of any and all obligations," and so on and so forth.

In order to forewarn someone approaching him and remonstrating, "How can this possibly be?!" [i.e., "How can you behave in this manner?!"] etc., etc., the person prefaces with the following:

"I am a good person and have no complaints against anyone; I just am incapable of doing anything. And even if you should say that I truly can act [constructively] but I do not desire to do so, this is my nature and what can I possibly do about it? I know all the complaints against my conduct, but [what can I possibly do, as] this is my nature."

In light of the above [self-pity, the person unjustifiably thinks to himself,] "Everything is all right."

The underlying point [and principle in ridding oneself of all the above, is the saying of our Sages ], "If one says, 'I have toiled but not succeeded,' do not believe him," [for surely one will succeed if he but truly applies himself].

The above applies to all matters in your life, in all their details.

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

A Call to Action

Publish Your Torah Thoughts

The Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged everyone to develop new Torah concepts and have them published: "Every individual should endeavor to develop new Torah concepts, and to publish them. Precautions must be taken that people do not write directives of Torah law when they are incapable of doing so. Nevertheless, at the same time, it is necessary to do whatever must be done to encourage people to increase their efforts in Torah study. And for that reason, it is worthy to encourage all those who are trained in the proper approach to Torah study... to publish and disseminate the Torah ideas that they develop." So start developing and publishing!

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 we bless the new month of Sivan. The theme of the month of Sivan is intertwined with the main festival of the month, Shavuot.

On the first day of Sivan the Children of Israel encamped in the wilderness of Sinai ready to receive the Torah. Concerning this the Torah states, "And Israel encamped there..." using the singular form of the verb "encamped" regarding which our Sages teach us that this means that the people were like one person with one heart.

Though many other times when the Jews made camp there was strife and contention, when they encamped to receive the Torah they were totally united.

Thus, it is clear that one of the pre-requisites for receiving the Torah -- and every year at this time we prepare to receive the Torah once again -- is to enhance and foster unity amongst the Jewish people.

The "easy way" to become more united with other Jews is to follow two essential teachings of our Sages: "Love your fellow as yourself; Judge every person favorably."

Where is the place to start? The place to start is with ourselves and our own families. This, of course, doesn't mean that we have to perfect these relationships before we can extend the teachings to others, but it is certainly the correct place to start as "charity begins at home."

If we keep these fundamental teachings in mind we will certainly foster Jewish unity in our own little world which will ultimately impact on the entire world.

Thoughts that Count

And G-d spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai (Num. 1:1)

The Midrash relates that G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people via fire, water, and in the desert, to teach us how a Jew merits to acquire its learning: Fire is symbolic of the fiery enthusiasm and craving for G-dliness that exists within the heart of every Jew; water is symbolic of the temperance and clarity of thought necessary for Torah study; and the desert symbolizes the need to put aside all worldly pleasures that might interfere with the attainment of perfection.

(Shem MiShmuel)

From 20 years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel (Num. 1:3)

A person becomes fully responsible for his acts at the age of 20, when the real battle with the evil inclination first begins. At that age, one is considered sufficiently equipped to be "able to go out to war" against the evil inclination and win.

(Admor of Gur)

The tribe of Zebulan (Num. 2:7)

In enumerating all the other tribes according to their grouping by banners, the Torah states "and the tribe of so-and-so." The tribe of Zebulan, however, is listed without the word "and" preceding it. The reason is that the Zebulanites engaged in commerce to support the tribe of Issachar, whose members studied Torah as a livelihood. Lest we conclude that they were somehow inferior to Issachar because of this arrangement, the Torah refers to them simply as "the" tribe of Zebulan, to indicate that whoever supports Torah learning is considered an important entity unto himself.

(Baal HaTurim)

It Once Happened

Many years ago in Dubrovno there was a boy named Feivish Henech, who was a G-d-fearing lad. Although he was not a great student, he nevertheless devoted practically all his time to reciting Psalms, and this he did in the sweetest voice imaginable.

Feivish Henech was a beautiful-looking boy and his voice was a pleasure to listen to. When he sang the Psalms of praise, his voice rang with joy, so that everyone listening to him felt their beings permeated with gladness. But when Feivish recited the Psalms which were outpourings of the soul to the Alm-ghty, beseeching Him to help His troubled people, Feivish Henech's voice assumed such depths of melancholy and distress, that everyone felt full of sorrow and sadness.

When he reached the age of 16, he suddenly took it into his head to live differently from everyone. He spent literally every moment of his life reciting the Psalms. And in order that no one should deter him from his purpose, he stopped up his ears so that no sound of the outside world should reach him. He covered up his eyes so that no sight should disturb him, as he could recite the Psalms and prayers by heart. He ate hardly anything, fasting all day and only partaking of a crust of bread and drink of water at night. On Shabbat or holidays he ate white bread, instead of the darker bread, and in addition drank a glass of wine. One may have expected to see him become a physical wreck under the circumstances, but to everyone's surprise he became, if anything, even stronger and more handsome.

Naturally, he could not go unnoticed, and he was talked about all around the area of Dubrovno. When word of this strange Jewish hermit reached the ears of a certain anti-Semitic Polish squire, he decided he would have some sport with the Jew. He sent one of his servants to Dubrovno to bring Feivish back, but when the man heard that Feivish was a holy man whom it was impossible to approach, he fled in terror. When his master heard his story, he flew into a deadly rage and ordered the poor fellow to be publicly flogged. The usual penalty was 15 lashes, after which the unfortunate victim had to crawl on all fours and kiss the feet of his tormentor, begging forgiveness. But when the lashes were administered to the back of the servant, nothing happened; there was no pain and no blood.

Everyone wondered what would happen now. It was known that the squire had sent other servants to fetch Feivish Henech the Hermit. The servants returned, but without Feivish. They related their story: "When we found the hermit, he was standing and praying. We called out to him, but he made no sign of having heard. I stepped up quite close to him and struck him with my whip, but it was as if it hadn't even touched him. Then I waited and tried to convince him to accompany us, but he refused to react and we had no choice, but to come without him."

The squire was in a rage. "Saddle a horse, and I myself will fetch this crazy Jew! Get the priest and he will accompany us." In the squire's heart was a creeping fear that the hermit might after all be a supernatural being.

When the priest heard that the squire planned to use force against Feivish Henech, he begged him, "Please, Your Honor, do not do anything against Feivish Henech the Hermit. He is a holy man and you will be wiser to leave him alone. I, myself, will have nothing to do with this foolishness."

"Aren't you ashamed? I will show you that he is merely mentally unhinged!" exclaimed the squire.

When the squire entered the study hall he greeted the rabbi and the other community notables in a friendly manner, but he let them know that he was there to prove that this particular hermit who refused to see, hear, or eat was just crazy, and had nothing supernatural about him.

"You are playing with fire," they warned him, but he refused to listen.

"I have driven sense into many obstinate persons with this whip and shall now drive the nonsense out of this individual also!" With that he walked up to Feivish Henech and struck him with his whip. The whip fell out of his grasp and his hand dropped helplessly to his side as excruciating pains shot through his arm.

There was a feeling of panic in the air. The Jews feared the squire's retaliation against the entire community, while the squire's men were terrified of the hermit. They bundled up their master and ran for their carriage. Feivish the Hermit took no notice of the entire proceeding and continue to fill the hall with his exquisite singing.

The squire's pain became unbearable. He wanted to return to the hermit and beg forgiveness, but he was told that no one could approach the holy man. The doctors said there was no hope, other than to remove the arm before it poisoned the entire body.

From this time on, people in trouble tried to do something for the hermit, so that they might be helped, as a result. So it was that all the childless wives of the town gathered together and raised funds to build a study hall with special accommodations for Feivish Henech the Hermit to be called by his name. It is an interesting fact that after this, all the childless women bore children.

Adapted from the Memoirs of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.

Moshiach Matters

The Mishna states: "Whoever quotes a concept in the name of its author brings Redemption to the World (Ethics 6:6). Associating a concept with its author enables one to associate the Author of the ten utterances of creation (G-d) with His statements, i.e., one is better able to appreciate how G-d'' speech is the life-force for creation. This awareness helps one bring the world to a state of Redemption - when the G-dly core of all existence will be openly revealed.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Motzoei Shabbat Parshat Balak, 5738 - 1978)

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