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Devarim Deutronomy

May 28, 2009 - 5 Sivan, 5769

1072: Shavuos

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

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  1071: Bamidbar1073: Nasso  

Life's A Journey  |  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

Life's A Journey

by Rabbi Shlomie Chein

Twenty roaring Harley Davidsons, Suzukis and Hondas of the YOW - Yids On Wheels motorcycle club - are raring to go, just waiting for the light to turn green.

This oddity has an added oddity; on the back of one bike sits a rabbinical student. What is he doing there?

It's usually none of my business who's sitting where, but that night it was my concern. That rabbinical student was me.

A friend had offered to take me along, so I switched my black fedora for a hard helmet, and my dark blazer for a bomber jacket. After 20 city minutes, we left the traffic lights behind and began the mountainous climb through the countryside. Awesome.

This is no comfy car. I hold on for dear life, out there in the wild where you swerve with every curve, and thump on every bump. Hard uphill, you wonder if we'll ever make it to the top. Seems like the Final Redemption after a long and perilous road.

We made it to the top, under a crescent moon with stars sprinkled about like glitter. What's a Chasidic Jew doing out here? I realized there how nowhere the "middle of nowhere" really is.

Holy Moses! The Jewish people got the Torah on a mountain in the wilderness, in the middle of nowhere. Why? Were the grand ballrooms or big parks booked that day? Maybe a Divine Revelation would give me, too, a Torah insight on the mountain!

There are three types of transportation. Public transportation: you hop on board, someone else does the driving. Private transportation: you take your car, but as soon as you hit flatland, you hit cruise. Then there's the motorcycle, the real ride where you fully travel each part of the way. I couldn't let go for a second; there's no forgetting where you are.

Life's a journey. We're constantly moving. Our thoughts change, our feelings grow. We get older, explore and encounter, and learn new things. But how long can we keep it up?

Some just get on the bus, riding the waves of others; family or friends, fame, riches or luck. They make nothing of, and on, their own.

Others pull out of the driveway in their little car and roll down the small streets. They change lanes on busy thoroughfares, getting on and off fast highways. But when they find their route, they lean back, relax, and hit cruise.

The Jews got their directions on a mountain in middle of nowhere. Yup, if you're living, keep riding. Don't just take the bus. It's nice that Grandpa made Kiddush and Grandma lit Shabbat candles Friday night. But that was them. If you're still riding on their ride, you missed your stop!

Your car won't do it. Bar/Bat Mitzva classes are fine; Hebrew school is super. But the ride doesn't end there. That was way back when station wagons were in; you wouldn't be caught near one of those today. As for your current situation, "been there, done that." Its time to move on!

If you're not doing anything real right here and right now; is it really you who's moving ahead, or are you just watching everyone else outside go past!

Now cut cruisin', rev your engine and scoot up to your Shavout mountaintop!

Rabbi Chein and his wife Devorah Leah direct Chabad at UCSC

Living with the Rebbe

The Midrash relates that the Jewish people slept through the entire night before the Torah was given on Shavuot. Their sleep was so deep and so pleasant, in fact, that we are told that the insects didn't dare to disturb them.

The next morning, the day on which the Torah was to be given, they overslept! G-d Himself had to awaken them. Unbelievably, the Jewish people arrived late for the revelation at Mount Sinai.

In commemoration of this event it is customary to remain awake the entire night of Shavuot learning Torah in the synagogue. But how could the Children of Israel have allowed themselves to fall asleep in the first place? If the greatest human king had promised to give us a valuable treasure, wouldn't we be too excited to sleep the night before? How much more so a gift that is expected from the King of kings!

In truth, having been told that G-d would be giving them the Torah in 50 days, the Jews yearned with such anticipation that they immediately began to count the days. Each day, as they counted, they ascended one spiritual rung after the other by ridding themselves of the negative characteristics they had acquired in Egypt and transforming them into positive ones. The nearer the day came, the greater was their excitement. And yet, when the day finally arrived, they almost slept right through it!

To explain: The Jewish people did not fall asleep by accident; they did so deliberately, with good intentions. For they were convinced that going to sleep would constitute the final stage in their preparation for receiving the Torah.

When a person sleeps, his soul ascends on high. Thus the Jews deliberately went to sleep to allow their souls to comprehend even higher levels of the Torah. Nonetheless, G-d did not approve of their behavior, as it missed the point of the entire revelation.

In His Torah, G-d commanded us to utilize physical objects in the performance of His mitzvot (commandments). Thinking about giving charity is not enough; we have to actually give a poor person the money. By utilizing physical objects (a lulav on Sukkot, for example) we imbue the world with holiness, thereby connecting the spiritual and material realms.

When a person sleeps, however, his soul is not connected to the physical world, and the spiritual and material realms remain disunited - the antithesis of G-d's intent in giving us His Torah.

Accordingly, the proper preparation for receiving the Torah should have involved serving G-d on the highest spiritual levels while still awake, the better to fulfill G-d's ultimate intention in creating the world.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Volume 4

A Slice of Life

Just Do It

Excerpts from a speech said by Aliza Horowitz at the passing of her father, Dr. Alvin Cohen and from a letter that she wrote to him.
When I was about five-years-old I asked my father what he did at work. He said, "People lie down on the couch and I say 'What's on your mind?' and they tell me.

I asked, "Can I try it?" He said, "Sure" and he lay down on the couch. "Now say, 'What's on your mind?' he coached me.

I said, "What's on your mind?" and paused a second. "Daddy, what's a mind?"

The fact that my father was a psychiatrist had a major impact on all of our lives. All of his children are in the mental health or related field. I became a therapist myself at the age of 50. I feel like I am carrying on my father's legacy when I practice therapy. We are all inspired in our work through his example. We always knew how much his patients meant to him and how he was available to them.

When I was a child his compassionate eyes looked sad to me. I thought that he held the pain of all the patients inside his heart because it wasn't just a job for him. He respected all people from all walks of life. His patients used to ask, "How do you remember everything about each one of us?" His answer: "Don't you have more than one sibling? Do you get mixed up between them?"

One time my siblings were arguing. What about? That each of us thought that we were Dad's favorite child. In the end we just agreed, he loves us all the most. But secretly each one of us knew we were really his favorite child. And that is his remarkable ability to give unconditional love. His inclusive heart loved all of us lucky enough to be in his path. This is the well of strength that I draw from during the vicissitudes of life. And now in this most trying time I will dig inside and draw from this well again.

Everyone young and old and in between was drawn to his warmth, his witty ways and quiet wisdom. All his children and grandchildren vied for a place on the couch next to him to lean on his shoulder figuratively and actually.

In spite of a 12 hour workday, beginning at 7 a.m., he was available to his family. He was a real family man, helping us with homework, flying kites, and jogging in the park before it was in vogue. My father would have special time with each of us - we called it "Daddy Talking Time," a wonderful invention of my sister Diane. He would bring us out for lunch in a restaurant, teaching us one of the many poems, sonnets and soliloquies he knew by heart, on the ride there and back. Our family, especially our father has been known to burst into a poem for every occasion.

As children we would play the game of trust. We would stand perfectly stiff and straight and fall back into my fathers arms without looking back. And trust we did! We always trusted him to be there for us. My father had a witty personality. He laughed at himself never at others, and saw humor in every situation, even dire ones.

During my turbulent teenage years, I often felt down and my father would come home from work and ask me, "On a scale of one to ten, how do you feel? 'One' is abysmal despair and 'ten' is euphoria. I would usually say 'two' or 'three,' and he would say, "If I could take away the pain I would." And that was his life's mission - to ease the pain of those he knew. He certainly listened more than he spoke. And those he listened to felt heard on a cellular level. Each one's story was important. He encouraged everyone he knew to be empowered and not be a victim.

At the age of 21, I became a religious Jew. My father came to visit me in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to make sure I had not joined a cult, because up until then I had tried many things while searching for my true self.

The more I got involved in studying Jewish texts and especially Chasidic philosophy, the more I exclaimed: "Hey this is what my father taught me all along: Live each day fully; Act happy even when you're not; The mind controls the heart; The word 'can't' doesn't exist."

After my father verified that Lubavitch was not a cult, he was fully supportive of my choice and celebrated the birth of each child and each Bar Mitzva, Bat Mitzva and wedding. He was a favorite amongst our friends. People were always asking him for advice or pouring out their heart to him as he listened attentively.

When our entire family would get together - my sisters Diane and Jeanie, and my brother Larry, and their families - we would often have Shabbat meals with my father presiding as patriarch, saying the kiddish, the prayer over the challa, and blessing the children.

Later on my father began to study Talmud on occasion. He never tired of learning new things and learning them well. Computer skills, music appreciation, acting, the list goes on.

When interviewed by my daughter Nechamie, my father said his message to his children and the world is the Nike slogan, "Just do it." Don't spend useless hours thinking about doing something. Just do it.

My father tried to empower me to be independent, and to be responsible and accountable for my actions. "You can feel what you feel, but do what you have to do anyway," he would say. It took many years to adopt this philosophy that has shaped my life.

Today, I have the answer to my childhood question, what is a mind? A mind is something that can make a person with a serious illness at the age of 87 go to work every day. A mind can make a person not complain about his lot in life. A mind can make a person "just do it."

According to Chasidic tradition, we choose our parents, for they are our teachers in this lifetime. I think I made a good choice.

What's New

New Emissaries

Rabbi Enan and Gitty Francis will be moving to Connecticut where Rabbi Francis will become the principal at the Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy in Orange, Connecticut. Rabbi Chaim and Aidel Zaklos are arriving soon in Solano County, California, to establish a new Chabad House serving the local Jewish residents in Vacaville, Fairfield and Vallejo, California. Rabbi Chaim Leib and Miki Hilel will be going to San Luis Obispo County in California to establish a new Chabad House on campus at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly). Rabbi Moishe and Michal Carlebach are moving to Toluca Lake, California, to establish a new Chabad House, serving the needs of the local Jewish community.

The Rebbe Writes

2nd day of Sivan, 5729 [1969]

Greeting and blessing:

I was pleased to receive your letter of the 26th of Iyar, and to note that the honorary officers and membership of the congregation Bnei Ruven are honoring Rabbi and Mrs. Shusterman on the occasion of their three-fold simcha [happy occasion].

I am particularly gratified to see that the services of your distinguished rabbi are so well appreciated. I am confident that his dedication to Torah and Yiddishkeit [Judaism] without compromise is the living pattern for lay leadership of the congregation as well as the membership at large, each and everyone doing their utmost to ensure that the house of prayer and the house of study of your congregation should be likewise conducted with faithful adherence to our sacred traditions without compromise. May your congregation serve as a living example to be emulated by others.

Since everything is by hashgocha protis (Divine providence), it is significant that this letter was written on the 2nd day of Sivan. For, regarding this date, the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Chasidism] reminds us in his Shulchan Aruch (end of sec. 494) that it was on this day that G-d told the Jewish people through Moshe Rabbenu [Moses]: "and you shall be unto me a kingdom of Kohanim [priests] and a holy nation." This means that, although the Kohanim have been separated from the midst of the Jewish people and raised to a special status, the purpose was that they should raise the whole Jewish people to a higher plain of holiness. In a similar sense it is the duty and privilege of the spiritual leader of the congregation, as well as the lay leaders, to see to it that the high principles and standards of your rabbi should be emulated by each and every one of the members. This can effectively be accomplished through the synagogue, when the light, warmth and holiness of the synagogue are brought into each member's house and household, and In all affairs and aspects of the daily life.

In as much as there is no limit to the good and holy, since they are infinite, being derived from the infinite, may G-d grant that the entire congregation, under the leadership of, and together with your esteemed Rabbi Shusterman, advance from strength to strength in all matters of goodness and holiness. This will also widen the channels and vessels to receive and enjoy G-d's blessing in abundance, materially and spiritually.

Freely translated and adapted

21 Iyar, 5710 [1950]

A year ago today the [Previous] Rebbe wrote a letter to the chassidim and students of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah who had settled in the Holy Land.... In it the Rebbe informs them, "I have directed the administration of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch to send you a Sefer Torah [Torah scroll]," and expresses his hope that it will serve -

as a constant reminder in your minds and your hearts to structure your private and public lives entirely according to the Torah, as we have been taught to do by our holy forebears, the Rebbes whose souls are in the Garden of Eden. May this Sefer Torah remind you to uncompromisingly educate your sons and daughters in its ways, and to diffuse its spirit, the spirit of our Patriarch Jacob, over your fellow Jews - both over those who are near at hand and over those who are momentarily distant - by inspiring them and guiding them along the path that leads up to the House of G-d. This is the path of Torah study in a G-d-fearing spirit, the path of loving and meticulous observance of the mitzvos (commandments). May you guide your brethren along this path out of a feeling of real kinship that springs from the love of one's fellow Jew, and from the characteristically chassidic attributes that accord with the teachings of Chassidus.

May every man and woman among you serve as a lamp to light up the darkness of exile - in which you and we find ourselves - with the light of G-d, until He fulfills the promise conveyed through His holy prophets, and lets us hear the voice of the herald who will bring tidings of salvation. "For G-d has comforted His people," and He will proceed before us to gather in our exiles and to liberate us with an everlasting Redemption.

We receive the Torah every single day, and every single day we bless Him Who gives us the Torah - for He gives it to us every day, but particularly on the festival of Shavuos, the "time of the Giving of the Torah" for the entire year.

On this festival, as well as on the days before and after it, we should meditate deeply upon the words of the [Previous] Rebbe quoted above, in a way that gives rise to positive results throughout the year, in all the areas enumerated in his letter.

The appeal of the [Previous] Rebbe which he cried out to us from his innermost soul should constantly resound in our ears and minds and hearts: "What are people waiting for? The Redemption is being held up! It's already past noon on erev Shabbos!"

From Proceeding Together, translated by Rabbi Uri Kaploun, published by Sichos In English

A Call to Action

Bring the Children to Synagogue

In 5740 (1981) the Rebbe called on people everywhere to make sure that children of all ages, from infants on up, be in the synagogue on Shavuot to hear the Ten Commandments. Thus began an annual campaign to encourage as many people as possible to bring their children to shul on Shavuot. Many Chabad-Lubavitch Centers have parties for the kids to make the experience even more enjoyable. Bring your children (or grandchildren) to shul on Shavuot, and encourage others to do the same.

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

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

One time when Rebbe Shalom Dovber of Lubavitch was asked to address a rabbinical assembly, he began with a quote from our Sages: "The Talmud states in Baba Batra." Someone in the audience immediately cited the page in the Talmud where the statement appears. "The Torah was not given," the Rebbe chided him, "so that people can demonstrate that they know exactly where something is written."

As we celebrate the revelation of the Torah on Shavuot, the central historical event that took place some 3321 years ago, it is fitting that we examine the concept of Torah study. The Torah was not given to man as a means of acquiring honor and respect; it was given to us as a means of attaching ourselves to G-d.

Chasidic philosophy explains that Torah, the sustenance of the Jewish soul, is likened to bread. If a person eats bread that isn't sufficiently baked, the body cannot digest it properly. When a Jew learns Torah that has been "baked" in the "fire" of love - that is, when he approaches the Torah out of a desire to draw closer to G-d and unite with Him - the knowledge he gains will be completely absorbed and internalized. But if his Torah study is insufficiently "baked," it does not become one with the soul and remains extraneous to his being.

In particular, the study of Chasidut, which delves into the essential nature of Torah and how it enables us to bond with the Infinite, imbues all of our Torah study with an added level of vitality. As the third Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek said, "Inner Torah [Chasidut] gives vitality to the revealed Torah. When one learns Jewish law and knows that after his 120 years on earth he will learn the same law in the Garden of Eden, it puts a little fire into him."

As we rejoice in this "time of the giving of our Torah," let us pray that we immediately merit "the new [dimensions of] Torah" that our righteous Moshiach will teach us, speedily in our day.

Thoughts that Count

No Sin on Shavuot

According to the Torah, a chatat (sin) offering is required on every festival with the exception of Shavuot. The reason is that on Shavuot, the day the Torah was given, every Jew is considered a "convert," a newborn entity. In the same way that a newborn baby is free of transgression, so too are all Jews without sin on Shavuot.

(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)

The Ten Commandments

Our Sages offered several explanations of how the Ten Commandments were perceived at Mount Sinai: G-d uttered all Ten Commandments simultaneously, then explained each one in turn. But the Jews only understood the first two, until Moses explained the rest.


The Jewish people heard all Ten Commandments from G-d, but could only make out the words of the first two. During the last eight commandments they could hear a Voice, but were unable to distinguish individual words. Only Moses was able to discern them.


Only the first two commandments were heard directly from G-d, but even those not as individual words. Only Moses heard individual words.


G-d uttered all Ten Commandments at the same time, but after comprehending only the first two, the Jews fainted. The other eight commandments remained "suspended" until their souls returned to their bodies, whereupon G-d's Voice spoke to each Jew individually.

(Ohr HaChayim)

The Revelation of G-d's Infinite Light

When the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, the Essence of G-d's Infinite Light was revealed in the letters of the Ten Commandments. At the same time, G-d imbued every Jewish soul throughout the generations, in every age and in every location, with the power to draw down the same revelation through the study of Torah.

(Sefer HaMaamarim Kuntreisim)

It Once Happened

Hard times had hit the land of Israel; famine stalked the land and the people looked to the heavens for respite from their troubles. The leaders of the people, the descendants of the house of Judah, lived in Beit Lechem and at their head was Elimelech, a leader of the generation.

As members of the elite of their people, he and his wife and two sons lived in comfort, possessing vast fields, animals and a store of gold and silver. But Elimelech committed a fatal sin. For, just when the eyes of his troubled brethren focused on him for help and guidance, he left and abandoned them to their fate. Taking his wife Naomi and his two sons, he settled in the land of Moab where he was received in a manner fitting a man of his exalted station. And there he lived, a prosperous and respected member of the aristocracy of that alien land, the plight of his suffering people conveniently forgotten.

For ten years life went on until tragedy struck - Elimelech died. His sons - who had married into the royal family of Moab - soon met the same fate, leaving Naomi, a grieving mother, and Ruth and Orpah, childless widows. Naomi was now finally free to act as her heart desired, as it had desired these ten long years in this foreign land. Though alone and broken, she decided to return home, to live out her life among her own people. She gave her loving blessings to her two young daughters-in-law and prepared to set out on her return journey. But their love for her was strong and deep, and they refused to part from her.

Only after many entreaties and tears did Orpah kiss Naomi a final goodbye and return to her family. But Ruth, from whom Moshiach was destined to descend, staunchly refused to budge from her mother-in-law's side: "Don't tell me to leave you," Ruth implored. "Where you go, I will go; where you stay I will stay; your people will be my people; and your G-d will be my G-d. Where you die I will die and there will I be buried; only death will part us." Of all the Moabites, only Ruth had inherited from her forefather, Lot - Abraham's nephew - the trait of loving-kindness. When Naomi realized at last that Ruth wouldn't be dissuaded, she stopped speaking about it, and the two women began their long journey back to Beit Lechem.

"Is this Naomi?" exclaimed the townspeople in their amazement. How should they greet her? Should they disdain the former aristocrat who turned her back on them in their time of trouble, or pity the suffering widow who now stood before them? No one made a move.

Poor and homeless, Ruth went out to gather the fallen sheaves in the field, those designated for the destitute. Unknowingly she went to gather wheat in a field which belonged to Boaz, a wealthy relative of Naomi. While other women who gathered wheat talked and flirted with the workers, Ruth conducted herself modestly, her eyes fixed on her work. As he passed through the fields Boaz noticed her, and discovering that she was the daughter-in-law of his relative, encouraged her to gather the wheat with his own maidservants. Boaz had heard of Ruth's incredible devotion to Naomi, and he resolved to take her under his wing.

When Ruth returned home that night Naomi marvelled at her successful gleaning. "Whose field did you work in?" she asked, excitedly. Ruth told her mother-in-law the whole story, how Boaz showered her with kindness and allowed her to gather as much as she could and even eat together with his workers. "Of course, he is one of our close kinsmen," said Naomi, smiling. Boaz was one of her closest relatives, and he was finally taking notice of their plight. In Naomi's heart was the strong and secret wish that Boaz would take Ruth for his wife, thereby providing a successor to the family of Elimelech. Could it be that G-d's mercy was beginning to shine on them once again?

Boaz, the closest near relative married Ruth in fulfillment of the commandment of Levirite marriage, and they were blessed with a son, who was called Oved - "the servant of G-d." Naomi was exalted! Oved was the grandfather of David of whom we say, "David, the King of Israel, who lives forever." He was the forerunner of the Eternal Monarchy of Israel - and Moshiach will be descended from him.

Moshiach Matters

"May we merit the Redemption immediately. Significantly, 'miyad,' the Hebrew for 'immediately,' is an acronym for the names of the three Jewish leaders connected to the holiday of Shavuot: Moses, who received the Torah at Mount Sinai, Reb Yisrael Baal Shem Tov whose yahrzeit is on Shavuot, and King David, who wrote the book of Psalms and whose yahrzeit is also on Shavuot.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, the night after Shavuot, 5751 - 1991)

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