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1077: Chukas-Balak

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Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
July 3, 2009 - 11 Tamuz, 5769

1077: Chukas-Balak

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


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  1076: Korach1078: Pinchas  

Prayer for America  |  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

Prayer for America

In 1940, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, was miraculously saved from the Nazis and arrived on the safe shores of the United States. Soon after the Rebbe's arrival, he revealed that his mission in the United States was to transform it into a place of Torah.

There were those who attempted to inform the Rebbe that, "This is, after all, America; it is not like the 'old home.' " To these people, the Rebbe replied, "America is no different; with regard to Torah study and observance of its commandments, America is no exception!"

In the months after the Previous Rebbe came to the United States, he composed a "Prayer for the Welfare of the Nation."

The idea of praying for the government has a Biblical source, in the book of Jeremiah: "Seek the welfare of the country where I have sent you into exile; pray to the L-rd for it, for your welfare depends on its welfare."

In the Mishna, Rabbi Chanina the deputy High Priest said, "Pray for the welfare of the government, for without the fear of it, man would swallow his fellow alive." (Ethics of the Fathers 3:2)

Throughout the ages, Jews have always prayed privately and communally for the welfare of the government and the leaders of the government of the countries in which we find ourselves. Today is no different.

Take a moment to recite this prayer, and to share it with a friend. We do not know which person's mitzva (commandment) will be the one to tip the scale of justice and bring redemption to the entire world, but it could just be yours or mine! Let's give it a try:

"Our G-d and G-d of our fathers, great, mighty and revered. G-d, we beseech You, in Your abundant mercy restore the world unto its true basis, under the guidance of kings and rulers who shall reign with justice and righteousness, without discrimination between nation and nation, race and race.

"We beseech You, O merciful and gracious G-d, guide our illustrious President whom You have chosen leader of these United States. Strengthen and encourage him and his honorable ministers and counselors of state and the honorable representatives of the citizens in both houses of Congress. Bless their efforts to save this land and the neighboring lands from war and destruction, and wherever they turn in the cause of humanity and in behalf of this land and for the benefit of Your people Israel, send the angels of blessing and success to welcome them, and cause war and its calamities to be ended and an era of peace and justice with its blessings to begin even in their and our days. Amen."


Living with the Rebbe

The first of this week's two Torah portions, Chukat, describes the Jewish people's impatience with their long journey through the desert. Despite the manna from heaven, the fresh water from Miriam s well and the Clouds of Glory which protected them wherever they went, they were dissatisfied.

Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? they complained.

Because of their ingratitude, G-d sent a plague of fiery serpents to punish them. The serpent, to whom all food has the same taste, became the vehicle for punishment against those who complained that the manna, which acquired any taste the individual desired, was insufficient. The fiery snakes, so called because their poisonous venom burns like fire, bit the people, and many died.

Chastised, the Jews came to Moses and admitted that they had sinned. They begged him to pray to G-d to remove the terrible plague from their midst. G-d's answer to Moses' prayer was the following: Make for yourself a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole... everyone that is bitten - when he sees it - he shall live. Moses followed G-d's command and fashioned a serpent out of copper (nechoshet in Hebrew, from the same root word as serpent nachash), and set it high upon a pole where it could be easily seen. The Torah tells us that when an afflicted person looked up at the serpent, he was healed and did not die.

Rashi, the great Torah commentator, explains that merely looking at the copper serpent was not enough. A person had to look up in the spiritual sense as well, accepting the yoke of heaven and subjugating his heart to G-d above. Only then would the bitten person be restored to health.

The serpent itself, symbolic of the primordial serpent in the Garden of Eden, responsible for bringing evil into the world, alludes to this concept of transforming the negative into the positive. The bitten person had to subjugate his whole heart, the evil as well as the good inclination, and dedicate his entire being to the service of G-d.

Another example of this concept, the transformation of evil into a positive force for good, is also found in the beginning of the Torah portion. The ashes of the red heifer, although making unclean whoever prepared them, brought purity to the sinner on whom they were sprinkled.

This is the goal of every Jew - to utilize both of our inclinations in the service of G-d and serve Him with a whole heart.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.


A Slice of Life

The Candelabra
by Barbara Slarskey Bottino

Where do I begin my story; from my very distant recollection of my childhood as far back as my memory will take me, or from the time that my dear mother passed away at 93 years of age?

The candelabra on her kitchen table, the Shabbos candles, the black lace doily she wore on her head and the tan colored, frayed prayer book she held in her hands. The aura around her was mystifying as she stood so straight and tall to recite the prayers to welcome in Shabbos.

Week after week, year after year, decade after decade, I watched this enchanting ceremony, never allowing myself to imagine my mother not being there to kindle the lights. How quickly the years passed. What I thought would never end was ending.

She knew her journey in the physical world was fading. As the last few months of her life passed, I would help her walk from the living room to the kitchen and listen to her soft voice recite the awe-inspiring Hebrew prayers. Standing beside her, I steadied her with the help of her walker as she would look up at me and invariably point out the page from which she was reciting the prayers. I was realizing how frail she was becoming, now requiring my assistance standing behind her with my hands on her waist to support her so she could continue to stand tall and welcome in the Shabbos.

Each Sabbath seemed to pass more quickly than the preceding one. I knew that each week that I had the privilege of listening to her pray was another blessing granted to me. I wanted to hang on forever to each word she chanted. Then one Friday evening came, and as she sat in her living room chair she reminded me that sunset was nearing, it was getting time to light the candles and she wanted me to do it. Honored to stand where she stood every Friday night, week after week, year after year and decade after decade, I recited the soulful prayers she had said so many times. I wanted so badly to hear her voice, but instead heard mine in its place. My heart was broken. I knew she was weak and tired and ready to move on; for nothing would have ever stood in the way of her welcoming the Shabbos Queen.

On a warm spring morning, April 23, 2007, she passed away in the comfort of her cherished home. She lay close to the candelabra that she lit for 73 years. Heartbroken for my loss, I abandoned her most cherished candelabra. I wanted to stop time. If I left the candelabra as it was, never to be lit again, the warm lights of Shabbos, along with her spirit, would remain locked in my heart forever. And so, that is how it remained for over two years.

In the spring of 2009, an invitation came to me from two beautiful spiritual people, Rabbi Michoel and Dvora Green. They invited me to attend an evening of song and dance for Jewish women in honor of their daughter Chaya's Bat Mitzva. While watching the events of the evening, I reminisced about the days I spent with my beloved mother. I listened to Dvora, a young, wonderful mother, and Chaya just starting out on the road of womanhood. They inspired me and my soul was rekindled.

At Chaya's Bas Mitzva a "Mitzva Auction" was held. The theme was commitment to Judaism. The auction table was set up with beautiful mitzva items: candlesticks, a kiddush cup, a stuffed Torah for letters in the Torah scroll, the Spice and Spirit Kosher Cookbook, two Jewish Children's books, a tzedaka (charity) box, a mezuza. Two mitzva auction tickets were given to each of the guests in attendance. Beside each item was placed a "Mitzva bag." Each woman was asked to make a pledge to what she felt she could commit to and drop her ticket in that bag. I chose the commitment to light the Shabbos candles. My name was called as having won that commitment and having won the candlesticks! I truly felt it was a spiritual communication from my mother and that my mother's unconditional love of Judaism would live on through my heart.

It was then that I understood how proud my mother must have been when she asked me to light the Shabbos candles in her place. The abandoned candelabra on her kitchen table, the black lace doily she wore on her head, and the tan colored, frayed prayer book she held in her hands were brought back to life.

In memory of my beloved mother, Ida Slarskey and my kind and gentle father, Louis Slarskey

What's New

New Emissaries

Although throughout the years, Lubavitcher yeshiva students and rabbis have visited Jews in Canberra, Australia, the city recently welcomed permanent shluchim (emissaries). Rabbi Dan and Naomi Avital moved to Canberra, the capital of Australia, where the Parliament House, the High Court of Australia and numerous government departments are located. Rabbi Shmuly and Henna Kopel and their two children have moved to the southern most Jewish community in the world, the Otago District in New Zealand's South Island. Rabbi and Mrs. Eli Lang have moved to Haifa, Israel, to help strengthen the work of the Chabad House at the Technion University.

Collective Bar/Bat Mitzvas

Three cities in Russia recently celebrated the "coming of age" of a number of young people in their respective communities. In each place, the youngsters had to complete a course of Jewish studies before participating in the festivities. In Nizhny Novgorod, eight boys and girls participated in a collective Bar/Bat a ceremony. In Tomsk, nine students celebrated gaining the stature of full-fledged adults in Jewish law, and in Petersburg, Russia's northern capital, nine children celebrated their Bar or Bat Mitzva.


The Rebbe Writes

8th of Tammuz, 5738 [1978]

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 13th of June, on behalf of yourself as chairman of the committee.

I was gratified to read in your letter about the favorable impact of Lubavitch in South Africa, and in your city and congregation in particular. I trust that this good influence finds the fullest expression in actual deeds, namely in promoting matters of Yiddishkeit [Judaism], Torah and mitzvos [commandments], in your community, in accordance with the saying of our Sages that, "The essential thing is the deed." And in matters of Torah and mitzvos, even one good deed is very important, since "one mitzvah leads to another mitzvah."

Even more important it is where Jewish education is concerned, especially as I note that your shul [synagogue] is situated on a campus of, and used by, a Jewish Day School of approximately 1,000 children, and where your congregation has been blessed with many families, adults and children - may their number grow. For, as I have had occasion to emphasize this many times, every beneficial influence on a child is like the benefits and care given to a young seedling, which multiplies in due course many times over, when the seedling becomes a full-grown fruit-bearing tree.

As we are approaching the auspicious anniversary of the liberation of my father-in-law of saintly memory on the 12th-13th of Tammuz, I trust that you know the history and significance of this date. The main point of it is that he has shown what a Jew can achieve when he is absolutely determined to live up to his commitment to Torah and mitzvos regardless of the circumstances. And there is no need to spell out what these circumstances were under the Communist regime 50 years ago.

And although who can compare to his stature, nevertheless having accomplished what he did, he has made it easier for all those who would follow in his footsteps. Certainly those of us who are privileged to live in incomparably happier circumstances, where one does not have to endanger his life, G-d forbid, to observe the Torah and mitzvos, and whatever difficulties there may be are for the most part imaginary and can certainly be overcome, so that in the final analysis it is mainly a matter of one's own will and determination.

This makes it the duty and privilege of every one of us to do all one can, by example and precept, to spread Yiddishkeit, Torah and mitzvos, in one's surroundings, and it is certain that every such effort is bound to be blessed by G-d with hatzlacha [success].

P.S. With regard to your writing about your desire to visit me with a group from your congregation, I regret that for the present "yechidus" [a private audience with the Rebbe] has been suspended for reasons beyond my control. I trust, however, that before long it will be resumed and it will then certainly be a pleasure to meet with you personally.


7th of Tammuz, 5735 [1975]

I was pleased to receive a report through the visitors from London about your activities and the work of the various committees.

On the basis of your achievements in the past, one can surely be confident that these will stimulate you to even greater accomplishments in the future, in accor-dance with the saying of our Sages, "He who has 100, desires 200, and having achieved 200, desires (not only a similar increase, but) 400." And if such is the case in material things, how much greater should be one's spiritual aspirations.

At this time, in proximity to the 12-13th of Tammuz, the anniversary of the geulah [redemption] of my father-in-law of saintly memory, the history and significance of which you all surely know, I trust that each and all of you will be inspired by these auspicious days.

One of the main points is that this anniversary demonstrates how much a single Jew can accomplish in matters of Torah and mitzvos, even under the most adverse circumstances. And although none of us can compare to him, we should remember that after he had blazed the trail and shown the way, he has made it easier for every Jew to follow in his footsteps. It should, of course, also be borne in mind that none of us have to face any such difficulties and dangers as he had to face day after day. There is surely no need to elaborate on the obvious.

May G-d grant that you should always have good news to report.


A Call to Action

Celebrate Your New House or Help a Friend Celebrate

It is a Jewish custom to hold a festive meal and rejoice at a "dedication of the house," i.e., to hold a housewarming. "Inviting friends to one's new home to celebrate at a gathering at which Torah thoughts and Chasidic teachings are expounded, will be beneficial both materially and spiritually. (From a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)

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

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

On the third of Tammuz, the Previous Rebbe was informed that his life sentence in Communist jail was commuted to three years of exile in the city of Kostrama. On the twelfth of Tammuz, the day of his birthday, the Previous Rebbe was informed of his total release.

Concerning his personal redemption, the Previous Rebbe wrote: "The Holy One, blessed be He, did not redeem me alone... but all those who are referred to with the name 'Israel.' "

The Previous Rebbe's redemption came about in stages. First, the Rebbe's life sentence was commuted to three years in exile. Afterward, the three years in exile was dismissed and the Rebbe was free to leave Russia - even told to leave Russia - and was assisted in his departure by the very same people who had initially imprisoned him.

A further stage in the Previous Rebbe's redemption was his coming to America, which brought about an increase in the work of spreading the teachings of Chasidut throughout the world.

And this increase in the spreading of the teachings of Chasidut continues even to this day. It serves to hasten the Redemption, as exemplified by the famous quote of Moshiach to the Baal Shem Tov that Moshiach would come when "your [the Baal Shem Tov's] teachings are spread outward."

The Rebbe explained that in connection with the 12th of Tammuz, it is customary to organize gatherings which will inspire people to study and spread the teachings of Chasidut. Furthermore, the Rebbe related, "This will generate the potential of the transformation of the Three Weeks [of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple] into a positive period, with the coming of the ultimate Redemption. Even before that Redemption comes, we will merit a succession of Divine miracles. When one Jew will ask another, "What was the last miracle that happened?" He will be unable to answer because the miracles are taking place in such rapid succession. And these miracles will lead to the ultimate miracles, those which accompany the Redemption from exile."

May it happen immediately.


Thoughts that Count

And [Moses] said to them, "Hear now, you rebels, must we bring you forth water out of this rock?" (Num. 20:10)

Calling the Jewish people "rebels" was considered a very grave sin for a person on Moses' spiritual level. For when Jews are in trouble, the proper thing to do is help rather than chastise them.

(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)


Lo, it is a people that shall live alone, and among the nations shall not be reckoned (Num. 23:9)

When the Jewish people are "alone," separate and distinguished from the gentiles, their existence is secure and they are respected by the nations. If, however, they begin to assimilate and copy their non-Jewish neighbors, they "shall not be reckoned" - they lose their importance and high esteem.

(Divrei Eliezer)


He has not beheld any wrong in Jacob...the L-rd his G-d is with him (Num. 23:21)

When the word "Jacob" is used for the Jewish people, it alludes to the inner struggle of the G-dly soul against the animal soul. Yet, even on this level, the Torah states that the Jew is without wrong. Where does the Jew derive the strength to prevail? From his unique Jewish soul, of which it states, "the L-rd his G-d is with him." The Jewish soul, a "veritable part of G-d Above," is endowed with the power to transform even the animal soul into holiness.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


It Once Happened

It was in the beginning of the 1900s in Russia. A group of several hundred leading "Maskilim" (members of the "Jewish enlightenment" movement) planned a scheme to convince the Czar's Minister of Education to close all Jewish religious schools and forbid the study of Jewish mystical teachings (the "soul" of Torah study) in all synagogues. It wasn't long before the Minister agreed to make a special hearing to consider their proposition.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe at that time, Rabbi Shalom Ber (known also as the Rebbe Rashab), took action. He sent his only son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, to Petersburg to see what could be done.

In Petersburg, every one that Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak met, every minister that he managed to see, had been poisoned by the Maskilim and openly hated religious Jews. After almost a week of trying, he had accomplished nothing.

With no other choice, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak returned to Lubavitch to tell his father that he had failed. When he entered his father's study, his father was readying himself for the morning prayers and was checking the tzitzit (fringes) on his talit (prayer shawl) as it hung folded on his shoulder. The Rebbe Rashab just looked up at his son without saying a word.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak related in great detail exactly where he went in Petersburg, what he did, with whom he had met, how he continued trying and how he met with disappointment after disappointment until he had no choice but to return home. When he finished, his father told him this story:

"Once, Rabbi Shneur Zalman (founder of Chabad Chasidism) sent his son Reb Dovber to accomplish a certain task with the government in Petersburg. He traveled there and did his best but despite his great talents and determination he failed. And with no alternative he returned to his father.

"When he entered the house his father was standing in the middle of the room with his talit on his shoulder checking the tzitzit before he began the morning prayers. The Alter Rebbe said to his son:

"'Do you see? This is a talit. A talit represents "makif" and "makif" blinds the eyes of the chitzonim.'

[This is a Kabbalistic explanation; the commandment of the talit represents and connects to a high, "surrounding," aspect of G-d (Makif) against which no evil (chitzonim) can succeed].

"When Rebbe Dovber heard this he took several of the strings of his father's tzitzit and kissed them. Then he returned to Petersburg and succeeded."

Needless to say, when Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak heard this story he took several of the strings of his father's tzitzit and kissed them. Then he left and returned to Petersburg.

Back in Petersburg, he suddenly got a wild idea. The head of the Maskilim was a clever man by the name of Karpas. He was the one who had written all the papers that would be used to convince the ministers and he happened be staying in a hotel in Petersburg until the hearing. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak had no plan but he had a feeling.... the hearing would be in two days, G-d would help!

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak went to the hotel and knocked at Karpas' door. Karpas opened up, immediately recognized his visitor as the son of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and graciously invited him in. They sat and chatted for a few minutes until the conversation got around to the plans of the Maskilim.

Karpas did not deny anything. Exactly the opposite; he began to brag of how he and his friends had an air-tight case. They were about to wipe out religious observance through logic. They would free all Jews from the superstitions of religion, he boasted. He then produced a portfolio of some 30 finely handwritten pages, all the paperwork he had prepared specially for the hearing, and declared: "This is the end of your archaic religion!!"

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak asked if he could see it for a moment and Karpas, declaring brazenly that it wouldn't help in any case - the fate of Judaism was sealed, all the officials were on his side, etc. - agreed.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak took the papers, walked to a corner of the room as though he wanted to examine them closely, and proceeded to quickly and efficiently rip all 30 pages into shreds.

Karpas let out a scream, but by the time he realized what was happening and ran over to stop him, all that remained of his evil masterpiece were hundreds of small pieces strewn on the floor like confetti.

"What have you done! I'll kill you!" Karpas screamed, as he slapped Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak in the face. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak ran to the door and out of the hotel.

The plans of the Maskilim had been destroyed. It had taken months of political maneuvering and bribery to arrange the hearing and months more to prepare the accusations; now there was no way they could present their case. In fact, the case was never heard as the plot's mastermind, Karpas, came down with a severe throat disease and died a few months later.

From www.ohrtmimim.org, adapted by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton


Moshiach Matters

Until the redemption actually comes and this world is revealed as G-d's dwelling, the place where His essence is expressed, more activity is required. Each person must do his part in this effort as reflected in Maimonides' statement that a person should always see himself as equally balanced between good and evil and the world as equally balanced between good and evil and with one good deed, he can bring salvation to himself and to the entire world.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe on the anniversary of the Previous Rebbe settling in America, 9 Adar 5751 - 1991)


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