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1083: Re'eh

1084: Shoftim

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1086: Ki Savo

1087: Nitzavim-Vayeilech

August 21, 2009 - 1 Elul, 5769

1084: Shoftim

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  1083: Re'eh1085: Ki Seitzei  

Differential  |  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


If you drive a car, you know that making turns smoothly is an acquired skill. It's certainly harder than just aiming the car down the road.

The task is made easier by a device called a differential. The differential allows the wheels to rotate at different speeds while supplying equal torque.

Torque is the engineering term for rotational force - how powerfully does something rotate. We'll see in a moment why that's important when making turns.

When turning corners, or taking a curve, the wheels rotate at different speeds. The inner wheel has a shorter distance to travel than the outer wheel. (Think of a race track - the drivers or jockeys want the inside lane because it's a shorter distance around.)

Without a differential, the inner wheel spins and the outer wheel drags. This can make handling the car difficult, can damage the tires and eventually the car.

The differential uses gears to compensate for the difference in wheel speed. It gives them equal torque so that the faster inner wheel and the slower outer wheel are getting the same torque, the same force. In that way, despite the different rotation speed of each wheel, they're moving together with the same force.

There's a lesson here in our Divine service. When the road of life is smooth and straight, we tend to move at the same speed. It doesn't take much to drive at a steady pace or to stay focused on our destination.

But when life throws us curves, we tend to move at different speeds. We handle the twists and turns differently. Some of us are able to cope with a difficulty or a problem with a minimum of extra effort. When there's a job loss or, G-d forbid an illness, or any setback, some of us are the "inner wheel," moving at a faster speed, able to handle or maneuver around the bumps.

Some of us, though, are the "outer wheel," moving slower, having a more difficult time, finding it harder to keep going, and especially to keep going with the same force.

And so it may be that those of us who are "inner wheels" - who can handle the sudden turns of life more easily - may have a difficult time understanding what's so hard for the "outer wheels" - those of us who have a rougher time getting through it all. And those of us who are "outer wheels" may view the "inner wheels" as callous or superficial - going forward because they don't really feel the true nature of the problem.

That's why Judaism provides us with a differential - a system that regulates our speed, our drive, giving equal force to each of us.

Just as an automotive differential is a set of gears that redistributes force, so the Jewish differential is a set of actions that redistributes, or equalizes force. What are the "gears" that make up the "Jewish differential"? Charity, prayer, acts of loving-kindness such as visiting the sick. These "gears" even out the spiritual force driving the Jewish people forward, driving us toward our destination - the coming of Moshiach. These "gears" distribute that spiritual force proportionately, as needed, to each of the wheels, that is, to every Jew.

But the "Jewish differential," the set of "gears" known as mitzvot (commandments) does more than enable us to navigate life's sudden turns individually; they are a system for working together, for helping each other. The "Jewish differential" in effect unifies us. Despite our different speeds, it gets us to reach the destination - the era of Redemption - in the best way possible - through Jewish unity.

Living with the Rebbe

Our Torah portion, Shoftim, opens with the command, "Judges and officers you shall place at all your gates."

The wording is reminiscent of, but differs from, the one that we say three times daily in the silent "Amida" prayer, taken from the prophet of Redemption, Isaiah, "Return your judges as of old and your advisors as in the beginning."

We can well understand why the word "officers" is not part of the promise of the Redemption, for officers enforce the law and will therefore not be necessary at a time when the very existence of evil will be banished from the earth.

Here we see the difference between the times of exile and the times of Redemption. In our portion, the Torah links the judges to officers indicating that their rulership is by decree and dependent on enforcement. In the Redemption, soon to come, the judges will be seen more as advisors since the people will be convinced more of the personal benefit that is derived from following the Torah's ways.

This feeling develops the closeness between judge and judged which is implied in the wording of Isaiah, "your judges" in the second person.

The way this concept is worded in the Torah is associated with the nature of the Torah itself, it being a direct revelation of the will and wisdom of the Almighty, a decree from Above, as it were.

On the other hand the words of the Prophets, though also emanating from G-d, are more clearly associated with the human mind which transmits them and thus are more similar to the judge as advisor mentioned before.

Indeed part of the role assumed by the prophets of each generation has been to care for the spiritual and even material needs of the people.

Our current portion is also the source of Maimonides ruling that the belief in human prophets is a fundamental of Judaism.

In his epistle to Yemen, Maimonides describes "Prophecy returns to Israel" as a preparation to the Redemption particularly in the personage of Moshiach who is to be "close in prophecy to Moshe."

It is therefore essential to convey to the world that there are human beings in our times who have been endowed with prophecy, that we have a positive commandment to obey them once established as such.

Particularly in the major prophecy that all required conditions for the coming of Moshiach have been met and that we should prepare to greet the Redemption which is immediately to unfold.

Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Parshat Shoftim, 5751 - 1991.

A Slice of Life

by Tzvi Jacobs

Before I came to Yeshiva Tiferes Bachurim in Morristown, New Jersey, I was warned that this might happen, that I might not want to leave yeshiva and return to South Carolina to finish graduate school. So I promised myself that I would leave after 30 days.

On August 1, 1982, I entered the doors of the yeshiva trying to have the cool detachment of a forensic doctor. My plan was to examine the body of Jewish knowledge, the Torah, looking for clues and proofs of its source. The conclusion that I reached was that the "body," the Torah, was not only an authentic relic of Divine revelation, but a living revelation of G-d, still being revealed and taught by Moses, the Moses of our generation. I wanted to stay and enjoy the pleasure that comes when one emerges from a jungle of darkness into a garden of peace and light.

The month of learning and honest introspection ended. My parents had driven from South Carolina to New York City to visit my younger sister, and were passing through New Jersey. The timing was perfect and my parents gladly picked me up.

Half way home, we spent the night at Aunt Doris's in Richmond, Virginia. Aunt Doris's new husband knew how to argue against my new-found religiosity better than I knew how to explain my proofs of Divinity. Leaving Aunt Doris's, I felt uncomfortable with a yarmulke on my head. I bought a baseball cap in one of the stores that we stopped at. By the time we crossed the border into South Carolina, the heat was unbearable. My wool tzitzit and the embarrassment that I felt added to the perspiration. I tucked in the strings that dangled from under my shirt.

There was one thing that I could not hide: my untrimmed beard. According to some opinions within Jewish law, I could trim my beard, even to the point of a shave. But the authorities that Lubavitchers follow rule that shaving is forbidden and I knew the Rebbe wanted the beard to grow untrimmed. Why? Something to do with the Kabala about the 13 attributes of mercy coming through the beard. I really didn't understand it, but that's what the Rebbe wanted.

At the University of South Carolina, I was the one yarmulke on a campus of 40,000 "normal" students. No Chabad House or orthodox group in all of Columbia. Every morning after putting on tefillin in the apartment that I shared with my non-Jewish roomate and saying a few prayers, I reinforced my thoughts by reading or re-reading a chapter of hard-hitting Chasidic thought called "Kuntres Umayon" and a paragraph or two of the abridged Code of Jewish Law.

The beard looked like that of a young rabbi. What was the point of hiding my yarmulke under a cap as I sat in class? I felt quite self-conscious at first. With a beard and a yarmulke exposed, what's the big deal of letting some strings hang over my belt? The yarmulke reminded me of the One Above, and the tzitzit reminded me to keep the mitzvot (commandments). Believe me, many times I needed those reminders, especially on campus, sitting in the cafeteria eating my cold lunch or socializing in the evening. Somehow I mustered the strength for the next 10 months.

One night in July I sat on a friend's porch. I set my camera on a 5-second delay and took a picture of us. After developing the photograph, I saw what others were seeing. Now, I knew what my great Aunt Sadie meant when she said, "Just tone it down." The next morning, I borrowed my roommate's scissors.

I spent the day at the School of Public Health, working on my thesis and the next edition of the school's magazine. No one said anything about my new "toned down" secular look, no one seemed to notice.

I certainly felt different. Something inside me was different, like Samson after his hair was cut. For sure, I felt weaker spiritually. I wrote to the Rebbe and recorded what I had done and what I was up to.

Eight days after writing the letter, the Rebbe wrote back. "As requested, I will remember you in prayer for the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good."

The heart, as I surely knew, has many desires. Some desires are for good things, the Rebbe focused on those. Focus on the good desires, the Rebbe was teaching me, and pray for those. (Don't even try to fight those other desires.)

In the next paragraph, the Rebbe taught me about the significance of the approaching month of Elul, when the parable of "a king in the field" may be applied to our relationship with G-d. During the month of Elul, the Rebbe wrote, "the King is particularly accessible to everyone, and is also especially gracious and benevolent."

That parable made me feel closer to G-d and more hopeful that that I could approach G-d and be received graciously.

The Rebbe concludes, "May G-d grant that this should be so also in your case, and that your increased efforts in matters of Yiddishkeit [Judaism], Torah and Mitzvos - which are a must in any case - will bring you increased blessings in all needs, materially and spiritually."

Once I admitted that the Torah was authentic, I knew that studying Torah and observing the commandments are a must, but now I saw from the Rebbe's words a different way at looking at these obligations - that through learning Torah and doing mitzvot, one brings down increased material blessings and spiritual blessings, feeling closer to G-d.

But what are the "matters of Yiddishkeit" that the Rebbe put before the Torah and mitzvot? For me, the beard was clearly a matter of Yiddishkeit. Without it, who knows what may have happened to my mitzva observance.

A month later, with my beard growing and my graduate work completed, I returned to the yeshiva, this time to stay until I was ready to leave.

What's New

New Emissaries

Rabbi Berel and Esther Gurary recently moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where Rabbi Gurary will be the director of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in that city.

Rabbi Mendel and Shaina Fine will be arriving soon in Montreal, Quebec, where they will be directing programs for adults, children and teens in the Queen Mary area of Montreal.

New Torah Scroll

Jews in Porto Alegre, Brazil, welcomed a new Torah scroll to their community. The event was held in the Chabad House of Porto Alegre. Rabbi Mendel Liberow, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Rio Grande do Sul, explained the importance of this event in continuing the chain of tradition of the Jewish people.

The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated and adapted

28 Menachem Av, 5720-1960

It saddened me to learn that your health is not as it should be. Surely a large part is merely nerves and imagination, as well as the fact of not serving G d with joy, which according to the ruling of Maimonides - quoted in the Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, ch. 231, and in many other places - includes all aspects of a Jew's life, including eating, drinking, etc.

Frankly, I am surprised ... for proper faith in G-d compels one to conclude, "a camel is only loaded according to its ability to bear [the load]"; i.e., G-d does not demand of a person Divine service that is beyond his capacity. Since "maintaining a healthy and robust body is an integral part of Divine service," surely this service does not in and of itself diminish the person's health.

The fact is that at times there are obstacles and difficulties, and at times it seems - and possibly it is quite true - that the obstacles and difficulties are abundant.

Nevertheless of that which is explained in Tanya on the verse ["And make me] delicacies [such as I love]," it is known that the term "delicacies" is written in the plural, for there are two forms of "delicacies" and "delights" that one can give G-d - spiritual service that does not require battling evil and service that does require a battle.

However, even in the latter instance, one goes to battle with a joyous march, as known from the sichah of my father-in-law, the [Previous] Rebbe.

Thus regarding spiritual service that requires a battle - [it is to be done with joy] and it should not affect one's health, although it should be a matter of concern.

... In answer to your question concerning the [tragic] events that recently occurred in your family; that you find them incomprehensible and inexplicable [and they are distressing and unsettling you]:

As already mentioned on a number of occasions, it is not at all surprising when man cannot comprehend the conduct of G-d; to the contrary, it would be truly astonishing if we could understand G-d's conduct.

Concerning this matter there is the familiar analogy of a child who is in kindergarten and is unable to comprehend the rules and principles by which the country is governed, or the rulings of the Supreme Court. Even if the kindergartener were to be a true child genius, his limited comprehension would make him incapable of understanding the above rules and principles.

This is so notwithstanding the fact that the leaders of the land and the members of the court were also once of kindergarten age, and with time this child may attain a degree of knowledge that will surpass these leaders and jurists.

How then can we possibly compare a human's comprehension with G-d's, that man's intellect be capable of understanding the conduct of the Creator of the world, the Supreme Ruler over everyone and everything. I trust that I need not add anything more to the above.

There are only a small number of matters that G-d wanted [to be known] and revealed, and those matters were presented by Him in a manner that human intellect would be fully capable of discerning and comprehending.

Another point needs to be stated: The more a person relies on his pure faith and bitachon in G-d, the more he will see and logically comprehend the events that transpire in the world as a whole and in one's private life in particular.

May G-d bless you in all matters that you require, and among the most important of them: true serenity and peace of mind. May He bless you that your life be such that matters will be good for you in all aspects, including goodness that is overtly revealed and intellectually comprehensible.

Your daily conduct in accordance with our holy Torah, which is called "Toras Chayim," a living Torah that shows how to live, is the manner and vessel to receive these blessings from G-d.

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

A Call to Action

Thirty Days Before the Holidays

Jewish law teaches us that thirty days before the commencement of a holiday we are to learn the laws of the holiday. In addition, we should begin thinking - and DOING something - about the holiday needs of other Jews so that they will be able to celebrate Rosh Hashana and the days that follow in the manner stated in the Torah: "Eat sumptuous foods and drink sweet beverages and send portions to those who do not have prepared."

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

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Friday, we enter into the month of Elul, the month of preparation for the holy days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It is a time of making an account of the previous year, and resolving to do better in the coming year. The Rebbe explains how the service of the month of Elul gives us the opportunity to reveal the greatness of the unity of the Jewish nation in numerous different ways:

While each individual Jew has to make an account of his own actions, all Jews are working toward the same goal of improving in the coming year.

During Elul, there is an emphasis on prayer. When it comes to prayer, the service of the heart, all Jews are equal. Even something as important as Torah knowledge does not effect the simple, heartfelt outpouring of a sincere heart.

Another area which shows Jewish unity is the increase in charity during Elul. When we give tzedaka we are acknowledging the fact that we are all one, that every Jew has a responsibility to his fellow Jews. Moreover, the commandment to give tzedaka has been placed upon all of us equally.

Just as in the month of Elul we are preparing ourselves to be judged by the Heavenly Court, in this week's Torah portion, Shoftim, we read about the importance of appointing earthly judges. The Torah states that the judges must be positioned "at the gates of the city," to ensure that the people will follow the laws of the Torah both inside the city and out. This is a lesson for us in our time as well.

The Torah's laws do not merely exist in a synagogue, a home or even just within a Jewish community. They are a part of us no matter where we go. Even if we happen to find ourselves outside of our "city," we are still required to act in accordance with the Torah.

During this month of Elul, as we prepare ourselves for Rosh Hashana by increasing in prayer, charity, and acts of kindness, let us add a prayer, a supplication, for G-d to send us Moshiach now, so that we may once again serve Him as we were meant to, in the Holy Temple.

Thoughts that Count

Judges and officers shall you place for yourselves at all your gates (Deut. 16:18)

The Midrash clarifies: "Judges and officers who are [good] for yourselves... and not for the nations of the world." In the olden days, when a Jewish community appointed a judge or rabbi, the most important criterion was his piety: fear of G-d, Torah scholarship, moral character, etc. Nowadays, it seems that the only qualification is that he look good to the gentiles: he must be "cultured," polished, a good speaker, etc. The Midrash reminds us that our judges and rabbis must be "good for us," and it is irrelevant how they appear to the outside world.

(Rabbi Naftali Sofer)

On the wall of Rabbi Shmelke of Nicholsburg's beit din (Jewish court) hung a knapsack and staff as a hint to litigants: this rabbi is beholden to no one. Should I lose this position I will pack my bag, take up my staff and move elsewhere, rather than compromise my impartiality.

For a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise (chachamim) (Deut. 16:19)

The Torah offers a slightly different version in Ex. 23:8: "For a bribe blinds the wise (pikchim)." The difference is in the two types of wisdom under discussion, chachma and pikchut. Chachma is the Torah, G-d's Divine wisdom, whereas pikchut refers to worldly knowledge. Bribery causes a person to forfeit both kinds of enlightenment.

(The Gaon of Vilna)

Justice, justice shall you pursue (Deut. 16:20)

Not only must righteousness be actively pursued, but the path to achieving it must also be virtuous and honorable. This is in contradiction to the commonly held notion that "the end justifies the means."

(Reb Bunim)

But as for you, the L-rd your G-d has not allowed you (lo chein) to do so (Deut. 18:14)

The literal meaning of "lo chein" is "it is not so," for the tzadik, the righteous person, has the ability to alter G-d's decree. "The tzadik decrees, and G-d fulfills it." The tzadik has been given the power to say yes or no, and G-d will obey him.

(Heichal HaBracha)

It Once Happened

During the time of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad (known as the Alter Rebbe), a group of his chasidim in a certain town were being severely oppressed by the misnagdim (opponents of the Chasidic movement) there. Some of the chasidim were even arrested, due to the slander and false accusations presented to the local authorities. G-d was merciful, however, and the innocent victims were released. They immediately sat down together to write a letter to the Rebbe, informing him of the good news of their deliverance.

Among this group was a poor tinsmith named Shimon, who was only average in knowledge and understanding, but was strongly bonded to the Rebbe with love and dedication. He was often heard to spontaneously cry out, "Oy Rebbe!" This Shimon took it upon himself to arrange the delivery of the letter to the Rebbe. Instead of sending it by regular mail, he decided to hire a private messenger in order that their letter get to the Rebbe "express," absolutely as soon as possible. He arranged to pay for the extra costs out of his own pocket.

In those days, every Chabad-Chasidic community had its own council, which would direct all chasidic matters. The council members were all well-acquainted with the dire economic situation of Shimon how he sometimes had to trek from village to village to find more work, how he barely managed to support his family at the most minimal level, how his wife and children were sick. When he said he intended to pay the expensive fees for the express messenger out of his own meager funds, they refused to hear of it. They told him he shouldn't do it.

Shimon, however, refused to accept their decision. He said that the good news of their release would give the Rebbe relief and happiness, and if such news could reach the Rebbe even just one hour earlier, it was worth more to him then all the wealth in the world.

As part of the council, one Chasidic elder in each community was responsible for matters of education and guidance, and he would report on a regular basis directly to the Alter Rebbe. When the matter of the messenger was brought before the elder chasid in this position in R. Shimon's town, who also oversaw the fundraising campaigns for the Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess fund (to support the Chasidic commuinity in the Holy Land) and for maimad [to support the Rebbe's household], he counteracted the council and endorsed the tinsmith's choice.

Eventually, the report of what R. Shimon had done became known to the Maharil (Rabbi Yehuda Leib, brother of Rabbi Shneur Zalman and a righteous person in his own right), who had been appointed by the Rebbe to be the overall supervisor in Chabad communal matters of tzedaka (charity).

After some time had passed, one of the leading Chasidim, Rabbi Yaakov of Semillian, arrived in the town as an emissary of the Rebbe. He had been sent to collect the money for the above-mentioned campaigns from all the chasidic communities in that area of Russia. Much to the astonishment of the chasidim who had all gathered to meet with Rabbi Yaakov, he delivered a letter to Shimon the tinsmith written entirely in the personal handwriting of the Alter Rebbe himself. In it the Rebbe thanked him for arranging a special messenger to deliver the good tidings of the release speedily. The Rebbe concluded by blessing Shimon that G-d Al-mighty should bless him to be always a bearer of good news.

Not long after that, Shimon's situation started to improve. His wife and children became healthy, and he himself began to prosper greatly. The Rebbe's blessing was fulfilled. Because Shimon the tinsmith exherted himself to make another Jew happy, and especially a great tzadik, and at great personal sacrifice, he merited to become a bearer of happy news: of himself and his family, and of the chasidic brotherhood of his town.

Moshiach Matters

The soul of Moshiach comprises the souls of all Jews. This is what enables him to redeem all Jews from exile. Moshiach is the all-embracing yechida of the Jewish people. [There are five levels of every soul; the yechida is its innermost essence. To consider these five levels:] King David was the nefesh of the Jewish people; Elijah was the ruach; Moses was the neshama; Adam was the chaya; and the yechida will be bestowed upon Moshiach. At the same time, within every Jew there is a spark of the soul of Moshiach. This spark is the yechida within him, which is a spark of the comprehensive yechida.

(Likutei Sichos, Vol. XX, p. 522)

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