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Devarim Deutronomy

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1119: Behar-Bechukosai

Bamidbar Numbers

Devarim Deutronomy

May 7, 2010 - 23 Iyyar, 5770

1119: Behar-Bechukosai

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

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  1118: Emor1120: Bamidbar  

The Census  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  What's In A Name  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

The Census

With $14.5 billion ($340 million in publicity alone) being spent on the United States Census, it is highly unlikely that anyone in the United States has not heard that this year is census year!

But just a little background for those of you reading this from outside the U.S.! Every ten years in the US, a census is taken of the entire population. The census allows a federal budget to be calculated and funds allocated per state and district. It determines the representation of each state in congress. And, perhaps most importantly, it yields much information about the nation's population and distribution: Is the trend towards urban, suburban or rural living? What is the mean and mode income? What is the racial distribution of the population?

Usually the census is performed by census workers, who canvass a given region of the country collecting data. The 2010 Census is hiring 870,000 people to work on the census in total. Many of those jobs go to census workers who will go house-to-house to collect information from families who do not return the forms that were mailed to them.

The Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidism, taught that everything that happens in the world can teach us a lesson in our relationship with G-d. What can we learn from a census?

In the desert, G-d commanded Moses to take a census of the Jewish people. "Count the heads of the entire Jewish congregation... you and Aaron and the heads of the tribes." Unlike a typical census, G-d told Moses himself to take the count! The most esteemed members of the community - Moses, Aaron and the heads of the tribes - were designated to perform the census.

Why did G-d assign this job to Moses himself - the one who received the Torah from Sinai and taught it to the Jewish people? Moses, Aaron and the heads of tribes were asked to go from tent to tent, to perform a count of the Jewish people.

By placing this job on the most esteemed members of the community, G-d wished to demonstrate the preciousness of every Jew. Counting the people is an exalted task, one that can be assigned only to the most distinguished individuals. G-d counts the Jewish people because he loves them so; we count our most cherished possessions repeatedly, so as not to overlook a single one.

The counting of the Jewish people is no mundane task. Every Jew is holy; an actual part of G-d above. Counting the people was a mitzvah. When the counters approached the tents, they were dressed in their most festive clothing, and conducted themselves with respect, dignity and pleasantness.

Performing a census, in and of itself, is an ordinary task, not requiring any special skill or talent. However, when it comes to counting the Jewish people, the ordinary and mundane becomes transformed into something holy. The same is true of every mundane task - the way we eat, sleep, work, run our homes, bring up our children - these are all holy, exalted matters which must be carried out with great care.

Transforming the mundane into the holy is our task during exile; when completed, the world will be prepared for an overwhelming revelation of G-dliness. During the time of Moshiach, the count of the Jewish people will be performed once again, to ensure that not a single one is left behind in exile. G-d will gather up each one, "two from a city and one from a family," to return home to Jerusalem.

Based on an address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1985

Living with the Rebbe

This week we read two Torah portions, Behar and Bechukotai. Behar contains the commandments of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years: "Count for yourself seven Sabbaths of years, seven years seven times...and you shall sanctify the fiftieth year." Every seventh year is a Sabbatical year; the fiftieth is a Jubilee. Then the cycle begins anew.

Concerning the Jubilee year the Torah states, "Proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants." According to the Talmud, this means that there can only be a Jubilee year "when all its inhabitants" are living in the land. Thus, "When the tribes of Reuven and Gad and half of Menashe were exiled, the Jubilee was abolished."

Nonetheless, the Talmud relates that in the times of the Second Holy Temple the fiftieth year was still officially sanctified, even though the mitzva of the Jubilee was no longer in effect. This was done to maintain the same cycle as before, i.e., with the counting commencing again in the fifty-first year.

After the Second Temple was destroyed (and during the Babylonian exile), the fiftieth year ceased to be sanctified. The cycle of counting Sabbatical years began on the fiftieth year itself.

Thus, there have been three ways of relating to the Jubilee.

Chasidic philosophy explains that the Sabbatical and Jubilee years are symbolic of spiritual levels in a Jew's service of G-d:

The Sabbatical year relates to the negation of the sense of self. The person perceives himself as an individual, yet willingly nullifies himself before G-d.

The Jubilee year relates to a higher level, of freedom from all limitations, a level that will be realized in the Messianic era.

This also explains why the Sabbatical year applies today, whereas the mitzva of the Jubilee was only fully observed during the First Temple period. The very highest level of spirituality could only be attained at a time when the Divine Presence was manifested in the world so strongly.

The Second Temple period was somewhere in the middle. G-dly revelation illuminated the world, but in a less obvious manner. The Jubilee was therefore counted and sanctified but not observed.

The lowest level occurred after the Destruction, when it was no longer possible to even comprehend the intense spirituality of the Jubilee and it ceased to be counted.

Today, our service consists of "only" accepting the yoke of heaven and nullifying the ego, but in a sense this gives us the greatest advantage, as it enables us to access the soul's essence. It also helps us prepare for the Sabbatical of the Messianic era, may it commence at once.

Adapted from Volume 7 of Likutei Sichot

A Slice of Life

G-d Will Help
by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton

The story began some 20 years ago, just as the first Israeli-Lebanon war was winding down to a halt.

Chaim Dayan, who lives in Kfar Chabad, Israel, and was in the army at the time, received a phone call from his commanding officer that he must appear at his base near Haifa (called Bat Galim) by 8:30 a.m. the next morning..

Chaim thought to himself: "The base is two hours away, the sun rises at 6:00 a.m. In order for me to get to the base on time, I will need to pray alone, without a minyan, and to rush through my prayers."

Chaim thought about it for a few more minutes and finally decided that this was not the way he wanted to start his day, and certainly not his army stint! He would pray properly and certainly G-d would help.

The next morning Chaim woke at the crack of dawn and prayed in the synagogue with the first minyan. It was now 7:00 a.m. He had an hour and a half to get there. Public transportation would take two hours, but if he hitched a ride, he could still make it to the base in time.

"No problem," Chaim said to himself as he ran to the main road and stuck out his finger hoping for the best. "G-d will help!"

But no one stopped. Chaim was getting tired, a little nervous and pessimistic as car after car whizzed by. But he kept reminding himself, "Everything is from G-d. Think good and it will be good, as the Chasidic adage goes."

Suddenly a car pulled over, screeched to a stop and the door opened. But just as he was about to ask if he could get a ride, a soldier in an air force uniform got out and the car drove off! Great, now there were two soldiers hitching rides to their bases.

A few minutes later, a huge truck loaded with massive crates of oranges pulled up. The driver yelled out high up from his cabin, "One place!"

"A truck! Oy!" Chaim thought to himself, "It will take forever to get to Haifa, but on the other hand it's better than nothing. And maybe there will be a miracle."

But in the few seconds he was busy thinking, the other soldier slipped into the cabin of the truck! Chaim's anger instantly flared up. Everyone knew that there were "rules" to this game of hitch-hiking! "I'll go up there, grab a hold of him and pull him out!"

Chaim battled internally; should he do it? Should he go up ....? But something inside of him told him to let it go. The Talmud compares anger to idolatry. G-d would help. He would surely see that it was all for the best. The truck rumbled off and he was alone once again.

After another few minutes passed, and then Chaim heard sirens filling the air. An ambulance appeared as if from nowhere and screeched to a halt before him. It's forbidden for ambulances to take riders. But the driver yelled out the window "Hey soldier! You've got to help me! I got a soldier who's wounded and going into shock here. He's in bad shape and I need someone to talk to him the whole way. Can you do it?"

The ambulance driver told Chaim that he was on his way to the hospital in Haifa and could drop Chaim off at his base, which was just a few minutes before the hospital.

Chaim got in the back door, sat next to the soldier who lay there with his eyes wide open but not uttering a sound. The ambulance jetted forward, sirens howling.

Chaim tried to get the soldier's attention; he talked about the weather, sports, news, but nothing worked. The soldier seemed to be fading. Finally Chaim decided to talk about something of interest to him: Judaism.

Chaim talked about G-d, the Torah, the commandments, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, while gradually the soldier turned and silently stared at him, open-mouthed, occasionally twitching, but apparently hanging on his every word.

The ambulance raced through red lights and swerved past traffic. Only once did it slow down - to go around a huge traffic jam caused by a truck whose cargo had fallen off.... orange crates! It was the truck that had stopped for him. Chaim looked briefly out the window and saw the air force soldier who had usurped his place standing helplessly in a sea of oranges on the road.

But the ambulance sped on and Chaim never stopped talking until it came to a screeching halt. The driver turned to Chaim and said. "Here we are, at your base. It's just a few minutes to the hospital. You did a great job."

The ambulance ride had taken 30 minutes and Chaim was just in time to catch the last bus in his battalion that was pulling out.

Chaim felt rewarded for having made the right decisions to pray properly in the morning, to trust in G-d, to think positively and not to let himself get angry. But that's not the end of the story.

Several years later Chaim was walking down a street in Tel Aviv when a young man in his 20s stopped him and asked. "Tell me, a few years ago was it you who talked to me in an ambulance? I was in shock and you talked to me? Wasn't it you?"

When Chaim remembered and said "yes" the young man started weeping. "You saved me! You saved me!" He repeated, "And I remembered everything you said!" Pointing to his kipa, he continued, "It took me a while but I decided to learn about what you had told me about. You know, about Judaism, Torah, the commandments, the Rebbe. You saved my life in more ways that one!"

What's New

Tanyas Printed

Four new editions of Tanya, the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, were recently printed. At the Chabad House in Chomat Shmuel (Har Choma) in Jerusalem, Israel, at the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe, New Jersey, at Chabad of Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada, and at Beit Moshiach in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. In 1978, the Lubavitcher Rebbe initiated a campaign that Tanya should be printed in every country in the world. Later, the Rebbe encouraged the printing of additional Tanya editions in every community. Since that time over 5,500 editions of the Tanya have been printed.

The Rebbe Writes

You write that you are at a loss to find answers to such questions as, "What is the purpose of life? What is the meaning of a Jew?" etc., and that doubts and confusions are sorely afflicting you.

As you write that you have attended college and have studied science, you are probably aware of what the approach should be to an intricate problem. If we want to verify a certain system, as to the laws and principles prevailing in it, we begin by verifying the parts of it that lend themselves more easily to analysis and verification. When we have, step by step, verified the greater part of the system, we can then safely assume that if the greater part of it has been found to conform to certain specific laws, the rest of it is also ruled by the same laws. Even common sense justifies the assumption that if a certain law holds good in the vast majority of cases, it is true also in the case where it cannot be verified with certainty.

Applying this approach to the universe as a whole, we are increasingly convinced, year after year, of the law and order that rules in nature, including inert matter; to the minutest atom and even smaller particles. Nuclear science has discovered undreamed-of harmony and order in the some one hundred elements known to this day. In a universe of such orderliness and harmony, obviously man too must be subject to order and purpose.

Going a step further, the conclusion is inevitable that since there is such law and order in the universe, there must be a Higher Authority responsible for it. The analogy is well known: When we get hold of a printed book of hundreds of pages, containing a connected story, or philosophy, we cannot by any stretch of the imagination assume that a bottle of ink has been spilled and has accidentally produced the book. Still less, and infinitely so, is it admissible that our universe, with its infinite number of atoms, molecules and particles, all arranged in perfect order and harmony, could have come into existence by accident. Obviously, there is a Creator and Architect, Who arranges and relates all the various parts of the universe in perfect unity and harmony, in conformity to the set of laws which He creates and supervises.

It is plain that the whole system is beyond our comprehension, since our comprehension, as our existence as a whole, is but an infinitely minute part of the entire cosmic order, and certainly in no degree comparable to the Creator Himself. It is, clearly, absurd to expect to comprehend the Creator, and even more nonsensical to deny His existence by reason of our inability to comprehend Him. Can "one" contain an infinite number of "ones"? And here at least there is some relationship, for both the one and the infinite number of ones are the same objects - numbers, while there is no such community between the created and the Creator.

Carrying the analogy from science a step further: In physics, chemistry, etc., when a law is deduced from a number of experiments, and verified by different people, under varying conditions, thus eliminating the possibility of error, side-effects, etc., such a law is accepted and becomes valid also for the future.

This scientific "rule" holds good also with regard to events and phenomena in the past. Where a certain event or phenomenon is attested to by many historians, and reported in an identical manner, there is no "scientific" doubt that is how the event actually took place.

Such an historic event was the Revelation at Mount Sinai, which has been reported in an identical way by millions of people who had witnessed it themselves, and then faithfully reported to their children, generation after generation, without interruption to this day. At no time, even during the worst pogroms and massacres of Jews, were there less than millions of Jews faithfully maintaining this tradition. It is well known that at no time in Jewish history was there a break in the chain of Jewish tradition from Sinai down to the present day. This makes this event the most authenticated of all historical events in human history!

This means that the Torah we have and cherish is G-d-given, and it contains not only our way of life, but also the key to our existence for all times, since it is eternal, as its Giver. It is not a book of theory, philosophy and speculation, but a practical guide for our daily life, valid in all places and at all times.

In the Torah, the purpose of man's life on this earth in clearly indicated. In a nutshell: It is to live in accordance with the Torah, by fulfilling its positive commandments and abstaining from its prohibitions.

The Torah has also made provisions for man's frail nature, and the temptations and trials that he, as a creature of flesh and blood, faces in life. It is difficult, almost impossible, for man never to fail, and the Torah has indicated that should this happen, there is no need to be discouraged. There is always teshuva - return to G-d and to the right path, and the very failure can be made a springboard for a leap forward and further advance.

...I trust that the points mentioned will serve as starting points for you to reflect upon and realize that the world is not confusion, and that everything and everybody has his place and purpose. If you can consider yourself objectively, freed from preconceptions, environmental influences, and the like, you will discover your own place and purpose in life, in the light of what has been said above.

With blessing,

From Mind Over Matter, freely translated by Dr. Aryeh Gotfryd

What's In A Name

YEHOSHUA (Joshua) means "the L-rd is my salvation." Yehoshua ben Nun (Exodus 16:9) was the leader of the Jews after Moses' death and led them in occupying the promised land. The great rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah (200 BCE) said: Provide yourself with a teacher; acquire for yourself a friend; and judge every person favorably.

YAEL means "to ascend," and mountain goat. Yael (Judges 4:17) was a Kenite woman who killed Sisera, a Canaanite general who oppressed the Jewish people.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat we bless the new month of Sivan, the month in which the holiday of Shavuot falls. In addition, we read two Torah portions, the second one beginning with G-d's words, "If you follow in my statutes..." These words can be directly related to the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, the festival on which we celebrate receiving the Torah.

Interestingly, the Talmud interprets the first word, "If" ("im" in Hebrew) as a plea, an appeal, as it were, from G-d for us to follow the mitzvot which he has commanded us.

But, the Talmud also tells us, that G-d never imposes unreasonable or impossible obligations upon His creatures. Therefore, not only is G-d beseeching us to keep His Torah, he is also conferring upon us the ability to follow and uphold all of the Torah's commandments.

For us, this year, the lesson is clear. In preparation for receiving the Torah on Shavuot, we are assured by G-d (as we are every year and, in fact, each day) that we have the strength and ability to observe the Torah that we will be receiving.

But drawing on that G-d-given ability can, of course, be a very difficult job. So, to give us incentive, G-d promises us a reward, too: "I will give your rains in their season." This is both a material and spiritual reward: for rain connotes blessing in material matters and also refers to the Torah which we will learn when Moshiach comes.

May each and every one of us merit to draw on the strength and ability G-d has promised us, to allow us to fulfill our fullest potential. Then we will truly be prepared to receive the Torah anew on Shavuot and ultimately learn Torah together with Moshiach.

Thoughts that Count

Do not take of him any usury or increase ("ribbit") (Leviticus 25:36)

The numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word "ribbit" is 612 - one short of the 613 mitzvot (commandments) of the Torah - teaching us that the mitzva of not charging interest is considered as great as all the other mitzvot combined.

(Baal HaTurim)

When you come to the land... the land will keep a Sabbath to G-d (Lev. 25:2)

"When you come to the Land" - when a person organizes his life and begins to be involved in earthly matters and mundane work, "the Land will keep a Sabbath to G-d" - it is imperative for the person to know that the whole intention and purpose of his involvement in earthly matters is for the purpose of the "Sabbath" - holiness.

(Likutei Sichot)

If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments...and you shall eat your bread with satiety and dwell in safety in your land. And I will give you peace. (Lev. 26:3-6)

After enumerating all of the tangible blessings for keeping the commandments, the Torah states "And I will give peace in the Land." For peace is balanced against everything.


For six years you shall prune your vineyard (Lev. 25:3)

The Jewish people are called a "vineyard" by the Prophet Isaiah: "For G-d's vineyard is the army of the House of Israel" (Isaiah 5). Each and every Jew must work at clearing up and pruning his own vineyard - his unfavorable traits such as jealousy, hatred, lustfulness, etc.

(Likutei Torah)

It Once Happened

The great Rabbi Moshe Sofer (the Chasam Sofer) was sitting with his students one day when they were interrupted by the Parness (the head) of the Jewish community. He hadn't want to disturb the rabbi when he was busy with his students, but when the Chasam Sofer noticed the man's distraught face, he excused himself and called the Parness into an adjoining room.

"What has happened?" the rabbi inquired.

The man answered with a sigh. "I am in deep trouble. I have lost my entire fortune. There's no hope, for I am in such deep debt, and I've signed promissory notes for others as well. I'm on the brink of utter ruin. Tomorrow, when it becomes known that I didn't go to the fair at Leipzig, my creditors will come running, and that will be my end."

"How much money do you need to go to the fair?" the Chasam Sofer asked.

"Oh, Rabbi, the amount I usually bring is not worth talking about. At this point, I would be grateful for travelling money and a bit of cash." The Parness mentioned an amount.

"That's no problem. I think I have just that amount here." The Chasam Sofer went to a certain drawer in his desk and withdrew the cash.

"Rabbi, I can't take the money from you. I came to you for advice, not a loan. If I take your money, how can I guarantee that I will be able to repay you?"

The Chasam Sofer smiled. "Don't worry, with G-d's help, you will repay me. May you have much success."

Deeply grateful and with new hope, the Parness took the money and left. He caught the early train to Leipzig, and upon leaving the train met a friend who was a big wholesaler and importer. He offered the Parness a shipment of coffee. The price was right, so the Parness gave a deposit and concluded the deal. Before the day ended, news reached the fair that the crop in Brazil had been damaged by bad weather, and the price of coffee had risen.

The Parness sold the coffee at a great profit. The next day he bought large quantities of merchandise. The pattern repeated itself every day of the fair, and by the end, he had not only recouped all his losses, but had become even richer than before. It occurred to the Parness to buy something special for the Chasam Sofer. The rabbi was knowledgeable in jewels, so he purchased a valuable gem to present to him. Back home, he went at once to visit the rabbi and tell him the good news. "Your blessings were fulfilled beyond my dreams. In addition to repaying you, it would be an honor if you would accept this gift."

The rabbi eagerly took the box and opened it, revealing the gem. "It's beautiful, and very valuable as well," he said turning the gem this way and that, all the while smiling in delight. Then he handed it back to the Parness.

"But, Rabbi, it's yours."

"No. You see, if you had given it to me at any other time, perhaps I would have accepted it, for it would support my yeshiva for some time. But since I gave you the loan, I cannot accept even something which has 'the dust of interest' on it."

The Parness left, and some students who had observed the scene came to their rabbi with a question: "If you had no intention of accepting the gift, why did you receive it with so much happiness and pay it so much attention?"

"I will tell you a story which will answer your question. Once I was traveling with my Rebbe, Rabbi Nosson Adler of Frankfurt. It was a trip of extreme urgency to the Jewish community. We started out after dark, and after we had gone but a short distance, the team of horses refused to budge. The driver went off to get help and we tried to shake off the cold by immersing ourselves in learning.

"Finally the driver returned and readied the team to continue the journey. Suddenly, my Rebbe leaped out of the carriage and began dancing in the snow. I was shocked and couldn't understand his actions.

" 'Don't you see, Moshe, the driver has harnessed a team of oxen together with horses!'

"I explained to the driver that we were forbidden to be drawn by a team composed of mixed species ("kilayim," is forbidden, since the animals have differing strengths and it causes them hardship). I offered him extra money if he would exchange the oxen for horses.

"When he had gone, I asked my teacher to enlighten me as to his strange behavior. He answered, 'My dear Moshe, when in Frankfurt do I get to do the rare commandment of kilayim? Now, that it comes my way, once in my life, should I not rejoice?'

"That is why, when I got the chance to do the mitzva (commandment) of "ribbit" (not accepting interest from a fellow Jew), I rejoiced. Who comes to a rabbi to request a free loan? When that mitzva came my way, I couldn't conceal my joy and excitement!"

Moshiach Matters

The period of the Resurrection of the Dead in the Messianic Era is the time of reward for the observance of mitzvot (command-ments). The ultimate reward will be the fusion of the Commander with the commanded. Instead of prohibitions and obligations, the world will be so filled with the knowledge of G-d that it will fulfill the Divine Will spontaneously. This is the meaning of "delighting in the radiance of the Divine Presence." At that time a mitzva will not be perceived as a step towards a Divine reward: a mitzva will be its own reward - the immersion of man in the Divine Will.

(To Live and Live Again, Rabbi N.D. Dubov)

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