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Devarim Deutronomy

Breishis Genesis

Shemos Exodus

Vayikra Leviticus

Bamidbar Numbers

   1120: Bamidbar

1121: Nasso

1122: Beha'aloscha

1123: Sh'lach

1124: Korach

1125: Chukas

1126: Balak

1127: Pinchas

1128: Matos-Masei

Devarim Deutronomy

June 25, 2010 - 13 Tamuz, 5770

1126: Balak

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

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  1125: Chukas1127: Pinchas  

Graduations and Goals  |  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

Graduations and Goals

"No more homework, no more books. No more teachers' angry looks!" Remember chanting those words, or a similar sentiment, at your graduation?

"Ahh, we've graduated. We're finally finished," we sighed in relief.

But, as every principal, dean or university president will make sure to mention in his commencement speech, graduation is just a beginning, not an end.

Jewish teachings explain, "The end is connected to the beginning."

In other words, before we begin something, we need to clearly identify our final goal.

Only once we have a definite understanding of the goal can we efficiently and effectively beg in working toward it.

To illustrate this point, the example of a house is often used.

Were a construction crew to simply start building, without exact plans or a detailed draft, the home could not possibly be inhabitable.

And even once exact plans are drawn up, they must be executed in sequence: you can't put up the beams before the foundation is laid; you can't put in the electrical wiring after the walls have been plastered and painted.

The builder first conceives of the total project, the finished product, and then he breaks it down into various stages, steps and jobs.

The end is connected to the beginning. Before we begin anything, we have the goal in mind.

Envisioning and focusing on the goal makes it easier to keep at the details and to follow a progressive path.

Applying this important mode of thinking to every aspect of our lives accrues unbelievable results.

As our Sages have stated, "A wise person sees the result."

An intelligent person considers the consequence or outcome before undertaking a specific course.

What is true of graduations and house building is certainly true of the world at large.

G-d created the world with a goal and a purpose. Thus, the world today is obviously much further along toward its goal than it was when it was created.

The world has advanced to the point that we are actually standing on the doorstep of our new home - the Messianic Era.

The Messianic Era is G-d's final intent and purpose for the creation of the world. It is the "end" that we have been leading up to since the beginning of the world.

But, far from what non-Jewish teachings would have us imagine about the "end" being near, Judaism does not have a doomsday view of the "end."

For, as mentioned before, the end is connected to the beginning, and conversely, the beginning to the end.

The "end of days" marks the beginning of days, the Days of Moshiach.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe repeatedly emphasized that we will not lose anything in the Messianic Era; the G-dliness in everything will "simply" be apparent to all.

Some things, though, will end.

There will be an end to hunger, war, sickness, strife, jealousy... the list goes on.

In the Messianic Era there will be only good: peace, prosperity, divine knowledge - an end that is truly a new beginning.

Living with the Rebbe

As related in this week's Torah portion, Balak, when Bilaam went to curse the Jewish people, he woke up early in the morning "and saddled his donkey."

Bilaam was a very important personage, and was accompanied by an entourage of Moabite princes and leaders. Why, then, did Bilaam perform such a menial task himself?

Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, explains: "From this we see that hatred causes disregard of proper conduct." Bilaam hated the Jews so intensely and was so eager to curse them that he disregarded the usual mores of society.

All this hatred, however, did not ultimately help him, as Rashi continues: "Declared G-d: Wicked one, Abraham their father has already preceded you, as it states, 'And Abraham arose early in the morning and saddled his donkey.'" When Abraham set out to what he thought would be the sacrifice of his son Isaac, he too "arose early and saddled his donkey." Abraham's actions thus "canceled out" Bilaam's evil intent and protected the Jewish people.

What exactly was Bilaam trying to accomplish? Surely he knew that G-d would not allow him to curse the Jews, for he had already been warned: "Only the word which I shall say to you, that shall you do." However, Bilaam hoped to somehow provoke G-d's anger against His people and damage His love for them. Bilaam was a master of incitement. When he saw that it would be impossible to curse the Jews within the natural order, he attempted to "disregard proper conduct" and circumvent convention. Bilaam figured that after the Jewish people had sinned in the desert, G-d would also "disregard proper conduct" and stop showing them His attribute of loving-kindness.

Bilaam's faulty logic was derived from blind hatred. However, G-d said to Bilaam, "Wicked one, Abraham their father has already preceded you." In other words, in the merit of Abraham, the Jewish people are deserving of blessing within or without the natural order. For Abraham's actions also transcended the "usual" way of doing things.

The Torah portion of Balak expresses the transformation of curse into blessing: "The L-rd your G-d would not listen to Bilaam, but... turned the curse into a blessing to you, because the L-rd your G-d loved you." Bilaam's hatred for the Jews caused him to "disregard proper conduct"; conversely, a Jew's love for G-d should prompt him to observe Torah and mitzvot even beyond the letter of the law, with dedication, devotion and commitment. This love must be so intense that it can even transform evil into good.

When a Jew is strongly connected to G-d, it arouses a reciprocal love from on High; curse is turned into blessing, and G-d's love for His people is revealed.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 28

A Slice of Life

The Sunset Stranger

by Rabbi Bentzion Elisha

Based on a speech by a yeshiva student at a pre-summer gathering before 300 pairs of students headed out to remote Jewish communities throughout the world on "Merkos Shlichus."
"Please watch yourselves here," warns the Ukrainian rabbi. "While you're walking around town beware not to stay out past sunset because once the city gets dark, it isn't safe anymore... "

My friend Shmuel and I arrive in Odessa to help the Chabad emissary for Passover.

When the holiday is over, we venture out into the city. We really enjoy soaking in the ambiance of this old-world town as we search for fellow Jews. We get carried away just walking about, and then it occurs to us that it is getting late.

Suddenly we notice that all children and women are off the streets, and we are lost in the city, with only our wrinkled map to guide us.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a tall man wearing a leather jacket walks towards us. He looks like a skinhead. The rabbi's earlier warning rings in my ears.

I say "hello" in Russian as I put the map away. We don't need to look like tourists.

He says "hello," and asks where we are from.

"I'm from Odessa originally." I tell him. His expression changes to disbelief.

"My father was born here, and my family lived here when I was a child."

"What are you looking for?" He cuts me off.

I say we are looking for Pochenko Park, which we aren't, but I mention the first place I remember from the map. We have to lose this guy.

"I know where Pochenko Park is, it's very easy..." he says.

"Do you see the alley by the side of the street?" He points as he explains. "Well, you go down the dark alleyway and that will lead you to the dark sea side. Then you'll go up the road there which will lead you to the edge of Pochenko Park." He smugly looks at us.

"The alley looks awfully dark," I reply knowingly. "I would hate for something bad to happen to us there. Looking at our map also shows us that we can take the main road, which will be lit up, and that will lead us straight to our destination. The main road is just four blocks away."

The man's smile breaks into laughter and he says, "You're smart, very smart." There is a menacing look in his eyes.

All the conversation so far is in Russian. Shmuel by my side has no idea of what is going on. It is still before sunset and Shmuel urges me to speak to our new friend, who he thinks is Jewish, about putting on tefilin.

Why not? What is there to lose? I ask myself.

"My name is Israel. What's your name?" I ask.

"My name is Senya," answers the stranger.

"Where are you from, Senya?" I ask him.

"I'm from Odessa," he answers.

"Odessa has had so many Jews living here for so many years that they inevitably left their mark. Everything here seems so Jewish, even the non-Jews have something Jewish about them. Tell me, Senya, what's Jewish about you?" I ask.

"Nothing." He hesitates for a second before he says, "Nothing is Jewish about me. My mother is Jewish but I'm not."

"Senya, if your mother is Jewish that makes you Jewish, too."

Stunned, he immediately denies my statement.

"No, I'm not Jewish, I'm Ukranian. It even says so in my passport."

"Senya, I don't care what it says in your Ukrainian passport. According to Jewish law, if your mother is Jewish you are Jewish!"

Contemplating this new identity he has never considered his own, something shifts. I can see it in his face. He is silent. I continue.

"Senya, we have so much in common. Your father is from Odessa and my father is from Odessa. Your mother is Jewish and my mother is Jewish. I'm a Jew and you're a Jew. We are practically mishpacha." Mishpacha is one of those words even the non-Jews in Odessa know.

I offer my hand to shake his. We shake hands. He keeps my hand in his as he stares at me.

"Yes," he agrees. "I suppose we can say that. Israel, do you know why I stopped you today?" he asks. "Since we are practically mishpacha, I'll tell you. I wanted to rob you. I saw you two rabbinical students, and thought, 'Look at these two penguins, this will be easy money.' "

"I'm so glad you changed your mind."

The look in his eyes gets noticeably softer. "Yes, I guess I did change my mind." He says as he lets go of my hand. Then he looks down, perhaps ashamed. "Can you just give me $20." He begs. "I really need it. We are mishpacha after all, aren't we?"

"I don't have money on me Senya" I tell him honestly. "But if you want to stop at the yeshiva later on, I'll make sure to have $20 waiting for you. It's getting late, we have to go."

"Let me walk you to the main street," he says. "It's dangerous here after dark..."

Senya walks us to the main road. We walk together into the light. We say goodbye to the sunset stranger as we walk back to the yeshiva.

That night we leave Odessa. We don't forget to leave a $20 bill for Senya with one of the students in the yeshiva. We dream that perhaps Senya will somehow join the yeshiva in Odessa. Who knows, maybe he will become an emissary himself one day.

As we travel I think about our sunset encounter in Odessa. How wondrous it is that by the mere act of reaching out to another Jew - as the Lubavitcher Rebbe trained us to do - not only are we saved from being robbed but we somehow manage to steal the heart of a thief.

Rabbi Bentzion Elisha is an award winning photographer - ElishaArt.Com - and writer based in Crown Heights.

What's New

New Centers

The first United Kingdom Lubavitch Children's Centre (LCC) was opened in Stamford Hill, London. The Lubavitch Children's Centre, opened by the Chief Rabbi of England and the Commonwealth Lord Jonathan Sacks, is a pioneering, modern facility that will cater to the physical, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual well-being of children from all backgrounds of the Jewish communities. The Chabad Shul of Plantation, Florida, held a grand opening celebration for their new building recently. The dedication of the Geulat Yisrael Chabad - Beit Moshe Synagogue in Tel Aviv, Israel, after a year of major renovations, included the welcoming of 18 new Torah scrolls to the synagogue.

The Rebbe Writes

5 Tammuz, 5743 [1984]

I have just received your letter of 3rd of Tammuz.

To begin with a blessing, may G-d grant that henceforth you and all your family should have only goodness and benevolence - in the kind of good that is revealed and evident.

At the same time, you must make every effort to regain the proper state of mind, despite the pain.

You should remember the teaching and instruction of the Torah, which is called Toras Chayim, the Guide in Life, and Toras Emes, the Torah of Truth, meaning that what it teaches is not just to ease the mind, but the actual truth.

Thus, the Torah, taking into account human nature/feelings, in a case of bereavement, and the need to provide an outlet for the natural feelings of sorrow and grief, prescribes a set of regulations and periods of mourning.

At the same time, the Torah sets limits in terms of the duration of the periods of mourning and appropriate expression, such as shiva [the first seven days], shloshim [30 days], etc.

If one extends the intensity of mourning which is appropriate for shiva into shloshim, it is not proper, for although shloshim is part of the overall mourning period, it is so in a lesser degree.

And since the Torah says that it is not proper to overdo it, it does no good for the neshama [soul] of the dear departed. On the contrary, it is painful for the neshama to see that it is the cause for the conduct that is not in keeping with the instructions of the Torah.

A second point to bear in mind is that a human being cannot possibly understand the ways of G-d. By way of a simple illustration:

An infant cannot possibly understand the thinking and ways of a great scholar or scientist - even though both are human beings, and the difference between them is only relative, in terms of age, education and maturity.

Moreover, it is quite possible that the infant may some day surpass the scientist, who also started life as an infant. But the difference between a created human being and his Creator is absolute.

Therefore, our Sages declare that human beings must accept everything that happens, both those that are obviously good and those that are incomprehensible, with the same positive attitude that "all that G-d does is for the good," even though it is beyond human understanding.

Nevertheless, G-d has made it possible for human beings to grasp some aspects and insights about life and afterlife. One of these revealed truths is that the neshama is a part of G-dliness and is immortal. When the time comes for it to return to Heaven, it leaves the body and continues its eternal life in the spiritual World of Truth.

It is also a matter of common sense that whatever the direct cause of the separation of the soul from the body (whether a fatal accident, or a fatal illness, etc.) it could affect only any of the vital organs of the physical body, but could in no way affect the spiritual soul.

A further point, which is also understandable, is that during the soul's lifetime on earth in partnership with the body, the soul is necessarily "handicapped" - in certain respects - by the requirements of the body (such as eating and drinking, etc.).

Even a tzaddik (righteous person) whose entire life is consecrated to Hashem [G-d] cannot escape the restraints of life in a material and physical environment.

Consequently, when the time comes for the soul to return "home," it is essentially a release for it as it makes its ascent to a higher world, no longer restrained by a physical body and physical environment.

Henceforth, the soul is free to enjoy the spiritual bliss of being near to Hashem in the fullest measure. That is surely a comforting thought.

continued in next issue

What's In A Name

GIDON means a "mighty warrior." Gidon, one of the Judges of Israel (Judges 6:11), was also a warrior who defeated the Midianites in a surprise night attack. He was from the tribe of Menashe.

GITEL is from the Yiddish, meaning "good." A variant form is Gite, or Gita.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming Tuesday, June 29, coincides with the Hebrew date the 17th of Tammuz. Until Moshiach comes and the Third Holy Temple will be rebuilt, the 17th of Tammuz is a fast day (unless it falls on Shabbat in which case the fast is pushed off until Sunday). The act of fasting recalls tragic events and brings us to repent for the misdeeds that caused those events as well as our own repetition of those misdeeds.

The first tragic event to take place on the 17th of Tammuz was when Moses descended from Mount Sinai and witnessed the Children of Israel sinning with the Golden Calf, which led him to destroy the Tablets. Later on there were tragedies involving the destruction of both the first and second Holy Temples.

In the time of the first Holy Temple, on the 17th of Tammuz the priests were no longer able to bring the daily sheep-offering, as enemy soldiers had surrounded the city of Jerusalem. When there were no more sheep left in the city, their enemies prevented them from getting more.

During the second Holy Temple, on the 17th of Tammuz the walls around the city of Jerusalem fell and the enemy soldiers broke into the city. Both Temples were destroyed on the 9th of Av, exactly three weeks after the 17th of Tammuz. Therefore, the 17th of Tammuz begins the period on the Jewish calendar known as "The Three Weeks." It is a time of mourning, when we schedule no weddings and refrain from listening to music.

Within this sad time also lies hope. A central belief of the Jewish people that has withstood the test of time is the belief in the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. As we read about the destruction of our glorious Holy Temple and we mourn its loss, we should be inspired to improve in the areas of learning the Torah and doing its mitzvot, knowing that in doing so, we are bringing the world closer to its purpose, the arrival of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.

Thoughts that Count

The L-rd put a word in Bilaam's mouth... (Deut. 23:5-7)

Bilaam's prophecy is unique, in that it was uttered by a non-Jewish prophet who was forced to foretell of the gentile nations' ultimate subservience to the sovereignty of King Moshiach. Bilaam's words are also considered part of Isaiah's general prophecy concerning the Messianic era, when even the non-Jewish royalty will honor and serve and Jewish people: "And kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers; they shall bow down to you with their face toward the earth, and lick the dust of your feet."

(Likutei Sichot)

You shall see but the utmost part of them, and shall not see them all (Deut. 23:13)

It is only if one looks at a "part" of a Jew, a small detail of his make-up, that one might notice any flaws; if he is considered as a whole, no defects will be visible.

(Ohel Torah)

According to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel what G-d has done (Deut. 23:23)

It is from this verse that Maimonides derived that prophecy would return to the Jewish people. Bilaam's prophecy was uttered in the year 2488 after the creation of the world; accordingly, the ability to prophesize would be restored to the Jews 2488 years later. This corresponds to the year 4976 (785 years ago or 1216), the era of Rabbi Shmuel the Prophet, followed by Rabbi Eleazar Baal HaRokeach, Nachmanides, the Ravad, Rabbi Ezra the Prophet, Rabbi Yehuda the Chasid and others; indeed, prophecy flourished in the generation of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples. In our generation, the Rebbe has prophesied that the time of our Redemption has arrived.

(Peninei HaGeula)

It Once Happened

It was a typical autumn day in 1906 when Rabbi Yedidya Horodner walked into the "Tiferet Yisrael" synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem with a big smile on his face. With a grand flourish he placed a bottle of whiskey and some cake on the table, and invited everyone to make a "l'chaim."

The congregants wondered what the cause for celebration might be. A rumor had been circulating that the day before, Rabbi Horodner had gone to all the local yeshivot and distributed candy to the children. Something good had obviously occurred, and they waited expectantly to hear what it was.

Indeed, after everyone had made a blessing on the cake and lifted a few glasses, the Rabbi filled them in:

The whole story revolved around the Rabbi's nephew, a 15-year-old boy named Shmuel Rosen who was originally from Riga. His father, Rabbi Ozer Rosen, had sent the lad to his uncle when he was only eight years old, in the belief that there was no better place in the world to develop the boy's intellectual talents than the holy city of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Horodner raised little Shmuel as if he was his own son, and the boy flourished. He was a delightful child, and exceptionally devoted to his studies.

A few weeks earlier, however, disaster had struck. After experiencing deteriorating vision for several months, Shmuel was now completely blind. The total darkness had set in as he was sitting and poring over a volume of the Talmud.

The boy's spirit was completely broken. For days and nights he wept over his fate, most bitterly over his inability to study Torah by himself. Suffering from a profound sadness, he withdrew and rarely ventured from his room.

His uncle felt helpless, until it occurred to him that a change of place might do the boy good. He contacted his friend, Reb Shimon Hoizman of Hebron, who agreed to let the boy stay in his house. Shmuel felt a little better in Hebron, but remained very depressed.

At that time the Jewish community of Hebron was headed by two Torah giants: the Sefardic Rabbi Chizkiyahu Medini (author of Sdei Chemed), and the Chasidic Rabbi Shimon Menashe Chaikin, the chief Ashkenazic authority in the city. Every evening at midnight, the two Rabbis would go to the Cave of Machpeila, the resting place of the Jewish Patriarchs and Matriarchs, to recite Tikun Chatzot (a special prayer lamenting the destruction of the Holy Temple).

Reb Shimon Hoizman was very affected by the boy's suffering. But what could he do to help? Then one evening, he came up with a plan...

About a half hour before midnight Reb Shimon went into Shmuel's room. "Wake up, son," he whispered to him softly. "Get dressed and follow me." The two went off into the night, in the direction of Rabbi Chaikin's courtyard.

A few minutes later the two rabbis could be seen approaching, on their way to the Cave of Machpeila. As soon as they reached the spot where Reb Shimon and Shmuel were standing, Reb Shimon disappeared and left Shmuel by himself. The two rabbis quickly realized that Shmuel was blind. With gentleness they asked him how he had become sightless.

When the young man got up to the part about how he had become totally blind while studying, Rabbi Medini asked if he remembered the last words he had been able to see. "Of course I remember!" Shmuel responded. "They were in the Talmud, Tractate Chulin, on the first side of page 36: 'On whom can we count? Come, let us rely on the words of Rabbi Shimon [Bar Yochai]'"

The two rabbis became very excited. "If that is the case," they said almost simultaneously, "then you can certainly rely on the holy Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai to help you. Go to his grave in Meron, ask for his blessing, and G-d will surely heal you."

The next morning Shmuel returned to Jerusalem, and the very same day he and his uncle set off for Meron. It was a difficult journey, but after several days they arrived safely. Even before they approached the holy gravesite they were filled with a feeling of confidence. For days they remained at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, praying steadily to G-d for a miraculous recovery.

The miracle occurred exactly one week later. Rabbi Horodner was reading aloud from the Talmud when all of sudden Shmuel let out a shadow. "Uncle! I can see your shadow!"

Over the course of the next few days, Shmuel's vision improved steadily, until 13 days later it was restored completely. Still camped out at the holy gravesite, uncle and nephew broke out into a spontaneous dance, as they sang the verses that are traditionally sung on the anniversary of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's passing:

"His teachings are our protection; they are the light of our eyes. He is our advocate for good, Rabban Shimon Bar Yochai.

Moshiach Matters

The Torah portion of Pinchas describes the division of the Land of Israel, stating: "Among these, the land will be divided.... To a larger tribe, you shall give a greater inheritance. To a smaller tribe, you shall give a lesser inheritance.... Nevertheless, you must divide the land by lot." Three approaches to the division of the land are mentioned: a) inheritance, b) division based on reason ("To a greater [tribe]..."), c) division by lots. This division of the land can be interpreted as an allusion to the division of the land in time of Moshiach.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 21 Tammuz, 5750-1990)

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