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Items that always seem to be available at garage and yard sales throughout the summer, or at any other time of year, are golf clubs. Whether the avid adolescent golfer is away at college or beyond, or Dad never really took to the new pastime, or Mom has perfected her stroke and game to the point where she needs better clubs, golf clubs can easily be purchased for the neophyte golfer.
In keeping with the Baal Shem Tov's teaching that we can learn something to enhance our lives spiritually from everything we see and hear, even if you've only tried your skill with clubs and balls at the local mini-golf, there's a lot that can be learned from this mellow sport.
"Hold the club firmly with both hands," a seasoned golf expert will tell any newcomer to the game. Applied to Jewish living, this means that our approach to Torah and mitzvot (commandments) has to be firm, not wishy-washy or laissez faire. In addition, Torah teaches that "the right hand brings closer and the left hand pushes away." This means that our "hands-on" approach to Judaism has to include bringing that which is beneficial and positive into our lives while pushing away that which can be harmful or negative to Jewish living.
In real golf (as opposed to miniature golf) you must complete all 18 holes as established by the course. Similarly, a set course has been established for us by the Torah, beginning with our daily routine and encompassing our entire lives.
When we get up in the morning, we train ourselves that our first conscious thought is to thank G-d for giving us another day of life. Throughout the day we have a sequence of activities and mitzvot that we fulfill up until the time we go to bed, following the declaration that we forgive all those who might have knowingly or unknowingly wronged us, after which we entrust our soul to G-d's safekeeping. Just as our day is ordered and sequential, so is our week, month, year, and entire the Jewish life-cycle.
To truly hone our living skills (unlike when we putter around on a mini-golf course, where we can dodge the rules) we must follow the established progression of the Torah. And though the mitzvot are "written in stone" (at least the Ten Commandments, to be exact), Judaism allows for, acknowledges and even encourages individual expression and personal preferences within the established guidelines.
Any golfer worth his tee will inform you that one of the main guidelines of the game is to keep your eye on the ball. In the big golf game of life, the ball is the goal. As long as we keep our eyes on the goal and know where we're going, it's hard to get off track.
Jewish teachings explain that our goal is the Geula (Redemption), at which time Moshiach will lead the Jewish people out of exile. No one knows which tiny mitzva-tap on the ball of exile will gently drop us into the final hole (perhaps numbered 18 for "chai-life," for with the Redemption we will experience life as G-d truly intended it to be). It might be your kind word, his extra charity, her heartfelt prayer, or my Shabbat candles. If we all try our best, very soon, we will get the ultimate hole in one.
Balak, the king of Moab, was an evil person. Our Sages teach that he hated Jews more than any of our enemies. It is therefore surprising, at first glance, that this week's Torah portion, Balak - an entire Torah portion - goes by his name!
The Talmud cautions against naming children after evil individuals. "May the name of the wicked rot!" our Sages said. Why then would a portion of our holy Torah bear the name of such an evil person as Balak?
The name of a particular Torah portion is indicative of its content. What does Balak contain? The prophecy of Bilaam, a prophecy that is replete with blessings for the Jewish people, and also alludes to the End of Days. We must therefore conclude that the name of Balak is somehow connected to these positive subjects.
The Torah provides us with a great deal of information in its narration of the story of Balak. We are told all of the pertinent events that led to the frustration of his evil plan: how he wanted to curse the Jewish people, how he hired Bilaam, and how his curses were transformed into blessings.
It follows that when Jews use the name of Balak in reference to the Torah portion, it has the same positive connotations. Thus not only is there no contradiction to our Sages' declaration "May the name of the wicked rot," but the mention of Balak in this context only serves to attest to his disgrace.
Balak's evil intentions were not just nullified, but his actions produced an actual increase of blessing for the Jewish people. By engaging Bilaam to curse them, Balak caused them to receive the most exalted of G-d's blessings.
Balak was the medium through which much genuine good was brought about. This is an additional reason why the Torah portion is immortalized by Balak's name.
And what is the connection to the End of Days of exile?
When Moshiach comes and ushers in the Final Redemption, not only will the nations of the world cease their oppression of the Jewish people, but all the power and vast resources that were used to tyrannize them in the past will be directed toward helping Jews in their G-dly service.
This was exactly what happened to Balak. His evil plan was not only thwarted, but he himself brought advantage and benefit to the Jewish people. The name of the Torah portion thus alludes to the role of the gentile nations in the Messianic era, may it commence at once.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 23
A Voice in the Forest
by Rabbi Asher Deren
Ed.'s Note: This article was written last month for the Torah portin of Korach but we feel it appropriate to print it this week in honor of 12 Tammuz, which marks the anniversary of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe's liberation from Soviet imprisonment.
On 15 Sivan in 5687 (1927), a death sentence was handed down to the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe for his counter revolutionary efforts of promoting Judaism in the Soviet Union. During the Moscow witch hunt by the KGB that culminated in that arrest, the Rebbe needed some "fresh air." So he went for a walk in the Sokolniki Forest in the centre of Moscow.
On 15 Sivan, 2011 the Previous Rebbe came back to the Sokolniki Forest. Not for the fresh air needed to survive the KGB, but to celebrate his victory over them. Yes, he passed away in 5710 (1950) and was succeeded by his son-in-law, the Rebbe (whose passing was on 3 Tammuz). But Thursday night they were at the Sokolniki Forest in the centre of Moscow.
Last Thursday close to 1,500 people gathered at Sokolniki Forest (the Moscow equivalent of Central Park) to celebrate the "Royal Wedding" as one local journalist put it, of my cousin Blumi Lazar to my good friend Isaac Rosenfeld. It was a joyous celebration as Moscow's Jewish community, from its global success stories, to its local smiling folk, joined hands together in the whirling circles of celebration.
Our tradition tells us that at a wedding three generations of the bride's and groom's ancestors come to celebrate. Together with our grandfather of blessed memory, I am sure that the Rebbe and the Previous Rebbe must have been celebrating there with us that night as well.
But one moment captured it all for me more than anything. It was when Isaac was saying the "Maamer," a discourse of the Rebbe, explaining a discourse that the Previous Rebbe had said at his wedding, which is invoked at the beginning of the wedding as a way of "inviting" their souls to come join in the wedding.
Suddenly there was a bustle near one of the doors, as it opened and an entourage of burly security guards escorted walked in ahead of some important looking guy. "Who is that?" I asked a nearby fellow. "That's the Speaker of Parliament - number three in the government after Putin and Medvedev." But Isaac was saying the Maamer. So he sat down patiently on the side while Isaac finished. And then he brought the message from the Russian Federation.
That's when I heard the voices speaking.
This week we read about the first Yevsektzia . For those who don't know what that is - it was the Jewish Branch of the Soviet Communist Party who were responsible for the executions of hundreds of religious Jews across Russia (including my wife Zeesy's great grandfather who was shot for the crime of circumcision of Jewish children - a campaign the present day Yevsektzia is still trying to revive).
It's nothing new. Jewish People, perhaps driven by their innate biblicaly influenced nature of care for the poor and downtrodden, are driven on a socially conscious journey to make a difference - sometimes in the wrong direction.
Communism, like so many other "isms," was led by Jewish people who in their pursuit of absolute equal opportunity, sought to destroy any structure or reflection of hierarchy or moral authority - including that of G-d Himself. But obviously a war on G-d wouldn't go over well with the masses, so instead they called it a war on G-d's people. But Karl Marx wasn't the first one with this idea. The first one we read about was a different Karl, or as he's called in the Torah, Korach.
In preaching to Moses "Why do you elevate yourself over the people?" Korach was playing populism at its worst and trying to win support for his campaign. And like his descendants depicted in Animal Farm, he wanted equality, but some (himself included) should be more equal than others.
I am often challenged on the Chasidic emphasis of a Rebbe/Chasid relationship: Aren't we good enough? That was essentially Korach, and Soviet Communism's challenge as well. Not realizing that Moses wasn't there because G-d needs him. He's there because we do. Not because we're incapable. On the contrary, to show us how capable we are.
But Korach fought, he engineered a revolt that would have made Lenin proud. With an arrogance that inspired like-minded communists, he spoke and fought. And like his descendants, his end was bitter. "And the earth opened and swallowed him."
But where is he now? Once he was swallowed, what happened to him? The Midrash tells us that every so often a voice comes up from the place where they were swallowed and Korach and his followers call out "Moshe Emet ViTorato Emet - Moses is True and his Torah is True"
As Isaac sat and shared the Maamer of the Rebbe and Previous Rebbe, while a head of the Russian Government waited patiently on the side, I'm pretty sure I heard a KGB sounding voice calling out from beneath the Sokolniki Forest "Moses is True and his Torah is True!"
Rabbi Asher Deren and his wife Zeesy are directors of Chabad of the West Coast, Capetown, South Africa.
A new Mikva was inaugurated in the city of Dijon, France. France's former Chief Rabbi Chaim Sitruk was honored with the ribbon cutting. In the west Siberian city of Tomsk, Russia, a new Mikva was dedicated. The Mikva is located in the Tomsk Choral Synagogue.
New Guest House
The Ukrainian city of Uzhgorod (Ungvár) now has a formal guest house under the auspices of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries Rabbi Mendel and Chaya Moussia Teichman. The beautiful guest house is just a short walk from the synagogue.
Jewish Learning Institute Retreat
Spend five days of Jewish learning and discovery with master Torah teachers. Explore new ideas and expand your horizons in an open, embracing environment. Relax, reflect, and refresh your spirit. The Jewish Learning Institute annual retreat is taking place August 16-21. It combines the best of Jewish learning with a luxurious setting at the Hyatt Regency in Old Greenwich, Connecticut. For more info visit www.jretreat.com or call 877-JRetreat.
The following is a freely translated letter of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe describing his seven terms of imprisonment in Russia. The letter is dated 17 Iyar 5694 (1934)
In reply to your question about my imprisonment and my subsequent exile in Kostrama: Though everything is recorded in my notes, for various reasons the only things that may be revealed are a number of excerpts and general impressions that will be offensive to no one.
The imprisonment in 5687  was the seventh, because I was imprisoned five times under the old [czarist] regime, and twice under the new [communist] regime.
The first imprisonment took place in Lubavitch when I was eleven years old. At that time, following the advice and directive of my teacher, R. Nissan, I began (in 5652 ) to record my recollections in a book. This incident, too, was recorded there, in 5653 .
The second imprisonment took place in Lubavitch in Iyar, 5662 . The informers to the authorities were the teachers of the school that had been founded in Lubavitch by the Society for the Dissemination of the Haskalah (the "Enlightenment").
The third imprisonment, also in Lubavitch, in Teves, 5666 , resulted from the participation of members of the [secular] Poalei Tzion Party in an uprising against the local police.
The fourth imprisonment took place in Petrograd in Teves, 5670 ; the informer in this case was an educated Jew called K.
The fifth imprisonment, also in Petrograd, in Shvat, 5676 , resulted from my efforts to obtain legal information concerning military exemptions for people serving in rabbinical positions.
The sixth imprisonment, in Rostov on the River Don, in Tammuz, 5680 , followed my denunciation to the authorities by D., the head of the local Yevsektsia.
Each of the above arrests, however, resulted in imprisonment for a number of hours. The seventh was somewhat weightier.
Normally, an analogy is less earnest than its analog. Consider, then: If imprisoning a body in a jail of wood and stone is called suffering, then how intense must be the suffering of the Divine soul when it is imprisoned in the body and the animal soul. This is something worth thinking about deeply.
I will not deny that from time to time the seventh imprisonment brings me particular pleasure. As witness: Even now, some seven years after the event, I occasionally set aside time to spend alone - to picture in my mind's eye the sounds and words, the sights and the dreams, that I heard, saw and dreamed in those days.
A lifetime spans a certain number of changing stages - childhood, boyhood, youth, young adulthood, adulthood, advancing years, and old age. People also vary in their gifts - whether common and mediocre or wonderfully luminous; likewise in their natures - for example, whether bashful and morose, or jolly and exuberant. But apart from all these variables, in the course of a lifetime Divine Providence engineers particular periods which sometimes change a man's very nature. They develop his gifts and set him up at a particular height, so that he can gaze upon the ultimate purpose for which a man lives his life on the face of the earth.
Above all, a man's personality and gifts are most intensely escalated by a period rich in suffering which is inflicted on account of his vigorous endeavors for an ideal. This is particularly so if he struggles and battles with his pursuers and persecutors for the sake of preserving and advancing his religious faith.
Such a period, though fraught with affliction of the body and suffering of the spirit, is rich in powerful impressions. Such days are the luminous days in a man's life.
Every single incident in such a period is significant. In particular, if imprisonment is involved, the resultant spiritual benefit is so great that it warrants the recording not only of days and nights but even of hours and minutes. For every hour and minute of torment gives rise to inestimable benefits: it makes a man so resolute that even a weakling is transformed into the most courageous of men.
My arrest began at 2:15 a.m. on Wednesday, 15 Sivan, 5687 , and continued until 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, 3 Tammuz, 5687, in Leningrad (Petersburg).
After these eighteen days, eleven hours and fifteen minutes, I spent approximately six hours in my home, and at 7:30 p.m. took the train to Kostrama. I arrived there on Monday, 4 Tammuz, and remained in exile until 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, 13 Tammuz, for a total of nine days and seventeen hours...
CHANANYA means "compassion of G-d." Chananya ben Azur was a prophet during the times of King Zedekia (Jeremiah 28:1). Another Chananya, together with Daniel, Mishiel and Azarya, was taken captive in Babylonia by Nebuchadnezzer. They all exhibited great faith in G-d and became leaders of the Jews in exile. A fourth century Palestinian scholar was also named Chananya.
CHASYA means "protected by G-d." Apparently this name was derived from the (male) name Chasa which is mentioned in the Talmud. In Aramaic, the word "chasya" means "mercy" or "merciful."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Thursday is the 12th of Tammuz, 84 years since the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, was released from Soviet prison. Originally sentenced to death for heading a secret network of Talmud Torahs, mikvaot and synagogues throughout Russia, the Rebbe's victory over the Communist ideology was a triumph for Jews everywhere that resonates and continues till the present day.
With the clarity of vision that comes with hindsight, we can now see how the 12th of Tammuz was the first substantial blow delivered against the "Evil Empire" that eventually led to its downfall. In the struggle between Communism and Judaism, the faith of Israel would emerge triumphant. In the battle of decadence and corruption against justice and righteousness, truth and virtue would prevail.
Back in 1927, Communism would have had us believe that the Jewish religion was ready to be tossed onto the ash heap of history as a relic of the past. Communism, with its promise of social justice and equality for all mankind, was the wave of the future. Eighty-four years later, when most of the world regards it as a failed experiment, it is hard to imagine how massive a threat Communism once was. Yet the present reemergence of Torah-true Judaism throughout the former Soviet Union is nothing short of a miracle when viewed objectively. Indeed, this is what the Rebbe fought for all along.
The 12th of Tammuz is a celebration of our faith in G-d, a holiday for everyone who believes in the Torah and its commandments. L'chaim, and may we merit to celebrate the ultimate victory of good over evil with the coming of Moshiach, immediately and at once.
Abraham our Father was tested with ten tests, and he withstood them all to show how great was Abraham our Father's love [for G-d]. (Ethics 5:3)
Abraham is described as our father. Just as a father bequeaths his estate to his descendants, Abraham bequeaths his spiritual legacy to the entire Jewish people. His spiritual legacy empowers each of us, endowing us with the strength to withstand the challenges we face in our divine service.
(Sichot Parshat Chukat, 5737)
Ten miracles were wrought for our ancestors in the Holy Temple... Nor did any man ever say to his fellow man: The place is too crowded for me to lodge overnight in Jerusalem." (Ethics 5:5)
This miracle can also be understood as an expression of the unity generated by Jerusalem. The Mishna does not say that the city was not crowded. On the contrary, it is highly likely that it was, for finding lodgings for the multitude of festive pilgrims could not have been easy. Nevertheless, the unity which the city inspired motivated both hosts and guests to be accommodating, and everyone accepted the crowded conditions willingly, without allowing the congestion to detract from their love for the holy city.
(Sichot Motzei Shabbat Parshat Re'eh, 5738)
There are four character types among men: He who says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine," is a peasant... (Ethics 5:10)
What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine: There are people who have been struck with a certain illness - that whatever someone else has is better, more beneficial, worth more, etc., than what he has. You will always hear them saying, "Come, let's swap." The peasant described here has this shortcoming, and his character is thus defective.
Any love that is conditional will cease when the condition upon which it depends vanishes. But if it is unconditional, it will never cease...(Ethics 5:16)
These two types of love represent two stages in a person's Divine service. Initially, a person serves (G-d) with expectation of a reward - this is conditional love. Later, he may reach the stage of unconditional love - where he serves G-d without expectation of reward. The ruling in Jewish law is that a person should always occupy himself with Torah and mitzvot, even if this is not entirely for its own sake, for eventually this will lead to service without any ulterior motives - "for its own sake."
(Biurim l'Pirkei Avot)
The previous Rebbe's birthday, and anniversary of liberation from Communist imprisonment for spreading Judaism, is the twelfth day of Tammuz.
Rabbi Shlomo Kazarnovsky was a Chasid of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. Many years ago, Rabbi Kazarnovsky and the previous Rebbe's son-in-law, Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary, were sent on a mission to Toronto, Canada. They were visited in their hotel by a few other Chasidim and supporters of Lubavitch. One of them was a local rabbi in Toronto, who told them the following story:
Not long ago, a member of the rabbi's synagogue had been suddenly stricken with paralysis. When the rabbi heard what happened, he went to visit him in the hospital. The man's condition was very grave, and he could barely speak. The members of the man's family, huddled together outside his room, told the rabbi he couldn't even enter to see him. Standing in the hospital corridor, they proceeded to fill him in on all the sordid details of his illness.
When the patient heard the rabbi's voice, however, he instructed the nurse to allow him to enter the sickroom. As soon as he stepped inside the man found his voice. "I heard that the Rebbe of Lubavitch is now in the United States," he said. "Please write to him for me and ask him what I can do to redeem myself and regain my health." The rabbi immediately wrote a letter describing the man's condition, and received an equally speedy reply from the Rebbe.
The Rebbe had answered: "Tell him that a branch of Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim is now being built in Montreal. Advise him to donate the sum of one thousand dollars. The angel of one hundred is not the same as the angel of one thousand, as it states, 'If there be but one interceding angel out of a thousand [accusers], etc.' "
As soon as the Rebbe's answer arrived the rabbi hurried back to the hospital to show the sick man the letter. The relatives were very surprised that it had come so fast. However, after the rabbi told them what the Rebbe had advised, the man's brother-in-law commented in English, "You see? They're already trying to squeeze money out of him. You know what kind of people these are..."
The rabbi would not give him the dignity of a response. He walked straight into the man's room and read him the Rebbe's letter. When he had finished reading, the man turned to his son sitting next to the bed and said, "Son, I want to live. Take a thousand dollars and go to Montreal." The son did exactly as he was told and left for Montreal.
Several days later one of the hospital's leading specialists came in to examine the patient. After checking his condition, the doctor left the room in a fury. Confronting the man's family, which had maintained a steady vigil ever since he was stricken, he demanded, "Who gave you permission to bring in outside doctors and interfere in the patient's treatment? What kind of medications have you been giving him?" The man's relatives were stunned. They did not understand what he meant, as no other doctors had been called in on the case, and no special medications had been prescribed. They insisted that they had done absolutely nothing.
"If that's the case," the doctor continued, "then a genuine miracle has occurred. The patient's condition has undergone a radical change for the better. He is almost ready to be discharged."
Although he needed the assistance of crutches to get around for a short time, they were eventually discarded. The man experienced a complete recovery from his illness.
It was not our will that we were exiled from the Holy Land, and it is not with our might that we will return to the Holy Land. G-d exiled us from our land and He will redeem us through Moshiach.... But know please, all peoples of the earth, that only our bodies were delivered into exile and servitude; whereas our souls were not delivered into exile and servitude. We are obliged to openly announce that in everything concerning our religion, the Torah of Israel, its commandments and customs, there is no one who can force his will on us, and there is no power of coercion permitted to enslave us.
(The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe)