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L'Chaim
February 17, 2012 - 24 Shevat, 5772

1209: Mishpatim

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


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  1208: Yisro1210: Terumah  

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

Retiring?

Today, articles abound about retiring early so you can finally do what you want. Among the points often made in these articles is the importance of investing money properly so that you can retire at age 60, 50, or even 40.

What if your plans are to work as long as your company allows?

In recent decades, a tendency has developed to view age as a serious handicap. Anyone over 60 is liable to be considered over the hill; family and friends begin to suggest that a person start taking things easier. The "mature" person soon begins to pick up subtle hints that he'd better consider retiring honorably now, before it becomes necessary for others to retire him.

When retirement age finally arrives, the person has come to accept second-class status as a fact of life. The popular view of old people as useless has influenced him to the extent that he himself feels superfluous and a burden to those around him. This has a negative effect psychologically: he gets depressed and resentful, with the resultant harmful effect on his physical health.

Most unfortunate is the fact that society thereby turns its back on the tremendous stock of hard-learned experience older people possess. Such a priceless store of knowledge is acquired only over the course of many years. Here is a person well-qualified to train and advise younger colleagues, who has often dealt with similar problems to those they are now encountering, and who learned how to utilize the situation to its best advantage. By heeding his advice they could avoid costly mistakes.

There is a strong possibility that those who are now young will be called old by the next generation at least ten years earlier than the age at which they now consider their own predecessors old! In fact, this is alluded to in the Fifth Commandment: "Honor your father and mother so that your days may be lengthened upon the earth that the L-rd your G-d gives you." If you want your own days lengthened, in respect and useful contribution to society, then honor and respect your own elders now.

In the Torah, longevity and old age are considered one of the greatest possible blessings.

"Many years bring wisdom," Job says in the Bible. "The older elderly scholars become, the more settled their minds become," states the Talmud. Members of the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court) typically would have to be at least 70 years old! Furthermore, the Code of Jewish Law enjoins us to rise before people aged 70 or older out of respect for "the trials and tribulations they have undergone."

The concept of retirement does not exist with regard to Torah. From birth till a person's last moment, the Jew is perpetually involved in serving his Maker and cannot resign his post or voluntarily retire.

On the contrary, the years of our lives that are free of the pressure to provide for a growing family and free from the hustle and bustle of the business world are an excellent opportunity for observance of mitzvot (commandments) and Torah study. One can finally make up for lost time!

Instead of burdening one's mind with supervising employees or pleasing higher-ups, instead of racking one's brains for ways to make more money or keep the business afloat, a person can truly be his own boss and devote several hours a day to Torah study and/or a more developed involvement in Jewish communal life and observances.

We should all foster a new approach toward retirement.


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Mishpatim, begins with the verse, "And these are the judgments which you shall set before them (lifneihem)." Our Sages learn a number of lessons from the word lifneihem:

"Before them" - before Jews. If ever there is a disagreement among Jews they must go to a Jewish court to resolve it, rather than bring their case before a gentile judge. A Jewish judge will render judgment according to the laws of the Torah.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe, explains the word "lifneihem" as "lifnimiyutam - before their inner essence - penimiyut." G-d's wisdom must penetrate even the most hidden levels of the soul.


The mitzvot (commandments) are divided into three categories: statutes, testimonies, and judgments (mishpatim).

Statutes are commandments that are beyond our comprehension. We obey them simply because G-d has commanded us to do so, with acceptance of the yoke of heaven.

Testimonies are mitzvot which, although we would not have discerned them on our own, have a rationale we can nonetheless comprehend.

Judgments are commandments which all people can readily understand. These mitzvot are laws which are compelled by human logic, and which all mankind deems necessary for the good of society.

A question is asked: Why is it precisely the rational commandments we would have observed anyway, about which the Torah states "you shall set before them"?

A person would never consider bringing "statutes" and "testimonies" before a non-Jewish court. Statutes and testimonies are particular and unique to Torah, commandments that are derived from G-d's will rather than human understanding; thus it is obvious that they pertain solely to Jews. However, a person might think that because non-Jews understand and obey rational laws it is permissible to be judged by them in certain instances. For this reason our Sages insisted: "Before them - and not before idolators."

All of the Torah's commandments were given by G-d. We observe them solely because He wants us to, not because they make sense to us. Just as statutes and testimonies are performed with faith in G-d, so too must our observance of judgments have the same motivation.

Furthermore, it is precisely concerning judgments that the word "penimiyut" most relates, for the Jew must awaken the innermost recesses of his soul to obey them properly. Merely understanding the Torah's rational laws is not sufficient.

In this way we will come to obey all of the Torah's commandments with all of our individual strengths.

Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot vol. 3


A Slice of Life

The Battlefield of Life
by Rabbi Yitzchak Shlomo

At the young age of 18, I was drafted into the IDF. It was quite the transformation; from spoiled and naοve high school kid to highly trained and disciplined soldier - in a matter of months. I was attached to a mortar firing division of the Golani brigade, and we deployed onto the battlefield after six months of training, only a few short weeks before the break-out of the Six-Day-War.

I didn't come from a religious family, but my father had given me a card containing a "Prayer for the Soldier." As we were readying to take up our positions that first night on the battlefield, there was an eerie silence. We were all fighting for the first time, and we knew that we were staring into the face of death.

In a moment, my hand instinctively made its way to the card in my pocket. Although I had never really thought about whether I believed in G-d, I found myself fervently asking Him to save and protect me. As I finished the short prayer, I looked up. My fellow soldiers wanted to know what I was doing. I couldn't believe what happened next. My comrades, representing every background, all lined up for a turn to recite the prayer. After everyone finished, we deployed.

Our contingent was an integral part of operations. The enemy was strategically in a far better position; they were able to fire directly at us in the valley below, whilst taking cover behind the natural shelter provided by the rocky heights. For the same reason, we could not fire directly at them; any artillery shells would be blocked by the intervening natural rock-face. This is where mortar fire comes in; the cannons propel the ammunition in a high arc over any obstructions, and come crashing down on the enemy positions.

Our job was arduous and hazardous. We were ready for hand-to-hand combat in case we were ambushed. We were highly trained in operating the mortars, as well as in accurately calculating the exact angle at which to fire them. This was no easy matter, as the mortars are not aimed directly at the target. On top of that, we had to lug around the heavy ammunition and control the track vehicles upon which the canons were mounted.

There was no point in conducting operations during the day, for the enemy would clearly see our positions. We fought under cover of the night, though the flares released by the firing canons were noticeable in the dark, and the Syrians would immediately pinpoint our exact location. We therefore had no choice but to fire a quick round of fire, and immediately relocate ourselves and our heavy equipment to a new area in less than half an hour, before the enemy would have a chance to pound the area that we had just occupied.

Why half an hour? The Syrians were using newly acquired Russian weaponry, and they were not trained to use it. So, every move by the Syrians required detailed commands from the Russians and an accurate translation into Arabic, before the commands could be executed.

Bravest of all was our reconnaissance officer. He piloted a small piper plane, and passed back and forth above the Golan Heights to properly stake out the enemy positions. We could hear the constant sound of enemy artillery directed against his plane, and we knew that if the engine or fuel tanks were hit, it would spell doom for the plane and its pilot. Yet, the pilot's voice was calm as he radioed our instructions. I will never forget the feeling of relief when he landed safely. We later saw the plane; bullet holes pierced it like a sieve.

The Syrians were desperate (albeit confused) fighters, and when we eventually conquered the Heights, we found out why. The Syrian commanders had abandoned the battlefield, after chaining their soldiers to their posts.

For me, these experiences were a turning point in my life. I confronted age old ideas, such as the value of human life, the sustained existence of the Jewish nation, and their unique relationship with G-d. I also encountered the activities of Chabad, whose people had the tremendous self-sacrifice to visit and inspire us in such dangerous conditions. These experiences ultimately led me on my quest to discover Torah.

Fast-forward several years. It was the early 70s, and I was studying in Berkeley, California. I would frequent the Chabad House, and one Shabbat, we were privileged to host the famous chasid Reb Mendel Futerfas. Reb Mendel was not expecting to meet an Israeli at Berkeley, and on Shabbat afternoon he wanted to hear about me.

When I told him about my army experiences, Reb Mendel had a question: "That first night on the battlefield, you and your comrades were seized with fear! How were you able to function? How were you able to execute your commands with the requisite precision?"

I explained to Reb Mendel that this was the point of our training exercises; to drill battle technique so deeply into the fiber of our natures that we would be able to fight even in our sleep. Only due to our training were we able to function in the confusing atmosphere of the battlefield, even when we were deprived of food and sleep, fearful, disoriented, emotionally confused, or grieving the fallen. We were trained to fight, even when not there mentally and emotionally.

Reb Mendel responded, "You taught me a valuable lesson. Much of Judaism seems to be about going through the motions. We pray three times a day reciting exactly the same words. We celebrate Shabbat each week, in exactly the same way. Every holiday is celebrated exactly as it was last year and as it will be next year. Why?

"You have just answered that for me! We go through the motions, again and again, to prepare us for those turbulent times when we are not 'there'; when we are torn emotionally, going through difficult patches, or having doubts. Without these drills, we might fizzle during the crucial moments of spiritual battle, maybe never to return. But our constant training and drilling protects us. It allows us to remain loyal to practice even when we doubt its purpose. Through it, we survive to see better times spiritually."

Yitzchak Shlomo, a successful businessman, lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Reprinted from www.rabbinicalcollege.edu.au

What's New

New Emissaries

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok and Shoshanah Sarfati will be moving soon to New Zealand. They will be directing the North Island's Chabad House for Israeli backpackers in Auckland City, New Zealand. Rabbi Yale and Rickelle New have just arrived in Atlanta, Georgia, where they will be establishing the Friendship Circle of Atlanta. Rabbi Sruli and Mushka Deitsch have established Chabad of Bronxville, New York. They will be serving the needs of the Jewish community in the towns of Bronxville and Mount Vernon, as well as students at Sarah Lawrence College. Rabbi Yisrael and Menucha Lieberman will be arriving soon in Kunming, Yunnan, China, where they will establish a new Chabad Center.


The Rebbe Writes

7th of Adar, 5731 [1971]

I am in receipt of your letter of Rosh Chodesh Adar, containing the good news that things are progressing satisfactorily. I trust you received my acknowledgment of your previous correspondence. May G-d grant the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good, especially that you should go from strength to strength, as you write.

In reply to the two points which you raise in your letter:

Regarding Chasidus [Chasidic teachings], it is not correct to say that it is a "supplementary aid" to the proper fulfillment of the Mitzvoth [commandments], for it is that element which permeates the fulfillment of all the Mitzvoth. For example, it is possible to fulfill a Mitzvo without any Kavono [intention] whatever; it is possible to fulfill a Mitzvo with the general Kavono of fulfilling G-d's command; and it is possible to fulfill a Mitzvo with inspiration, enthusiasm and joy, as a deep-felt experience pervading one's entire being, although the Mitzvo is only a part of one's being.

By way of illustration: When taking chalo [a portion of dough separated and set aside from the rest], one can be permeated with a great joy and feeling of dedicating the first part of the dough, even before partaking from it, to Kedusho [holiness] although in our time it cannot be given to a Kohen [of the family of Aaron], and must therefore be burned.

At the same time, as explained in Chasidus (in Shaar Hayichud V'Haemunah), on the subject of the continuous renewal of Creation, one can realize that G-dliness is the actual reality of all things, except that it was G-d's Will that the spiritual should be hidden in a material frame. But the Jew, by the capacity of his intellect, Kavono, and knowledge, can reveal the spiritual through the predominance of form over matter, the spiritual over the material, the soul over the body, until he can see with the eyes of his intellect how the material is being constantly brought into existence as in the Six Days of Creation. Permeated with this knowledge, he realizes that the first of everything should be dedicated to G-d, and only then can he partake of all the things which G-d has given him.

In the light of the above, one can appreciate that Chasidus is not something supplementary, but the very soul of the Mitzvo, or, as you also mention it, creates a new dimension in the fulfillment of every Mitzvo.

In the above there is also a reply to those who claim that Chasidus looks askance on, or rejects, other Jews chas v'shalom [G-d forbid]. This is not so, for basically the Jew who fulfills a Mitzvo even without any Kavono, and even without knowing the original source of the commandment in the Torah, is nevertheless fulfilling the Mitzvo, and has to make a Brocho [blessing] and so forth. Similarly, the woman who does not know the Posuk [verse] in the Torah which speaks of Chalo, and knows nothing of the deeper significance of the Mitzvo, etc., is also fulfilling the Mitzvo. On the other hand, it is indeed a very great pity if one does not try to learn and understand the deeper aspects of the Mitzvoth. For very often even a minor detail in a Mitzvo has profound significance and implication, and even in a small piece of dough taken as Chalo, there can be hidden a profound world outlook.

With regard to your other question, whether when talking to a person who knows nothing about Torah and Mitzvoth, one should bring in Chasidus too, or only discuss the immediate matters - it is self-understood that if the person is capable of grasping the matter in the Chasidic way, there is the Mitzvo of "V'Ohavto L'Reacho Komocho," ("Love your fellow as yourself") to share a good thing with another person to the fullest extent.

On the other hand, if that person is not yet capable of grasping the inner aspects of the Mitzvoth as explained in Chasidus, one can only talk to that person in basic terms and according to that person's level of understanding.

This is what is meant by the verse, "instruct the lad according to his way," as explained at length by the Moreh Nevuchim [the "Guide for the Perplexed"], the true "guide" of all generations, namely the Rambam [Maimonides], in his Introduction to his Commentary on Mishnayos [the Mishna]. For, just as it is necessary to teach a child gradually, in accordance with his grasp and capacity, so it is necessary to teach adults who are "children" insofar as knowledge and understanding is concerned.

P.S. I trust that you have seen my talk to Jewish women on the subject of Chalo. No doubt it is available in the library of the Seminary.


Who's Who

Elijah the Prophet

The great prophet Eliyahu (Elijah) lived approximately in the Jewish year 3,000 (760 b.c.e.) and lived at a time when the Jews were greatly tempted by idol worship. He pitted himself against 450 priests of the Baal cult on Mount Carmel when he successfully demonstrated the veracity of G-d. When the prophet Jonah died as a young boy, Eliyahu was able to bring him back to life. Taken by a fiery chariot, he was one of the seven saints who went into the next world alive. Tradition names Eliyahu as the one who will announce the advent of Moshiach.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat, an additional section of the Torah is read after the "regular" Torah portion. Traditionally read on the last Shabbat before the month of Adar, "Parshat Shekalim" contains the mitzva of the "half-shekel" the Jews were commanded to give as atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf.

In the days of the Holy Temple, these half-shekels were used for the communal offerings. Every Jew had to give the same amount, regardless of whether he was rich or poor. In fact, it was forbidden to give more. The Jewish people and G-d are one entity; giving half a coin emphasized the concept that without G-d we are incomplete.

Alternately, the "other half" is interpreted as another Jew; we are all part of the same whole. Every Jew's existence is essentially bound up with the totality of the Jewish people. In order to be a complete entity, one must join together with his fellow Jew.

Although the commandment of the half-shekel is no longer binding, it is representative of giving tzedaka (charity). (The commandment will, however, be reinstated in the Messianic era, when we will again purchase communal offerings from these funds; in the meantime, prayer substitutes for the offerings in the Holy Temple.) When we recognize the fundamental connection and unity we share with others, it spurs us on to give even more. As explained in Tanya, the mitzva of tzedaka is equal to all the commandments and brings the Final Redemption closer. The theme of Shabbat Shekalim is thus relevant throughout the year.

According to Maimonides, the half shekel had to be given "not in many installments, today a little and tomorrow a little, but all of it as one, at one time." By engaging in the service of the half-shekel in the spiritual "Holy Temple" of the Jewish soul, we bring nearer the day when we will be able to perform the mitzva in the physical sense, in the Third Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

May it happen "all of it as one, at one time" - immediately and at once.


Thoughts that Count

And these are the judgments (mishpatim) you shall set before them: If you buy a Hebrew servant (Ex. 21:1,2)

Why does the Torah begin its enumeration of the various ordinances with the laws of the Hebrew servant (whom the Jewish court sold into servitude after having been convicted of theft)? The Hebrew servant was, in fact, an extremely rare occurrence; why doesn't the Torah begin with something more practical? Rather, Chasidut explains that the word for judgments, mishpatim, also implies going in a certain way or manner. For the Jew, the first step along the path of truth is the recognition that he is a "Hebrew servant" - a servant of G-d, the King of kings.

(Likutei Sichot, Vol. 26)


If you lend (talveh) money to My people, to the poor with you (Ex. 22:24)

The Hebrew word for lending is the same as the word meaning to accompany or escort. Thus the above verse can also be interpreted to mean that the only money that "accompanies" a person after death is the charity he gave to the poor during his lifetime. This is alluded to by our Sages in chapter 6 of Ethics of the Fathers: "At the time of a man's passing from this world, neither silver nor gold nor precious stones accompany him, but only Torah [learning] and good deeds."

(The Kotzker Rebbe)


Keep far away from a false matter (Ex. 23:7)

Although the Torah contains 365 negative commandments, lying is the only sin the Torah warns us not only to avoid, but from which to "keep far away." This teaches that it isn't enough for a person not to lie; he must actively distance himself from falsehood and flee from it.

(Rabbi Zushe of Anipoli)


It Once Happened

In a small village in Poland there lived an unassuming and pious Jew named Meir. While he was by no means well-to-do, his family never wanted for their daily bread. Each day on his way home from the synagogue Meir passed through the farmers' market, buying produce and poultry which his wife sold from a small store attached to their house. The prices were always fair, and they earned a reputation for honesty.

Meir stood out from the other buyers at the market, for he would never haggle over prices. Meir had his one fair price, and that was that - he would never budge. Eventually the farmers came to respect him and would even seek him out when they had some special goods for sale, and he became known to everyone as "Honest Meir."

Meir had only one regret in life - his business took time away from his beloved Torah study. One day he decided that he would work only half as much, and spend the time saved learning Torah. His wife was worried by his decision, but he calmed her saying, "Don't you think that G-d can send us enough in those three days?" She wanted to reply that of course He could, but would He? But she stopped herself and decided to wait and see what would happen. As it turned out, their income was the same and her husband thrived on his Torah learning.

One day his wife came to Meir to discuss the marriage of their daughter, Mirele. "G-d has been good to us, and we must certainly be grateful, but our daughter isn't getting any younger, and the time has come for us to start saving for her dowry."

Meir looked at his wife and replied, "G-d has taken care of us so far. Trust in Him and stop worrying."

But his wife couldn't rest. "Meir, we aren't supposed to rely on miracles. Maybe you should go out and work like you used to."

Meir replied, "What you're saying may seem true, but don't forget my 'silent partner' - G-d. Haven't you seen with your own eyes that since I've spent extra time with my 'partner' we have lost nothing. I can not stop my Torah studies, especially now when we need Him even more." There was nothing more his wife could say except a heartfelt "Amen."

A short time later a peasant showed up at the marketplace with a large honeycomb encased in a block of wood. Several prospective buyers approached him, but he refused them, saying, "I will sell only to Honest Meir." And there he sat and waited until finally, late in the afternoon someone told him that Meir wouldn't be coming to market that day.

The peasant made his way to Meir's house where he was greeted by his wife. "My husband isn't at home now," she told him, but she asked him to wait while she ran to fetch her husband. Meir measured the honeycomb and lifted it; then he made his offer, "Judging by its size and weight, and even allowing for the wood, there should be a lot of honey in it." The two men agreed on a figure which seemed fair to both. The only problem was that Meir didn't have such a large sum. Meir's wife interrupted, saying: "I will try to borrow the money from some of our neighbors."

Meir served the peasant a cup of tea, and then he questioned the man: "Tell me, how did you come to have such a strange honeycomb?"

The peasant replied, "I was walking through the woods collecting fire-wood. When my cart was full, I got inside and fell asleep, but it seems that my mare wandered a bit, for when I awoke, I found myself in a different part of the woods, in front of a tree stump. Looking up, I noticed bees buzzing, and being something of a beekeeper myself, I hopped out of my cart and with a long thin twig I removed the queen bee from the hive. I tried to take out the honeycomb, but it was impossible to do so without breaking it. That's when I got the idea of sawing off the stump."

By the time the peasant had finished his tale, Meir's wife had returned with the money. Meir gave it to the happy peasant who went off feeling very pleased. Meir's wife began to extract the honey. She pulled out two and then three heavily laden honeycombs and reached in with a deep ladle for more, when she found there was nothing there but a deep, empty hole. The poor woman was horrified. They were now in debt, and for nothing but a bit of honey and a piece of wood!

She called for her husband, who was equally shocked at the find. "What will we do now?" his wife wailed. Meir was also at a loss, but not willing to give up he said, "Go fetch your longest cooking spoon and maybe we can salvage something from the bottom."

Meir dipped the spoon into the wooden cavity, and lo and behold, the spoon was filled with a pile of golden coins and jewels! His wife almost fainted from the shock.

Her husband turned to her, smiling, "Probably someone hid this treasure years ago and had to abandon it for some reason. Then the bee colony settled in the trees stump and built their hive on top of the treasure. Now, it seems that G-d must have decided there was no longer any reason to leave it hidden since we need the money to marry off our children and do other good things. So, you see, the peasant was rewarded for his labor, and we were even more richly rewarded for our faith and trust in G-d."


Moshiach Matters

When G-d commanded Moses about giving the half-shekel coin, He showed him a coin made of fire and said, "This you shall give." G-d will also use fire to rebuild the Holy Temple and to protect Jerusalem, as it is written (Zechariah 2:9), "I will surround (Jerusalem) as a wall of fire, says G-d."

(Based on Rashi in Exodus 30:13)


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