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Devarim Deutronomy

June 8, 2012 - 18 Sivan, 5772

1224: Beha'aloscha

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

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  1223: Nasso1225: Sh'lach  

Humility  |  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


There's a paradox: being humble requires an ego. Let me explain. We're all familiar with the phrase, "The 'meek' shall inherit the earth" (Psalms 37:11). But "meek" is a bad translation. Meek means submissive, easily imposed on. The Hebrew word is "anav" - humble. How are we to understand this word? For it is used to describe Moses - the redeemer, the law-giver, the greatest of prophets. Moses is described as the most humble - anav - of all.

Yet when we consider how Moses stood before Pharaoh, how he led the people and railed at their complaints and cowardice, how he destroyed the tablets, etc., we would hardly describe him as "meek." And another point: Moses had to know who he was. He couldn't lie to himself and say he wasn't a prophet, that he didn't speak to G-d directly, etc. So how does all this work?

The Talmud offers an insight: to be an anav, to be humble, you first have to be honest. Honest with yourself. You have to assess your strengths and weaknesses, acknowledge your accomplishments as well as your failures. In other words, you have to have an ego - a sense of self. You have to know who you are.

But then must come a recognition: if someone else had been given the opportunities and talent that I have, would they not have accomplished more, failed less?

This is not a false humility, an ego-game play. It can be, of course. But if the self-examination is honest, then so is the recognition: each of us has a Divine mission, a unique task. We each have a segment of the world to transform, through acts of goodness and kindness.

When we make a difference, when we transform someone else's life for the better, even a little, spiritually or materially, we naturally feel good about ourselves. And that's when we need to become humble, become an anav. For really, we've only done our job, we've only completed a small part of the task entrusted to us. And there's so much more we could have done, and so much more we still need to do.

And if you're going to transform your part of the world, you can't be meek about performing acts of goodness and kindness. In fact, there's another Talmudic statement: "Yehuda ben Taima said, be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven." (Ethics 5:20)

How does this work? How can one be "bold as a leopard...strong as a lion" if one is also supposed to be humble? The answer lies in the rest of the statement: to do the will of your Father in Heaven.

The doing has to be with boldness, strength and energy. And the doing has to be done with a total dedication to the Will of your Father in Heaven - a single-minded focus, a total concentration.

The ego, the sense of self, the self-assessment - that happens afterward. And that's when humility becomes part of the job description.


Living with the Rebbe

In the very beginning of this week's Torah portion, Behaalotcha, we read the command to Aaron, "When you light the lamps..." This is a clear instruction that a Jew has to "kindle lights" to illuminate the surroundings. In this, too, a Jew has to emulate, so to speak, the Creator, Who, immediately after creating Heaven and earth, gave the order, "Let there be light!"

The essential thing about a candle (in the ordinary sense) is that it should give forth light and illuminate its surroundings. An unlit, or extinguished candle brings no benefit and has no meaning in that state per se. Only when it gives light and shines does it fulfill its purpose, which is to serve man by enabling him to see by its light everything around him. In this way it illuminates his way so that he will not stumble in darkness, and generally helps him to do and accomplish what he must.

The nature of a candle is that when one puts a flame to its wick, even a small flame - so long as he does it effectively - the flame catches on, and then it continues to give off light on its own. This, too, is indicated in the text, as our Sages comment: When you light the lamps [of the menora] - "[light them so] that the flame goes up on its own."

The instruction is thus:

G-d has endowed the human being with a soul, a Divine "lamp," as it is written, "The soul of man is the lamp of G-d" - to illuminate his or her path in life, and to illuminate the world. But this soul-lamp, or candle, has first to be ignited with the flame of Torah in order that it should shine forth with its true light, the light of "a mitzva is a candle and the Torah is light." (Proverbs)

And this is the task and purpose of every Jew: to be a brightly shining lamp and to kindle, or add brightness to every Divine "lamp" - Jewish soul - with which he or she comes in contact. And one must do this to completeness, in a way that the lamps they light likewise continue to shine brightly on their own, and also become "lamp-lighters," kindling other souls, "from candle to candle," in a continuous chain.

Needless to say, though the instruction to light the menora was given to Aaron the Priest, it includes all Jews, in their spiritual life, since every Jew is a member of the "Kingdom of Priests." Moreover, there is the exhortation: "Be of the disciples of Aaron...loving the creatures and bringing them closer to Torah." To be a disciple of Aaron one must be permeated with love for every Jew and one must be involved in transmitting Judaism.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

Singing Bestowed Life

If someone were to tell the life story of Rabbi Akiva Greenberg it would be colorful with many interesting turns and unique twists. And it would surely be accompanied by a Chasidic niggun (melody).

"My Zeidy passed away and perhaps, people out of the family circle would find it strange that I am humming a tune instead of crying. But with his singing he bestowed us true life." explained one of Rabbi Greenberg's 100 grandchildren after his passing last month.

Akiva Greenberg was born in 1933 in Canada. As a teenager he was introduced to yeshiva when he studied at Torah VeDaas in Brooklyn. What he remembered most from those years was visiting the various Chasidic Rebbes in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. And what attracted the attention of Akiva the most were the niggunim, the Chasidic melodies. Some of the melodies were happy, others thought-provoking; all touched the soul. For Akiva, they were transformational; they taught him that he had to find a new self.

With that purpose in mind, Akiva went to Israel. On the plane, he met a Viznitzer Chasid and soon afterwards, he became attached to the Viznitzer Rebbe, who had established a Chasidic community in B'nei Brak.

At that time, there lived in B'nei Brak a Chasid who had lost his family in WWII. Though he lived alone, he was full of happiness. His face would glow with joy. Akiva would visit him from time to time, help with household chores, and drink in the spiritual vitality the Chasid had brought with him from Eastern Europe.

One day, Akiva was feeling more than a little bit down when he came to visit the elderly Chasid. As he walked in, the chasid asked, "Please make some soup for me." Akiva soon brought a cup of fresh soup to the chasid. The latter looked at Akiva, took one spoon of it, and then spit it out: "Melancholy soup," he cried out. "Akiva, you have to happy before you make soup." And the chasid started doing pantomimes, the kind of stuff that made you laugh from the inside out. Then he began to sing and then to dance, and he dragged Akiva to dance with him. The feelings that had burdened Akiva were soon gone. He too was dancing with genuine happiness. Then the chasid stopped. "Okay, now make some soup."

After immersing himself in this special environment for quite a while, Akiva felt he had to share what he had learned. He returned to America and began teaching and running summer camps.

A son-in-law of Akiva explains, "In America Akiva connected with Lubavitch. He realized that for an American Jewish youth to develop a connection with the inner depth, joy, vitality, and purpose that the Baal Shem Tov had taught there was only one path: Lubavitch. He never saw himself as a Lubavitcher Chasid; he had his Rebbe in Viznitz. But his students - those who were inspired by his teachings, his songs, and his stories - he sent to Lubavitch."

After marrying his life-partner Hadassah, they moved from city to city; Hebrew school teachers struggled to make a living in those days and so they moved from Toronto, to Detroit, Chicago, and back to Detroit. Wherever he went, he touched his students' lives forever. One of his very first students remembered: "I was so fortunate to have been his student in Toronto when he first started teaching in the Eitz Chaim school and continued in Camp Gan Yisrael. It was an unbelievable experience for all of us. He had a huge, everlasting influence till this day, beloved by everyone he touched."

The late 60s and the early 70s produced a seismic change in the Jewish world. Jewish youth began searching for a spiritual identity. The Greenbergs were in the forefront of the efforts to inspire Jews to find the truths for which they were searching in their own heritage. To quote one of his former students: "Akiva and Hadassah Greenberg were my first teachers and inspirations. They were selfless and pure conduits to my entry into Chabad and many subsequent years of spiritual growth and fulfillment. Akiva was a treasury of niggunim and inspiring stories, but more than that he represented sensitivity and intellectual honesty coupled with the most divine Chasidic focus. My children called him Zeidy."

For the last several decades of his life, Rabbi Greenberg served as a professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Touro College. In fact, even as his health and strength steadily declined, he continued to teach, sometimes even travelling straight from chemotherapy to give a lecture.

Professor Mervin Verbit, the Chair of the Sociology Department at Touro College remembers, "One of the nicest things that happened to me when I joined the Touro faculty was that I got to know Professor Akiva Greenberg. Whenever I met with him, I came away feeling better - with more understanding, a deeper perspective, a stronger appreciation of the possibilities of human goodness, and a sense of confidence and joy. On the one hand, I hated to bother Akiva and take his time from the teaching that he loved, but on the other hand I wanted to explore ideas with him and to hear his wisdom on the issues that confront us. His smile, his courage, and his unfailing willingness to help were, literally, inspiring. When he taught he made events, ideas, and people come alive. As chair of his department, I had the privilege to observe Akiva teach. He was dealing that day with one of the founding thinkers of sociology, and, although I long knew that theorist's work, Akiva added to my appreciation. He gave the theorist a personality, infused his life with depth, and showed how his thought developed. Akiva gave his students a personal introduction to a thinker long gone, and his students responded by engaging, through Akiva, that thinker. It was a brilliant display of good teaching, and the respect and concern of teacher and students for each other was obvious. The world has lost a thinker, a scholar, a teacher, a mentor, a mentsch.

What's New

Yossi and Laibel Learn to Help

Adapted from Hot on the Trail, Yossi and Laibel Learn to Help is a Hachai Publishing classic title made shorter and simpler for the very young. As Yossi and Laibel learn the value of helping others, your child can learn, too! Like its predecessor, this board is written by Dina Rosenfeld, illustrated by Nochum Nodel.

The Rebbe Writes

2nd Day Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, 5715 [1955]
To the Conference of Religious Physicians

Greeting and Blessing:

I was pleased to be informed of your conference, designed to create an organized body of Jewish religious physicians. Unification of religious forces was always desirable, especially in our generation, a generation confused and perplexed by the shattering events of recent years, as a result of which many thinking people have become completely disillusioned in the false ideas and ideologies which they had held in the past, and are now earnestly searching for the truth.

An organized body of religious physicians could make its influence to be felt in these circles through a declaration of its authoritative opinion on several issues, which have been the subject of confused and misleading controversy.

Such a declaration should, first of all, do away with the misconception about any conflict between science and religion. True science, the object of which is the truth and nothing but the truth, can lead to no conclusions which are contrary to our Torah, "the law of Truth." On the contrary, the more deeply one delves into science, the stronger must grow the recognition of the truth of the fundamental principles, as well as the ramifications, of our Jewish religion.

As physicians, in particular, you are in a position to refute decisively the materialistic philosophy, as is demonstrated by the fact that so much of physical health depends on spiritual health. If in olden days emphasis was placed on mens sana in corpore sana [healthy mind in a healthy body], in our days it is a matter of general conviction that even a small defect spiritually causes a grievous defect physically; and the healthier the spirit and the greater its prepon-derance over the physical body - the greater its ability to correct or overcome physical shortcomings; so much so, that in many cases even physical treatments, prescriptions and drugs are considerably more effective if they are accompanied by the patient's strong will and determination to cooperate.

This principle of "mind over matter," i.e. of quality over quantity, is further emphasized by the fact, which is continually gaining recognition, that the vital functions of the organism do not depend on quantity, inasmuch as the glands, and the hormones, vitamins, etc., which they produce, are quite minute quantitatively.

Parenthetically: It is written in our holy Scrip-tures, "From my flesh I visualize G-d." Recognizing the preponderance of the soul in the physical body (the microcosm), there remains but a small step to the recognition of G-d, the "Soul" of the Universe (the macrocosm). And in the words of our Sages: "As the soul fills the body, vivifies it, sees, but is not seen - so the Holy One, blessed be He, fills the world, vivifies it, sees, but it not seen."

So much, speaking in general terms. Specifically many are the questions directly relating to the practice of the physician, some of them of practical and immediate importance, on which your voice should be heard. To mention but a few:

To declare the paramount importance of the observance of the laws of Taharas ha-Mishpocho [family purity]; The observance of the dietary laws; Circumcision.

With regard to the genital organs, elimination of treatment likely to cause sterility, and substituting for it other forms of treatment; particularly in connection with surgery on the prostate.

Prescriptions and drugs: many of them could be made in compliance with the laws of kashrut [kosher], and only through indifference or carelessness it is not done so.

Post-mortem: for purposes of study of anatomy, etc., surely it is possible to use artificial forms and models. For purposes of ascertaining the cause of death - in many cases it is not essential; where it may be of immediate necessity to save a life (as in the case of an accusation of poisoning, etc.) - mutilation of the body should be reduced to the essential minimum, and the parts should be buried afterwards. And so on.

Needless to say, what has been mentioned above about pointing out the health benefits that are derived from the observance of the religious precepts should not be understood as an attempt to explain the precepts by their utilitarian value. For it is a dogma of our faith that the Divine precepts must be observed because they are the command and will of our Creator, and "the reward of a mitzvah [commandment] is the mitzvah itself," for "this is the whole purpose of man" - to commune and unite with his Maker, through the fulfillment of His commands.

However, for the benefit of those who, by reason of spiritual "sickness," cannot be induced to observe the precepts except by making them aware of their utilitarian value, we must do everything possible to urge them to observe the mitzvoth in daily life, even if we have to rationalize about the Divine commands, and emphasize their physical benefits.

I conclude with extending to you my prayerful wishes that your conference reflect the Scriptural words, "Then conferred with one another they who fear G-d," and may your good aspirations materialize successfully and lead to practical accomplishments; and, as the Scriptural passage just quoted concludes, "and it was recorded in a memorial book, for remembrance before G-d," so may your accomplishments have lasting benefits for the many - your great privilege.

Respectfully, and with blessings for success,

Who's Who


The prophet Yechezkel (Ezekiel) was one of the greatest leaders of the Babylonian exile period. Born of a priestly family in Jerusalem, he was amongst the first of the exiles to Babylonia by King Nebuchadnezzar. Yechezkel prophesied the destruction of the First Temple and promised his brethren that they would return to the Holy Land. Perhaps his most famous prophecy is that of the Valley of Dry Bones, when he saw that the piles of dried bones rose and were vivified by G-d. In this way, he reassured his fellow Jews that Israel would enjoy new life and glory after the destruction.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

"Do not separate yourself from the community," the great Sage Hillel counsels us in Chapter 2 of Ethics of the Fathers. The Jewish concept of community (tzibur) is unique for when a minyan of Jews (ten) comes together, a new entity is formed that did not previously exist: a tzibur.

A tzibur is more than the sum of its parts. The spiritual power of a Jewish community is infinitely greater than our power as individuals - which is why we assemble in groups to pray, learn Torah and observe other mitzvot. The measure of sanctity brought down into the world by a community engaged in a holy pursuit is much greater than that which even many individual Jews can effect.

Take a look in our siddur (prayer book) and you will find that most of our service of G-d is communal. Reciting prayers and benedictions in the plural binds the individual Jew to the Jewish people as a whole, and gives our acts of devotion an added "punch."

In truth, a Jew needs to identify himself with the larger Jewish community in order to be complete. This implies certain responsibilities, such as supporting and participating in Jewish communal efforts.

Furthermore, the actions of a single Jew have a ripple effect throughout the community. Whenever a Jew publicly increases his observance of Torah and mitzvot, it imbues others with the strength and resolve to follow his example.

It states in Proverbs, "In the multitude of people is the King's glory." May we all come together in true Jewish unity and merit G-d's ultimate blessing - the revelation of Moshiach and the Messianic era.

Thoughts that Count

And the men said to him, "We are defiled by the dead body of a man. Why should we be kept back?" (Num. 9:7)

We do not find in the Torah any other instance where a mitzva (commandment) that must be done at a specific time can be completed at a later date. Only the Passover sacrifice is permitted to be fulfilled one month later. Why is this case special? There were many Jews who tried or wanted to bring the sacrifice at the correct time but for various reasons could not. They pleaded not to be excluded. In the merit of their requests, a later date was given to them. The future Redemption will also come about in the same manner. If we will stubbornly do all in our mean to end our own exile, and beg and plead with G-d with all our heart and soul, the Redemption will come.

(Rabbi Shlomo Cohen of Radomsk)

And G-d's anger was kindled greatly, and in the eyes of Moses it was also displeasing (Num. 11:10)

Why was G-d angered? Because "in the eyes of Moses it was also displeasing": in this instance, Moses hadn't tried to justify the Jews' behavior or find an excuse for them. From this we learn that when a tzadik (righteous person) finds merit for the Jewish people, it stills any accusations from Above.

(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)

Have I conceived all these people? Have I given birth to them? (Num. 11:12)

Moses said to G-d: "I'm not the one who must suffer because of the Jews. You are responsible." A parent must share the suffering and distress of his children and have mercy on them, for good and for bad.

(Rabbi Simcha Bunim)

And the likeness of G-d does he behold (Num. 12:8)

The "likeness of G-d" - these are the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He. Our Sages said, "Just as He is merciful shall you be merciful; just as He is gracious shall you be gracious." These G-dly attributes were brought down by Moses our Teacher and instilled in the heart of every single Jew.

(Rabbi Avraham Mordechai of Gur)

It Once Happened

It was at a routine meeting in the Polish royal palace when one of the noblemen revealed an appalling bit of news: A Christian girl had recently disappeared from one of the villages. As the girl had vanished just before Passover, there was no doubt that she had been murdered by the Jews in order to use her blood for their religious rituals.

"The Jewish problem must be solved once and for all," declared another nobleman, as all nodded their heads in agreement. It wasn't long until a proposal was formulated to expel all the Jews from Poland.

Now, the king who ruled over Poland at the time, secretly appreciated the Jews for the benefit they brought to his land. At the same time, he tended to be unduly influenced by the people around him. Given the anti-Semitic views of the wealthy landowners, he decided to choose the course of least resistance and remain silent. An official order of expulsion was written up and passed around the table for everyone to sign.

When the document reached Vladek, the most senior of the king's advisors, he was about to affix his signature when suddenly, his hand froze in mid-air. His entire arm felt as if it had turned to stone. In fact, Vladek himself felt rather peculiar. His voice shook as he spoke.

"Gentlemen," he announced, "I cannot in good faith sign this document, when I know for a fact that it is based on untruth. As you all know, I am Jewish by birth, and despite my having renounced my faith I am well aware of the Jewish prohibition against ingesting blood. Under no circumstances will I sign this order of expulsion."

Everyone was surprised by Vladek's firm stance, as he had never before refused to sign an anti-Jewish edict. What was different now?

The king, who had been less than enthusiastic about the plan, was actually quite happy with Vladek's refusal. The proposal was dropped.

From that day on Vladek underwent a profound change. His mind was flooded by memories from his childhood. He remembered learning in yeshiva, playing with his friends, and basking in the glow of his mother's Shabbat candles. Indeed, after many years in yeshiva, little Velvel had grown up, married a Jewish woman, and become a successful businessman. But the more he mixed amongst the Polish noblemen, the more estranged he had become from Judaism. Eventually, he abandoned his wife and married the young widow of a Polish count. The transformation was complete when "Velvel" renounced his faith and became "Vladek," the Polish nobleman.

Vladek's mind allowed him no rest. After many sleepless nights he decided to return to Judaism, despite the fact that Polish law forbade a Christian to convert. It was a very dangerous plan, as his actions could endanger the entire Jewish community if they became public.

A few nights later Velvel left his mansion and made his way to a certain village where a famous rabbi lived. The rabbi was surprised when he opened his door to find a Polish nobleman standing on his threshold.

"I am a Jew!" Velvel cried as tears ran down his cheeks. "I want to return to Judaism." In a few short sentences he related his life story.

The rabbi, grasping the implications of such a request, was immediately suspicious. "I don't think it's a good idea," he tried to dissuade him. "You will only cause trouble for yourself and for other Jews."

But Velvel was adamant. "I will do anything you tell me - anything at all!" he insisted. "Just guide me along the right path."

At that point the rabbi, who was still unconvinced that the nobleman's intentions were pure, replied, "I'll believe you when my walking stick sprouts buds and starts to grow!"

A deep sigh escaped from Velvel's throat. With a feeling of despair he glanced at the rabbi's walking stick propped up in the corner - and nearly fainted. All he could do was point with his finger. The rabbi turned around and could not believe what he was seeing. The walking stick had sprouted a number of tiny green buds. A miracle from heaven!

The rabbi took him under his wing and devised a plan that would not place any Jews in danger. He also gave him his blessing for success. A few days later "Vladek" went on a hunting expedition in the forest from which he never returned. When the horse he had been riding returned home without its owner, everyone assumed that Vladek had been killed by wild animals.

The former Polish nobleman became a poor Jewish wanderer. Traveling from town to town and from country to country, he eventually made his way to Holland and settled in Amsterdam. For the rest of his days Velvel lived a life of Torah in anonymity.

Moshiach Matters

G-d will press for the coming of the Messianic redemption. The Jews are tired of exile. Furthermore, since "I am with them in difficulty," i.e., G-d empathizes with the Jews and shares their suffering in exile, as it were, He also cannot bear the exile any longer. Particularly after the sufferings of the last generation - May they never be repeated - it is time for the Jews, together with G-d Himself, to demand the coming of Moshiach. May it be in the immediate future.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 16 Sivan, 5750-1990)

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