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One of the Seven Universal Laws is to set up a court system. It's the only one phrased in the positive. The others - don't worship idols, don't blaspheme, don't murder, don't steal, don't be sexually immoral, don't take the limb of a living animal (don't be cruel to animals) - are phrased as negatives, things we shouldn't do. Setting up a court system is the only active commandment that applies to all humanity.
(The Seven Universal Laws are the basis of civilization. According to the Torah, when the six hundred thirteen commandments were given to the Jewish people at Sinai, these seven, also known as the Noahide laws because everyone is descended from Noah, were given to the world. Thus every human being is obligated, by Divine Imperative, to create a world of goodness and kindness.)
The uniqueness of the commandment to set up a court system requires examination. Courts are the arbiters not just of justice, but of government. It used to be that the king was the court of last resort. Ecclesiastical (religious) power expressed itself in a special legal and court system. Legislation is valid subject to judicial review. Etc.
Thus, while government is more than the sum of its courts, a society thrives - or not - on the success, that is, the justness, of its courts.
That said, the Talmud makes two apparently contradictory statements concerning government and its function. One statement declares, "Be wary of those in power, for they befriend a person only for their own benefit; they seem to be friends when it is to their advantage, but they do not stand by a person in his hour of need."
The other states, "Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of it, people would swallow each other alive."
So which is it? Both!
The first warns against those with power - not just government. When power accumulates to individuals or groups outside the "court system" and its structure - beware. The second speaks not of individuals or groups - those with authority, control or might - but of government, institutions set up to regulate society and its affairs. In other words, we have a vested interest - should pray for - a stable government; to be stable, a government must have, at its core, a court system that ensures and enforces justice, fairness and equity - to all citizens.
Read more at davidybkaufmann.blogspot.com
In this week's Torah portion, Pinchas, an incident with the five daughters of Tzelafchad - Machla, Noa, Chagla, Milka and Tirtza - is related. Tzelafchad, an Israelite who died in the desert, had no sons. Only sons were entitled to an inheritance; therefore, the daughters of Tzelafchad were not permitted a portion in the Holy Land.
The daughters of Tzelafchad, who were all known to be righteous women, objected to the thought that their family would not have a part in the Land of Israel. They went before Moses, who presented the case to G-d. G-d said to Moses, "The daughters of Tzelafchad speak properly. You shall surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father's brethren" (Num. 27:7).
The above-mentioned episode is just one example in the Torah of the relationship of the Jewish women to the Land of Israel.
When the spies returned from the land of Canaan with reports of fortified cities, armies, and giants, the men decided to turn back to Egypt. But the women remained steadfast in their desire to enter the Land. Consequently, only the men of military age were punished; they were to die in the desert. The women, however, entered the Land.
Tzelafchad's daughters were descendants of the tribe of Menashe, who had asked Moses for permission to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan. They could easily have obtained land on that side, since the land there was distributed through Moses personally. But, they were not content with such a portion. They loved the Holy Land and wanted a share in it.
The task they had set for themselves was not easy. The established judicial system was comprised of judges over 50, 100, 1,000, etc. The daughters had to approach various judges, each one referring the matter to higher authorities until it was finally brought to Moses, himself.
Tzelafchad's daughters were willing to try to overcome such a seemingly impossible and tiring obstacle to receive their portion.
This incident can serve as a lesson to us in our daily lives, too. G-d demands that we conduct our lives according to certain guidelines. Yet at the same time, He created and organized the universe in such a way that it seems to preclude proper fulfillment of our obligations of Torah study and performance of mitzvot.
But, with the right approach, we too, can merit a portion in our rightful inheritance. We must be willing to try to overcome the seemingly "impossible" obstacles, just as Tzelafchad's daughters did. If we undertake it with the same attitude of love as Tzelafchad's daughters, then certainly we will achieve our goal.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Ends and Beginnings
The following speeches are from the graduation ceremony at Machon Chana Women's Institute, a yeshiva for young women primarily from non-Torah observant backgrounds who are devoting time to Torah study.
by Raiza Malka Gilbert
I am very uncomfortable with change, even more than change I don't do well with endings. Ten months ago I was bawling my eyes out in my Chabad House the night before I flew to New York to attend Machon Chana. Ten months later I might be about to do the same thing. I've heard it said that every beginning is hard. This makes sense to me because every beginning is also an end. As the year comes to a close I'm forced to reflect on all that has happened. This past year has been easily the most life altering experience of my 24 years. I've made friends, watched some of those friends get married, and observed the most incredible young women I've ever met flow in and out of Machon Chana.
You've all become my family and each one of you has had a huge impact on me. Looking all the way back to the first day of school, it amazes me how many women have come through here this year. Each student, no matter how long she's been here, is a world apart from where she started. The learning, both in the classroom and out, has made such an effect on each one of us; it would have been impossible for us to come out unchanged. I think its safe to say that we've all come away with a new perspective on our lives as Jewish women just trying to do what G-d wants.
Of all the changes in my life, all my moves and travels, I've never been so happy to change as I did this year. If I had to pick the most essential thing I gained, it would have to be my connection to the Rebbe, and in turn my connection to G-d. Before I came here I did not fully understand what a Rebbe is. To know that the Rebbe is really here for me, that he knows who I am, and that he cares who I am is something immensely powerful and comforting. I think that it's very difficult to understand this completely without actually living with the Rebbe everyday, as I am able to do here in Crown Heights, at Machon Chana. My amazing teachers constantly strengthen my connection to and understanding of the Rebbe. Thank you so much for helping me deepen this bond on a daily basis. The Rebbe always said that we should never become complacent in our service of G-d; we should always be striving to do better, to reach new heights, to be more and more connected to G-d. As much as I've learned this year, and as connected as I feel right now, I can't wait to do more and really come to understand what it is to be a Chasid.
After this whole year of growth and self-refinement I am still not a fan of endings. Its not going to be easy waking up Monday morning knowing it will be two months until I return. Next year will naturally not be the same as this year, some of you will not be coming back, much to my chagrin, but I don't run the world, and you will be sorely missed. I know G-d knows what He's doing and everything in this world is good, I know we all have our own journeys and G-d will lead us all exactly where we need to be, but I'm still working on my bitachon (trust) and this knowledge doesn't make me any happier to see you go. I love you all so much, I think the world all of you. You're such special women and I feel so blessed to be with you at this stage in our lives.
by Rebecca Dakteris - mother of a graduate
I have to admit that since Gabriella graduated from UC Berkeley in three years instead of four, I thought she could graduate from Machon Chana in one year instead of two.
But some things are not meant to be rushed. If you want good challah, you give the dough time to rise. And what Gabriella is accomplishing by taking on more mitzvot is also a kind of rising, slowly reaching higher spiritual levels. Plus, when our Chabad rabbi and rebbetzin at home expressed their hope that Gabi return for a second year, well who can say "no" to their rabbi?
My mother told me that mothers always want better for their children. In Orange County, "better" means a bigger house with nicer furniture. I also always wanted better for my daughter, and by coming here, Gabi has had and will continue to have all of that. Because a home where Torah is not only studied but also applied to daily living is the best possible home, and what nicer furnishings can one possibly have than the holy books of Torah, Talmud, and Tanya?
I would like to thank all of the teachers and staff members here at Machon Chana for fulfilling the Rebbe's vision by being lamplighters, spiritually igniting the souls of young Jewish women like my daughter, ensuring the continuation of our people and bringing us closer each day to the rebuilding of our Temple. It was a privilege for her to study here and an honor to now be one of the Machon Chana alumni.
New Torah Scrolls
In celebration of 26 years of activities, the Chabad House in Dimona, Israel, welcomed a new Torah scroll. The Oneg Shabbat synagogue in Ramat HaSharon, Israel, also recently celebrated the completion of a new Torah scroll. In Moscow, Russia, Russian Deputy Communications Minister Nahum Marder donated a Torah scroll to the central synagogue in Moscow's Marina Roscha neighborhood, in memory of his parents, who were long-term members of the synagogue and its previously destroyed building. The writing of a new Torah scroll, in memory of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's emissary in South Florida, Rabbi Dovid Bryn, was started in Highland Lakes, Florida. When completed it will be brought into the new Chabad House scheduled to break ground soon.
19th of Tammuz, 5720 
I received your letter of the l6th of Sivan, and I was pleased to read in it about your efforts to strengthen and spread Yiddishkeit [Judaism] among the youth. As for suggestions as to how best to carry this out, this is a matter which depends primarily on local conditions. Therefore, it would be best for you to consult with some local friends who have interest, and experience in such activity. Needless to say, the same applies to the question of a committee on scholarships for boys to go to Brunoy. As G-d rewards in kind, but in a most generous measure, your efforts to help others will bring you G-d's blessings in your needs....
Now to refer to the question which you have been asked as to the reasons why G-d does one thing this way and another thing that way, etc. The whole question has fundamentally no basis. By way of illustration, suppose a small child, whose only interest is in food, toys and the like, would be asked to explain a profound philosophical problem, or the construction of an intricate machine. This would certainly be considered absurd, although the difference between the small child and the philosopher or the engineer is only a difference in degree. It would be even more absurd to expect a human being to understand G-d's reasons, for the difference between a human being and G-d is absolute, namely, the difference between a created being and the Creator.
If sometimes certain aspects of Divine Providence are questioned, it is only in cases where other human beings are involved, as for instance, the question of why some righteous people seem to be suffering and others seem to be prosperous. The reason such a question is asked is because there seems to be a contradiction between the qualities of the two persons and their experiences in life. On the other hand, the question why did G-d create the world is one that lies entirely in the realm of the Creator. Similarly, why did G-d create the world in this way and not in another way?
Parenthetically, I wish to add that it is true that some people attempt to answer such questions. But this should not be taken to mean that the question itself is a legitimate one, that is to say, a question which begs to be answered, and if we do not know the answer, we are deficient in our understanding. It is only that in some instances G-d has revealed to us additional knowledge, but even if He did not, it would still not reflect on man's necessary knowledge, inasmuch as such additional knowledge is out of his range.
To illustrate this, as above: If a child, at the proper age, should not know the ABC, or how to use a fork and knife, etc., this would be a defect on his level, where as it would not be a defect if he did not know philosophy or mechanics. On the other hand, there may be a possibility where the engineer would attempt to give the child some rudimentary knowledge about the construction of a machine, or the philosopher might use a simple parable to put across some element of his philosophy, in a way that the child might grasp it.
On the question of the meaning of the Hebrew word Adam in relation to the soul of the first man, needless to say, Adam, and similarly, Noah, were the fathers of all the peoples of the earth. Generally speaking, until our father Abraham was born, there was no distinction between Jew and non-Jew, although, insofar as their souls were concerned, in their very root, the distinction was implicit.
By way of illustration: When a baby is conceived, there is no differentiation in the embryo between the various limbs of the body, such as between the head and foot. Later on, however, the organ develops in such a way that the head and brain develop out of a more delicate part than the foot, although previously there was no differentiation between delicate and non-delicate parts, as there was only one entity.
I have, thus, answered your questions, although I must say that I am not at all pleased at the fact that you take up so much time with such questions. For, as the Old Rebbe [Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi], the founder of Chabad, writes in Iggeres Hakodesh - all Jews are believers, the sons of believers, who believe in simple faith that G-d created the world and gave us the Torah and mitzvos [commandments], giving humanity at large the seven basic mitzvos, including the said seven Noahide laws. Let me emphasize again that there is an essential distinction between any human being, and the brute animals and lower forms of creation.
Hoping to hear good news from you,
Pinchas was the son of Elazar, the High Priest. He witnessed the immoral conduct of Zimri, and in his zeal to defend G-d's honor, slew him in his tent. By this brave act, Pinchas stopped the spread of the plague that had ravaged the Jewish encampment, killing many thousands. He was rewarded with the priesthood for him and his descendants.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Jewish teachings explain that when we study the laws of the Holy Temple, its structure, the services and sacrifices practiced there, it is as if we are building it.
Thus, it is customary during the "Three Weeks" of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, to spend time studying those subjects which pertain to it. With this in mind, it is appropriate to commence a brief discussion of the Holy Temple and related themes in the next few weeks.
According to the Zohar, the Temple will first be built and only afterward will the ingathering of all Jews to Israel take place. The Midrash Tanchuma, however, proposes the opposite sequence.
First all the Jews will return to the Holy Land, and only afterward, the building of the Holy Temple will be accomplished.
Maimonides rules like the Zohar. He envisions the Redemption in the following manner: Moshiach returns the Jewish people to the path of the Torah, then he rebuilds the Holy Temple; only then does he gather in the exiles.
In fact, Maimonides considers the ingathering of the exiles among those acts that confirm the candidate as Moshiach.
The Rebbe offers two possible reconciliations to these two opinions: The first is that Maimonides' legal ruling is only valid if the Redemption comes about in a natural manner. If, however, the Redemption comes about in a miraculous manner, the in gathering may take place first.
A second possibility is that we will experience a foretaste of the ingathering of the exiles before the rebuilding of the Temple. The Temple will then be rebuilt, and afterward we will merit the return of all Jews to the Holy Land.
In a talk a few years ago, the Rebbe described the massive immigration of Russian Jews to Israel as a foretaste of the ultimate ingathering of exiles. May we merit to proceed immediately to the rebuilding of the Holy Temple this very day.
My sacrifice... you shall observe to offer to me in its time. (Num. 28:2)
The Hebrew word used for "observe" is often used to imply hopeful anticipation of a future happening. Though we do not have the opportunity to observe the laws of sacrifice while in exile, our constant anticipation and hope for the rebuilding of the Temple gives us a portion in the sacrifices which were previously offered there.
It is a continual burnt offering which was offered at Mt. Sinai (Num. 28:6)
A continual burnt-offering hints to the "hidden love" which every Jew has. This love is continuous, it never ceases.
And G-d said...take the sum of all the congregation of the Children of Israel from twenty years and upward (Num. 26:1,2)
The Midrash explains that the Jewish people are counted in nine places in Scripture; the tenth and final census will be taken in the Messianic Era.
This will be done either by Moshiach, according to the Aramaic translation and commentary of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel, or by G-d Himself, according to the Midrash.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Chukat 5750)
Let the L-rd, G-d of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation (Num. 27:16)
Conventional thinking holds that as the generations become progressively lower and more degraded, mediocrity in leadership becomes more acceptable. However, the Torah tells us that the opposite is true: the more inferior the generation, the more it needs the guidance of superior leaders. Analogously, the more ill the patient, the more he needs to see a specialist...
When word spread throughout the region around Rimanov that the famous Count Dravski would be arriving, all the local gentry assembled to pay homage to the renowned poet and freedom fighter. Although he was now, in 1883, an old man of eighty, his fame had not diminished and he was held in the highest esteem.
The Count was feted extravagantly and in the course of the reception he explained the reason for his visit. "When I was a small child I fell ill. My mother called for the best physicians available, but none of them could cure me, and they soon despaired of my life. My poor mother was frantic. I was her only and beloved son. One afternoon a friend of hers came to visit and advised her to seek the help of a wonder-working rabbi who lived in a nearby town. This holy man was well known in the surrounding villages, and Jew and gentile alike came to request his blessings.
"My mother lost no time. She called her coachman and with the fastest horses she flew to the house of Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Rimanov accompanied by her two closest friends. They arrived at the crack of dawn, but despite the early hour, the household bustled with activity, as that was the time reserved for caring for the needs of the indigent. They requested an audience, and the rebbe agreed to see them after he completed his prayers.
"When the time finally came, my mother's friend approached the rebbe and explained the terrible situation. The rebbe listened and then replied in perfect Polish: 'Have you come to me because you think I am a sorcerer and I have some magic with which I can help you?'
"'No,' replied my mother's friend, 'but I see that you live a holy life and so, you are closer to G-d than other people. For this reason G-d listens to your prayers more closely.'"
"'Since that is your thought I agree to pray for the boy.'
"The women left his room leaving the door ajar, and seated themselves outside his door. They were able to glimpse the figure of the rebbe. He was engaged in fervent prayer, beads of perspiration glimmering on his face. After three hours of this intense devotion he called them into his room and said: 'At this exact moment your child's illness has been relieved. When he has recovered completely bring him to me so that I may bless him.'
"My mother returned home and rushed into my room, asking the maids, 'How is the child?' They told her that there was no great change, except that at exactly 12 noon, I had awakened and asked for a glass of water.
"After a few weeks of recuperation I was well enough to travel to the rebbe. I received his blessing and he admonished me to always treat the Jews with kindness. Know that I have kept my word. Now that I am an old man I wished to make a pilgrimage to the rebbe's grave to pray at that holy spot."
Count Dravski began to weep uncontrollably, and in keeping with Jewish custom he wrote a note to place at the grave. The note read: "Ye sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - pray for the soul of the late Menachem Mendel! And you, Mendel, since you stand already in the presence of the Heavenly Throne, pray for the oppressed nations - the Jewish People and Poland - and pray too for me, for my children, and for my grandchildren!
Signed: Miechislaw Dravski, son of Victoria
(In 1901 the German scholar Aharon Marcus wrote in his Der Chassidismus that he had succeeded in securing the actual note.)
The second Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Dov Ber, had a group of chasidim who were musicians and who would perform together on festive occasions. There were also a number of chasidim who were horsemen, and they entertained onlookers by performing on their steeds to the rhythm of the music. The Rebbe would stand by the window listening to the music and observing the performance. His son, Reb Nachum, was one of the riders.
Once, the Rebbe unexpectedly called for a performance and stood by the window to watch. Suddenly, Reb Nachum was flung from his horse and badly hurt. Rushing to notify the Rebbe, the chasidim were surprised when he motioned to carry on with the performance.
Only a while later did the Rebbe signal for them to stop and went back to his room. In the interim, a doctor checked Reb Nachum. "It is not as bad as it looks," the doctor said calmly. "He has only broken his leg." After treating the leg, the doctor left, assuring them that it would heal properly.
Later, some of the chasidim asked the Rebbe why he had ordered the performance to continue despite the accident. "Why don't you ask why the performance was called for an ordinary weekday?" responded the Rebbe.
He explained, "I became aware of harsh judgements regarding my son in the spiritual realms. Since 'happiness mitigates judgement,' I called for the musicians and the horsemen. The festivities did help, for his injury was far less serious than predestined. To assure complete recovery, I ordered the festivities to carry on, despite the fall. Indeed, with G-d's help, he will recover and no lasting impression of the original judgement will remain."
Reprinted with permission from My Father's Shabbos Table by Rabbi Y. Chitrick
Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for, behold! I will come and dwell in your midst, says the Lord. And many nations shall join the Lord on that day, and they shall be My people; and I will dwell in your midst and you shall know that the Lord of Hosts sent me to you..