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1269: Behar-Bechukosai

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Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
May 3, 2013 - 23 Iyyar, 5773

1269: Behar-Bechukosai

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


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  1268: Emor1270: Bamidbar  

Radio Signals  |  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

Radio Signals

You're driving on vacation and you turn on the radio to catch the (choose one) traffic report, weather forecast, or sports scores. You touch every button that has a station locked in but all you hear is static or at the most the reception is very weak.

Of course! You're out of range of your regular stations so you touch the "seek" and "scan" buttons and manage to find a local station that has the information you need.

Jewish teachings speak often about the importance of the individual reaching out to G-d, communicating with G-d through prayer and enhancing the relationship with G-d through the study of Torah and performance of mitzvot (commandments).

But isn't a relationship a two-way street? Shouldn't we expect G-d to reach out to us, as well?

G-d calls out to us through our soul, the Divine spark within each of us. Our Sages explain that, even though we don't always hear it, "Every day a heavenly voice comes forth calling: 'Return to Me, My errant children.'"

This is similar to the scene of the radio station above. However, for the person to be aware of the signals and to hear the Divine call, the signals must also be received by the body, by the conscious mind. The soul, being part of G-d, always remains loyal to G-d and is always receptive to these signals, but the physical body, with its physical desires, may "interfere" with the reception and that's where difficulties can arise. The receiver switch must be on, the person prepared and willing to "hear" the call from above.

What then is the use of these "signals" if only the soul is sensitive to them and they do not get through to the body?

The importance of the subconscious state of mind is well-known today (it has been recognized in our Torah and commentaries for thousands of years). Even in the worst cases of distortion and non-reception of G-d's call, the signals are there (for the soul is always receptive) but often remain buried in the subconscious. From the subconscious state of mind, impulses, thoughts and stimuli beg to be admitted into the conscious state. This is why an individual may suddenly experience an inner desire to find out more about Judaism, to reconnect with his roots, study more Torah or perform a mitzva.

Since G-d is constantly calling to us, does this reduce the importance of our seeking Him?

No! The Torah commands us, "And you shall seek G-d" (Deut. 4:29). For unless we reciprocate and make an effort, the signals remain weak and. The way for us to respond to and strengthen the Divine signals is by studying Torah and doing mitzvot, and making them part of our daily lives.


Living with the Rebbe

This week we read two Torah portions, Behar and Bechukotai. Bechukotai describes the Jubilee year, the 50th year of the agricultural cycle in the land of Israel. At this time, ancestral property that was sold was returned and servants were freed. To explain: When the Jews entered the Holy Land after their journey through the desert, every member of the people was given a plot of land. If they - or their heirs - sold that land, in the fiftieth year of the agricultural cycle, that land was returned to the seller.

Similarly, if a person sold himself as a servant, he was to be released after six years. If he, nonetheless, desired to remain a servant, he was allowed to do so, but in the fiftieth year, he is also set free.

What a lesson in self-renewal! We are always saying: "If I were given a second chance, things would be different," and here Torah law establishes the concept of a second chance as a binding obligation.

The spiritual dimensions of the Torah's laws are applicable in all times and in all places. Thus although in a practical sense, the Jubilee is not practiced in the present age, in an abstract sense, it is a continuous lesson for all of us.

No matter what our present state is, G-d is giving us the wherewithal to start anew and change the direction of our lives. At every moment, we are being granted spiritual and material blessings that enable us to turn our lives around and bring about goodness for ourselves, our families, and the people around us.

Our Sages teach: "A rich man is rich only due to his mind-set. A poor man is poor only due to his mind-set." A truly wealthy man is confident that even were he to be set down in a jungle with nothing to his name, he would be able to establish himself financially in a matter of time. Conversely, a person with a poor man's mentality will soon find himself impoverished even after he was given great wealth.

What makes a man wealthy? Our Sages teach us: "Who is wealthy? One who is satisfied with his portion." That doesn't mean that he does not want to make more money; he may, but he does not feel pressured to do so. He feels the luxury of being patient, of waiting for opportunities, and then using them to the maximum of his capacity.

A poor man, by contrast, is not satisfied; he feels that he must make money. He is obsessed with want and need and those feelings cause him to act rashly, trying this scheme and to make it big.

What's the inevitable result? He loses, but he's lost far more than money. He's lost his life, because his energy and his dreams were focused on the money that he felt he had to make. Instead of enjoying life for what it is, sharing quality time with family and friends, he was always looking to what it could be when he made the money.

It doesn't have to be that way. It's not too late. The Jubilee teaches us that we can start anew. We all have the resources, because the fundamental resources are inside. Each one of us possesses a soul that is an actual part of G-d. That spiritual spark gives us the potential to bring about good and well-being for ourselves and the people close to us.

From Keeping in Touch by Rabbi E. Touger, published by Sichos in English


A Slice of Life

Who Am I?
by Moshe

It's a simple enough question, but until recently, I hadn't been able to answer it. "Who are you?" For years I was proud of who I was. I had no worries in the world. I was making great money, living a life of fun, fancy and fast cars, and thought that nothing or no one could touch me. For years I was a professional criminal.

And then my world came crashing down. I was caught. I was found guilty. And I am now in the process of serving a 12-year sentence in the Ramla prison in Israel.

The day I entered the jail, I lost my identity. To the prison system, I was merely a number. I had a name, but no one knew it as I never used it. I only knew how to be a criminal. So behind bars, who was I? What defined me?

I was a prisoner. And when you are a prisoner you have no definition. You have no status in the underworld and no status in the real world. You are nothing.

Then I got a glimpse, for the first time in my life, into my religion. I met the prison rabbi. The inmates simply called him "Jacobs." For the first time in my life, I began to learn the real answer. I am a Jew.

I am a Jew who never really cared that he was a Jew. I am a Jew who was raised, like most Israelis, with the basic traditions, but with little care or understanding as to what any of it meant. My parents were immigrants. What was passed down well was the poverty, the illiteracy, and the hopelessness that many immigrant families have experienced. And, what got passed down was the need to survive and thrive at any cost. And that was exactly what I did.

I was a great criminal. I knew how to lie, cheat, steal, and essentially get whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I had no qualms about my actions. I felt I was just helping make the world a little more balanced. It wasn't my fault that I was raised with barely enough food to eat. I couldn't change what I was given, but I could change what I would get. And so, from a very young age, I learned what was profitable. Drugs and weapons were profitable. What I didn't realize was that they were also deadly.

Few believe this, but I think I really wanted to get caught. Call it pop-psychology, but I think my getting caught was my cry for help. I knew something needed to change, but for the first time, I didn't know how to do it. I only knew how to do wrong. Getting caught and thrown in jail was a real blessing - and not even so much one in disguise. I really think it saved my life. But it was the prison chaplain who saved my soul. He introduced me to who I was, to who I am, and to who I want to be.

Fishel, aka, "Jacobs," made sure the kitchen was kosher, there were mezuzas on all the doors, and that other rabbis did their jobs in the cell-block yeshivas by giving classes in Torah throughout the week.

At first when I watched Jacobs make his rounds, I thought that if he knew what was good for him he'd better stay away from me. I was in a cell-block with a lot of tough guys, men who would stab you in the blink of an eye if they needed to. Upon mentioning my thoughts to a fellow inmate, I was informed that Jacobs was a black-belt in karate and if I was smart, I may want to stay away from him. I figured I would rely on the age-old idea that if you can't beat them, join them. He couldn't be that bad if the other inmates liked him so much.

The first time he entered my cell, I realized that this meeting was going to be different. Here was someone who didn't care about my criminal past, wasn't impressed with my rap record, and only wanted to focus on what's inside me. No one had ever taken the time to ask or care about what was going on in there. He did. He took one good look at me, and his eyes entered a place so deep within - a place I didn't even know existed.

He explained to me that he is a Chabad-Lubavitch chasid, and his job was to help Jews discover what it means to be Jewish. That was it. Simple as could be. Here was an intelligent man, whose main goal in life was to teach me that I am a Jew.

Here was someone who embodied the exact opposite of everything I knew. I knew people who were nothing, but pretended to be something. "Fake it 'till you make it." Here was an American, who wrote books, and was a success in other ways, yet to him it meant nothing. All that mattered was helping others. And, he told me that all Lubavitchers tried to be exactly like that.

Working with prisoners is no easy task. Let's be honest here. We are the garbage of the world. We are the people you hate, and rightly so. There is a reason we are behind bars. We did something that landed us here. With few exceptions, we deserve to be where we are.

So what kind of person with other career choices chooses to work with us? This was the first question I asked Jacobs when he entered my cell. His answer blew me away. He told me that the same question was asked to his Rebbe, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in regards to how he didn't tire standing for hours, handing out dollars to thousands upon thousands of people. The Rebbe answered that when you count diamonds you don't get tired.

Fishel added that even when those diamonds end up in a pile of mud, when you know there are diamonds, you'll stick your hand in and pull them out. The mud may cover the diamond, but it can't penetrate it or diminish its beauty and value. And the mud will wash off. I was a diamond. Most certainly covered in mud, if not worse, but a diamond nonetheless.

Who would have thought that being imprisoned would be the greatest thing that could have happened to me? It wasn't until I came to prison that I learned who I was. Until then I thought I knew, but I had no idea. Now, even though I am physically behind bars, I am finally free within. And though this is not a place where I want to stay, I am using every minute of my time here as an opportunity.

An opportunity for growth, repentance and change. I have begun to view my sentence as yeshiva for ex-criminals. I have a lot of time here to study Torah, and I attend a Tanya class and a class in Jewish law every day. I keep Shabbat, eat kosher food, and do mitzvot whenever I can. Funny enough, because I was so well known on the streets, other inmates are willing to attend the classes and learn because of me. Go figure.

I wait for the day of my release. I await the day when I can give back to society and try and make up for the damage I did. I yearn for the day when I can marry a wonderful woman and bring beautiful children into this world. And when I do leave these prison walls, I will know what to answer when asked who I am. I am Moshe. I am a diamond. I am a Jew.

Rabbi Fishel Jacobs was raised in Vermont. He is an eighth-degree karate master instructor and title-holder. He worked as an officer for Israeli Prison Service. He has published numerous non-fiction books.


What's New

Historic Synagogue Renovated

A synagogue in the Ukrainian city of Kherson which was built by Chabad Chasidim 118 years ago was recently refurbished. The synagogue had been seized by the Communist authorities in 1930 and was finally returned to the Jewish community in 1991.

My Prayer

A new edition of the classic work My Prayer has been released by Kehot Publication Society. Authored by the late Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel and first published in 1972, it quickly became a standard text on the prayer book. The two volume set includes an illuminating commentary on the morning, afternoon and evening prayers, on Grace After Meals and the Prayer Before Retiring to Bed, Shabbat prayers, as well as a comprehensive introduction exploring the deeper, often mystical, content of the daily prayers.


The Rebbe Writes

Continued from previous issue, from a letter dated 6th of Shevat 5731 [1971]

The expression of "yoke" in relation to accepting the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments] in the daily life is to be understood in the sense that human nature makes it necessary to act on imperatives. For, human nature, and the Yetzer Horah [inclination toward evil], are such that an individual might easily succumb to temptation. Temptation is sweet at the beginning but bitter at the end. But human nature is such that an individual may disregard the bitter consequences because of the initial gratification.

We see, for example, that children, and very often also adults, may be warned that overindulgence in certain foods would be harmful to them, and make them sick later on so that for a period of time they might not be able to eat anything at all, yet they may nevertheless reject all restraint to gratify their immediate appetite or passion. In a like manner, G-d has given us the "yoke" of Torah and Mitzvos, telling us that whether one understands them or not, or whatever the temptation may be, one must carry out G-d's commandments unquestioningly.

There is a further point, and this is the most essential aspect of the concept of "yoke" of the Torah and Mitzvos. It is that although, as mentioned before, the Torah and Mitzvos have been given for the benefit of man, both in this life and in Eternal Life, there is an infinitely greater quality with which G-d has endowed the Torah and Mitzvos, namely the quality of uniting man with G-d, that is, the created with the Creator, who would otherwise have nothing in common. For, by giving man a set of Mitzvos to carry out in his daily life, G-d has made it possible for man thereby to attach himself to his Creator, and transcend the limitations of a limited being, living in a limited world.

The Torah and Mitzvos constitute the bridge which spans over the abyss separating the Creator from the created, enabling the human being to rise and attach himself to G-dliness. Of course this quality can be attained if the person observes the Torah and Mitzvos not because of the reward that goes with it for the body, or for the soul, or for both, but purely because they are the Will and Command of the Holy One blessed be He. For this reason also, the text of the Berocho [blessing] which a Jew makes before fulfilling a Mitzvah does not mention the utility of the Mitzvah, but rather the fact that "He has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us."

Much more can be said in connection with such a profound subject, but I trust that the above lines, though limited in quantity, have sufficient content to illuminate the true aspects of the matter. Besides, should you wish to discuss these matters further, you surely have friends among Anash [Lubavitcher Chasidim] in London who will be glad to enlighten you.

Finally, I would like to say that the fact that you have had some doubts and uncertainties, should not discourage you at all. Indeed, the Torah desires a person to utilize all his capacities, including his mind and intelligence, in the service of G-d as long as the approach is right, namely accepting the Torah and Mitzvos first. It is quite natural and even desirable that one should understand everything that is within one's mental grasp. In your case this is of additional significance, because you have an opportunity to influence and benefit other people who have the same bent of mind as you.

In the light of the above, you will also understand my answer in the matter of the Shidduch [marriage match], that in my opinion, as has been said before, namely that it is a suitable Shidduch, and may it be in a happy and auspicious hour, for a Binyan Adei Ad [eternal edifice], on the foundation of the Torah and the Mitzvos with complete commitment to the Torah and Mitzvos in the spirit of the Berocho "Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us."

This will, as a matter of course, also be the channel for good health, both for the Neshomo [soul] and the body, and all desirable benefits - though of what value are all rewards by comparison to the achievement of "Israel and the Holy One blessed be He, through the Torah, are all one."

With blessing,


Who's Who

Yissaschar (pronounced Yissachar, Issachar in English) was the son of the Jacob and his wife Leah. When Jacob blessed his sons before his passing, he blessed Yissaschar: "Yissaschar is a strong-boned donkey... He saw tranquility that it was good, and the land that it was pleasant, yet he bent his shoulder to bear..." Rashi explains this blessing regarding how hard Yissaschar labored in Torah study. Ultimately, his tribe was renown for their devotion to Torah study and partnered with the tribe of Zevulun who supported them.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat we bless the new month of Sivan. The most outstanding date in Sivan is the holiday of Shavuot, the festival on which we celebrate receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.

It is interesting to note that the festival of Shavuot does not have an independent date of its own, as do all other Jewish holidays; no month or day is specified in the Torah as the time for its celebration. It is only specified that Shavuot is the "Fiftieth Day" of the counting of the Omer - the counting which we begin on the second day of Passover, on the day after the liberation from Egyptian bondage.

In this way the Torah emphasizes that Shavuot is the goal of Passover: that the Season of the Giving of Our Torah is the culmination of the Season of Our Freedom. This teaches us that the true and complete freedom, both for the individual as well as for the community, and both materially and spiritually, can be attained only through Torah.

We live in a time and in a country where, notwithstanding external "freedom," in general we are still largely "enslaved" and at a loss how to free ourselves from the shackles of spiritual and mental confusion.

The only key to the bars and shackles of our enslavement is a Torah education. For our children - and every Jewish child is "our" child - this means an uncompromising Jewish education. For ourselves this means attending Torah classes, studying and reading Jewish texts privately, and teaching and inspiring others.

May we all merit to learn this year not only the Torah that was given and revealed to us over 3,300 years ago at Mount Sinai, but the "new Torah" that will be taught by our righteous Moshiach in the Messianic Era.


Thoughts that Count

And if your brother becomes poor...do not take from him any usury or increase (Lev. 25:35, 36)

Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar said: "The Psalms say about one who lends money without interest, 'His money was not given to extract usury, and a bribe was never taken against the innocent.' He who does these will never stumble." Conversely, one who lends money with interest is fore-warned that his wealth will eventually dissipate.

(Talmud, Baba Metzia)


And you shall not deceive one another (Lev. 25:17)

Can a person really deceive another, especially in spiritual matters? Even if he succeeds in his deception, the victory is only temporary and the deceit is always eventually revealed. The only person, therefore, who has been effectively deceived is the deceiver himself. And is it so difficult to fool a fool?

(Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch)


And you shall return, every man, unto his family (Lev. 25:10)

In the fiftieth, or Jubilee year, the former slave returns to his family, but not, as brought down in the name of Rabbi Yehuda, to his former stature. Everything can be restored to a slave - his freedom, his inheritance, and his family - but the status and honor afforded him before he sold himself into slavery can never be returned. This was forfeited the moment he indentured himself.

(Chavat-Yair)


For strangers and sojourners are you with Me (Lev. 25:23)

The more a person considers himself only a sojourner and a temporary resident of this world, the closer he is to G-d. And, unfortunately, the opposite is also true...

(Rabbi Boruch of Mezhibozh)


It Once Happened

Once upon a time, there lived in a village a fine Jewish family with five lively children. They could have been very happy, but unfortunately, they were very poor, and the day finally came when they lacked even a few crusts of bread in the house.

In desperation, the wife came to her husband and said, "Please, go into the city and try to find someone who will lend you some money to buy bread for the children."

"You know I have no relative or friend who can help me. Do you want me to go and beg on the street? Only G-d can help us."

The wife did not reply, but when the hungry children began to cry for food, she again approached her husband and said, "Please go to the city. There perhaps you will find some way of earning money, after all, G-d can always find some way to make a miracle."

So, the husband went to the city, and when he arrived there he uttered a prayer, "Master of the Universe, You provide for all the creatures of the earth, have You nothing for my poor hungry children? Please help me in my hour of need."

His tears must have broken through the Heavens, for a moment later a stranger approached him, and in a calm voice asked, "What is wrong? Why do you weep so?"

The man unburdened his heavy heart to the kind stranger. "Don't despair. I can help you. Take me to the marketplace and sell me as a slave. With the money you get you will be able to purchase whatever you need."

The man was astonished at these words. "What are you suggesting?! How could I possibly accept such a sacrifice from you? Besides, who would believe that such a pauper as I would have such a fine slave?"

"Don't worry. We will exchange clothing. As for my sacrifice, don't worry about that either. I am a master builder, and I won't remain a slave for long. The only thing I ask is that you sell me only to the person I will point out to you and that you give me one gold coin of the coins you will receive for my sale."

So, they proceeded to the marketplace, the stranger dressed in the pauper's clothing. When a rich-looking coach drove up, the "slave" winked in his "master's" direction, indicating that this was the appropriate buyer. The sale was transacted, and the man offered his former "slave" the gold coin. He took it, but then returned it, saying, "Keep this coin for good luck, and G-d bless you and your family with health, wealth, and much joy from you dear children."

The husband returned home to a joyous welcome, laden with all sorts of food and clothing that the family had all but forgotten existed.

Meanwhile, the slave was brought to the royal palace as a special gift for the king. When the king inquired what particular job he was best at, he replied, "I am a master builder."

The king was overjoyed at his reply, for at that time, the king was involved in planning a magnificent new palace, but an architect had not yet been engaged. The slave was given the job of constructing the new edifice. The royal storehouses of gold and silver were made available to the slave as well as the permission to hire as many workers as necessary to complete the job.

"If you complete the construction to my satisfaction within six months, I will reward you handsomely, as well as giving you your freedom," promised the king.

That very evening, the slave, who was Elijah the Prophet, prayed to G-d that His angels descend and build the palace for the king. His prayer was answered, and that same night the palace stood in all its magnificence and glory.

When the king arose and beheld this miracle, he couldn't believe his eyes. He rushed out to inspect every corner of his new palace, stroll through its wondrous gardens, and marvel at the elegantly furnished suites. Returning to his old residence, the king immediately sent for his slave, but there was no trace of him.

The Jew had prospered through the sale of his "slave," but the thought of what had become of his benefactor haunted him every day. He was filled with guilt for having allowed the kind man to sacrifice himself for him.

Then, one day, as he walked through the market, he saw the man coming towards him. He rushed up to him and embraced him warmly. "How have you been, my dear friend? I was so worried about you all this time!"

The man smiled, "I told you I wouldn't be a slave for long," and he recounted how he had been given to the king and had built a new palace for him and had become a free man once more.

Then Elijah blessed the man again and reminded him to always be kind to the poor, love his fellow man, and walk humbly before G-d. "If you do this and instruct your children in this way, your wealth will not leave you or your children for many generations." And just as the man was about to thank him, he seemed to melt into the surrounding crowd and disappear.


Moshiach Matters

Today, exile is no longer what it used to be. Although we still suffer the spiritual rootlessness of exile, its more blatant expressions are fading away: today, a Jew can live practically anywhere in the world in freedom and prosperity. But to feel comfortable in exile is the greatest exile there can be, the ultimate symptom of alienation from one's essence and source. To feel comfortable in exile - to perceive it as a viable, even desirable, state of affairs - is to live in contradiction to G-d's daily regret of exile. The Jew who lives in harmony with G-d will always regard the exile state as abhorrent and undesirable.

(The Week in Review)


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