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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

October 18, 2013 - 14 Cheshvan, 5774

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  1291: Lech-Lecha1293: Chayei Sara  

Good for Good  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Today Is ...  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Good for Good

Jewish mystical teachings explain that evil has no permanence. Only good exists eternally and every good deed endures forever.

The way to fight evil, then, is with good, with everlasting and incessant good.

How much can you or I do to eradicate evil from the face of the earth, to wipe out terror and eliminate violence? Realistically speaking, how much of an impact can any one, single individual have on the entire world?

The Rebbe addressed precisely this question in a pre-High Holiday letter to Jews around the world four decades ago.

"One single individual has the capacity to bring the whole of creation to fulfillment, as was the case with the first person, Adam....

"Our Sages teach us that the first person, Adam, was the prototype and example for each and every individual to follow: 'For this reason was man created as an individual in order to each you "one person equals a whole world," ' our Sages declared in the Mishna.

"This means that every Jew, regardless of time and place and personal status, has the fullest capacity, hence also duty, to rise and attain the highest degree of fulfillment, and accomplsh the same for the creation as a whole.

"This disproves the contentions of those who do not fulfill their duty with the excuse that it is impossible to change the world; of that their parents had not given them the necessary education and preparation; or that the world is so huge, and one is so puny-how can one hope to accomplish anythng?

"There were times when the aforesaid idea, namely, the ability of a single individual to 'transform' the world, met with skepticism, and demanded proof.

"However, precisely in our generation, we unfortunately do not have to seek far to be convinced that one person could have such impact. We have seen how one individual brought the world to the brink of destruction, but for the mercies of the King of the Universe, Who ordained that 'the earth shall stand firm; shall not fall.'

"If such is the case in the realm of evil, surely one's potential is much greater in the realm of good. For, in truth, creation is essentially good, and therefore more inclined toward the good than its opposite."

So what can I do to fight evil? What contribution can I make in the war against terrorism? What is my memorial to the millions who were murdered in the Holocaust? What is my tribute to those who perished in Nairobi, Boston, Nigeria?

I can be good, and so can you.

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion, Vayeira, introduces us to the second of our forefathers, Isaac. It also relates that Isaac was occupied with digging wells.

Abraham and Isaac achieved greatness by paving two distinct paths in connecting with G-d. Abraham traveled from place to place, both within the borders of Israel and in other lands, and caused G-d's name to be known everywhere he went. Through his boundless hospitality, as well as through other means, he caused countless wayfarers to thank G-d for His bounty and goodness. Abraham's basic nature was kindness - giving and favorably influencing his fellow man.

Isaac, on the other hand, had a totally different approach. He never left the Holy Land and his basic nature was the personification of gevura (strength). Isaac's way of bringing holiness into the world involved elevating the lowly and bringing it closer to G-dliness; Abraham's method was to bring G-dliness down into the lower realms.

This path to holiness is even apparent in Isaac's preoccupation with digging wells. A well is made when one digs and uncovers the water that was always there, albeit in an unrevealed state. Isaac did not bring the water to the well from an outside source; he merely removed the soil and rocks so that the water could flow forth on its own.

Whereas his father Abraham was primarily occupied with bringing holiness down into this world, Isaac spent his life uncovering the inherent holiness that already existed in the world. Isaac taught others that through their own efforts they could uncover the good and arrive at Divine truth.

From Abraham we learn how to elevate the physical world through studying Torah and performing mitzvot (commandments), causing the Divine light to descend and illuminate our surroundings. We also learn from him the obligation to spread the knowledge and appreciation of G-d through our own example and influence on others.

But this in itself is not enough. We must also learn from Isaac how to "dig wells" - how to uncover and reveal that spark of goodness and holiness that exists within ourselves and every Jew. It is not sufficient to merely teach others about G-dliness; we must also know how to dig under the surface and reveal the inherent faith in G-d and spark of holiness which is our birthright.

Even if a Jew seems to be "dust, clay and stones," that is, his Jewish spark seems to be dormant and hidden underground, we can learn from Isaac not be discouraged - this appearance is merely a camouflage. Under the lifeless surface lies a rich source of running water, of goodness, faith and love of G-d. All we have to do is remove the superficial layer of "clay" to reveal the pure Jewish soul within.

And what can we answer a Jew who cries, "But I've tried! I've dug and I've dug, and I can't seem to uncover my Jewish spark!" We must direct him to the example of Isaac, who persevered in his digging and was not discouraged, even when his wells were deliberately stopped up by his enemies, time and time again. For we are promised success if we, too, persevere and are relentless in our quest for G-dliness.

Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

A Slice of Life

Out of Gas
by Avrohom Nosson

Fifteen years ago, Shmuel Hendel and his friend were in Hawaii on "Merkos Shlichus" - a project of Chabad that sends student rabbis to locations throughout the world, close and remote, to visit isolated Jews who live far from a synagogue or any organized Jewish life. Explains Shmuel, "We started with a list of names, and when we were through with those we looked up Jewish-sounding names in the phone book."

Each day they visited a few homes, talked with the people living there and spoke about holidays and other Jewish topics. People were excited to meet young Jews who were so obviously involved in Jewish life.

On one hot and hazy day, the rabbinic duo didn't manage to get into a single house. In some instances, they discovered that the people whose address they had been given were not Jewish. In other places the people were not home or the address they had was incorrect. They were about to call it a day, feeling rather disappointed. When they got to the last address on the list and nobody was there, they planned on going back to the hotel. "As soon as we set out," recalls Shmuel, "I saw that we were seriously low on gas. I pointed this out, but my friend didn't seem concerned. He figured that even if the needle was flickering on empty we could still drive a few more kilometers and we would definitely make it back to the hotel."

On a fairly quiet highway, with orchards on either side, the car began sounding like it was choking, and it slowly came to a stop. The cars behind them began honking and they quickly moved the car to the side of the road. The young rabbis were exhausted and low in spirits. They hadn't met a single Jew that day and now they were stuck. Who would come help them?

"We tried flagging down cars, but nobody stopped and help," continues Shmuel. "We looked odd to the locals, wearing our hats and suit jackets in the heat of summer. A long time passed and then we saw a motorcycle coming out of a path in the orchard and heading toward us. A motorcycle is easier to stop because you can look the driver in the eye. Maybe his conscience would encourage him to stop and help us.

"He stopped, parked his motorcycle and came over to us. At first we were nervous, because he was a big guy and full of tattoos with rings in every possible place. He wore sunglasses so his eyes were blocked from us, which was unnerving.

" 'We are stuck without gas,' said my friend.

" 'How do smart guys like you do something so stupid?' he asked jokingly.

"We knew he was right and didn't respond, and then he said a line that made our antennas go up.

" 'I thought members of the tribe were smarter than that.' That told us he was Jewish. We asked his name.

" 'Bill Aronson,' he said.

"You live at ... right?" I said, citing an address on our list.

" 'Right!' he said in astonishment. 'How did you know that?'

" 'We were there a quarter of an hour ago and you weren't home,' we said."

The conversation took off and then Bill told them that although he lived nearby, he had never been in that orchard before. He said he worked in real estate and a friend told him about a building in that area. That morning, after much deliberation, he had decided to check it out. He said that his wife was not Jewish. She was a Buddhist and he didn't think that if he was home that she would have invited them in.

"My friend went off with Bill to get gas. Bill had been on his way to pick up his children from the preschool. On the way to the gas station Bill met his wife and she agreed to pick them up instead. So Bill came back with a jerry can of gas and we had time to talk. He said that the only one in his family connected to Judaism was his mother. So when he visited a monastery the year before, he had himself videotaped shouting 'Shema Yisrael' and sent it to his mother to make her happy.

"We asked him if he had ever put on tefillin. He had no idea what we were talking about. When we asked him to put on tefillin before sunset, he wasn't willing to do it until we spoke some more about the significance of his being Jewish. Then he rolled up his sleeve. This was all new to him. He was very moved and cried. We spent a long time standing there and talking. Suddenly, all our feelings of having wasted the entire day disappeared and were replaced with the joy of having been able to reach out to another Jew. If Bill had been at home, we might not have been successful. If our gas tank had been full, we wouldn't have met him. If he hadn't decided that day to check out the property, we would not have met." Concludes Shmuel, "G-d arranged it all and it took place just as it was meant to be."

Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine

What's New

New Facilities

Chabad of The Woodlands, a suburb of Houston, Texas, recently moved into a new facility. The new 2,500-square-foot building includes a large room that will be used for Shabbat and holiday services, a study /library, a children's room, offices and a kitchen. Jewish Monkland Centre/Chabad NDG in Montreal, Canada, moved into a new location. The new venue for the popular Chabad House, which attracts young professionals and families in the Monkland area, includes a shul and social hall, kitchen, lounge and library, large backyard with climbing structures, several offices, stage, and children's room. A newly renovated facility in Talinn, Estonia, has opened as a Children's Center and "Yiddisher Kop" Learning Center. The Children's Center includes a Hebrew school, Sunday school, enrichment classes, sports, library, and computer room. The "Yiddisher Kop" Learning Center includes an extensive library, reading room, classrooms, Jewish exhibition, cafeteria, and state of the art computers.

The Rebbe Writes

l7th of Cheshvan, 5723 [1962]

...I trust that our views will be reconciled, since, as you indicate in the introductory paragraph of your letter, you are in full sympathy with the aims of my said letter, namely, to resolve any doubts that science presents a challenge to the commandments of our Torah.

I must begin with two prefatory remarks:

  1. It should be self-evident that my letter did not imply negation or rejection of science or the scientific method. In fact, I stated so explicitly towards the end of my said letter. I hope that I will not be suspected of trying to belittle the accomplishments of science, especially as in certain areas the Torah view accords science even more credit than science itself claims; hence, many laws in halachah [Jewish law] are geared to scientific conclusions (as e.g. in medicine), assigning to them the validity of objective reality.

  2. A remark has been attributed to you to the effect that just as Rabbinic problems should be dealt with by someone who studied Rabbinics, so should scientific problems be left to those who studied science. I do not know how accurate this report is, but I feel I should not ignore it nevertheless, since I agree with this principle. I studied science on the university level from 1928 to 1932 in Berlin, and from 1934 to 1938 in Paris, and I have tried to follow scientific developments in certain areas ever since. Now to your letter:

    I quite agree, of course, that for the aim mentioned above, scientific theories must be judged by the standards and criteria set up by the scientific method itself. This is precisely the principle I followed in my letter. Hence, I purposely omitted any references to the Scriptures, or the Talmud, etc. from my discussion.

    You write that you can heartily applaud my emphasis that scientific theories never pretend to give the ultimate truths. But I went further than that. The point was not that science is not now in a position to offer ultimate truths, but that modern science itself sets its own limits, declaring that its predictions are, will always be, and in every case, merely "most probable" but not certain; it speaks only "in terms of theories." Herein, as you know probably better than I, lies a basic difference of concept between science today and l9th century science. Whereas in the past, scientific conclusions were considered as natural "laws" in the strict sense of the terms, i.e. determined and certain, modern science no longer holds this view.

    Parenthetically, this view is at variance with the concept of nature and our own knowledge of it (science) as espoused by the Torah, since the idea of miracles implies a change in a fixed order, and not the occurrence of a least probable event.

    Acknowledging the limitations of science, set by science itself, as above, is sufficient to resolve any doubt that science might present a challenge to Torah. The rest of the discussion in my said letter was mainly my way of further emphasis, but also because, as already mentioned, according to the Torah, i.e. in the realm of faith and not that of science, it is admissible for the conclusions of science to have the validity of natural "law."

  3. Next, you deplore what you consider a "gratuitous attack" on the personal motives of scientists. But no such general attack will be found in my letter. I specifically referred to a certain segment of scientists in a certain area of scientific research, namely, those who produce hypotheses about what actually occurred thousands upon thousands of years ago, such as the evolutionary theory of the world, hypotheses which contain no significance for present day research ... hypotheses which are not only highly speculative, but not strictly scientific, and are indeed replete with internal weaknesses.

    Yet, lacking any firm basis, these scientists nevertheless reject absolutely any other explanation (including the Torah narrative). It is the motives of these scientists that I attempted to analyze, since their attitude cannot be equated with a desire to promote the truth, or to promote technological advancement, scientific research, etc. I did not want to accuse them, at any rate not all of them, of anti-religious bias, especially as some of them, including some of the originators of the theory, were religious. I therefore attempted to explain their attitude by a common human trait, the quest for accomplishment and distinction. Incidentally, this natural trait has its positive aspects, and is also basic in our religion, since without the incentive of accomplishment nothing would be accomplished.

  4. Your remark about the misuse of the terms "fission" and "fusion" in relation to chemical reaction is, of course, valid and well taken. I trust, however, that the meaning was not unduly affected thereby, since it was twice indicated in that paragraph that the subject was chemical reaction. Undoubtedly, the terms "combination" and "decomposition" should have been used. (Actually, I believe, the different usage of these terms in nuclear and chemical reactions is more conventional than basic. Nevertheless, I should have been mindful of the standard terminology.)

    Here, a word of explanation regarding the terminology of my letter is in order. If the terms or expressions used are not always the standard ones, this is due to (a) the fact that I do not usually dictate my letters in English, and while I subsequently check the translation, this perusal may not always preclude an oversight, as the present instance is a case in point; and (b) the fact that I received my scientific training, as already mentioned, in German and French, and previously in Russian, which may also account for some the variations.

continued in next issue

Today Is ...

Benyamin (Benjamin) was the son of our Matriarch Rachel and Jacob. He was the only one of the 12 sons of Jacob born in the Land of Israel. He was named by Rachel BenOni ("son of my affliction") because she realized that his birth was so difficult that she would die in childbirth. The first king of the Jewish people, Saul, was descended from Benyamin as was the great Mordechai. The area of the Holy Temple knows as the Kodesh Hakedoshim (Holy of Holies) was in the portion of land belonging to the tribe of Benyamin.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming Thursday, the 20th of Marcheshvan, is the birthday of the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Schneersohn, born in 5621 (1860). Often referred to as "the Maimonides of Chasidut" for his terse and practical summarizations of complex subject matter, he also founded Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim in 1897, which continues to flourish around the world.

It was during the years of the Rebbe Rashab's leadership that the famous Mendel Beilis blood libel case occurred in Russia. Accused in 1911 of the age-old charge of ritual murder when the body of a Christian boy was found near a brick oven owned by a Jew, Mendel Beilis, an innocent employee, was arrested and ordered to stand trial, despite the absence of any incriminating evidence. A two-year anti-Jewish campaign ensued, culminating in the trial itself. The judges had been carefully selected for their narrow-mindedness, and the jury consisted of ignorant peasants who believed in the myth of Jewish ritual murder.

The Rebbe Rashab was instrumental in helping the Jewish defense attorney, Oscar Gruzenberg, prepare his case, providing him with some 33 books to consult. In a letter of encouragement and support, the Rebbe also instructed him to conclude his defense with the verse "Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad" ("Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One"). The Rebbe also gave Gruzenberg a blessing to succeed in his objective.

Oscar Gruzenberg listened to the Rebbe's advice. At the end of his very lengthy presentation in court, he turned to the prisoner sitting on the defendant's bench and said, "Mendel Beilis! Even if these judges close their ears and their hearts to the truth and find you guilty, do not be discouraged. Be as willing for self-sacrifice as every other Jew who ever gave up his soul for the sanctity of G-d's name with the declaration, 'Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One!'"

Mendel Beilis was acquitted.

Thoughts that Count

And when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed to the ground (Gen. 18:2)

The great Sage Shammai said: "Greet every man with a pleasant countenance." Should a person give his friend every gift in the world, yet greet him with a scowl, it is considered as if he gave him nothing. But if he greets him with a smile, it is considered as if he gave the other person everything, even if he is empty-handed.

(Avot D'Rabbi Natan)

And he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared and set it before them (Gen. 18:8)

How could Abraham have offered his guests meat and milk at the same time? The answer is that he served the meat and dairy foods to them separately, with the intention that each guest should choose for himself what he wished to eat. Abraham even went to the trouble of preparing three tongues, should each of the three guests wish to eat only meat. This is the epitome of the mitzva of hospitality.

(Likutei Sichot)

And offer him there for a burnt offering (Gen. 22:2)

"Master of the Universe!" cried Abraham before G-d. "When you commanded me to offer up my son as a burnt offering, I could have said, 'But yesterday You promised that my seed would be perpetuated through Isaac!' However, I conquered my own inclination to carry out Your will. In return, may it be Your will that should the descendents of Isaac ever be in trouble, with no one to defend them, You Yourself will come to their defense."

(Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit)

The trial of the binding of Isaac is ascribed to Abraham's merit, even though he was not the intended sacrifice. For the agony of a father who leads his child to slaughter is much greater than the child's own suffering.

(Taharat HaKodesh)

It Once Happened

This coming Thursday, the 20th of Marcheshvan, is the birthday of Rabbi Shalom Dovber (the Rebbe Rashab), the fifth Chabad Rebbe.

The Rebbe Rashab was only 22 years old when his father, Rabbi Shmuel, passed away. It was not until several years later that Rabbi Shalom Dovber took his father's place and assumed the mantle of leadership.

The Rebbe Rashab once commented: "It says in the writings of the Mitteler Rebbe that 'Conducting business with complete faith in G-d is an even higher level of service than learning Torah for its own sake.' If that is the case, then it is also that much more difficult to accomplish. One must therefore do all one can to become a proper vessel for earning one's livelihood in the proper manner. It is precisely because of the difficulty involved in this that I hesitated, but finally assumed the position of Rebbe."

In the early days of the Rebbe Rashab's leadership someone once asked the Rebbe's brother, Reb Zalman Aharon, if he thought that the present Rebbe was worthy of his position.

Reb Zalman Aharon answered: "Between every two diametrically opposed points in the world there exists a medium, or mean. For example, between the extremely wealthy man and the poverty-stricken beggar are those in the middle class, and between the person who spends his life doing good deeds for his fellow man and one who is cruel and selfish are those whose deeds place them somewhere in the middle. But between a Rebbe and an ordinary person there is no halfway point: one is either a Rebbe or an imposter.

"And my brother is certainly no imposter..."

There was once a Jew living in the city of Nevel who was known as "Reb Zalman the Herring," as he made his living selling all kinds of pickled fish.

One day Reb Zalman was faced with a terrible dilemma when his landlord suddenly decided to sell the house in which he lived. Although he searched all over he was unable to find an appropriate apartment, nor could he afford to buy the building himself, for if he did, he would not have enough money left over to buy fish. Not knowing what to do, Reb Zalman went to the Rebbe Rashab to ask his advice.

"What should I do, Rebbe?" he implored.

"Buy them both, the house and the fish," responded the Rebbe.

Reb Zalman wondered what the Rebbe meant. If I had the money to buy both, he reasoned, I would not have come all this distance to ask what to do.

Suddenly an idea occurred to him. Perhaps his landlord would agree to sell the house for half the price to be paid in cash immediately, while the rest could be paid out over time. Maybe the fish wholesaler would do the same!

Reb Zalman told both of them what the Rebbe had said, and both landlord and fish monger agreed to this method of payment.

In the end he bought them both, the house and the fish.

The Rebbe Rashab was once sitting at a gathering of Chasidim when the time to pray the afternoon service arrived. At that moment, the host had been about to serve tea to his guests. A controversy ensued over what to do first, pray or drink the tea.

"It all depends on what you want to do in a less hurried and more peaceful manner," remarked the Rebbe. "If you'd rather drink the tea in a leisurely fashion, then by all means pray first. If, however, you'd prefer to pray with a clear and calm head, it's better to get the tea-drinking over with..."

There was once a Jewish innkeeper who made his living selling spirits to the local peasants. One day, a non-Jewish peasant opened up a new tavern right across the street. The non-Jew's prices were lower, so all of the Jew's former patrons quickly switched their allegiance and bought their whiskey in the new establishment.

When the innkeeper told the Rebbe about his competition, the Rebbe instructed him to set up two barrels of whiskey. "Tell your customers that you are selling two types of whiskey - one cheaper, and one of a better quality."

The Chasid did this, and all his customers returned. They all insisted on buying the more expensive variety.

Moshiach Matters

When Nebuzaradan exiled the Jews from Israel, they passed by the grave of Rachel our Matriarch. Rachel emerged to weep and to ask for mercy on their behalf. The prophet Jeremiah reports: "Thus did the L-rd say, a voice is heard on high, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel weeps for her children, she refuses to be consoled for her children, for they are not." And G-d in fact answers: "Thus did the L-rd say, refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for there is reward for your labor, said the L-rd, and the children shall return to their boundary"

(Rashi Va'yechi, and Midrashim quoted by Radak, Yirmeyahu 31)

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