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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

May 9, 2014 - 9 Iyyar, 5774

1320: Behar

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

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  1319: Emor1321: Bechukosai  

Individuality  |  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


Inconsistencies and incongruities seem to be part and parcel of our lives in these days.

We have previously unfathomable information literally at our fingertips via tablets and smartphones. Yet, when we call to order a new state-of-the-art, faster-than-ever device, we will almost certainly be told "please wait while my computer pulls up your information," followed by what seems like an interminable pause. We can take our phones everywhere and can talk to people anywhere by all kinds of messaging, but when it's really important the person didn't see the text or his battery just died.

Judaism has long acknowledged that there can be seeming inconsistencies and that those inconsistencies are alright.

For example, each Jew is a very distinct individual with his own mission and Divine service that he and only he can and must accomplish. And yet, he is also very much a part of a whole, a collection, one people, without whom the entire Jewish people are incomplete.

Concerning each individual's mission, Judaism explains that only a completely righteous individual knows where his mission is at every particular moment. Such an individual knowingly and purposefully seeks out those missions and accomplishes those acts destined for him and only him.

The rest of us, well, as the verse says, "G-d guides the steps of man." We often don't know why we've wound up in a certain place until, days, weeks, or even years later we pull some information or a name out of the recesses of our memory and use that information that we acquired "by coincidence" to help make the world a better place.

In the actual participation in mitzvot we see the importance of the individual as well as the collective group. When a person does a mitzva, he is doing that mitzva. No one else is doing it and no one else can be doing it for him. And yet, at the moment that he does a mitzva, he joins together with every other Jew who is also doing that mitzva individual doing a mitzva and ultimately, with the entire heritage of the Jewish people.

When a woman lights Shabbat candles, she - the individual - is connecting with and connected to women and girls around the globe who are lighting Shabbat candles and to women throughout Jewish history who have lit Shabbat candles since the times of our Matriarch Sara.

And when a man puts on tefilin, he - the individual - is connecting with and connected to men and boys around the globe who are putting on tefilin and to men throughout Jewish history who have put on tefilin since the times of our Patriarch Abraham.

This bond between individuals both here and there, both past and present, grants each individual the potential to carry out his service - which effects himself, his family, the Jewish people and the entire world - with renewed energy.

As we all continue to pursue and accomplish, knowingly or unknowingly, our individual divine missions, we ready ourselves for the time when the true meaning of an individual as an integral part of a whole will be realized. For, at the time of the Redemption and the ingathering of all Jews to the Holy Land of Israel a united and unified whole - "a great congregation will return" - of very different individuals - "our sons and daughters, youth and elders" - will return to the Holy Land.

Living with the Rebbe

In this week's Torah portion of Behar, we read, "Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruit. But in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of rest to the land, a Shabbat for the L-rd." This seventh, Sabbatical year is known in Hebrew as "shemita."

Commenting on this verse, Rashi explains that "Shabbat for the L-rd" means "for the sake of G-d." In other words, the practice of allowing the land to lie fallow in the seventh year must be done solely because it is a Divinely-ordained mitzva.

At first glance, allowing the land a periodical rest appears to be a natural means of rejuvenating the earth. It is a well-known fact that not cultivating the land for an entire year serves to enrich its soil and improve the quality of its future yield.

Nonetheless, the Torah demands that we not keep shemita for the purpose of land improvement. The only reason we allow the land to rest is "for the sake of the L-rd," for G-d has so commanded us.

When Jews refrain from working the land in the seventh year, they thereby attest to G-d's mastery over the world. Observing shemita demonstrates openly that our involvement in the pursuit of a livelihood has not caused us to forget the Creator.

The mitzva of shemita trains us to remember that no matter what we do, everything in life is "for the sake of G-d." Even those things which are considered "natural," i.e., eating, drinking, sleeping and going to work, must be done purely for the sake of heaven.

When a Jew eats, he must do so "for the sake of G-d." He consumes food in order to be strong and healthy, to be able to perform more of G-d's mitzvot.

When a Jew sleeps, he sleeps "for the sake of G-d." He knows that the body must rest to recoup its strength, that he be fully alert and capable of observing the commandments.

Such must be the attitude toward every detail in life: We must always remember that all facets of existence are "for the sake of G-d."

Acting in such a manner brings down G-d's blessing, as it states, "And I will command my blessing upon you," ensuring that G-d will grant us only goodness from His full, open and holy hand.

Adapted for Maayan Chai from Likutei Sichot, vol. 7

A Slice of Life

Getting Off the Grid
by Miriam Karp

One balmy Friday evening, during that first summer of diving into Shabbat observance, I was walking up State Street. I had started to leave my wallet and backpack at home, letting go of sneaking in a few quick errands, even though I walked right past the store where I needed just one or two things.

It would have been so convenient to quickly stop in... it wouldn't really break the Shabbat spirit, would it? Just that one box of tea and that new notebook, so I wouldn't have to go out again next week. No. I was going to try weaning myself from weekday life cold turkey. No monetary transactions.

I strolled through the Friday night throngs of buzzing kids gathering in front of the theater, going in and out of bars and cafes, hurrying and hustling. They laughed and jostled. I could relate. It would have been so natural to join them. Hey, I'd been waiting to see that movie. It finally came to town. Not tonight. I was in a different space. I might have looked like any other Ann Arbor kid, but I was in a different zone.

I had the distinct feeling I was there, and not there: floating through the crowd in a soft golden bubble, a bubble of Shabbat. And that was when I was in college, before cell phones and internet and round-the-clock connectivity, rings, beeps, and demands on our inner space. Way back in the unimaginable dark ages of pay phones and snail mail.

For example, last Friday afternoon I stood impatiently at the copy machine and saw my exhausted-looking principal rub his eyes and answer yet another demanding text.

"TGI-shin! Thank G-d it's (almost) Shabbos," I encouraged him.

He smiled wearily. "What do people do without a day where they have to turn all this off?" he asked. I told him something I'd heard in an interview on NPR recently. I'd been in the car, racing to pick up some skirts on sale, but I had to be back for 4:00 carpool. I hit a snag in traffic on 71. "I knew I should have left earlier. I'm gonna be late now."

I had impatiently fiddled with the radio dial as I waited for my lane to open up. Some singer was being interviewed. The usual yakety-yak; another guy struggling to make it, grabbing his chance to tell the world why he's so great. I listened distractedly as I scanned the rear mirror to try and switch lanes. Fresh Air does sometimes find interesting artists, and listening to them gets me motivated to get my creative act into higher gear.

"So I relish the Sabbath where I can shut it all off," the artist said.

What? I reached over and turned up the volume.

"You don't perform on Friday nights or Saturdays?" the interviewer asked incredulously.

"You know," the singer replied, "my career is very intense. My agent, my producer, my band - someone's always texting or calling or needing a response. I crave, I need, a day to center, to restore myself, and get off the grid." You got it, I thought and took a deep breath as the traffic finally unsnarled.

Standing at the copy machine, I excitedly shared that phrase with the principal: "That singer said he needed a day to just get off the grid."

My principal smiled, sighed, and glanced at the clock. One hour more till the school day and week could close, three more hours till he could turn off the phone completely and step onto Shabbat Island. He nodded in agreement. "Absolutely. Well said."

Shabbat, the seventh day, had been my first taste of the sweet nectar of this hidden universe of Torah observance, and it remained the anchor. "He garbed the day of rest in beauty; He called the Shabbat day a delight."

I first tasted this sweetness in Bella's dingy flat. I sometimes wavered, wondering, was this mitzva stuff really the ultimate in connecting with the Creator, or someone's complex, put-together invention? I'd remember that blast of light that hit me in the kishkas when I first stepped into her home. And I held it up as my litmus test. Strange as it seemed, I was beginning to see how all those weird minutiae were an integral part of creating this golden space - all the details that sound so bizarre, like leaving the bathroom light taped on, not turning up the fire on the stove, only using cold water, and breaking bread on two (not one or three) challahs.

Once an old friend confronted me: "What's this craziness about? I hear you can't use scissors on Shabbat, and you can't even carry a tissue outside." He laughed cynically. What kind of bizarre and arbitrary ritual is that, he scornfully implied. I just made some kind of shrugging-it-off remark. It's hard to explain "on one foot," in a sound bite, how these seemingly nitpicking rules come together, how they really did open up a weekly paradise of luxurious holiness.

There was something more here - something tangible and from another dimension altogether. That Shechina, the Divine Presence - no one could make up that heavenly sweetness. And if this Shabbos holiness was so real, this kiss from above, maybe the other stuff in those Five Books of Moses and those five million books of debate, commentary, mysticism were real too. Maybe even the parts I didn't quite understand or connect to yet.

Excerpted from Painting Zaidy's Dream, winner of 2013 American Jewish Press Association Simon Rockower Award: First Place for Excellence in Writing About Women

What's New

New Facilities

Chabad of Boca Raton, Florida, has purchased a new property that will double the size of their current Chabad Center. The 12,000-square-foot building under construction will include an expanded main synagogue, a smaller chapel, a social hall, lecture hall, library, youth video lounge, kitchen and a larger religious school. Plans for a mikvah are also included.

Friendship Circle of Los Angeles, California, recently opened "My Backyard," a new all-accessible playground following two years of planning and construction. The state-of-the-art playground enables children with special needs to play in a secured, accessible environment while encouraging play and social interaction with typical peers.

The Rohr Chabad Jewish Center in Morgantown, West Virginia, serving students Jewish students at West Virginia University recently acquired a new larger building that will enable Chabad to reach out to the greater Jewish community as well.

The Rebbe Writes

15 Iyar, 5724 [1964]

I was sorry to hear from Rabbi - that you have not been feeling up to par recently. I trust that this letter will find you in improved health, and may G-d grant you a speedy and complete recovery, so that you should be able to continue your good work for a better and happier environment, in good health and with joy and gladness of the heart.

If you suspect that by saying "a better and happier" environment I have in mind something that has to do with the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], you are quite right, for the Torah is the true good, and the source of true happiness.

I wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge receipt of your letter in which you wrote about your participation in a symposium on the future of the American Jewish community as it will be one hundred and twenty years hence. Generally speaking, I take no pleasure prognosticating, even in regard to a more immediate future than one hundred and twenty years.

For one thing, there is the consideration that it is one of our basic principles of faith to wait and expect Moshiach every day, when the whole world will be established under the reign of the Al-mighty. But apart from this, everyone, even a non-religious person, can see clearly what unforeseen changes have taken place "overnight." Therefore, it serves no useful purpose to forecast what the state of affairs will be a century from now, however, this is a point of which you are not unaware, as is indicated in your letter.

I wholeheartedly agree with you that when a Jewish audience can be gathered together, the opportunity should not be wasted on empty platitudes, but should be made use of to the utmost, to provide them with a lasting inspiration which should be expressed in the daily life.

Of course, I do not know what kind of audience there is going to be in this particular instance. I believe, however, that the following observations are valid for any type of Jewish audience:

It is customary to find fault with the present generation by comparison with the preceding one. Whatever conclusions one may arrive at from this comparison, one thing is unquestionably true, namely that the new generation is not afraid to face the challenge.

I have in mind not only the kind of challenge which would make them at variance with the majority, but even the kind of challenge which calls upon sacrifices and changes in their personal life.

Some of our contemporary young people are quite prepared to accept this challenge with all its consequences, while others who may not as yet be ready to accept it, for one reason or another, at least show respect for those who have accepted it, and also respect for the one who has brought them face to face with this challenge. This is quite different from olden days, when it took a great deal of courage to challenge prevailing popular opinions and ideas, and a person who had the courage to do so was often branded as an impractical individual, a dreamer, etc.

Furthermore, and in my opinion this is also an advantage, many of our young people do not rest content with taking up a challenge which has to do only with a beautiful theory, or even deep thinking, but want to hear also about the practical application of such a theory, not only as an occasional experience, but as a daily experience; and that is the kind of idea which appeals to them most.

A further asset is the changed attitude towards the person who brings the challenge.

Even though it seems logical that the one who brings the challenge to the young people should have a background of many years of identification with and personification of the idea which he promulgates, this is no longer required or expected nowadays, when we are used to seeing quick and radical changes at every step in the physical world.

If this is possible in the physical world, it is certainly possible in the spiritual world, as our Sages of old had declared, "A person may sometimes acquire an eternity in a single instant." Thus, no individual can ignore his duty to share his newly-won truth, even if he has no record of decades of identification with it. As a matter of fact, this may even be an added advantage, in that it can impress on the audience a precedent...

continued in next issue

Today Is ...

9 Iyar

The Baal Shem Tov said: Every single thing one sees or hears is an instruction for his conduct in the service of G-d. This is the idea of avoda, service, to comprehend and discern in all things a way in which to serve G-d.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

On Wednesday, May 14, we will be celebrating Pesach Sheini - the Second Passover.

Every year, from the time of the Exodus from Egypt, on the fourteenth of Nissan, the Jews brought the Passover offering. This commandment was incumbent upon each Jew.

However, the Jews who were spiritually unclean, were forbidden to participate. They therefore complained, and cried out to Moses, "Why should we be different?" - How are we to achieve a similar level of closeness with G-d?

Moses, through Divine direction, informed them that, in fact, they would have a chance. On the fourteenth of Iyar they could bring the Passover offering.

This incident offers two lessons to us:

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, explained that Pesach Sheini proves that it is "never too late"; we always have a chance to make amends, improve.

An additional lesson relates to the way in which Pesach Sheini came about. According to Midrashic literature, the laws concerning Pesach Sheini were already "written in the Heavens." A new law wasn't created; G-d was just waiting for the people to request it.

Why is this so important? It is similar to the Third Holy Temple, which is all "ready to go" and missing only that we cry out for it. It is similar, also, to Moshiach, who is "just waiting for the signal" from us.

But, we must also remember that our request cannot be made mechanically.It must have the same quality of earnestness that our ancestors exhibited when they requested Pesach Sheini.

Thoughts that Count

Akavya ben Mehalel said: "Reflect upon three things and you will not come near sin: Know from where you came, and to where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give an accounting..." (Ethics 3:1)

Reflect upon three things - all three together. However, if you reflect on only one, or two, not only will they be ineffective, but such a meditation could even cause harm. If you reflect only on the first, you will come to the conclusion that you are not to blame for anything. If you reflect only on where you are going you might mistakenly believe that there is no ultimate judgment and accounting. Therefore, we are told to also reflect on "before Whom you are destined to give an accounting." All three aspects of this mediation are dependent on each other.

(Midrash Shmuel)

In addition to the obvious reference to the three concepts, this Mishna teaches a person that he must have three entities in mind and when he does so, he "will not come to sin." Generally, a person thinks about two entities, himself and G-d, for "I was created solely to serve my Creator." We must be aware of a third entity, the world at large which was created by G-d for a Jew to use in service of Him, i.e., that a Jew through his service should refine his body and his soul, and refine the world at large, transforming it into a dwelling for G-d.

(The Rebbe, 13 Iyar, 5751-1991)

Rabbi Chanina, the deputy High Priest, said: "Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of it, men would swallow one another alive." (3:2)

Since men's opinions are not uniform, and therefore they cannot get on together, they eventually come to the state of swallowing one another alive. Preventing this terrible occurrence is possible only because of the fear of the government.

(Biurim B'Pirkei Avot)

It Once Happened

Little Shloimeleh was the youngest of the family's nine children. He had a quick smile and intelligent eyes. Shloimeleh's favorite time was Friday afternoon, when his mother lit the Shabbat candles. He loved to watch them burn in their polished candlesticks.

But one Shabbat eve, when his mother had closed her eyes to recite the blessing, one of the candles fell on Shloimeleh's arm, badly burning him.

Time passed, and the burn eventually healed. But little Shloimeleh was left with an ugly scar on his forearm as a reminder of the incident.

Then WWII broke out, and Poland was invaded by the Germans. As part of the "final solution," all the Jews in Shloimeleh's town were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Reb Avraham, Shloimeleh's father, was forcibly separated from the rest of his family. It was the last time he would see his wife and children. Reb Avraham was later interred in a labor camp. Miraculously he survived the Holocaust, and eventually found himself in Russia.

Reb Avraham was now alone in the world. Physically exhausted and consumed with grief, he tried to lessen his pain by learning, praying, and teaching Torah and mitzvot (commandments) to Jewish children, many of whom had never been exposed to Judaism. Aside from organizing a secret yeshiva, he also served as a mohel (ritual circumciser). But of all his religious achievements, the tiny synagogue he established was closest to his heart.

Needless to say, Reb Avraham's activities were completely illegal; time and again he was cautioned by the Communist authorities. But Reb Avraham felt he had nothing to lose. After going through everything he had, what else could they do to him? He continued to spread Torah and mitzvot, and spent even more time in his little shul.

The most persistent of Reb Avraham's tormentors was a young Communist named Natishka. Reb Avraham could hardly take a step without being followed by him. Natishka repeatedly warned him that he would end up before a firing squad if he didn't shape up.

Around this time Reb Avraham decided to apply for an exit visa to Israel. He was very surprised when his request was approved. In truth, Reb Avraham had mixed feelings about leaving Russia. On the one hand, he was grateful for the opportunity to spend the rest of his days in the Holy Land. Yet on the other, he worried about the fate of his brethren. Who would keep the embers of Judaism burning after he was gone?

As the date of his departure grew near, Reb Avraham spent most of his time in his beloved synagogue. Emboldened by the prospect of imminent freedom, he abandoned some of his usual precautions.

One evening Reb Avraham entered the shul and lit several memorial candles in remembrance of his family. His eyes filled with tears as he recalled their faces. In a voice choked with emotion he began to recite Psalms, and the sound carried out into the street...

At that moment, Natishka happened to pass by and decided to investigate. When he saw what the Jew was up to he became incensed.

"When will you ever learn?" he screamed at him. "When will you finally give up your obsolete practices?" Once and for all, he would teach the Jew a lesson. He began to roll up his sleeves...

Reb Avraham remained tranquil. Having already been beaten many times, there was nothing new about the prospect of physical violence. "Shema Yisrael!" ("Hear O Israel"), he called out in a clear if somewhat trembling voice. "The L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One!"

It was then that he looked up and noticed Natishka's bare forearm, poised to strike. A long scar, evidence of an old burn, wound its way down his arm in a very familiar pattern...

"Shloimeleh!" Reb Avraham cried out. "Is that you, my son?"

The young Communist's face drained of color as his hand froze in midair. Inexplicably, his eyes were drawn to the candles' flames, as if they reminded him of something long hidden and repressed... A cry erupted from his throat as his eyes filled with tears. He embraced the elderly Jew and began to weep like a small child.

"Tatteh (father)!" he wailed inconsolably. "Tatteh, forgive me!"

Father and son marveled at how Divine Providence had brought them together. Not long afterward they both emigrated to Israel. And each week thereafter, as they gazed into the Shabbat candles, they pondered their indebtedness to them for their reunion.

Moshiach Matters

Pesach Sheini (the "Second Passover") occurs one month after Passover. It is for those who were ritually impure or too far away to offer the Passover sacrifice on Passover. It represents the second chance available to each Jew to reach one's spiritual goals. Why would a Jew who brought the Passover offering at its correct time need to mark Pesach Sheini? Jews are always awaiting Moshiach's arrival and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. If the Holy Temple is rebuilt during the time between Passover and Pesach Sheini, we will have to bring the Passover offering on Pesach Sheini. The commandment to await Moshiach obligates all of us to prepare for Pesach Sheini immediately after Passover.

(Dina Fraenkel, Kosher Spirit)

  1319: Emor1321: Bechukosai  
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