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It's like a particle of dust in your eye, or a speck of coal in a diamond. Sometimes even the tiniest thing make big problems.
Which is why, when you think about it, it's not at all surprising that the ego can wreak havoc. Of course, you and I know that it's not our egos making the problems. We only have little egos, just big enough to encourage us to be goal oriented, take pride in our work, not be someone's doormat. But the other guy - our neighbor, spouse, boss, co-worker - now he/she has a real ego problem!
This Shabbat afternoon, in Ethics of the Fathers (5:21) we read: "Whoever causes the many to have merit, no sin shall come through him; but one who causes the many to sin shall not be granted the opportunity to repent. Moses was himself meritorious and caused the many to attain merit, therefore, the merit of the many are attributed to him.... Jeraboam ben Nevat himself sinned and caused the many to sin, therefore the sins of the many are attributed to him."
Our Sages have taught: "G-d disqualifies no one, but welcomes all; the gates of repentance are open at all times; whoever wants to enter may enter."
Yet, so great a travesty is it when one leads others to sin that "one who causes the many to sin shall not be granted the opportunity to repent." There was, however, one exception - the very same Jeraboam ben Nevat mentioned above!
The prophet Achiya prophesied to Jeraboam that he would eventually be the king of ten of the tribes of Israel. Upon King Solomon's death, Jeraboam successfully led a revolt against the king's successor. Eventually, to distance his kingdom from the other two tribes, Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, Jeraboam set up altars and encouraged idol worship. Thus, "Jeraboam ben Nevat himself sinned and caused the many to sin."
For various reasons which we won't go into now, G-d chose to give Jeraboam the chance to rectify his sins. But this unique opportunity was not all that G-d was offering. "Repent," G-d urged Jeraboam. "And then I, and you and the son of Jesse [King David] will walk together in the Garden of Eden." (Talmud, Sanhedrin) G-d was offering Jeraboam that He would bring Moshiach if the wicked king would only repent!
And here's where the ego comes in. For, though Jeraboam should have been overwhelmed with gratitude to G-d for giving him this unprecedented opportunity to repent, though he had led millions of Jews astray, he asked one very simple but very egotistical question. "Who will go first? I or the son of Jesse?"
Hadn't Jeraboam just been told by G-d that he would go first? Hadn't he, for that matter, just been given the most amazing opportunity to repent? And, in addition, to walk together with G-d and King David in the Garden of Eden?
From Jeraboam's query we see that he didn't have a problem with repenting per se, nor with belief in G-d versus idols. His problem was his ego. Jeraboam was demanding assurance. "Who will go first? I or the son of Jesse?"
So G-d told Jeraboam, "the son of Jesse will go first."
And Jeraboam replied, "Then I will not repent."
Jeraboam had it all! He had the unheard-of opportunity to repent. He had the opportunity to bring his entire generation to repentance. He had the opportunity to walk together with G-d and King David in the Garden of Eden.
But he could not put aside his ego long enough to accept G-d's offer.
"Who will go first? I or the son of Jesse?"
Jeraboam was the proverbial "other guy" with the ego problem. But, of course, you and I would never have let our egos get in the way. Let's not let our egos get in the way of accepting G-d's magnanimous offers that He presents to us each day. Like the chance to be genuinely happy for someone else; to hold one's tongue; to smile instead of responding; to do any of dozens of good deeds and mitzvot (commandments) that come our way each day. And then, very soon, you and I will walk together to greet Moshiach, may it happen now!
With this week's Torah portion, Bamidbar, we begin the fourth of the Five Books of Moses, known as "Numbers."
Although the Hebrew word "bamidbar" means literally "in the wilderness," the name of the entire book is derived from the fact that it opens with the commandment to count the number of Jews in the Sinai desert.
Obviously, G-d did not need the results of a census to know the exact number of individuals, as Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator explains, the real reason behind the census was to "demonstrate how much they are loved" - to express G-d's love for the Jewish people.
This seems like an illogical premise. How does conducting a census demonstrate G-d's love for His people? On the contrary, when a census is taken, no consideration is given for differences. The illiterate and the scholar are both counted as one, no more and no less. The rich and the poor, the virtuous and the not-so-virtuous are equal in the eyes of the census taker.
In truth, however, it is precisely here that G-d's immeasurable love for every single Jew - without exception - is most amply demonstrated.
As far as G-d is concerned, a person's individual talents, personality traits or other external characteristics are unimportant. What is significant to G-d is only the essential inner quality of every Jew - his soul - in which respect all Jews are truly equal.
As human beings, the way we judge our fellow man is sometimes predicated on various conditions: wealth, intelligence, social standing, etc. Because our opinions are based on qualities that are temporary and subjective, they too are subject to modification if circumstances change, i.e., if the rich man loses his wealth or the wise man's knowledge is no longer pertinent.
If, however, we ignore external factors and value our fellow Jew solely because of his essential nature, all Jews will be equal and truly worthy in our estimation.
With this in mind, we can understand how a census is an explicit statement of G-d's unconditional love: G-d does not love us because of our superior qualities or good deeds, or because we agreed to accept and obey His Torah at Mount Sinai. If this were the case, His love would be conditional and would cease, G-d forbid, if we stopped fulfilling His commandments.
The command to conduct a census emphasizes that G-d's relationship with the Jew transcends all external considerations and stems solely from the essential bond with Him that exists by virtue of the Jewish soul.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 8
The Binding of a Jew
by Zev Gotkin
I was 16 years old and I was in the city of Venice, Italy, on a family vacation. After having lunch with a wealthy Kuwaiti family whom I had met during my travels, I thought to myself: "I doubt anything more interesting is going to happen today." It was with that frame of mind that I decided to walk back to the hotel where my family was staying.
As I made my way out of San Marco's square and walked alongside the famous Doge's palace, I noticed two men in the garb of Chasidic Jews walking past me. Despite their black hats, dark suits, and long beards and my jean-shorts and oversized t-shirt sporting an image of Bob Marley, I felt a sense of Jewish connection with them. As they strode past me I gave them a subtle nod.
The two men stopped abruptly. "Are you Jewish?" one of them asked me excitedly in a thick accent I could not place. I was taken aback. Why were these two men hovering around me and asking if I was a member of the tribe?
"Yes..." I replied nervously.
"And is your mother Jewish?"
"Yes..." I replied.
"Would you like to put on tefillin today?" One of them reached into a bag he was carrying and took out two small black leather boxes attached to black leather straps.
"What is that?" I asked, curiously.
The two men looked at each other before proceeding to explain this classic Jewish ritual."Were you given a Bar Mitzva?" one of them probed.
"Yes, I had a Bar Mitzva," I replied.
"Really?" one of them asked in surprise. "You had a Bar Mitzva and you don't know what are tefillin?"
"Ok," he said. After making sure one more time that my mother was Jewish, he asked me again if I would like to put on the "tefillin." He explained that he and his friend would help me to put them on. "It will not take long," he cajoled.
Crazy thoughts swirled around in my head. Why were these two bearded individuals so interested in my Jewishness and why did they want to wrap leather boxes around me? Maybe these two men were thieves that wanted to tie me up with the leather straps so that they could then easily go through my pockets and snatch my wallet or whatever else I had on me. After all, Venice was notorious for pickpockets. Or perhaps they were terrorists...It was a post-9/11 world so this was a notion to be taken seriously. "A terrorist would never be caught dead dressed like that," I convinced myself. I glanced around. There had to be hundreds of tourists and other people of various walks of life milling about. I hesitantly agreed to humor these two gentleman. I reasoned that since I was in a public place and there were many people in the vicinity, I could call out and receive assistance if I found myself in danger.
They slowly wrapped me up with the Jewish ritual prayer objects. It felt sort of awkward and uncomfortable in the hot Mediterranean sun to be having such foreign-looking objects bound tightly to my arm and head. One of the Chasidim told me that now we were going to recite a short Hebrew prayer known as the "Shema." Shema literally means "hear" and the prayer is best described as the credo of the Jewish faith. Luckily, I already knew the first line by heart - something I remembered from my Hebrew school days. I recited the paragraph that follows the first line responsively with one of the individuals who had helped me wrap the tefillin.
"Mazel tov," the two Chasidim exclaimed as they placed the tefillin back in their cases. "You just did a mitzva (commandment)! Where do you live?"
"New York, " I replied, feeling a strange sense of accomplishment mixed with confusion about what had just taken place.
"Oh, New York," one of the black-hatters said enthusiastically. He reached into his sport jacket pocket and handed me a card. The card displayed a photo of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Below the photo was printed the address: 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY. On the back of the card was the traditional Jewish prayer for travelers, in English.
I took the card, unsure of what to do with it, and placed it in my wallet. I bid the men farewell and I went on my way.
It was not until about three years later that I would come in contact with the mitzva of tefillin again. For a long time I didn't quite understand what had happened to me that afternoon in Venice. Nevertheless, I saved the card and whipped it out as a conversation piece when telling interested parties about my 'random' Jewish experience. Sometime later I began to recite the first line of the "Shema" prayer before going to sleep for reasons that I cannot really explain to this day.
I later discovered that my experience of being asked to wrap tefillin by a couple of strangers was not so unique. Chabad-Lubavitch is known for stopping Jews in public and asking them if they would like to participate in certain mitzvot such as putting on tefillin or lighting Shabbat candles.
During my college years I began to grow increasingly interested in my Jewish heritage and I attended classes and Shabbat dinners sponsored by various Jewish organizations. Initially, I did not think there was any connection between my newfound love for Judaism and my experience in Venice several years prior. However, Chasidic thought teaches that everything that happens to us in our daily lives is connected and happens for a good reason. Nothing is "random." Today, I am an observant Jew. During my journey of becoming observant, I kept the card with the picture of the Rebbe in my wallet.
On occasion I will now ask a fellow Jew if he would like to put on tefillin. I never pressure, but if the other person is willing, I help him fulfill this important mitzva. Sometimes we never know how one small act will impact another person or the world around us. Therefore, we should never think we are powerless to affect positive change. I wonder if those two rabbinical students in Venice know whatever became of that kid from New York.
Rabbi Yehuda and Chaya Matusof got off to a running start at Chabad House of Greater Hartford, Connecticut as youth directors. Camp Gan Israel is their first major project.
Rabbi Mendy and Mussy Posner have arrived in Boston, Massachusetts where they focus primarily expanding activities at Northeastern University as well as serving Jewish students Wentworth College, the New England Conservatory, Massachusetts College of Art, MCPHS, and the MFA.
The Mesivta High School of Coral Springs, Florida, recently moved into a newly renovated 7,500 square foot, two-story building. The facility boasts a spacious Beis Midrash/Study hall, classrooms, cafeteria/assembly space, Judaica library and recreation lounge.
20th of Sivan, 5721 
Greeting and Blessing:
I received your recent letter, as well as the previous two.
With regard to your study program, I believe I have already suggested to you that you should discuss this matter both with . . . as well as with your friends who know you and can also evaluate the efforts that may be entailed, etc. It has been said that a good solution comes as a result of many consultations.
You write that you wonder why G-d does not help you, etc. This surprises me, for surely you have had many occasions to recognize G-d's kindnesses to you. Every one of us receives G-d's blessings daily and that is why we recite in the morning prayer twenty blessings to thank G-d for His daily kindnesses. On the other hand, the fact that you feel some dissatisfaction could be applied to good use, in making growing efforts to improve your spiritual position as well as to increase the benefits bestowed on others.
With regard to your question about a Jewish girl who wants to learn in Gateshead or in Beis Yaakov in London, I do not understand why you should be opposed to this. For, at her age, it is just as important, and perhaps even more important, to learn in an environment which is permeated with the utmost degree of Yiras Shomayim [awe of Heaven], and where she would have good friends of her own age, etc. For all these reasons Gateshead would be the ideal place for her.
On the question of translation and the changes which you find necessary to introduce this is also something which would be well to discuss with other people locally. Above all, a translation must always be a free translation, which is also the case of all translations that are made here, for the important thing is to convey them in a fluent and readable language.
There was no general message for Shovuos, but there was a special message for the delegates of the Convention of N'shei Chabad, a copy of which is enclosed, and which it is hoped you will make ample use of.
18th of Sivan, 5719 
Greeting and Blessing:
After the long interval, I received your letter of June 15th, and I was pleased to read in it that all is well with you, and that you are maintaining the study period of which we spoke when you were here.
Needless to say, I am sorry to note that nothing has materialized as yet in the matter of a Shidduch [marriage match]. I hope, however, that you will be able to concentrate on it from now on, and in a way that accords with the teachings of our Torah, Toras Chaim [the Torah of Life].
With regard to the question of a vacation trip to the Holy Land, it would be advisable if you have friends and acquaintances there who would be helpful in the matter of a Shidduch, if by then, nothing materializes here. As for the question of vaccination, etc., which you would require if you make the trip in November, there is no basis for any anxiety in that respect. However, as indicated, if a suitable Shidduch should present itself here before that time, the trip would not be advisable at this time for many reasons.
You ask when is the proper time to say the daily quota of Tehillim [Psalms]. Generally speaking, the best time to say it is immediately after the morning prayers. However, if for some reason you are pressed for time, it could be said throughout the day, from sunlight to sunset....
"If you go in My statutes."Our Sages interpret the word "if" as a plea, in the sense of "if only you would go in My statutes." G-d's pleading (as it were) with Israel to keep the Torah, in itself aids a Jew and gives him the ability to remain steadfast in his choice of the good. Moreover, "...you go in My statutes" - the soul then progresses.
With the advent of Moshiach, there will be revealed the superior quality of the traits of simplicity and wholeheartedness found in the avoda of simple folk who pray and recite Psalms with simple sincerity.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The 12 months on the Jewish calendar each correspond to one of the Twelve Tribes. Sivan, the month that we bless this week, corresponds to Zevulun.
The name Zevulun means a "permanent residence," which is an allusion to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Symbolically, it stands for the holy abode that all Jews who are involved in worldly affairs establish in the world.
Our Patriarch Jacob gave all his sons a blessing before he passed away. The tribe of Zevulun, he said, would dwell on the coast of Israel and be involved in maritime affairs. Moses said that they would conduct their business with joy, and provide financial support to the tribe of Yisachar. In fact, the tribes of Zevulun and Yisachar enjoyed a symbiotic relationship: Yisachar sat and studied Torah all day, while Zevulun engaged in business to support him. However, the Torah mentions Zevulun's blessing even before Yisachar's to emphasize how important and honorable it is to subsidize the study of Torah.
The flag of Zevulun bore the emblem of a ship, through which G-d's message was brought to the world. All of Zevulun's business transactions were conducted according to Torah law, in fulfillment of G-d's desire for a "dwelling place in the world." The tribe of Zevulun had a profound impact on the non-Jewish merchants with whom they came in contact, many of whom were moved to convert to Judaism.
The Baal Shem Tov used the analogy of a ship and the ocean to refer to the descent of the soul into a physical body. In the same way that the sea conceals everything that lies underwater, so too does the flesh cover and obscure the soul. A Jew must break through the limitations imposed by the body in order to experience his connection with G-d.
Some seafarers are fortunate to have vessels that provide security and protection, while others are more vulnerable to the water's danger. Similarly, while some Jews are privileged to grow up in an authentic Jewish environment, others lack the opportunity to benefit from a traditional Torah education. It is therefore incumbent upon those who possess the "boats" and "life preservers" to descend into the murky waters, and reach out to those who are less knowledgeable.
There were ten generations from Noah to Abraham to indicate how great is His patience...until Abraham our father came and received the reward of all of them (Ethics of the Fathers, 5:2)
The generations before Noah had no redeeming virtues whatsoever. They "repeatedly angered G-d" and lived in constant friction, conflict and discord. In contrast, although the generations before Abraham also "repeatedly angered G-d," they at least shared a kindred spirit and treated each other with love. But although their conduct generated reward, they themselves were unfit to receive it. Because Abraham, unlike Noah, sought to influence the people around him for good, he "received the reward" of all the comradely deeds of the generations that preceded him.
(Likutei Sichot, Vol. III)
A 20-year-old should pursue a living (Ethics, 5:22)
The first 20 years of a man's life should be largely devoted to toiling in Torah (beginning at age five): five years dedicated to Scripture, five years entirely Mishna, and five years devoted to Talmud. This method of learning is not designed to have an effect on the world, as such, but rather on the person himself, so that he will develop properly. From the age of 20, a man's duty is to be a "soldier." He must go to war to conquer the world and make it a fitting dwelling place for G-d by fulfilling the mitzvot (commandments).
(Biurim L'Pirkei Avot)
The world was created by means of ten [Divine] utterances (Ethics, 5:1)
According to the principles of Torah numerology, five represents a level of G-dliness above all limitation, while ten reflects the structure of our finite, material world. The intent of this chapter of Ethics of the Fathers is to reveal the G-dliness which transcends all limitations within the context of our material existence.
(Sefer HaSichot 5751, Vol. II)
The sad and often tragic history of the Marranos of Spain and Portugal began more than a hundred years before the Expulsion in 1492, and continued for several hundred years after. The bloody pogroms that started in Spain in 1391 forced many Jews to accept Christianity in order to save their lives. These Jews were, from that time forth, under the watchful eyes of the Inquisition, a clerical tribunal set up to apprehend backsliding "New Christians."
On the slightest evidence, people were arrested, tortured, and often burned at the stake for the "sin" of secretly practicing Judaism. In spite of the terror of the Inquisition, many Jewish families continued observing the mitzvot (commandments) in secret. One such family was the Nunez family of Portugal.
Over the generations, the secret of their Jewishness had been handed down from father to son and mother to daughter. Three members of the family had paid with their lives for their loyalty to their faith: Clara, Isabella and Helen were all sentenced to death in 1632.
The family had branches in Spain and Portugal. The Portuguese family was considered among the aristocracy of that country. The head of that family, Samuel, or as he was known in Portuguese, Ribiero Nunez, was the court physician.
On the surface Samuel was a loyal Catholic, never arousing the slightest suspicion that he was a secret Jew. But the Inquisition set about to discover his secret.
One fanatical member of the tribunal succeeded in planting a spy in his household - a servant who was instructed to note all of the family activities and report back with his findings. Indeed, he returned to the tribunal with the news that the Samuel Nunez family was seen observing certain Jewish rituals.
Samuel Nunez's arrest caused a sensation in the land. A personal friend as well as physician to the king, Dr. Nunez was widely admired by the nobility. Although the king normally refrained from interfering with the actions of the Inquisition, he now used his influence to free the doctor.
The Inquisition freed him, but on the condition that an observer be installed in his home to watch for any questionable activities. Samuel Nunez decided that he had better plan an escape. It would be difficult to elude the spying eyes in his household, but Dr. Nunez seized upon a brilliant idea. Dr. Nunez invited many of his distinguished friends to an elaborate banquet at his home. After the meal he announced that a grand surprise awaited them. His yacht was anchored outside his home on a nearby river, and he would be treating them to a lovely after-dinner cruise.
The tipsy guests boarded the ship in happy expectation of more entertainment. By the time they sobered up and realized they were far from shore, the Nunez family was well on their way to freedom in England. For, the "yacht" was a well-appointed British battleship commissioned by Dr. Nunez for the purpose of bringing his family to freedom. The surprised passengers were assured that provisions were in place for their return voyage, but the Nunezes would be remaining abroad, since their lives were in jeopardy in Portugal.
Careful planning had led to the success of his secret plan. Relatives in England were waiting for the Nunez family, and when they arrived there, they joined a group of Jewish refugees bound for the British Colonies of America.
In the summer of 1733 the Jews arrived in Savannah, Georgia, where Governor James Edward Oglethorpe provided them with the land they would need for homes and farming. When a protest was lodged by English trustees of the colony, saying, "We do not wish to make the American Colonies a Jewish settlement," Oglethorpe, an honest, liberal-minded man, ignored it.
Angry protests continued to issue from England to disenfranchise the Jews, and although the governor made a pretense of obeying, land records from that time show the Nunez family received the deed to six farms in the Savannah area.
Due to the continued anti-Jewish pressure, Dr. Nunez moved his family to Charleston, South Carolina for a time, later returning to Georgia, where he lived out his life. The doctor's son-in-law located in New York, where he became one of the leading members of the Spanish-Portuguese congregation there.
Adapted from The Storyteller, Kehot Publication Society
The exile has caused us travail in regard to our material welfare, and similarly, has prevented us from reaching our true potential in the service of Gd. Indeed, it is impossible for us to appreciate how much the exile has hindered us, for we are all children of the exile. We have grown up in exile and it dominates our thought processes. This, however, will be brought to an end in the near future. Through teshuva (returning to our source), each person will establish a connection with the essence of his soul. And this will lift us and the entire world above the limitations of the exile, into "the era which is all rest and Shabbat for eternity."
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbat Bamidbar, 1991)