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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

June 26, 2015 - 9 Tamuz, 5775

1377: Chukas

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

Text VersionFor Palm Pilot
  1376: Korach1378: Balak  

Who Won?  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Teachings  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Who Won?

by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson

If there was ever a battle fought in vain, this was it. The year is 1924. Vladimir Lenin, the father of the Communist revolution, is dead. Jozef Stalin succeeds him as the new leader of the Soviet Union. During the next 30 years, he would murder 20 million of his own people. Jews and Judaism would be one of his primary targets. He sets up a special government organization, the Yevsektzye, to ensure that Russian Jewry in its millions embrace Communism, introducing a paradise constructed of bullets and gulags.

At his home in Leningrad, a 44-year-old rabbi, heir to some of the great Jewish leaders of Russian Jewry, summons nine young disciples. He offers them an opportunity to take responsibility for the survival of Judaism in the Soviet Union; to ensure that Jewish life and faith would survive the hellish darkness of Stalin's regime. He wants them to fight "till the last drop of blood," in his words.

They agree. He gives his hand to each of them as a sign that they are accepting an oath, an oath that would transform their destiny forever. "I will be the tenth." he says.

The nine men were dispatched throughout the country. With assistance from similar-minded colleagues they created an impressive underground network of Jewish activity that included Jewish schools, synagogues, mikvaot, adult Torah education, yeshivot, printing Jewish text books, providing rabbis for communities, teachers for schools, etc.

Over the 1920s and 1930s, these individuals built 600 (!) Jewish underground schools. Many of them stayed open for only a few weeks or months. When the KGB (the secret Russian police) discovered a school, the children were expelled, the teacher arrested. A new one was opened elsewhere.

One of the nine young men was sent to Georgia. Dozens of mikvaot were there, all shut down by the Communists. This young man decided to do something radical. He forged a letter from KGB headquarters in Moscow, instructing the local offices in Georgia to open two mikvaot within 24 hours. The local officials were deceived. Within a day, two mikvaot were open. Several months later, when they discovered the lie, they shut them down again.

And so it went. A mohel was arrested, and another one was dispatched to serve the community; a yeshiva was closed, and another one opened elsewhere; a synagogue was destroyed and another one opened its portals in secrecy.

But it sure seemed like a lost battle. Here was an individual rabbi, with a small group of pupils, staging an underground rebellion against a mighty empire that numbered in the hundreds of millions, and aspired to dominate the world. It was like an infant wrestling a giant. The situation seemed hopeless.

Finally, in 1927, the rabbi behind the counter-revolutionary work was arrested and sentenced to death. Foreign pressure and nothing less than a miracle convinced them to alter the sentence to 10 years in exile. It was then converted to three years, and then - quite unbelievable in the Soviet Regime where clergy and laymen were murdered like flies - he was completely exonerated. This week, the 12th of Tammuz, marks the anniversary of the day he was liberated from Stalin's death sentence and imprisonment.

The individual behind the mutiny was the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, who became the leader of Chabad in 1920, after the passing of his father. He selected nine of his young pupils to do battle with him. The one sent to Georgia, falsifying the KGB document, was my grandfather, Simon Yakabashvili (Jacobson), my father's father (1900-1953). He, together with hundreds of his colleagues, Chasidim throughout the Soviet Union, was arrested in 1938, tortured mercilessly and given a 25-year sentence in the Gulag. Most of his eight colleagues who accepted the oath never made it out of Stalin's hell. They perished in the Soviet Union. (My grandfather made it out, but died several years later in Toronto).

More than eight decades have passed. This passage of time gives us the opportunity to answer the question, who won? Stalin or Schneersohn? Eighty years ago, Marx's socialism and Lenin's Communism heralded a new era for humanity. Its seemingly endless power and brutality seemed unreachable.

Yet one man stood up, a man who would not allow the war machine of Mother Russia to blurr his vision, to eclipse his clarity. He knew with full conviction that evil might

thrive but it will die; G-dliness - embodied in Torah and its commandments - is eternal. He chose to invest in eternity.

He did not know how exactly it would work out in the end, but he knew that he had to sow seeds though the trees were being felled one by one. Cynics scoffed at him; close friends told him he was making a tragic mistake. Even many of his religious colleagues were convinced that he was fighting an impossible war.

But over 80 years later, this giant and what he represented have emerged triumphant. Today, in the former Soviet Union stand hundreds of synagogues, Jewish day schools, yeshivot, mikvaot, Jewish community centers. Hundreds of Jewish day camps are about to open up throughout the FSU attended by thousands of Jewish children who will enjoy a blissful summer coupled with the celebration of Jewish life.

Comrade Stalin is dead; Communism has faded away as hopelessly irrelevant and destructive. The ideology of the Soviet Empire which declared "Lenin has not died and Stalin will not die. He is eternal," is now a mockery. Stalin and Lenin are as dead as one can be. But the mikvaot built by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1927 are still here. And if you will visit the former Soviet Union this coming week, you will find tens of thousands of Jews celebrating Jewish life and benefitting from the vision of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe's vision. L'Chaim!

To subscribe to Rabbi Jacobson's weekly essay or view his classes, visit

Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion Chukat begins, "This is the statute of (chukat) the Torah..." The portion describes the special laws associated with the purification that comes about through the Red Heifer.

The word "chukat" refers to "statutes." When speaking about the different types of mitzvot (commandments), the Torah singles out chukim - statutes - as being unique. There is no reason given for the observance of chukim. We don't know of any material or spiritual advantage that will be garnered by their observance; we fulfill them simply because G-d commands us to.

There are some who explain that it is important to have such commandments to show that our Torah observance involves a commitment beyond our personal will. Even when we do not understand what G-d has commanded us, we are willing to carry out His commandments. According to this understanding, the observance of these mitzvot is rather dry. Yes, it is necessary, but there is really no warmth or vibrancy to it.

Not everyone observes chukim in this way, however. On the contrary, we see some people who have a special joy in fulfilling chukim. Why? Because chukim relate to a point in the soul that is above our own will and our understanding. In the observance of these mitzvot, a person identifies with G-d on His terms. He or she is doing what G-d wants because He wants it and for no other reason. In essence, that is the most encompassing form of satisfaction a person can have.

The above enables us to appreciate one of the unique dimensions of the era of the Redemption. In his book of Jewish law entitled "Mishne Torah," Moses Maimonides (the Rambam) states that "In that age, the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d." Indeed, the singleness of aspiration that characterizes the chukim will resonate through all mankind, as the Prophet states: "All the nations will be transformed to [speak] a pure language ... to serve Him with a single purpose." For our energies will focus on comprehending G-d's truth.

We have a multitude of different desires. Now it's true, the inner motivation for any of our desires is G-dliness. At present, however, that inner dimension is covered by many other externals. We think we are seeking things like love, wealth, or power. We aren't aware of the essential drive propelling our will. For in any experience, what we are really seeking is the G-dly truth it contains. In the era of the Redemption, by contrast, this truth will surface, and in everything that we do, we will appreciate the G-dly intent.

From Keeping in Touch, adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi E. Touger, published by Sichos in English

A Slice of Life

Do a Favor for Another
by Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Levkivker

One year on Simchat Torah, I walked to the Lantzuter shul (synagogue) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with a number of other Lubavitcher Chasidim in fulfillment of the Rebbe's directive to bring the joy of the holiday to Jews in other neighborhoods.

After sharing some teachings of the Rebbe and dancing with the congregants in celebration of Simchat Torah, we prepared to leave and walk back to Crown Heights. One of the shul's elder Chasidim asked us to wait. "I want to tell you a unique story," he said. Naturally, we remained to listen.

"Once, in the 1950s," the elder Chasid began, "two yeshiva students from Crown Heights came to this synagogue on Simchat Torah. I was then just a young boy. My father, of blessed memory, was the synagogue's sexton, and the students went up to him and asked if they could speak. My father told them that they had to ask the rabbi. The students wasted no time, and they went straight up the Lantzuter Rav. The Lantzuter Rav happily agreed to let the students share the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

"Afterwards, the Lantzuter Rav shared with my father and a number of others, a personal story he had with the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. I listened to the story, as well.

"The Lantzuter Rav began, 'Prior to the Second World War, there was a large and vibrant Jewish community in the city of Lantzut, located in southeastern Poland. Several thousand Jews lived in the city before the eve of Rosh Hashana, 1938, when Lantzut was occupied by the Nazis (may their name be erased). Ten days later, on Yom Kippur, the entire Jewish population, myself included, was expelled for allegedly being Communists. We were driven into Soviet occupied territory towards the San River.

" 'A stranger in a strange land, I began to wander from place to place, looking for somewhere I could rest from my weary journey. Then one day, I was stopped by the Soviet authorities. Since I had no identification documents and I couldn't speak Russian, I was placed under arrest. After a hasty trial, I was exiled to the frozen wastelands of Siberia.

" 'However, my hardships didn't end in Siberia,' the Lantzuter Rav continued. 'Libelous charges were lodged against me that I had passed secret information to the Poles. This amounted to sedition against the U.S.S.R., and if convicted, I could be sentenced to death, G-d forbid! In fact, 12 people had testified to my guilt! Furthermore, since I was a rabbi, the case aroused a great deal of interest, and many people came for the "trial," the results of which were determined well in advance.

" 'Under normal circumstances, there was no chance for me to survive such proceedings. Yet, I experienced a miracle. After the 'witnesses' completed their testimony, the judge pounded his gavel, turned me and said, 'You are charged with violating Statute #... The fact that you show ingratitude for Mother Russia, paying her with evil for the good she has done for you, after welcoming you with open arms from the fires of Poland, and your willingness to assist the enemies of the Soviet people - all this pales in comparison to your greatest crime. You are a "rabbiner," a Jew, and it is written in your Torah, "Pray for the welfare of the government." Therefore, as a "rabbiner," how can you possibly act contrary to your Torah and commit treason against your country?'

" 'Your Honor is correct,' I replied to the judge. 'I am a practicing rabbi, and our Torah condemns such conduct. However, it never crossed my mind for a moment to offer aid and comfort to our country's enemies. All the testimony brought against me by these witnesses is completely false. I have never committed treason against Russia and I never will,' I emphatically declared.

" 'To my great astonishment, the judge accepted my plea. He rapped his gavel again, declared that he had found me innocent of all charges, and ordered my immediate release!

" 'I was stunned. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be set free. When the hall emptied and I left the courtroom, the judge approached me and placed a note in my hand. He had written that he wanted to see me in his home - at eleven p.m.

" 'I came to the judge's house at the appointed time. The judge welcomed me with great respect. He then offered me a seat in his living room and proceeded to tell me what had impelled him to clear me of all charges.

" 'The judge began, "Just before I was drafted into the Red Army, I went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, to receive his blessing. The Rebbe looked at me with his holy eyes, and said to me cryptically: 'When you reach a position of greatness - don't forget to do a favor for another Jew." '

"The years passed. In the army I was quickly promoted. After my discharge, having proven my loyalty to Russia, I received high-ranking positions with the local Ministry of Justice, eventually being appointed to serve as a judge. When you arrived in the hall, my eyes began to dim. I saw the rows of witnesses before me, and I realized that if I would dare to try to rule in your favor, the people in the courtroom would tear us apart. I was about to render my decision in accordance with Soviet law, when I suddenly envisioned my holy audience with the Rebbe from years ago. I again saw the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, looking at me with piercing eyes and saying to me, 'When you reach a position of greatness - don't forget to do a favor for another Jew.'

"I decided then and there that no matter what happened, I would risk my life to exonerate you. G-d Alm-ghty helped and He placed the right words into my mind, which thank G-d, resulted in your acquittal and our both leaving the courtroom, safe and sound..."

Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine

What's New

Learning Something From Everything

Learning Something From Everything is a sequel to the book written by Rabbi Dovid Shraga Polter entitled Listening to Life's Messages. Learning Something From Everything discusses what we can learn from virtually everything that exists in our world. With original insight culled from among 200 published volumes of the Rebbe's scholarly works. Newly released by Sichos in English.

New Emissaries

Rabbi Sholom and Simi Stiefel are arriving soon in California to establish Chabad of Arcadia and Temple City, northeast of downtown Los Angeles located in the San Gabriel Valley. The Stiefels will be focusing on Adult Education, Holiday Programs, Shabbos services and youth programs.

The Rebbe Writes

7th of Nissan, 5740 [1980]

Greeting and Blessing:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter in which you write on various aspects of Torah and Yiddishkeit [Judaism] etc., requesting a reply.

No doubt you understand that these are topics that can hardly be discussed adequately in a letter. Besides, there is no need for it, inasmuch as here is a wealth of articles and books in which all aspects of Yiddishkeit have been discussed, and you can also discuss them personally with knowledgeable people in your community, especially as you mention several by name.

However, inasmuch as you have written to me, I will discuss very briefly several pertinent points.

There are matters over which a human being has control and can change and not merely a human being, but also in the so-called animal kingdom, certain species can adapt themselves to changing conditions in terms of habitat, diet, etc. But insofar as one's essence is concerned, this is not something that is left to a person's choice. By way of a well known analogy, our Sages cite the example of a fish which, when taken out of its vital element, the water, will for a time feel very distressed and could not survive. Yet there are occasions when some fishes jump out of the water and are trapped on the shore. Unless they can in some way get back to their own element, their fate is inevitable.

The Torah and mitzvos [commandments] and Yiddishkeit in general, are for a Jew what water is to a fish. There have always been Jews, individuals or groups, who attempted to jump out of their element and seek other pastures. Historically, this resulted in one of two ways: either they returned to the fold or were eventually lost to the Jewish people. The only difference is that insofar as a fish is concerned, it can be out of its element for a relatively short period of time, but in the case of Jews who deviate from authentic Judaism, G-d gives them a longer opportunity to return, and this may sometimes take years. If one will take the trouble to reflect on our Jewish history, which is more than three thousand years old, it will be seen that there have been deviating movements ever since the Golden Calf worshippers right after the Torah was given at Sinai but, as mentioned, the results have always been the same, either-or: either they did teshuva [returned to Jewish observance] or were completely lost through assimilation and the like.

Noting in your letter that you are about to graduate from college and surely have some acquaintance with the scientific method, I trust it is unnecessary to explain to you that in every branch of true science, conclusions are made on the basis of actual experience and facts, even if the facts in themselves are not understood fully. The true scientist will accept the facts and will try or understand them, but it would be both illogical and unscientific to ignore the facts only because they are not fully understood.

To summarize the above, at any rate briefly: while a Jew has the choice of being one hundred percent observant or less, since the Creator has given every human being free choice of conduct, such a decision is limited only to the actual conduct, but the inevitable results are clear, inasmuch as no Jew can change his essence.

As for the problem of one's upbringing or environment, etc., there is surely no need to explain to you that every grown-up and mature person can become master of his conduct and way of life regardless of how these were in the past. Certainly one's upbringing and environment can make it easier or more difficult to carry out the proper decision, but once one has decided to make the necessary change, "there is nothing that stands in the way of the will," as our Torah, Toras Emes, assures us. Moreover, since G-d expects every Jew to live up fully to the Will of G-d, He certainly provides the necessary capacities to do so, so that in the final analysis it is a matter of one's own personal will and determination.

I trust that the above lines, though scanty in terms of the subject matter, will suffice to provide food for thought, to help you reflect deeply on your personal problems and make the proper decision, even if this may mean giving up certain material conveniences and pleasures. But this is a small price to pay for the great and everlasting reward of fulfillment as a Jew, with the consequent satisfaction and peace of mind.

... With blessing,


He who says...what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours - this is a median trait, and some say that this is the trait of the people of Sodom (Ethics of the Fathers 5:10)

An individual who behaves in this manner, not wanting anything from others and unwilling to give of himself, does not seriously threaten the existence of the world. Yet, if this same attitude is adopted by an entire society, it leads to the degradation and indifference of Sodom, where poor people died in the streets from hunger. (Lachmai Toda)

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This coming Monday is the twelfth day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz. This day marks both the birthday of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, and his liberation from Soviet prison and exile.

When the Bolshevik revolution succeeded in overthrowing the Czarist regime in 1917, it set about destroying religion. Judaism, and particularly Chabad-Lubavitch, was a prime target. The Previous Rebbe, devoted himself to keeping the flame of Judaism alive in the early days of Communist Russia.

So powerful was the Previous Rebbe's impact that at one point he was even offered a deal by the Communist government! He would be allowed to continue to support rabbis, ritual slaughterers, etc., and even continue to encourage Jews to attend prayer services on one condition: He had to stop educating the children in the ways of the Torah.

To the Previous Rebbe this was unacceptable, and he refused, saying, "If there are no kid goats, there will be no adult goats..." Without the proper Jewish education for our children, we as a nation, cannot survive. And even when the Previous Rebbe reached the shores of America, he continued to strengthen Jewish life by establishing schools here as well.

The Previous Rebbe showed great courage and determination when it came to preserving the Jewish way of life through Jewish education. He stood up to both Communist oppression and to those here in America who told him that it couldn't be done, that yeshivot couldn't thrive in this modern new world. His legacy, Chabad schools the world over, has outlived Soviet Communism and at the same time continues to prove that those who doubted him were wrong.

The Previous Rebbe was a living example of his teachings. His strength and courage were not for his own personal needs, but for the spiritual needs of the entire Jewish people.

Let us stand strong together, and demand from G-d the thing we need most, the arrival of our righteous Moshiach and the true and complete Redemption.

Thoughts that Count

This is the statute of the Torah which the L-rd has commanded (Num. 19:2)

The sin of the Golden Calf was due to a lack of faith; the mitzva of the red heifer is therefore a chuka, a commandment whose reason is not revealed to us, to "counteract" that sin: The only reason we observe it is our faith.

(Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorky)

Comments Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator: "Such is My decree: you do not have permission to second-guess [the Torah]." The same word for permission appears in Ethics of the Fathers (3:15): "Everything is foreseen, yet permission [freedom of choice] is granted." Permission implies that something is possible; "you do not have permission" implies that second-guessing G-d is outside the realm of possibility. In truth, it is against the Jew's nature to question a Divine decree. If doubts do exist, they are only the product of the Evil Inclination.

(The Rebbe)

Aaron shall be gathered unto his people (Num. 20:24)

Why does the Torah use this unusual phrase to mean that Aaron was about to pass away? Because despite the fact that Aaron would no longer be alive in the physical sense, his positive character traits and exemplary behavior would be "gathered up" and perpetuated by the Jewish people forever.

(Peninei Torah)

It Once Happened

by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe's birthday and the anniversary of his release from imprisonment by the Communists are both on the 12th of Tamuz. The following stories took place during and immediately after the Previous Rebbe's imprisonment.

Immediately after being arrested the Previous Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn) made a firm resolution in his mind that he would pay no attention to his captors, as though they posed no threat to him at all. Several days later, after he had been exposed to the murder and sadism of the prison, he was taken into a room and ordered to sign certain papers. As per his resolution he paid no attention to the demand and was beaten. But still he remained unmoved. Furious, one of the interrogators pulled out a pistol, put it to the Rebbe's head and said, "This little toy has convinced everyone to do what we say."

This fellow, like all the other prison staff, was a murderer and there was absolutely no reason for him not to simply pull the trigger. He had obviously done so many times before.

The Rebbe replied matter of factly, "That 'toy' scares people like you who have only one world and many gods. But I have one G-d and two worlds [physical and spiritual] so it does not scare me."

The guard inexplicitly did nothing.

After a few days, the Rebbe's fate was sealed. He was found guilty of subversion and was sentenced to death. Through world pressure, the sentence was commuted to three years in Siberian exile.

Then, even more inexplicitly, the Rebbe was given special permission to leave the jail three days early, visit his family for several hours and then travel, at his own expense, to Kostroma, his town of exile.

This was a true miracle. Every instant in the prison was a true danger to his life; he was easy prey for the anti-Semitic guards and prisoners. Hundreds of Jews "disappeared" or "died" daily and he could easily be one of them.

But to everyone's amazement, as soon as he realized that according to their itinerary he would have to travel on Shabbat, he refused to leave until after Shabbat ended. He actually stayed extra time in that hell so as to not desecrate the Sabbath.

Why did the Rebbe do this? According to Jewish law he was permitted to travel on Shabbat in order to leave that place, as every additional moment there was a threat to his life. But the Rebbe was determined to show even his evil captors that G-d, not Stalin, is the Boss of the world. And that they were powerless against the Torah.

The third story took place that Sunday as he boarded the train to leave the prison. We must remember that the Rebbe was imprisoned for teaching anti-communist doctrines and everyone connected to him was immediately suspected of the same.

Nevertheless, a large crowd of people threw caution to the wind and came to see him off. They could not forego the opportunity of drawing inspiration from the Rebbe.

Just moments before the train left, the Rebbe made a stirringly emotional and revolutionary speech. Here is a translation (from Yiddish) of some of what he said:

"We must make one thing known to all the nations are on the face of the earth: That only our bodies are in exile and servitude to the gentiles, but our souls never entered exile and were never servants to the other nations.

"We must announce and advertise before the entire world that anything that relates to our Jewish religion, the Torah, the commandments and even the customs, can never be changed by opinions. We Jews have no outside forces or opinions that can change us. We must declare with the greatest Jewish stubbornness with thousands of years of Jewish self-sacrifice, 'Never touch My anointed and My prophets do not harm.'

"We must pray that G-d give us the proper strength to not be affected in any way by these physical tribulations but rather to treat them with joy! That every, punishment we receive, G-d forbid, for opening a children's school, teaching Torah or doing the commandments should give us more enthusiasm in our holy task of strengthening Judaism. Remember! The jails and camps are temporary. But Torah, the commandments and the Jewish people are eternal..."

In other words, to a crowd filled with informers and secret police he exhorted Russian Jewry to continue the very "subversive" work for which he was imprisoned.

Moshiach Matters

There is a profound link between the precept of the "red heifer" and the principle of Messianic redemption: Mitzvot (commandments) signify life. When one follows the commandments one attaches himself to the Al-mighty and draws spiritual vitality from the Source of All Life. Sin signifies death. Violating G-d's will disrupts attachment to the Creator, thus bringing about the "impurity of death." Both the red cow and the Redemption effect purification. For just as the ashes of the red cow are used for removing a legal state of impurity, the Final Redemption with Moshiach will purify the entire people of Israel from any trace of deficiency in their bond with G-d.

(Peninei HaGeula)

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