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by Rabbi Uriel Vigler
Last year at this time, I visited a lion park in South African with my family. Having grown up in Africa, I've always loved wildlife and been fascinated by animals, especially the king-the lion.
This time, the park was offering a new feature-"walking with the lions." Essentially, guests are offered the opportunity to enter the lion park and walk alongside the lions in their natural habitat for an hour or so. And these are not baby cubs, they're fully grown beasts!
It seemed pretty dangerous, but we decided to give it a go.
We walked with the lions, watching them live their life in their own environment. We watched them eat their dinner and climb on trees. For over an hour we watched them, and we were even able to pat them.
Honestly, I was terrified. Despite my guide's assurance that he had pepper spray and a stick in case something went wrong, I highly doubted a bit of pepper spray would be enough to save us from the rage of this powerful king of all animals if anything went wrong!
Thank G-d we emerged safe and sound and it was a beautiful and thrilling experience.
Jewish mystical teachings discuss the three "main" organs that animals and humans both have: brain ("mo-ach" in Hebrew), heart ("lev") and liver ("kaved"). Taking the first letter of each word spells "melech" - king.
A human being walks on two legs, his/her head is above the heart. When the brain rules the heart, he is a king (or queen). An animal, however, walks on all fours so its brain and heart are on the same level. A lion is ruled by its instincts.
Our guide explained that there was no danger because these lions grew up in captivity. They are tame. They have never attacked. They are used to human beings. But the truth is that a lion can never be fully tamed because it naturally follows its instincts. Even if a lion would live its whole life amongst humans, you can never fully trust it not to kill because that is its natural instinct. That's just what lions do.
That is the key difference between a human being and a lion. Even though we all, at times, follow our hearts and make mistakes, we have the ability to use our brain to rule over our hearts. We have the ability to truly tame our inner animal.
We currently find ourselves in the month of Elul, the month before the high holidays. During this month, we reflect on our actions over the past year. It is a time to do teshuva -repentance. A time to reflect on our relationship with G-d, and return to Him if we have become distanced. This is the time to make sure our minds rule our hearts, so we can be melech, a king.
Rabbi Vigler and his wife Shevy direct Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side in New York. From Rabbi Vigler's blog at www.chabadic.com
Seventy-four of the Torah's 613 commandments are in this week's Torah portion Ki Teitzei. These include the inheritance rights of the firstborn, burial and dignity of the dead, returning a lost object, sending away the mother bird before taking her young, the duty to erect a safety fence around the roof of one's home, and the various forms of kilayim (forbidden plant and animal hybrids). The portion also includes the prohibition against turning in an escaped slave; the duty to pay a worker on time, and to allow anyone working for you - person or animal - to "eat on the job"; the proper treatment of a debtor, and the prohibition against charging interest on a loan.
Another commandment is: "You should not see your brother's donkey or his ox falling on the way and pretend as if you don't see them, you should pick up (the load) with him."
The simple meaning here is to help someone in need. On a deeper level, it is about seeing someone who has fallen spiritually.
What lessons can we take from here for helping pick up someone who has fallen spiritually?
Many view those less observant than them negatively, ignore them or even worse, tell them off and denigrate them. This is a terrible mistake and not the Torah way.
The first thing is to realize that he is your "brother," not an enemy. Treat him with love and brotherhood.
The next thing is to realize that it is his animal that has fallen not him. His soul is pristine, he is essentially holy and wants to be G-d's. It is only his "animal," his "physical" situation, nature and upbringing that put him where he is today.
Then the Torah tells us not to pretend that you don't see him. Ignoring him is a form of hate towards a fellow Jew, which not only is an essential violation of the Torah but you will cause him to fall even further.
Finally help pick up his load with him. Showing him love, you will lift his spirit strengthen him. Then he will start to pick himself up, you will only need to help.
Now in the month of Elul we must increase our love towards each other. Overcome and destroy the walls that divide us. Embrace your brother, sister or friend that you are at odds with. Let us enter the new year united. G-d loves most when we are together. "Together" our prayers are powerful. "Together" G-d will grant us a good year. "Together" He will grant our greatest wish, He will send Moshiach and put an end to this painful, bitter exile.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
On the Prowl
by Dvora Lakein
Amitai Schiff had PTSD. The IDF officer in an elite surveillance unit, was operating in Gaza in 2003. One day, after arming soldiers with maps, he watched them enter their armored personnel vehicles and drive off on a routine mission. As he watched them on the grainy screen, the two vehicles hit an IED [roadside bomb]. Thirteen comrades, including a dear childhood friend, were murdered.
Schiff was given leave to deal with the trauma. Beset by confusion, tormented by questions ("why did I survive and not my friends?"), he struggled. For the group of Israeli missionaries who encountered him at this time, Schiff was the perfect target. He took a proffered brochure and a few days later, met up to discuss theology. Within a short period, the officer-on-leave had become an active missionary.
"I had questions, they had answers," he reflected later. "I didn't have the time to investigate their claims, I just accepted them."
Schiff was now proselytizing to fellow Jews in India, Germany, the United States, and Israel. He served the missionaries for years as a loyal recruit, until one day, ten years later, a magazine from Yad L'achim appeared in his mailbox.
Yad L'achim was founded in 1950 by the late Rabbi Sholom Dov-Ber Lifshitz to care for the needs of the new immigrants, the influx of Jews who flooded the country soon after its inception. Originally, Lifshitz handed out blankets and pillows to immigrants from Yemen. As the needs of the burgeoning community evolved and became more complex, so too did the organization. Today, Yad L'achim rescues Jewish women from Arab villages, combats assimilation throughout the country, and battles missionary communities-100 have been established in Israel.
There are 16,000 active missionaries in the country, operating on multi-million dollar annual budgets. Aside from person-to-person outreach, on corners and in malls, the countless missionary organizations fund varied socio-economic help such as, treatment centers, soup kitchens, and schools. Together with your hot meal or addiction counseling, the cults push a dose of Christianity. Many of their victims are new immigrants: alone, vulnerable, and sometimes marginalized.
"The Russian Jewish community has a greater chance of falling prey to the missionaries. Many have non-Jewish fathers and are more familiar with Christianity than with Judaism," says Yoav Robinson, a Yad L'achim activist. Approximately 8,000 Russian Jews are involved with missionaries in the country.
With millions of dollars at their disposal, and a theology determined to convert each Jew, missionaries are willing to invest significant funds and time on a single target. Taking Biblical verses out of context (particularly from Isaiah), they create glossy publications and professional films and manipulate the internet.
"In Israel, unlike the United States, the missionaries have to work harder," explains Robinson. "They need to convince not just a Jew, but an Israeli, so they pretend that their entire religion is Jewish. They can't share their full theology in the beginning, or the average Israeli will simply walk away. In general," he continues, "they aim for people in distress, addicts, or individuals with social problems. The typical working Israeli, with a social life, is not interested."
It is illegal in Israel to proselytize to minors under the age of 16, but beyond that, the Supreme Court and the police "don't want to deal with it," says Robinson. Which is where Yad L'achim steps in. It is the one organization working consistently to prevent missionary activity in a legal, peaceful manner under the auspices of mental health professionals. Teams of Yad L'achim volunteers visit communities to alert Jews to the evangelicals' deceptions. Hundreds of volunteers throughout the land are ready to be deployed when missionary activity is reported. They stand next to the missionaries and announce, "This is not Judaism. This is Christianity," in a steady, calm manner. It works.
Yad L'achim also publishes a quarterly magazine, mailed to tens of thousands of Israelis who are involved in cults. The back page reads: Have questions, doubts? Come speak with us. Call now.
And so, ten years after devoting his life to missionary work, Schiff picked up the phone.
"In the cult, they told us that Yad L'achim were terrorists. People are afraid to talk to them. I met them secretly. I didn't want anyone to see me."
For six months, Schiff and Yad L'achim's representatives debated theology. "I fought for it," says Schiff, "because I wanted to keep it." The missionaries preach that if a person believes in their god, all sins will be forgiven. It's easy, says Schiff, and tempting. "It feels good to be forgiven, to be 'in with god,' to have no obligations. Christianity has become very tempting for people my age. But Rabbis Binyamin Kluger and Daniel Asor [both former missionaries] were amazing. They didn't give up on me as I was deliberating and going back and forth."
Now 34, Schiff spends much of his free time trying to help Jews leave cults. "I know their language, their techniques, their strategies," he says. "The fact that I'm not a rabbi helps too," he believes. "We share a common language and there are fewer divides I need to cross in order to connect with people.
Schiff has a message he wants to share with our readers. "If this article reaches someone in a cult," he says emotionally, "know that Yad L'achim and the Jewish people have never stopped loving you and caring about you and we are waiting for you to come back home."
Reprinted from Lubavitch.com
New Torah Scrolls
The completion of the sixth Children's Torah Scroll took place recently in Jerusalem at the Western Wall. Theh Kotel Plaza was packed and thre streets and walksways blocked with the thousands of people in attendance. On the same day, in Alma Ata, Kazahkstan, a completion ceremony took place. That Torah iwas welcomed into the Chabad synagogue in Alma Ata.
My Very Own Letter
The newly-released picture book for young children, My Very Own Letter, focuses on a mitzva that can be fulfilled once in a lifetime! Every Jew is charged with writing a Torah scroll. It is one of the 613 commandments and something that even a young child can accomplish by owning one letter in a Torah scroll. The young brother and sister in the book are proud to have one holy letter of their own. Beautiful, action-packed illustrations enhance the story and bring the characters to life!
Freely translated and adapted
18 Elul, 5736
The month of Elul, as is well known, is the month of honest self-assessment of the outgoing year, and, at the same time, the month of preparation for the new year - which is, clearly, also the purpose of the honest stock-taking; i.e. not only to try to make good one's deficiencies, but also to know, and to resolve with proper determination, the right path of future daily conduct henceforth. And this will make the coming year a good and sweet one spiritually, hence also a good and sweet year materially.
In the month of Elul itself, the 18th (Chai) Elul comes as a special reminder, with encouragement and exhortation, in the said two aspects of self-assessment and preparation. Its message is: With this day begins the last 12 days of the year; hence the self-searching must now be more intensive and embrace all the months of the year - each day corresponding to a month, the start being Chai Elul. Moreover, according to our Rebbes, the day of Chai Elul must infuse vitality (chai - life) into all details of the Divine service of the entire month of Elul and in its two general aspects of assessment and preparation.
One may wonder what has "vitality" to do with such a thing as an honest self-assessment which deals with "hard" facts. The connection is as follows: There is the well-known instruction that just as one must not forget one's shortcomings in order to rectify them fully, so must one not forget one's good qualities, in order to utilize them to the fullest degree.
In order that this should be accomplished in the proper way - and to the greatest possible degree - the assessment must be done with real vitality.
Whereas an honest assessment of one's shortcomings might sometimes induce discouragement, or worse, despair, an honest evaluation of ones achievements might lead to complacency and to the conclusion that one has already attained a state of perfection.
However, the sign and effectiveness of vitality is in growth, and not the growth of a vegetable, which remains in the same place (and situation), but of a living creature--moving from one place to a better place. Growth is indicated not only by changing location, but also by growing through personal change, a change in one's nature, habits and entire being from good to better and better still.
This is the true vitality of Jew who has been commanded to refine and change his character attributes.
The capacity to attain all the above has been given to every Jew, or, using the quotation above, to "all of you," from "the heads of your tribes" to "the hewer of your wood and the drawer of your water."
For the vitality of every Jew derives from, and is bound up with, the Source of Life, as is written, "And you who are attached to G-d, your G-d, are all of you living this day--by virtue of your attachment to G-dliness, the Source of life and vitality, through the Torah, the Torah of Life, and the Mitzvoth (commandments) whereby Jews live.
Moreover, it is a matter of common experience that everything done with vivacity can be achieved with greater success and more completeness. And - what is no less important--such activity makes the proper impact on others inspiring them with the same spirit, for the best influence is a living example.
May G-d grant, that everyone, man and woman, take full advantage of the great opportunity of the last days of the year and those following, all the days of the coming year - to act with true vitality in fullest measure, as above.
And in the merit of it everyone, in the midst of all our Jewish people, should be inscribed for a good and sweet year, for good life and for peace,
Unto the coming of our Righteous Moshiach, and the fulfillment of the divine prophecy: "The strength and glory of the Righteous shall be uplifted," very soon indeed.
We find ourselves in a Hakhel year. When the Holy Temple stood we would fulfill G-d's commandment of Hakhel, gathering together all of the Jewish people; men, women, and children, including even the very young children. We must also perform Hakhel at appropriate times, especially on Shabbat. Come together to study the Torah portion or a Torah idea, and to make good resolutions to increase in mitzva observance.
(A letter of the Rebbe from 1981)
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
This coming Wednesday is "Chai Elul," the 18th of the Jewish month of Elul. This date was the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, and the birth, 50 years later of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad Chasidic philosophy.
One year, upon their return from summer overnight camp the day before Chai Elul, the Rebbe spoke to the campers of Gan Israel and Camp Emunah and discussed these two great giants.
He explained that both the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Shneur Zalman were renowned for their efforts to teach Jewish children about Judaism. In particular, in regard to the Baal Shem Tov, it is always mentioned that before he became well known, he served as a teacher's helper. In this capacity, he would remind the young children in his charge to begin their day thanking G-d that they were, indeed, alive that day. This is accomplished by reciting the "Modeh Ani" prayer, through which, as the very first act of the day, a Jew acknowledges G-d.
In this manner, a child not only makes a statement of thanks to G-d, he trains himself to feel genuine gratitude for all the good things which G-d has given him. And from that point on, through every moment of the day, a Jewish child increases his appreciation and awareness of G-d's goodness. For indeed, G-d gives graciously and generously.
The Rebbe went on to explain that this is particularly true in the month of Elul, when - as Rabbi Shneur Zalman teaches - G-d makes Himself accessible to the Jews as a king in the field. G-d does not tire, but renews constantly all the good which He grants to every child and adult. And in particular, He grants Jewish children success in studying G-d's Torah and fulfilling His commandments in a beautiful and conscientious manner, inspired by the love of G-d and the fear of G-d.
Though the above thoughts were addressed to children, they apply equally to all of us. For each one of us has the "child" within.
But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn (bechor), by giving him a double portion of all that he has (Deut. 21:17)
The letters of the word "bechor" allude to the firstborn's inheritance of a double portion, as each letter is numerically equivalent to double the one that immediately precedes it in the Hebrew alphabet: beit (2) is twice alef (1); chof (20) is twice yud (10); and reish (200) is twice kuf (100).
You shall not watch your brother's ox or his sheep go astray and hide yourself from them; you shall surely bring them back to your brother (Deut. 22:1)
This is the mitzva of "returning a lost object." If the Torah commands us to return a lost physical object and not pretend we are unaware of the situation, how much more so are we obligated to help a lost Jewish soul and restore it to its rightful place.
You shall let the mother go, and take the young to you (Deut. 22:7)
What is the reward for sending the mother bird away from the nest? "If you are childless, I will give you children. By fulfilling this commandment, you thereby hasten the arrival of Moshiach...and the Prophet Elijah."
You shall not wear a garment of different sorts (shaatnez), wool and linen together (22:11)
According to Chasidut, wool and linen are symbolic of chesed and gevura, the opposite attributes of loving-kindness and severity. When a Jew observes a positive mitzva, a "do," he draws nearer to him the object or thing with which he performs the mitzva. When he observes one of the Torah's prohibitions, a "don't," he avoids something that is forbidden and pushes it away. Shaatnez reminds us that the two opposing thrusts mustn't be confused or combined: that which is forbidden should be shunned, and that which is holy and positive should be encouraged.
(The Rebbe, Elul 5744)
The 18th of Elul, this year Wednesday, Sept 21, is the birthday of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad-Lubavitch.
In a small town in white Russia there lived a rich Jew who was considered to be a real miser by all the townspeople. Whenever he was approached for a donation, he would take out a rusty copper five kopecks coin, and offer it as his contribution. People would throw the rusty coin back at the miser and eventually stopped approaching him for donations altogether, until something quite remarkable happened.
A young couple, both poor orphans, were soon to be married. The townspeople provided them with their needs and also made sure that they would have a fine wedding feast. Indeed, everyone had contributed to this special fund and was entitled to participate in the simcha (happy occasion), except the miser. No one had even asked him for a contribution.
In the midst of all the preparations for the wedding, without any warning, the groom was taken into custody by the Chief of Police for military service. The Chief of Police was known to be anti-Semetic. When he heard about the wedding, he thought it would be a golden opportunity to strike at all the Jews. He sent for the groom on his wedding day!
A special delegation hurried to the Police Chief to arrange for the groom's release. The chief threw them out, warning that they would be sent to Siberia if they continued to harass him.
At this critical time, the revered and famous Rabbi Shneur Zalman arrived in town. He had made the match between the young couple and had come to join in their simcha. When he heard what had happened, he asked the rabbi of the town to accompany him to see the Police Chief.
"We've come to ask you to release the bridegroom, who is to be married tonight. We are ready to pay the tax to obtain his immediate release. Just name the amount," the Rebbe said in a firm voice.
The Police Chief, an avid card player and gambler, had gotten himself into serious debt. He now saw a chance to squeeze a large sum of money from the Jews in his town.
"One thousand rubles," said the Chief.
Without hesitation, Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied, "You will receive this amount before sunset."
As soon as they were outside, the delegation asked the Rebbe, "How can we possibly raise such a large sum of money from our poor townspeople, and before sunset today?"
"G-d, the father of orphans, will not forsake them," the Rebbe answered confidently.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman insisted on going to the "miser" first. " We will give him the opportunity to participate in the great mitzva (commandment) of redeeming the imprisoned," said Rabbi Shneur Zalman.
Arriving at the rich man's house, Rabbi Shneur Zalman told the man what had happened to the groom. The rich man said nothing but brought out the five kopek coin and offered it to the Rabbi. Rabbi Shneur Zalman quickly took the coin, saying, "May you have the merit to do many more mitzvot." As they got up to leave, the Jew blurted out, "I think my contribution was too small. Here is a whole ruble."
The Rebbe took the ruble and repeated his blessing. As they turned toward the door, the Jew called out, "Excuse me Rebbe, I'd like to give a larger donation." He took out a ten-ruble note. The Rebbe took it graciously and blessed him as before. This performance repeated itself several times with the Rebbe blessing the man each time. Finally the Jew burst into tears.
"I once gave a beggar a five kopek coin, and he threw it back in my face. I was so annoyed that I said to myself, `This coin is going to be my donation, whatever the cause, until someone accepts it with a friendly word. Since then, that five kopek piece has always been returned to me with scorn and abuse, until people stopped coming to me altogether for charity."
"You, saintly Rebbe, are the first person who accepted my donation with friendliness. You gave me the opportunity to participate in this great mitzva and you found it in your heart to bless me. I shall never forget what you have done.
"Now, I shall give you the full amount needed to pay for the groom's release. I hope and pray that it will make up for the tzedaka (charity) opportunities I have missed."
The Rebbe blessed him again that G-d should enable him to give charity with an open hand and a joyous heart. The groom was released after the money was paid and the wedding was celebrated with unsurpassed joy and gratitude. One of the most distinguished guests, in addition to the Rebbe, was the Jew who had donated the whole ransom money.
From Talks and Tales.
This week's Torah portion begins (Deut. 21:10), "When you go out to wage war... G-d will deliver them into your hands and you will take captives ("shivyo"). The literal meaning of the word "shivyo" is "his captives," implying that we shall regain the enemy's capture, i.e., that which the enemy captured from us in the past. One of the tasks of Moshiach in the early stages of his revelation is, in the words of Maimonides, "He will wage the battles of G-d and succeed." At the end of the Messianic battle, the Jewish people will find restored all the precious spoils that were taken by the nations during the exile, first and foremost among them the Holy Temple.
(The Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Teitzei, 1990)