Spiritual Exercise | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count | It Once Happened
Ahh, spring. If spring is here, can summer be far behind?
Spring forces us out of hibernation. In the spring we yearn to be outdoors, at least more than we were during the cold, dreary winter months. Spring, and the summer season that follows, inspires us to exercise and get in shape.
Interestingly, Jewish mystical teachings explain that being involved with "strengthening the body" can lead to a "weakening of the soul."
Thus, especially in the spring and summertime, when we are more preoccupied with getting and staying in shape, we have to be especially diligent about exercising and fortifying our souls.
Traditionally, this spiritual body-building is done through the study of Ethics of the Fathers - Pirkei Avot - on Shabbat afternoons beginning on the Shabbat after Passover.
In the first chapter of Pirkei Avot (which we study this Shabbat afternoon) we read that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachya said: "...Judge every person favorably."
At first glance, this doesn't seem like such a difficult task. After all, it's like saying that we should give someone the benefit of the doubt or that we should uphold that great American principle of "Innocent until proven guilty."
However, in real life situations, it's not so simple to consistently "judge every person favorably."
After all, it's easy to give someone the benefit of the doubt when we don't even have to lift a finger to do so. But this precept is teaching us to judge favorably even if doing so is a struggle.
Imagine someone asking you to bench 10 pounds. What a joke! Now, imagine being told to bench 100 pounds. That's much more serious. What if you were asked to bench 200 pounds? That's something altogether different.
Judging someone favorably when the other person's actions don't impact on you is no big deal. It's like benching 10 pounds. It's practically a joke. But if the other person's conduct does affect you and does not seem worthy of favorable judgement, that's more like benching 100 pounds or even 200 pounds. Yet, even then, one should endeavor to find redeeming virtue in him.
Judging a person favorably involves an honest appreciation of the challenges which that person faces. And this awareness should also lead to the understanding that G-d has surely given that person the ability to overcome these challenges. For, as our Sages state, G-d forces a person to confront only those challenges which he can overcome. Knowing that G-d has entrusted the formidable powers necessary to overcome difficult challenges should heighten the esteem with which we regard this individual.
With our newfound respect for the person, our interactions with the person will be permeated with admiration. Our attitude will, in turn, inspire the individual to bring these potentials to the surface.
As the warm weather continues to lure us to be more involved in healthy and pleasurable pursuits, let's remember to build our characters and strengthen our spiritual muscles as well.
This week's Torah portion is called Shemini, the "Eighth," which refers to the day after the seven days of training the Kohanim (priests) underwent before the inauguration of the Sanctuary in the desert. Until the eighth day, G-d's presence did not fill the Sanctuary, the G-dly fire didn't descend onto the altar.
On the eighth day, following the seven days of their inauguration, Aaron and his sons begin to officiate as Kohanim; a fire came forth, consumed the offerings on the altar, and the Divine presence dwelled in the Sanctuary.
The portion continues by describing the "strange fire before G-d, which He commanded them not" that was brought by Aaron's sons and the sons' subsequent deaths. We also read of the identifying features or kosher animals and fish, and a list of kosher birds and insects. Lastly, there are laws of ritual purity, including the purifying power of a mikva and wellspring.
Back to the concept of eighth, the name of our portion: What is it about the "eighth" that makes all the difference?
In nature we find seven to be common. You have seven days of the week, seven years to our agricultural cycle. Kabbala teaches that there are seven building blocks of creation, which is six emotional attributes and the seventh, malchut, which amplifies these attributes, and they are directly connected to the six days of the week, and Shabbat.
We also find that music has seven notes - A through G. We even are told that King David had a harp that had seven strings.
All these sevens are meant to bring to the "Eighth."
What is the "Eighth?"
The "Eighth" is our true essence, it is our ability to transcend nature and connect with the part of ourselves that is above nature, our neshama, our soul. The neshama is a part of G-d, and when we rise above nature we feel our essential bond with Him.
The seven days of training, brought them to the Eighth day, on which G-d's presence reentered the Jewish community. This is because we once again found our way above our physical selves and revealed our oneness with G-d.
We work all week for Shabbat and if we utilize Shabbat correctly it will bring us to the next level.
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.
by Laizer Mangel
I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau with my grandfather, Rabbi Nissen Mangel, one of the youngest child survivors of the Holocaust. It was incredible to be with him as he relived his experience.
"We left my home town Kosicze and were caught in Bratislava, where we were held and then taken by train to Auschwitz. After getting off the miserable cattle car, a Polish Sonderkommando told my mother that if she left my side, she would have a better chance of surviving, for every mother together with her young child was sent to the ovens.
"My mother gripped my hand tighter. He came back and repeated his words. My mother tightened her grip. The next time around, he realized she wouldn't budge. He told her that just the day before, a woman refused to let go of her child so they took the baby, tied one leg to one car and one leg to another, and split the baby in half in front of the mother's eyes."
My Zaidy chokes up and says: "My mother didn't let go of me. There's nothing like a Jewish mother, never abandoning her child.
"Dr. Mengele (may his memory be erased) sat on a table, smoking a cigarette, deciding with his thumb who is to life and who is to death.
"My mother and my older sister Trudy were separated from my father and me. My father, being a broad man, tried shielding me in the hope that Mengele would not notice me. But he did, and asked me how old I was. I was 10 and very small, but I said 'I'm 17.' He chuckled, yet motioned with his thumb for me to join my father. Miracle of miracles.
"We were marched into a room where we stripped our clothing, and then we entered a chamber. A faucet was turned. Cold water came out."
"Why were you chosen to live?" my grandfather is asked by someone who stopped to listen.
My grandfather looks up, point to heavens, and says one word. "G-d."
"I managed to be placed in the most difficult workforce - the job of being harnessed to a massive wagon filled with construction materials, and with five others, pulling it to different locations sometimes miles away. A task meant for oxen. But I knew that one day I may be made to pull this cart to the women's camp, thereby giving me a chance to possibly see my mother and sister.
And so it happened. The first time I entered the women's camp, I was surrounded. I was the first child these women had seen in months. They started hugging me and kissing me, imagining that I was their Yankle, their Moishe, their little Shlomie, who were put into the ovens. They showered me with love, giving me extra bread that they had gathered from their kitchen job, extra sweaters, and extra socks. I asked them the whereabouts of my sister."
"Mangel? I think there's a Mangel in the barrack over there," they said.
"I made my way over to that barrack, and someone cried out 'Nissen!' I didn't recognize her. It was a girl with no hair, a white face, no cheeks.
"Who are you?" my Zaidy asked her.
"Trudy!" she answered.
"I still couldn't believe that this was my sister. I asked her my father's name. My mother's name. She answered correctly. This was my sister Trudy. I gave her whatever she needed from the collection that I had from the women in the kitchen. The next time I came, I had procured salami for her.
"Who ever heard of salami in Auschwitz? And who ever heard of someone in the men's camp making their way to the women's camp? If you tell another survivor, they'd tell you it didn't happen," my Zaidy tells those listening.
"The Nazis went shooting as a sport. But they didn't use targets. They just lined up 50 Jews instead. There was one commander who sat on his porch holding a cigarette in left hand, and holding a gun in his right hand, casually shooting any Jew in sight."
My Zaidy picks up a handful of pebbles and flings them in the air. "To them, we were worth less than the stones on the ground."
"I got sick, and ended up in a barrack in Lager F, where twins, dwarfs, and anyone else Mengele used for his experiments, were kept. I was on the top of a three tiered bunk, burning up with scarlet fever. Mengele came in with other officials, discussing that he was in the midst of a project to discover how to make mothers more prone to having twins. See, he was scared there would be a shortage of young men, as they were all being sent up to the front to fight.
He told the other officials that he was going to puncture one of my nerves connecting my brain and my heart, and he wanted to see if I would get paralyzed, or die. When I heard this, I jumped down to the floor, and yelled: "Don't experiment on humans - experiment on monkeys!"
Mengele was taken aback. No one ever stood up to him. Even generals didn't defy him. I noticed the revolver on his belt. He didn't reach for it. He left the room. I was just waiting for the car to arrive to take me to the gas chambers. It never came."
"Why didn't Mengele do anything to you?" my Zaidy is asked.
My grandfather looks up, points to the heavens, and says one word. "G-d."
"The Russians were coming. The Nazis made a Death March. The camp was split. I realized the more able bodied people were in one line, and everyone else in the other. I was in the wrong line. I jumped into the line with the more healthy prisoners. I thought no one saw. Well almost no one saw- aside from Ukrainian POW's, who although prisoners themselves, hated Jews as much as the Germans. They beat me and delivered me to an SS guard, who threw me back into the other line. I made another attempt. This time no one saw.
"We marched for days. We weren't given food. We ate dirty snow from the ground. If someone found a worm to eat, they considered it a holiday.
My oversized shoes dug into my skin, eventually cutting to my bones. The pain was so immense. I couldn't take it anymore. I told the young man in front of me to make sure to remember exactly where we were, and to remember my name and family details. That way, when I step out of line to be shot, he'll know where I perished so that if he eventually meets any of my family, they can mark my grave and know when to commemorate my yahrtzeit.
"He said there's no way he's leaving me to die. He held me over his back, while I was trying my best to help him carry my weight with my one leg still partially functional. We went on like that for a few days, until I felt that my time had come. I would slip off his back and let the angel of death come for me. At that moment, an SS officer approached. I thanked the young man for carrying me and said my last prayers. But the officer didn't shoot. Instead, he handed me his black coffee. I drank it and was overcome with a new strength to continue. The officer walked beside me for a few minutes, asking me about my upbringing, and then left. Every day, until the end of the Death March, this SS officer found me, and handed me a black coffee. Who was this officer? It must have been Elijah the Prophet.
My sister was still in Auschwitz. The Nazis had to move inland, and wanted to kill everyone left as fast as possible. My sister was locked into a barrack that was doused with gasoline. But the wooden structure was never ignited - the Russians had arrived to liberate the camp. Until this day in Holocaust museums around the world, you can see a video of my sister being carried out of the camp by a nurse - because her feet were frostbitten and she couldn't walk by herself. How did she survive?"
My Zaidy looks up, points to the heavens, and says one word. "G-d."
Standing on the tracks leading into Birkenau, my Zaidy finishes with one last story. "Shortly after I got married, I was walking with my wife in Manhattan on a Friday afternoon. A gentleman called out to me to come into his store to get a bargain on good shirts. But my wife reminded me that it was getting close to Shabbos. I told the man that I would come back a different time, now wouldn't work for me.
" 'Why?' he asked.
"I am a Torah observant Jew," I explained, "and I keep the Sabbath."
"He started to yell at me. 'Sabbath? Torah? How can you believe such things? Where was G-d? If you would've seen what I saw in Auschwitz, you as well would know it's all nonsense.'
My Zaidy rolls up his sleeve, and continues: "I showed the merchant these numbers tattooed on my arm, and said 'I too was in Auschwitz. And you know why I survived? G-d. And you know where G-d was? G-d was with me. G-d was with you. And G-d is with us." '
Lubavitch Youth Organization
1408 President St, Brooklyn, NY, 11213
phone 718 778 6000
Chairman - Rabbi Dovid Raskin
Director - Rabbi Shmuel Butman
Program director - Rabbi Kasriel Kastel
Secretary - Rabbi Moshe P. Goldman
Administrator - Rabbi Shlomo Friedman
Editor - Yehudis Cohen
Associate Editor - Dovid Y. B. Kaufmann
Chairman Editorial Comm. - Rabbi Nissen Mangel
Rebbe photo - S. Roumani
L'Chaim contains words from sacred literature. Please do not deface or discard.
All contents © 2017 by L.Y.O. ISSN 1050 0480
For a one year subscription send $40,
payable to LYO ($52 outside of US.A.) to:
L'Chaim, 1408 President St., Bklyn., NY, 11213
L'Chaim on the Internet
Current issues and archives: www.LchaimWeekly.org
Learn about Moshiach
Visit www.moshiach.com or call (718) 953 6100
Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 5731
To all participants in the "Evening with Lubavitch" in Philadelphia, Pa.
G-d bless you-
Greeting and Blessing:
I am pleased to extend greetings and prayerful wishes to all participants in the Evening with Lubavitch, and particularly to the honored guests.
Inasmuch as the event is taking place in the days of Sefirah ("Counting of the Omer"), it is well to reflect on the significance of this Mitzvo [commandment].
At first glance, the counting of days seems to be of no consequence, since the flow of time is beyond man's control. Yet, it is obviously very significant in that it lends emphasis to the period connecting the two most important events in Jewish history: Pesach - the liberation from Egyptian bondage, marking the birth of the Jewish people; and Shavuos - the Receiving of the Torah at Sinai, where the Jewish people became a truly free and mature nation.
Like all things with Torah, the Counting of the Omer has many aspects. To one of them I will address myself here.
Generally, the counting of things by the unit, rather than by approximation of the total, indicates the importance of the thing. The fact that each day, day after day for forty-nine days, a Brocho [blessing] is said before the counting further emphasizes the importance of this thing - in this case, the value of time. The Brocho we make expresses not only our gratitude to G-d for giving us the Mitzvo of Sefira, but also our gratitude for each day which He gives us. We must learn to appreciate the precious gift of each day by making the proper use of it. The tasks we have to accomplish today cannot be postponed for tomorrow, since a day gone by is irretrievable.
Secondly, while it is true that the flow of time is beyond our control, since we can neither slow it or quicken it, expand it nor shrink it, yet in a way we can directly affect time by the content with which we fill each day of our life. When a person makes a far-reaching discovery, or reaches an important resolution, he can in effect put "ages" into minutes. On the other hand, time allowed to go by without proper content has no reality at all, however long it may last.
Correspondingly, the Torah tells us that man has been given unlimited powers not only in regard to shaping his own destiny, but also the destiny of the world in which he lives. Just as in the case of time, the real length of it is not measured in terms of quantity but in terms of quality, so also in regard to a man's efforts. Every good effort can further be expanded by the vitality and enthusiasm which he puts into it. Indeed,
We must learn to appreciate the precious gift of each day by making the proper use of it.
the period of seven weeks connecting the abovementioned two greatest historic events in Jewish life illustrates the Torah concept of time and effort as indicated above. In the course of only seven weeks, a people which has been enslaved for 210 years to most depraved taskmasters were transformed into a "KinG-dom of Priests and Holy Nation," who witnessed the Divine Revelation at Sinai and received the Torah and Mitzvoth from G-d Himself.
"Lubavitch" teaches and exemplifies the principle of the predominance of form over matter, of the soul over the body. It is not the quantity - in terms of physical capacity and length of time - that is the essential factor, but it is the quality of the effort and the infinite capacity of the soul that determine the results.
I trust that the spirit of Lubavitch will stimulate each and all of the participants to ever greater accomplishments in all areas of Jewish life, both personal and communal.
With blessing for Hatzlocho,
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Thursday evening, the eve of 28 Nissan, 1991, began with an ordinary weekday evening service at 770 Eastern Parkway, World Lubavitch Headquarters. The Rebbe began to deliver what appeared to be a regular talk. After a short time, however, everything changed. In tones of intense clarity the Rebbe addressed everyone directly, and most unusually, in the second person. This was a cry from the heart.
The Rebbe's words were highly charged: "What more can I do to motivate the entire Jewish people to clamor and cry out, and thus actually bring about the coming of Moshiach?.... All that I can possibly do is to give the matter over to you. Now, do everything you can to bring Moshiach, here and now, immediately.... I have done whatever I can: from now on, you must do whatever you can...."
Stunned, people around the world began to mobilize. On the following Shabbat the Rebbe clarified his intent, and emphasized that he was advocating concrete activity within the reach of everyone:
"Every man, woman and child has an individual responsibility to work to bring about Moshiach's coming. No one else can shoulder this burden for him; his own efforts and energy are needed. Each of us must prepare for the coming of Moshiach by increasing his study of the Torah and enhancing his performance of its commandments, in a beautiful and conscientious manner....
"In particular, we should devote our energies to the study of the mystical dimensions of the Torah as they are revealed in the teachings of Chasidut. Disseminating these teachings - internalizing them within our own personalities and teaching them to others - brings the coming of Moshiach closer.
"More specifically, our study should center on the subject of Moshiach himself and on the future Redemption, particularly, as these topics are developed in the discourses and published talks of the Nasi - leader - of our generation."
Let's do our part and bring Moshiach NOW!
Moses received the Torah at Sinai, and passed it on to Joshua, Joshua to the Elders... (Ethics of the Fathers 1:1)
When Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi compiled all the Mishnaic teachings, he placed the Mishna describing the transmission of Torah from one generation to the other as the opening Mishna of the Ethics. The wise men of the nations of the world also wrote works providing their disciples with moral instruction. However, they formulated their teachings based on their own human understanding. Therefore, Rabbi Yehuda began the Ethics specifically with the words, "Moses received the Torah at Sinai" to inform us that the moral instruction and the qualities of character mentioned here are not a product of human invention. They were given to us by G-d via Moses at Sinai.
Shimon HaTzadik... used to say: "The world stands upon three things - upon Torah, upon Divine service and upon acts of kindness." (1:2)
This Mishna refers to the author of its message as Shimon HaTzadik - the Righteous. A truly saintly, righteous person is not satisfied with working upon himself only, but makes an effort to influence the world as well, as the verse states, "G-d is righteous and loves righteousness."
(Biurim l'Pirkei Avot)
Yose ben Yochanan of Jerusalem said: "Let your house be wide open; treat the poor as members of your own family..." (1:5)
Rabbi Yose ben Yochanan continues the theme of perfecting one's house. In order for holiness to permeate one's home, it is insufficient to merely love Torah. The love of Torah must be combined with the love of one's fellow Jew, expressed in acts of kindness. However, this must be done in such a way that one's hospitality will not result in undesirable negative consequences.
(The Maharal of Prague)
Near the town of Lubavitch there was a small village with a Jewish-owned inn. On his many travels throughout the area, Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, passed the village many times, but he never stopped in that particular inn. One day, however, the Rebbe asked is driver to stop his carriage at the inn and the Rebbe went inside. No one was home except the two small children of the owners. The Rebbe asked where their parents had gone, but the children replied only that they were on some sort of errands from which they would probably return soon.
"What subjects are you learning in school?" the Rebbe asked.
"I learn Torah," replied the elder of the two.
"And I can read Psalms," chimed in the younger.
"That is very good," said the Rebbe. The Rebbe opened the nearby book of Psalms and he and the children began to read aloud together.
When the mother returned later she was amazed to find the Rebbe sitting at her table surrounded by her children reciting Psalms with them. But as she stood there, she was disquieted by the melancholy tone of the Rebbe's voice, and without knowing why, she began to weep.
The reading of Psalms continued for some time, and then the Rebbe rose as if to leave. But as he reached the door handle, he suddenly turned around and returned to his seat, bidding the children to resume their recitation. The group read together several more pages and the Rebbe stood again, wished them farewell and drove away in his carriage.
The woman's nerves were on edge. She anxiously waited for her husband's return. The innkeeper had gone off to some of the neighboring villages to collect debts owed to him by his peasant customers. But the hours passed and night fell without his arrival. Discomfort turned to fear as the family began to imagine the evil that could have happened.
Finally, in the wee hours of the morning they heard a knock on the door. The poor woman, shaking from fear, ran to open the door. To her horror, her husband fell in, fainting on the doorstep. When he finally was able to open his eyes and speak, he related the following hair-rising tale:
At the house of one of his debtors the peasant asked him to accompany him to the barn where he would measure out grain which was to be his payment. The two men walked together to the barn, but when they were inside , the peasant suddenly bolted the door announcing to the Jew that he was going to kill him. It took only a few more seconds for the Jew to realize that this was no joke; the peasant has every intention to carry out his terrible threat. The innkeeper fell to his knees and begged for his life, sobbing that he was the sole support of a wife and innocent t little children. But the farmer had no intention of being swayed. "I always do what I say, and I am going to kill you now!" was the bellowing reply. The poor Jew asked for a few minutes to pray to his Creator, and the peasant nodded absent-mindedly as he combed the barn looking for his axe. Then he remembered that he left it in the house.
He bound the Jew hand and foot with a heavy rope and ran to the farmhouse to retrieve the weapon. Not a minute has passed when the peasant's wife returned from her work in the fields. When she opened the barn door there was the Jew trussed up like a calf waiting for the slaughter. He implored the woman to untie him, promising her everything he could think of, but she was caught in a quandary. On the one hand, she found it hard to resist his tearful entreaties, on the other hand, she was deathly afraid of her husband who would murder her on the spot if he knew she had freed his quarry. Finally, she agreed and quickly undid his bonds, telling him to go hide amongst the sheaves in the field. For, when her husband found him missing e would surely search up and down the road until he found him. For his part, the grateful Hew instructed the woman to run back to the field, and pretend to be first returning only when she saw her husband coming.
While the Jew hid in the field between the high grasses and sheaves of wheat, he could hear the peasant's heavy breathing as he frantically searched for him. He could see the glint of the farmer's axe, and his heart beat in terror as he imagined being found. But miraculously, the peasant did not find him In spite of searching the farm and all the surrounding roads and pathways. The Jew, meanwhile, lay in the field, barely breathing, for fear of discovery. Finally, after midnight he gathered the courage and strength to crawl out from his hiding place and slowly began his furtive journey home.
His wife listened in increasing wonder to the recital of his tale. When he had finished she told him of the visit of the Rebbe, and they both understood what had happened. During the first reading of the Psalms the Jew had survived the encounter in the barn; and when the Rebbe returned a second time he had been saved from the peasant in the field.
The week's Torah reading is Shemini, which means "eighth." The name of a Torah reading reveals the inner connection of its contents. Both the dedication of the kohanim (priests) and the defnition of kodher animals are connected by the concept of the "eighth." Seven represents completion within the natural, physical world, while the "eighth" elevates that to a higher spiritual real. The "eighth" is associated with Moshiach.
(From Reflections of Redemption by Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m., to whom this column is dedicated)