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Bamidbar Numbers

Devarim Deutronomy

May 19, 2017 - 23 Iyyar, 5777

1472: Behar-Bechukosai

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  1471: Emor1473: Bamidbar  

Love to Love  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  All Together  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Love to Love

Your best friend loves to play chess. If it were your choice you'd play Othello. But you play chess whenever he wants. After all, that's what he loves to do and you're his good friend.

Your significant other shlepps along with you to an event that is not half as important to her as it is to you. When asked afterward if she had a good time she responds: "If he [the significant other] had a good time, then I had a good time."

Chasidim of the first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, once asked him: "Which is the superior Divine service, love of G-d or love of the Jewish people?"

Rabbi Shneur Zalman replied: "Both love of G-d and love of the Jewish people are equally engraved in every Jew's soul. It follows that love of the Jewish people is superior, however, for you love whom your beloved loves."

The Baal Shem Tov taught: "Love your fellow as yourself" is an interpretation of and commentary on "Love G-d your G-d." He who loves his fellow-Jew loves G-d, because the Jew has within themselves a "part of G-d above." Therefore, when one loves the Jew - i.e. his inner essence - one loves G-d.

Time and again throughout Jewish history, we see examples of how love of another (which, as indicated above, is a true expression of love of G-d) supersedes the more usual way of expressing our love of G-d.

A prime example is at the very beginnings of Jewish history, when our Patriarch Abraham had just circumcised himself. The Torah tells us that G-d was performing the commandment of "visiting the sick" and was speaking with Abraham. Yet, when Abraham saw travelers in the distance, he immediately asked G-d to "wait" while he attended to the needs of these three strangers traveling in the hot, dry dessert.

Another story:

One year on the holy day of Yom Kippur, Rabbi Shneur Zalman suddenly left the synagogue where his Chasidim had gathered to pray and spend the holiday with him. At a distance, a few chasidim followed him and saw that he entered a cabin at the end of town. There lay a woman who had just given birth and was too weak to care for herself. The Rebbe went into the forest, chopped wood, kindled a fire, cooked soup, fed it to the woman, and only afterwards returned to pray with his congregation.

Jewish mystical teachings direct us to verbalize our love and responsibility toward every Jew immediately before we begin expressing our love of G-d (through prayer) by saying: "I take upon myself the mitzva of 'Love your fellow as yourself.' "

Practically speaking, though, it's downright easy to "love" a Jew whom we've never met, or one whom we have met who lives half-way around the world. But ultimately, the primary efforts of our love for another should be focused on Jews in our very own communities.

As Rabbi Shneur Zalman emphasized, loving our fellow Jew extends to any Jew, even if you have never met him. But, how much more so does it extend to every single member of the Jewish community where you live.

Living with the Rebbe

This week we read two Torah portions, Behar and Bechukotai. In Bechukotai we read that during exile, G-d will remember the promise He made with our ancestors: "And I will remember My covenant with Jacob and also My covenant with Isaac and also My covenant with Abraham..."

Why is the order of our ancestors reversed? Shouldn't the covenant with Abraham be mentioned first, then Isaac his son and finally Jacob?

Sometimes it seems that the real heroes and greatest leaders all lived in the past. We feel that we are not so holy, so capable, such giants... but our grandparents were. "How can I be expected to be great? How can small me make a difference?"

By reversing the order, the Torah is telling us that though our ancestors were great, we possess qualities and abilities that they did not. If we tap into our G-d given strengths, we can accomplish wonderful things. We can be great as well.

You may then ask, who am I to aspire for greatness?

One of the qualities Jacob had over Abraham, was that he was the descendant of great and holy people. Jacob was born great; all he needed to do was to bring to the forefront what he already was.

You, too, descend from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sara Rebbeca, Rachel and Leah. You don't have to aspire for greatness, you were born that way. All you need to do is reveal who you are.

When I was diagnosed with ALS and started losing my ability to walk, talk, sing, dance, play the guitar, teach, etc., I was faced with a dilemma: What purpose is there for me? What is there for me to accomplish? What difference can I possibly make?

The answer became clear with the outpouring of love all around me. I saw how wonderful everyone around me is and I personally witnessed greatness from the most unexpected places. It dawned on me that if my crisis brought out greatness in others, perhaps if I dig deep I will find some way to make a difference too. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are still ways for me to make a difference and in some ways, even greater than before.

You are greater than you think. Go make a difference.

Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.

A Slice of Life

Peace, Love and Truth
by Rabbi Yitzi Loewenthal

My father-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Rodal, was a unique and special individual. His attitude and approach could best be summed up as "emet" - truth, and "shalom" - peace.

He was extremely honest and truthful, yet loving and caring in the way he dealt with himself, his family, and others in the world around him.

There is a popular adage that family time needs to be "quality time." To Rabbi Rodal, every moment with his family was quality time: Time that he spent either having fun together, talking words of Torah, or telling some of his countless witticisms, wisdoms and some groaners. For him, a conversation was a meaningful and real interaction, one cementing the bonds of connection.

Each of his 11 children viewed himself or herself as having "the" unique connection with him. For such was his interactions, filled with meaning, depth humor and love.

Humility, unassuming and selfless, were characteristics that he stood by and lived with. With absolutely no airs about him, he had no problem getting on the floor to give one of his grandchildren a ride, or standing up straight to talk to someone at their level.

In his interaction with people and the world around him, he personified the saying of our Sages in the Mishna, "Be like a student of Aaron the kohen (priest), love peace and love the people, and bring them closer to the Torah."

Like his namesake in the above-quoted Mishna, Rabbi Menachem Aaron hakohen Rodal was truly a lover of peace. It hurt him, almost physically, to see argument and strife. In addition to doing what he could (like Aaron), to bring peace and harmony to people, he also and especially brought peace and happiness to people by making them smile and laugh with his humor and jokes, and also making people feel special for who they were. He took pains to greet and get to know those who others may have overlooked, whether cleaning crew or the mailman.

His every interaction was on an equal level. He always spoke to people with a respect and "same eye level" leaving them feeling they had a friend and companion.

He visited us here in Denmark a few times, and each time he connected meaningfully with a number of people, inspiring, encouraging, and guiding them in their journey of life.

There were many light-hearted moments with his humor. He had a white beard and a saintly look. So when he met someone for the first time and would tell them a humorous anecdote, the people listening were often under the impression that this was a deep mystical statement. This is especially true since his jokes were always told deadpan with a serious face. So it took the listener a while until they saw the twinkle in his eye to realize that this was actually a joke and humor.

In truth, in doing this he was communicating a powerful idea, that even the most important things in life should still be done in a happy and positive atmosphere.

Rabbi Rodal was a teacher par excellence. In his view, as he told me once, a child not learning is the fault of the teacher, not the student. He embodied the idea of our Sages that each child needs his or her own approach. It was inspiring to see that after over 40 years in the classroom he showed great excitement on discovering new techniques for communicating Torah and Judaism to children.

The Mishna quoted above says that Aaron loved the peace and "briyot." Briyot is commonly translated as "people" but can also be translated as nature, or animals. He had a great love of nature and animals. And especially enjoyed sharing how the complexity of nature and animals show the hand of the creator.

With time, Rabbi Rodal, known by some as "Rabbi Nature," developed a course for children and for adults showing the Divine providence behind nature and the lives of animals. As an educational experience, it was second to none as both children and adults were riveted. It definitely brought with it some moments of humor and drama whether it was escaped scorpions or goats getting loose.

One of my first interactions with my father-in-law was in Camp Gan Israel of Detroit, five years before I met my wife. Both in school, at home, and especially in the camps where he was the camp "rabbi," he brought this love for nature and animals. Often the toughest and most difficult child would soften and bond while feeding baby chickens or caring for ducks. I saw a number of children from troubled backgrounds, who he managed to connect with, nurture and bolster. The underlying reality that G-d created the world was the common thread that ran through his classes and workshops.

Rabbi Rodal also played and coached sports, including arranging swimming, sports teams and competitions. For him, this was another way of breaking down barriers, connecting and bringing people together in a good atmosphere, and bringing people closer to G-d, the Torah and Chasidic philosophy.

Rabbi Rodal's relationship with Judaism was simple and straightforward. He did the right thing with joy and dedication. He served G-d by doing mitzvot (commandment), and enjoyed learning and teaching Torah, and especially understanding and delving into the simple explanation of Chumash (Bible). When he would learn he would also ask questions of his children and students and included his own novel ideas.

As a true Chasid and shliach (emissary) his every action was imbued with doing what the Rebbe wanted. He was a true example of internalizing Judaism and Chasidut and making it one's own.

Rabbi Yitzi Loewenthal directs Chabad of Denmark together with his wife Rochel.

What's New

New Center

Chabad of Flagstaff, Arizona, recently broke ground for the Molly Blank Jewish Community Center. When completed the Center will be a 11,500-square foot facility on a 2.2 acre plot of land. The Center will include a synagogue, kosher kitchen, social hall, library, classrooms, student and youth lounge, outdoor terraces, and a women's mikveh, the very first in northern Arizona. The Center, under the directorship of Rabbi Dovie and Chaya Shapiro, will also continue to serve the Jewish students at Northern Arizona University.

New Emissaries

Rabbi Berel and Rochy Slavaticki are opening a new Chabad center on the Gulf Coast retreat of Marco Island, Florida. Marco Island is a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico off Southwest Florida, and is the largest and only developed land in Florida's Ten Thousand Islands. The Chabad Center will serve the needs of the Jewish community of Marco Island, as well as the thousands of yearly tourists visiting the island.

The Rebbe Writes

25th of Iyar, 5712 [1952]

Recently you brought to my attention a letter addressed to you by ------, a student at Colgate University, Hamilton, New York. In this letter the writer professes to be a true scientific thinker and an unbeliever in the supernatural; he also asserts that all facts seem to be in contradiction to the existence of G-d, professes to be a "liberal Jew," etc., etc.

Not knowing the background of this student, nor the field of science in which he specializes, I cannot deal with the subject in detail, especially in the course of a letter.

There are, however, several general observations that I can make, which the said student has apparently overlooked, and which he would do well to consider carefully:

Science does not come with foregone conclusions and beliefs with the idea of reconciling and adjusting facts to these beliefs. Rather the opposite, it deals with facts, then formulates opinions and conclusions. To approach a subject with one's mind made up beforehand is not true scientific thinking but a contradiction to it.

Science requires that no conclusion can be valid before a thorough study and research was made on the subject. The question therefore presents itself: How much time and effort had the above-mentioned writer devoted to the study of religion to justify his conclusions on the subject?

A fact is considered any event or phenomenon testified to by witnesses, especially where the evidence is identical and comes from witnesses of varied interests, education, social background, age, etc. Where there is such evidence, it is accepted as a fact which is undeniable even if it does not agree with a scientific theory. This is the accepted practice in science even where there are several reliable witnesses and certainly scores of them, hundreds and thousands.

The Divine Revelation at Mount Sinai was a fact witnessed by millions of people, all of whom reported it to its minutest detail, accurately, for the whole people of Israel stood at Mount Sinai and witnessed it.

We know that this is a fact because millions of Jews in our day accept it as such, because they received it as such from their own parents, and these millions in turn received the evidence from the previous generation, and so on, in an uninterrupted chain of transmitted evidence from millions to millions of witnesses, generation after generation, back to the original millions of witnesses who saw the event with their own eyes.

Among these original witnesses there were many who were initiated in the sciences of those days (viz. Egypt), many achievements of which are still baffling nowadays; among them were philosophers and thinkers, as well as ignorant and uneducated persons, women and children of all ages. Yet all of them reported the event and phenomena connected with it without contradiction to one another.

Such a fact is certainly indisputable. I do not believe that there is another fact which can match it for evidence and accuracy.

To deny such a fact is anything but scientific; it is the very opposite of science.

Parenthetically, it is unfortunate that this basic difference between the Jewish religion and those of others is so little known, for the Jewish religion is the only one that is not based on a single founder or a few, but is based on the Divine Revelation witnessed by all the people, numbering several millions.

This answers also ------'s statement that "the acceptance of the Torah as being the only truth is dangerous" since "its authors were only men... and as men they could not have been infallible."

Jews accept the Torah precisely because it was given by G-d, not by man, and it was given in the presence of millions of people who had seen it and heard it with their own eyes and ears. That is why the Torah is the absolute truth, for G-d is absolute.

I an enclosing an extra copy, should you wish to forward it to your correspondent.

All Together

Why do people say, "bli ayin hara," or "kenina hora"?

An "ayin hara" means an evil or begrudging eye. It is believed that an envious or begrudging glance is able to cause evil to the person at whom it is directed. According to a statement in the Talmud, 99 out of 100 die of an evil eye. Hence, we use the expression in Hebrew "bli ayin hara," or in Yiddish "kenina hora" - meaning, without a begrudging eye, when a person's health, wealth, intelligence, success, etc., are being admired.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat we bless the new month of Sivan, the month in which the holiday of Shavuot falls. In addition, we read two Torah portions, the second one beginning with G-d's words, "If you follow in my statutes..." These words can be directly related to the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, the festival on which we celebrate receiving the Torah.

Interestingly, the Talmud interprets the first word, "If" ("im" in Hebrew) as a plea, an appeal, as it were, from G-d for us to follow the mitzvot which he has commanded us.

But, the Talmud also tells us, that G-d never imposes unreasonable or impossible obligations upon His creatures. Therefore, not only is G-d beseeching us to keep His Torah, he is also conferring upon us the ability to follow and uphold all of the Torah's commandments.

For us, this year, the lesson is clear. In preparation for receiving the Torah on Shavuot, we are assured by G-d (as we are every year and, in fact, each day) that we have the strength and ability to observe the Torah that we will be receiving.

But drawing on that G-d-given ability can, of course, be a very difficult job. So, to give us incentive, G-d promises us a reward, too: "I will give your rains in their season." This is both a material and spiritual reward: for rain connotes blessing in material matters and also refers to the Torah which we will learn when Moshiach comes.

May each and every one of us merit to draw on the strength and ability G-d has promised us, to allow us to fulfill our fullest potential. Then we will truly be prepared to receive the Torah anew on Shavuot and ultimately learn Torah together with Moshiach.

Thoughts that Count

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, 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.

(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)

It Once Happened

Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch, sat with his young pupil. "Mendel, how many pages of Talmud did you learn today?"

The boy couldn't suppress the smile which played across his features as he replied, "Six pages, Rebbe."

But, contrary to what one would have thought, the Maggid was far from pleased. The boy was an excellent student and showed great potential, but he was too arrogant about his abilities.

"Hmm," he said, "If your hat slants at such a cocky angle from only three pages of Talmud, I wonder how many it would take for your hat to fall off completely!"

The Rebbe's sharp words brought the boy down from his high spirits and he began to look into himself. He realized that he had better change his outlook. He went to his Rebbe and asked,

"Rebbe, please, give me your advice; I know my pride is wrong, but I don't know how I should feel."

The Maggid was pleased to see the sensitivity of his pupil.

"I will go with you to the Baal Shem Tov, and he will explain the proper path."

The following week the two set off for the Baal Shem Tov.

The Maggid made a special request of Mendel: "I want you to pay particular attention to the Rebbe's words at every discourse during Shabbat, for when he speaks, I am too overcome with awe to concentrate properly on his words."

They arrived shortly before Shabbat, and the Maggid went directly to the Baal Shem Tov. Mendel remained in his room combing his hair and dressing, as he was always very particular about his appearance. The Baal Shem Tov stood at the bima ready to begin his prayers, but he waited until Mendel entered.

That was the last notice the Baal Shem Tov seemed to take of Mendel throughout Shabbat, until, when Shabbat had departed and the Baal Shem Tov was relaxing, he called Mendel.

"Shalom Aleichem," he said to the boy. "I want to tell you a story." The Baal Shem Tov proceeded to describe Mendel's life from beginning until the end.

The Baal Shem Tov turned to the Maggid. "Don't worry about the boy; he is a truly humble person, and he'll turn out well," he said. Mendel grew up to be a great and renowned Rebbe, Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk.

The story the Baal Shem Tov told him stayed in Reb Mendel's mind all his life. Once, many years later, when Reb Mendel he was critically ill his disciples stood around his bed, weeping and praying for his recovery. Their loud weeping brought Reb Mendel to consciousness and he said to them, "Don't worry. I remember from the story the Baal Shem Tov told me when I was a child, that I must still travel to the Land of Israel. Therefore, I know I will recover and live longer."

That, did, in fact, come to pass, and Reb Mendel traveled to Israel. On his way, he stopped in the town of Polnoye to visit the Toldos, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef.

To the surprise of everyone there, Reb Yaakov Yosef showed no displeasure about Reb Mendel's clothing and appearance.

The older rabbi greeted his younger colleague with great warmth and affection, and they spoke at length about their meeting so many years ago at the court of the Baal Shem Tov.

"Did you understand the story he told you?" asked the Toldos. "Yes, I understood it," replied Reb Mendel. "Tell me, how far along are you now?" "I am more than half-way through it," Reb Mendel replied. "Did you understand that the story contained a hint that you were going to come here to visit me?" "Of course. That is the reason I travelled through Polnoye."

Said Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, "In the story, it was hinted that a young man would go along with you whose name goes from one end of the world to the other. Where is he?"

A pleased look could be seen on Reb Mendel's face. He turned towards the entourage of Chassidim who had accompanied him and pointed to a young man. "This is the young man who is accompanying me. His name is Shneur Zalman ..."

As the two sat and reminisced for a long time, their respect for each other was obvious to all who saw them. Then, the Toldos accompanied Reb Mendel all the way back to his hotel where they parted.

The Chasidim were curious, for the Toldos had acted very much out of character. Usually, he was very particular about the attire of a person who came into his presence. But, in the case of Reb Mendel, he seemed not to take any notice at all.

"You seem surprised that I didn't mind Reb Mendel's appearance - no belt and the silver shoelaces... it's not that I didn't notice these things, but I will explain by way of a parable:

"Once a king possessed a pearl which was worth fortunes. He was afraid it might be stolen, and so, he hid it in the bathroom - a most unlikely place to look for valuables.

"This same thing could be said about Reb Mendel. He is such a truly humble man that he is afraid that no matter how he attires himself his humility will be an attraction for the Evil Inclination. Therefore, he dresses in the most unlikely of all clothing, that of pride."

Moshiach Matters

During the Shemitta, the sabbatical year, one may not sow, or reap, or gather. The Jewish people will surely ask the question: What will we eat during the year of Shemitta and the one that follows? but it does not indidate a lack of faith. Rather, whenthey ask it, then the response will coem from Above: I will command My blessing upon you. We ask the same question regarding Moshiach: when we are at the last stage of exile, when we have no strength to sow mitzvahs, how shall we sustain ourselves spiritually? G-d promises, I will command my blessing and bring the Redemption.

(From Reflections of Redemption by Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m., to whom this column is dedicated)

  1471: Emor1473: Bamidbar  
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