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L'Chaim
May 26, 2017 - 1 Sivan, 5777

1473: Bamidbar

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Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.


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  1472: Behar-Bechukosai1474: Nasso  

A Torah Scroll's Thoughts  |  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

A Torah Scroll's Thoughts

I still remember some of the amazing lessons I learned from the elder Torah scroll as we stood quietly in the ark at the eastern wall of the synagogue.

Having been free to roam over plain and valley just a few years before as the hide of a kosher animal, I had a hard time adjusting to what I considered the restricted life of a Torah scroll.

I was the upstart Torah scroll - born and bred in America. Not only was I made in America, but even the scribe who wrote me was born and trained here. So you can understand why at first I didn't really subscribe to the whole humble and modest lifestyle that we Torah scrolls lived. I didn't feel like I belonged with the other half-dozen scrolls in the ark - a few survivors of the Holocaust, another scroll straight from one of the ultra-Orthodox sections in Israel, and another of unknown but strictly kosher and ancient origins.

"Why can't we just hang out in the synagogue, like the prayer books?" I asked one of the elder scrolls. I explained to him that I wasn't used to all of these restrictive coverings. First there was the regal but-oh-so-hot-on-summer-days velvet that totally covered my skin - except on Mondays, Thursdays and Shabbat when I was uncovered and unrolled in order to be read.

Then there was the big ark itself that I was placed in with the other scrolls. "I feel like a prisoner in the ark," I told the kindly scroll.

I complained incessantly that the only time we had fun was on Simchat Torah when we were all taken out on the town. Well, not really on the town but at least around the synagogue where everyone sang and danced with us. But even then - even at the height of our rejoicing - we were still covered up.

Little by little, the elderly scroll took me under his wing. He gently explained that even for a scroll proudly "made in America" there was something called tzniut - one of those impossible to translate words (though I'm an expert in Hebrew), often rendered "modesty," but meaning a whole lot more.

"The first tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them were given amidst fanfare, fuss and noise," the elderly scroll whispered. "And those tablets were broken. But the second set, given quietly, humbly and unpretentiously, remain eternally with the Jewish people. Why, even now they exist, secreted away with other treasures from the Holy Temples under the Temple Mount where the Third Temple will assuredly and very soon be built."

The scroll also gave me examples from everyday life and they made sense to me. He told me that the most precious items are kept under lock and key. Not as a punishment but in deference to their value. Vaults in banks overflow with people's jewels that sit there much of the time - rather than being worn. Original paintings by famous artists are carefully watched and monitored because they are priceless. They, too, don't hang out just anywhere. Little by little, I began to see my velvet coverings as royal cloaks. I acknowledged the ark was my castle and even my refuge.

That which is precious is not flaunted, not unnecessarily exposed, for in so doing it is often cheapened, the scroll would remind me. I remember the old scroll stating one day, "People don't go around sharing and exposing that which they truly care about. For some, it is their innermost thoughts. For others it is their bank accounts - though they'll share everything else. And if you really care about yourself, if you really value yourself,' the old scroll told me, `you will take pride in the fact that most of the time you are covered, hidden, out of public view.'

It's been a long time since I've been out in the public eye like this. It sort of goes against my grain by now to stand here and sermonize - especially since that's the rabbi's job. But in honor of Shavuot, the day when all of the Jewish people received the Torah from G-d on Mount Sinai - which by the way was a very humble and modest mountain - I decided to share with you the intimate thoughts of just one little Torah scroll, proud to be Made in America, and even prouder that my preciousness to the Jewish people and to myself is symbolized by my multi-layered coverings.


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah portion of Bamidbar has a particular relevance to the festival of Shavuot. We can find this connection in the opening words of the portion, where G-d commands, "Count the number of all the congregation of the Children of Israel."

Rashi comments: "Because the Children of Israel are dear to Him, He counts them all the time: when they went forth from Egypt He counted them; when they fell because of the sin of the Golden Calf, He counted them; when He was about to make His Presence dwell among them (i.e., in the Tabernacle) He counted them."

When things are counted, they stand in a relation of equality; the greatest man and the least are each counted once; no more, no less. And since, as Rashi tells us, the census was a token of G-d's love, it must have been a gesture towards that which is equal in every Jew. Not his intellect, not his moral standing, but his essence: his Jewish soul. So the point of the census was to bring the soul of each Jew into prominence, to the surface of awareness.

Rashi writes that G-d counts His people all the time; and yet, he points out, they were counted only three times in the first year and once the month after leaving Egypt. Then they were counted only once more during their wanderings in the wilderness, and subsequently only at very infrequent intervals (according to a Midrash, a total of nine times until today, and the tenth time will be when Moshiach comes). But, if the point of the counting was to reveal the essence of each Jewish soul, then this revelation has a depth that places it beyond the erosions of time.

The differences between the three countings that Rashi mentions were evolutionary stages in a process of revelation. In the first, the Jewish soul was awakened by the love of G-d; in the second, it began to work its influence on the external life of the Israelites; and in the third, it finally suffused all their actions.

The first census was on the Israelites' departure from Egypt, and it aroused their spirit of self-sacrifice to the extent that they followed G-d into a barren wilderness. But it left their emotions untouched.

The second was prior to building the Tabernacle. It reached their intellect and emotions, because they were preparing for the work that was to bring G-d's Presence into their midst. But still the impetus came from outside: G-d's command set them to their work, not inner compunction.

But with the third census came the actual service of the Tabernacle, when the Israelites - by their own actions - brought G-d into their midst. Then all their actions were a testimony to the union of the Jewish soul with G-d.

In this way, the connection between Bamidbar and Shavuot becomes clear. When the Torah was given, Israel and G-d were united in such a way that G-d sent His revelation from above; and the Children of Israel were themselves elevated. We read, in preparation for our annual re-creation of the event, the portion which tells us of the third census when the two modes of revelation are brought together.

From Torah Studies by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks


A Slice of Life

Here and There
by Rabbi Mendel Greisman

Life is full of twists and turns and unexpected events; some will cause a major change in one's life - job, place of residence, relationships, etc. - while others will only have minimal impact and some will be no more than a nuisance. Some of these events are anticipated and planned and they make perfect sense, but most of the time they are engineered by Divine Providence and we don't always get to know why they happened. It is a basic principle of Jewish faith to believe in the Hand of G-d that ordains the footsteps of man, and causes every event and move in our life, big or small.

We often use flight delays - which have got to be in the top five list of annoying unplanned events - as an example of events that happen to you for a purpose, regardless of whether you ever find out the reason. It is so rewarding, however, when you do find out the reason for flight delays and cancellations. I had such one example this week.

I had planned a short trip to Israel to participate in a family simcha (joyous occasion) right after Purim. I had scheduled the latest flight out on Monday. My original route included just one stop at the Newark airport, but late Sunday night, due to the impending snowstorm back east, I was rerouted to a Houston/Frankfurt/Tel Aviv flight, as the XNA-EWR (Northwest Arkansas Regional airport to Newark International Airport) flight was cancelled.

I wasn't happy having to leave five hours earlier than planned, but I was even less happy when I had to spend those five hours in XNA waiting for a light bulb cover to be replaced on the wing of the plane, causing me to miss my flight to Germany and be placed on a later flight, and cut down the 31 hours I planned to be in Israel to 26.

Finally in Frankfurt on Tuesday afternoon, at the gate to the Israel flight, I asked some Jews waiting for the flight if they would like to put on Tefilin. After one of them finished putting on Tefilin, he told me: "You know, I'm happy you asked me to put on Tefilin. Today is my mother's yartzeit (anniversary of passing), and by the time we land in Israel, it will be after sunset, so I won't be able to say Kaddish (the mourner's prayer) for her; at least I put on Tefilin!"

"You need to say Kaddish?!" I responded. "Well, guess what! I'm a pro at that. I do it all the time back home. Just wait here for a few minutes."

Ten minutes later, a full minyan of ten Jews were praying the afternoon Mincha service together at the gate, and the soul of Shprintza bat Eliyahu, a Holocaust survivor, was elevated when her son recited Kaddish in her memory, in Germany.....

Walking to the gate with Gedalyeh, the son, I recalled how, upon leaving on Monday, my son Mordechai handed me an extra Purim food gift bag, known as Shalach manot.

"Tatty," he had said, "Maybe you will find a Jew on your flight who did not get a Purim shalach manot. Give this to him!"

Turning to Gedalyeh, I ask, "Did you celebrate Purim this past Sunday? Did you get a Purim shalach manot?" His reply surprised me.

"Actually, I was in Antarctica on Purim eve. I took a boat Saturday evening to Argentina. And now I'm on the last leg of my journey and will end up in Israel on Tuesday night. Tell Mordechai," my new friend Gedalyeh concluded, "that you gave his gift package to a Jew from Antarctica."

And there you have it, my friends. Now I knew why I had to be on that specific flight....


This past winter, I was visiting a friend in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn and enjoying the 70-degree weather December had brought. I was wearing only a suit when I left my in-laws' home in Crown Heights, about half way across Brooklyn. No coat, sweater or even an umbrella, as it appeared that the rain had stopped. I didn't bother to check the forecast...

Well, upon leaving my friend's office I got caught in a major downpour. After trying to jog the first half of the six blocks to the nearest subway station, I gave up, stopped under a outdoor staircase for shelter, and summoned an Uber to take me to the nearest subway station.

"Hey, Ma Nishma (Hebrew for "How are things?") the driver greeted me. And for the first time in my life outside of Israel, I was picked up by an Israeli cab driver, something unusual even in Brooklyn.

After making small talk, I inquired whether he had put on Tefilin yet today. When he answered that he hadn't, I felt terrible that I hadn't taken my Tefilin along with me, something I almost always do.

"Listen," I said after a quick thought, "here's my offer to you. As you know, I was only planning to take you to the nearest subway station, about a five minute drive. If you'll agree, I'll take you all the way to Crown Heights, about five times the original fare you were going to make on this ride, and once you're in Crown Heights you can put on Tefilin!"

The Uber driver readily agreed, and we were both happy - he made an extra few bucks and did a mitzva, and I had the opportunity to help a fellow-Jew put on Tefilin!

Rabbi Greisman and his wife Dobi are the directors of Chabad of Northwest Arkansas in Rogers, AR. Read more at JewishNWA.org

What's New

Be There!

Each year on the festival of Shavuot we relive the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people by G-d at Mount Sinai by hearing the Ten Commandments read in the synagogue from a Torah scroll. It is a special mitzva (commandment) for every man, woman and child to be in the synagogue on Shavuot to hear the Torah reading. This year, the Torah reading that tells of the giving of the Torah will be read on the first day of Shavuot, Wednesday, May 31, in synagogues around the world. Many Chabad-Lubavitch Centers sponsor "ice cream" parties (in keeping with the custom of eating dairy on Shavuot) for the young and the young at heart. Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center for more info.

New Emissaries

Mar del Plata, located in Argentina's Buenos Aires Province, is a bustling beach city found on the country's east coast. Rabbi Zalmi and Patsonia Lipinski recently established a new Chabad Center in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Mar del Plata is the seventh-largest city in Argentina and home to an estimated 5,000 Jews.


The Rebbe Writes

Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 5726 [1966]

This year's Annual Banquet is taking place within several days of Shavuoth, the Festival of Mattan Torah, the Giving of the Torah at Sinai. I trust that all participants will bring with them to the Banquet a goodly measure of the inspiration and joy of this great Yom Tov, and make the Banquet the success it deserves in every respect.

Our Sages tell us that when G-d was about to give the Torah at Mt. Sinai, He requested guarantors to ensure that the Torah would be studied and observed. All guarantees were rejected, until Moshe Rabbeinu [Moses, our teacher] declared: "Our children will be our guarantors!"

Without this guarantee, not even Moshe Rabbeinu could have received the Torah. Henceforth, it became the responsibility of Moshe Rabbeinu and, indeed, of all Jews, to see to it that the Torah and the Torah-way of life would be perpetuated through our children.

The Torah is called Toras Chaim, the Torah of Life, meaning that it is both the source of everlasting life as well as the true guide in the daily life, for Torah means "guidance" and "instruction." It is the Divine and eternal Torah which we receive annually on Shavuoth and, indeed, every day throughout the year we renew and reaffirm our eternal bond with it, as it has been throughout the ages, and in all places wherever Jews have lived.

It is the work of the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, in many parts of this country and the world over, to strengthen the bond between our Jewish people and the Torah, and particularly, to see to it that the children would be able, not only to receive their great heritage, but also transmit it for future generations. Fortunate indeed is the Jewish community of the Twin Cities, to have the Merkos in its midst, and to have also, many devoted friends and dedicated partners, in this very vital endeavor.

May the Almighty bless each and every one of you, with success in your efforts in behalf of our children - "our guarantors" - for the perpetuation of our Jewish way of life, and, indeed, for our survival and happy future.


3 Sivan, 5711 [1951]

On the approach of Shavuoth, the Festival of our Receiving the Torah, I send you herewith my best wishes for an inspired and joyous festival.

The Torah, being G-d-given, is infinite in its aspects. To some it may be a means to gain reward and avoid punishment, as promised in the Torah. To others, the Torah is a guide to good, wholesome living, and an ideal social system. Both views are limited.

Chabad goes deeper than that, delving into the profound inner significance of the Torah. Accordingly, the underlying purpose of the Torah is to serve as the link between the Creator and creation.

To amplify this but very briefly: The Creator is Infinite; creation is finite. There is no common denominator between the two (as is fully explained in Chabad literature). In this respect, there is no difference between the "Four KinG-doms" of creation, between the highest intellect among the men, and the crudest stone, for both are creations, and consequently have no co-relationship with the Creator.

That is why even the most intellectual of men cannot grasp G-d with his intellect. However, in His infinite goodness, G-d gave man a possibility to approach and commune with Him. G-d showed us how a finite created being can reach beyond his inherent limitations and commune with G-d the Infinite.

Herein lies the most important aspect of the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], for they provide the ways and means whereby we may reach a plane over rand beyond our status as created, mortals. Clearly, this plane is incomparably above the highest perfection which a man can attain within his own created (hence, limited) sphere.

In this deeper sense we may now understand the words of the Torah: "And you who cleave unto G-d your G-d, are all living this day."

Wishing you and yours a happy Yom Tov [holiday], with lasting inspiration throughout the year,


All Together

Why do we stay up all night on Shavuot?

On the day of the Giving of the Torah, instead of arising early to properly prepare for the momentous event, the Jewish People slept in. To make amends for this, it is customary to remain awake throughout the first night of Shavuot. We read the "Tikkun Leil Shavuot," which contains selections from all areas of the Torah. Others have the custom of simply studying any topic in Torah throughout the night.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

As the holiday of Shavuot approaches (this year beginning on the evening of Tuesday, May 30), we are reminded of the beautiful Midrash that teaches that the Jewish children of every generation are the reason why G-d gave us the gift of the Torah:

When G-d asked what assurance the Jewish people were offering that the Torah would be studied, loved and cherished, the Jewish people offered our Patriarchs as security. But this was not accepted. We then offered the Torah scholars as the guarantors. This, too, was not acceptable. It was only when we offered our children as guarantors that G-d approved our proposal and gave us the Torah.

On the anniversary of an event, the "spiritual energy" that was infused by G-d into that event is at its strongest. This is the reason why, for example, we should do our utmost to celebrate our birthdays properly each year. This is true, too, concerning every Jewish holiday. Which means that on Shavuot - the celebration of the Giving of the Torah - the spiritual energy that was invested into that day over 3,300 years ago is at its strongest.

What is the special spiritual energy of Shavuot and how can we benefit from it? It was on Shavuot that our ancestors proclaimed, "We will do and then we will learn." So this is the time when we recommit ourselves to performing mitzvot - even if we haven't yet learned or don't yet understand their reasons.

Shavuot is also the time when the spiritual energy of our children, being the guarantors for the Torah, is at its strongest. This is the time when we must renew our commitment to providing our children with a proper Jewish upbringing and education as well as facilitating the proper Jewish education of all Jewish children, wherever they may be.

We can begin doing both of the above by going to the synagogue this Shavuot to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments and by bringing along with us Jewish children of all ages - children in age, children at heart, or children in Jewish knowledge. Be there, and be a part of a 3,300-year-old unbroken chain of Jewish commitment and pride.


Thoughts that Count

He who learns from a colleague a single chapter, a single Torah law, a single verse, a single statement or even a single letter, must show him honor (Ethics, 6:3)

This teaching refers to a colleague whose conduct is not above reproach. When a person's own conduEct is flawed, it is natural that despite the rational self-justifications that stem from self-love, he would recognize his own failings and humbly look down on himself. One may not, however, view a colleague from whom he has learned Torah concepts in such a manner. For even when the other's conduct is unworthy he should be honored for the sake of the teachings he communicated.

(The Rebbe, Parshat Bamidbar 5738)


Rabbi Meir said: Whoever occupies himself with [the study of Torah] for its own sake merits many things (Ethics, 6:1)

The Hebrew word for "occupies - osek" relates to the word for "businessman," "baal esek." A person's occupation with the study of Torah must resemble a businessman's preoccupation with his commercial enterprise. Just as his attention is never totally diverted from his business, so too should the Torah always be the focus of our attention.

(Likutei Sichot, Vol. XVII)


Whatever the Holy One, blesEsed be He, created in His world, He created only for His glory (Ethics, 6:11)

A heretic once came to Rabbi Akiva and demanded proof that G-d created the world. "Come back tomorrow," Rabbi Akiva told him. The next day, when the heretic returned, Rabbi Akiva asked him what he was wearing. "A garment," the man replied. "Who made it?" the Rabbi asked. "The tailor," was his answer. When Rabbi Akiva demanded proof, the heretic demanded, "How can you not know this?" Said Rabbi Akiva, "And what about you? How can you not know that G-d created the world?" Our Sages commented: "Just as a house indicates a builder, a garment indicates a tailor, and a door a carpenter, so too does the world tell of the Holy One that He created it."

(Midrash Tanchuma)


It Once Happened

Shavuot is the anniversary of passing of King David

David was born in Beth-Lehem, in the land of Judah. He was ten generations removed from Judah, one of Jacob's twelve sons. David's great grandfather, Boaz (also known as Ibzan), was the tenth Judge of Israel. He was one of the greatest scholars and most pious men of his generation. His estates were many, and his generosity was renowned.

When Boaz was 80 years old, he married Ruth. Ruth was a member of the Moabite royal family. Her grandfather was the powerful King Eglon of Moab. Yet Ruth preferred to become an ordinary Jewish woman, rather than a royal princess of Moab. All her trials and misfortunes did not dampen her great devotion to her newly acquired people. Even among the pious and modest maidens of Judah, Ruth stood out with a charm of her own; her modesty and piety, her selflessness and devotion became known far and wide. But how richly Ruth was rewarded! She became a princess in Israel - the wife of the ruling Judge, and the great-grandmother of King David. She lived long enough not only to see the glorious reign of King David, but also to see Solomon succeed to the throne of a great and glorious Land of Israel.

Throughout the years, the great traditions of the noble family, going back to Judah and Jacob, were maintained by the house of Jesse, David's father. Here was a house of scholarship, piety, kindness, generosity and wealth. And the noble traits of all his great and famous ancestors were bestowed upon David.

G-d told the Prophet Samuel to go to Beth-Lehem, where he would find the future king among one of the sons of Jesse. Samuel was to anoint the chosen one as king.

The prophet went to Beth-Lehem on the pretext of holding Divine services there, for he feared lest Saul detect his true purpose. Once in Beth-Lehem, Samuel imparted his secret to Jesse. Jesse presented to the prophet each of his seven sons in turn. David was absent, tending the sheep. Although they were all men of laudable qualities, none of them qualified for this high position. When Samuel was informed that Jesse's youngest son was in the field tending the flocks, he demanded that he be brought to him immediately. Seeing David, Samuel knew by Diving inspiration that he was the chosen one. Samuel then anointed him as the future king of Israel. From that day the spirit of G-d rested on David.

Almost simultaneously with the anointment of David, Saul was stricken with a deep melancholy. The king's friends and courtiers noticed this sudden change and advised him to seek a good musician to ease his mind with the strains of sweet music. David, the future Psalmist, had already become known for his wonderful music as well as for his divine poetry. David was summoned to the king's court, where his sweet music on the harp helped to set the king's troubled mind at ease. Saul did not know that the young lad who was playing before him was destined to be his successor.

The Philistines had not been entirely subdued, and they again determined upon warfare. A man of abnormal height and strength emerged from the Philistine ranks. He was covered completely with the heaviest armor. Stepping midway between the two armies, he challenged the Jewish army to send forth a man who would dare to oppose him in single combat. The sight of this giant, armed to his teeth, struck terror into the hearts of the Jews. Day after day Goliath flung his challenge at the Jews without receiving an answer.

At that time David was at home caring for his father's sheep. His three older brothers were serving with Saul's army. Jesse called David and requested him to take some provisions to his brothers. David arrived at the Jewish encampment just when Goliath was again defying Israel to produce an opponent to stand up against him. Surprised at the lack of courage of his brethren, David showed that he was willing to match his strength against that of the giant. He was immediately brought before Saul. At first Saul refused to send this youth against the veteran Goliath. Yielding at last, Saul said, "Go, and the L-rd be with thee."

David donned Saul's suit of armor, which the king offered him. But, when he saw how enviously the king eyed him, David pretended that the armor was too cumbersome for him, and he returned the suit to Saul. He took his staff in one hand and his sling in the other; and choosing five smooth stones out of the brook, he put them into his shepherd's bag, which he threw round his shoulder. Thus armed, he drew near to Goliath. The Philistine came forth, preceded by his armor-bearer; but when he saw the fair and ruddy youth he exclaimed disdainfully: "Am I a dog, that you comes to me with sticks?" and he cursed him by his gods.

But David, conscious of his good cause and inspired by it to a sublime courage, replied, "You come to me with a sword and with a spear, and with a shield, but I come to you in the name of the G-d of the armies of Israel... The L-rd saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the L-rd's, and He will give you into our hands." Goliath, enraged by this bold reply, advanced. David quickly drew a stone from his bag, and placing it in his sling, flung it at the forehead of the Philistine. It pierced the head of the giant, who fell to the ground. Running near and grasping the large sword of his fallen foe, David cut off his head. Seeing their hero prostrate, the Philistines fled in panic, and the Jews pursued them as far as Ekron and Gath.

David's courage and faith in G-d became the talk of all the people.

From My People, Kehot Publication Society


Moshiach Matters

The Torah portion of Bamidbar is always read before the holiday fo Shavuot. They have an inner connection basedon three levels fo Divine service. These three levels are alluded to by the three phrases connected with the giving of the Torah. "My special treasure," "a kinG-dom of kohanim: and "a holy nation." These parallel the three accountings foudn in teh portion fo Bamidbar. Thsi also parallels the process of Redmption: first the Jewish people are separated from all other nations; then they lead the nations towards G-dliness; finally, knowledge of G-d covers and permeates the world as the waters cover the ocean bed.

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


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