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1481: Matos-Masei

Devarim Deutronomy

July 21, 2017 - 27 Tamuz, 5777

1481: Matos-Masei

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

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  1480: Pinchas1482: Devarim  

The Crystal Bell  |  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

The Crystal Bell

It's an old story.

A poor beggar goes from house to house collecting alms for his impoverished family. Knocking on the door of one glorious home, he is greeted graciously, given some money, and encouraged to join the family for supper.

At dinner, other beggars and wayfarers sup at the wealthy family's expansive table.

For each course, from appetizers to dessert, the host rings a crystal bell and waiters appear with delectable delights. Our beggar is totally amazed that simply by jingling a small bell, such lavish results can be achieved.

At the end of the meal the host offers the guests anything they want from amongst his many possessions. Our poor beggar asks for the wonderful crystal bell.

Arriving home, the beggar asks his wife to set their tiny table.

"But we have no food to eat. I was waiting for you to return before I went to buy some beets and potatoes."

"Just set the table, my dear. And leave all the rest to me," said the beggar confidently. "I have a surprise for you."

So the wife dutifully set the table and seated herself and all of the children around it.

Our beggar sat down and slowly and carefully unwrapped the crystal bell that had been in his pocket.

Boldly, he rang the bell and waited. Nothing happened. He rang the bell again and waited. Again nothing happened. He continued ringing, until he was afraid that the crystal bell would break.

"What are you doing?" his wife asked him.

The husband proceeded to describe what had happened in the wealthy man's house and how each time the bell was rung luscious food was served.

"My dear husband," the woman said patiently, "the bell works only for those who have labored in advance so that they have something to serve. Your wealthy host worked hard to earn the money to hire workers who purchase and prepare the food. It is only after a tremendous amount of energy is invested that there such an amazing result is achieved. Nothing comes without toil."

It's comparable to young children who, accustomed to seeing their parents using credit cards, paypal or square cash, are told by their parents when they want an expensive toy: "We don't have any money right now."

"Well, just take out your phone," is the inevitable and childishly logical retort of the naive youngster.

The parent patiently explains, "You can't take money out unless you first put money in."

Nothing comes without toil; you can't take something out unless you put it in first.

What is true for a lavish meal or money is certainly true of Judaism.

If we want our children to appreciate and value their Jewish traditions, we have to work assiduously at developing that appreciation by surrounding them with Jewish traditions.

If we want to feel close to our Creator, we have to enhance our relationship with G-d through prayer and mitzvot.

If we want to better understand our purpose in life as individuals and as a people, we have to study Torah and Jewish philosophy.

We have to put effort in if we want to get something back. As the Talmud teaches, "According to the labor is the reward."

Living with the Rebbe

This week we read two Torah portion, Matot and Massei. At the start of Matot the tribes of Israel, usually referred to in Hebrew as "shvatim," instead are called "matot." And it is specifically when the portion is discussing the annulment of vows that it refers to the tribes as matot.

Why the different word? What connection does it have to annulment of vows?

Though the two words shevet and mateh are alike in meaning, roughly translated as "stick" or "staff," they have fundamental differences.

Shevet refers to a branch still attached or recently detached from the tree. It is still wet inside. Mateh however has been separated for a while and has had time to dry and harden.

A craftsman who wishes to create something of quality needs to be aware of the moisture content of the wood. The conditions the wood was subject to will also have an effect on the quality of the wood.

(Today for example. Reclaimed wood (old wood once used in construction, resold and reused) is very sought after for its qualities that are not found in new lumber.)

Next, the craftsman using his tools to saw, drill, chisel etc. the wood, brings out the true natural beauty and function of the wood.

Now, why would a person take a vow. When a person has a weakness bringing him or her to commit a sin. Taking a vow to abstain from it is helpful because of the strength and the fear of breaking that vow. However the vow doesn't change the person. For someone to annul this kind of vow seems counterproductive.

That is where the wise man comes in. The job of the wise man who does the annulment, is to help the one who took the vow work on himself to become stronger. To bring out strength from deep within to overcome the weakness. The vow would then be unnecessary.

Each of us is a mateh. G-d puts us through all different kinds of situations, some happy and in some we suffer. However, we know that it is G-d, the Ultimate Craftsman, who is putting us through these conditions and that He helps us overcome any obstacles he puts before us. We know that He will bring out our greatest potential.

The same is true of the Jewish people. G-d has put us through all kinds of difficult conditions. Though we don't know why, we do know that he has a plan and that what He does is good.

By now we are an ancient piece of wood, we have been through so much, we are truly magnificent.

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

From My Art and Soul
by Yehudis Cohen

"A musician plays, a singer sings, I have to paint," explains Chanie Chanin, an accomplished painter, mother of eight children and Lubavitcher Chasid.

"I was raised by my parents in a warm Chasidic home in London England. I studied at the Lubavitch girls schools, and although I did well in most of my studies I always had a passion for art and creativity. But it was only after I was married (and had a number of young children) that my husband Mendy suggested to me that I should use my artistic and creative talents in a serious way."

Chanie attended classes at the Arts Students League in Manhattan on Sundays while her husband watched the young children. This was when she first realized that her art could be a form of outreach to her fellow-Jews. "Once, as I was walking into an elevator with my newly finished painting of a girl lighting Shabbat candles, a lady walked past and said 'oh Shabbat!' Another time on a Sunday during Chanukah, I decided to bring hot fresh latkes with me into class, which I distributed during the break. The woman who had modelled for us in the portraiture class approached me and said she was Jewish. She said she was so touched that I had reminded her that it was Chanuka."

As her family grew and her children got older, Chanie had to find different times in her schedule to paint. "I continued to paint in the comfort of my own home whenever I have the time and a chance to get into my world of creativity."

With children ages four to 18, days and nights are busy. "My family comes first. I don't want to neglect them, so I usually paint at night. And my 'night' starts later as my children get older," says Chanie with a laugh.

Chanie does sometimes paint when her children are around and "my children love it. Whilst I'm painting my youngest daughters color and draw, too. They want to be artists. They are excited."

Chanie's most recent painting is of the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. "I haven't been in Israel in ten years. My husband was in Israel and my overwhelming longing to be there overtook me. I felt I had to be there. I took one of the photographs my husband sent to me and painted it."

When asked what are her feelings when she paints, Chanie shared, "When I am painting I am letting out my emotions on the canvas in front of me. When something inspires me I want to paint it, I need to paint it."

But, explains Chanie, it's not only about inspiration. "It has to be the right time of the year. I paint with the times. I feel a connection to the particular holiday or season or special day.

"Very often when I begin a themed painting of a Torah portion or a Jewish holiday, if I haven't finished the painting during that season or time frame, I don't feel the connection to it any longer. I have to put the canvas aside and then the following year at that time, I take it out again. The feelings of the theme have returned and I continue and complete the painting."

Chanie is fluent in the letters that the Rebbe has written to artists, encouraging them to use their G-d-given talents to teach about Torah and mitzvot (commandments) in particular and Judaism in general.

"I know that this talent that I have is a gift and I must utilize it to the fullest. To the best of my ability I share it with other," confides Chanie.

"A year or two ago I joined my husband on a trip to Miami. On our return flight I happened to ask the woman sitting next to me whether she was Jewish. She was Jewish, but told me she was unaffiliated and felt very alone. Her husband had passed away and she was visiting her only son who lived in New York. I asked her if she had heard of Chabad of Miami where she lived. She said she has friends who are part of the JLI courses and they had tried to persuade her to join, but she was hesitant to begin."

As a way to more deeply connect with the woman, Chanie pulled out her smart phone to show her some of her paintings. "I gave her a guided tour of my paintings," including a simple explanation of the Biblical stories they depict.

"A week later, I received an email that she had followed up on my art and she really loved my latest piece of work. She inserted a photograph showing her computer screen shot at her office. There was my painting of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidism, blessing the moon. We have kept in touch, especially around the Jewish holidays.

Recently Chanie started a program "A Journey through My Art," which is an art presentation at Chabad houses and Women's events. This program features a presentation of her work, through stories, poems, words of inspiration and song. Yes, Chanie is also a talented vocalist! Some of the cities that have hosted Chanie's unique program are Cleveland, Providence and Chicago.

I hope to continue to use my talents that I am blessed with, as a way to inspire others with the beauty and depth of Torah.

You can see Chanie Chanin's work on her website

What's New

New Torah Scroll Welcomed

The Binghamton Legacy Torah, in conjunction with the Chabad at SUNY Binghamton's 30-year anniversary, was completed recently at a celebration in New York City. The event was held at the Chelsea Shul-Rohr Center for JGrads. The welcoming of the Torah scroll to the SUNY Binghamton campus will take place this fall.

New Center

Chabad at Weslyn University recently purchased a facility that will serve as a permanent Chabad House. The building is in the middle of Wesleyan student housing. After renovations it will be equipt with a spacious multi-purpose room, kosher kitchen, offices, conference room and library on the first floor with housing for Rabbi Levi and Chanie Schechtman and their three children.

The Rebbe Writes

18th of Tammuz, 5714 [1954]

Sholom U'Brocho [Peace and Blessing]:

I have received your letter of June 13th, in which, after a brief biographical outline of yourself, you present your problem, namely that you recently became aware of a feeling of apathy and indifference to the religious rites and practices, due to a perplexing doubt as to the authenticity of the Jewish Tradition, by which you undoubtedly mean the Torah and Mitzvos [commandments], and you wonder how their authenticity may logically be proved.

I hope this is indeed the only difficulty which has weakened your observance of the practical precepts in daily life; in most cases the true reason is the desire to make it easy for oneself and avoid a "burden"; one later seeks to justify this attitude on philosophical grounds. If this is the case the problem is more complicated. In the hope that you belong to the minority, I will briefly state here the logical basis of the Truth that the Torah and Mitzvos were given to us Jews by Divine Revelation.

This is not very difficult to prove, since the proof is the same as all other evidence that we have of historic events in past generations, only much more forcefully and convincingly.

By way of illustration: if you are asked, how do you know that there existed such a person as Maimonides, whom you mention in your letter, you would surely reply that you are certain about his existence from the books he has written. Although Rambam (Maimonides) lived some 800 years ago, his works now in print have been reprinted from earlier editions, and those from earlier ones still, uninterruptedly, going back to the very manuscript which Rambam wrote in his own hand. This is considered sufficient proof even in the face of discrepancies or contradictions from one book of Rambam to another. Such contradictions do not demolish the above proof; rather efforts are made to reconcile them, in the certainty that both have been written by the same author.

The same kind of proof substantiates any historic past, which we ourselves have not witnessed, and all normal people accept them without question, except those who for some reason are interested in falsification.

In many cases the authenticity of an historic event is based on the evidence of a limited group of people, where there is room to suspect that the witnesses were, perhaps, not quite disinterested. Nonetheless, because there is nothing to compel us to be suspicious, and especially if we can check the evidence and counter-check it, it is accepted as a fact.

From the above point of view, any doubts you may have about the authenticity of the Jewish Tradition should be quickly dispelled.

Millions of Jews have always known and still know that G-d is the author of the Torah Shebiksav (written Torah) and the Torah Shebe'al Peh, (oral tradition) which He gave to His people Israel not only to study but to observe in practice in daily life. The Al-mighty made it a condition of the existence and welfare of our people as a whole, and of the true happiness of every individual member of our nation.

How do these millions of individuals know, and how did they know in the past, that the Torah is true? Simply because they have it on the evidence of their fathers, millions of Jews that preceded them, and these in turn from their fathers, and so on, uninterruptedly back to the millions of Jews (if we include women and children, and those above and below the age range of the 600,000 male adults) who witnessed the Divine Revelation at Sinai. Throughout all these generations, the very same content has been traditionally handed down, not by a single group, but by a people of many millions, of different mentalities, walks of life, interests, under the most varying circumstances, places and times, etc. etc. Such evidence cannot be disputed.

It is difficult, in the course of a letter, to elaborate, but I am sure that even the brief above analysis should dispel any of your doubts (if indeed you had any serious doubts) as to the authenticity of our Tradition. I trust you will from now on not permit anything to weaken your observance of the Mitzvos, whose very observance of itself illumines the mind and soul more than any philosophic book can ever do. I shall be glad to hear good news from you, and I wish you success.

With blessing,

All Together

What is the significance of wearing tzitzit?

Tzitzit are the special threads attached to the four corners of the talit (prayer shawl) and talit katan (four cornered garment). According to the Torah (Num. 37:39) tzitzit are to serve as a visual reminder of the obligation to keep the commandments. There are eight threads on each corner which are tied into five knots and wound 39 times. The word "tzitzit" has the numerical value of 600. By adding to that the 8 threads and 5 knots one comes up with 613 - the number of commandments in the Torah.

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Shabbat we bless the new month of Menachem Av. On the first day of Menachem Av, the mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple increases (until it culminates with the Fast Day of Tisha B'Av).

However, there is a mitzva (commandment) in the Torah to always be joyous. How does one integrate the ideas of mourning and rejoicing? The Lubavitcher Rebbe discussed this exact topic in a gathering and said:

"Simcha (joy) is a fundamental element necessary in the performance of all the mitzvot. Each mitzva provides an opportunity for a Jew to connect and relate to G-d's essence. The realization that this opportunity exists generates true joy in the performance of all the mitzvot.

"In addition, however, since simcha must be internalized (to the point where the joy brings the individual to sing, dance, move his entire body), an attempt should be made to tie the observance of Torah and mitzvot to objects that naturally produce simcha. For that reason, though there were ample spiritual and philosophical reasons for simcha on the Jewish holidays, rather than rely on these influences, the Torah commanded that every Jew bring peace offerings (that were eaten later by him and his family), and drink wine on the festivals. The Talmud explains this principle, saying 'Real simcha is enjoyed when feasting on sacrificial meat. Real simcha is enjoyed when drinking wine.'

"Similarly, though Torah study in general produces Simcha, it is necessary to find an object of study which itself naturally produces simcha. Hence, in these three weeks associated with the destruction of the Temple and also the Messianic redemption, it is appropriate to study texts about the Redemption and likewise the structure and measurements of the Temple. The study of these texts will evoke genuine simcha. The fusion of the study of Torah and performance of the mitzvot with the quality of Simcha will hasten the coming of Moshiach and the re-entry of the Jewish people into the land of Israel."

Thoughts that Count

Rabban Gamliel used to say: "Make His will your will, so that He may fulfill your will as though it were His will. Set aside your will for His will, so that He may set aside the will of others before your will." (Ethics 2:4)

This teaching conveys a fundamental lesson: Each of us has the ability to remake G-d's will, as it were, to arouse a new desire on His part. To apply this principle: A person might think that since it is G-d's will that we are in exile, we should resign ourselves to the situation. Nothing is further from the truth. G-d is anxiously waiting for us to arouse a new will on His part. He is waiting for us to motivate Him to bring the Redemption.

(The Rebbe, Parshas Masei, 5744)

Hillel Said: "...Do not condemn your fellowman until you have stood in his place. (Ethics 2:4)

One should never criticize his fellowman until he establishes a commonalty with him. Even when a person's conduct seems worthy of reproof, one should not talk to him with a condescending attitude. By focusing instead on the essential connection which all men share, we can nurture the positive qualities in others and enable them to surface.

(Sichot Kodesh, Parshas Vayakhel, 5752)

He also saw a skull floating on the water. He said to it: "Because you drowned others, they drowned you; and ultimately those who drowned you will themselves be drowned." (Ethics 2:6)

This refers to Pharaoh's skull, who was drowned in punishment for having Jewish boys drowned in the Nile. When Hillel saw Pharaoh's skull, he realized that this was an extraordinary phenomenon and contemplated it. Why did G-d cause this to happen? The fact that Hillel learned a lesson from the skull and shared it with others enabled the skull to come to eternal rest after thousands of years of drifting on the waters. This is why "he said to it." Hillel made his statement for the skull's benefit. Once the skull had communicated its lesson, it had fulfilled its purpose and could rest.

(Sichot Parshat Emor, 5744)

It Once Happened

During the period of Roman rule in the land of Israel, the great Sage Rabbi Abahu was the leader of his generation. He was respected not only by his fellow Jews, but by the Roman rulers, including the emperor himself. Rabbi Abahu often the invited guest and valued advisor of the Roman emperor. Whenever he would enter the royal palace, singers would be stationed at the entrance to laud his praises in song.

Rabbi Abahu had every reason to hold himself in high regard, but, in fact, he is remembered for his extreme humility.

A very handsome and wealthy man, he was so self-effacing that it is written that it was hard to find his like, even in that generation of tremendous Torah giants. A number of instances are noted in the Talmud which illustrate his remarkable traits.

At that time, it was customary for the Sages to address the masses with the aid of an interpreter. Rabbi Abahu would speak in a terse, abbreviated Hebrew, and his interpreter would expound on the ideas in great detail, simplifying them so that the thoughts were accessible to all.

One day Rabbi Abahu's wife and the wife of the interpreter had an argument. In the heat of the angry exchange the interpreter's wife blurted out, "What does my husband need your husband for?! He's just as great a scholar any day, and he is perfectly capable of teaching Torah without your husband's paltry contribution!"

Rabbi Abahu's wife was shocked and deeply insulted, for her husband was known as one of the outstanding Sages of the era. Not wanting to argue further, she walked away without replying, but she was seething inside. That night Abahu noticed that his wife was not her usual self. "What is wrong?" he asked her. She told him the whole story of her encounter with the interpreter's wife, sure he would be upset at the woman's rude and coarse remarks. Perhaps he might even want to hire a different interpreter. "Is that a reason to be so upset?" he asked her. "And even if she was speaking the truth, her husband and I both have the same goal. We are both teaching, not for our own honor, but for the honor of Heaven." Rabbi Abahu was so great that his own personal honor had no meaning to him.

Once, it was necessary to choose a new Rosh Yeshiva (spiritual leader and chief instructor of the Torah academy) for the great yeshiva in Caesaria. On account of his great scholarship and remarkable personal qualities, the Sages wanted to appoint Rabbi Abahu but he refused the honor, suggesting instead Rabbi Abba, a poverty-stricken sage who lived in the city of Acre. Rabbi Abahu hoped that with the appointment to the honored position of Rosh Yeshiva, the poor man's financial hardships would be lifted. In making his recommendation Rabbi Abahu said, "Rabbi Abba is the most humble man I know. I cannot even compare to such a man!"

It happened once that Rabbi Abahu and Rabbi Chiya bar Abba were visiting the same town. Every evening they would meet to discuss Torah thoughts, and afterward Rabbi Chiya would walk Rabbi Abahu home, as an indication of respect. That Shabbat they decided to deliver their discourses at different study halls.

Rabbi Abahu spoke about Aggada, the stories of the Torah, while his colleague spoke about Jewish law. Many people attended both lectures, but when they heard that Rabbi Abahu was speaking about Aggada, they left Rabbi Chiya and swarmed to hear Rabbi Abahu. When Rabbi Chiya realized what had happened, he was crestfallen.

Word of Rabbi Chiya's reaction reached Rabbi Abahu and he at once set out to the lodging of his colleague. "The people came to my lecture only for one reason, and I will illustrate it with a story," began Rabbi Abahu. "Once, two peddlers came to the same town. One was selling precious stones, while the other was selling all sorts of household miscellany. The second man had so many customers he couldn't keep up with the demand, while the man selling the precious stones sold nothing. Was it because his wares were unworthy? No, the deficiency was entirely on the part of the customers. Not only did they lack the money to purchase jewels, they didn't even have an understanding of the value of gems. Common household items were all they knew about.

"You and I have come to a town where there are very few learned people. The majority find it easier to listen to the stories of the Aggada (without even realizing that they understand very little of them). So, you see, it isn't that they prefer my discourse to that of my learned colleague, they just find the topic more compatible with their unsophisticated level of understanding." After Rabbi Abahu spoke to him in this consoling manner, Rabbi Chiya felt somewhat better, but Rabbi Abahu sensed that he remained unconvinced. As a further indication of his esteem, Rabbi Abahu changed the usual order and accompanied Rabbi Chiya to his residence, to show the great honor in which he held him.

Moshiach Matters

The Torah portion is called "journeys" though most of the time in the desert the Jews didn't move. Thus we learn that even "encampments," interruptions or obstacles, are part of the journey. The 42 "journeys" in the wilderness parallel those of the Jewish people. One can advance without going forth. To journey, or go forth, means to travel to a completely new state of existence. Similarly, the encampments - the sojourns of the Jews among the nations - are a descent into greater exile. Delays, even in friendly countries, impede the fulfillment of our true goal, transforming the world into a dwelling place for G-dliness. Nevertheless, the "encampments" are also part of the journey.

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

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