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Devarim Deutronomy

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Devarim Deutronomy

March 15, 2019 - 8 Adar II, 5779

1564: Vayikra

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The Weekly Publication For Every Jewish Person
Dedicated to the memory of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson N.E.

  1563: Pekudei1565: Tzav  

Don't Read Backwards  |  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

Don't Read Backwards

One of the commandments of Purim is to hear the Megila (Scroll of Esther) read twice on the holiday: once in the evening and once on the day of Purim. Concerning this mitzva, our Sages declare, "Anyone who reads the Megila 'backward' does not fulfill his duty." The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, explained that this alludes to the idea that anyone who thinks that the miracle of Purim was valid "back" then - but not now - has not fulfilled his duty. All of the events that took place back then are equally applicable today.

All we have to do is read the headlines or listen to the news to know that when it comes to Haman's plan of annihilating the Jewish people it didn't just happen, "back then." Surely, there are many Haman's today.

But, its Purim! Why emphasize the negative? There's much more to being Jewish than tracking anti-Semitism, studying about the Holocaust, or scrupulously "oy"ing the lot of the Jewish people. And there's much more to Judaism that happened back then that is applicable today. We'll mention just a few contemporary points from the ancient Purim story that we would do well to incorporate into our lives:

Esther's only interest in all of the luxury, abundance and power of the palace was to use them to save her people and to serve G-d.

Mordechai would not bow down. He was proud of being a Jew and even the threats of the powerful and evil Haman could not induce him to compromise his beliefs.

The deliverance of the Jews from Haman's evil plot was hastened by the uninterrupted prayers and Torah study of the Jewish children.

Despite the fact that the Jews were scattered throughout Ahasuerus's 127 provinces, they were - in Haman's words - "one nation." They were united. Our greatest strength comes from standing united as one people.

Though G-d's direction of the world is often hidden, as was the case throughout the Purim story, it is truly G-d who controls the world and its every detail.

Backward, forward, up or down. Purim is the time to rejoice in the great miracle that G-d wrought for us "back" then and to acknowledge the miracles that He continually bestows upon us every moment of each day. May we celebrate Purim this year all together in Jerusalem with the ultimate miracle of the revelation of Moshiach and the final Redemption.

Living with the Rebbe

The additional portion of Zachor, which is about Amalek, is always read on the Shabbat before Purim. The Haftora is about the war waged by King Saul against King Agog and the Amalekite people.

The obvious connection to Purim is that the wicked Haman, who was the descendant of Agog, sought to kill all of the Jewish people (Heaven forbid), and the miraculous victory over Haman, through Mordechai and Esther, the descendants of King Saul.

The Haftora begins with Samuel our prophet giving G-d's command to Saul to utterly wipe out Amalek. "So says G-d..., 'I remember what Amalek did to Israel..., when they were going up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and destroy all that they have...'" What is interesting about this verse, is how it varies from the verse in the portion of Zachor, "Remember what Amalek did to you..., when you were going out of Egypt." In the portion it says, "going out" from Egypt, and in the Haftora it says, "going up." Going out and going up express two different purposes in leaving Egypt.

Going out refers to getting away from the negative influence of Egypt. Going up refers to the positive purpose of going out of Egypt, receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, and becoming G-d's nation.

The main idea of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, was that we were raised above nature, connecting with G-d, and that G-d would bring himself into the physical, allowing the world to be infused with G-dliness, through our study of Torah and doing of mitzvahs.

The Haftora brings to the fore the nature of Amalek. When does Amalek attack? When we are on the way up, when we are reaching to be who we are meant to be, above the natural and one with G-d. This is what Amalek can't stand, this is where their hatred lies.

This is the war we wage against Amalek every day. When we are inspired to rise above, to be Jewish, above the natural, inevitably an Amalek comes to cool down our inspiration and fervor.

The war against Amalek coming out of Egypt was necessary. Overcoming Amalek was part of what set the stage for receiving the Torah. And the same is true today. We should not see our battle with our personal Amalek as a negative, but rather, as a necessary struggle, that prepares us to rise above.

Through taking our service to this higher level we will once again merit great miracles, like the miracles of Purim, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come now!

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

A Slice of Life

A Scroll Redeemed
by Rabbi Shmuel Schlanger

My wife Esther and I have been emissaries of the Rebbe in Bakersfield, California, for 17 years. Before we came to Bakersfield we had thought we had found a location that we thought would be perfect for us and our talents. And it had a great beach climate and scenery! But despite our efforts, that place didn't work out.

Soon after, someone told me, "If you really want to go on 'shlichus' (to do the Rebbe's work) go to Bakersfield, California."

Bakersfield was very different from the original location where we had hoped to establish a Chabad House. Bakersfield has a desert climate, and with about 2,000 Jews in Kern County, it was a desert in other ways as well. But, with Bakersfield in mind, we went to the Rebbe's Ohel to ask if Bakersfield would be a suitable location for us. When we entered the sitting room where videos play of the Rebbe's talks, the Rebbe was saying that the whole world is a desert, and our job is to turn a place of barrenness into a place of life and growth. We've been in Bakersfield ever since then!

Last year, soon after Purim, I was sitting in my office at our Chabad Jewish Community Center, when a young gentleman and his family walked in. He asked if I had a minute. He had something to show me and he wanted to know if I knew what it was and if I can translate it for him.

"Of course," I said.

He took out a small scroll wrapped in cloth. I gently unrolled it and to my surprise I saw that it was the Scroll of Esther.

"Where did you get this from?" I asked, taken aback.

The scroll was aged and looked worn down, but it was beautiful. The parchment was yellowed and the letters written in holy script.

He said, "It was our grandfather's. We were cleaning out his belongings and found this. We want to know what it is and its significance. We recognize the writing as Hebrew and thought you can help."

"Where did he find this?" I asked.

"Our grandfather was a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force and brought it home after his tour in Europe during World War II. He witnessed the hell of the Holocaust. He told us he saw 'things no human being should ever, ever see.' He saved this scroll found among the smoldering ruins of what once was."

I looked at the scroll. Goosebumps and tears overtook me. I told them, "You have no idea what this means. This scroll, the scroll of Esther, is something that is read during the Jewish holiday of Purim."

I closed my eyes and envisioned hundreds, if not thousands of men, women and children. Kids dressed up in costumes of Queen Esther and Mordechai. Men passing around whiskey bottles. Delicious baskets of food shared.

Where was this Megilla read? In a shtetl shul? In a tiny ghetto room? In a large home filled with people? On a cattle car packed with men, women and children? How many have listened to these beautiful words? Stomped out the name of our ever-present enemies? Celebrations of the past. No longer. People that once danced and booed Haman. No longer. Perished in the flames of the Holocaust.

I asked them if they would think of returning this beautiful scroll, hidden away for so many years, to the Jewish community. Give it life once more. Give these letters and words a congregation. What once was, let's bring back to life, here in Bakersfield, California

He said, "I've got to ask my father. It belonged to his father."

The next day the son of U.S. Air Force Lt. William David Raines came in and said, "I would like to return this to the Jewish community. This is where it belongs. We have to remember and never forget."

Thank you, Lt. William David Raines, for saving this scroll more than 70 years ago from the remnants of European Jewry. Thank you, Michael Wesley Rayl, and the entire family for bringing it back to life and letting the Jewish community celebrate and dance with what was. How honored and fortunate we are to be the recipients of this gift. A gift from our brothers and sisters in Europe 70 years later.

We will have this tear-soaked Megilla with us during this year's Purim celebration in Bakersfield. The adults and children who come will reconnect with the 2,500 year-old story as well as with their ancestors throughout the ages who have gathered to hear the Megilla and its message of Jewish continuity and self-sacrifice. We will pledge to remember our lost family members, uncles and aunts, cousins and grandparents and rejoice with their souls. We as a nation will never be destroyed. We will continue on. We will move forward. We will persevere!

Our greatest hope and prayer is that we will celebrate Purim not just with the Jews of Bakersfield, but with all Jews from around the globe in the rebuilt Holy Temple, hearing the Megila read by Moshiach, may it happen this year!

Rabbi Shmuel Schlanger is director of Chabad Jewish Community Center of Bakersfield, California.

What's New

Purim Parties & More

Where will you be celebrating Purim this year? And How? Join your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center on Wednesday night, March 20 and Thursday, March 21 for Megila reading and other festive activities in celebration of one of the most beloved Jewish holidays that spans the globe and the generations. For a Purim celebration near year call your local Chabad-Lubavitch center or visit the "Purim event directory" on

Urban Shtetle

"Urban Shtetle" was the name of the recent Shabbaton Weekend In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, of the Chabad Young Professionals. CYP is a worldwide network of communities of young Jewish professionals, post-college and pre-suburb. More than 85 communities globally - and growing - comprise CYP.

The Rebbe Writes

7 Adar II, 5741 [1981]

With the approach of Purim, I take this opportunity of extending to you prayerful wishes for a joyous and inspiring Purim, and to send you this timely message in lieu of Mishloach Manos [gifts of food giving to friends on Purim].

One of the most inspiring lessons of Purim is the extraordinary courage of Mordechai the Jew, who "would not kneel or bow down," despite the physical vulnerability of our people being "spread and scattered among the nations" - a tiny minority against an overwhelming majority.

Yet, it is this uncompromising stance that brought triumph over all adversaries, so that "for the Jews there was light, joy, gladness and honor," and the awesome respect of their detractors.

The teachings of our Torah, like the Torah itself, are of course eternal, including the lessons of Purim; particularly since we are still "spread and scattered among the nations," including our brethren in the Holy Land, for they, too, are surrounded and besieged by numerically overwhelming hostile nations.

But Purim teaches us that the strength of our Jewish people, as of every Jew individually, is in our G-d-given capacity of "not kneeling or bowing down" to any force that is contrary to our Jewish essence, which is rooted in the Torah and mitzvos [commandments].

Indeed, yielding to any influence that is alien to our Jewish spirit and way of life, far from winning good will and respect, must necessarily bring forth contempt, be it overtly or covertly. For what is one to think of a cringing Jew who is willing to compromise his true Jewish identity and noble traditions going back to the time when the world was steeped in barbarism?

Needless to say, the true Jewish spirit, as exemplified by Mordechai and Esther, must not remain in the abstract, but must be translated into concrete behavior in everyday life, in keeping with the basic principle of our Torah that "action is the essential thing."

Certainly this is to be expected of young people, who are generally blessed with a greater sense of urgency and doing. Especially young couples who start out on their own, establish a home on the foundations of Torah and mitzvos, raise a family in the true Torah tradition, and build "an everlasting edifice" in the fullest sense.

And here, of course, a great deal depends on the akeres habayis [the foundation of the home, i.e., the woman], in whose hands G-d has entrusted the major responsibilities for the character and actual conduct of the home, such as kashrus, Shabbat observance, taharas hamishpacha [laws of purity of Jewish family life], raising the children, and so forth.

This in no way diminishes the husband's full share of responsibility in this Divinely-blessed partnership, and they must consistently encourage each other to upgrade all things of goodness and holiness, Torah and mitzvos; but there is no getting away from the fact that it is the young wife and mother who bears the noble calling of akeres habayis.

It is also self-evident that together with the G-d-given task comes the G-d-given capacity to carry it out to perfection. Thus it is basically a matter of one's own will and determination.

It should be noted, in conclusion, that there is no greater emphasis on the historic role of the Jewish life than in the events that brought about the Miracle of Purim, as related in the Megila - which is named not after Mordechai, nor Mordechai and Esther jointly, but solely after Esther - Megilas Esther!

Wishing you, in the midst of all our people, in the words of the Megila, "Light, joy, gladness, and honor," in the fullest sense of these terms, including their inner meaning, "Light - this is Torah," etc..

All Together

MORDECHAI according to the Talmud means "pure myrrh" ("mara dachia" in Aramaic). Mordechai was a member of the Men of the Great Assembly and leader of Persian Jewry during the time of the Purim story. He became advisor to the king at Esther's recommendation.

ESTHER in Persian means, "star." In Hebrew, it is related to the word meaning "hidden." Queen Esther was the heroine of the Purim story. She and Mordechai recorded the events in the Megila (scroll) named for her. Esther's Hebrew name was HADASSA which means "myrtle."

A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

Over 2,000 years ago in ancient Persia, the wicked Haman schemed to destroy the Jewish People. But through a sequence of events that were seemingly "natural" though in reality actually quite miraculous, involving Mordechai and Queen Esther, the tables were turned; Haman and his henchmen were hanged on the gallows, instead.

Haman, in those days, did not need to resort to newfangled inventions in his attempt at the first "Final Solution." With the mere signing of a royal proclamation giving him the power to do as he pleased, our fate as a people seemed to be sealed.

But, Haman's plans were foiled by Esther, who had been placed in the palace by G-d to deflect Haman's evil decree.

Modern-day Hamans try to wreak havoc on the Jewish people in the Holy Land and on all people throughout the world.

Every year the victory of the survival of the Jewish people, despite all odds, is celebrated on the joyous Festival of Purim. And although the story of Purim happened so long ago, its lesson of faith and trust in G-d is as relevant today as ever.

This year, celebrate Purim, with all of its beautiful commandments and customs:

Hear the Megila read Wednesday night and Thursday day; gift charity on the day of Purim; enjoy a festive meal; give gifts of food to at least two friends; add the special "v'al hanissim- for these miracles" prayer.

Through these acts, you will send a message of true Jewish strength - that trust in G-d is stronger than anything. For, with each special Purim mitzva or general mitzva we do, we are strengthening ourselves, the Jewish people, and the entire world.

Thoughts that Count

If any one of you bring an offering to G-d (Lev. 1:2)

Chasidic philosophy interprets this verse to mean that the personal offering each one of us brings to G-d must truly be "of us," from our innermost part. Yet a person might hesitate, thinking that a mere mortal can never bridge the gap between the finite and infinite. We must therefore remember that our relationship with G-d is, in actuality, dependent only on our initiative. Once that initiative is taken, nothing can stand in the way of communion between man and G-d.

(The Previous Rebbe)

And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar (Lev. 1:7)

Even though a heavenly fire descended from on High to consume the offerings, the priests were still required to bring ordinary fire as well, to the altar. We learn from this that one may not rely solely on the "fire that descends from on high"--the natural, innate love of G-d which is present in the soul of every Jew. Each of us must also bring an "ordinary fire," kindle that innate love of G-d by taking the initiative and contemplating His greatness, to further nurture that inner spark.

(The Rebbe)

If any person sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of G-d...and do any of them (Lev. 4:2)

There are times when even a mitzva (commandment) can be considered a transgression. If a person fulfills a mitzva of G-d, with full knowledge that he is doing a mitzva, yet he thinks he is doing a great favor to G-d by his compliance--this attitude is in itself sinful.

(Kedushat Levi)

It Once Happened

During the Thirty Years' War, Emperor Ferdinand II of Hapsburg acted very kindly toward the Jews; he granted them all kinds of privileges and rights because he needed the help of the Jewish bankers and merchants of his lands.

The governor of Bohemia, Rudolph of Weneceslaw, resented the friendliness of Ferdinand toward the Jews. His greatest desire was to find a way to discredit the Jews in the eyes of the emperor.

Rudolph was responsible for all of the furnishings in the palace. Most of the precious carpets and draperies were stored away to avoid spoilage from sunlight during the entire year, except the winter. The most precious of all these treasures were some heavy gold brocade curtains, woven by a medieval master weaver. They were considered priceless, and Rudolph was personally responsible for them. Rudolph, in turn, entrusted them to the chamberlain, Hradek.

One winter, when Hradek began unpacking the furnishings, the curtains were missing. Rudolph was beside himself with rage. He threatened all the servants with imprisonment if the curtains weren't found.

Hradek had a suggestion: "You might check all the pawnshops in the city," he ventured, "and keep an especially sharp eye on the Jews' stores."

The suggestion cheered Rudolph. Here was an opportunity to make trouble for the Jews.

Immediately Rudolph sent a troop of men to search the Jewish ghetto of Prague. They entered the home of Enoch Altschul, head of the ghetto, and brandishing a pistol, ordered him to show them where he kept his most precious items. The old man opened a secret vault and there, amidst many other treasures, were the curtains.

The governor's men led Altschul through the shocked crowds of the ghetto and then through the angry mob lining the streets of Prague.

When Rudolph saw the curtains, he was greatly relieved. And the thought of them being found in the possession of a Jew gave him no measure of joy.

"Explain yourself if you can, Jew," sneered Rudolph.

"I gave my word to a most noble member of your court that I would not explain the presence of the curtains unless I had his permission," said Altschul quietly.

Despite 50 lashes, Altschul refused to divulge who had given him the curtains. "You have until tomorrow morning at ten o'clock. If you still refuse to tell me how you obtained the curtains, you will be hanged and the whole ghetto will be stormed."

That night, Altschul tossed and turned in pain and agony. He prayed for heavenly guidance and fell into a deep sleep.

Suddenly, it seemed as if the room was flooded with light. His beloved teacher and friend, Rabbi Judah Loew, the Maharal of Prague, appeared and assured him everything would be all right.

Altschul awoke the next morning full of hope. He was brought before the governor, who immediately told him, "All those armed men out in the courtyard are ordered to break into the ghetto and destroy everything at a signal from me."

Altschul paled at the thought. But before he had a chance to reply, Hradek came forward.

"Your honor, I am the guilty one. Several months ago I was in great debt and took these precious curtains to this Jew. I wrote a note in your name and sent it with your seal. In the note was a promise to treat the Jews kindly if this whole transaction was kept secret, or to destroy the ghetto if not."

Why was Hradek confessing? "I was going to keep silent about this matter except that I had a dream last night in which the famous late Rabbi of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew, appeared to me. I was filled with the same great fear that other people who have tried to harm the Jews have experienced. `Tell the truth tomorrow,' he warned me."

With that, Hradek fell to the floor, dead. There was no doubt that he was, in fact, the guilty party. The governor had no choice but to free Altschul and give orders that the mobs be dispersed.

This happened on the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Tevet and was celebrated for many years by the Jews of Prague as the "Purim of the Curtains.''

Moshiach Matters

After the passing of Rabbi Yosef of Kotzk, many of his Chasidim went to his successor, Rabbi Yosef Asher Zelig of Strikov, to celebrate Purim in the presence of the new Rebbe. One of the Chasidim asked Rabbi Yosef Asher Zelig, "From where can we acquire some joy in honor of Purim during these very difficult times?" The Rebbe said, "Jews serve G-d and fulfill His commandments with joy, and this is why they are assured a reward in the future. However, we cannot ask G-d for things on account of what we will receive in the future. We can only ask for a small loan. So may G-d lend us a bit of joy from the treasury of joy of the Days of Moshiach."

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