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L'Chaim
May 27, 2005 - 18 Iyyar, 5765

871: Bechukosai

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  870: Behar872: Bamidbar  

The Bags Are Packed  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Rambam this week  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

The Bags Are Packed

Let's face it, traveling can be a hassle. There's getting to the airport, standing in line, going through security, putting up with delays, cancellations, lost luggage, indifferent agents and rude passengers.

And then there's packing. Should you travel light? Or should you prepare for the unknown? How many shirts and suits? How many dresses and shoes? The formal and informal attire and bathrobes and slippers when you retire. Something to read and is the cell phone charged? Did you print the ticket? Who's taking in the mail, who's walking the dog - though you don't have a pet - did you lock the door, what else did you forget?

Whatever we pack, it never seems to be enough and it always seems too much. Even for a short trip, even to a well-seasoned traveler, packing, though it becomes routine, leaves us with a sense that something's missing; no matter that the contents of the suitcase and the checklist match; we know we're leaving something behind, something important, something of infinite value that we'll miss on this trip and regret not taking.

But we can't pack our house, all our goods, our comfort zone and bring everything with us.

Life, the clich้ has been, is a journey. But in making the comparison, the emphasis has been on the journey itself, traveling from here to there, getting from the mundane acts of survival to the sublime state of meaning. Rarely do we talk of our baggage, our luggage, the suitcases we take and what we put in them.

When we look at a lifetime of traveling through Judaism, the task of packing mitzvot (commandments)seems rather daunting. There are so many mitzvot to do and so much Jewish knowledge to acquire - how can we possibly take them all? And even if we manage, somehow, to "overstuff our suitcases" - won't the clothes - the mitzvot - get wrinkled and the food - the Torah - get mashed? How can we possibly keep the mitzvot (clothes) pressed and the Torah (food) fresh?

So maybe we decide to "travel light" - to take only the bare necessities, the fewest possible mitzvot and the least possible Torah - hoping to get by with that, with the excuse to ourselves that we'll make up in quality what we lack in quantity?

And sometimes the task of packing seems so overwhelming that we decide to forego the journey altogether. Oh, we'll pick things up and put them in the suitcase, but not with much enthusiasm.

Perhaps we can apply Rabbi Tarfon's statement about work to the business of packing. He used to say (quoted in the Mishna, Pirkei Avot 3:16, studied on Shabbat afternoons from Passover through Rosh Hashana): "It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, yet you are free to desist from it." Perhaps we can add, "We are not expected to pack everything - to do every single mitzva down to the minutest detail and learn every single nuance of every single commentary on every single aspect of Torah - but we are obligated to pack as much as possible - to try to bring on our journey as much Torah and mitzvot as we can."


Living with the Rebbe

This week's Torah reading, Bechukotai, begins with a description of the blessings a person will receive for the observance of Torah and mitzvot (commandments) and it continues with a detailed description of the retribution to be visited upon our people if they fail to observe.

Our Sages raise questions concerning these statements, because our Torah observance is not a bargain which G-d strikes with us. He does not need our observance. We do.

By observing the Torah and its mitzvot, we step beyond the realm of ordinary mortal experience and connect ourselves to G-d. The very word "mitzva" alludes to this concept, for it shares the root of "tzavta," meaning "connection" or "bond." When we perform a mitzva, we unite ourselves with G-d.

Thus our observance is a benefit for us, not for Him. Our Sages point to this concept in their teaching in the Mishna (Pirkei Avot): "The reward for a mitzva is the mitzva." What we receive for doing G-d's will is a bond with Him. There is no other reward that is truly fitting. Material benefit surely cannot serve as appropriate compensation for our observance. The spiritual value of these deeds is unbounded, and all material prosperity, however, abundant, is by nature limited.

Maimonides resolves these issues as follows: The true reward which man will receive for his Torah observance is spiritual. When a person serves G-d he will be granted prosperity and blessing. This is not, however, a reward for observing mitzvos, but encouragement for him to do so.

When G-d sees that man is making an effort to serve Him, He makes that task easier by removing hardships that might handicap this endeavor. For example, when a person is sick, it is difficult for him to apply himself in Divine service. Therefore a person who perseveres in his Divine service will be given the benefits of health so that he will be able to serve G-d with greater energy.

This motif is also alluded to in Pirkei Avot which teaches: "One mitzva leads to another." By performing one mitzva, we initiate a process that leads to the observance of many others.

These concepts also relate to the ultimate of human experience, the Era of the Redemption. Maimonides teaches that in that age, hunger, war, or controversy will no longer beset mankind. These idyllic conditions are not, however, an end in and of themselves, but rather a means. As Maimonides states: "The Sages did not yearn for the era of Moshiach to have dominion..., to be exalted..., to eat, drink, and celebrate. Instead, they desired to be free to involve themselves in Torah and wisdom." The peak of our experience will be our spiritual bond with Him, the peace and prosperity which we will enjoy will be appreciated as mediums facilitating that goal and not as purposes in their own right.

From Keeping In Touch (published by S.I.E) by Rabbi E. Touger, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe


A Slice of Life

Unconditional Love
by Shmuel Melamed

(Ed.'s Note: Although the author entitled this article "Tefilin Ties Family Together" we chose to call it "Unconditional Love," emphasizing the tremendous ahavat Yisrael - love of one's fellow Jew - that this young Lubavitcher yeshiva student showed toward another Jew).
Mr. David K., a friendly 89-year-old gentleman, is one of the handful of people I visit each Friday in Wilkes-Barr, Pennsylvania. Most weeks, we put on tefilin and then discuss different subjects in Judaism, as well as any current events that are on our minds.

One week, amongst the topics brought up, was the subject of family. I was astonished to find out that David had three immediate family members - two brothers and one sister - whom he had not been in contact with for 60 years! David himself is a life-long bachelor. He attributes his total separation from his brothers and sister to a personal belief that once a family member gets married they go on their own way, and you on your own way, that being the last of your contact with them.

Being an aging man he said that the previous summer he had checked some phone books with the last information he had: 60 years ago one brother had moved to California and the other brother, and his sister, had moved to Washington. His attempts at finding his family came up empty handed. At the moment, he said, he is too weak to make further inquiries, but he hoped that in the summer he would have more strength and would try again.

Upon hearing all this I immediately started explaining to him that his attitude was very wrong. There is a natural brotherly love, he and his siblings come from the same flesh and blood, and they have the same source. My little talk did not have any effect and David continued to stick to his theory.

Finally, I told David that these days, through the internet, it's not so hard (or so I thought) to locate people, and I would try to locate his relatives for him. He responded negatively, saying that were his family members to come to his residence, he would immediately pack his bags and leave town. After another fruitless argument I got David to agree that if I found any of them I could give them the message that he wishes them good health "until 120."

The following week I got to work trying to locate each of them. I started with whitepages.com, which didn't seem to work, and then tried more official web searches. Unfortunately, just to begin would have cost at least $200. I came to the realization that this was not going to be so easy. I decided to check white pages.com one last time. For some reason, during this search, a whole list of people appeared with the names I was looking for from the cities that I searched.

I wrote down all of the numbers and started calling them. All of my attempts at contacting one of the two brothers and the sister were futile, so I then tried for the second brother. I started calling through the list, and then I got the right person! Yes, Murray was in his 80's, was a certified accountant, and had a long-lost brother David. He also mentioned that he had another brother who lived in Washington who was a pharmacist, and that their sister had passed away two years earlier.

I informed Murray of my connection to his long-lost brother David, and I shared with him David's message. He replied with a blessing for long life to David, but became very agitated when he heard that David did not want to speak with him. Murray said that if that was the case, he would not contact him either. I told Murray the famous saying of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe that the heart of one person can influence the heart of another. I proposed that maybe through expressing his brotherly love, David would also return the feeling of brotherly love.

A rabbi who was standing nearby encouraged me to suggest to Murray that he might want to put on tefilin like David does every Friday. In the course of our conversation Murray informed me that 20 years ago, when their parents had passed away, the third brother Jack, in Washington, had hired an attorney to track down David, but had no luck. They had actually already given up on him as dead.

Early the next day I went to David's house and told him the amazing news about finding his brother, and the sad news about his sister. I asked him if he would speak to his brother on the cell phone I had with me. He answered that he would on Friday, to which I told him that 60 years is enough. Finally David agreed and I called Murray. They spoke for about 45 minutes. During that time it was as if a dam had suddenly burst open. After hanging up David looked like an angel, and emotionally thanked me and shook my hand.

The next day I called Murray's house, and he told me it had been the best day of his life. His wife told me he looked like a new person and how they were amazed at how David had remembered details about their wedding that they themselves didn't remember. She also said that she had sent a message to Jack, the other brother, who was traveling at the time and he was totally floored by the good news, and was going to the gravesite of their parents to share the news.

Moshiach now!


What's New

Educator's Conference

A conference for Directors of Ohr Avner Chabad Day Schools operating throughout the Former Soviet Union took place in Odessa, Ukraine, this past month. The conference brought together representatives from the 72 day schools that comprise the Ohr Avner Chabad educational network in the CIS. Over 11,000 students attend Ohr Avner schools.

The Kabbala of Relationships

The Kabbala of Relationships: Stress, Therapy and Joy is the title of the Shabbaton taking place this weekend, May 27-29, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Jacobson will help you plumb the mystical depths of relationships as will guest speaker Mrs. Shimonah Tzukernik. Join Jewish couples, singles and families in experiencing an unforgettable Shabbat featuring thought-provoking lectures, discussions and workshops - accompanied by delicious, traditional cuisine, amidst the warmth of Chasidic family life, song and dance. To register call (718) 774-6187 or visit www.shabbaton.org


The Rebbe Writes

Free Translation of a letter to (then) General Ariel Sharon
September 5, 1968

Greetings and Blessings.

I gratefully acknowledge receipt of your letter from the 24th of Av. It arrived a bit late, and I apologize for the delay in answering.

Regarding the substance of your letter, as we discussed at length when you were here - I am in full agreement with you concerning the liberated territories. Unfortunately, however, I do not agree with you that a shift in public reaction (at this time) in our Holy Land would influence those in power to change their position. According to my information - from sources which have been reliable until now - there is no evident change of intentions in these circles. I could only wish that there were a shift in public opinion which would cause at least a change in the government's unofficial stance. Yet what is actually happening, is the preservation of the Arab character of the Old City of Jerusalem (with the explanation that we must maintain the status quo, just as part of the city looked when we conquered it last year - since it would defy "justice and honesty" etc. to take advantage of the conquest to force something upon the residents who were there until then!) The consequences of this position in day-to-day life are obvious - especially considering that they believe that they have fulfilled their obligation to the Jewish community by partially populating the environs of Jerusalem with Jews.

Of course, I am writing you all this unofficially and privately, because it is not my place to speak about faults of Jews, and especially those who have it within their capability to achieve wondrous things in the said areas, and for various reasons are not doing so.

It is also understood that I am not writing this in order to accuse anyone, for what would such an accusation help? I only mean to express my anguish, at least in writing, to you and to those who you estimate might benefit from knowing the content of these few lines.

If the above is true regarding Jerusalem, then the situation is even worse concerning Hebron, where mainly Arabs dwell.... The Arab community there is grounded, developed, and according to the rumors, it is also organized, all of which only confirms the attitude mentioned above. Despite this, I investigated the possibility of opening a Yeshivah. I received a clear answer - saying that "it would be better for me" to explore possibilities of a Yeshivah in Jerusalem than one in Hebron. Within the inner circles of settlers (contrary to the view of those in charge) there are many Chabadniks (some who are open about it, and others who are unknown). I am sure you are also aware of the situation of the settlers there - who are not far from being prisoners. The reason given is also similar to the one stated, being based upon "justice and honesty," and the common denominator of all these phenomena is: What will the "greater world" say, etc., as we discussed when you were here.

And for example, if there should be some quarrel between an Israeli youth and an Arab youth in Hebron; since the Arab youths would outnumber the Jews there, it is possible that the Jewish youth would be beaten up, etc. On whose side, in your opinion, would the Israeli military police stand in that situation - especially if the Mayor (who, it would appear, had a part in the riots and pogroms of 1929 against Jews in Hebron) were to come and make a commotion about the "provocation" by the Jews.

This is also the reason I asked you when you were here about the circumstances, and the reason for the manner in which Jerusalem was captured last year, where many, of the best Israeli soldiers fell in battle, completely disproportionate to the number of deaths on all the other fronts.

Incidentally (and maybe not incidentally) you still owe me an answer on this (and when you were here, we agreed that you would investigate and give me an answer). The information I have received on this - as I said, from a source who has been reliable until now - and as I said in our conversation, there was an uncontested order from above regarding this. I wish I would be proven wrong. However, in our conversation, there was much room left for doubt.

I would like to add, that my asking about this did not (G-d forbid) stem from pointless curiosity about a painful subject. Rather, it was to demonstrate the thought process of those who issued that order, because many of them are still in charge. Unfortunately, and perhaps to our embarrassment, they have not changed their outlook, since even then it was foreseeable that this would cause more fatalities. From this we can understand the present situation in Jerusalem and Hebron.

Continued in next issue


Rambam this week

24 Iyar, 5765 - June 2, 2005

Prohibition 244: It is forbidden to steal

This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev. 19:11) "Do not steal" We are forbidden to steal money or goods.

Positive Mitzva 239: Penalties for Robbery

This mitzva is based on the verse (Ex. 21:37-22) "If a man shall steal..." This mitzva details the various penalties inflicted upon the thief. A thief must restore the stolen article and also pay a fine for breaking the law.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

The days of the Omer in which we now find ourselves, and especially the 33rd day of the Omer - Lag B'Omer - are connected with the great Rabbi Akiva and his disciples.

Because Rabbi Akiva's disciples were not "respectful" to one another, a plague broke out and 24,000 of his disciples died. The plague stopped on Lag B'Omer.

If the students were worthy of being called "disciples of Rabbi Akiva," in that they were dedicated to the Torah and mitzvot like their teacher, how could they have shown a lack of respect for one another?

People have different personalities and approaches in all aspects of their lives. It follows, then, that each person has his own approach to serving G-d, studying the Torah and observing mitzvot. Rabbi Akiva's disciples served G-d with the utmost sincerity and devotion and each one believed that his particular approach was the correct one. The disciples were taught by Rabbi Akiva, "You shall love your fellow Jews as yourself." They therefore considered it their duty to share their approach with the other disciples. But, since the fellow-students had their own approach, they were reluctant to follow a different path. This led to a lessening of respect on the part of the disciples for one another - totally inappropriate for disciples of Rabbi Akiva.

The story of Rabbi Akiva's disciples and the plague shows us just how far we must extend respect and "love of a fellow Jew" for our brethren. This will bring us closer together and ensure eternal happiness and blessings.


Thoughts that Count

If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments...(Lev. 26:3)

One might think that walking in G-d's statutes refers to the fulfillment of the commandments. But the verse continues and states, "and keep My commandments." So, the keeping of the commandments is explicit. How then can it be explained? According to the Sifra, walking in G-d's statutes refers to "toiling in the study of the Torah." The above can be clarified even more according to Chasidic philosophy. Since studying the Torah is really one of the statutes mentioned in the first part of the verse, the explanation "toiling in the study of Torah" must have a unique twist. It teaches us that all of our "toil" everything that we work at in our lives, must be permeated totally with the teachings and ethics of the Torah.

(Shearit Menachem)


If you walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments...and you shall eat your bread with satiety and dwell in safety in your land. And I will give you peace. (Lev. 26:3-6)

One might say: There is food and there is drink, but if there is no peace, there is nothing. For this reason, after enumerating all of the tangible blessings for keeping the commandments, the Torah states "And I will give peace in the Land." For peace is balanced against everything.

(Rashi)


If you walk in My statutes... (Lev. 23:6)

The Baal Shem Tov explains: If a person gets to a point where his spiritual service become like a "statute," an unbending decree-and he is not able to move Then he must walk - he cannot stay in that place. He must invigorate, renew, add to his spiritual service until he is able to go forth to a higher level.

(Keter Shem Tov)


It Once Happened

As Rachel lay on the coarse pallet of straw which now served as her bed she thought back to her life before Akiva. She had been a princess or almost so, the beloved daughter of the wealthy Ben Kalba Savua, and there was nothing she lacked, not the most beautiful dresses, nor the finest delicacies. But, she would not exchange her life with Akiva for even the most precious gem in the world. For her aspirations lay elsewhere - her husband would one day be a great Torah scholar. It didn't matter that her father cast her out of their home, or that people laughed at her and scorned her - she had no doubt that one day Akiva would be a leader in Israel.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Akiva rose to answer and saw on the threshold a man dressed in tatters. "Please, have pity on us. My wife has just given birth and I have no bed for her and the baby." Rachel leapt to her feet, looking helplessly around for something to give him. Sensing her confusion, he said, "Just a bit of straw would help a lot." She gathered a large pile of soft straw and handed it to the grateful man.

"You see, Rachel," whispered her husband, "they are even poorer than we are, but some day I will buy you a golden tiara engraved with scenes of Jerusalem, just like your friends wear." She smiled at him, happy with his loving thoughts.

The days went by and Rachel grew accustomed to her new status. Life was hard, but her thoughts never dwelt on the present; she waited for her dream of the future to be realized.

Akiva knew that his work was cut out for him. Forty years old, he was just now embarking on his education, just now beginning with the Hebrew alphabet. Was it possible for him to achieve the heights imagined by his wife? Akiva's thoughts were interrupted by an amazing sight, for there a bit to the side of the road was a huge rock with a large hole bored through the center. He stared at it wondering what kind of tool could have made the hole and for what purpose, when he noticed a small drop of water hitting the hole and then falling again into the depression. He watched as the process repeated itself again and again. Then, he realized that the soft, pure drops had bored the hole in the hard rock. He had stumbled upon the answer to his unspoken question; if water could make a hole in solid rock, then surely the holy words of Torah could work their way into his willing heart, even at the age of forty.

The traits that Rachel had perceived in her shepherd husband matured and his learning advanced, until he reached the stage where he attracted his own students. He was actually acquiring fame as a teacher of Torah and a scholar in his own right. Rachel had encouraged him to go away and immerse himself in further learning; it was hard to believe that 24 long years had passed. Akiva the shepherd had become Rabbi Akiva, the teacher of 24,000 students, the greatest of his generation. And the time had finally come for his triumphant return to home and his wife.

The huge crowd thronged around Rabbi Akiva and his disciples. Suddenly a woman emerged from the crowd and reached for the hem of his coat which she kissed. The students surrounded her and attempted to chase her away, but their teacher reprimanded them: "She is my wife! Know that what is mine and what is yours is all hers!"

Also amongst those gathered to welcome the tzadik was Ben Kalba Savua, the father of Rachel. He had suffered the pangs of regret during the many years since he had driven his daughter from his home. Now, the arrival of the tzadik of the generation would give him an opportunity to learn how to right the terrible wrong he had done her. Rabbi Akiva graciously admitted the old man into his presence and listened while he related the story, not knowing that this was his own father-in-law. As the man's story unfolded, Akiva realized who he was.

"If you had known that the poor, ignorant shepherd would one day become a great scholar, would you have acted differently?" inquired Rabbi Akiva.

"I promise you, if I had thought that he would know even one Torah law, I would have permitted the marriage!"

"Then know, that I am that shepherd, and it is only through the merit of your daughter that I have achieved this position!"

Rabbi Akiva was able to nullify the vow Ben Kalba Savua rashly made so many years before. The old man, in his happiness, gave the couple half of his great wealth.

Their dream realized, Rachel and Akiva felt the old pain of separation diminish, overwhelmed by the new joy of their reunion. Rabbi Akiva hadn't forgotten the promise he made many years before - he had achieved greatness; and in addition to the crown of Torah, Rachel wore a golden crown of Jerusalem.


Moshiach Matters

When it comes to helping another Jew; be it an individual who is needy in a simple sense and requires charity; or one who is "spiritually needy," it is impossible to procrastinate. Particularly now, in the last moments before Moshiach comes, it is impossible to postpone performing the favor until "the next reincarnation." One must act immediately and with that act, one may, to quote Maimonides, "tip the balance in one's own favor and... in the favor of the entire world and bring redemption and salvation."

(The Rebbe, Lag B'Omer, 5746 - 1986)


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